Thursday, May 17, 2012



250 million years ago, before death negotiated its current truce with life, death nearly wiped out all life on earth in a fit of exuberance.

During the Permian Extinction, 96% of all marine species and 70% of all land based vertebrates became extinct. 83% of all genera of insects were wiped out. The planet became a global abattoir, reeking with the stench of spattered life forms whose long and miraculous histories had come abruptly to naught.

Through that million year charnel house crawled one small, ugly, unpromising creature: the cynodont.

Cynodont reconstruction from  BBC

Dull and witless, the cynodont stubbornly continued to place one foot in front of the other. It had no vision of the future to motivate it, but still it held on.

The cynodont couldn't know that its children would one day evolve into the first mammal, and from mammals would arise human beings. By clinging to life through the Permian extinction, the cynodont made human life and all of its glories possible. 

Who was more responsible for the divine moments in art history:  Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Botticelli?  Or the cynodont, who persisted through a million-year midnight?

Like the cynodont, none of us receives a guarantee that our suffering will be redeemed by a meaningful outcome.  Those fortunate enough to be born with the song of the cynodont in their heart persist without any guarantees.  For them, even the remotest possibility of a happy ending is sufficient reason to continue.  Yet there are others-- equally talented,  intelligent, and filled with promise-- who just can't find it within themselves to hang on.  Imagine what their lives might have led to, if they'd just continued putting one foot in front of the other. 

For Lauren, 1986- 2012

Take her head upon your knee;
Say to her, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

         -- Edna St. Vincent Millay


Anonymous said...

Lauren was born the same year as my sister. This just broke my heart.

MORAN said...

We always knew that persistence is as important as talent, but I never thought about it going all the way back to some dog lizard,

Unknown said...

Cool post. Love it when I read something that makes me think about things differently.

kev ferrara said...

This is a classic post, David. I only wish it hadn't been prompted by the loss of someone who meant something to you. I am sorry for that loss. Truly.

The way I see it, the only problem with life is suffering. But it's a hell of a caviat in the contract: And this fine print seems to get larger as time wears on.

And we yearn for prettier fossils as compensation. Purer treasures in the dirt. And they're so few and scattered, buried and neglected. Dust them off, make some more, carry them all day long in that sack swung over our shoulder. (We have to carry all that other crap around anyway, carrying on as we do. Might as well add stuff to the bundle that's worth hauling, right?)

Ah, well. What's that great Orson Welles line; "It's all bullshit, but keep on singing!"

Stay in tune. Take care. Au revoir.


अर्जुन said...

Shake the dust off and fly.

Dr.Shazam said...

This was the most important thing I have read in months. Thank you for your insight and heart.

David Apatoff said...

Jennifer Montes-- That's very kind of you, thank you for writing.

MORAN-- Yes, when you think of all the heavy lifting that brought us to the point where Rembrandt could lift a brush to a canvas, the contribution of the individual artist takes on a different importance.

rv10er-- Glad that the cynodont struck a chord with you. It seems that we don't give him nearly the credit he deserves.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- It sounds like Welles shared the philosophy (or perhaps it's just the endocrinology?) of the cynodont. That can be enough to get us through the night, of course, but it does risk coarsening our world view as well. Makes you wonder whether it is the best among us who cannot accept that as an answer.

She was quite extraordinary-- beautiful and exasperating. Life just didn't equip her with what it takes to keep on singing through the bullshit.

अर्जुन-- Very nice. As usual, I had not heard this.

David Apatoff said...

visachris327-- There is probably no better reminder that "life goes on" than your robot spam for counterfeit designer sun glasses. I find your contribution on a level with Auden's famous poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts" in which he reminds us how suffering and tragedy take place right next to the most mundane and pedestrian activity, and how our vision must be broad enough to reconcile the two:

"Even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree."

Thank you for your insight.

Dr. Shazam-- Thanks, that's nice of you to say.

Miriana said...

Thank you for the way you expressed this!

chris bennett said...

Beautiful post David.
Walking through the woods and suddenly there’s the waterfall.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hello David

I just recently found your blog and have been enjoying reading back all those great posts on drawing, which Im obsessed with at the moment. Ive been looking for a good book or set to begin a library of drawing in order to educate my eye and hand through the work of previous masters of the medium, and was wondering if you could offer some advice. Which collection or individual volumes would you recommend to look at good quality reproductions of drawings by Rembrandt, Degas, Leonardo, Ingres, etc? Ive read the Dover seri suffers from bad reproductions. Is there a manual which you would recommend that uses the work of past masters to teach drawing? Lastly, why so little on Van Gogh's drawings? Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

While you're waiting on David, reproduction quality is a function of photography, particularly exposure. Overexposure reveals details in the darker, shadow areas, but bleaches out fine details in lighter areas (typically the Dover approach). Underexposure can capture fine detail in lighter areas but loses detail in shadow areas (typically the Borden "Master Draughtsman Series" approach). The human eye has an automatic gain mechanism that photography can't quite keep up with. The highest and most consistent quality reproductions come from auction houses such as Christie's and Sotheby's; you can search their sold lot archives by individual artist.

