Laszlo Bencze writes to note this letter he wrote to American Scholar in 2004 in response to an article therein, one that does not seem to be online:
Evolution, that good mother, has seen fit to guide us to the apple instead of the poison berry by our attraction to the happy sweetness of the apple, its fresh crispness, and, in just the right balance, enough tartness to make it complicated in the mouth. There are good and rational reasons why natural selection has made us into creatures with fine taste discernment—we can learn what’s good for us and what’s not. But this very sensible survival imperative, like the need to have sex to reproduce, works itself out through the not very sensible, wilder part of our nature: desire for pleasure. —Ellen Ullman, American Scholar, Autumn 2004, p. 149
Ms Ullman tosses this encomium to evolution into a familiar essay on cooking and artificial intelligence. Of course she doesn’t literally mean that evolution is a “good mother.” That would be anthropomorphism of the worst sort. It’s simply a metaphor and one that fits comfortably into the conversational writing of a believer. But what’s important is that such personifications are so abundantly encountered in the writings of evolutionists about their topic.
Why? Can it be that converting evolution from an impersonal set of random meanderings to a personal, caring agent bestows much greater credibility on the program? Evolution, we understand, teaches us to appreciate apples by killing all the individuals who preferred poison berries. However, it’s not clear why this winnowing would produce a humanity that likes apples, much less a humanity that appreciates them with such subtle connoisseurship. How many generations of natural selection would it take to produce humans who are attracted to complexities of taste? What purpose would such discernment serve in the contest for survival?
By the tenets of evolution we would expect to find humans who recoil from poison berries (though it is odd that people still seem to eat them and die) but have no more discernment of good foods than horses or dogs. Learning “what’s good for us and what’s not” mandates no connoisseurship. In fact, it would appear to be far easier on our genetic transformation from ape-like ancestors if we were simpler and less given to seeking out exotic flavors and unusual textures in our eating. In this sense, fine taste discernment appears to be counter evolutionary: an invitation to trouble, a temptation to eat the Amanita phalloides that kills so thoroughly and with such agony.
I’m afraid that the “good mother” evolution is not equipped to procure us the sensory refinements of the gourmet. On the other hand, the good Father who created us appears not to have been bound by necessity; but was free to offer us many gifts beyond those needed for bare survival. Evolution has no need of a desire for pleasure. Pure instinct can take care of its progress. Pleasure is a gift from God.
Bencze adds: In 2004, the American Scholar was willing to hear other points of view. Sadly, under new editorship it has become an exclusive journal of progressive causes very much like The Atlantic and Harpers. They no longer have any interest in dissenting points of view.
O’Leary for News That’s too bad. They are missing all the fun.
See also: Michael Chaberek: Darwinian theory is past its best-before date