All posts by David Barash


Some Concluding Evolutionary Mysteries

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Those of us engaged in teaching, writing and speaking about science are participating in a Great Deception – well-intended, to be sure, but a deception nonetheless. The gist of that deception is that we teach science as a list of established findings rather than what it really is: The world’s best and most rewarding process of “finding.” Students and the general public are for the most part receptive to learning about science, but all too often, thi…



Iconic phrase from the old TV show, Dragnet; now reduced to an endangered species (Wikipedia)

I have a great fondness for experiences, ideas, certain people, many animals, places, even some things. And I assume you do, too. Among these sources of delight, respect, and appreciation, I would include regular old-fashioned facts, although with the full recognition that not all of them are equally verifiable, or even equally definable. Nor are they equally pleasant, although part of the pleasure come…


The Mathematical Argument for Gun Control

The AR-15, a semi-automatic version of the military M16 rifle, marketed by Colt for civilian sales. “Thanks” in large part to the NRA, there are no federal restrictions on private ownership of these weapons in the US. Do you feel safer knowing that your neighbor might well have one of these?

David Barash: Not surprisingly, gun control is once again on people’s minds. For those Brainstorm readers tired of my opinions, I’m happy to “host” the thoughts of Dr. Michael Shermer, who writes a r…


Thank God for the NRA!

Hip, hip hooray for the NRA, ever-watchful guardian of humanity!

The global arms trade in conventional weapons is in the neighborhood of $60-billion, much of it fueling mayhem, misery, and mass killings around the world. Last week, however, UN negotiators were unable to meet their deadline for writing a comprehensive and much-anticipated Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  And a large share of the blame for that failure rests with that paragon of personal and social responsibility, our own beloved and ev…


More Mountains: Learning the Ropes

Fitzroy massif on a – rare – clear day: Climbable, but just barely, and not by me! (photo by Yoav Altman)

Call me David. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing and drooling at the ice giants marching about me here in the Pacific Northwest, such that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking the hats off any Re…


The Hare, the Tortoise, and the Aurora Madman

As far away as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and as close as your local gun-toting lunatic.

I’m not so naïve as to think that the Aurora tragedy will cause any change in the stunning U.S. refusal to engage in anything that even approaches minimally common-sense gun control. (How crazy is it, for example, that people on terrorist watch lists are still permitted to purchase assault rifles?) The Republican Party is besotted with the NRA, while the Democrats are scared silly of it. And of course, foll…


Sex at Dusk

Dawn in Puerto Encantado, Venezuela. Sex, anyone?

A little while ago, I worried that the next time someone asked me about the book, Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, I might vomit. An over-reaction? Perhaps. And one likely composed, in part, of simple envy, since their book seems to have sold a lot of copies. At least as contributory, however, is the profoundly annoying fact that Sex at Dawn has been taken as scientifically valid by large numbers of naïve readers … whereas i…


On Scientific Consensus

Isaac Newton, painted by Godfrey Kneller. The late Sir Isaac wasn't shy about making use of a prior "scientific consensus."

Responding to a recent post by our own Mark Bauerlein, a commenter (flailing—and failing—to find justification for her disavowal of the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming) noted that she was “trying [unsuccessfully, one gathers] to think of a concept that is more ‘anti-science’ than consensus.” I find this observation to be uncharacteristically …


Creator Deity vs. Discoverer Dude

A discoverer dude, not a creator god (Wikipedia)

Early in my teaching career—sometime in the mid Paleozoic—I employed short essay exams in my undergraduate animal behavior class at the University of Washington. (Now that the enrollment has metastasized from 24 to 300, I’ve regretfully turned to computer-graded multiple choice questions.) One of those now-extinct short essays asked students to explain, briefly, Darwin’s primary scientific contribution. I still remember one student’s ans…


The Eyes Have It

A book worth eyeing

Brethren and cistern, the text for my sermon today comes—sorta—from Psalm 115 (5), specifically: “They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see.”  I’m thinking of the know-nothing creationists among us, about whom the first part regrettably does not apply: They have mouths (and ostensibly brains), but the two are evidently disconnected, such that they speak a lot. Much too much.