David Apatoff said...

Miriana and Chris Bennett-- Thank you very much.

Anonymous and Etc, etc-- Anonymous has raised a huge and most welcome topic; it is one that I think this community is perfectly well suited to answer, and I would suggest that others write in with their suggestions for favorite books of drawings to educate and please the eye (for the benefit of both anonymous and me).

I agree with Etc etc that there does not seem to be one series of books (such as Dover or Borden) that does a good job of handling the full variety of important drawings. A lot depends on what you are looking for in a drawing.

For example, If you want to train your eye on the nature of design, I would start with woodblock prints of the elegant Japanese masters such as Utamaro or Eizan. They did a better job of isolating and amplifying design than anyone else I know. If you wanted to understand graphic arts, I would begin with a book of etchings by Goya (Caprichos or Disasters of War) or Rembrandt, which would be perfect in black and white; however if you wanted to understand Rembrandt's drawings (the majority of which are quick gestural pieces), you would need a full color book which accurately picks up both the color of his ink and the color of the paper. For sensitive portrait drawings I can't think you'd do better than a volume of Holbein's or Ingres' work. (For figure drawings, there are excellent color books about the work of Annibale Carraci or Sargent-- two very different but stunningly beautiful approaches.) To explore how pen and ink can add character to drawing, I would start with Ronald Searle, and there are a million places to go from there.

Tastes will differ on these artists as starting places; there are hundreds of other greats-- painters who "draw" with a brush, such as Lautrec; geniuses such as Degas; modern illustrators-- as you can imagine, with this type of variety (geographic, cultural, temporal) you're not likely to find a publisher who manages to cover everybody. Books with quality printing can be very expensive, but if you are an opportunistic shopper you can can often find second hand books for many of the people above, and many people maintain a "virtual" book of miscellaneous drawings they like from the internet. I am going to run out of space in this answer but I will write again with some specific suggestions and I would urge others to list their favorite specific collections of drawings too.

Tom said...

What amazes me about reproductions of drawings, especially after seeing the real thing is how bad they are in comparison.

Anonymous said...

The world’s population [reached] seven billion on October 31, 2011, according to the United Nations, and media outlets are heralding the issue of overcrowding on the planet. How long did it take for this many humans to be born? The evolutionary version of human population growth presents a fantastic scenario to answer that question. In this imaginary long-ages history, the population did not grow at all for millions of years before suddenly taking off only a few thousand years ago. In the July 29, 2011, issue of Science, demographic anthropology expert Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel wrote: “After the members of the genus Homo had been living as foragers for at least 2.4 million years, agriculture began to emerge in seven or eight regions across the world, almost simultaneously at the beginning of the Holocene. ” The problem is that in this projected timeline, people (“genus Homo”) must have had virtually no population growth “for at least 2.4 million years.” Bocquet-Appel wrote, “The world’s population on the eve of the emergence of agriculture is estimated to have been 6 million individuals.” Thus, the first human couple that supposedly evolved from ape-like ancestors would have had only 6 million descendants after 2.4 million years. This requires a population growth rate of about 0.000000009 — essentially zero. Virtually no growth for 2.4 million years? In contrast, the average historically observed growth rate has been at least 0.4 percent, at times spiking to above two percent. Even a “pre-industrial farming population” growth rate of 0.1 percent per year — Bocquet-Appel’s number — would have yielded today’s seven billion people in only 7,062 years. As the late Dr. Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, asked, “How could it be that the planet only now is experiencing a population crisis–why not several hundred thousand years ago, soon after man first appeared on earth?” To try and explain this slow growth, Bocquet-Appel stated, “An increase in the birth rate was closely followed in time by an increase in mortality.” And the cause of all this death was “infectious diseases” such as “Rotavirus and Coronavirus.” But this only invokes more unlikely events. How could such diseases maintain a near-zero balance of birth and death rates for so long without randomly killing the whole population at some point?. But the current world population aligns completely with biblical history, with no added stories. Using census records from the last 400 years and a bit of algebra, and assuming a natural logarithmic growth, eight Flood survivors 4,500 years ago produce 7 billion people almost exactly. This is powerful evidence that biblical history is accurate, and man-made evolutionary history is not.

अर्जुन said...

