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 is 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 he 11 chapters of the book, with some other links, as available. This is a brief comment on Chapter 3 of 11, "But what about War, Pestilence, and All That?".)
In this chapter, Stove shows that Darwin, following Malthus, tended to systematically neglect reasons for population change that did not involve competition for food, and tries to understand why. It is true, he says, that Darwin would not want to constantly qualify himself by saying "of course there are other factors".
But these general literary considerations go very little way towards explaining the neglect, by Malthus and Darwin, of checks to population other than the limitedness of food. That neglect is far too systematic, and far too absolute, to be explained by a desire to keep the number of 'other things being equal' clauses within bearable limits. It is so systematic and absolute, in fact, that it can only be explained by supposing that Malthus and Darwin believed all other checks to population to be of negligible importance, compared with the check imposed by limited food. (p. 32)
Stove provides a number of references for this, (pp. 32-34), noting that Darwin's (and Malthus's) reasoning cannot be defended simply by claiming that "all other things being equal", food supply determines birth rates. No one can list all the other reasons why birth rates might crash, despite plenty of food, as they have done in North America and Europe. The central claim that birth rates rise with food supply does not appear to be true for humans, as Malthus insisted it was, and as Darwin agreed.
It is not clear that food supply is always the central factor in all animal populations either. One thinks, for example, of wolf packs, where the jealousy of the alpha male may well prevent his subordinates from mating, even if food is plentiful.
Stove concedes Darwin and Malthus an important point regarding food supply as a check on population: Food is not a "sharable" advantage within a species. Either one wolf eats the rabbit or another does.
Sharable advantages, by contrast, are not mutually exclusive. One wolf may hear better than wolves of a previous generation, but his advantage does not prevent another wolf from also having better hearing than wolves of a previous generation. That is, better hearing is a sharable advantage. However, it is still true that only one of them can make a meal of the rabbit.
But that, Stove insists, does not justify the way in which Malthus and Darwin tended to neglect all checks to population other than the food supply. He argues that they were "held captive by the picture of a struggle or competition or battle for life among conspecifics," (members of the same species) (p. 37) and needed to shoehorn the history of life into that thesis.
In Chapter 4: "Population, Privilege, and Malthus' Retreat", Stove revisits in more detail the question of whether it is true that humans always try to breed their guts out.
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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