Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Needless Invocations of Evolution

Fred Reed's column in the latest American Conservative is right on the money.

Oh, the hope-draining, soul-crushing tiresomeness of it. I find in Psychology Today a piece called "Ten Politically Incorrect Truths about Human Nature," explaining various aspects of behavior in Darwinian terms. The smugness of that "politically incorrect"1 is characteristic of those who want a sense of adventure without risk. Nothing is more PC than an evolutionary explanation, unless it explains obvious racial differences that we aren't supposed to talk about.


To force mating into the mold of reductionist fitness-shopping, it is necessary to connect beauty and sexual attractiveness with fitness. This is easily done by making up stories. I can do it by the hour: Wide-set eyes improve depth perception and prevent death when jumping about on rocks. Even teeth cut food more efficiently, avoiding the metabolic burden of inefficient chewing which, in time of famine, would lead to starvation. Ready laughter clears the lungs and avoids pneumonia. Shiny blonde hair reflects sunlight better and makes it easier for men to find fertile women at a distance.

But it reeks of improvisation, of beginning with a conclusion and putty-knifing the logic.

The point here is not that this article shows evolution to be necessarily false. The point is that invoking the theory for such tenuous reasons is another example of how mindless its use has become—even among Ph.D.'s, whom one would hope would know better (but almost never do—it takes a lot of education to be truly stupid). Perhaps having cranks glob onto a theory is simply the hazard for the reigning paradigm—but it makes one wonder, since explanatory power is a confirmation of a theory, if this low quality of confirmation is largely what Darwin's theory rests on.

Furthermore, it's not clear what "natural selection" means in terms of human beings. Recall that Darwin called it "natural selection" to contrast it with artificial selection humans use to breed animals.2 The use of "natural selection" with regard to human mating patterns is completely illegitimate, unless we're going to claim that the human being who selects a mate for his dog is completely different from the human being who selects his own mate. Is the human soul utterly impotent against its "animal" urges? Is there truly no causal connection between a person's intellect and his actions, except in the case of dog breeding (and writing the theory of evolution)? These are all silly consequences of the Cartesian dualism that consummated its hold on our conception of natural world with Darwin's theory.


1. Talk about politically incorrect: check out his latest column on James Watson's recent "Freudian slip-up."

2. Stove, Darwinian Fairytales—I highly recommend this book.

Fred Reed, "Brown-Eyed Girl," The American Conservative (October 22, 2007), 35.

Alan S. Miller Ph.D., Satoshi Kanazawa Ph.D. "Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature," Psychology Today (July-August 2007).

David Stove, Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution (Encounter Books, 2007).

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