Helleu: Paul Cesar Helleu, 1859-1927 : an exhibition of oils, pastels and drypoints (mostly conté crayon)
Richard Green (Gallery : London, England) 1991
90 pages

Other than that I second Tom and etc, etc. Which is to say, I recommend a quality flatscreen monitor ~
Christies, Sotheby's, The MET

useful page (open in firefox, right-click, save image as) ~

अर्जुन said...

link to image precedes info


ABRAHAM'Sᅠ SACRIFICEᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 35;ᅠ H.ᅠ 283;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 55-B)
Etchingᅠ andᅠ drypoint,ᅠ 1655,ᅠ aᅠ goodᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ onlyᅠ state,ᅠ withᅠ touchesᅠ ofᅠ burrᅠ beneathᅠ theᅠ bowlᅠ atᅠ lowerᅠ leftᅠ andᅠ onᅠ Abraham'sᅠ tunic,ᅠ withᅠ lightᅠ plateᅠ toneᅠ andᅠ delicateᅠ wipingᅠ marks
Sheet:ᅠ 155ᅠ byᅠ 132mm;ᅠ 6ᅠ 1/8ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 5¼in

SELFᅠ PORTRAITᅠ INᅠ Aᅠ CAP,ᅠ OPEN-MOUTHEDᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 320;ᅠ H.ᅠ 32;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 30-O)Etching,ᅠ 1630,ᅠ aᅠ fairlyᅠ goodᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ thisᅠ rareᅠ print,ᅠ onlyᅠ state
Sheet:ᅠ 50ᅠ byᅠ 44mm;ᅠ 2ᅠ byᅠ 1¾in

Etching,ᅠ 1636,ᅠ aᅠ veryᅠ goodᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ secondᅠ stateᅠ (ofᅠ three)
Plate:ᅠ 103ᅠ byᅠ 94mm;ᅠ 4ᅠ byᅠ 3ᅠ 5/8ᅠ in
Sheet:ᅠ 106ᅠ byᅠ 94mm;ᅠ 4ᅠ 1/8ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 3¾in

OLDᅠ MANᅠ WITHᅠ Aᅠ BEARD,ᅠ FURᅠ CAP,ᅠ ANDᅠ VELVETᅠ CLOAKᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 262;ᅠ H.ᅠ 92;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 32-2)
Etching,ᅠ circaᅠ 1632,ᅠ aᅠ fineᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ secondᅠ stateᅠ (ofᅠ three),ᅠ withᅠ touchesᅠ ofᅠ burrᅠ onᅠ theᅠ topᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ sitter'sᅠ handᅠ andᅠ toᅠ theᅠ leftᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ rightᅠ eye
Sheet:ᅠ 149ᅠ byᅠ 130mm;ᅠ 5ᅠ 7/8ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 5ᅠ 1/8ᅠ in

OLDᅠ MANᅠ SHADINGᅠ HISᅠ EYESᅠ WITHᅠ HISᅠ HANDᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 259;ᅠ H.ᅠ 169;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 38-3)Etchingᅠ andᅠ drypoint,ᅠ circaᅠ 1639,ᅠ aᅠ fine,ᅠ earlyᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ onlyᅠ state,ᅠ withᅠ manyᅠ delicateᅠ horizontalᅠ wipingᅠ scratches,ᅠ withᅠ burrᅠ onᅠ theᅠ sleeveᅠ andᅠ linesᅠ inᅠ theᅠ foreground
Sheet:ᅠ 137ᅠ byᅠ 114mm;ᅠ 5ᅠ 3/8ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 4½in

YOUNGᅠ MANᅠ INᅠ Aᅠ VELVETᅠ CAPᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 268;ᅠ H.ᅠ 151;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 37-C)
Etching,ᅠ 1637,ᅠ secondᅠ (final)ᅠ state,ᅠ withᅠ touchesᅠ ofᅠ burrᅠ inᅠ theᅠ sitter'sᅠ leftᅠ eyeᅠ andᅠ onᅠ theᅠ lips
Sheet:ᅠ 95ᅠ byᅠ 83mm;ᅠ 3¾ᅠ byᅠ 3¼in

SELF-PORTRAITᅠ DRAWINGᅠ ATᅠ Aᅠ WINDOWᅠ (B.,ᅠ HOLL.ᅠ 22;ᅠ H.ᅠ 229;ᅠ BB.ᅠ 48-A)
Etchingᅠ withᅠ drypointᅠ andᅠ engraving,ᅠ 1648,ᅠ aᅠ superb,ᅠ earlyᅠ impressionᅠ ofᅠ theᅠ fourthᅠ stateᅠ (ofᅠ five),ᅠ printingᅠ withᅠ richᅠ burrᅠ onᅠ theᅠ artist'sᅠ coat,ᅠ rightᅠ hand,ᅠ paperᅠ andᅠ elsewhere,ᅠ withᅠ contrastsᅠ andᅠ delicateᅠ plateᅠ tone,ᅠ onᅠ paperᅠ withᅠ aᅠ Strasbourgᅠ Lilyᅠ watermark

अर्जुन said...

