Darwin Sucks

The other night I was lying in bed, speculating on whether I could write a post about all the things that seemed to be annoying me lately. Our neighbour had a water leak in one of his outside pipes but was determined that it should be traceable to our garden rather than his (it wasn’t), and that really got on my nerves. Then a friend of mine with relationship issues has rung a lot over the past few weeks to discuss her troubles without ever permitting so much as a change of topic. And an article lauding Darwinism in the Economist had been the scene of dissent between myself and my husband, as I think evolutionist theories suck and he is utterly convinced by them. He’d been really quite peeved by my staunch rebuttals, which was unusual considering that I give him a lot of grief over theoretical issues and he rarely rises to it. So there I was, pondering all of this, when my husband suddenly appeared in the doorway to tell me the water supply had been cut off. Cue minor panic and hasty checking of pipes, until he rang the local water board and found the problem affected our cluster of villages and was being investigated. We went to sleep uneasy, my mind whirring with contingency plans and all thoughts of minor irritations forgotten. In the morning the water was back on, and I felt very grateful to some poor soul who had probably had to spend a freezing night in a fenland ditch somewhere, digging up pipes.

I had forgotten all about the incident until I heard an item on the news this morning about a number of Eastern block countries having their gas supply cut off because Ukraine hasn’t paid its bills. I shivered at the thought of all those people without heat in countries where our current extreme temperatures of minus seven degrees would seem like a pretty nice day. It’s one thing to go to bed knowing the water board is doing its best to fix a problem, quite another to be waiting on a government to pay its debts. And so it brought it back to me, that abrupt and absolute switch I’d experienced from pondering ethical matters to being wholly focused on issues that concerned our survival. It intrigued me, to think about how dominating those problems of survival are to our minds when we must face them, how they wipe out other problems completely. But it also intrigued me to think about the paths the human mind follows when survival is not an issue. Once people’s basic needs are met, once they have a reasonable standard of living, what are the topics to which their minds naturally turn? Where do we go with our thinking once we have freedom of thought?

Inevitably this brought me back to my deep dislike of Darwinism, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. Darwinism suggests that answers to some of the great philosophical questions of mankind – like why do we kill, what motivates us, what causes racial hatred, why are men and women treated unequally – can all be explained by our lizard brains, evolved over millennia although clearly not evolving much of late it would seem, to which certain basic preoccupations with the demands of survival remain paramount. For a Darwinist, life is bound up with survival and reproduction, the latter being the strongest force of all. All its explanations stem from this principle, which might promote survival of the fittest but in practice interests itself only with the lowest common denominators. And we’re talking low here, knuckle-dragging low. Darwinism stands resolute in the face of educators, sociologists and psychologists who would like to believe that given the appropriate teaching, people can alter their behaviour. Not at all, Darwinists believe, because when you come down to basics people are what they are, predetermined by genetics and hard-wired by selfish inclination. I suppose that’s the first contradiction that bothers me: that in the camp of the evolutionists, there can’t be any change, not in the here and now. I loathe determinism because if it’s true then every single person involved in nurturing or improving the human race – mothers, reformers, teachers, researchers, therapists – might just as well not get out of bed in the mornings. Crime will always flourish, women will only ever be interested in having children, capitalism will continue to dominate the globe. End of story.

There are many topics on which I could pick a fight with Darwin, but lets at least stick to one I may be presumed to know something about: the fate of women. The article in the Economist that riled me contained a few quotes I’ll share. Discussing women’s preference (stated as a universal truth) for rich husbands, it suggests that Darwinism has grown ever more sophisticated in thinking that this is not just for the security of any subsequent children. No, if high-status individuals are those who win out in the ongoing genetic competition, then a ‘high-status woman can be more choosy about whom she mates with.’ I would like to suggest this scarcely accounts for Kate Moss’s choice of Pete Docherty as a mate, nor Britney Spear’s choice of husband, nor Julia Robert’s multiple choices, to name just a few high-status women. I think women’s choice of partner involves an awful lot more concerns, personal, complicated and random, than that.

