Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Review of David Stove: Darwinian Fairytales (essay 11)

In Essay XI, "Errors of Heredity or The Irrelevance of Darwinism to Human Life", Stove starts with mentioning that we are all hereditary errors according to Darwinians (p. 212):

Do you realise, reader, that you are an error of heredity, a biological error? Anyway you are, whether you realise it or not. And not only an error, but an error on an enormous scale. At least, Darwinians say you are. And who knows more about biology and heredity, pray, than they do?

Or, at least those who waste their time on reading Darwinian Fairytales are.

A paragraph later Stove tells us, what it's all about:

A biological error, or error of heredity, is an organism which does not have as many descendants as it could have, or a characteristic of an organism which prevents it having as many descendants as it otherwise could.

Stove then gives some examples, such as this one on p. 213:

Here is a famous Darwinian, C.D. Darlington, on the subject of the naturally celibate. 'According to Galton's way of thinking, which all later study confirms, the natural celibate is an individual lying at the end of a curve of errors. He arises, as we may say, by a combination of errors of heredity.' That was, indeed, 'Galton's way of thinking', but not only his: it was 100 years ago, and still is, the way of thinking of all Darwinians.

This is the example Stove is particularly concerned about. According to him, 19th century Darwinists were particularly hostile towards the Roman Catholic clergy for its celibacy. For Stove, this is the "old anti-clericalism, and sexual emancipation" of the Enlightenment (cf. p. 219).

On p. 220, Stove then writes:

One of them is, that a scientific theory cannot possibly reprehend, in any way at all, any actual facts. It can explain them, predict them, describe them, but it cannot condemn as errors. Astronomy cannot criticise certain arrangements of stars or planets as erroneous, and no more can biology criticise certain organisms, or characteristics as erroneous.

This is, of course, correct; but things aren't quite like Stove reports them. While Charles Darwin isn't Francis Galton, I suppose that he can count as equally much a Darwinian. And I have found nine occurences of 'celibacy' in The Descent of Man, of which the following from chapter 5 is representative:

Natural selection follows from the struggle for existence; and this from a rapid rate of increase. It is impossible not to regret bitterly, but whether wisely is another question, the rate at which man tends to increase; for this leads in barbarous tribes to infanticide and many other evils, and in civilised nations to abject poverty, celibacy, and to the late marriages of the prudent.

Celibacy is here considered something negative, but also as a consequence of the "rate at which man tends to increase"; that is, celibacy is explained as a way to avoid the struggle for existence, so it is still explained as a consequence of that struggle. Of course, we can in the quoted passage pick down on the expression 'many other evils' and say that such moral judgments do not belong in a scientific text; but even that doesn't change the fact that Darwin sees celibacy as a civilized aternative to barbarous infanticide - and that independently of whether he sees things right or wrong.

Later on p. 220, Stove writes:

Wherever Darwinism is in error, Darwinians simply call the organisms in question or their characteristics, an error! Wherever there is manifestly something wrong with their theory, they say that there is something wrong with the organisms. Their theory implies that there is no such thing as natural celibacy, contraception, or feticide, and where all other species are concerned, it is true that there is no such thing. But in our species, those and many other anti-reproductive characteristics do exist.

Please hold your horses here, Mr. Stove, will you? Stove in the very best traditions of quote-miners has found a quote that lets him start beating the war drum without bothering to check, whether the quote tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We don't even know in what sense Galton used the word 'error'. Say I made a theory about the number of typing errors people made; would it then be something wrong with my theory if I made a curve of errors and had some individual lying at the one end?

On pp. 222-223, Stove quotes the opening paragraph from The Origin of Species, chapter 4, "Natural Selection", the one containing the statement "... we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed." And bootom p. 223 to top p. 224, Stove writes:

In fact, far from every attribute being rigidly destroyed which is in the least degree injurious, in our species there is precious little except injurious injurious attributes. Nearly everything about us, or at least nearly everything which distinguishes us from flies, fish, or rodents - all the way from practising Abortion to studying Zoology - puts some impediment or other in the way of having as many descendants as we could. From the point of view of Darwinism, just as from the point of view of Calvinism, there is no good in us, or none worth mentioning. We are a mere festering mess of biological errors.

Well, why pick down on Darwinists? There are far more Calvinists and feminists in this world, and they are after all much worse, and no one is allowed to speak against them, in particular not against feminists.

However, Stove has found his tree to bark up, and he continues p. 224:

Which means, of course - once you turn that statement the right way up - that on the subject of our species, Darwinism is a mere festering mass of errors: and of errors in the plain honest sense of that word too, namely, falsities taken for truths. Darwinism can tell you lots of truths about plants, flies, fish, etc., and interesting truths too, to the people who are interested in those things. But the case is different, indeed reversed, where our own species is in question. If it is human life that you would most like to know about and to understand, then a very good library can be begun by leaving out Darwinism, from 1859 to the present hour.

Seeing that Stove claimed that every component of Darwinism - except for an explanation of adaptation - was in place before 1859, this sounds somewhat odd. And turning things around, the problem that Stove apparently sees is that Darwinists makes him feel that he is an error, just as Calvinists do, because he doesn't fit into their rules, or what he considers to be their rules. That is, what Stove objects against is that he is not left the right to make his own choice.

