Circling the Paradigm

Protecting the Theory at Any Cost

April 21, 2008

I think it a shame that discussion of evolution usually boils down to a pledge of allegiance either to Darwin or to the handling of snakes. This view admirably distracts attention from the observation that much of Darwinism doesn’t square with observation or even make sense. Religion has nothing to do with it, being an innocent bystander.

I recently read Understanding Human History, by Michael Hart, which deals with the influence of intelligence on history. Hart is an astrophysicist, and his book is well worth reading—except when he deals with evolution, when he goes ditzy. They all do. Permit me an example.

A standard theory among a large school of evolutionists is that intelligence is low among people in sub-Saharan Africa, where humanity apparently originated, because life in tropical climates doesn’t impose great intellectual demands; when people migrated to colder climates, as for example in Europe, they had to evolve higher intelligence to survive. To most people it seems obvious that higher intelligence would be useful anywhere at all, so why, they ask, didn’t it arise below the Sahara?

Hart replies that larger brains carry not only benefits but also costs and, by implication, that in some places the costs are greater than the advantages. The costs of larger brains are, he says:

 

“1) Larger brains require larger amounts of energy.

2) Larger brains require larger heads, which create strains on the muscular and skeletal structure.

3) Larger brains (and larger heads) require wider female pelvises and the wider pelvises result in less efficiency in walking and running.”

 

This is evolutionary boilerplate, and also absurd. The two are often seen keeping company.

Let’s start with 1) that larger brains require more energy. A concrete example:

I once asked a list of ardent evolutionists why humans, in evolving from lower primates, had largely lost their sense of smell. Their answer was in two parts.

First, men evolved an upright posture, and evolved it in the savanna, where the comparatively unobstructed terrain allowed them to see all around them. They therefore did not need a sense of smell. This makes no sense. At night it obviously would be useful to know when predators were about. Lions are astute at using cover to approach their prey, and are the color of dirt. Horses, which have eyes at about the height of a man’s, and have good eyesight, also have an acute sense of smell. The upright-posture stuff is sheer story-telling.

Second, I was told that brain tissue uses a great deal of energy, and that having olfactory lobes to allow a good sense of smell would require humans to find more food, causing a grave selective disadvantage.

Let’s think about this. How much of an energy drain would a good olfactory lobe cause? A quick web search pulls up the assertion that rats have quite good olfaction, and use it extensively to find what they regard as food. Another quick search reveals that a rat’s entire brain occupies two cubic centimeters. A man’s brain is some 1350 cc. Let us assume that the rat’s brain consists entirely of olfactory tissue, which of course it doesn’t.

So 2/1350 x 100 reveals that the rat brain is .148% of the human. Since according to Hart the brain uses twenty percent of the resting energy expenditure of a man, adding the additional two cc of olfactory tissue would increase the body’s energy demands by.148 % / 5, or .03%. This minute sum, we are to believe, is so draining as to overcome the advantage of detecting predators at night or in brush.

I have heard of suspension of disbelief, but I am too weak a cord by which to suspend that much disbelief. What astounds me is that evolutionists believe it without effort. I encounter the Argument from Metabolic Burden repeatedly. Its virtue is that of being superficially plausible but not verifiable.

Now let’s examine the claim that large heads weigh more, and thus burden the body.

It is a commonplace of evolutionary IQism that in Europe humans evolved brains larger by 100 cc; the increase allowed them to invent such things as computers.

If you are of European stock, you will doubtless have noticed the terrible musculo-skeletal strain caused by your head. One imagines the Vikings attacking Normandy with their heads lolling uncontrollably to one side, so crushing was the burden.

This is arrant nonsense. It is transparent nonsense. It virtually waves a flag saying “Look! Nonsense!” But few notice.

It never ends. Also in the book, Hart argues that men like women with large, firm breasts because this signals to them that the woman is young and healthy and will bear many children. This too is typical Darwinian story-telling. Does it square with observation? Does it make sense logically?

If selective pressure favored large-breasted women, then large breasts would quickly become the norm (at which point they would have no selective advantage, but never mind). Look around you. Do most women have particularly large breasts, or are they in fact a bit unusual? Do you see that women with small or average breasts are unhealthy? Do you note that women with moderate breasts remain spinsters? Do you see any connection at all between size of breasts and conjugal state?