No book delivers this quality & variety~

SIENAᅠ 1552ᅠ -ᅠ 1606
Redᅠ chalkᅠ (rectoᅠ andᅠ verso)
190ᅠ byᅠ 264ᅠ mm;ᅠ 7ᅠ 1/2ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 10ᅠ 3/8ᅠ ᅠ in

BOLOGNAᅠ 1557ᅠ -ᅠ 1602ᅠ PARMA
Penᅠ andᅠ brownᅠ inkᅠ (recto);
penᅠ andᅠ brownᅠ inkᅠ overᅠ redᅠ chalk,ᅠ withinᅠ partialᅠ brownᅠ inkᅠ framingᅠ lines

PARISᅠ 1834ᅠ -ᅠ 1917
Porteᅠ leᅠ cachetᅠ Nepveuᅠ Degasᅠ enᅠ basᅠ àᅠ gauche
Sanguineᅠ surᅠ papier

Edgarᅠ Degas;ᅠ ᅠ Academyᅠ ofᅠ aᅠ manᅠ ;ᅠ Stampedᅠ withᅠ theᅠ stampᅠ Nepveuᅠ Degasᅠ lowerᅠ leftᅠ ;ᅠ Redᅠ chalk
46,3ᅠ xᅠ 30,3ᅠ cmᅠ ;ᅠ 18ᅠ 1/4ᅠ byᅠ ᅠ 12ᅠ in

1864ᅠ -ᅠ 1901
REINEᅠ DEᅠ JOIEᅠ (D.ᅠ 342;ᅠ ADR.ᅠ 5;ᅠ W.ᅠ P3)
Lithographᅠ printedᅠ inᅠ colors,ᅠ onᅠ twoᅠ sheets,ᅠ 1892,ᅠ onᅠ linen-backedᅠ woveᅠ paper,ᅠ framed
sheetᅠ 1380ᅠ byᅠ 897ᅠ mmᅠ ᅠ 54ᅠ 1/2ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 35ᅠ 3/8ᅠ ᅠ in

1844ᅠ -ᅠ 1925
signedᅠ L.ᅠ Lhermitteᅠ (lowerᅠ right)
pastelᅠ onᅠ paperᅠ mountedᅠ onᅠ board
18ᅠ byᅠ 22ᅠ 1/4ᅠ ᅠ in.;ᅠ 45.7ᅠ byᅠ 56.6ᅠ cm.





318ᅠ byᅠ 234mm.,ᅠ inkᅠ andᅠ watercolourᅠ drawing,ᅠ unsigned,ᅠ framedᅠ andᅠ glazed,ᅠ boardᅠ croppedᅠ atᅠ top,ᅠ overpaintedᅠ sectionsᅠ andᅠ extendedᅠ borders

1859ᅠ -ᅠ 1927
Signedᅠ Helleuᅠ (lowerᅠ right)
27ᅠ 7/8ᅠ ᅠ byᅠ 21ᅠ 1/8ᅠ ᅠ in.
70.8ᅠ byᅠ 53.6ᅠ cm.
Executedᅠ circaᅠ 1908

1815ᅠ -ᅠ 1879

1863ᅠ -ᅠ 1944
Signedᅠ E.ᅠ Munchᅠ andᅠ datedᅠ 1895ᅠ (lowerᅠ left)
Pastelᅠ onᅠ boardᅠ inᅠ theᅠ originalᅠ frame
32ᅠ byᅠ 23ᅠ 1/4ᅠ ᅠ in

Matthew Harwood said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- I agree about the gap you describe between printed versions of drawings and the originals. In fact, that was a large part of my motive for starting this blog. I figured that people who are accustomed to seeing illustrations and comic art printed on cheap paper would view these artworks with more respect if they saw high resolution scans from the originals.

Anonymous-- I believe that faith is a gift; in fact, that could be the subtext of this post. And normally I resist weighing in on political and religious debates, as they are better suited for other fora. However, I know that Lauren (who was scheduled to begin research on mitochondrial DNA at NIH) would think less of me if I did not at least respond to your main point.

I follow science and technology fairly closely in connection with my work, and I think it is pretty clear that Creation science (and intelligent design and its other permutations) is not science, no matter how hard its followers try to adopt the external appearance of science through the use of math. I think that the efforts by the Kansas School Board to force the teaching of intelligent design in science classes was an embarrassment to the United States, and perhaps to the human race.

