Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Review of David Stove: Darwinian Fairytales (essay 2)

Stove heads "Essay II: Where Darwin First Went Wrong About Man" with this quote from The Origins of Species, chapter 3:

every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers

We'll take a bit more of the original paragraph:

In looking at Nature, it is most necessary to keep the foregoing considerations always in mind never to forget that every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that each lives by a struggle at some period of its life; that heavy destruction inevitably falls either on the young or old, during each generation or at recurrent intervals. Lighten any check, mitigate the destruction ever so little, and the number of the species will almost instantaneously increase to any amount. [emphasis added]

The "foregoing considerations" are:

The only difference between organisms which annually produce eggs or seeds by the thousand, and those which produce extremely few, is, that the slow-breeders would require a few more years to people, under favourable conditions, a whole district, let it be ever so large. The condor lays a couple of eggs and the ostrich a score, and yet in the same country the condor may be the more numerous of the two: the Fulmar petrel lays but one egg, yet it is believed to be the most numerous bird in the world. One fly deposits hundreds of eggs, and another, like the hippobosca, a single one; but this difference does not determine how many individuals of the two species can be supported in a district. A large number of eggs is of some importance to those species, which depend on a rapidly fluctuating amount of food, for it allows them rapidly to increase in number. But the real importance of a large number of eggs or seeds is to make up for much destruction at some period of life; and this period in the great majority of cases is an early one. If an animal can in any way protect its own eggs or young, a small number may be produced, and yet the average stock be fully kept up; but if many eggs or young are destroyed, many must be produced, or the species will become extinct. It would suffice to keep up the full number of a tree, which lived on an average for a thousand years, if a single seed were produced once in a thousand years, supposing that this seed were never destroyed, and could be ensured to germinate in a fitting place. So that in all cases, the average number of any animal or plant depends only indirectly on the number of its eggs or seeds.

Here, Darwin introduces a quite common imprecision: not to distinguish between a population (for which "the average number of any animal or plant" would make sense) and a "single organic being". For instance, a sigle worker ant can hardly be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers, whereas that may well be said to be the case for the entire ant population in the worker's home colony.

However, this is not where Stove starts, so let's return to the proper course after this little excursion.

Actually, Stove starts by first stating that the publishing of The Origins of Species in 1859 "fully deserves the celebrity which has been bestowed upon it", and then wondering why it was not until 1859 that some such book appeared. Then Stove writes:

By 1859 the fact of evolution - the fact that new species arise, (when they do), out of old ones - had been staring naturalists in the face for decades. Even by about 1835, there was simply no other natural interpretation of the fossil record. And even as regards our own species, it was plain enough by 1835, from embryology, and from comparative anatomy and physiology, that we must be connected by descent with other kinds of animals.

Stove is here - with the year 1835 - most likely referring to Edward Blyth's The Varieties of Animals in The Magazine of Natural History, 1835, wherein it was indeed suggested that new species might arise from existing ones, though this suggestion was not based on fossils. Most naturalists of that time were creationists, assuming species to be fixed, though admitting for some variation to occur within in a species. Blyth was himself a creationist, but considered it possible that a variety might, if isolated from other populations of its species, turn into a new species over time. As Stove writes, the idea of evolution had been around for some time, the discussions mostly dealing with mechanisms of evolution, and how much evolution, if any, could be allowed for - especially, if new species were possibly. And of course, that BIG question: were humans a result of evolution from non-humans?

As reasons for the postponement of a full acceptance of evolution, Stove gives p. 14 partly religion (the Genesis creation story) and partly moral. By the latter is meant that 'evolutionism' was a brain child of French Enlightenment and therefore

associated, and rightly associated too, with revolutionary republicanism, regicide, and anti-religious terrorism, and the deliberate destruction, for the sake of equality, both of thousands of innocent people and of high culture in any form.

On p. 15, Stove writes:

Darwin, consequently, when he became convinced of the reality of evolution in the late 1830s and the early '40s, found himself faced with a task of some delicacy. In order to tell the public what he knew, and yet not incur extreme and deserved odium, he neede to separate evolutionism from the swarm of murderous associates which up to that time had always accompanied it. He succeeded in doing so too, though only by the exceedingly drastic method of saying, in The Origin of Species, nothing whatever about the origin of the most interesting species of all: man.

