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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Evolutionary Psychology Watch: Another just-so story about the advent of warfare

According to a recent article in National Geographic News, the development of the spear led to an era of peace among early humans. So thinks University of Michigan anthropologist Raymond Kelly, who argues, in "Spear Led to Era of Human Peace, Expert Says" (September 6, 2005),

The ability to kill from a distance and the use of ambush tactics significantly affected border interactions.

The size of a group was no longer a guarantee of success, and the potential of being seriously wounded or killed increased.

Kelly believes the change in circumstances forced early humans to come up with new ways to resolve conflicts and to maintain friendly relations.

But Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham disagrees, saying,

"Maybe it did, but it seems to me unlikely to have done so," said Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It is easier to make surprise attacks with weapons than without, and hard to defend against them."
I like folk tales as much as the next person, but don't think that these "just-so" stories of evolutionary psychology should be represented as science. Indeed, this article is a classic for demonstrating how appealing to "human evolution" allows people to talk complete nonsense without either themselves or their readers being aware of it.

For example, here's a gem from the same article, where Kelly holds out a "ray of hope" for peace, allegedly based on human evolution:

"The U.S. was at war with Canada in 1812 and with Mexico in 1848 but has managed to live in peace with its neighbors for the past 150 years," he said. "So we clearly have the capacity to maintain peaceful relations with neighbors over extended periods."

"These capacities are as much a product of [human] evolution as the capacity to engage in lethal intergroup violence."
As a Canadian, I find the sheer naivete breathtaking, and, in a man of learning, bordering on offensive. The main reason there are no wars between Canada and the United States is the overwhelming military superiority of the United States! The United States is the most powerful military force in human history.

Canada has almost no military power. Therefore, even though we do have some serious issues with the United States, war is out of the question for us, never mind what direction "evolution" supposedly points Canadians in.

Also, there's the fact that Canada's economy depends almost entirely on trade with the United States, AND our economy is now mostly American-owned. So if the Americans attacked Canada, they would, for the most part, be killing their own employees and service providers and destroying their own property.

And if we Canadians attacked the United States, we would be violating a fundamental rule around here, formulated in the days when the Hudson's Bay Company traded with the First Nations (Indians): Never shoot the customer, no matter how much of a pain in the neck he is.

Of course, an evolutionary psychologist would undoubtedly say that relations between Canada and the United States are the inevitable outcome of "human evolution." Sure. Just tell him about your complex historical circumstances, and he will explain them based on something chimpanzees do or early humans supposedly did.

Why does the Darwinist think this way: The Darwinist does not believe that human intelligence is a human version of the intelligence behind the universe. He believes that it is the evolutionary outcome of accidentally overdeveloped brains, possibly but not certainly selected by natural selection.

As a result, he cannot accept that humans actually have consciousness or free will, or that our current circumstances largely result from the exercise of these functions. Rather, he needs to find the answers in the unthinking behavior of non-humans and pre-humans. Otherwise, he thinks we have not found an answer. And, here's the kicker, any explanation of that sort, no matter how ridiculous, will always make more sense to him than any explanation based on the effects of intelligence, as a creative force in its own right.

As I say, entertain yourself with this stuff if you like, but don't call it science.

(Note: The only finding for which we have hard evidence from history is that superiority in weaponry can go either way. Europeans destroyed many native American civilizations because they had guns. Arguably, the diseases they brought destroyed more people than the guns, but it was the spread of guns, not disease, that drove colonial policy. On the other hand, a huge empire typically suppresses local warfare because it is overwhelmingly more powerful than petty warlords. So it can be a force for peace - until it gets into a war with another empire.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Straw in the wind: Catholic bishop affirms traditional Western view rejecting "mindless evolution"

Bishop Donald Wuerl of the Diocese of Pittsburgh published an article in the Pittsburgh Catholic, in which he makes the point that great foundational thinkers in the Western tradition have generally come to the evidence-based conclusion that the cosmos is designed, without making use of theological arguments. Many were not Christians or theists.

On the one hand, in the years since Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1855, some scientists offer the theory that the best explanation for the existence of all life is random selection and the natural evolution of species.

