That recent D’Souza article is a rich vein of lunacy that I have to tap once more. D’Souza has additional tools to woo conservatives in his toolbox: how about the naturalistic fallacy?
But if Christian anxiety is misplaced, conservatives are even further off the mark. That’s because Darwin’s theory actually supports conservative positions in all kinds of interesting ways. First, Darwin gives a dark and selfish view of human nature, which is why we need a tough foreign policy to deal with bad guys who cannot be talked out of their badness–even if U.N. cocktails are served. In addition, the selfishness in human nature warrants a system called capitalism which channels this self-orientation toward the material betterment of society.
I doubt that D’Souza has actually read Darwin for his book (one of the virtues of publishing with Regnery, I suppose, is that actual research is entirely optional.) Darwin saw that nature can be both cruel and beautiful, and he did not make the mistake of assuming that human nature must favor the cruel. Nor did he take the simplistic view of a D’Souza Republican, that the only road to progress is ruthlessness and brutality; there’s also a substantial modern scientific literature on altruism, sexual selection, etc., and we do not make the mistake of confusing mechanisms in nature with moral principles about how we ought to behave.
I’m always puzzled by these conservatives who a) claim that evolutionary biology supports the idea of a designer god, and b) claim that evolutionary biology supports the principles of capitalism. They completely miss the important core idea of Darwinian evolution: no top-down influence is needed, that simplicity can bootstrap itself into greater complexity with only natural properties to promote it. Do they also think that the “Invisible Hand” of capitalism refers to an actual supernatural entity? Have they confused capitalism with command economies? They reveal their simultaneous ignorance of both biology and economics with those kinds of comments.
Perhaps D’Souza has mixed up Darwin with Herbert Spencer.
It gets better. Darwin shows that social institutions like the family are founded in the deep human drive to reproduce and care for the young. Reproduction and self-perpetuation are the natural root of human family arrangements, which cannot be redefined as mechanisms of “self-fulfillment” without jeopardizing their biological basis and function. Consider a simple statistic: when divorced moms remarry or have boyfriends in the house, those surrogate parents are vastly more likely to physically and sexually abuse the children than their own parents. Darwinian theory supplies the reason: the real parent shares the same genes as the child and this forms a bond that dispels sexual attraction and discourages abuse. “Family values” are supported by modern evolutionary biology.
Aaargh, no. The facts of biology are not a prescription for ethical behavior! That evolutionary theory explains why individuals who promote their own progeny at the expense of others are better represented in succeeding generations does not mean that selfishness is a human virtue. It does not imply that we should promote behaviors on the basis of relatedness.
It also ignores reality — relatedness is obviously not the sole regulator of our behavior. If that were so, nobody would adopt children to whom they were not related. Parents would never abuse their natural progeny. Both of those happen routinely. Perhaps the capacity to form emotional attachments to people who are genetically distantly related might confer some advantage to individuals trying to propagate their genes, too? Fancy that — biology might just be a bit more complicated than the shallow perceptions of an ideologue with an undergraduate degree in something other than science.
The recent recent NY Times article on dueling conservatives has some relevance here, too. I think we ought to encourage a public debate between D’Souza and George Gilder — it would be a kind of live-action Punch and Judy show.
Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”
“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”
We’re part of the universe, and we have intelligence, so I think the notion that the universe contains no intelligence is trivially false from the outset. I know what he means, though: Gilder is one of those loons who believes the universe is a manifestation of the conscious thought of a deity. It’s not storm troopers who perpetuate opposition to that silly idea — it’s the absence of evidence and the absurdity of the clowns who support it that compel some of us to ridicule it. The whole idea that evolutionary biologists want to purge society of undesirables is nonsense, too. It’s hard not to laugh when they bring up the Nazi comparisons; “Gott mit uns,” Mr Gilder.
Just to be fair, though, I should mention that not all conservatives are idiots about evolution. I detest this crank Derbyshire on just about every issue except this one, where he has it about right.