Then there’s the problem of rape, which Darwinism suggests is evolved behaviour, in which low-status men try desperately to reproduce themselves. Apparently feminists took exception to this explanation as ‘excusing the crime’. ‘On the other hand,’ the magazine continues, ‘it has become a mantra among some feminists that all men are rapists, which sounds a lot like the opposite point of view: biological determinism. Insert the word “potential”, however, and this claim is probably true.’ I don’t know where to begin with this ghastly reasoning. Firstly, the ‘men are rapists’ line of thought belonged to a small splinter group of feminists at least fifteen years ago, which, given the speed of feminism’s evolution, has now long since been bypassed. Secondly, even those feminists always talked about ‘potential’ rapists and it was the media that misquoted and promoted the mistake. Thirdly, inserting the word ‘potential’ and claiming this makes all the difference is a classic scientific misuse of language that does not alter any part of what is fundamentally alarming about the claim that ‘men are rapists’. Finally, given that all it takes is the insertion of the word ‘potentially’ to make the statement agreeable to Darwinists, we can see just how close to biological determinism the theories of so-called evolution actually are.

Finally a word about women’s careers and Darwinism. The magazine quotes a report that claims: ‘The widespread belief that the gender pay gap is a reflection of deep-rooted discrimination by employers is ill-informed and an unhelpful contribution to the debate. The pay gap is falling but is also a reflection of individual’s lifestyle preferences. Governments can’t regulate or legislate these away, and shouldn’t try to.’ The journalist then adds damningly: ‘He failed to add, however, that these preferences are often the result of biological differences between the sexes.’ The article proposed that once women have had children and their evolutionary task is done, they no longer feel compelled by competitive instincts any more, and choose to stay home where possible. Not of course that this has anything to do with the difficulty of finding appropriate childcare, or its cost, or the fact that women remain intellectually responsible for the maintenance of the family, (which often represents a huge unshared burden of work), nor the dominant culture of ‘being there’ that still rules the workplace, despite the advances in technology that mean that anyone, male or female, could much more easily work from home if they chose. Whatever else it may or may not do, Darwinist evolution theory is no friend to women within our culture.

If we look back over the history of Darwinist thought, it’s possible to see how evolutionary theories haven’t been the best of friends to most other marginal groups. What has Darwinism promoted after all? Well, cast your mind back to the rise of eugenics and the concurrent rise of the Nazi party. That line of thought gained its validation from Darwin. Theories developed from this basis have also seen European man as the zenith of civilization, meaning that other races were naturally inferior, and much research has been undertaken to prove that the black man’s brain is smaller, less powerful etc, etc. It’s no coincidence that the victims of evolutionary theory have been those groups –  women, Jews, ethnic races – who did not do so great in the vast cultural competition that Darwinism celebrates, and the great promoters of evolutionary theory seem to me to be white, scientifically-minded males in developed countries. No surprises there, either. Theories are dangerous things because they become blindsided to their own preferences, their own desires. Any theory is the perfect encapsulation of a particular way of looking at the world – it’s the most coherent form of story you can have. That’s why no theory should ever do itself the disservice of saying point blank that it is the truth; it is always steeped in its own thinking, and thus distorted from within. But because Darwin is linked to scientific research, rather than the artistic kind, it gains its authority from declaring itself as the truth.

The article ends by claiming that ignorance of evolution means that any attempt to make economic policy without it ‘is like trying to fix a car without properly understanding how it works.’ Of course evolution is a factor in understanding human behaviour, but the question, to return finally to where I started this post, is what we do with knowledge when we’ve got it? Darwinism works a treat where questions of survival are at stake. But how do we deal with human beings once the problem of survival is no longer the issue? When my worries have risen above the level of the water supply, what do I want to think about then? For instance, men and women may well have evolved patterns of response to deal with the fact that women are biologically capable of reproducing – but how do we encourage the sexes to behave in a society where that division of labour need no longer overshadow every decision we make? It’s the determinism of Darwinism that disturbs me, as I think it should be about helping people to rise against their baser instincts, not taking them as inevitable and organizing life around them. The worst things that we do stem from those distant competitive instincts – they make us aggressive and selfish and unethical – so what policy decisions should come out of evolutionary researches? I would hope the insights of Darwinism might provide a springboard to ethical decisions, but instead they seem still to encourage justification of self-interest, not least because ethics are indeed awkward and complicated to instill in a culture. Ultimately, I fear that Darwinist theories will continue to provide empirical data for the obstinacy of its truths, and that they will fail themselves to evolve in the face of changing civilization, at least for another hundred millennia or so.