On the other hand other scientists support the theory of intelligent design. This explanation of natural phenomena goes back, in a well documented manner, to the time of Aristotle and other Greek philosophers. The great Greek philosophers and naturalists lived some 300 years before Christ and attempted to explain the cosmos solely from the light of human reason.

That's worth keeping in mind when we hear "culture wars" interpretations of the controversy.

It is not a conflict between fundamentalism and science; it is a conflict between the consensus position of Western civilization (in favour of design) and naturalistic materialism, which has attempted to gain a monopoly in science and suppress all evidence against itself.

Catholic resource centre provides article rating Darwinism level in textbooks

A Catholic teacher sent me this link to the Catholic Education Resource Center, which provides a reprint of an article by Jonathan Wells from a couple of years ago, rating the biology textbooks used in Catholic (as well as other) schools.

One prong of the intelligent design controversy has been the "mindless recycling" (Stephen Jay Gould's words) of false drawings of embryos and other tendentious evidence that make Darwinism appear much more solid than it really is. (Essentially, in an effort to bolster Darwinism, the drawings were distorted and the evidence was used selectively, to make that vertebrate embryos appear much more alike than they really are.)

I am glad to see that the Catholic world is beginning to wake up to some of these problems. For far too long, the code phrase has been "Catholics have no problem with evolution," which unfortunately translates, all too often, into "Catholics do not question the bilge. They leave it to fundamentalists, who are easily discredited." That appears to be changing.

Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution, is probably the most vituperated of all the ID guys, principally because of his careful exposure of the textbook myths. Myths like the embryo drawings are sometimes retailed by otherwise skilled and reliable scientists — because these myths have been retailed for so long that you would have to go far back into the history of minor subspecialties in biology, as Wells did, to find uncontaminated sources.

On the other hand, the fake embryo drawings have been known to be fake for a century, as Gould admits. So why were they reproduced for so long?

Having worked in the textbook publishing industry, I can tell you one reason: In textbook publishing, the rewards go to the people who are most skilled at not upsetting the apple cart. Anyone who had published accurate drawings (which do not show nearly as much similarity in the embryos, and then only at a middle stage where much of it may be accidental), would be financially punished for creating a problem. Textbook publishers compete to see who can uphold the consensus most slavishly, not to see who can most efficiently correct wrong information that teachers are currently comfortable with.

But Wells suggests another reason as well:

According to the news media, only religious fundamentalists question Darwinian evolution. People who criticize Darwinism, we are told, want to bomb science back to the Stone Age and replace it with the Bible. The growing body of scientific evidence contradicting Darwinian claims is steadfastly ignored. When biochemist Michael Behe pointed out in The New York Times last year that the embryo "evidence" for evolution was faked, Harvard Darwinist Stephen Jay Gould admitted that he had known this for decades (as noted above) — but accused Behe of being a "creationist" for pointing it out.

Now, although Behe supports the idea that some features of living things are best explained by intelligent design, he is not a "creationist" as that word is normally used. Behe is a molecular biologist whose scientific work has convinced him that Darwinian theory doesn't conform to observation and experimental evidence. Why does Gould, who knows Haeckel's drawings were faked, dismiss Behe as a creationist for criticizing them?

I suspect that there's an agenda other than pure science at work here. My evidence is the more or less explicit materialist message woven into many textbook accounts. Futuyma's Evolutionary Biology is characteristic of this, informing students that "it was Darwin's theory of evolution," together with Marx's theory of history and Freud's theory of human nature, "that provided a crucial plank to the platform of mechanism and materialism" that has since been "the stage of most Western thought." One textbook quotes Gould, who openly declares that humans are not created, but are merely fortuitous twigs on a "contingent" (i.e. accidental) tree of life. ...

It's hilarious that we are now hearing been-there/stuck-there commentators sounding alarmist warnings that the people who are complaining about misrepresentation in the textbooks want to introduce propaganda. If they did, believe me, it would merely be business as usual for the textbooks. But those who oppose the fake embryo drawings really want to get the propaganda out. The Wells article conveniently provides examples and pictures of textbooks, so you can check what you or your kid is using. If the book doesn't appear on this list, use the index to look up "Haeckel" and "embryos" to see if the book has corrected material or not.
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
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