by Denyse O'Leary
(Australian philosopher David Stove (1927-1994), not a religious man and no defender of any type of creationism, wrote a book Darwinian Fairytales (Avebury Press, 1995), which seems to be part of the Avebury Series in Philosophy, that shows clearly why the principal neo-Darwinian concepts of kin selection and inclusive fitness simply do not conform to the available evidence - certainly not for humans, and probably not for many other life forms. This series of blogs briefly introduces the topics covered in the 11 chapters of the book, with some other links, as available. This is a brief comment on Chapter 8 of 11, "'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.
Stove has little sympathy with the Darwinists on this point for, as he says, "The problem is evidently a self-inflicted injury, and as such deserves no sympathy. ... If you don't believe the theory that conspecifics [members of the same species] are always struggling for life with one another, where is the problem in the fact that altruism survives? There is none." But the Darwinists did believe that there was a problem with why altruism survives, and therefore they had to come up with a theory that explained why some creatures sacrifice themselves for others.
Now the mid-twentieth century kin selection theory sounded plausible when explaining the behavior of social insects, which feature a rare genetic situation in which the workers are actually more closely related to each other than they are to their own mother, the queen. But how well does it explain animal behavior generally, let alone human behavior?
According to the theory, bacteria, which reproduce by simple fission and share their genes should be filled with altruism toward each other, and so should plants and insects that boost their numbers by reproducing parthenogenetically (p.144). Yet neither the petri dish nor the roadside demonstrate any such thing.
For that matter, 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 much different among twins in the animal world where what mother might think would hardly figure.
Not surprisingly, Stove provides many reasons to doubt the theory of kin selection, but there is no reason to list them here. Anyone who observes families in the immediate neighborhood can generate their own objections with little trouble. Stove does propose an interesting thought experiment, however.
Suppose one day, at maternity hospitals, there is a massive baby switch. Groggy women recovering from anaesthetic are given a bundle and told it's theirs. The size, sex and skin colour arouse no suspicion.
Now what? If the kin selection theory is correct,
"Every one of those babies, consequently, is going to feel the effects of a total absence of parental altruism toward it. There is going to be, in fact, a simultaneous world wide disappearance of parental altruism. Infant mortality is going to undergo an enormous and inexplicable increase, etc., etc." (p. 148)
As Stove points out, the fact that no one thinks that anything of the kind will really happen is not as significant as the fact that, if kin selection theory is really thought to be true, very many people ought to think it will happen. Yet the theory's supporters apparently do not believe it either.
For what it is worth, even among many animal species such as cats , nursing mothers can be got to accept offspring not their own, if the nursling is slipped in unobtrusively. If a cat really knows that the new kitten is not hers, she gives no sign. Bereft cats have been known to steal kittens from other, luckier cats. Similarly, jealous chimpanzees will steal babies from other females, a fact that even Dawkins admits. And the cuckoo's and cowbird's trick of getting other species of she-bird to raise their eggs depends precisely on the fact that birds do not seem to know who their kin are.
In a humorous passage, Stove asks us to consider the plight of the cock robin, whose territory is invaded by a rival. Even assuming that the cock robin knew that the intruder was his nestmate, what use is he to make of the information?:
A robin defending his territory is an extremely busy man, and he is not running a charity either. ... Even if he is as altruistically disposed to the bum as the shared genes theory says he must be, he cannot get him a paid job, or find him a wife who works or is rich. What can he do about the situation at all? Nothing whatever.
Thus, shared genes or not, the cock robin must simply drive the intruder out, just as if they were not closely related at all. (p. 152)
The real question, of course, is why Darwinian biologists believe a theory that must so obviously be false. Stove offers an explanation:
Scientists sometimes (as is well known) continue to work with a theory which they themselves know is false. Laymen, when they hear of such a case, are apt to be audibly critical of the scientists' conduct; but of course they have no better theory to suggest, and the only result is, that the scientists grow angry and impatient with their lay critics. But these features of scientists' behaviour are not ones which deserve esteem, and still less, imitation. They are departures from rational behavior, not forms of it. They arise only because professional scientists, without the guidance of some theory, however unsatisfactory, do not know what to do with themselves.
He sums up,
A rational interest in science, as distinct from a professional one, is an interest in what is true, or probably true, or probably close to the truth: in that, and in nothing else. If a scientific theory is certainly not even near the truth, then, whatever attractions it may have for scientists, it is of no interest to a person who is simply trying to have rational beliefs and no others.
But today, the lay person may well find that Darwinism is by law established, much as if it were an established church, even if it is contradicted by common experience available to anyone.
Chapter 9: "A New Religion", he discusses the ways in which Darwinian sociobiology's selfish gene must be understood as a new religion, featuring powers greater than ourselves.
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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