Custom Search

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Literary Darwinism: Hamlet was really concerned about three-eighths of his genes?

The literary Darwinists purport to explain why natural selection preprograms you to like certain literature:

For the common reader, "Pride and Prejudice" is a romantic comedy. His or her pleasure comes from the vividness of Austen's characters and how familiar they still seem: it's as if we know Elizabeth and Darcy. On a more literary level, we enjoy Austen's pointed dialogue and admire her expert way with humor. For similar reasons, critics have long called "Pride and Prejudic" a classic - their ultimate (if not well defined) expression of approval.

But for an emerging school of literary criticism known as Literary Darwinism, the novel is significant for different reasons. Just as Charles Darwin studied animals to discover the patterns behind their development, Literary Darwinists read books in search of innate patterns of human behavior: child bearing and rearing, efforts to acquire resources (money, property, influence) and competition and cooperation within families and communities. They say that it's impossible to fully appreciate and understand a literary text unless you keep in mind that humans behave in certain universal ways and do so because those behaviors are hard-wired into us. For them, the most effective and truest works of literature are those that reference or exemplify these basic facts.

Author D.T. Max writes as if he (or she) would really like to be able to take all this seriously, but then keeps backing away. That's not surprising. Taking it seriously would indeed be a tough job. Get this:

Literary Darwinists use this "deep history" to explain the power of books and poems that might otherwise confuse us, thus hoping to add satisfaction to our reading of them. Take for instance "Hamlet." Through the Literary Darwinist lens, Shakespeare's play becomes the story of a young man's dilemma choosing between his personal self-interest (taking over the kingdom by killing his uncle, his mother's new husband) and his genetic self-interest (if his mother has children with his uncle, he may get new siblings who carry three-eighths of his genes). No wonder the prince of Denmark cannot make up his mind.

Well, that clears that up, I guess. One of the few things Hamlet never seems to think much about (pehaps to Ophelia's fatal frustration) suddenly becomes his primary motivation (the passing on of genes). Incidentally, David Sloan Wilson, co-editor of scholarly anthology The Literary Animal, on literary Darwinism and son of novelist Sloan Wilson, appears in the next item.
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Selling Darwinism to students:

David Sloan Wilson, noted above, also wrote an essay about a course aimed at selling Darwinism to students in Binghamton, New York. (Note: This link is a .pdf, so you may not be able to use your back browser button to get back here.)

Much of it is pretty much what you might expect, but note the following:

Choosing the subject of infanticide, I say that superficially it might seem that organisms would never evolve to kill their own offspring, but with a little thought the students might be able to identify situations in which infanticide is biologically adaptive for the parents. I ask them to form small groups by turning to their neighbors to discuss the subject for five minutes and to list their predictions on a piece of paper.

After the lists are collected, I ask the students for some of their predictions to list in front of the whole class. They are eager to talk, and reliably identify the three major adaptive contexts of infanticide: lack of resources, poor offspring quality, and uncertain paternity, along with less likely possibilities, such as population regulation, that can be set aside for future discussion. I conclude by attempting to convey the simple but profound message of the exercise: How can they, mere undergraduate students, who know almost nothing about evolution and (one hopes) know nothing at all about infanticide, so easily deduce the major hypotheses that are in fact employed in the study of infanticide for organisms as diverse as plants, insects, and mammals? That is just one example of the power of thinking on the basis of adaptation and natural selection.

I'm hardly surprised that the students are eager to talk.

Wilson coyly writes that one hopes the students "know nothing at all about infanticide." All I can say is, oh come ON! Many of them know way more than is good for them about the modern version of infanticide, abortion.

Apparently, 52% of all U.S. women who end the life of one of their children by abortion areunder 25, and abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States.

No wonder students get co-opted by a course like this into inventing excuses for prehistoric infanticides. It is for their own actions and those of their friends that they are offering the rationalizations. What I find most intriguing is that we are all supposed to read the account of "prehistoric infanticides" and act as though Norht American teens today have never heard of anything remotely like that.

Don't be surprised if this course or one like it is offered at a school near you. It will be offered with taxpayer funding, but you can be pretty sure that no course that addresses post-abortion grief will be offered with taxpayer funding at the same institution. Love 'em or hate 'em, the Darwinists are not kidding, m'kay?

Free speech advocates reverse position where intelligent design is concerned

Here's an interesting piece from Knight-Ridder that honestly tries to unpack the controversy over the right to discuss evidence for intelligent design of the universe or life forms in science classes. Paul Nussbaum points out that traditional free speech advocates now oppose free speech. That makes sense is you assume that, all along, the free speech advocates supported free speech in order to advance materialism, but have no real interest in the defense of human dignity or intellectual freedom. The contortions they undergo in order to deny intellectual freedom are painful to read about.

Where reporter Nussbaum gets confused is when he assumes that the issue is about religion, in a traditional sense. Not really, Paul. It's about the right to be in possession of - or make others aware of - information that discredits materialism, the alleged (but not the actual) foundation of science.
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.
Are you looking for one of the following stories?

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. See also the ruling on tax funds. Note the line that the “free speech” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonbon is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

Who links to me?