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29 thoughts on “Darwin Sucks

  1. At the risk of sounded a little gushing, reading your blog is like receiving a top level education without leaving the home. Your essays are always well written and argued. This one was particularly interesting to me and I am so glad that you are prepared to share your eloquent words and reasoning. Being able to fan a spark of interest into healthy flame is a gift and I am so glad you choose to share this gift on your blog. I am also a little envious that you can knock out such quality writing so regularly without an essay title or a tutor waiting for your assignment.

    Last year, I made the resolution to write more worthwhile posts (whatever that meant – I think I meant ‘be more like Litlove’) and I didn’t I achieved it. I think this year I will just make sure I READ better so I will (continue to) write whatever inconsequential drivel I like but I will be looking forward to reading your ‘worthwhile’ blog for another year. Happy New Year to you.

  2. Having engaged with a staunch evolutionist myself, I’d still say Kate Moss et al’s choices can be accounted for by evolutionary theory even if they are inexplicable if one applies modern day commonsense.

    Anyway, one shouldn’t point to the contingent peculiarities of modern behaviour to counter Darwinism (and particularly as filtered by The Economist). I once read a review in which someone as eminent as Roy Porter dismissed the new branch evolutionary psychology by observing that young people nowadays didn’t have sex in order to reproduce because they used contraception. As with journalists attacks on Chomsky, I’ve never read a rebuttal of Darwinism that didn’t misrepresent or misunderstand it.

    By the way, the evolutionist with whom I engaged has published a book explaining why artists are prominently male because art is, he says, a form of sexual display, much as sport, business and politics are. I think it’s true except it, in the case of art, it doesn’t explain the unique space created by art.

  3. I never gave credence to Darwinsm. In university I took geology classes. Missing links-no professor ever gave a satisfactory response for why there is little if no evidence of missing links.

  4. Evolution is a subject over which I will not argue. Like football teams or politics, one chooses a side and then rarely changes. What I will say is that your reaction to the potential lack of a life-essential, water, is evidence of how little we have grown past our primitive instincts. How much more is the reversion when the lack of food or water is a permanent state. Violence and greed become survival traits. I fear that all the gains made by Western women over the past hundred years would be lost in such a society. Let me put on record here that I consider that would be a bad thing.

    Like democracy, I fear equality, sexual and societal is to be a short-lived phenomena. But then I am a cynical, grumpy old curmudgeon so what would I know. :)

  5. Kate – and a very happy new year to you! Thank you so very much indeed for such a lovely comment! Having visited your blog I see that you make exquisitely beautiful things, which is something I wish I could do – I don’t have any practical talents whatsoever. I’m sure there’s a joke in there about us merging our inclinations and evolving, but I won’t make it ;) Thank you again – I really appreciated your kind words.

    Steve – you should point me in the direction of a book that does explain Darwinism’s aims and intentions in accurate ways. I readily admit that what I’ve read about it may be insufficient, but so far my reading experience has always left me troubled by lack of rigour and in particular by the explanations of women’s behaviour, which have not struck me as in any way insightful or astute. I may well be misrepresenting Darwinism, but so far, I’ve only read extrapolations from it that wholly misrepresent me. I feel that theories ought to be judged on the actions they promote, and I haven’t admired those in relation to women, either. But I should also say that I don’t agree with Roy Porter in this instance, although that won’t surprise you.

    Bluestocking – you are one up on me, having taken a course that gave credence to Darwinism, so I’m glad if you don’t admire it either. Makes me feel I may not be completely wrong to feel the way I do!

    Gary – thank you – I think! A two-hour Stanford lecture on Darwin’s legacy is exactly what I’m missing. But seriously – I would like to think better of it than I do.

