Monday, October 23, 2006

Review of David Stove: Darwinian Fairytales (essay 5)

In Essay V, "A Horse in the Bathroom or The Struggle for Life", Stove continues his struggle against the 'Mathus-Darwin principle'.

And he goes still more wrong here; for instance, Stove writes pp. 54-55:

The Darwin-Wallace reply has the implication that child mortality is about the same in all species, or at least is tremendously high in all. 'Child mortality' is just the proportion of individuals born which die before reaching reproductive age. In many species, of course, including cod and pines, it is enermously high: 99 per cent or even more, according to competent authorities, in the case of cod for example. But surely no sane person will believe that child mortality is anything like as high as that across the board: in all birdds, all mammals, all everything? A female elephant, (Darwin tells us), has six offspring in a lifetime: so how would elephants get on under a child mortality of 90 per cent or so, or anywhere near that.

I have actually treated this in an earlier post; but let's just have it once more, shall we? In The Origin of Species, chapter 3, Darwin writes:

The elephant is reckoned to be the slowest breeder of all known animals, and I have taken some pains to estimate its probable minimum rate of natural increase: it will be under the mark to assume that it breeds when thirty years old, and goes on breeding till ninety years old, bringing forth three pairs of young in this interval; if this be so, at the end of the fifth century there would be alive fifteen million elephants, descended from the first pair.

And I am sure that even Stove would have admitted that it doesn't work like that. Unlike what Stove implies, Darwin didn't mean a per generation mortality. Of course, Stove has some right; the pictoresque language occasionally used by early Darwinists, inclusive Darwin himself, doesn't quite fit reality. But is shouldn't be forgotten that child mortality in earlier times could be quite high. But most of the deaths are 'phantom deaths', the children that never were. A family with two children simply 'have' eight fewer children than a family with ten children; the latter family in return having a bigger share in the population gene pool than the former family. Now, this would appear to be against the Malthus-Darwin priciple, unless the first family simple couldn't physically get more children; but no-one, not even Darwin, ever operated with that principle, at least not as Stove describes it. And it is Stove that describes it; because it is his invention.

Apparently Stove cannot read Origin, chapter 3, in any other way than the one indicated by, what he writes at the bottom of p. 61:

Here, then, is an amazing historical fact: that there has been, lying on the very surface of Darwin's famous theory of evolution for nearly 150 years, the incredible proposition that child mortality in humans is about 80 per cent at least.

Not quite so. Darwin wasn't a statistician, though he does use some statistics; Francis Galton, however started the population statistics, and of course evolutionary theory gained in precision from this. With the rediscovery of Mendelian genetics around year 1900 and the modern synthesis in the 1930s, population statistics/genetics gained in importance, and it still a very important evolutionary disciplin. So, Stove is here arguing against a non-existing position.

At the top of p. 61, Stove writes:

And here is a second fact which, though not in that class, is still astounding enough. Namely, that in more than 40 years extensive reading in the literature of Darwinism and its critics, I have never come across a single allusion to the fact that the Darwinian theory does contain this incredible proposition.

Could this be bacause the Darwinian theory doesn't contain this proposition?

Stove's next paragraph tells us, how the horse in the bathroom came into the title of this essay:

Yet one would have thought that the proposition, that human child mortality is about 80 per cent at least, could no more have escaped notice and comment, most of it unfavourable, than a horse in the bathroom. I cannot afford, however, to make too much of this remarkable blindness which has afflicted other people. For it was anly about two years ago that I first began to notice this horse in Darwin's bathroom myself.

But who put that horse in the bathroom in the first place? David Stove's the culprit!

Stove goes on and on hammering his point in, as if we hadn't understood it already. On p. 72, he writes:

It is less well known [than that American capitalists used the idea of a universal struggle for life as a justification], but still is fairly well known, that Adolf hitler found or thought he found an authorization for his policies in the Darwinian theory of evolution. He said, for example, that 'if we did not respect the law of nature, imposing our will by the right of the stronger, a day would come when the wild animals would again devour us - then the insects would eat the wild animals, and finally nothing would exist except the microbes. By means of the struggle the elites are continually renewed. The law of selection justifies this incessant struggle by allowing the survival of the fittest. Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature.'

