William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Noble Savage Altruistic Warrior

Constant Battles War Before Civilization

There is a charming myth among idealists that before industrialization and its accoutrements, such as patriarchy and pollution, mankind lived an entirely peaceful existence. That is, there was no war.

Man was a “noble savage” before the military-industrial complex reared its warheads. The mealy philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while not originating the term, promulgated the belief that civilization corrupts. No cities, no swords.

Rousseau was a Christian and he had, had he not?, scriptural support for his view. But he never had history on his side. Nor do his modern contemporaries who claim that humans lived “in harmony” with nature, and were kind and tolerant of one another, and claimed no private property. To idealists, war is a modern invention purely the result of capitalism.

This view has always been nuts because there has never been evidence that mankind was ever peaceful. Idealists never tried refuting arguments against their position. The noble savage was simply true, and so obviously true that history need not be consulted. So history was ignored.

But not by Steven Le Blanc and Katherine Register who wrote Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, and Lawrence Keeley who wrote War before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage (the subtitle trend says a lot). These authors took on the tedious and depressing job of showing that, yes, mankind has a recalcitrant violent streak and rarely passes an opportunity to bonk a perceived enemy on the head for even the slightest provocation.

The empirical fact of human belligerence, besides destroying communistic idealism, is also seemingly at war with altruism and the science of evolution. Why would a soldier fight and risk losing his selfish genes? Why would another leap onto a grenade? We know Rousseau’s (Christian) answer, but the evolutionist is in a pickle. He wants to say “altruism”, but then he knows altruism is a “problem”.

This is because strict Darwinian interpretations of human behavior dictate that there should be no altruism: no adoptions, no charity, no doctors, no soldiers, no voluntary celibacy (priests, monks, nuns), no pro bono. David Stove, in Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution points out that humans are obviously altruistic and shows why the strict theory of evolution in the case of humans is flawed (NOTE: in no way does Stove argue evolution is false—he accepts, as I do, evolution—he only argues that the theory, like many theories in science, is so far incomplete).
Darwinian Fairytales

The first theory to attempt to solve the “altruism problem” was Hamilton’s reciprocal altruism, a flawed—which is to say false—theory of the evolution of altruism. It is a mathematical model that mandates that if you have a choice between saving your own child or five first-cousins, you will choose the cousins because there is a larger share of your genes in those five people than in your son (I might have the math wrong: it could be seven second cousins; my summary, however, is correct; the theory says you’d also save a second cousin over a wife or an aged parent).

A somewhat more complicated extension of the reciprocity argument contends that war could never exist (note: not that it should not exist, but that it could not; think of all those enemy genes being destroyed, most of which are shared by you). There are other well known flaws, the most damning is that Hamilton’s theory does not say how altruism could have evolved in the first place (some argue that it can answer this). In any case, there is discontent with the theory.

Samuel Bowles, an evolutionary biologist, has a rival theory (story from the indispensable Arts & Letter Daily). As the human population grew, separate clans began to meet, occasions which were not always jolly and during which bloodshed occurred. Disputes arose over the most common things: access to food, water, and mates.

These battles forced people to coalesce in their groupings which naturally contained more shared genes than the folks on the other side of the river. One way to look at this puts human evolution in part on the social or group level and not entirely at the individual one because altruism is in part an instinctive behavior an not entirely culturally learned. Not everybody agrees with that idea, however.

But it’s not a ridiculous notion, either. For example, thinking along those lines makes explanations of the universal taboo against incest easier to explain (taboos that existed before genetics was known). What better way to propagate your selfish genes than by marrying your sister? The fact that we don’t, and the obvious existence of altruism and bizarre behavior like suicide, means the Darwinian picture is still a little blurred.

28 Comments

  1. I didn’t like some David Stove’s easy caricature of darwinians, in his articles, mostly because of his quote-mining abilities and straw mans. Of course that natural selection favours altruism, and this has been known for decades now, it isn’t “far fetched” nor “ridiculous”. Even in the so-called evil “The Selfish Gene” book there’s a titled chapter named “Nice guys finish first”, and it is obvious, or at least should be (it is to me anyway), that a very non-linear and chaotic process such as natural selection does bring about astonishing results that may look “paradoxical” in the first look, “understandable” at the second look, “idiotic” at the third and “inevitable” at the fourth.

    This is because darwinian logic is very simple at its core, but unpredictable at its outcome.

    For example:

    What better way to propagate your selfish genes than by marrying your sister?