    Archie – I don’t actually think we are disagreeing. I’m not promoting creationist theories here, for instance. And I begin with an anecdote that shows my own experience of an abrupt shift in thinking when my basic necessities for survival are at stake. I’m not arguing that the lizard brain exists and functions, what I am suggesting is that the conclusions drawn from this, the social policy that has been encouraged by evolutionary biologists and the way we understand the differences between men and women due to Darwinist thinking have been far from ideal. I think we should judge theories on the way they offer themselves for use in society, on the actions that are taken based on their conclusions. But anyway, I’m sure you’re right that this is one of those battles where everyone has their side and sticks to it. So far, though, the female commenters have agreed with me and the male ones haven’t, which tells me something.

  6. I’m kind of a pseudo-Darwinist–I believe some parts of the theory, and I don’t believe others. I DO believe that we are what we are. We’ll never change. We can dress ourselves up to be all pretty and acceptable to society, but when it comes right down to it, we’re just a bunch of selfish little graspers, looking to get everything we can with as little effort as possible. Women will never be equal because we’re not as animalistic as men are. If the human race is thrown into survival mode, it really will be the strongest and most violent that will live. The rest of us will be hunted down and raped and slaughtered with joyful abandon.

    Once the comet/earthquake/nukes hit, it will take about two or three hours before the Atilla’s and the Stalin’s start to take over what’s left of the world.

  7. I’m afraid I’m woefully under-read in Darwinism to add to any sort of real discussion here, but isn’t it curious that Darwin is a product of the Victorian mindset and look how women were thought of in that period. So much science (and I think it’s even true today) is by men for men about men without necessarily giving a lot of thought to women and their place in the scheme of things. Of course I won’t say that’s true in every case….Anyway, I enjoyed reading your post and think I might be curious enough to do some additional reading here.

  8. Hear! Hear! I read that article, too, and had all kinds of reactions and arguments with it, even though I found some of it fascinating. What bothers me most is the “unimaginative-ness” of it all, which is what leads to those silly generalizations about such things as why women aren’t striving for those top positions. Your, far-more-wonderfully-imaginative attack on it is a breath of fresh air and has saved me from having to write my own post on it! (Although I do plan to write a post on that whole issue of The Economist soon.

  9. Lovely post, thanks. I tend to think that whatever theory of culture and human nature is about at any point in human history it is there because it helps support the ruling orthodoxy of those in power at that time. The Darwinian model is a gift to the greed and celebrity culture which has been driving consumerism and producing lots of tax revenues and fortunes for big companies (and their bosses). The credit crunch is the overextension of this approach, going out on a limb that eventually can’t manage the weight. It reminds me of Sartre and Co and their support of the USSR. If the theory is ‘right’ then the life dictated by it must be right. Goodness, how did Candide get in here!

  10. If I may speak up:

    In America, the word “Darwinism” is used almost exclusively by creationists. We almost always speak separately of evolution—Darwin’s explanation of the origin of species, as extended and revised since his time—and evolutionary psychology, the relatively recent fashion to explain human behaviors through scenarios of evolutionary necessity.

    I hate to publicly link to myself (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it before) but I wrote out my reservations about evolutionary psychology in a very early Ruricolist.

    Honestly, the Economist article exaggerates massively: it implies both a consensus that evolutionary explanations can explain both normal and pathological human behavior (which exists to a degree), and that the method provides single answers for particular issues around which consensus exists (which is not).

  11. Strangely enough I was having a discussion/debate over the same article with a former colleague of mine from London. She is a very successful and talented Marketing Communications leader for a large multinational and like you was rather distressed by some of the views proposed/promoted within the article regarding the role of women, now and in the future.

    I probably lean a lot more on the side of evolution, primarily because although it does not have all the answers (yet) it has a darn sight more than anything else being proposed. That was the issue that truly stirred our discussion – my friend was unable to refute so many of the proposed arguments apart from one-off anecdotal stuff. But to my knowledge evolution is not about me and you ..it is about the larger population ..all 6 billion of us. So if a million diverge from what would seem logical evolutionary behaviour ..so be it. That behaviour that supports “survival” and thus “reproduction” will, over millions of years, continue. So not sure if Kate Moss’s choice will be reflected in those of our future ancestors.

    I also tend to fear that we are only 6 meals away from anarchy – as one of your other respondents noted when times get tough, truly tough, we seem to very quickly revert back to an almost primative state.

