Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Speed Gene

Former Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson created a bit of a kerfuffle a few weeks ago when he opined that "a ‘superior athletic gene’ in the descendants of West African slaves means black American and Caribbean sprinters will command the sport at the London Games."

He was certainly right about who's commanding the sport in the 2012 Olympics (and just about every prior Olympics as well), but then Johnson went on to add that, "It’s a fact that hasn’t been discussed openly before. It’s a taboo subject in the States but it is what it is. Why shouldn’t we discuss it?"

Well, Michael might not be aware of the can of worms such a discussion would open. There are a couple of reasons why the dominance of athletes with West African ancestry is not often mentioned, at least not above a whisper, in the United States.

If Johnson is correct - and it seems to me as obvious as the noon day sun that he is - that the disproportionate success of black athletes is due to a genetic advantage enjoyed by the descendents of slaves, then the logical implication is that the disproportionate success in other areas of life enjoyed by other groups must also be largely due to their gene pools. The further unfortunate implication is that other disproportions, for example the disproportionate numbers of blacks who commit violent crimes, might also have a genetic basis.

These conclusions are certainly impolitic in contemporary American society, and no one wants to call attention to them on pain of being called a racist. Yet if athletic ability is genetic why not regard intellectual ability or a proclivity to violence as genetic? And if we should talk, as Johnson wants us to do, about the genetic gifts of Olympic sprinters, should we not also discuss genetic liabilities as well?

This gets very dicey. If over-representation is an indication of genetic inheritance then does that mean that under-representation in fields requiring, say, analytical and mathematical abilities, fields in which participants of African descent are sparse, indicate that people of African descent are genetically disadvantaged?

Are Asians and Jews, two groups which are probably over-represented in intellectual disciplines like science, genetically superior to those groups which are under-represented?

You can see the treacherous ground onto which such questions would lead us and why there's reluctance for people to mention out loud that the dominance of American and Caribbean blacks in certain sports must be genetic.

Of course, one reason why no one wants to talk about this is because, it's feared, it'll play into the hands of racists, but I don't know why it should be allowed to do so.

In any family there are diverse gifts and aptitudes. The expectations and hopes we have for one child aren't the same as we have for another. A child born with a hearing disability may not be as strong a musician as her older sibling. A successful athlete may not do as well in the classroom as the less athletic sibling. Children are often born with different intellectual and physical aptitudes and abilities. That doesn't mean that any of these children are more valuable and more loved than the others. If Asians aren't particularly good sprinters but often excel at intellectual challenges they shouldn't be deemed less valuable for that and neither should those who have amazing athletic ability but are not the equal to Asians in the classroom.

In fact, it's the refusal to recognize differences that leads to racial animosities. If blacks are underrepresented in a particular field, the assumption is that it must be white racial prejudice that has excluded them, whether it is or not, and thus the remedy must be quotas, affirmative action, race-norming, and equal representation. These solutions, however, not only create mistrust between groups, but they also breed resentments among those who get to where they are because they have the ability to do it.

It also hampers and frustrates those who lack a physical or intellectual ability because they can't meet society's expectations for them.

Johnson said:
All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations. Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me – I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.
You may be right Michael, but you're raising an issue that our society is simply not mature enough to handle.

Curiosity's Motivation

You may have been wondering as you watched the amazing story of how NASA scientists landed the exploratory vehicle Curiosity on the surface of Mars why we were spending $2.5 billion to investigate the Red Planet. What was the chief purpose of the mission? Almost every spokesperson I heard talk about this said that what they hoped to achieve was to discover whether life could have at one time been present on Mars.

Okay, that's an interesting question, but $2.5 billion? Well, yes, when you understand that what's at issue here is not just a matter of scientific exploration but most importantly the need to buttress a major metaphysical or religious worldview.

David Klinghoffer explains:
Make no mistake, NASA has committed $2.5 billion to this little project in large part to satisfy a need in the culture of Big Science -- a culture that extends far beyond the professional ranks of actual scientists -- for validation of a particular worldview. In that worldview, life arises and evolves spontaneously -- it must do so -- reflecting no purpose or design, given a handful of (not especially elevated) ingredients and enough time.

In this Darwinian picture, life is nothing special. Countless men and women stake the meaning of their own lives, or rather the meaning they imagine and invest in their lives, on this idea. Yet two empirical problems intrude. First, the more science learns about the inner space of the cell with its "machinery" (for want of a better word), the more profoundly special life appears to be. Second, the Darwinian view requires, since life is so prosaic, that it should have arisen all around the cosmos, in intelligent and other forms, and probably in our own solar system too other than on Earth alone. Yet persistent efforts by SETI to detect evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence have conspicuously failed.

Turning from these discouraging data, NASA offers hope in the form of Curiosity and its mission. To shore up a beleaguered philosophical perspective, Darwinian materialists would be delighted -- no, tremendously relieved -- by the discovery of past or present Martian microbes. Failing that, they would receive news that life's "ingredients" have been found on Mars with reverent gratitude.
It's interesting that NASA is spending billions of taxpayer dollars to essentially seek confirmation of what is basically a religious doctrine, i.e. materialism. I wonder how much the government would be willing to spend to investigate the claim that there's a massive wooden barge frozen on Mt. Ararat. That would also confirm a major metaphysical belief, and there's at least some tenuous evidence that such an artifact is actually there, but I doubt that there'd be funds available to investigate that. Taxpayer money can only be used to support attempts to discredit traditional religion, not to reinforce it.

Anyway, Klinghoffer goes on to discuss why the discovery of evidence of Martian life would have no effect whatsoever on intelligent design theory and would really settle nothing in the debate between IDers and materialists. Give it a look.