Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hmm …

… Evolution and Our Inner Conflict - NYTimes.com. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The eternal conflict is not God’s test of humanity. It is not a machination of Satan. It is just the way things worked out.

What seems lost on Wilson is that mankind identified the problem millennia ago by means of myth. 


  1. EO Wilson begins thusly:

    Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good? Are we built to pledge our lives to a group, even to the risk of death, or the opposite, built to place ourselves and our families above all else? Scientific evidence, a good part of it accumulated during the past 20 years, suggests that we are all of these things simultaneously. Each of us is inherently complicated.

    I really really like the last clause. I have been waiting for some smart cookie to come out and say it, that there is no one "truth" or model, but that all good models apply, and apply at different times. Models are not truths, they are tools for us to think with.

    No sooner did I being cheering, that I began booing:

    We are all genetic chimeras, at once saints and sinners — not because humanity has failed to reach some foreordained religious or ideological ideal — but because of the way our species originated across millions of years of biological evolution.

    Why on earth did E.O. Wilson even need to bring up the "foreordained religious or ideological ideal". It has nothing to do with what he is going to be talking about, his main theme, which is to punch the kin theorists in the nose, which he does well in the article.

    But again,, his thinking falls apart when he addresses what is religious:

    It might be supposed that the human condition is so distinctive and came so late in the history of life on Earth as to suggest the hand of a divine creator. Yet in a critical sense the human achievement was not unique at all. Biologists have identified about two dozen evolutionary lines in the modern world fauna that attained advanced social life based on some degree of altruistic division of labor. Most arose in the insects.

    There is a terrible falling off in his logic when he boils all of religious thinking down to altruism. If you ask me lately, what separates animals from humans, I would not say altruism, but E.O. Wilson says it for me, even though I believe that animals can be altruistic. How about lead guitarists? Today, I want to point out that dolphins cannot play lead guitar. Other species can be altruistic, but can they play lead guitar? Here's some group behavior with Angus Young in the lead: Thunderstruck. You cannot look at that and force it into kin theory.

    Also important is that it supports group theory more than kin theory. And yet it separates us from the animals without necessarily pointing to there being a creation. Just like altruism, it says nothing about evolution versus creation or both. And the same goes for making rocket ships. And movies for that matter.

    So we have E.O. Wilson guilty like Richard Dawkins has been recently, wanting to forward a pet theory, arguing for it for its true worth, but going beyond and using poor logic to take down others ways of thinking about life. I like his clause, "we are all of these things simultaneously."

    These men are behaving like they want their books to outlive their genes. Science should not be tolerating this. We may come out of these shenanigans with new rules for scientists.

  2. That Thunderstruck link no longer works. This one is better quality anyway, just in case anyone was disappointed: AC/DC - Thunderstruck . It is a phenom of group behavior. The entire stadium is rocking to the song, driven by a lead guitarist.