Stove's analysis here sounds fair enough. Darwin is in The Origin of Species very carefull not to launch any direct attacks against Christianity, merely suggesting that the available evidence can be interpreted in various ways. In the "Introduction", Darwin writes:

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements; and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice. No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot possibly be here done.

A very cautious formulation with the indication that only because there is so much work yet to be done going through all the evidence, it is not provided in this "Abstract". So, yes, we have reason to believe that Darwin was planning on writing about the descent of man, but did not yet feel the time was right for that.

As a third reason for the rejection of evolution around 1835, Stove gives that the rise of a new species from an older one had never been witnessed by anyone, so an explanation for how this could happen without anybody seeing it was needed. That is, the mechanisms of evolution were needed to be found. Stove's claim appears to be correct. Compare with this paragraph, again from the "introsuction" of Origin:

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified so as to acquire that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, &c., as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant itself.

What Darwin refers to here is that the explanation cannot be found in a response of the individual organism. In particular, co-adaptation cannot be explained that way.

At p. 17, Stove writes:

Darwin found the answer to this question, or at least the answer which satisfied him, in a most unexpected place. Namely, in An Essay on the Principle of Population by the Reverend T.R. Malthus, which had appeared first in 1798.

Indeed, Darwin did make use of Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population. Compare again with the "introduction" of Origin:

From these considerations, I shall devote the first chapter of this Abstract to Variation under Domestication. We shall thus see that a large amount of hereditary modification is at least possible, and, what is equally or more important, we shall see how great is the power of man in accumulating by his Selection successive slight variations. I will then pass on to the variability of species in a state of nature; but I shall, unfortunately, be compelled to treat this subject far too briefly, as it can be treated properly only by giving long catalogues of facts. We shall, however, be enabled to discuss what circumstances are most favourable to variation. In the next chapter the Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase, will be treated of. This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

As Stove mentions, this is actually a very unexpected place to find support for evolution. Malthus had written his book in order to show that the utopian ideas of the Enlightenment could not be made into reality. As Stove writes p. 17:

The Essay on Population was a counter-blast to all the Enlightened visions of the future which had been pouring out of France for fifty years by the time that Malthus wrote: visions of the universal happiness, equality, communism, sexual emancipation, etc., which were going to to ensue once religion, monarchy, and private property, had been overthrown.

Compare for example with this paragraph from chapter 1 of Essay on Population :

It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement; or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.

Explaining Malthus' 'principle of population', Stove writes p. 18:

The key in question was the proposition that, in every species of organisms, population always presses upon the supply of food available, and tends to increase beyond it. According to Malthus, a population of organisms, whether they are humans or cod or pines or whatever, is always as large as its food supply allows it to be, or else is rapidly approaching that limit. It makes no difference whether the population is large or small, dense or sparse, or whether it is increasing, decreasing, or stationary. In all species, the tendency to increase in numbers by reproduction is so strong that, whenever there is food for a possible pine, cod, or human, there is, or else soon will be, an actual pine, cod or human.

Stove spends the next couple of pages explaining how this principle was combined with the variations among members of a population to produce the mechanics of evolution, wondering why no-one had gotten this idea before. That there is variation among members of a population is plain to see, and even Malthus's principle isn't to hard to realize, and Malthus even had precursors, though no-one before 1750.

At p. 20, Stove writes:

But whatever may have been the reason for it, it was left to Malthus to teach naturalists the strength of the organic tendency to increase, and of the resulting pressure of their numbers on their food. And he happened to do so in a book which, for reasons quite unconnected with evolution, reached an unusually great number of readers. He thus unintentionally provided Darwin and Malthus with their explanation of evolution, and hence, indirectly, with the key to all the lower level explanatory successes which their theory went on to enjoy.

