05 February 2008

My Wife Doesn't Agree with the Evolution of Homer

Seen here at Pharyngula is the awesome Simpsons couch gag of the evolution of Homer from single-celled life through to a homosapien (barely) on the couch. Last night's episode featured this beginning. My wife saw, and promptly exhibited her annoying fundie leanings: "Is that supposed to be evolution? I don't believe that you can get something from nothing."

I explained that evolution has little to do with how life got started in the first place; however, we still had an impasse over the whole "evolution of humans" thing. I tried to explain how the Simpons episode represents evolution in a not-too-correct way, but all this stuff takes a while to explain. It was 11:00 at night and I was tired (and apparently not a very good teacher that night because I had also failed to successfully explain how groundwater works), so I told her I could get her a book that explains evolution infinitely better than I ever could, then retrieved for her The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins from my bookcase.

She balked at its size.

Then amazingly expressed a willingness to read it (or at least excerpts - she's really not keen on reading something that big). On the condition that I read something as well. You guessed it: the Bible.

So I may be reading the Bible soon. No biggie. Even if it's a load of hooey it still has had a profound on western culture, so I stand to learn something from reading it. On the other hand, I don't know if The Ancestor's Tale is really the best book for my wife, despite my wife's utter lack of biology knowledge (she's an electrical engineer - good at physics and not much else). It's a great book, but if we're really exchanging viewpoints, a more appropriate book may be Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. It's also a lot shorter. Any suggestions?

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At February 05, 2008 11:57 a.m., Blogger Berlzebub said...


I would highly recommend Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. Shubin did a guest post on PZ's blog, not to long ago.

It's 218 pgs., has some technical language, but it also explains that technical language so more people can understand it. It also gives examples of evolutionary theory making predictions that you don't get in high school science books, or from the media.

I'm reading it now, and it's very good.

Once she reads that, I would also recommend Misquoting Jesus. My wife's reading it, now. She's really enjoying it.

At February 05, 2008 1:12 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Both great suggestions with two minor drawbacks: 1) I don't have either of the books, and 2) I'm too cheap to go out and buy them.

If I do ever see them for cheap in a bookstore, I will be sure to pick them up though.

Another thing is, I doubt I can get her to read two books without me volunteering to read another book myself. It would probably be something horrid and fluffy like The Purpose-Driven Life, or sign up for an Alpha Course or something. I don't think I could handle that.

At February 05, 2008 3:50 p.m., Blogger C. L. Hanson said...

My kids loved the evolution of Homer. They watched it over and over. Good luck on the Bible... ;^)

At February 05, 2008 4:21 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Hey CL! Also great is the factors of 10 couch gag. Deeeeeeeep.

Thanks for the luck. I'll need it, especially when drudging through Numbers. We'll see if we can come up with a formal agreement soon.

At February 05, 2008 8:50 p.m., Blogger Theo Bromine said...

Hey Aardvark,

I was cleaning up my den and found an Alpha book that I would be happy to send you so you could read one without buying it. (I went on the Alpha Course some years ago, while still a (very liberal) Christian. It didn't help - I still eventually turned out an atheist.)

At February 05, 2008 9:06 p.m., Anonymous Karen said...

I'd discourage her from reading The Ancestor's Tale as an introduction. There's an awful lot of information in there, and it is possible to just get lost (this isn't a criticism of Dawkins' excellent writing, just that a brain that spent the day doing engineering isn't necessarily all that receptive to what he has to say).

My vote is for Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters by Don Prothero. It's a very accessible text even for late-evening reading, and very well-illustrated.

Plus, Evolution is about half the size of The Ancestor's Tale, so maybe you could negotiate for reading just the New Testament in return, and hold the Old Testament as a bargaining chip for when you want her to read Dawkins' The God Delusion or Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation.

At February 05, 2008 9:13 p.m., Anonymous Karen said...

King Aardvark said...
Both great suggestions with two minor drawbacks: 1) I don't have either of the books, and 2) I'm too cheap to go out and buy them.