    That’s a caricature. Even looking at wikipedia one can already know the answer. For instance:

    Inbreeding is breeding between close relatives, whether plant or animal. If practiced repeatedly, it can lead to an increase in homozygosity of a population. A higher frequency of recessive, deleterious traits in homozygous form in a population can, over time, result in inbreeding depression.

    In other words, incest is bad because it leads to less variety of the population pool gene, which makes that population weaker to potential environmental / health hazards.

  2. Briggs

    June 8, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Luis,

    Stove himself was a Darwinian, but was one not fully satisfied with theory. We haven’t even begun to touch on his criticisms. He—along with many other scientists—positively skewers the idea of selfish genes (an idea I will not now defend or criticize; we’ll save it for later).

    The “problem of altruism” is well known and acknowledged in evolutionary studies. A quick Google search confirms this. This is why, after all, Hamilton proposed his theory, and the reason for the new theory.

    Your example of inbreeding is a true one, but incomplete. For one, the taboo existed before genetics explanations came along, a taboo that also appears in other species besides man. Plus, just because incest is deleterious if practiced repeatedly, this is no proof it is so if practiced selectively. Again, what better way to pass on your selfish genes than through incest? You can do it and ensure your children do not, which minimizes the chances of defects but maximizes the number of your genes.

    Luis, you have started something. Suppose you’re right about incest. Then it looks as if those who insist on the depressed ability explanation because of incest are in a weird position, vis a vie selfish genes. The best way to maximize ability in a species would seem to be mate with somebody who is dissimilar to you, i.e. that shares few genes, and that to see that your offspring do the same. This builds robustness. But it also lessens your original complement of genes, so they can’t be selfish at all.

    Hmmmm. This just occurred to me. I’ll have to consider it more and take back what I said about not criticizing self genes. It looks like Dawkins should have titled his book, The Altruistic Gene

  3. Briggs, you said that by mating with somebody dissimiliar to you that you lessen your complement of genes in the next generation. I can understand the math wrt relatives, but for *you*, it’s only 50/50 no matter who it is – and probably a higher survival rate for your offspring because of it.

    Of course genes are not ‘selfish’, just automatons without motives. If following a no-inbreeding path resulted in more of the genes being here compared to the “banjo picker gene”, it is not because they planned it that way but because it worked better than the alternative in a purely mechanistic sense. But you knew that anyway.

  4. Briggs

    June 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Scumop,

    Not if it’s your sister! And not if it’s somebody in your remote village. Lots of shared genes. More similarity between villagers than between villagers and non-villagers.

  5. jack mosevich

    June 8, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Here is a link to the text of a speech by Michael Crichton which, about halfway down, discusses the myth of the noble savage and Nature:

    http://www.crichton-official.com/speech-environmentalismaseligion.html

  6. Steven Pinker, in his book “The Blank Slate”, takes on the “noble savage” myth as well. Comparing Rousseau to Hobbes’ line that pre-civilization life was “nasty, brutish, and short”, says simply, “Hobbes was right!”

    I have to disagree with your analysis on incest, however. Everything I have read on the subject says that a typical human (and many other species as well) carries around 5 to 10 seriously defective recessive genes. As long as you only have these on one side, you are fine. However, mating with someone too closely related to you significantly increases the chances that your offspring with get the same defective gene on both sides, resulting in serious problems. I have seen nothing that suggests that this is even a controversial point any more.

    I recently saw a report of a study that expressed surprise that marriage between first cousins “only” doubled the chance of serious birth defects — and this without a history of repeated marriage of close relatives.

    I think a couple of points should be emphasized in this regard:

    First, the idea that breeding between too-close relatives significantly increases the chance of compromised offspring does not imply that increasingly remote relationship between mates is always better. You quickly get to a point of diminishing returns, and I could easily see an instinctive balance between avoiding too-close relatives (to reduce the chance of genetic defects) and avoiding too-distantly-related mates (to keep many related genes in your offspring).

    Second, I see no reason why an incest-avoidance instinct must be due to conscious knowledge of the underlying mechanism. Virtually all species of social mammals (and I believe other types as well) kick out one or the other sex from the group before sexual maturity. A lion pride will kick out all of the adolescent males, for example. Surely they do not understand the genetics of it all.

    Imagine two populations each of multiple subgroups, identical except that one has an incest-avoidance instinct with behaviors to enforce it, and the other doesn’t. The population with the instinct will be able to out-compete the other in many ways over time. This is all that Darwinian trends require.

  7. Anyone who believes the ‘Noble Savage’ myth has never been around children.

    As for altruism. Altruism, (in the sense of laying down one’s life for one’s group, or foregoing breeding rights for the good of the group), is well known in all sorts of animals. It is tightly bound up with status and it is also worth noting that it is for the benefit of the group, not the species.