That there are limits to growth would seem a natural thing; but what Stove apparently forgets is that in general theological rather than natural explanations were sought for. As long as it was thought that the universe was a divinely designed machine supposed to be running like a clockwork, there was little reason to explain how things changed, only reason to explain how they didn't. Most naturalists of that time were mostly concerned with figuring out the principles employed by the Creator and providing evidence for the biblical stories. Getting the idea that not divine intervention, but a natural principle could be the explanation wasn't all that easy an intellectual task. There's actually nothing surprising in that the solution should be provided by someone like Malthus that came up with it for a completely different reason. Malthus considered wars and epidemics to be natural means of checking the population growth, not divinely ordained punishments, so even he, although a reverend, deviated from the biblical teachings, not realizing the consequences.

In the next paragraph, Stove writes:

There was a cruel irony in this affair. For Malthus was, along with Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre, one of the bitterest enemies, and wisest critics, of the Enlightenment; while evolutionism (as I have said) was a regular element of the Enlightenment's intellectual armoury. Yet in the 1830s and '40s when evolutionists had got hopelessly stalled by the problem of explaining evolution, it was Malthus, and he alone, who provided them with the explanation which they themselves had been seeling in vain. Once it was fitted with the vital part that Malthus supplied, the evolutionary locomotive sped away on its headlong and triumphant career, as it has continued to do to the present day.

The evolutionists had been seeking in vain, because many of them were creationists. Even Edward Blyth considered natural selection to mainly weed out those individuals that deviated too much from the ideal type of a species and thereby a principle that kept the species stable, and Charles Darwin had started out as a devout adherent of William Paley.

The main interest of the Enlightenment was social change, progress. Evolution in nature, because it is an example of change, was accepted; but the Enlightened, for obvious reasons, were not searching for a mechanism of evolution that would imply a limit to progress. If the order of the day was liberation from constraints, why then seek for explanations in constraints?

Then, on pp. 20-21, Stove writes:

Darwin's explanation of evolution, then, and wallace's, was as follows. 'In every population of organisms, there is always variation, some of which is heritable and advantageous to its possessors, and there is always pressure of population on the supply of food, which results in a constant struggle for life among conspecifics. In this struggle, those organisms which possess some heritable advantage over their rivals will be "naturally selected", and in time, from being a favoured variety of an old species, will becomes [sic] a new species.'

According to Stove, this was and is the best explanation available of evolution. Stove does, however, add the synthesis in the 1930s between Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics to form neo-Darwinism. So, as Stove sees it, nothing exciting new has happened in Darwinism since 1859. And, for him, it is also the problem with (neo-)Darwinism. As Stove writes p. 21:

In particular, I believe that neo-Darwinism, though a very good approximation to truth and completeness for many of the simplest organisms, is an extremely poor approximation in the case of our species. Or rather, to tell the truth, I think that it is, at least in the hands of some of its most confident and influential advocates, a ridiculous slander on human beings. I hope to convince them that the trouble began much earlier: namely in 1838, when Darwin embraced Malthus's principle of population.

The problem here is, of course, that the very condensed description of evolution by natural selection quoted by Stove doesn't quite catch the many nuances to the struggle of existence mentioned by Darwin. The "constant struggle for life among conspecifics" doesn't imply that they need to directly kill each other; it can actually even mean that they learn to cooperate in other to better their chances, which in turn would lead to thet those who don't learn to cooperate may have worse chances. The problem rather is that "struggle for life/existence/survival" is a rather fuzzy concept, and, of course, it is not even certain that biology determines human behavior to all that great an extent, at least not in a simple way.

On p. 22, Stove begin to come up with counter-examples to 'the Malthus-Darwin principle', as he call it. He mentions domestic pets that may be very well fed, but most of them don't even reproduce once. However, this doesn't quite work, since we are here dealing with artificial selection. And what's worse: Stove mentions house cats forgetting that some of these occasionally are abandoned by their owners or run away and become wild cats, and wild cats certainly do fight with each others about food. Other examples that Stove come up with are animals in captivity that frequently, even with abundant food, are reluctant to breed. In general, all Stove's examples have in common human interference.

Concerning this objection, Stove writes p. 23:

But the awkward question is, how does the presence of human influence prevent these cases from being natural ones? This question is especially awkward, I may observe, for Darwinians. Man is one species of animal among others. If there is anything which is natural to man, it is having domestic pets, keeping animals in captivity, maintaining select populations of animals or plants for economic or intellectual profit, and cultivating pathogenic bacteria for the purpose of diagnosing and treating disease. These are simply some of the innumerable transactions which take place between members of our species and members of others, such as cats, sheep, wheat or bacteria. But how can one and the same transaction, between our species and another, be natural at the man-end of it, and yet not natural at the other?

