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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Evolutionary psychology: Where do I go to get my tax money back?

A friend notes this revealing example of two evolutionary psychologists duking it out about whether groups of people can decide to behave better as a group, for mutual advantage - or is everyone merely governed by their selfish genes?

Condemning D. S. Wilson's argument that cooperative groups are more likely to survive than uncooperative ones, University of Washington psychologist David P. Barash insists that "the overwhelming conviction among evolutionary theorists remains that they are most unlikely."*

In other words, the cooperative groups that I experience every day, while riding Toronto Transit, are "most unlikely."

I want my tax money back.

Anyway, Barash goes on to make perfectly plain that evolutionary psychology is nothing but current local politics in a cave man face mask:
Perhaps, in the future, these supposed components of morality will be found to have genuine evolutionary underpinnings, but for now they seem closer to a political platform plank for the religious right; psychologists interested in achieving a new synthesis by applying evolutionary biology to human morality should bear in mind that just because these notions appeared in a Science Review does not make them genuine science.

I wonder how he'll vote in the 2008 US election?

*Apparently, group selection was declared "off limits" in 1966, so no virtuous evo psycho ever imagines that people foresee an advantage in working together. But then evo psychos probably don't believe in the reality of the mind either, so they are always looking for something that isn't there - the cave man gene that replaces awareness of one's situation in real time.

And, by the way, don't write to give me any more guff about how it isn't "real science" and therefore I shouldnt talk about it, as one would-be commenter tried to do:
... No reasonable scientist (or Darwinist as you like to say) would consider evolutionary psychology to be a legitimation of Darwin's evolution; its just a bastardized spin off for goofballs trying to explain things like current social preferences, ie evolutionary psychology = joke. ...

Of course it's not real science. Of course it's a joke. BUT notice that the evolutionary biologists NEVER get together to denounce it. That would put an end to it, but conveniently, they never do.

Or if they have, write and tell me and give me a link - and I will give them all the publicity in my power.

But I am not holding my breath. The reality is that they can't risk a spotlight on THEIR theories either. Otherwise they would act pretty quickly, just as MDs act against quack medicine.

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A thought for your Evolution Sunday service ...

Recently, prominent Darwinist E. O. Wilson commented on how he ceased to be a Baptist:

Then I discovered evolution. Suddenly -- that is not too strong a word -- I saw the world in a wholly new way. This epiphany I owed to my mentor Ralph Chermock, an intense, chain-smoking young assistant professor newly arrived in the provinces with a Ph.D. in entomology from Cornell University. After listening to me natter for a while about my lofty goal of classifying all the ants of Alabama, he handed me a copy of Ernst Mayr's 1942 Systematics and the Origin of Species. Read it, he said, if you want to become a real biologist.

[ ... ]

On a far more modest scale, I found it a wonderful feeling not just to taste the unification metaphysics but also to be released from the confinement of fundamentalist religion. I had been raised a Southern Baptist, laid backward under the water on the sturdy arm of a pastor, been born again. I knew the healing power of redemption. Faith, hope, and charity were in my bones, and with millions of others I knew that my savior Jesus Christ would grant me eternal life. More pious than the average teenager, I read the Bible cover to cover, twice. But now at college, steroid-driven into moods of adolescent rebellion, I chose to doubt. I found it hard to accept that our deepest beliefs were set in stone by agricultural societies of the eastern Mediterranean more than two thousand years ago. I suffered cognitive dissonance between the cheerfully reported genocidal wars of these people and Christian civilization in 1940s Alabama. It seemed to me that the Book of Revelation might be black magic hallucinated by an ancient primitive. And I thought, surely a loving personal God, if He is paying attention, will not abandon those who reject the literal interpretation of the biblical cosmology. It is only fair to award points for intellectual courage. Better damned with Plato and Bacon, Shelley said, than go to heaven with Paley and Malthus. But most of all, Baptist theology made no provision for evolution. The biblical authors had missed the most important revelation of all! Could it be that they were not really privy to the thoughts of God? Might the pastors of my childhood, good and loving men though they were, be mistaken? It was all too much, and freedom was ever so sweet. I drifted away from the church, not definitively agnostic or atheistic, just Baptist no more.

I'm still in awe of the effrontery of people who think I am not supposed to notice that MOST evolutionary biologists sympathize with his views.

That colours everything they tell us about evolution, and at The Design of Life some of us are now systematically revising the story.

More on Evolution Sunday here.

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Design of Life: Was Mendel wrong too?

Well, he could be, at least about some things.

Don't shoot! Look, no one expected that the human being would have only a few more genes than the worms that survived a space shuttle blowup and were returned to their owners. We could be wrong about lots of other things too.

Anyway, here's Jane Harris-Zsovan's story, just up at The Design of Life:
Lolle's 2005 paper with Robert Pruitt of Purdue University, Genome-wide non-mendelian inheritance of extra-genomic information in Arabidopsis", suggested that a mutant variety of this species overrides its genetic code and does indeed revert back to its wild state.

Starting in the 1990s, the researchers began using specimens of A. thaliana to study plant cuticles.

Lolle and Pruitt bred plants with a mutant gene called Hothead (HTH2). The plants used in their research received the HTH2 gene from both parents.

Hothead mutants have fused reproductive organs, making breeding with wild A. thaliana plants from outside their study unlikely. Lolle and Pruitt should have had only HTH2 mutants to conduct their future research with. That's not what happened.

Read more here.

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