Something came up in a comment thread just now here.
I think that my responses to this article deserve their own post. I simply recopy my comment here.
I give below ten propositions which are all Darwinian beliefs in the sense just specified. Each of them is obviously false: either a direct falsity about our species or, where the proposition is a general one, obviously false in the case of our species, at least.
These quotations are assumed to be ‘obviously’ false, but I find their obviousness elusive. For example,
Obviously false though this proposition is, from the point of view of Darwinism it is well-founded, for the reason which Dawkins gives on the same page: that another woman’s adopting her baby ‘releases a rival female from the burden of child-rearing, and frees her to have another child more quickly.’ This, you will say, is a grotesque way of looking at human life; and so, of course, it is. But it is impossible to deny that it is the Darwinian way.
The complaint here, supported only by its supposed obviousness, is that this is a grotesque way of looking at human life — it appeals to the feeling that we are ‘special’ simply because we are human. We don’t want to think of ourselves this way. Indeed, society as it stands now has moved to something of a higher level. Nonetheless, historically the genes of both our species and others have enjoyed such benefits as those mentioned above. They are selected for simply because they propagate themselves more than genes that don’t favor such behavior.
I skipped point 1. Stove is right in a sense — genes do not have a conscious ‘purpose’, which is the concept he seems to mock. The idea that a gene ‘wants’ to spread itself is simply a different way of looking at natural selection. Some genes spread themselves, and others don’t. The ones that spread themselves more, whatever advantages that might entail, are the ones that persist. This is akin to saying that a ball poised atop a hill ‘wants’ to roll down it. There is no intent. Nonetheless, the ball will roll down the hill, as gravity and the incline will ensure.
On to point 3. Again, just because the concept leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. Books are typically manipulative. Most books that aren’t novels, and many that are, are written to make a point.
Point 4 I’ll skip. Point 5 exhibits the sin of omission:
In all social mammals, the altruism (or apparent altruism) of siblings towards one another is about as strong and common as the altruism (or apparent altruism) of parents towards their offspring.
Ah, yes, if it were only that simple he would be correct. However, there’s more to it. Parents, for example, have already had children. They may be past the age where they are likely to have more. Additionally, the parents have a lot invested in the children. Even if each child only has two children that surivive to reproduce, this represents a geometrical spread of the parents’ genes. Thus from the even balance quoted above, things shift toward parental care for the children. Dawkins goes into this in pretty great detail.
Point 6 carries forward the error of point 5. It is moot.
Point 7: Darwin is outdated. He laid the groundwork. Holding modern evolutionary theory to the original ideas of Darwin is like holding physics to the ideas of Newton. Stove selectively ignores the refinements to this bit of evolutionary theory. He misses a key point. The optimum is not to produce as many offspring as possible. The optimum is to produce as many offspring as possible that will survive to reproduce as well.
Point 8 makes the same error as point 7 and amplifies it. Stove has a nice way of building what appears to be a justified case from flawed axioms.
No doubt human child-mortality has often enough been as high as 70%, and often enough higher still. But I do not think that, at any rate within historical times, this can ever have been usual. For under a child-mortality of 70%, a woman would have to give birth 10 times, on the average, to get 3 of her children to puberty, and 30 times to get 9 of them there.
My couple of weeks in sub-saharan Africa this year showed me that this estimate is actually decent. People die all of the time. The wonders of modern medicine and hygeine don’t invalidate evolutionary theory. It’s true that human civilization in general is taking a bit of a different tack, but that doesn’t mean evolution has stopped. It simply means that the conditions have changed.
It is important to remember that no one – not even Darwinians – knows anything at all about human demography, except what has been learnt in the last 350 years, principally concerning certain European countries or their colonies.
This is utter bullshit. I’m sure anthropologists would beg to differ.
Point 9 is more of the same. Stove wants to apply outdated hypotheses of evolutionary theory. Furthermore, he gives as counterexamples scenarios in modern human society assuming the evolutionary pressures of savages or animals. This is clearly a contradiction, which he accuses Darwinian evolutionists of, but manufactures himself in plain sight in the article.
Point 10 could use some refutation, but I’ll think you’ll find that my arguments would just be a repetition of those I used in response to point 9.