Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Evolution Sucks

Fred Reed takes on the Just-So stories told by evolutionists:

I once asked a list of ardent evolutionists why humans, in evolving from lower primates, had largely lost their sense of smell. Their answer was in two parts.

First, men evolved an upright posture, and evolved it in the savanna, where the comparatively unobstructed terrain allowed them to see all around them. They therefore did not need a sense of smell. This makes no sense. At night it obviously would be useful to know when predators were about. Lions are astute at using cover to approach their prey, and are the color of dirt. Horses, which have eyes at about the height of a man’s, and have good eyesight, also have an acute sense of smell. The upright-posture stuff is sheer story-telling.

Second, I was told that brain tissue uses a great deal of energy, and that having olfactory lobes to allow a good sense of smell would require humans to find more food, causing a grave selective disadvantage.

Let’s think about this. How much of an energy drain would a good olfactory lobe cause? A quick web search pulls up the assertion that rats have quite good olfaction, and use it extensively to find what they regard as food. Another quick search reveals that a rat’s entire brain occupies two cubic centimeters. A man’s brain is some 1350 cc. Let us assume that the rat’s brain consists entirely of olfactory tissue, which of course it doesn’t.

So 2/1350 x 100 reveals that the rat brain is .148% of the human. Since according to [Michael Hart, author of Understanding Human History] the brain uses twenty percent of the resting energy expenditure of a man, adding the additional two cc of olfactory tissue would increase the body’s energy demands by.148 % / 5, or .03%. This minute sum, we are to believe, is so draining as to overcome the advantage of detecting predators at night or in brush.

I have heard of suspension of disbelief, but I am too weak a cord by which to suspend that much disbelief. What astounds me is that evolutionists believe it without effort. I encounter the Argument from Metabolic Burden repeatedly. Its virtue is that of being superficially plausible but not verifiable.

And much more in like vein.

It occurred to me, reading this, how natural selection, however it manifests itself, really bites for those unfortunate enough to go through it. Let's consider human intelligence, the nominal topic of Reed's essay. We happy progeny of Northern Europeans may wish to take pride in the superior intelligence we evolved over less cognitively endowed peoples, although, per Mr. Reed, we should not assume that we know very much about why such evolution took place. But whatever the reason, of one thing we can be mathematically certain: this evolution required that a great many of our number in ages past either: (a) were eaten by predators, or otherwise came to violent and untimely ends; or (b) never got a chance to breed (which, let's face it, from a guy's perspective is almost as bad). Either way, they led Hobbesian lives that were truly "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Our ancestors -- as in the physical antecedents of those of us currently alive -- were the ones that spent every waking hour avoiding this fate, leaving them little time for fun stuff, like blogging.

Our present technological prowess and the lives of ease and comfort it allows are thus in debt to the lives (and, more importantly, the deaths) of suffering and hardship led by those who came before us.

But what of the future? In the recently-published book A Farewell to Alms, economist Gregory Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution, inter alia, dramatically improved the likelihood that most individuals would have surviving offspring, thereby dramatically slowing natural selection for cognitive ability. (It should be duly noted that his thesis has been controversial, even among people without ideological objections.) Will the widespread distribution our present wealth allow us to be overtaken, evolutionarily speaking, by other peoples in which selection remains operative? Consider China and its looming demographic imbalance. If, as appears certain, 1/3 of the coming generation of Chinamen leave no offspring, what kind of a people will emerge on the other side?

Americans should realize that we are probably living at the apex of our civilization.


Zetjintsu said...

"Gregory Clark argues that the Industrial Revolution, inter alia, dramatically improved the likelihood that most individuals would have surviving offspring, thereby dramatically slowing natural selection for cognitive ability."

it's even worse than slowing; in most civilized countries natural selection for desirable cognitive traits has reversed. The left half of the bell curve is outbreeding the right, leading to a decline in genetic capital.

While Darwinism necessitates competition, it doesn't have to be brutal. A rational society could align incentives and ideology so that below average people had one child on average, average people had two children on average, and above average people had three children on average. Everyone in theory would still get to find a mate and reproduce, while society would get the benefits of greater genetic capital each generation.

Φ said...

These are very good points. Indeed, my initial draft included something much like your first point; but the Flynn Effect, whatever its cause, makes it difficult to empirically verify.

With regards to the second point, let me be the first to nominate for a Nobel the man who designs such incentives that actually work. My understanding is that the track record isn't so good, even in societies that vest far more power in the state than we do.

trumwill said...

How can these points be made without somebody mentioning the opening sequence of Idiocracy?! I think that's obligatory at this point.

The main political problem with incentives is that support for the rationale, ends, and means don't add up. While conservatives would like the results, they wouldn't like the means as they'd likely require public funds being thrown at things like day-care and other such things to make it easier for professionals to raise kids and still be professionals. Liberals, meanwhile, wouldn't like the rationale (some people are more suitable for mating than others) or the ends (who needs more kids when people breed like bunny rabbits and destroy the planet?) even if they might be okay with the means.