As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”
Same for liberalism — it’s just not relevant. Evolution describes reality as it is and has been; political views are about how we want our society to be, and we, whether conservative or liberal, can argue for policies that either defy our biological natures or follow them. I’d even go so far as to argue that culture is often an attempt to impose restraint on what our genes tell us to do; at least, I don’t think either major political party in the US endorses turning our daughters loose at menarche to start having babies ad libitum.
Maybe D’Souza thinks that would be a good idea, though — he seems to believe that a simplistic biology run rampant is a rationale for his political views, after all.
Marcus Ranum says
I find Darwinian evolution to be infinitely easier to believe than anything EITHER of the political parties has to say!
I thought that was what absinence-based sex education was supposed to do.
Stuart Coleman says
The naturalistic fallacy is a great litmus test; if someone commits it, then they’re an idiot. I’m pretty sure that any second grader can tell you “is doesn’t mean ought.”
There are few more reliable markers than a “Regnery” imprint on the spine of a book. It infallibly tells you that the book is trash and to be read only for entertainment. Or by doctor’s prescription to combat dangerously low blood pressure.
Do they also think that the “Invisible Hand” of capitalism refers to an actual supernatural entity? Have they confused capitalism with command economies?
Based on the conversations I’ve had with conservatives, the answer to both questions is “Yes.”
One of the people I learned (and I use the word loosely) economics from tells a story about when he was a test pilot, and his plane went out of control. He said he took his hand off of the stick and prayed, and the airplane levelled out. Then he went on to say “free-market economics is just like that”. I was inclined to agree with the statement, at least. The difference was, he thought that was a good thing.
Tom Foss says
“And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space, ’cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth.”
–Eric Idle, “The Galaxy Song”
Incidentally, one thing that has become utterly apparent about D’Souza is his contrarian philosophy. Ultimately, I think he wants everyone to hate him, on both sides of the aisle. He claims to be a Conservative, but he promotes evolution (albeit a view of evolution so skewed that neither the creationists nor the scientists are going to agree with him), he criticizes Bush and the mishandling of the war, and he empathizes with the terrorists and suggests that we change our red-blooded American culture to appease them. I guess he must have realized that having his particular complexion was going to keep his beloved conservatives from loving him, so he just set out to alienate everyone.
Actually, abuse of offspring could be an evolved “feature”. If as Nietzsche said “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” then abuse could be an adaptive feature if it produces offspring that are stronger and produce more offspring. What evolution selects for is to minimize the SUM of death/non-reproduction from all causes simultaneously. If child abuse kills a few, but causes the survivors to have many more offspring, it might be an evolved feature.
Over evolutionary time, the average person had two descendents who survived and reproduced (a different number would lead to extinction or population explosion).
Similarly, abuse of pregnant women might be a survival feature too, if it induces low birthweight and so prevents cephalopelvic disproportion.
In my most recent blog, I discuss some of these in the context of stress causing epigenetic programming in utero. It is well known that many organs are epigenetically programmed, it would be surprising if the most important organ, the brain, were not.
John Pieret says
For what it’s worth, another of the debate participants, Larry Arnhart, thinks Gilder is an idiot:
That’s because Darwin’s theory actually supports conservative positions in all kinds of interesting ways.
Everything supports conservatism, don’tcha know.
Next, he’s going to tell us that liberalism supports conservatism.
John Danley says
He can rationalize his spoiled child behavior by citing “evolutionary dispositions.” D’brilliant.
daedalus2u wrote: … abuse could be an adaptive feature if it produces offspring that are stronger and produce more offspring.
Is there any evidence that this is the case? In my experience, parental abuse leads to children being raised by others, usually a succession of others, often resulting in adults who are maladjusted socially, mentally unstable, and unlikely to win any propagation race.
In a modern society with laws and stuff, and for severe abuse, sure, but what about a million years ago? What about in Darfur? What about when there is a famine? or a war, and being able to treat people like dirt is a survival “feature”? What is being “selected” for in Iraq?
What if you have 3 children but there is only food enough for 2 to survive? Do you let all 3 starve or do you kill the weakling?