    Finally, when I discussed the discussion with my sister, initally less about the topic but that I was concerned I had offended my good friend – my sister replied that she probably took it as a personal attack. Why? Well according to my sister, perhaps because she is in her late 30’s has all the material toys one could ask for ..but is single and possibly would trade in everything for a family. Now of course you can have both, to a degree, but as I work in early childhood education (after 10 years in corporate strategy) I can tell you young children need as much time with their mother as possible ..at least up until 3 and longer if possible. And why did my sister presume this to a possible cause ..because that was her exact same position until 3 years ago.

    She had been schooled to believe that being a mother was a second best option by all the career specialists in the Australian education system she experienced. To be a “mother” was just not cool. So she emabarked on a double degree (which she excelled at) and then worked in half a dozen countries for the next 10 years. But in her mid 30’s she realized ..she did not actually have it all and she would have tossed it all in for a family. She paniced and went through a lot of soul searching ..because the life she had been living provided many “fun” opportunities ..but as she said ..she was not “happy” in her soul.

    Yesterday she turned 38 and I asked her did she miss anything in her old life ..she said not for a second as she picked up one of her two ardorable little girls.

    I should add ..men also do have a strong paternal instinct as it was when I first saw my niece and held her i my arms that I decided to quit my strategy job in Chicago and do something that helps children ! But let me tell you no matter how many times a preschool teacher will tell those two little 5 year olds to stop using those branches as swords (because we want to drum our their violent tendencies of course !!) – they will be back at it again in 5 minutes while the little girls will be happily busying themselves in home corner. You just cannot seem to stop our evolutionary responses.

  12. ..one last comment if I may. I would posit that the mere fact that we are all still here (both sexes, every race, every type of sexuality and so on) ..indicates that we have all survived and thus succeeded in an evolutionary sense ..at least up until now. Anyone can use evolutionary theory to justify their own personal xenophobia ..but that does not infer the fault is with evolutionary theory. But it is only a theory ..but we should never stop questioning and searching for fact based evidence and let logic be the guide.

  13. Chartroose – I quite understand the lure of that scenario, and believe me, it inhabits my fears too. But if we look at the disasters that have hit the planet over the past thirty years – the earthquakes in China, the tsumani in Indonesia, for instance, what do we find but communities working hard to pull themselves together and international aid pouring in. We’re not all bad, despite the undeniable impulses to do awful things. Perhaps its just in the Western world = precisely because of the distance we’ve travelled from our primitive days – that we assume less civilisation means inevitably rape, pillage and lawlessness. Whereas it could just mean misery and deprivation.

    Danielle – I think that’s a rather good point. I agree completely that theories correspond completely to the historical moment in which they are written, and that evolutionary psychology in particular retains a somewhat regressive view of women. I hadn’t thought of linking it to the Victorian age but I like that line of thinking.

    Bkclubcare – thank you so very much! I have to admit that I am learning a lot from all the commenters too, who have widened the subject for me and given me all kinds of perspectives to think about. I do love blogging for that!

    Emily – thank you, my friend! But if you would take over the subject of the Economist that would be marvellous. That magazine annoys me so much and I manage most of the time to live at peace with it by ignoring it. I don’t think I’m rational enough about it to put my feelings into a blog post!! Oh the subject of Darwinism, women find themselves having to be extremely imaginative about organising life after children because of the insufficient range of help on offer in society, which may be another reason why I get fed up with being told I must respond a certain way because my ape ancestors expect it of me.

    Steve – thanks for that link.

    Bookboxed – I have to admit that I absolutely agree with you. I think any theory that serves base instincts is going to have a huge pull, but what that theory then does, what it encourages others to think, alarms me. It reminds me of reading someone wonder why self-help books had to be written in a style that was simpler than a car maintenance manual. Why the insistence that human beings are so straightforward?

    Paul – thank you for that very useful information. We don’t have a Creationist movement here in the UK (or at least not a very vocal one) and yes, evolutionary psychology was the term I was groping for. I also thought your essay was excellent and would strongly encourage anyone following this debate to read it for the perspective it gives.

    Bondi Boy – first of all, I am sure your friend cannot be upset with you if you expressed yourself with the politeness you show here. Thank you very much for taking the time to explain your position and for being so clear and respectful in accounting for your views.

