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10.31.2011

Ancestors

I finished reading "Jesus Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman, a fascinating historical analysis of the Bible and the life of Jesus. I am not a person of faith, but it seems to me such truth seeking can only serve to strengthen and contextualize one's beliefs in the 21st century. Unless you are a 1st century Palestinian Jew, the literal contents of the Bible don't make a lot of sense today. But it has some good moral messages, when properly contextualized. It was also a well written book and easy to read (Ehrman's book that is...the Bible is a chore for me, anyway.).

Before I begin my next book, "Lost Christianities," which is about all the Christian books that never made it into the Biblical canon, and why, I am going to make some headway on Richard Dawkins' tome, "The Ancestor's Tale." In it, Dawkins take a backwards journey through evolutionary history, stopping at each branch point on the evolutionary tree that led to humans.

I just finished reading about rodents, one of the most adaptable groups of mammals. They evolved during the time of the dinosaurs, living nocturnally to avoid predation. After the dinosaurs went extinct, the rodents were able to explode because of the decreased predation and all the ecological niches left vacant by the dinosaurs.

But here's the crazy thing. There are mammalian ancestors more primitive than the ones that gave rise to rodents. These were called Laurasiatheres, and eventually gave rise to today's bats, polar bears, pangolins, and other creatures. I had kind of always thought rodents were very primitive. But their ancestors are pre-dated not only by Laurasiatheres, but also marsupials and monotremes, among others. These are predated again by mammal-like reptiles that far pre-date the dinosaurs.

I am not sure why Dawkins includes these reptiles, because they are extinct today, and he said at the beginning of his book he was only going to cover extant groups of animals (those whose descendants are still around today). But I am not to that section yet, so maybe he has a good reason, or covers them just as an aside.

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