What if you are “maladjusted socially, mentally unstable, and unlikely to win any propagation race.” How do you get to reproduce? By “cheating” of course, via rape, via killing off all the other males. When you kill of the other males, if you kill off their children by the females you get, they will ovulate sooner. Maybe the ability to commit infanticide on the privious male’s children is genetically linked to abusing your own children.
It doesn’t take much of an advantage to be important over evolutionary time. If being abusive at the “right” time optimized reproductive success even a little, say 0.1%, then in 10,000 generations it would become essentially universal.
Signout talks about a paranoid schizophrenic who only accepts crack as pharmacotherapy and (at age 28) has already had 9 pregnancies and 4 children. Her children are being raised by others as she is incapable of doing so. She seems to be doing pretty well in the “propagation race”. Will her children? Well, half of them are likely to be female and will be able to follow in her example.
D’Souza. Hmmm. You know, in all of this there’s a marching band overture, just waiting to be written down. I’d add a line of high-kicking Brown Shirts, but I think that idea is already taken. Put down your pen, Dinesh, and take up the baton. You know you want to.
I recall that one of Michael Shermer’s columns argued along the same lines, that there is no real reason why the religious right should be so unhappy about the theory of evolution. It is certainly possible to interpret evolution as agreeing with conservative values, even if PZ thinks this interpretation is incorrect. Naturalist fallacy or not, you’d think that conservatives would be happy about any confirmation whatsoever of their beliefs. The fact that they’re not happy at all betrays a complete lack of understanding of evolution, but that’s nothing new to this community.
Gerard Harbison says
I guess he must have realized that having his particular complexion was going to keep his beloved conservatives from loving him, so he just set out to alienate everyone.
What a particularly loathsome little libel on conservatives that is.
Dan S. says
“The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” ” is perpetuated by Gilder and D’Souza, frankly.
“What if you have 3 children but there is only food enough for 2 to survive? Do you let all 3 starve or do you kill the weakling?
In some circumstances, active or passive infanticide (presumably the same for older children). There’s been some well-known work/controversy over this, about which other commenters can no doubt provide citations.
D’Souza writes: Paley was right
Congrats to you for making it past that part of the article, PZ. I broke out laughing and closed the window when I saw that.
Richard Harris, FCD says
Stuart, (#3), “is doesn’t mean ought.” – this was due to Hume , but modern thinking is that it’s not necessarily true. I think the jury is out.
I don’t see how this can be at all true. The arguments will be a product of our biological natures; culture is a product of our biological natures. The problem with D’Souza’s arguments isn’t that they commit the naturalistic fallacy; it’s that they get the biology wrong.
Regardless, in neither quote you gave does D’Souza commit the naturalistic fallacy anyway. In both he states what is and says we need to take action against it (people are selfish, so we need to a strong military; step-parents are more likely to abuse children, so we need to “support the family”), implying an entirely separate “ought.” There’s no derivation of an “ought” from an “is.” It’s stupid, sure, but it’s not the naturalistic fallacy.
daedalus2u– I understand why you would want to look at individual examples in lieu of any statistical evidence, but this is all just plain silly. I’ve read your stuff on ASD’s and I can also understand why you might WANT to think that individuals with ASDs are somehow evolutionarily superior, but there is simply no evidence for that.
Your example of the reproductive schizophrenic is just plain silly. I’m willing to bet that for every schizophrenic you can find in a blog somewhere who is producing large numbers of children, I can produce one I know personally (or know their parents) that do not.
Your science/philosophy combinations are even the more amusing because it so closely parallels the kind of bs being discussed in the post… and your ideas that abuse of women and children as potential evolutionary features is nothing short of appalling.
Further, regardless of what may or may not have gone on in your OWN childhood, there is sufficient evidence that ASDs are NOT caused by parental abuse, something you indicate as a factor in one of your atrocious blogs.
Again, I can understand why you think, or WANT to think, that ADS is some sort of next step in human evolution, but I think that can be corrected with a little Respardol.
PZ, I apologize for going rabid on daedalus2u on your blog, but he hit a nerve with this stupidity. Honestly, I wouldn’t normally refute someone so obviously delusional, but can’t stomach this sort of nonsense after working with families in crisis for so many years.