I would urge you and anyone else interested in this field to read the careful, thoughtful analysis by the religious Republican judge in the Dover school board case. It was a rare situation when both sides were not simply lobbing competing press releases at each other, but where they were forced to sit down in court and respond to each other in an orderly, methodical way. Each side was able to present its best arguments, with as much time and resources as it needed, to an impartial arbiter. Each side had an opportunity to cross examine the other side's expert witnesses under oath. The judge not only ruled that intelligent design was not science, but that the advocates of intelligent design believed so strongly in their faith that they had lied under oath and acted in bad faith about the facts of the case, rather than confront reality. I view that decision as a paradigm example of the factfinding role of the legal process, and a milestone in the history of civilization.

kev ferrara said...


You've handled that incident of Mathemanic Creationosis with your usual even-keeled aplomb.. Do you take deep, measured breaths and fall into a zen like state before you begin to type against such tripe?

Lauren's inability to continue forward seems even more poignant, given how crucial her interest area was to the pressing problems related to the burgeoning "obesity epidemic." I know a gaggle of molecular biologists who work in NYC, and the combination of the required intense dedication, funding issues, politics in and out of the lab, the excruciatingly slow rate of progress, and the maddeningly minute, intricate and seemingly intractable nature of the problems they work with on a daily basis makes for quite a high-blood pressure cocktail.

From anecdotes, it seems very few professional researchers completely crumble, but there are reports of some who simply dropped their clipboards one day, put the petri dishes into the fridge, logged off their computers, and moved to the Catskills.

Donald Pittenger said...

Time to change from by art hat to my demographer hat.

Regarding what "Anonymous" wrote a few comments back, it's easy to come up with explanations why there was no population explosion many thousands of years ago. Let me toss out a few thoughts that might be elements in a formal explanation, keeping in mind that we have no way of conclusively proving anything demographic in the days before systematic data collection.

The reason for the low (age 40, for instance) average life expectancies found in newspaper or magazine articles appearing from time to time does not mean that hardly anyone lived past that average age. The statistic is driven by age-specific death rates which can be used to construct what is called a life table wherein life expectancy is based on the number of person-years lived after any given age. Where, say, half of all births result in deaths by the child's 5th birthday, there will a pretty low life expectancy measured from birth = age zero.

In high mortality places, death rates at all ages are greater than in low mortality places, but there are still plenty of old people.

A healthy woman can theoretically produce more than 20 births in her lifetime, though the average in high fertility populations is closer to a dozen births per woman. This average can be reduced by delay of exposure to pregnancy or some form of birth control practice. In a high mortality agricultural society, it was probably fairly easy to decide to keep baby production up (so as to provide future family farm hands) if previous children were dying during their first few years of life.

The growth pattern for pre-industrial population seems to have been a slow overall growth trend that was the result of periods of waxing and waning. In my grad student days, the idea was that fertility rates tended to be consistently fairly high, so that growth-decline fluctuations were driven more by periods of feast, famine and the prevalence of wars and diseases. In other words, birth and death numbers were playing tag, one or the other prevailing over some time span.

Anonymous said...

The judge not only ruled that intelligent design was not science

Well that settles it, then (for atheist homosexual communists anyway).

Matthew Harwood said...

My memory of "The Scream" is much better than the reality. What happened? I think I prefer the dark badly photographed images. But then put next to a Rembrandt, what other artwork doesn’t shrivel up and blow away?

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Thanks for an impressive selection. I love that Lautrec. Seeing that clear resolution of the Edvard Munch makes my understanding of its price a lot fuzzier.

Kev Ferrara-- reading that judicial opinion in the Dover case is an enobling experience that inspires calm objectivity.

Donald Pittenger-- Ahhhh, the best response to weak science-- more and better science, rather than polemic. Thanks for cleaning up our scientific method. I always enjoy the extracurricular talents that readers bring to these pursuits.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Well, read the judge's decision and see what you think. Courts aren't infallible, but their conceptual framework for resolving disputes is a flower of civilization. What better way for mere mortals to define "science," than to set up a process where each side gets to pick the smartest, most impressive, best credentialed experts on science to propound their view. Each side gets to go out and collect their best facts, which are then purified by scrutiny and challenge. The two opposing views are then contrasted under controlled "adversary" conditions, with each side pointing out the flaws in the other side's arguments. The judge gets time to compare both sides and to read what previous wise jurists have said on related issues. If we are forced to make a decision about whether intelligent design is "science" for the purpose of social programs, I don't know how civilization could come up with a better process.

Matthew Harwood-- I agree with you about "the Scream."

अर्जुन said...

M.H. ~ I think you have in mind a different version.

D.P. ~ You really enjoy crunching those numbers!

D.A. ~ It's perfectly clear as to just what Church you belong to.

Government and science making things happen.

"funding issues" ~ All they need is a progressive, science aware, forward looking administration.

Anonymous said...

