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Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on the recent challenge to Darwin’s sexual selection

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Readers may recall anthropologist Holly Dunsworth’s challenge to Darwinian claims about how sexual selection brought about changes in male vs. female physique.

Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon read the article and offers some thoughts:


As I see it, this prof is contradicting the Darwinian narrative–not because she dislikes Darwin, but because it offends her sensibilities. So this article is motivated by a post-modern approach that sees “narratives” dominated by commitments to various presuppositions. The one thing I like about post-moderns is not their solutions or alternate assumptions, but that their criticism is generally brutally honest.

So in this article, she latches onto the idea that “natural selection” is invoked for wider hips in women, but “sexual selection” is invoked for greater height in men. The point being that both types of selection are “just so” stories–if we can manufacture a narrative that increases offspring, then it’s “natural”, if we can’t manufacture a reason, then its “sexual”. Note that both types of selection hinge upon this ability to manufacture reasons, which are rarely if ever put to experimental test. (One of my favorite papers is an eyeball camera mounted on a peahen to see whether she was looking at the peacocks fantastic tail display–in all textbooks, the acme of sexual selection. Nope, only chest feathers.)

So when estrogen production can explain both wider female hips and taller men, is this “natural” or “sexual” or neither? Maybe the skeletal estrogen connection is just a random result of some other driver–say, fertility. Finally, somebody is saying what ID has claimed for decades–Darwin has no clothes. It’s just-so stories stacked on just-so stories with the very thinnest of experimental evidence. And that’s the only thing I admire about post-modernists.


Okay but despite Rob’s qualms, can we say that a general pattern is developing of people emerging from obscurity to say that they do have real problems with some aspect of Darwinism? We didn’t used to see anything like the recent frequency.

Re Holly Dunsworth, a friend speculates that she actually would have said more but didn’t want to get the Darwinians really upset. No indeed, girl. Bad idea. They run the shop, for now. Meanwhile, keep watching this space.

Rob Sheldon is the author of Genesis: The Long Ascent and The Long Ascent, Volume II .

See also: A new challenge from an anthropologist to cozy Darwin tales about men vs. women. Holly Dunsworth seems to have actually researched the literature rather than signing on to the narrative.

One Reply to “Rob Sheldon offers some thoughts on the recent challenge to Darwin’s sexual selection

  1. 1
    BobRyan says:

    Darwin was quite clear on his view of women, which was not exactly flattering.

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