Yuck. What next? I sense another rape debate on the horizon. :-|
Only one? I’m willing to bet that we could produce twenty for each one of his.
Hey, hey, PZ, just because someone has a degree in a non-science field doesn’t mean they can’t understand evolution.
D’Souza would be an idiot no matter what field he had his degree in.
Dorid, I am sorry you didn’t understand my blog, I appologize for it not being clearer. I am sorry that I hit a nerve. That was not my intent. Never did I say that ASDs were “caused” by abuse. Never did I say or imply that ASD individuals are “evolutionary superior” (what ever that means). ASDs are not a “next step” in evolution, evolution doesn’t work in “steps”.
You are welcome to leave comments there, and ask questions regarding it. I will try and answer them. I am sorry that you feel the need to lable me delusional. I am not. If you show me where my facts or logic are wrong, I will change my understanding.
Most of the evolutionary changes to humans (that is relative changes in DNA and gene frequency) occurred long before the modern era. There are no “statistics” of human characteristics 10k, 100k, or 1M years ago when that evolution was happening. The only “statistics” that are important were those in “the wild” then. Conditions that we don’t have access to now.
I cited Signout’s blog as an example only to refute the notion that a “mentally unstable” adult could never “win” the “propagation race”. The current practice of removing children from abusive and neglectful parents is very recent. Was there such a thing as DSS 500 years ago? 5,000? 50,000? Very likely not. If a mother was unable to care for her child, and didn’t have close relatives who would foster that child, that child would die. The occurence of abusive and neglectful parents in the gene pool would then be self-limiting because they would not reproduce successfully. A limitation that has now been removed by DSS.
I find the abuse of women and children (and adults) appalling too. Abuse of women is now clearly non-adaptive. Abuse of women is widespread. How can something non-adaptive become widespread? It would be very curious if it wasn’t somehow selected for in the past.
We know that abuse does cause changes in the brain and in behavior. The “cycle of violence” is very well known. For something like the “cycle of violence” to exist, there has to be physiology that supports it. For there to be physiology that supports it, that physiology had to have evolved. For that physiology to have evolved, there had to be survival/reproductive benefits associated with it. If there are survival/reproductive benefits associated with it, being able to invoke those effects might be a survival/reproductive benefit too. Abuse will invoke the cycle of violence. What in that chain of thought is “delusional”?
I don’t “like” these conclusions. If you read the blog there is no way you could imagine that I was condoning abuse of any type. Acknowledging that abuse exists, and acknowledging the effects of that abuse, and trying to understand how the physiology that produces those effects evolved is not condoning it.
I really like the example of anaphylaxis, an immune system response that can easily be fatal. Is it a “disorder”? No, it is an extreme desperate immune response to an extreme desperate immunological threat, bacterial lipopolysaccharide in the blood stream. The immune system has evolved to minimze the sum of deaths due to infection, and due to anaphylaxis.
Are there behaviors analogous to anaphylaxis? Extreme desperate behaviors in response to extreme desperate situations? I suspect that pospartum psychosis and infanticide might be such an extreme desperate behavior. If we understood the physiology behind it, we might be able to better prevent it from happening. In my opinion, punishing mothers who become infanticidal is not going to deter such behavior. In my opinion, correcting their physiology so they are not in such a desperate situation will.
I think a couple of things need to be clarified here. The naturalistic fallacy should not be confused with naturalism. I’m guessing that, in general, naturalistic explanations are to be preferred, and one wouldn’t want to automatically discount or exclude them.
One needs to place Hume’s comments about the naturalistic fallacy in the proper context (i.e., describing such a fallacy and then proceeding to provide naturalistic explanations for our moral sentiments seems odd). Hume’s point, obviously, wasn’t that it couldn’t be done.
what about a million years ago? What about in Darfur? What about when there is a famine? or a war, and being able to treat people like dirt is a survival “feature”? What is being “selected” for in Iraq? … paranoid schizophrenic reproduces … blah, blah, blah.