Yet, things are not so simple as that. One day, when I was in a supermarket, I - as I always do - first went to the check-out line after having gathered all the (not very many) goods I was to buy. At the back of the line was a shopping cart with goods in it, but no person behind it. However, I placed myself behind the cart, expecting its owner to show up very soon. Customers occasionally leave their carts for a very short term, while fetching the last thing or two on a neighby shelf, and I thought that might be the case here. But no one showed up, and the line in front of the cart moved forward, and of course the cart and I then had to follow. Occasionally shop personnel use carts while putting goods on the shelves and leave them, if they momentarily are called to do something else. Also, occasionally, customers simply abandon their carts and leave the shop, if they get tired of waiting in line. That is, from prior experience I had reason to think that the cart might not be 'standing' in line. Still, I decided to keep my place and see, if the owner of the cart didn't show up. The line in front of the cart then moved one more customer forwards, and since the cart didn't show the least intention to follow, I decided that I had to be an abandoned cart, and I moved to the back of the active part of the check-out line. In that very moment a woman came to the cart and yelled at me: "You were sure quick there!" Apparently, in here mind I was an egocentric exploiting the situation. Since fighting about a place back or forth in a check-out line is very low on my priority list of things I consider worth fighting about, I went back to my old place behind the cart without a word, and the woman pushed the cart up to the back up the line, also without a word.

My point with this story is that the behavior of the woman could be considered very egocentric. What right did she have to park her shopping cart in the check-out line before she was finished gathering what she was going to buy? She projected her own egocentrism on me, unaware of that my behavior was the result of a longer deliberation and not something about being quick. Since then I have been studying check-out line behavior, and I can tell you that 50% of all women in a check-out line are unable to stand in it for more than one minute without needing to go out and gather more goods. Men only do this, if together with a woman that tells them to do it. Why is this so? Would I find the explanation in a feminist book? Of course not, such books only contain political correct statements that say that everything women do is good, and everything men do is bad. Would I find the explanation in a Calvinist book? Well, there's that story about a fruit that just had to be plucked and eaten, but where does the talking snake fit in? What's left? Darwinist books and David Stove's Darwinian Fairytales! Now, I have read Darwinian Fairytales and not found the explanation there, so ...

Denyse O'Leary's review of chapter XI can be found here.

In her second paragraph, O'Leary writes:

Now, he reasons, among plants or cockroaches, there is no biological error. They do not fail to have as many descendants as they can. Yet humans routinely do so, for a number of reasons, ranging from natural or voluntary celibacy through lifestyle choices that reduce fertility through heroic self-sacrifice.

While Stove does mention heroism, he does not mention it as a 'biological error'. Stove mentions it because he disagrees with R.A. Fisher's claim that heroes are people that themselves bring about the situation that let them display their heroism. Stove might consider heroism to be self-sacrifice, but he doesn't mention any such thing.

Concerning the same subject, O'Leary writes:

In Fisher's world, there is no need for self-sacrifice, not even on 9-11. But heroes do apparently insist on coming along and making trouble. I wonder what he would have made of the two young men who jumped into the pit of the Toronto subway in 2005, to pull out an older woman who had fainted? In what sense can we say that their "hazardous enterprise" was unnecessary? Dangerous, yes, and not at all likely to improve their chances of leaving descendants. Transit officials perform their duty, of course, when they counsel riders against such heroism. But very few of us would admire the young men more for taking the officials' advice.

Actually, 99.999999% of all heroes "insist on coming along and making trouble"; they make the situation that turns them into heroes in their own mind. Such as people yelling and screaming aggressively at other people for no other reason than to mark themselves as heroes. For example, 99.99999999% of all cases of "sexual assaults" by men on women only exist in the minds of people that see a chance of playing heroes. Why are so many men running along with the feminist war against male sexuality? Not because they think their sexuality is a crime, but because it gives them an excuse to push other men away from women.

O'Leary's next paragraph is:

As Stove points out, Fisher is living in a different mental space from most human beings on this point. Most of us, even if we accept religious teachings against artificial contraception, have never attempted to maximize the number of our descendants.

Then "[m]ost of us" are living in sin, because Genesis 1:28 clearly says that, "[a]nd God blessed them [the humans]: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (ASV). So, if we are to do as God has commanded, we are to replenish, that is, completely fill the earth, and I think there's a few empty spots still left vacant.

Also, if most of us accept religious teachings against artificial contraception, why do we then do that, if it isn't in order to maximize the number of our descendants?

A few paragraphs later, we find O'Leary caressing her pet peeve:

One thing his account certainly clarifies for me is why Darwinists today need to entrench their theory in school systems, contrary to public opinion. They must get students to accept it implicitly and uncritically, because it will not withstand common-sense criticism such as Stove supplies. The child must learn that Darwinism is absolutely true and accepted by all scientists before he learns that most adults do not embrace parenthood nearly as readily as a child assumes - before he learns, for example, about the rapidly growing demographic crisis of low birth rates . That way, he won't be tempted to blurt out embarrassing questions in biology class, with the devil to pay later.

But the variety of Darwinism taught in school isn't the one addressed by Stove; it is only concerned with biology, not the more controversial subject of human behavior. O'Leary, for some reason, doesn't bother to mention that as far as purely biological details are concerned, Stove fully endorses Darwinism. By the way, O'Leary is Roman catholic, not Calvinist; but you'll be hard pressed to spot the difference, even if the devil asked you to.

O'Leary ends with the following words:

On the other hand ... the willingness to think clearly cannot be so easily suppressed as the Darwinist supposes. In the end, Stoves [sic] main achievement in Darwinian Fairytales is to show that the theory was always conceptually flawed in important ways. Its status as an ideology is its best protection.

O'Leary is again waving her ID flag without telling that Stove in no way endorses ID; the only thing Stove endorses is that human beings should be allowed to do what pleases them without having to ask a priesthood for permission.

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