    I’m glad your sister is having such a wonderful time with her children – that’s so lovely for her. However, she’s one of the lucky ones as the majority of women who work do so because they need the money. And then they are failed entirely by society that takes great comfort in evolutionary myths that the best place for women is to be home with their children. For myself, my child grew up while I was pursuing a career at the university of Cambridge – no option there, either, to walk out of my job and ever hope to return to it, no option for part-time work. I very much wanted that job and loved what I did. Not that I loved my child any less, but these kind of awkward decisions are made infinitely worse for women by their lack of choices. I am naturally deeply suspicious of theories that purport to provide a ‘truth’ that can then be used against woman’s personal freedom. And for me the strength or failure of a theory rests in the uses to which it is put. There’s no theory without practice, and I think we have to look very closely at the practice. If, as has been the case, evolutionary theories have been used to promote xenophobia, sexism and anti-Semitism, then the people who produce the theory have at least to be very, very careful about the way they express themselves, no?

    As I was trying to say in the post: I’m not denying the survival instinct in any way. What I am sayins is that we need to think about what evolutionary psychology suggests that we do as a culture in times when survival is not the prime objective.

    And as I commented to another blogger, when we look at recent disasters across the world, we don’t find pure anarchy. We find also people pulling together, charity, compassion, international aid. I feel uncomfortable with any theory that loses sight of the better side of human nature, because that simply encourages us to feel that that better side WILL be discarded in times of trouble.

    I do agree with your final point, wholeheartedly. The most important thing of all is to keep thinking and questioning. These aren’t questions we ever solve and the debate is very valuable.

  14. Very good essay, Litlove and lots to grapple with. I always tend to occupy the middle ground in such debates and would see myself as agreeing with a lot of what I understand about Darwinism as well as objecting to the leaps of logic which are made in its name. Maybe it’s a bit like Freud. The argument has moved on, and people take any number of positions. Incidentally, have you read “Darwin’s Worms” by Adam Phillips. And it might also be interesting to situate Feminism within an evolutionary argument. It seems to me that Feminism has been a very useful (and important) evolutionary development. But the simplifcation and determinism of the economist article sounds objectionable. Perhaps they’re being deliberately controversial?

  15. Excellent. People often apologize for Darwinism, which is so rampant and used as such a crutch by so many people, by saying that Darwin himself was truly original and more comprehensive than many of his followers. Not true; he was stubborn and biased, and bent on proving a line of materialist thinking that preceded him and was determinedly, I want to say devoutly, anti-religious. If you read Darwin himself, the theory of evolution is explicit, and totally fabricated out of restricted evidence in nature; one thing 19th century thinkers at least had was this: boldness. Even if it was bone-headed. That’s good: bone-headed!

  16. I share your dislike of Darwinism and biological determinism. It’s so very depressing. It can make me feel like there’s no point in trying to change, as you describe, and no point in trying to influence others’ behavior or to teach them to think in new ways. It’s as though we are nothing but our bodies and instincts and ultimately we have little control over them. Ugh. No thanks.

  17. Pete – that’s it exactly ‘objecting to the leaps of logic which are made in its name’ is exactly what I wanted to do here. After all, as a practising therapist, you’ll be all too aware that it’s the extrapolations from the theory that really count, rather than the theory itself. I like your balanced position, and it’s an excellent idea to read Adam Phillips (when isn’t it?) which I possess but haven’t read. Alas there was no evident provocativeness about the article; the journalist just seemed convinced by his arguments.

    Gary – oh boy. Oh. My. Goodness. I am amazed on all levels by what you can find on the internet!

    Lloyd – well, it is always tremendously gratifying when people share my opinion! So thank you very much for your comment. It’s the psychological angle in evolutionary psychology that does bother me. How do we know what prehistorical man thought and felt? Alas, he left no record, so any reconstruction will always inevitably be coloured by our fantasies.

    Dorothy – I’ve thought about this a lot, and wondered if I were in a crisis situation, would I leave behind my character and become nothing more than an animal? All I do know is that I would have a much better chance of survival bonding with a community, using my intelligence, working with other people to improve our chances by pooling skills. If I hadn’t had an education, perhaps I’d feel differently, but having had it, I couldn’t leave it behind me, either. It’s part of who I am. So yes, that thought of reducing myself to materialist instincts is not something I could imagine happening for any length of time, because other parts of my character would undoubtedly assert themselves too.