This is a valid counter-objection. However, it should be remembered that Darwin specifically mentions the problem of explaining co-adaption and in general the influence of species on each other. And we should also notice how Darwin uses the Malthusian principle.

Stove himself mentions Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), about which Darwin writes in the "Introduction" to Origin:

The author of the 'Vestiges of Creation' would, I presume, say that, after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to the misseltoe, and that these had been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption seems to me to be no explanation, for it leaves the case of the coadaptations of organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life, untouched and unexplained.

So, Darwin rejects saltations, suggestion gradualism instead. This gradualism is already present in a population in form of a variations among the members of that population; but on its own that doesn't lead to a new species. And it is here the Malthusian principle comes to the rescue: some varieties have a higher survival rate than others under certain conditions and will therefore be favored under those conditions and will be able to increase in number at the cost of the others. It is this gradualism, the accumulation of ever so small differences that in the ens add up to a new species. The food shortage thing copied from Malthus is, of course, just one factor among many that might affect differential survival

In chapter 3 of Origin, Darwin writes:

But we have better evidence on this subject than mere theoretical calculations, namely, the numerous recorded cases of the astonishingly rapid increase of various animals in a state of nature, when circumstances have been favourable to them during two or three following seasons. Still more striking is the evidence from our domestic animals of many kinds which have run wild in several parts of the world: if the statements of the rate of increase of slow-breeding cattle and horses in South America, and latterly in Australia, had not been well authenticated, they would have been quite incredible. So it is with plants: cases could be given of introduced plants which have become common throughout whole islands in a period of less than ten years, Several of the plants now most numerous over the wide plains of La Plata, clothing square leagues of surface almost to the exclusion of all other plants, have been introduced from Europe; and there are plants which now range in India, as I hear from Dr Falconer, from Cape Comorin to the Himalaya, which have been imported from America since its discovery. In such cases, and endless instances could be given, no one supposes that the fertility of these animals or plants has been suddenly and temporarily increased in any sensible degree. The obvious explanation is that the conditions of life have been very favourable, and that there has consequently been less destruction of the old and young, and that nearly all the young have been enabled to breed. In such cases the geometrical ratio of increase, the result of which never fails to be surprising, simply explains the extraordinarily rapid increase and wide diffusion of naturalised productions in their new homes.

The point is that, if conditions are favorable, a population can increase ever so fast, even for slow-breeding cattle and horses. Now, cattle and horses, even under favorable conditions, are slow-breeding; in return they are not on the ménu of many predators. Mice, for instance, reproduce much faster; but in return they are kept in check by many predators. Being able to avoid predators can for mice be as important as procuring food; but it doesn't provide for less of a struggle for existence.

In the final chapter 14 of Origin, darwin writes:

That many and grave objections may be advanced against the theory of descent with modification through natural selection, I do not deny. I have endeavoured to give to them their full force. Nothing at first can appear more difficult to believe than that the more complex organs and instincts should have been perfected not by means superior to, though analogous with, human reason, but by the accumulation of innumerable slight variations, each good for the individual possessor. Nevertheless, this difficulty, though appearing to our imagination insuperably great, cannot be considered real if we admit the following propositions, namely, -- that gradations in the perfection of any organ or instinct, which we may consider, either do now exist or could have existed, each good of its kind, -- that all organs and instincts are, in ever so slight a degree, variable, -- and, lastly, that there is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.

Here Darwin mentions the "struggle for existence" without mentioning anything about food. Much of Stove's argumentation is therefore not really relevant, because Darwin actually uses the same argumentation to extend the concept of struggle for existence beyond the Malthusian principle. On p. 24, Stove, however, writes that even this counter-objection can be counter-counter-objected - but he "has postponed [his] attempt to do so to Essay III below." So we'll have to arm ourselves with a bit of patience then.

