Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Review of David Stove: Darwinian Fairytales (essay 6)

In Essay VI, "Tax and the Selfish Girl or Does 'Altruism' Need Inverted Commas?", Stove attempts to 'prove' that contrary to the claims of Darwinists, humans aren't selfish.

This is a bit odd, since, as far as I know, it's creationists that believe that humans are selfish; but they by accepting Jesus as their personal savior may begin the path away from selfishness.

According to Stove, this idea, usually finding favor among the ignorant and cuvious, advances socially in times of Enligtenment "such as the 5th century B.C. in Greece or the 18th century A.D. in western Europe" (cf. p. 80). Since the belief in evolution itself was a product of the 18th century Enlightenment, it had from that alone "some affinity with the selfish theory of human nature" (ibid.); but the Darwinian theory of evolution had that affinity to an even stronger degree,

[f]or Darwinism says, after all, that in every species the individual organisms are always engaged in a struggle for life with one another. And what could that struggle be, except a school in which the scholars do well in proportion as they are ruthlessly selfish?

From here it get even worse, even more difficult to figure out, what Stove is babbling about. Maybe you have to have lived in one of those frontier states - Australia, USA, Canada - to figure out , what it's all about.

On p. 84, Stove writes:

These typical questions of our age are all foolish, and foolish in the same way as the typical questions of sociobiologists. Why does not a monkey or a human mother offload her babies for her own advantage, indeed! A feminist might just as sensibly ask a termite queen, why she does not in her own interests break out of her prison, do something about her terrible figure, and start reading the most emancipated female authors. A draft dodger might just as sensibly ask an American soldier ant why he, too, does not run away to Canada when war threatens his survival.

Well, in The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes about warrior ants that their behavior is not because they love their mother or because they have had nationalism drilled into their heads, but because it is the same genes that are in the queen, their mother, as in themselves. By sacrificing themselves, the warriors protect the repository of those genes. If the warriors ran away instead of fighting, the queen would be an easy prey, and that would be the end to the production of that kind of soldiers.

On p. 85, Stove writes:

Human selfishness goes very deep and extends very far. But that is obvious, and not in dispute. It needs no expensive education in biological science to teach us that; nor did we have to wait to learn it from the recent examples of draft dodgers, feminists, or the business virtuosos in dog eat dog and dirty tricks. The question is, whether there is not also an opposite side to human beings - an unselfish or altruistic side - which also goes very deep and extends very far. The sociobiologists say there is not. I say there is.

Apparently Stove hasn't understood that the point of modern sociobiology is that the genes are selfish (in a metaphorical sense), not their carriers. With ants, the queen doesn't really do anything but laying eggs, which the sterile workers take care off, and the sterile warriors protect the queen and the eggs. The workers and the warriors do not themselves reproduce, yet their apparently unselfish behavior anyway helps reproduce their genes. So, the point is that unit of selection is not the individual organism, but the gene. It's the genes that are struggling for existence.

On p. 96, Stove writes:

The selfish theory of human behavior was always explicitly intended by its adherents to explode the belief, assiduously cultivated by priests and other obscurantists, that a vast gulf separates our species from all other animals. It was intended, as Darwinism was always intended, to bridge the gap between man and the animals, to mortify human self-importance, and to 'cut us down to size'.

Well, Darwin ends The Descent of Man in chapter 21 with the words:

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future. But we are not here concerned with hopes or fears, only with the truth as far as our reason permits us to discover it; and I have given the evidence to the best of my ability. We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system--with all these exalted powers--Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.

Is this cutting us down to size? Or is it simply telling us to have more respect for other living organisms? It is not humans that are cut down to size, it is animals that are elevated up to be almost humans.

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

O'leary follows Stove in writing:

Darwinism, says Stove, depends on universal selfishness because only the selfish could become a "favoured race in the struggle for life", to use Darwin’s phrase. Darwin himself was not a man of bad character, but he was the heir of an Enlightenment tradition that necessitated selfishness as a way of explaining behavior. He attempted to argue that altruism might be an advantage if an altruistic group competing with a group in which all members were selfish. But of course, free riders would quickly destroy such a group unless something stronger than mere personal survival was driving altruism (p. 81).

Too bad that O'Leary has understood even less than Stove has.

Stove points out that many animals might well spread their selfish genes much more effectively by behaving otherwise than they do. For example, a female chimpanzee could let other females raise her infants and have many more of them, but if anyone thinks she herself is likely to see the matter in that light, his safety when reasoning with her in the primate enclosure is a poor bet.

Indeed, and why is that so? Possibly because it for chimpanzees in general doesn't make sense to behave as if they were ants. What sociobiolists are trying to do is to understand individual behavior without individual judgements; that is without claiming that one kind of behavior is good, and another kind of behavior is bad.

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A Christian in Satanist clothes