According to the notes (note 25, p. 78):

I [David Stove] have borrowed this quotation from Midgley, M. (1985), Evolution as a Religion, Methuen, London and New York, p. 119; but she drew it from Trevor-Roper, H. (ed.) (1963), Hitler's Table-Talk, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London

This is the recommended scholarly way of doing things, isn't it? From those Table-Talk quotes I have seen, you can apparently prove just about anything by quoting from those conversations.

Compare the Table-Talk quotation given by Stove above with this one:

Man has discovered in nature the wonderful notion of that all-mighty being whose law he worships. Fundamentally in everyone there is the feeling for this all-mighty, which we call God (that is to say, the dominion of natural laws throughout the whole universe). The priests, who have always succeeded in exploiting this feeling, threaten punishments for the man who refuses to accept the creed they impose. When one provokes in a child a fear of the dark, one awakens in him a feeling of atavistic dread. Thus this child will be ruled all his life by this dread, whereas another child, who has been intelligently brought up, will be free of it. It's said that every man needs a refuge where he can find consolation and help in unhappiness. I don't believe it! If humanity follows that path, it's solely a matter of tradition and habit. That's a lesson, by the way, that can be drawn from the Bolshevik front. The Russians have no God, and that doesn't prevent them from being able to face death. We don't want to educate anyone in atheism.(Night of 11th-12th July 1941)

So, the problem with Christianity isn't that it operates with God, only that it rules by fear.

Let's have one more quote:

The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianty's illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew. The deliberate lie in the matter of religion was introduced into the world by Christianity. Bolshevism practices a lie of the same nature, when it claims to bring liberty to men, whereas in reality it seeks only to enslave them. In the ancient world the relations between men and gods were founded on instinctive respect. It was a world enlightened by the idea of tolerance. Christianity was the first creed in the world to exterminate its adversaries in the name of love. Its key note is intolerance. Without Christianity, we should not have had Islam. The Roman Empire, under Germanic influence would have developed in the direction of world domination and humanity would not have extinguished fifteen centuries of civilization at a single stroke. Let it not be said that Christianity brought man the life of the soul, for that was in the natural order of things. (11th-12th July, 1941)

So, in the ancient world the relations between men and gods were founded on respect, not on fear.

And one more:

Originally war was nothing but a struggle for pasture grounds. To-day war is nothing but a struggle for the riches of nature. By virtue of an inherent law, these riches belong to him who conquers them. The great migrations set out from the East. With us begins the ebb, from West to East. That's in accordance with the laws of nature. By means of the struggle, the elites are continually renewed. The law of natural selection justifies this incessant struggle, by allowing the survival of the fittest. Christianity is a rebellion against natural law, a protest against nature. Taken to its logical extreme, Christianity would mean the systematic cultivation of human failure. (10th October, 1941)

Need I say anymore? (for those with weak memories, compare this quote with Stove's). Not that i am any better, because I have copied all these quotes from Wikiquote.

Now, this has actually nothing much to do with Darwin's theory of evolution; it is the theory of Houston Stewart Chamberlain who mixed Arthur de Gobineau's theory about racial inequality with Darwin's theory of evolution. In The Inequality of the Human Races (1853-55), Gobineau writes:

The word degenerate, when applied to a people, means (as it ought to mean) that the people has no longer the same intrinsic value as it had before, because it has no longer the same blood in its veins, continual adulterations having gradually affected the quality of that blood. In other words, though the nation bears the name given by its founders, the name no longer connotes the same race; in fact, the man of a decadent time, the degenerate man properly so called, is a different being, from the racial point of view, from the heroes of the great ages. I agree that he still keeps something of their essence; but the more he degenerates the more attenuated does this "something" become. The heterogeneous elements that henceforth prevail in him give him quite a different nationality-a very original one, no doubt, but such originality is not to be envied. He is only a very distant kinsman of those he still calls his ancestors. He, and his civilization with him, will certainly die on the day when the primordial race-unit is so broken up and swamped by the influx of foreign elements, that its effective qualities have no longer a sufficient freedom of action. It will not, of course, absolutely disappear, but it will in practice be so beaten down and enfeebled, that its power will be felt less and less as time goes on. It is at this point that all the results of degeneration will appear, and the process may be considered complete.