It all comes down to a simple little four-lettered word called "bias" that contains worlds of import and significance for mortals. And I've noticed among successful well-heeled professional mortals a particular brand of it that is every bit as oblivious, smug, and "unevolved" as that of a powerful high school clique. I've read fairly extensively on the topic of origins, and I deem it important enough and myself qualified enough to be the "judge", and I unhesitatingly and unapologetically give your John E. Jones III of failed political aspirations a boot to the backside, as you would also to any other conservative with whom you disagreed with in any other circumstance.

kev ferrara said...

etc etc,

Do you believe in DNA?

Do you believe that DNA is a code consisting of four chemical bases which combine in different ways (to make nucleotides/ messenger RNA) which code for the various proteins in the human body?

Do you believe that the nucleotides from the messenger RNA are then "read" by Ribosomes in 3s, resulting in amino acids which fold and bend through various physical forces into their particular protein?

Marilyn Richardson said...

So pleased to have discovered this wonderful blog; thanks to Armel Gaulme.

Matthew Harwood said...

If you take your hypothesis even further back in evolution it ultimately leads to the origins of the universe. The Big Bang, our best scientific theory to date, is really an explanation of a miracle (singularity) that sparked the creation of everything in the physical world. In other words, we are all the result of that first spark. And I like to think the great art you cite in you post and the good things in life in general, reflect that miracle better than most.

Anonymous said...

Hi David and all, I'm the original Anonymous asking about book recommendations. Thanks अर्जुन for all those links, though I really am looking for the printed page. Would love more recommendations for specific books on any of your favorite draughtsmen, esp Rembrandt, Degas, Kathe Kollwitz, Van Gogh, Leonardo, Michelangelo, you get the idea. Are the Met's publications generally reliable?

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Thanks for sharing The Dead Milkmen's song about crucifying Charles Nelson Reily on a hill, from their Big Lizard in My Backyard CD. I'm not saying that it wasn't interesting or relevant, or that I didn't appreciate hearing something that would otherwise never have come to my attention, but I have to ask my customary question, "what in the world possessed you to listen to it in the first place?"

Also, on the subject of federally sponsored research into parapsychology, I am glad someone is investigating it and I do not consider such research a pseudoscience, as long as it is conducted with rigor in accordance with good scientific methods.

Etc, etc-- I have had a great deal of experience with courts, both winning and losing, and it is quite customary for the losers to say "the judge was biased" to make themselves feel better. However, in my experience anyone who really believes it tries to persuade an appellate court that there was bias.

That was not done in this case. In fact, I'm not sure how one would even begin to make an argument of bias: the judge was a lifelong Republican who was appointed by George W. Bush with the strong support of the evangelical community. He was a religious man with a history of conservative behavior in his prior government positions. If such a judge is "biased" against you, I don't know where you would ever look for a "fair" judge.

If you can cite something inaccurate in his calm., moderate, 140 page opinion in which the judge painstakingly described every step of the process and every reason for his conclusions, I would be curious to hear it. But your comment that you give the judge "a boot to the backside" reminds me that when he issued his opinion, his entire family had to go under 24 hour police protection due to death threats from members of the fine Christian community. I hope we can all agree that the people who would make such threats are per se morons, can we not?

Lastly, it's OK with me if you want to say that you reserve the right to be your own judge about evolution, but in a social context where we have to make group decisions about funding scientific research, about the curriculum of public schools, or about regulating public health and safety, someone's version of the truth has to prevail. It does not displease me that society employs well conducted and independent judicial proceedings to resolve factual disputes in situations such as this.

अर्जुन said...

So that's how it is!

Anonymous said...

But your comment that you give the judge "a boot to the backside" reminds me...death threats from members of the fine Christian community

It does not displease me that

Frankly David I suspect that it would please you greatly if I were to make such a threat.

chris bennett said...


Sometimes I wish you were a practicing illustrator; such is you knowledge, love and insight regarding the subject... But reading your lucid responses to the confused tongue of unreason makes me thankful you are working professionally in law. Something good in the world. Like refreshing rain after a parched dog day afternoon...

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc wrote: "Frankly David I suspect that it would please you greatly if I were to make such a threat."

Etc, etc, I can't imagine anything I've ever said to suggest I'd be pleased by such a thing. In the past, you have eloquently shared my indignation about Al Qaeda's death threats against cartoonists who disagreed with them. I have no reason to believe that you don't remain a defender of civil virtues today.

Matthew Harwood said...

For an alternative view, see this provocative interview with David Berlinski talking about his book "The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretentions." Berlinski is an American educator who has written several books on mathematics.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood-- I'm not sure I'd consider Berlinski an "alternative" except in tone. He is not a science denier like Dr. Henry Morris (cited by Anonymous, above) who wrote that the craters on the moon were remnants of the cosmic battle between the forces of Satan and the armies of the archangel Michael. He would laugh at the Creation "museums" with dinosaurs co-existing with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Rather, Berlinski takes the opposite approach, saying "yes, our best evidence is that the universe is 14 billion years old and originated with the big bang, but those facts are not inconsistent with the existence of a supreme being." I agree with him.