Also at p. 24, Stove mentions that, if the Malthus-Darwin principle were true, reproduction would always begin at the earliest possible age and with the earliest possible opportunity, which should make "a distinct bias towards incestuous reproduction" contrary to observed facts, Indeed, some plants even go to great trouble to prevent self-fertilization. This argument, however, doesn't quite work Think about non-sexual reproduction such as among bacteria. A colony of bacteria can rapidly reach the limits that the available food resources allow, if they don't or can't move around. Plants that avoid self-fertilization obtain the benefit that at least some of their seeds will end up somewhere else than the parent plant thereby lowering competition.

Against such argumentation as I give here, Stove writes p. 25:

If you discovered tomorrow a new and most unDarwinian-looking species of animals, in which every adult pair produced on average a hundred offspring, but the father always killed all of them very young, except one which was chosen by some random process, it would taken [sic] an armour-plated neo-Darwinian no more than two minutes to 'prove' that this reproductive strategy, despite its superficial inadvisability, is actually the optimum one for that species. And what is more impressive still, he will be able to do the same thing later, if it turns out that the species had been misdescribed at first, and that in fact the father always lets three of his hundred offspring live. In neo-Darwinism's house there are many mansions: so many, indeed, that if a certain awkward fact will not fit into one mansion, there is sure to be another one into which it will fit to admiration.

That is, neo-Darwinians can always come up with some ad-hoc explanation that will make any fact fit into the Malthus-Darwin principle. The frustration exhibited by Stove here is understandable. A principle that apparently can be used to explain everything really explains nothing. However, where is the problem with neo-Darwinism's house having many mansions? How are we to à priori limit the possibilities? Stove is asking for something he can't possibly get. This is not to say that anything goes, only that we cannot à priori say what goes, until we have seen it take a first step.

Stove, having locked himself into this focus on food, continues along this line and writes (ibid.):

Consider the most familiar and omnipresent kind of human population: a family, consisting of a father, mother, and at least one son and daughter. If the Malthus-Darwin principle were true, as many offspring as there is food to support would always be produced not only by the father with the mother, but by the mother with each of her sons, and by the father with each of his daughters. Since this does not happen always and everywhere, the Malthus-Darwin principle is false.

Well, it is false in Stove's simplistic version; but since that's not the version used by Darwin, Stove is burning a strawman. Stove is coming up with a prediction that doesn't hold true in the real world - as fast as possible reproduction - and he is doing that based on a modern social institution.

Let's returning to the beginning of this Essay. I'll here for convenience rewrite Stove's leading quote from Origin:

every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers

And likewise I will rewrite a bit more of the original paragraph:

In looking at Nature, it is most necessary to keep the foregoing considerations always in mind never to forget that every single organic being around us may be said to be striving to the utmost to increase in numbers; that each lives by a struggle at some period of its life; that heavy destruction inevitably falls either on the young or old, during each generation or at recurrent intervals. Lighten any check, mitigate the destruction ever so little, and the number of the species will almost instantaneously increase to any amount. [emphasis added]

Now, here Darwin writes: "Lighten any check, ..." That is, Darwin does not assume that reproduction was unchecked. Such checks could be rules controlling reproduction. Fewer offspring; but a higher propensity of offspring surviving. Among the examples that supposedly run counter to the Maltus-Darwin principle, Stove mentions pp. 24-25 "[t]he unmated adult female birds who act as 'aunts' to the offspring of others". This organization may lead to a smaller number of offspring, since not all that could produce their own offspring do so; but in return the greater care for the offspring actually produced increases survival rate of that offspring.

But Stove continues his rants (continued from the above quote p. 25):

As well as being averse to incest, our species practises or has practiced, on an enourmous scale, infanticide, artificial abortion, and the prevention of conception. No other species does anything at all of this kind, but we do, and we appear to have done so always. If the Malthus-Darwin principle were true, then every human life which has ever been deliberately ended before birth or shortly after it, or has ever been deliberately prevented from beginning, would otherwise soon have ended anyway, by starvation.

Always and always, how are we to know? The period, for which we have much knowledge is rather short compared to the time, in which humans have existed.

