Custom Search

Friday, April 21, 2006

Agnostic Aussie philosopher: Neo-Darwinism's failings

The late agnostic Australian philosopher David Stove’s hilarious book, Darwinian Fairytales (Aldershot UK: Avebury, 1995) is once again commercially available

(Note: I intend to do a wrap-up on the Pianka affair this weekend, but for logistic reasons, I am posting this now.)

The gist of Stove’s argument is this: Darwin wanted to demonstrate that human development is controlled by natural selection. (Yes, Darwin talked about animals and plants, but the real quarry was always humans. However, he did not directly address humans until his later book Descent of Man (1871).)

Following Thomas Malthus, Darwin thought that natural selection was fueled mainly by the fact that food, unlike many resources, is not sharable. (If one wolf eats the rabbit, another doesn’t.) Thus, he focused on food issues as a source of natural selection.

The problem is, as Stove notes, the known history of the human race has never demonstrated that Malthusian principles are true (more on that later), and there is good reason to think that they are not true of many animal species either.

Note: Stove is not arguing that evolution does not occur. His argument is explicitly with the Darwinist/neo-Darwinist/population genetics/inclusive fitness approach to understanding evolution does not accord with the facts for many animal species and does not at all accord with the facts for humans.

Below, I offer the briefest of introductions to each essay, offering some of the points he makes. along with links to my further comments at the Access Research network site. I suggest saving this post, as a handy introduction to some of the issues, with links to more (until you have time to read Stove's book):

Read more at Preface

Essay 1: Darwinism's Dilemma

Stove starts out by pointing out a fact that should be obvious, but, in a culture like ours, is not:

"If Darwin's theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species, a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species." (P.1)

Hence the need to propose weird theories such as the selfish gene or evolutionary psychology, to try to explain how natural selection would work in situations where it really doesn't.
Read more at Chapter 1.

Essay 2:Where Darwin First Went Wrong About Man

Darwin found a plausible mechanism for evolution in Malthus's theory that population increases geometrically, but the food supply only arithmetically, and thus numbers are kept in check by starvation. In that case, the fittest slight variations in every population would survive and breed, and by slight progressive changes, form new species.

But. Stove asks, is the mechanism correct? Is it true that population always exceeds the food supply (which both Malthus's description and Darwin's mechanism of natural selection would require)? Certainly not with humans!
Read more at Chapter 2.

Essay 3: But what about War, Pestilence, and All That?

Stove shows that Malthus and Darwin tended to go well beyond the evidence in assuming the importance of the food supply, as opposed to other differentials, in determining birth rates. Generally, human birth rates crash with affluence, as they have done in North America and Europe.

It is not clear that animal birth rates always rise with affluence either. One thinks, for example, of wolf packs, where the jealousy of the alpha male likely prevents his subordinates from mating, even if food is plentiful.

Read more at Chapter 3.

(I can't make this link work either, currently. Go here: Scroll down.

Essay 4: Population, Privilege, and Malthus' Retreat
Darwin simply refused to acknowledge that the actual pattern of human population growth and decline refuted his and Malthus's ideas. Stove notes, "He was temperamentally allergic to controversy, and would always, if he could, either ignore or else candidly expound a criticism of his theory, as a substitute for answering it." (p. 46) In this case, he had good reason because, whereas his theory should have explained human population patterns, it was consistently falsified by them.

Malthus himself eventually gave up the idea that humans were just like other animals and admitted that his biology had been wrong. Darwin and Wallace never did. (p. 50).
Read more at Chapter 4

Essay 5: A Horse in the Bathroom or the Struggle for Life

Stove begins Chapter 5 by clarifying his position on evolution:

I have no difficulty in accepting the fact of evolution. The proposition, for example, that existing species have all evolved from others, is not at odds with any rational belief that I know of. But I do not believe the Darwinian theory or explanation of evolution. There are several reasons. One of them is, that if that theory were true, then a struggle for life would always be going on among the members of every species; whereas in our species at any rate, no such struggle is observable.
Read more at Chapter 5.