My problem is with believers who are so passionate that they close their eyes to our best evidence from geology or physics or medical science and yes, evolution. If Berlinski wants to say that evolution can't be proven like a mathematical formula, I would not argue with that.

My point about tone is that Berlinski seems to have a particular bee in his bonnet over "obnoxious" scientists who claim that science supports atheism. His irritation goads him into going a little further out on the ledge than perhaps he should, equating the success of Darwinism with the success of communism, or making gratuitous remarks about the New York times. There are plenty of scientists (perhaps the majority) who say that science does not necessitate an atheistic explanation of the universe. I had a lovely talk with Bill Phillips, recent Nobel laureate in physics and a passionately religious man, on this precise subject a few years ago. Perhaps Berlinski should read some of Phillips' writings.

Overall, I enjoyed what Berlinski said very much. I think he was at his strongest when he said, "a little bit of balance would be welcome." Thanks for the link.

kev ferrara said...

Berlinsky is best as a contrarian, whose very off-hand manner seems designed to set some heads aflame on the other side of the question. While it is entertaining to watch and imagine all the burning hair being pulled out, much of the actual content coming out of his mouth is still in the realm of sophistry.

While it is true that inducing a process of evolution from the fossil record (which seems at face value to show a clear stepwise evolutionary progression) is not a scientific proof of evolution, surely it a far smaller step of intuition/guessing/probability than to posit that a supernatural being made it all just so some small number of years ago, (despite carbon dating easily falsifying the claim as to dates.)

Berlinsky’s worst trait is argument by ignoring the best information available. The best evidence of genetic variation leading to speciation is not the fossil record, but the record of genetic development contained within the DNA of currently living animals. Not only is there clear-as-a-bell evidence of concordance between species (found simply by analyzing the genomes of various creatures and comparing them) but we can see genetic variation happening right now in living animals. Genetic material hops around all the time. (Easiest example: Standing out in the sun will adversely alter the genes in your skin, possibly leading to cancer. Thousands of examples could follow if one cares to investigate.)

And we have Craig Venter’s recent scientific voyages, which show that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the amount of free genetic material simply floating around waiting to combine into more complex structures.

And there really seems to be a misunderstanding of how structure develops. It is not like putting lego pieces together, or tinkertoys. It is through millions of years of accidental trial and error – free genetic material bumping into one another – that leads to the happy accidents that we call life.

In fact, there is a whole field of research about the way matter and energy and culture self-organize, and you can read a thousand technical papers on the topic by downloading pdfs from Google Scholar or the Los Alamos National Archives. Self organization is at the heart of the idea of life arising from genetic accidents. Self organization happens all the time around us if, if we just care to look at it!

One more thing... Berlinsky was at his most disingenuous when he remarked that nobody on his side would totally rule out evolution. Possibly the “side” he is playing for is less clear to him than those who lap up the sophistry presented in his videos.

Which leads me to ask again, etc, etc... do you believe in DNA or not?

Benjamin Raucher said...

I am a fan of Leonardo Da Vinci. His work arrest my attention


Tom said...

" Self organization happens all the time around us if, if we just care to look at it!"

I like that Kev, that would be a good approach to making art. Comprehending what one has done after doing it. I always like D'arcy Thompson Wentworth's On Growth on From because he seemed to acknowledge the forces in the universe, like gravity, are as much responsible for the shape of forms as evolution.

It's almost like where does our thought come from. It can be very spontaneous when one asks for answers to problems instead thinking one already has the answer to a problem.

अर्जुन said...

Speaking of such things.

Anonymous said...

In fairness to Welles, his original quote was a trifle more eloquent than "It's all bullshit":

Regardless. Carry on.

kev ferrara said...

Thanks for the correction. I was conflating two different quotes of his.

(Check out This Is Orson Welles for hundreds of great quotes and anecdotes of his.)

Anonymous said...

yes, yes, yes.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for an interesting take on Berlinski. I agree that there is an important role for a "contrarian" if his or her doubt is consistently applied (witness the importance of "doubt" in the theory of knowledge propounded by an earlier mathematician, Descartes, whose ideas conquered western philosophy in the same era that Francis Bacon's skepticism in his "scientific method" was giving rise to the scientific revolution). We get the feeling that Berlinski is focusing his doubt unilaterally against evolution because he is offended by the "obnoxiousness" of Dawkins and others who may have started out as excellent scientists but who have tended to become a little polemical in recent days. But I listened carefully and, at least in the interview linked by Matt Harwood, Berlinski does not seem to give creationism or faith a free pass either. He does not suggest that they are provable or that they should be measured by a different standard. He just doesn't choose to focus on their weaknesses.