Note that “large” and “firm” work against one another. Large breasts begin to sag long before small ones, especially in the absence of brassieres. A bosomy woman on this reasoning would lose her attractiveness well before her planar sisters. Why does Hart think that large breasts indicate health? They probably indicate that the woman isn’t starving, but they are perfectly consonant with countless diseases. Can you think of a disease that causes breasts to shrink?

And of course it is easy to make up counter-stories. E.g., Hart says that “wider pelvises result in less efficiency in walking and running.” What does he think large breasts do? And anyway they would use more energy and (really do) cause musculo-skeletal stress and….

What solemn nonsense it all is.

A second technique for explaining the inexplicable, or at least thus-far inexplicable, is the Argument from Sexual Attraction. When an animal exhibits some trait or structure that on its face seems to render survival less likely, it is said to attract fertile females.

Note the antennae on the beastie below.

Such ornate headgear is so placed as to be useless in fighting: the animal would have to stand on its head to point them at an enemy. According to Hart’s theory of cranio-mechanical burden, these decorations would cause far more stress than two cc of brain tissue, and ought to make the animal slower than it would be without them. Being slow is not a good thing in territory infested by cheetahs. Ah, but horns attract the ladies, so that the animal has more offspring.

This might make sense if (a) not all males had them and (b) they were tied to health and strength. Are they?

My favorite example is this:

A larger brain would cause crippling ergonomic stress, but having the weight of a small planet stuck on his jaw is a good thing for this fellow because it attracts females.

I see. Things that work against survival facilitate passing on one’s genes. What could be more reasonable?

Nothing is too silly for Darwinian consumption. For example, Hart speculates that white and yellow people, who live in cold weather, have thin lips to conserve heat. Presumably this implies that the larger lips of Africans serve as radiators (and perhaps cause musculo-skeletal stress). My own explanation is that northern climes are windy and that large lips would act as sails, causing the heads of Caucasians, already mechanically stressed by 100 cc of extra brain, to flop sideways and cause neck damage.

Again, a staple of evolutionary anthropology is that people left Africa some years ago and went north, in Europe. In order to survive cold weather, they evolved larger brains so as to be able to make clothes, and remember to store food for the coming winter.

Well, OK. But Hart says that 1.5 million years ago Homo erectus, the Model T of humanity, lived in northern China and used fire to survive the cold. Erectus, says Hart, had a cranial capacity of only 1000 cc.

Now, anywhere you need fire to survive the winter, you also need clothes, as otherwise you can go no more than a short distance from the fire (unless you think Erectus had fur, but then why did he need fire?) You also have to be smart enough to remember that winter comes, unless you are going to reinvent clothing annually come fall. Thus we have that 1000 cc of brain is enough to survive the cold and that humans in Africa, at 1270 cc, were way overqualified and didn’t need to evolve larger brains to survive cold.

Aaaaagh!

The entire Darwinian structure rests on the willingness to accept wild theories without examination. Permit me one other example to make the point. James Flynn, in his book Race Differences in Intelligence, makes two fabulistic assertions. First, Asians, who supposedly are adapted to cold weather, have little facial hair because it would collect ice and cause frostbite. Second, northern peoples have pale skin so that sunlight can synthesize vitamin D.

As to the first assertion, I note that Asian peoples with little facial hair also have little pubic hair. If this is an adaptation to prevent an accumulation of ice, life must have been far harder than I had imagined. The idea that a covering of facial hair is a disadvantage in cold weather is counterintuitive, so I asked a friend who spent a dozen years with the Alaskan fishing fleet. Everyone wore heavy beards, he said, as protection against the cold.

However, if beards are bad in cold weather, why did Vikings have them? They certainly had the intelligence to notice that their faces were freezing, and they knew how to shave. On Flynn’s theory, Viking women and children would have survived nicely, but the men would have died of frostbite. Who has been smoking what?

As for the second assertion, that pale skin allows the synthesis of Vitamin D in the far north, well, maybe. However, people in Scandinavian winters characteristically wear clothing. Look at the Viking fellow above and note how much skin is exposed. Reflect that in winter in the far north, hours of sunlight are few to almost none and what sunlight there is passes obliquely through thick layers of atmosphere. This filters out the ultraviolet needed to synthesize Vitamin D. If Flynn wants to sell his idea, he needs at a minimum to show that the amount of skin exposed in the available light produces sufficient Vitamin D in both Vikings and Eskimos. I’m waiting.