This is your “evidence” that child abuse is a successful adaptive feature? As I suspected you have no idea what you are talking about, just a lot of fuzzy-minded speculation. And infanticide? Perhaps you could explain how that “produces offspring that are stronger and produce more offspring.”
natural cynic says
Tom Foss: I guess he must have realized that having his particular complexion was going to keep his beloved conservatives from loving him, so he just set out to alienate everyone.
C’mon, give conseratives a little credit. They just love to trot out people of color and incompetant non-caucasian “thinkers” get special treatment – if they are conservative. Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice certainly didn’t get to where they were by showing their competance. Thomas Sowell, Michelle Malkin and D’Souza would only be minor cranks on Powerline and LGF instead of syndicated columnists if they were white.
Ray C. says
“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism”? Quite on top of Gott mitt uns, it would seem these clowns have never heard of Lysenko.
Didn’t read his other posts maybe? Give me a fracking break. He brings up good points and a hypothesis that might be somewhat testable, and worse for you, there are studies done on various species that show the same tendencies, with **real** reasons for them. Suggesting that humans are somehow *different* and therefor the same rules do not, could not and ***more to the point*** never did apply to us smacks of the sort of BS thinking that creationists use to claim special creation of humans and deny all similarities between us and other animals. Its completely irrelevant to the question “if” we can see a modern reason for an sick behavior. That isn’t the question posed. The question is, given the existence of the same behaviors in other species, and the very good ideas we have, or are developing, of why they happen in other species, why the hell should humans be so different that those behaviors should be considers 100% psychological and not on some level a left over adaptation or physiological condition, which our *understanding* has outgrown, but our bodies haven’t?
The question is, do we treat such behavior solely as “Choices”, in the sort of bullshit way that conservatives like to babble about them, or do we recognize that there *may* be biological reasons for the appearance, recurrence and persistence of those abhorrent behaviors, so that we can derive “better” solutions than any of the BS solutions we have now. And, just to be clear, while people here are likely to whine a lot about capital punishment, the only other solutions are “more God” or “more jails”, neither of which seem to do much more fracking good than killing people. The former doesn’t help more than maybe 5% (being charitable), the later doesn’t rehabilitate, because frankly a) crime does pay more than honest work for all but the truly ambitious and successful, unless you get caught at it and b) no rehabilitation will be *successful* 100% of the time for 100% of the people, until you first deal with *why* the behaviors are there in the first place and have effective means to treat *those*.
Your argument is basically, “These things are sick, so we should just jail people for them and move on.”, which is about as a-liberal as you can get, not to mention completely unscientific. Its no better than some conservatives saying, “Homosexuals are sick, so we should kill them all.”, even if its *looks* more humane on the surface. My father has the same damn blind spot when it comes to people on drugs. I.e., genetics don’t matter, psychology doesn’t matter, abuse doesn’t matter, peer pressure doesn’t matter, nothing matters *except* that they *chose* to try the drug. Bullshit!! All of those things matter, because you can’t stop people taking fracking drugs until you address those things effectively, including the biology behind it, instead of just throwing people in jail or sending them to some stupid semi-priest running a bogus drug rehab system that tries to use Jesus, instead of jail time, to “solve” the problem. Neither is going to work, because as long as their is even 1% of the population that is biologically unable to “Just say no.”, or just 1% of the population that can’t be scared by jail, they will drag some larger percent into the mess with them.
Same with abusive behavior. If even 1% of the population has “genetic” factors that give rise to such things, they can and will promote an increase of aggressive response behaviors, and even promote the same behaviors, in some larger percentage of the population, by providing example of its occational success, through their abuse of other people, etc., etc., etc. So, do you ignore that it “may” have biological and genetic origins, or do you look to see if there is evidence for those and then try to limit the damage? The later is the *sane* solution imho. Denialism and insistence that the questions shouldn’t even be asked, because the conclusions that might arise are abhorrent is **not** rational.
Ray C. says
Thomas Sowell, Michelle Malkin and D’Souza would only be minor cranks on Powerline and LGF instead of syndicated columnists if they were white.
Well, Coulter is white, and so is Debbie Schutzstaffel, er, Schlussel.