It seems to me that a small investment in helping your wife to think about what she believes and why, or to understand how fundie religion distorts the truth of science, is not a bad way to spend money.

At February 06, 2008 12:30 a.m., Blogger Paul said...

You haven't read The Bible? What's wrong with you? It is one of the most significant works of literature in the history of mankind. I think you should read it with a great deal of care and attention to detail. Except for the begets. They go on forever.

At February 06, 2008 5:59 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I already know from high school that you have read roughly the same parts of the bible as I have (I got the first half of Genesis and two of the testaments). I don't know what Father Stan made you read, but I'd be willing to bet that you've probably already read (at an in depth level) more of the bible than she has.

On a side note, I think I should give you back Soul Made Flesh for her to read since it starts from pure mysticism and moves progressively toward non-stupidity. She may be suckered into identifying with it and end up learning something.

Then again, if I know the religious as well as I think I do, you'll have to quiz her after every chapter to make sure she actually read the thing instead of skimming over the pages while humming gospel music inside her head.


At February 06, 2008 1:18 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Theo: Thanks, but I don't need an Alpha book. My wife already has one since she took the course last year. What I read/heard from her was not the least bit impressive.

Karen: you're probably right about Fossils being better for the newbie than Ancestor's Tale. I consider A.T. to be easy but I have a much stronger biology background than she does. Hmm, $25 for enlightenment? Does seem to be a good investment, I must admit. There is another thing though; I want to have read the book I give her first so I can answer any questions she may have/have discussions about it. I could pick up the books you and berlzebub have mentioned, but then I'd have to push this whole enterprise back a few weeks so I could catch up.

As far as bargaining, that's another good idea. I'll definitely consider it if I go with a thinner book for my wife to read (ie. not Ancestor's Tale).

That said, I kind of want to read the whole Bible from start to finish, ie. I don't want to cherry pick by starting at the NT. I'm already well versed in the cherrypicked Bible (as ME below - actually my brother - states, I already have 5 years of catholic school experience, plus I get dragged to church regularly and have been involved with in the culture war/atheist blogosphere for ~ 3 years now, so I already know significant chunks.

Paul: I don't believe anything is wrong with me. Well, that's not true at all; there are lots of things wrong with me, but not having read the Bible is a fairly minor thing. As I said above, I already know lots of chunks, just haven't settled down to the whole thing. Plus, there is only so much I can read, and I tend to put my emphasis on science and history; the Bible is shitty at both. As a result, I'm kind of lacking at reading influential liturature of all sorts, not just the Bible. I'm actually looking forward to the excuse to read it.

"Me": You're mostly right about what I got in highschool. I can't remember how much of the OT we got, but it was very cherrypicked. We got a couple of gospels, we got several of the epistles. My wife has been reading quite a bit. Definitely more of the OT than I have.

At February 07, 2008 2:37 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

The comments I've read through here seem to point to the ultimate problem behind why your wife find evolution 'hard to stomach' - Like everything else in the universe, it's pretty complicated, and no 200 page book is going to do a great job explaining it. No matter what, your wife is going to go "But the book can't explain [insert subject here]!". There's God, right in the cracks.

Ultimately, woo is always going to be easier to understand/accept than science because science takes effort... Trust me I know, I'm taking a little break to write out this thing.

I think it would be a good idea to discuss this with your wife before she reads the book. You can each talk about how much work it takes to really learn something, and how both of you can read your respective books critically and discuss them. You'll obviously be able to tear the bible apart, but a good evolution book should explain how the mountain of evidence is insurmountable. The Ancestor's Tale is pretty good, but I haven't really come across a decent evolution primer for beginners.

Honestly, reading a bunch of SJ Gould's essays - where you learn about evolution through case studies and examples - makes for a better discussion. I suggest The Panda's Thumb.

At February 07, 2008 2:39 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

er, 'why your wife finds...'.

At February 08, 2008 1:24 a.m., Blogger sacred slut said...

My suggestions: "Cosmos," "Why People Believe Weird Things," "History of God" or "Misquoting Jesus"

Those just get the theist thinking...nothing too extreme.