Apparently, Stove's point is that "infanticide, artificial abortion, and the prevention of conception" cannot be explained by the Malthus-Darwin principle and therefore cannot be justified as necessary, something we just have to accept. Well, Stove is niether completely wrong nor completely right here. While acute starvation isn't a problem for a large part of the world population today, historically it has been; but of course neven so, things are more complicated. The Romans concentrated food production in North Africa meaning that if the harvest was bad there, starvation would hit the entire empire, not just North Africa. One of the reasons for this concentration was to prevent rebellions. If a subject population was dependent on the Romans for food supply, they would be more reluctant to start a rebellion; why bite the hand that feeds you? Food shortages, even such artificial ones, are nevertheless food shortages. However, rules for regulation of human reproduction, must also be considered more as artificial than natural. In some periods 'illegitimate' children have been socially accepted, in other periods they were a disgrace. Explaining human social rules purely biologically isn't really going to work, because those rules change faster than human genetics. Is abortion a response to food shortage? As Stove mentions, it isn't in general today. But in return, bringing up a child today is a lot more than supplying it with food. It's even figuring out, what a child is. That's not unique to humans. A female gorilla that gives birth for the first time may abandon the young not really knowing how to take care of it. The male may then try to persuade a more experienced female to take care of the young. Of course, humans should be able to cooperate better than gorillas; but they don't always do. Things are even more complicated than that, since abortion by feminists counts as part of women's right to decide over their own body - the fetus counting as part of the mother - and therefore abortion is seen positively as self-assertion.

So, yes, Stove is right; but the question is, how many people is he hitting? Edward O. Wilson is usually considered an extreme Darwinist, and in the article "The Biological Basis of Morality" (The Atlantic Monthly, april 1998), he writes:

No, we do not have to put moral reasoning in a special category and use transcendental premises, because the posing of the naturalistic fallacy is itself a fallacy. For if ought is not is, what is? To translate is into ought makes sense if we attend to the objective meaning of ethical precepts. They are very unlikely to be ethereal messages awaiting revelation, or independent truths vibrating in a nonmaterial dimension of the mind. They are more likely to be products of the brain and the culture. From the consilient perspective of the natural sciences, they are no more than principles of the social contract hardened into rules and dictates—the behavioral codes that members of a society fervently wish others to follow and are themselves willing to accept for the common good.

For Wilson, morality is based on experience, and - by natural selection - those individuals that are genetically disposed for the behavior that is considered to be most moral will come to dominate. Compare with later in that same article, where Wilson writes:

Imagine a Paleolithic band of five hunters. One considers breaking away from the others to look for an antelope on his own. If successful, he will gain a large quantity of meat and hide—five times as much as if he stays with the band and they are successful. But he knows from experience that his chances of success are very low, much less than the chances of the band of five working together. In addition, whether successful alone or not, he will suffer animosity from the others for lessening their prospects. By custom the band members remain together and share equitably the animals they kill. So the hunter stays. He also observes good manners in doing so, especially if he is the one who makes the kill. Boastful pride is condemned, because it rips the delicate web of reciprocity.

Now suppose that human propensities to cooperate or defect are heritable: some people are innately more cooperative, others less so. In this respect moral aptitude would simply be like almost all other mental traits studied to date. Among traits with documented heritability, those closest to moral aptitude are empathy with the distress of others and certain processes of attachment between infants and their caregivers. To the heritability of moral aptitude add the abundant evidence of history that cooperative individuals generally survive longer and leave more offspring. Following that reasoning, in the course of evolutionary history genes predisposing people toward cooperative behavior would have come to predominate in the human population as a whole.

Is this, what Stove is trying to hit? Is this a 'Darwinian Fairytale'? If so, it's certainly different from the examples Stove comes up with.If not, who then it is that explain "infanticide, artificial abortion, and the prevention of conception" from a Darwinian perspective?

In Wilson's exaample the hunters cooperate, because there chances, on the average at least, are better when they are together than if they hunt alone. In 'the good old days' having many children was considered a blessing, and marriage rituals generally contain some fertility symbolism. But what is the value of a child today? Having children may make you a less efficient worker, and you need to work, not only to earn money, but also to be socially accepted.

Maybe it is time to let Stove have a word again? At p. 26, he writes:

Human populations, once they reach a certain size and complexity, always develop specialised orders, of priests, doctors, and soldiers. To the members of these orders, sexual abstinence, either permanemt or periodic or 'in business hours' (so to speak), is typically prescribed.