Descartes made it easy to challenge how we can truly "know" anything, yet people climb into airplanes every day with less than perfect knowledge that the laws of physics work. For the similar reasons (it works, and better than any alternatives) I agree that the sensible path on evolution is pretty clear. (As you put it so well, "While it is true that inducing a process of evolution from the fossil record (which seems at face value to show a clear stepwise evolutionary progression) is not a scientific proof of evolution, surely it a far smaller step of intuition/guessing/probability than to posit that a supernatural being made it all just so some small number of years ago, (despite carbon dating easily falsifying the claim as to dates.)"

अर्जुन-- When I look at illustrations by Fawcett and Parker and Dorne from that period in the 1930s, I am always astonished at how good they became in another 10 years. Their work in that early period shows little promise to me, yet they went on to become spectacular artists.

Tom-- Interesting point, thanks.

Anonymous-- great Welles link. He was quite the showman. Very moving.

Matthew Harwood said...

I agree with you. What I took away from David Berlinski’s interview is that good science is not necessarily antithetical to theism but is in fact agnostic to the concept.

Norm said...

Kev...I agree with your current evidence for evolution.
Strains of flu adapt and mutate over the course of a single season. You don't really need to look back millions of years.

Anonymous said...

You evolutionist have faith in science. and Creationist have faith in the Bible. And so, a few seconds after your death (evolutionist or creationist) you will have the answer to this ongoing debate. so the debate will be settled.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- The outcome is not necessarily limited to those two alternatives. You must at least consider the possibility that the Creationist will encounter the situation postulated by noted theologian and philosopher of science, rapper Ice T on his cable television reality show, Ice Loves Coco:

"The preacher, he’s standing in a flood, water is up to his waist, a boat comes by. ‘Preacher, Preacher, get in the boat, you’re going to drown!’ He says, ‘Don’t worry, I’m doing God’s work, I’ll be fine.’ The water is up to his chest now, and another boat comes by and says, ‘Preacher, Preacher, get in the boat, you’re going to drown!’ He says, ‘Don’t worry, God has my back, I’ll be okay.’ Now the water is up to his neck and a third boat comes by. Says, ‘Preacher, Preacher, get in the boat, you’re going to drown!’ He says, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.’ The boat leaves and he drowns. He goes to Heaven. Says, ‘God, I never broke any of the Ten Commandments.’ God says, ‘I know and I love you for that.’ He says, ‘Well God, if you love me so much, why did you let me die?’ God said, ‘Let you die? Dumb motherfucker, I sent you three boats."

(I might use different language, but the underlying point is a valid one.)

Anonymous said...

Sure it would have to. The Bible does not leave any other option open (no hint at all for the existence of evolution or that God used evolution). with verses from the Bible like Acts 17:26 From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, Psalms 33:6 By the Lord’s decree the heavens were made;by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. Psalms 33:9 For he spoke, and it came into existence,he issued the decree, and it stood firm.
The theology that you posted from ice T could also be applied toward the evolutionist mind set. God keeps providing the Bible, for what He wants the limited human mind to know about how everything began. But people continue to place their faith in mans limited intellect and his countless theories that try, at best to explain the unexplainable (by human ability/view point).

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- I understand why Mussolini wrote, "it is faith that moves mountains, not reason." I appreciate that faith could not accomplish its miracles if it were easily daunted by empirical facts.

Yet, I have trouble accepting that a benevolent deity would give us the gift of reason while simultaneously demanding the kind of slave mentality you espouse.

Ultimately, I'm afraid I feel it is too late in the history of humanity (and the history of the planet) to humor the enemies of empiricism. The religious faith that blinds its eyes to the virtues of modern medicine, that refuses to acknowledge what physics, geology and biology have to offer-- that is religion pitched against mankind, in my estimation.

Anonymous said...

How can when dealing with numbers like 250 million years in the past.
Can any reasonable person really believe and stand there and say faith is not a major part of their reason for believing in this(evolution theory).
Is not being honest or they do not understand the concept of faith. With numbers that large (250,etc million) only people seeking to replace the God of the Bible with their god of science. Would attempt to persuade a public of their god by using terms such as reason, empirical facts, religion pitched against mankind. etc... When there is no evidence that a person who believes in Creation is against mankind or is not reasonable. you many try as you will, but as time will pass on, this will only prove the accuracy of the Bible and the fallacy of evolution. I am not sure about you but, I welcome science to dig deeper into this.
The bible speaks of many eye witness to events in scripture (500+ of Christ after His resurrection) , but does evolution have one eye witness.