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. The series of essays (chapters) 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 2 of 11, "Where Darwin First Went Wrong About Man."
Stove begins Chapter 2 by pointing out that evolution theory was unpopular in the early 19th century for several reasons. It had become associated with the Enlightenment which, in the hands of political radicals, had ended in the Reign of Terror and then Napoleon. At any rate, Darwin avoided the risk of a "swarm of murderous associates" (p. 15) who publicly associated themselves with evolution by saying nothing about humans in Origin of Species (1959). This was not because he and other Darwinians did not want to include humans; their most prize project was a fully naturalistic account of human origins and development. But Darwin prudently waited until Descent of Man (1871), by which time the political landscape had very much changed.
The other problem, of course, was that evolution had never been directly observed and no plausible mechanism had been proposed for it. Stove notes, "It is on this principle that you would doubt my word, if I were to tell you (for example) that electrical storms follow me wherever I go."
Darwin found a plausible mechanism for natural selection in Malthus's theory that population increases geometrically, but the food supply only arithmetically, and thus numbers are kept in check by starvation. In that case, the fittest slight variations in every population would survive and breed, and by slight progressive changes, form new species. Thus, contrary to widespread popular folklore, Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution. He borrowed from Malthus a plausible mechanism.
But. Stove asks, is the mechanism correct? Is it true that population always exceeds the food supply (which both Malthus's description and Darwin's mechanism of natural selection would require)?
Some life forms do reproduce up to the limit of their food supply. But that certainly isn't true of domestic pets or agricultural animals, he notes (p. 22). Darwinians can say that these are exceptions to the rule, of course, because they are under human management, but here is the difficulty: Then they cannot go on to claim that humans are part of the scheme of natural selection. They can have it either way but not both. Stove notes,
It is by no means true, then, even of all animal populations, that they are always as large, or are rapidly tending to become as large, as the available food would permit. For populations of pines, cod, and countless other specie, it is no doubt a useful approximation to the truth, to say that they always blindly and quickly multiply up to the numbers that there is food to support. But by the time one gets to man, it is a grotesque travesty of the truth to say this. Human life is full of opportunities for reproduction which the supply of food would permit, but which are not taken in fact. (p. 25)
Human society most emphatically does not have all the children it can, and there is no reason to believe that it ever did, except possibly under "revenge of the cradle" ideologies, but that is not an impersonal Darwinian process, it is conscious strategy.
Now recall that
1. The question here is not about whether evolution occurs, but to what extent Darwin's proposed mechanism actually provides an accurate account of it.
2. In Darwin's theory, reproducing up to the level of the food supply produces competition and triggers the mechanism of natural selection.
3. If many creatures do not show the tendency Darwin supposed, then his mechanism does not bear nearly the explanatory weight he proposed for it.
This is true regardless of the number of US federal judges or education organizations that endorse Darwin's theory, and quite apart from the question of whether another theory has yet been proposed that explains the matter better.
Stove goes into considerable detail about the many mechanisms in human societies, past and present, that limit population growth, everything from priestly celibacy to abortion. He notes
There could not possibly be such a thing as religious sexual asceticism, of course, in our species any more than in any other, if the Malthusâ€“Darwin principle were true. But that, again, is just too bad for the principle. The simple fact of the matter is that large and enduring religious communities, committed to complete sexual abstinence, and largely (at least) practiscing it, are a constantly recurring feature of human history. (p. 27)
One might add that the Roman Catholic Church, one of the largest and most successful religious institutions in history is unshakeably committed to the unDarwinian strategy of demanding celibacy of its brightest and best.
Now, evolutionary psychologists have sometimes argued that that's how the Catholic Church's clergy help the reproduction of others. But all such arguments, whether phrased in terms of "religious genes," "religious memes," or whatever, are simply impostures. These impostures are intended to talk around the evident failure of human society to conform to Darwin's/Malthus's theory. If we are not talking about a priest's own squalling babies with his real genes (as in nucleotides), we are not talking about Darwinian or neo-Darwinian evolution.
(Of course, if someone wants to propose a historical theory of the evolution of religious organizations, showing how clerical celibacy may contribute to their success, the world's their oyster. But that is NOT the theory that began with Darwin's reading of Malthus, and has nothing to do with it.)
Stove ends by pointing out that Darwin's theory, despite being the best currently available*, was badly wrong about man (which is ironic because that was precisely what Malthus had hoped to account for). And Darwin too.
In Chapter 3, "But What About War, Pestilence, and All That" Stove addresses the question of why Darwin (and Malthus) systematically neglected the importance of checks on population growth other than food, and tries to understand why.
*Stove does not take the view, widely urged on us all, that we must come up with a better theory before we are allowed doubts about the current one.
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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