I wonder if D’Souza knows what competitive infanticide is.
So, do you ignore that it “may” have biological and genetic origins, or do you look to see if there is evidence for those and then try to limit the damage?
Exactly my point. Instead of babbling on about a million years ago, Darfur, and paranoid schizophrenics, the poster daedalus2u should look for evidence that these things actually relate to what he’s trying to say. Or look for someone who has looked for evidence. I see nothing like that from him, just random speculations. Could be? Sure. Maybe not? Sure. Speculate on.
Tom Foss says
You’re right, and I realized that just after I hit “post.” I should have said “Reagan-worshipping Republican neocons,” of the sort which are currently running that particular boys’ club. Folks like Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Dinesh D’Souza can’t fit in, they don’t match the template–rich, white, southern, male, Protestant–and so they become far more radical or far more contrary to stay relevant.
But you’re right, painting all conservatives with the “racist” brush was unfair. The country club mentality persists primarily with the people in power.
To natural cynic: Clarence Thomas is a hand-puppet for Antonin Scalia, with the added bonus of being a token. I honestly don’t know how to explain Condi; not only is she a black woman (again, going against the template), not only is she incompetent, but she’s pro-choice and fairly secularist. I honestly don’t know what they see in her. But I do know why she’s not running for the Republican nomination.
Dan S. says
Don’ t worry, the noise you hear is just zombie Gould rising from the grave and staggering towards daedalus2u, muttering about spandrels . . . spandrels . . .
(The thing to watch out for with zombie Gould is – though generally moving very little if at all most of the time- he’s capable of sudden bursts of speed . . . )
Tom – fwiw, there’s one or two recent, apparently non-partisan books out arguing that Thomas, far from being Scalia’s handpuppet, is a force on the Court in his own right, etc. Or so NPR tells me.
First of all, the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ is discussed in Moore, not in Hume. Second, it’s of no help in discrediting those who read morality off of biology. For the fallacy is one of confusing (i) theories as to which natural properties make a thing valuable, with (ii) claims of meaning equivalence and of property identity. If Spencer holds that being more evolved is what makes something intrinsically valuable, that’s okay, no problem. The problem is if he says that the term ‘more evolved’ means the same as the term ‘good’, or that the property of being more evolved is the same as the property of goodness. So pointing to the naturalistic fallacy won’t help ward off D’Souza.
Next, I think the traditional reading of Hume on ‘is’ and ‘ought’ is defensible. Bob says, “Hume’s point, obviously, wasn’t that it couldn’t be done”, but it’s not at all obvious.
Hume does moral psychology. That’s his whole thing. So he spends some time arguing that moral evaluations are not a matter of reasoning (neither abstract reasoning nor causal reasoning), but of sentiment (special moral emotions). At the end of his section on how it’s not reasoning that’s driving our moral evaluations, he throws in the paragraph on ‘is’ and ‘ought’. It’s a pretty natural reading to say that Hume thinks that ‘is’ claims go with the demonstrations and causal beliefs involved in reasoning, and that ‘ought’ claims go with the moral sentiments.
But Bob writes that Hume provides a naturalistic explanation for our moral sentiments (which is absolutely correct), as if Hume’s thereby deriving an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. But Hume isn’t doing any moral evaluating, he’s not making any ‘ought’ claims. He’s a psychological anatomist, describing the mechanisms of our moral psychology (that’s what all the stuff on sympathy and comparison and general rules is about). Remember, it’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
If we observe a trait that is widespread in a population of organisms, what should be our “default” hypothesis as to its origin? That the observe trait evolved, or that it did not evolve?
If it did evolve, then it must have evolved down a path characteristic of all other evolved traits.
What about the possibility that the trait did not evolve? Well, since there has been no common trait observed that has ever been shown to have not evolved, that possibility remains quite speculative.
I consider the hypothesis that a common trait did not evolved to be so extraordinary that it requires extraordinary evidence to support it.
I consider the hypothesis that a trait evolved to be so obvious that all it is due is a “Well Duh!”
Dave Wisker says
“The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. ”
–John Kenneth Galbraith