  18. Let’s get some perspective – evolution by natural selection provides ‘laws of nature’ which work and are as credible and well-supported by evidence as laws of physics or chemistry. If you study bacteria, or plants, or biology in general there’s not much controversy (genetics also supports evolution). People get uncomfortable when they start to apply the principles to humanity because it seems to imply we’re only motivated by base and unpleasant instincts, as summarised by litlove’s post above. Remember that any scientific theory is only valid if the evidence supports it, and if you look around you (and inside you) you’ll see that there is plenty of evidence that human beings are more than ‘just animals’ (though that phrase in itself pretty loaded). We are social creatures, capable of love, sacrifice, generosity, empathy. My point is that these ‘good’ attributes are just as much a product of evolution as the ‘bad’. Being ‘nice’ has a survival value – we were made to live in groups and help eachother. To Dorothy in particular I’d say, remember that the ability to learn and change is also evolved.

  19. i’m down with darwin to describe the physical. but what you are citing is abuse of the theory. it sounds like people who cannot think for themselves like to have everything explained in one nice package.
    i like what you say about how once the question of survival is answered, darwin is not very useful.

  20. Truthfairy – I very much like what you say here. Good qualities must surely be as essential to survival as negative ones, and I would certainly never argue with the more precise work being done in anthropology and biology. It’s what gets argued in the name of evolutionary psychology that worries me sometimes, when people call on the supposedly objective and scientific doctrine of evolutionism to uphold certain distasteful social beliefs. As I say, particularly around the differences between the genders.

    Emily – what concerns me is that abuse of the theory is not seen that way, or represented as such, but as reasonable conclusions to draw from ‘science’. Hmmmm. That lure to the one nice package you so rightly speak of is a real problem in social policy making, I feel.

  21. Late to the party, but I love it when you get ranty :) I think Darwin’s evolutionary theory about how species evolve through natural selection as Truthfairy describes is not theory but fact. What is distressing is how humans misuse Darwin for their own purposes. There is a long history of that and as the article you read clearly shows, it continues. 19th industrialists in the United States used Darwin–social Darwinism–to justify their cut throat business dealings and the poor way in which they treated their workers. Darwin is not the only scientist whose ideas have been used to support greed, hatred and bad behavior and I imagine he will not be the last.

  22. These are interesting thoughts, litlove. I would begin, like one commenter above, by noting the often unclear distinction between the “Evolution” and “Darwinism.” Evolution, or the theory of evolution explains, with very few missing pieces, how life evolved to its present state. It does not, by itself imply determinism. In fact, many of the staunchest supporters of evolution by natural selection agree that modern human beings, with access to brains, language and technology have probably gone far enough beyond the purview of slow natural selection that their future (and the future of domesticated species) will be determined equally if not more by artificial selection – selection brought about by human choices – rather than by some passive natural process whose effects are visible after the fact.

    Darwinism, as you correctly point out, goes a step further and almost enforces determinism. Social Darwinism is particularly pernicious, as evidenced by the terrible evil Nazism. Taking their cue from this, many Creationist groups in the US, *purposely* conflate Social Darwinism and Evolution, in order to convince an unsuspecting populace that believing in Evolution leads not only to Atheism but to the outright propagation of Nazism-like evil in the world.

    I would stop short from concluding that the theory of evolution sucks only because it has the potential to be misinterpreted by people, sometimes for their own evil ends. As a scientific theory – with all the caveats that the scientific method imposes on it – evolution is as accurate as the theory of gravity. In that sense it does a fabulous job. In the future, it may happen that a new theory may explain some of the missing pieces, but who is to guarantee that such a new theory would be more palatable, more philosophically pleasing, more emotionally soothing? In other words, are we to judge the goodness of a theory by the extent to which it matches observations, or by the extent to which it matches or violates our own subjective values. I found your post interesting because it reminds me of the battle between “scientism” and “post-modernism”. Most of us tend to be somewhere in the middle, but there happen to be ludicrous extremes on both sides. E.g., proponents of scientism can claim that everything will eventually be explained by natural science, and an extreme post-modernist can claim that the “pi” is a sexist constant!