For Stove this is yet another example, where the Malthus-Darwin principle breaks down. Well, Roman Catholic priests are not allowed to marry; but I live in a Lutheran country, and here unmarried candidates for pastorate have problems, because many parish councils require a pastor that can be an example for the community, including being properly married. That sexual abstinence should be prescribed for doctors must be an Australian peculiarity, and neither am I aware that such a requirement has been put on soldiers in general elsewhere. Eunucs have frequently been preferred in high positions, possibly because they had no family they needed to benefit and therefore were deemed more reliable.

Also, we need to look at how things work. A Roman Catholic priest is married to the Church, and their children is the community. While most Protestants today accept abortion and contraception, this is still strictly forbidden by Roman Catholics, so we can say that a small group of society is picked out and not allowed to reproduce, iin return the rest are not allowed not to. What Stove ignores is that it's the population that increases in number, not necessarily the single individual member.

Denyse O'Leary's review of Essay 2 can be found here.

O'Leary starts by writing:

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.

Not exactly, what Stove wrote; but maybe O'Leary has some extra information?

After having mentioned Malthus, O'Leary writes:

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)?

This is just O'leary committing the same fallacy as Stove. Following that, she writes:

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.

Yes, but I am not so sure that all that many claim that "humans are part of the scheme of natural selection" today. Not even wilson denies the influence of culture. Let's have on more quote from "The Biological Basis of Morality":

Theologians and philosophers have almost always focused on transcendentalism as the means to validate ethics. They seek the grail of natural law, which comprises freestanding principles of moral conduct immune to doubt and compromise. Christian theologians, following Saint Thomas Aquinas's reasoning in Summa Theologiae, by and large consider natural law to be an expression of God's will. In this view, human beings have an obligation to discover the law by diligent reasoning and to weave it into the routine of their daily lives. Secular philosophers of a transcendental bent may seem to be radically different from theologians, but they are actually quite similar, at least in moral reasoning. They tend to view natural law as a set of principles so powerful, whatever their origin, as to be self-evident to any rational person. In short, transcendental views are fundamentally the same whether God is invoked or not.

For Wilson, it makes no real difference, whether 'natural law' is considered to be based in divine will or a categorical imperative. In both cases, they are ahistoric. For Wilson there is a third possibility:

So perhaps we need to take empiricism more seriously. In the empiricist view, ethics is conduct favored consistently enough throughout a society to be expressed as a code of principles. It reaches its precise form in each culture according to historical circumstance. The codes, whether adjudged good or evil by outsiders, play an important role in determining which cultures flourish and which decline.

Morality as a historic product and independent of the judgements of other societies. Wilson then moves on and says that, if those behaviors that are deemed morally good are inheritable, the morally good may come to be dominant. This sure depends on it not beeing deemed too morally good not to have any children. But the main thing is that Wilson's sociobiology isn't really based on Stove's Malthus-Darwin principle, but on what makes a culture flourish or decline, independently of any à priori notions of morality. C.S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man (1943) claims that all cultures arrive at the same morality, which therefore, even empirically can be considered an "absolute" moral, and he uses that argument aginst relativism. But for Wilson that would just be some kind of neo-Kantianism.

Now, let's give O'Leary the word again. She writes:

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.

But again, the problem is that "reproducing up to the level of the food supply" isn't really, what Darwin 's theory is about. You can put in any other vital resources, such as water and parking lots. What it is about is that since resources are limited, and populations tend to increase, there is competition. And, importantly, this is, when coupled with variation, how new species come around. Has any new human species been detected within the last few thousand years? I don't think so. It should be remembered that Darwin was trying to come up with a mechanism for the origin of species, not necessarily a hard rule about that every individual would try, irrespective of anything else, to beget as much offspring as physically possible.

Concerning the 'unDarwinian' behavior of Roman Catholic priests, O'Leary writes:

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.

No, of course not. If the Roman Catholic priests don't beget children themselves, there is nothing inherited; but who is claiming that Roman Catholic priests count as a species? They don't even - in biological terms - count as a population, because they are not self-resupplying, but dependent on new members from the breeding classes.


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