Tuesday, March 3, 2004
Oh help. The religious orthodoxy that impedes discussion of biological evolution continues with its accustomed dreadful tenacity. I’m going to hide in Tierra del Fuego.
One difference between faith and science is that science allows with reasonable grace the questioning of theory. A physicist who doubts, say, the theory of general relativity will be expected to show good cause for his doubt. He won’t be dismissed in chorus as delusional and an enemy of truth.
By contrast, he who doubts the divinity of Christ, the prophethood of Mohammed, or the sanctity of natural selection will be savaged. It is the classic emotional reaction of the True Believer to whom dissent is not just wrong but intolerable. Which is unfortunate. If the faithful of evolution spent as much time examining their theory as they do defending it, they might prove to be right, or partly right, or discover all manner of interesting things heretofore unsuspected.
Among the articles of faith: Life evolved from the primeval soup (sheer conjecture; the existence of the soup is inferred from the theory); evolution occurred, as distinct from change; accounting for all characteristics of life (mere assertion); natural selection being the driving force (unestablished). Many of these points are logically separable. Since evolution serves the purposes of a religion, namely to explain human origin and destiny, they are invariably bundled.
A few questions:
It is asserted, though not demonstrated, that point mutations caused by, say, cosmic rays sometimes give an animal a slight advantage over others of its species, and that these advantages accumulate over countless generations and lead to major changes. Demonstrable fact, or plausible conjecture? I note that metaphysical plausibility often substitutes for evidence in matters evolutionary. The approach ignores hard questions, such as whether tiny advantages, if engendered at all, rise above the noise level, or what that level might be.
At any rate, the idea is that slight selective pressure (operational definition, please? Units?) over enough time produces major changes. The idea is appealingly plausible. But, for example:
(1) A fair number of people are deathly allergic to bee stings, going into anaphylactic shock and dying. In any but a protected urban setting, children are virtually certain to be stung many times before reaching puberty. Assured death before reproduction would seem a robust variety of selective pressure.
Yet the allergic haven’t been eliminated from the population. Why is it that miniscule, unobserved mutations over vast stretches of time can produce major changes, while an extraordinarily powerful, observable selective pressure doesn’t? The same reasoning applies to a long list of genetic diseases that kill children before they reach adulthood. (Yes, I too can imagine plausible explanations. Plausibility isn’t evidence.)
(2) Homosexuality in males works strongly against reproduction. Why have the genetic traits predisposing to homosexuality not been eliminated long ago?
(3) Pain serves to warn an animal that it is being injured, or to make it favor, say, a wounded leg so that it can heal. Fair enough. But then why did we evolve the nerves that produce the agony of kidney stones—about which an animal can do absolutely nothing?
(4) There are at least two ways in which a species might change over time. One is the (postulated) accumulation over very long periods of mutations. Maybe.
The other is the concentration of existing traits by selective breeding, which is nothing but deliberate natural selection. The latter is demonstrable, and can happen within a few generations. If a breed of dog has weak hips, for example, the defect can be rectified by interbreeding those with better hips until good hips become the norm. About this there is no doubt. If natural selection occurs as advertised, this is where we would expect to see it.
Now, the genes exist for the brains of a Gauss or Newton, the phenomenal vision of Ted Williams, the physical prowess of Cassius Clay. Presumably (a tricky word) in a pre-civilized world, strong and intelligent people with superbly acute (for humans) senses would be more likely to survive and spread their genes, leading to a race of supermen. Is this what we observe?
Here we come to an interesting question: Do the superior pass along their genes more reliably than the inferior? In primitive tribal societies do we observe that the brighter have more children than the not so bright?
Do the most fit men breed with the most fit women, or with the most sexually attractive? As a matter of daily experience, a man will go every time for the sleek, pretty, and coquettish over the big, strong, bright, and ugly. I mention this to evolutionists and they make intellectual pretzels trying to prove that the attractive and the fit are one and the same. Well, they aren’t.
(5) If intelligence promotes survival, why did it appear so late? If it doesn’t promote survival, why did it appear at all?
(6) People have a wretched sense of smell and mediocre hearing. Why? The pat explanation is that people evolved in open territory, where sight is more important than the other senses. People walked erect, keeping their eyes well above the ground so that they could see farther. As noses became smaller, there was less room for the olfactory apparatus.
Is much of this not palpable nonsense? Horses have eves at about the same altitude as people, yet have acute senses of smell. Anywhere but in perfectly open territory, a sense of smell is obviously important in detecting predators, as it is at night, when many things hunt. Excessively small nasal apparatus? Cats and rats have little room for olfactory equipment yet have acute senses of smell. Do sensitive ears take up more space than sorry ones?
(7) Without weapons, humans would appear to be easy prey for almost anything. A persistent forty-pound dog would be a challenge for a single man. A pack of hyenas would have no trouble killing him. Any big cat would need about ten seconds.
People are weak. I once had a semi-domesticated monkey of perhaps thirty pounds jump on me in Bali because it wanted a banana I was eating. I was a husky 180 and lifted weights. I tried to push the thing off of me, and instantly realized I couldn’t. The little beast was ferociously strong. I gave it the banana.
A man cannot outrun a toy poodle, cannot climb well (and anyway there aren’t trees in open territory), cannot swim naturally, has teeth useless as weapons, no claws, and poor musculature. (Why the latter? Strength isn’t of value in survival?) He can neither smell nor hear an approaching big cat (say) and, unless armed, couldn’t do anything about it anyway. Hiding isn’t a choice: People are noisy, their children uncontrollably so. When unwashed, humans reek. Our young are extraordinarily helpless for long years.
Were we already packing heat when we swung down from the trees?
(8) So much of evolution contradicts other parts. Sparrows evolved drab and brown so that predators won’t see them. Cockatoos and guacamayas are gaudy as casinos in Las Vegas so they can find each other and mate. But…but….
The answers to these questions either lapse into a convoluted search for plausibility or else boil down to the idea that since guacamayas are as they are, their coloration must have adaptive value. That is, it is the duty of the evidence to fit the theory, rather than of the theory to fit the evidence. This is science?