In this article in the Daily Telegraph (UK), we see some typical philosophical and cultural applications of Darwinism: People are unfaithful to their marriages Therefore, it is natural Therefore, it is right i.e. What is, is what is right. Since we are no more than nature, all that we do is thus natural – and who can object to that? Take away the Darwinian assumptions, and what is the basis of this article? There are none. But does the author ever examine those assumptions? Nope.
In “Common Grace and Amazing Grace: A Review of David Brooks’s ‘The Social Animal,’” Andy Crouch finds that “Brooks’s portrait of human flourishing lacks the essential elements of rescue and redemption” (Christianity Today, 7/11/2011): Then there is Erica’s brief fling with adultery, her only real moral failure. Erica’s indiscretion could have been a catalyst of self-discovery and transformation, but in Brooks’s story of upper-middle-class well-adjustment, it’s a mere speed bump on the road to a warm, if not passionate, “companionate marriage.” Certainly infidelity, like premarital sex, is not always a Category 5 emotional hurricane, especially for those with abundant social capital. Yet one senses no real indignation. What else would you expect from social animals, after all? Radical commitment just Read More ›
Reviewer Charlie Jane Anders tells us “Zookeeper is a horror movie about evolutionary biology” (IO9, July 8, 2011), but she means “evolutionary psychology.” Briefly, the zookeeper wants this girl, and the animals (who can talk, of course) advise him to use their mating strategies:
Griffin is encouraged to become an Alpha Male, to pee in public to mark his territory. (There is a lot of urination.) The Adam Sandler-voiced monkey tells him to fling poop. At various times, his mating seminar starts to seem like an episode of the Pick-Up Artist, as a lion tells him to throw some negs. He’s encouraged to pick fights with competing males, to separate his desired mate from the pack, and to make his nerdy-but-gorgeous best friend pretend to be his girlfriend to make Stephanie jealous. There is much slapstick involving Griffin attempting to do a frog confrontation stance and making his pants split open.Eventually, though, it starts to work — Griffin, implausibly, becomes an Alpha Male and everybody admires him. He becomes a kind of super-yuppie and God among ordinary shlubs.
The usual keenness of evolutionary psychology’s insight into human nature is on display here; the screenwriter captures the quintessential truth that humans have evolved to consider this kind of behaviour sexy – just as animals evolved to have equivalent-to-human minds. From Anders:
Now that News of the World has been shuttered in a scandal, what would we do without New Scientist for our dose? In “Are wide-faced men rascals?” (07 July 2011), Andy Coghlan manages a straight face, reporting, Can it be true that men with extra-wide faces are more likely to be liars and cheats? That’s what a study published this week claims, but some researchers specialising in the evolution of trustworthiness have questioned the results.The study’s authors claim to have shown that men are most likely to cheat and lie if they have wider faces as measured by the facial width-to-height ratio, or WHR. Sceptics argue that the evidence supporting such a huge claim is weak, especially given that the Read More ›
In “Family ties doubted in Stone Age farmers” (New Scientist, 01 July 2011), Michael Marshall reports that
Blood may not always be thicker than water, if a controversial finding from one of the world’s best-preserved Stone Age settlements is to be believed. At Çatalhöyük in Turkey, it appears that people did not live in families. Instead, the society seems to have been organised completely differently.
How do we know? TheÇatalhöyük people (7500-5500 BCE) “buried their dead beneath the floors of the houses, suggesting that people were buried where they lived.”
The researchers measured the teeth from 266 individuals, assuming that teeth are are more similar among relatives and that people buried together would be more closely related.
But she found no pattern at all. “It does not appear that individuals that were buried together were closely related to each other,” she says. “Çatalhöyük was likely not centred around nuclear families.”
In the best tradition of the assured results of modern science, further speculations follow. In the rush to confirm a trendy idea (families are optional), no one seems to consider that Read More ›
At Chronicle of Higher Education, Christopher Shea profiles Patricia Churchland, author of Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality (Princeton University Press), who explains “I would read contemporary ethicists and just feel very unsatisfied. It was like I couldn’t see how to tether any of it to the hard and fast. I couldn’t see how it had anything to do with evolutionary biology, which it has to do, and I couldn’t see how to attach it to the brain.” As an eliminative materialist (there really is no “you”), she is confident that evolutionary biology will help us understand morality. With what result?
The element of cultural relativism also remains somewhat mysterious in Churchland’s writings on morality. In some ways, her project dovetails with that of Sam Harris, the “New Atheist” (and neuroscience Ph.D.) who believes reason and neuroscience can replace woolly armchair philosophy and religion as guides to morality. But her defense of some practices of primitive tribes, including infanticide (in the context of scarcity) —as well the seizing of enemy women, in raids, to keep up the stock of mates— as “moral” within their own context, seems the opposite of his approach.I reminded Churchland, who has served on panels with Harris, that he likes to put academics on the spot by asking if they think such practices as the early 19th-century Hindu tradition of burning widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres was objectively wrong.
So did she think so? Read More ›