Essay 6: Tax and the Selfish Girl or Does "Altruism" Need Inverted Commas?

Stove points out that many animals might well spread their selfish genes much more effectively by behaving otherwise than they do. For example, a female chimpanzee could let other females raise her infants and have many more of them, but if anyone thinks she herself is likely to see the matter in that light, one would give little for his chances of reasoning with her in the primate enclosure. Again, among the most important motivators of human beings are that we hate to be alone for long, even if it would be in our interest, and we love to communicate, even when it harms our interest. These primary human motivators may help or hinder survival or passing on genes, but they are actually irrelevant to that project, just as the mother chimpanzee's attachment to her baby (or to another chimp's baby if she loses her own) is irrelevant to it.
Read more at Chapter 6.

Essay 7: Genetic Calvinism or Demons and Dawkins

Incredibly, Dawkins insists at one and the same time that altruism "has no place in nature," but nonetheless asserts "let us try to teach generosity and altruism." (p. 126) But how can we? How are we to acquire altruism if it has no place in nature, let alone teach it? And remember, we are but puppets of our genes. At this point, it is fair to say that Dawkins isn't making any sense.

Stove usefully contrasts the scientific discoveries related to genes with the entertaining but useless intellectual froth associated with Dawkins's notion of the meme (pp. 132–33).
Read more at Chapter 7.

Essay 8: "He Ain't heavy, He's My Brother," or Altruism and Shared Genes

Stove introduces the basic sociobiological belief that generally, how altruistic (unselfish) an organism is toward another of the same species depends on the proportion of genes they share. This is part of the theory of kin selection or inclusive fitness — inclusive means that you will care about someone according to how many genes you share. Altruism has always been a problem for Darwinism.

He raises a number of problems, including the fact that identical twins, however emotionally close, do not consider their interests identical (pp. 146– 47), but inclusive fitness would suggest that they should. If anyone wonders about this, a simple test would be to watch what happens when an identical twin steals her sister's boyfriend. The most altruism you are likely to get from the bereft twin is, "Well, honestly, I would have shot her, but Mom would be devastated ... " It's hard to imagine that matters are any different among twins in the animal world.
Read more at Chapter 8.

Essay 9: A New Religion

Stove talks about the way in which sociobiology has become a religion. Now, Stove has not much time for any religion, but of sociobiology in particular, he says, "Socibiology is not incomprehensible, but it is one of the religious that are obviously false. The only part of it that is true is the doctrine that genes are invisible. But this is not something peculiar to sociobiology. Everyone agrees that genes are invisible .... " (p. 175)

The problem is that genes are so unlikely to really function the way the sociobiologist needs them to that the self gene hypothesis can only be held on faith as a religion:
Read more at Chapter 9.

Essay 10: Paley's Revenge or Purpose Regained

Stove shows that if Darwinists were prevented from smuggling teleological language into their descriptions of the activity of genes, they would not be able to demonstrate that genes ever even "try" to get themselves replicated at all. How could they? They are rows of molecules, not mail order brides.
Read more at Chapter 10

Essay 11: Errors of Heredity or The Irrelevance of Darwinism to Human Life

In the eleventh and last chapter, Stove addresses the fact that, from a Darwinian perspective, humans must be a biological error. "A biological error, or error of heredity, is an organism which does not have as many descendants as it could have. ora characteristic of an organism witch prevents it having as many descendants as it otherwise could." (p. 212)

Now, he reasons, among plants or cockroaches, there is no biological error. They do not fail to have as many descendants as they can. Yet humans routinely do so, for a number of reasons, ranging from natural or voluntary celibacy through lifestyle choices that reduce fertility right through to heroic self-sacrifice.

Chapter 11
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.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

The Pope using the term "intelligent design" to describe the Catholic view of origins, go here.

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams attacked by Darwinist, hits back. Will he now cartoon on the subject?

"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.

World class chemist dissed at Catholic university because he sympathizes with intelligent design.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment are rarely accepted. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudeby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

Who links to me?