And as it happens, their topic has often been eyes, which they prob…



Logo of the PRI – aka the "Institutional Revolutionary Party" (Wikipedia)

It’s been refreshing to see Mexico in the news of late, and for its internal politics rather than drug/gang violence. It has also been interesting to contemplate the name of the long-ruling Mexican political party, the PRI—en espagnol: El Partido Revolucionario Institucional—and to wonder how many people have noticed the oxymoron embedded therein. The “Institutional Revolutionary Party”?  How does one go about insti…


Evo-Bio of Religion: Overshoot Hypotheses, from HADD to ToM

Renowned "Face on Mars" photographed by an early Viking mission, and later shown to be an illusion caused by local geology and the sun's angle (Wikipedia)

I’ve previously explained my contention that when it comes to evolution and human beings, what we don’t know is if anything more interesting than what we do. (Indeed, my latest book looks specifically at an array of evolutionary mysteries—including but not limited to homosexuality, female orgasm, menopause, and consciousness—laying out som…


‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ … and Reality?

The five available "Ice and Fire" books; two more are anticipated (Wikipedia)

To my mind, there is nothing in the world of fantasy literature that comes  close to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have gleefully read it aloud to each of my daughters, taking the liberty of making one small change every time: I modified the pronouns describing the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, thus making them young women (and in the process correcting the only weakness I perceive in that marvelous stor…


More Mountain Madness

Ilona Barash (MD, PhD), leading a "pitch" up Coyne Crack, Indian Creek, Utah. (Photo by Yoav Altman)

Rock and roll. Rock-a’bye baby. Rock around the clock. Hard Rock Café. Rock my world. “We will, we will rock you.” There is rock and there is rock. What really rocks me is the real stuff.

My daughter, Ilona, and her husband, Yoav, just climbed Half Dome in Yosemite, not via the exhausting but safe backside trail that concludes with a few hundred vertical feet of scary fixed cables—as I have don…


Back to the Evo-Bio of Religion: the Overshoot Hypothesis (Part 1)

Reverse side of the New Hampshire quarter, featuring the Old Man of the Mountain. “We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds,” wrote David Hume in The Natural History of Religion.

Memes aside, what are some other evolutionary hypotheses for religion? It is not sufficient simply to say that people worldwide turn to religion to meet certain psychological needs, otherwise unmet: explaining great mysteries such as death, or the meaning of life, or because it provides solace, a sense of b…


A ‘Tempest’-uous Reprieve for Western Civ

Prospero, Ariel and a sleeping Miranda, from a 1797 painting by William Hamilton (Wikimedia Commons)

Last week my wife and I attended a movie that was—not surprisingly—preceded by previews, during which we nearly walked out, figuring that anything associated with such garbage was liable to be trash, too.  Fortunately, we stayed, and it wasn’t.  Nonetheless, my painful memory of those previews (one in particular, advertising what threatens to be an abominable piece of cinematic ordure titled Ted)…


Our Oxymoronic ‘National Security Experts’

My brilliant Brainstorm colleague, Todd Gitlin, just wrote very effectively about the inexcusable failure of economists to learn from our current Great Recession. I must agree. His point is so cogent and contagious, moreover, that I feel moved to interrupt my ongoing meditations on the evolutionary biology of religion to point out that the dismal science isn’t alone in its suitably dismal refusal to acknowledge failure and refusal to learn thereby … while also paradoxically retaining a statu…


Evo-Bio of Religion: the Viral Meme Hypothesis

Schematic of a typical bacteriophage virus injecting its genome into a bacterium; could religions be doing this to us? (Wikipedia)

One hypothesis for the evolutionary basis of religion doesn’t rely on the traditional concept of biological adaptation. Rather, it proposes that Homo sapiens has been saddled with—or parasitized by— a tendency that is maladaptive. Not surprisingly, this idea comes from the fertile mind of a great evolutionary biologist who is also renowned (or infamous) as a vigorous…


Darius’ Dictum and Religion’s Reign

Alice and the White Queen (who reputedly believed in six impossible things every day before breakfast). Illustration for the fifth chapter of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass (1865) by John Tenniel

I freely admit it: It’s possible that my current series of blogs on the evolutionary biology of religion is a waste­­ of time, yours as well as mine. Maybe religion isn’t an evolved human trait after all, but instead, entirely a product of culture, learning, and social tradition. To be …


A God Gene?

(Flickr/CC photo by Johnragai)

Let’s continue talking about God and evolution, a combination that generates more than its share of high-energy radiation, most of it in the infra-red rather than the visible spectrum. But instead of looking into the alleged cohabitation or, alternatively, the conflict between the two, let’s look at religion as an evolutionary mystery: Nearly all human societies have some sort of God concept, and most people (excepting in some modern northern European societies…