For advanced reading: "The Jesus Puzzle" or "The Jesus Mysteries"- she probably would not go for those.

Actually Ancestor's Tale is NOT one I would recommend. Though I have no doubts about evolution, I can see that the creationist would see nothing but gap after gap and guess after guess on the part of the evolution scientists.

At February 08, 2008 1:26 a.m., Blogger sacred slut said...

Everyone should read the Bible, at least the key stories. It is, as you say, part of Western culture. I don't think you can really appreciate a lot of literature without a knowledge of the bible.

Don't go converting on us, now. ;p

At February 09, 2008 10:06 p.m., Blogger Paul said...

And Don Quixote, read that next...

At February 10, 2008 3:12 p.m., Blogger Theo Bromine said...

Oh well, I guess I'll have to find something else to do with my Alpha book. Even when I was a Christian, I didn't find the course the least bit impressive (but I was not the demographic they were after).

As for reading the bible, been there, done that (a few times), and I'm not sure there is much advantage to reading the whole thing "from start to finish", except that it's a nice defense against Christians' faith in the "power of God's word" to be able to say that you have read the whole thing and are still an atheist. In the meantime, I think the the accusation of "cherry picking" is only fair to apply to verses or passaged out of context, so approaching it by sections is still reasonable, as long as the sections includes at least one entire "book". (For example, for the OT Pentateuch+ Joshua, Judges->Chronicles, Prophets, other writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiates, Song of Songs; for the NT you can split it into Gospels+Acts, and Epistles (and save Revelation for when you are drunk or feverish :D )

At February 11, 2008 1:01 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

I actually looked at Misquoting Jesus this past weekend. It looked interesting. Also saw a documentary on TV about the "pagan jesus", ie. Jesus as an offshoot of the earlier mystic cults tracing back to the Egyptian Horus god. Kind of neat.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I've decided I'd prefer to stick to understanding evolution at the moment and leave the Jesus dismantling off the table for now.

Now, I don't think my wife would be too put off by the "gaps" in the Ancestor's Tale. She's not a trained apologist and (so far) isn't searching for excuses. There is a real question as to whether her long-forgotten highschool biology is up to the task. On the plus side, it's got lots of pictures. Karen, I'm not worried about her brain being mush from a long day of engineering. She happens to have a very cushy job that isn't very taxing ;-) She just doesn't have the biology background.

Berlzebub: I also looked at Inner Fish this weekend but could only find it in hardcover. I'm not spending $37 + tax on a thin little book, no matter how good it is. I'll wait for it in paperback/on sale.

Sacred Slut: you better believe I'll be converting you ;-)

Paul: jeez, more things to read? My brain is going to break.

Theo: sorry I can't help you about the book. Do you have a wood fireplace? Going camping anytime soon? Birdcage? Other than that, I can't help you. For my previous bible knowledge, I would say the stuff from church is definite cherry picking, but the stuff from my highschool classes wouldn't really be cherry picking as they did go over at least large passages. They tended to avoid the trickier ones though.

At February 11, 2008 1:04 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

re: revelations

...or high :-)

Actually, my wife got mad at my when I described revelations as "hallucinogenic ramblings."

At February 15, 2008 1:12 a.m., Blogger Necator said...

I also endorse Misqutoing Jesus. It reads well and is well referenced. Lost Christianities was a good read too.

At February 15, 2008 11:00 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Hmm, I guess the conclusion is that I need to buy Misquoting Jesus, even if it's just for me.

As far as my wife goes, I took another look at Ancestor's Tale myself last night, trying to see it from a layperson's perspective. Wow, it is pretty technical and very long. I'd really have to ask her if she's up to it. Otherwise, I'll try to pick up either Your Inner Fish or Evolution: what the fossils say... if I can find them (or, in the case of Inner Fish, if I can find them for a little cheaper than I've found them so far).

Getting back to Sacred Slut's worry about Ancestor's Tale re: gaps, Dawkins wrote a very good chapter about gaps in Ancestor's Tale, I think it was about ensatina salamanders that were a ring species.


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