Monday, March 29, 2010

Evolution's Appeal

Scientific problems with evolution don't really matter. This genre of thought scratches too many itches to let science bring it down. Traditionally those itches have mainly been theological and philosophical. Now, as the evolutionary narrative subsumes human nature, new itches emerge. Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist, provides a peek into this latest addition to evolution's appeal. This quote appears in a fancy, inside cover advertisement run by the John Templeton Foundation, in the May 2009 Scientific American:

In the last two decades, evolutionary psychology has cast new light on ever more facets of human nature. And contrary to popular critiques of the field, it has done so in way that are ever more intellectually thrilling, morally enlightening, spiritually satisfying, and socially progressive. What we mean by "evolution" and "human nature" continues to develop through mutual interaction, lie the passions of a whispering couple in a close-embrace tango.

What a coincidence that objective scientific research just happens to be "intellectually thrilling, morally enlightening, spiritually satisfying, and socially progressive." Any chance that is not really a coincidence? Any chance evolutionary research is not really scientific research? Miller continues:

During the 1990s, biologists developed a whole new toolbox of ideas about the nature of evolution, including theories based on life history, multi-level selection, strong reciprocity, good-genes sexual selection, and costly signalling. These terms may be unfamiliar to non-specialists, but they represent a revolution in Darwinian theory and have proven their value again and again in understanding aspects of human nature that defy simplistic "survival of the fittest" reasoning.

That's true, there has been a revolution in Darwinian theory. And the just-so stories have become even more unbelievable. This new toolbox of ideas does explain many aspects of human nature, but so does astrology. Ever since Darwin, evolution has become increasingly complex and circuitous. Today it looks like one massive Rube Goldberg machine, ready to collapse on itself.


  1. Dr. Hunter,

    Yes, indeed.

    I think Steely Dan's Gold Teeth 2 expresses it just right:


    Throw out your gold teeth
    And see how they roll
    The answer they reveal
    Life is unreal

    Who are these strangers
    Who pass through the door
    Who cover your action
    And go you one more
    If you're feeling lucky
    You best not refuse
    It's your game the rules
    Are your own win or lose

  2. According to this article:

    belief in evolution is just as faith based as any religion

  3. lol, cool.
    That article is just the author trying to get you to buy his book, it is on a book review website.
    Just for fairness here is the link to the review of the book that counters the original article.

    Seems like a fair website to me.

  4. From Violet's article:
    This idea looked unbeatable. Immediately, applications of it were discovered in the diffusion of goods, in the financial markets, in the spread of fashions, songs, tunes, even scientific hypothesis. It was a smashing success.

    This discovery comes about mainly because Darwin projected the economics onto nature:
    The link of Darwin to Malthus has been recognized and accorded proper importance from the start, if only because Darwin himself had explicitly noted and honored this impetus. But if Darwin required Malthus to grasp the central role of continuous and severe struggle for existence, then he needed the related school of Scottish economists…to formulate the even more fundamental principle of natural selection itself.
    In fact, I would advance the even stronger claim that the theory of natural selection is, in essence, Adam Smith’s economics transferred to nature. (The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould :122)

    It would seem that the very things that Darwin borrowed from economics can then be "discovered" in economics.

    Another scholar notes:
    ...the false naturalization of society–has already been mentioned. Darwinism imported sociological ideas into biology, and sociology took them back again once they had been ‘naturalized.’
    The anthropological fable is the foundation of Darwinian sociology…

    …the anthropological fable is a work of imagination, a historical scenario, yet offered as an explanation of one or another social phenomenon of either that time or our own. It is a kind of reverse science fiction, situated in the past rather than in the future. …

    What claim can this kind of historical fiction make to be scientific? It simply cannot, even in the loosest sense of science. It is just that the anthropological fable appeals to ideas of competition, struggle, selection, etc., ideas of Darwinian biology–or rather, socio-economic ideas that Darwinism borrowed and naturalized, thus giving them scientific backing. Returned to the sociology from whence they came, they are endowed with a kind of scientific aura, and their use in anthropological fables confers on the latter a dignity to which they have no right.
    (The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot :47)

    The article continues:’s a clever idea, not something obvious, not the kind of idea that everyone discovers spontaneously. [except everyone aware of the thought of Malthus and Adam Smith]. Teach it to a class of kids, and they will realise that it never occurred to them beforehand, but that it’s so damn clever. They feel so damn clever just for grasping it. This is, I think, crucial. Adults also feel clever for just grasping it....

    It is easy to make the stupid or the ignorant feel clever or knowledgeable but much more difficult to actually educate them.