What Hitler wanted was to reestablish the "primordial race-unit" by weeding out the degenerate that had come in through the "influx of foreign elements". Nothing such is mentioned by Darwin.

Over the next two pages, Stove discusses the influence of Darwinism on Marxism, as you would expect; it all making you wonder, when the turn comes to Freudianism.

At p. 73, Stove writes:

Now, will any rational person believe that accepting this proposition [the 'struggle for life/existence'] would have no effect, or only randomly varying effects, on people's attitudes towards their own conspecifics? No. Will any rational person believe that accepting this novel proposition would tend to improve people's attitudes towards their own conspecifics - for example, would tend to make them less selfish, or less inclined to domineering behaviour, than they had been before they accepted it? No.

Well, it worked that way for Darwin himself in the sense that he considered social instincts to be a result of evolution. According to Darwin, it was the struggle for existence that taught humans to cooperate, to be sympathetic towards each other. In The Descent of Man, chapter 5, Darwin writes:

Turning now to the social and moral faculties. In order that primeval men, or the ape-like progenitors of man, should become social, they must have acquired the same instinctive feelings, which impel other animals to live in a body; and they no doubt exhibited the same general disposition. They would have felt uneasy when separated from their comrades, for whom they would have felt some degree of love; they would have warned each other of danger, and have given mutual aid in attack or defence. All this implies some degree of sympathy, fidelity, and courage. Such social qualities, the paramount importance of which to the lower animals is disputed by no one, were no doubt acquired by the progenitors of man in a similar manner, namely, through natural selection, aided by inherited habit. When two tribes of primeval man, living in the same country, came into competition, if (other circumstances being equal) the one tribe included a great number of courageous, sympathetic and faithful members, who were always ready to warn each other of danger, to aid and defend each other, this tribe would succeed better and conquer the other.

Note here even the point that in case of 'competition' between two tribes, the tribe with the greatest number of "courageous, sympathetic and faithful members", would win.

Denyse O'Leary's review od Essay 5 can be found here.

O'Leary agrees with Stove that there is bo struggle for life among humans:

That, of course, is true. In typical human societies, there are struggles over love, power, status, religion, money, popularity, trade goods, channel changers, nice shoes, and the like, but ... a struggle for life? The whole point of civilization is to avoid such a struggle, and we have become pretty good at it.

It's just that according to Stove, it's not unique to civilized societies to avoid such a struggle.

As O'Leary writes a few paragraphs later, Stove mentions that Darwinians defend the theory of struggle for life among humans by referring to business life. But these Darwinians have forgotten to count with Denyse O'Leary, who happens to ahve taught "business skills to people in the communications industries". And:

One thing I [Denyse O'Leary] knew and taught is that it is nonsense to describe the world of business as a Darwinian jungle. In fact, in most industries, a consensus quickly develops between members of the same industry group to act in a way that protects the interests of the group. Yes, individual freelance writers or editors or graphic artists compete with each other for individual contracts, but that is only one part of the game. All have an interest in maintaining a healthy status for the industry itself. And practitioners tend to know that, or else they quickly learn it, sometimes under pressure from peers to smarten up.

While this is quite true, it's not the complete picture. As a journalist, O'Leary should know that the media world no longer consists of small, independent newspaper companies, the larger have swallowed up the smaller. And from my own job experience, I know that competition can befierce, and it can be hard to make companies cooperate for the common good. Even within companies, cooperation between different worker groups can be difficult to establish. As a programmer I have experienced salespeople being to busy capturing customers and not bothering to pass on all the relevant information to the programmers. For the customer, the salespeople that don't have to deliver anything but promises still stand as the heroes, while the programmers that actually have to do something will come to stand as the villains. And it's completely impossible to make salespeople cooperate, because they are too busy capturing new customers.

Not that I see anything Darwinistic in this, since we have no particular reason to believe that any new species is going to come out of it. But there really is a bloody war out there.

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A Christian in Satanist clothes