  23. I haven’t read all the comments, so someone else may already have said this, but — I think you’re blaming Charles Darwin incorrectly for a phenomenon called “social Darwinism,” which is a conflation of some principles of evolution applied incorrectly to social structure. Darwin was a physical scientist who never intended his theories to be applied to social science. He did not coin the phrase “survival of the fittest” — it was used by Herbert Spencer in discussing his theories of free market economics, and became conflated with some ideas of Darwinism in a way that is very unfair to Darwin, IMO.

    Darwin’s actual theory was that the most adaptable members of the species are the ones that survive, because they can assimilate change. In a way, that’s exactly the opposite of survival of the fittest … it’s more like survival of the mutant. :-)

  24. Stefanie – yes, I do agree and should have been clearer – it’s not Darwin and the evolution of the species I’m picking a fight with but evolutionary psychology and the leaps of logic taken in the name of Darwin’s science. I don’t like the thought of social policy being based on evolutionary psychology which does not have the same factual basis as the natural science. But how nice to be appreciated in my ranting! You can probably hear the squeal of the soap box being dragged out all the way across the Atlantic :)

    Polaris – yes, I should have made that distinction clearer. Here in the UK we don’t really have a Creationist movement to pit against Darwinism, and so the terms Darwinism and evolutionary psychology get used together as if they were the same thing. Not that I should perpetuate such an error, of course. And for stylistic sake I don’t like repeating myself, although that’s no excuse for making factual errors. My argument is with theories that propose themselves as absolutes because they claim a scientific basis where there is none. That becomes an umbrella under which all kinds of unpalatable social policies find shelter. I still say there must be better ways of distinguishing between what is scientific fact and what remains ungrounded hypothesis. After all, if you are keen to make sure I maintain the distinction in my mere blog post, wouldn’t you also want to see that distinction maintained in serious works of social theory?

    David – for most of your comment I should refer you to my response to Polaris above. You’re quite right – I should have made a clearer distinction between the two, and evolutionary psychology is my particular bugbear here. I like your phrase ‘survival of the mutant’! And I see what you mean. I have no problem with the idea of adaptability being paramount to mankind – just can’t see how others can make the leap from that kind of thought to the conviction that all women want a rich husband.

  25. Creationist and Darwinists

    Can any body tell me? Who has made the perfect, mathematical and complex laws of Physics, laws of Chemistry and laws of biology , complex reproductive system in human and animal and plants ?. Scientists are only discovering these laws and in through obeying these law making some imperfect or semi perfect things. Yet the scientists have discovered a tiny part of the Creator’s innovative world. 99% yet to be explored. Keeping in view only a stupid or illogical persons can deny the perfect, and the wise Creator.

    The Darwin has proposed a theory not fact . His tautology could not be proved by any undoubtedly/real true scientific evidence/fact. After studying 10,000 fossils, Harun Yahya (click here to explore) a Turkish biologist has challenged all Darwinists of the world to produce a single intermediate fossil, he will pay US$100 billion . He has proved that every species appeared in perfect shape and disappeared and new specie appeared in perfect shape. No incomplete bird can survive and incomplete eye can see. A half build eye and half build wing cannot see and cannot fly.

    Survival of the fittest? Why love existence? Why a mother dies for her child?, Why A perfect family system of Honey bee functions?. Why Peacock beautiful colors appeared?. Darwinists have failed miserably to explain the facts of creation. So fact of existence of creator of a perfect, very beautiful and complex creation is just like Sun on the sky but blind cannot see.

    Click to watch video : Death of Darwinism and Win of Creationists

    Click to watch video : Fossil Record Prove Creationism

    Click to watch Video : Collapse to Ethism

    Click to Watch video : Disasters Darwinism Brought to Humanity

    Indeed Creation and ordering of the universe is seen as an act of prime mercy for which all creatures sing God’s glories and bear witness to God’s unity and lordship. According to the Islamic teachings, God exists without a place. According to the Qur’an, “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. God is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things” (Qur’an 6:103)

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