    Clearly behaviour such as not breeding when food is short, and protecting and feeding the young of the few who do breed, is advantageous to the group, but claiming that this behaviour is driven at the genetic level has always seemed a bit of a reach to me. Yes, the altruistic one has, presumably, some genetic stake in a cousin’s offspring, but that evolution selected for this behaviour because of the selfish gene is, to my mind, improbable.

    Groups, (clans, tribes, packs, herds), clearly have evolutionary advantages for the groups although, for the species, the advantage seems to come largely through competion between groups, (rather than just within the group).

    So, perhaps evolution has selected for group behaviour where first you must fight for breeding status within the group, and until you have such status then you must sacrifice for the benefit of the group.

  8. i don’t know this is simple.
    as scumop says, your genes will always be 50% of your offspring.

    But it is also important to note that there are massively different sex-specific drivers. So for a male, you are best to impregnate as many females as possible, because the more offspring you have, the more you are passing your genes on. For females, they have a much higher investment in offspring.

    So if close incest yields an extra 25% mortality in the offspring, for a male it doesn’t matter; he is still getting an extra 75% chance of an offspring. For a female, 25% loss of offspring is significant, and to be avoided.

  9. There have been studies into attraction that show that we look for people who look the same as ourselves facially, but that they look for opposites in terms of immune system (smell). This is supposed to be detected in sweat. So some are pushing the idea that we look for similarities, others for complete differences. This I am sure is just confirmation bias on the part of the researchers. The similarities were only noted when instruments and computers were used to detect similarity. I think, truth is, nobody understands and in my own view, the idea that even men go about thinking subconsciously about propagating their own genes is ridiculous. People look for a healthy mate. Familiarity breeds contempt and seeing your sister from a young age means that she can no longer be an object of desire. It is desire that has become complex because of society. I’m quite sure that incest was more common in our past even though the sister was not favoured over the exotic “girl from the other clan”. I mean why not all the women? Like Harry says, when asked about the unattractive ones with good personalities,
    “You pretty much want to nail them too.”!

    Any port in a storm seems to be most men’s attitude and every port if you’ve got the time and the weather’s good as long as you’re not caught on a lee shore.

    The selfish gene idea is ridiculous. Are we allowed to talk about monkeys? Watching groups of monkeys and primates is very informative; I mean not in the mechanical sense, although I was really shocked when I watched the chimps at Colchester zoo. I nearly called the zookeeper because I thought one of the ’poor’ females was in a spot of trouble with a stick! I then discovered she was using a tool as it seemed she was quite aware of why she was unable to sit down and was more than capable of removing the offending article. Much to the embarrassment of the onlookers and no doubt the entertainment of the chimps themselves, detecting the response from the onlookers. Anyway, my point is that the male monkeys have a hierarchy, as long as big cheese isn’t looking the other males are reproducing with whichever female they like, and looking over their shoulder as they go to make sure big cheese isn’t about. This is proof in my view that like dogs, cats and other males, if we are to accept that we are simply a more complex creature, then as many and often as you can is the default condition. No thought need be given to carefully choosing a mate in the absence of complex society. Only as carefully as one might pick a healthy looking strawberry rather than one that’s mouldy or funny shaped: only as selfish as that.
    There’s nothing more to it. The selfish gene idea seems like a sort of religion of it’s own. The seductive idea that there’s some cohesive purpose in everything in the absence of any other form of purpose that shall not be named.

  10. Briggs

    June 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Per,

    Actually, it can be more or less than 50%. Again, think of the mating with your sister example (I’m tempted to refer to my friend who lives in Tennessee here). You and her probably share at least 50%, depending on the kind of twin (fraternal, polar body, etc.). So a mating could result in more than 50%.

    And look at the Gaelic race. Red hair is common. Mate with another redhead in your village and increase the chances of sharing those redhead genes.

    Your mate doesn’t have to be your sister for you to share genes. Anyway, the number of shared genes is always 50% “on average”, and nothing ever happens “on average”. Real data happens, “on average” doesn’t.

    Kevin B, Amen brother.

    Curt, Points well made. I have no dispute and am already (secretly) tiring of the incest angle. I’m hoping we can angle the discussion more on the lines Kevin B started.

    Joy, Many times with men, we don’t have to get close enough to smell to convince ourselves we’d like to mate with a woman.

  11. Having been enjoined by Briggs to move away from the incest angle and onto the group behaviour line, I should, perversely, like to bring up one more point on the incest thing.

    It’s very difficult to discuss evolution without saying silly things like “The purpose of evolution is…” Evolution doesn’t have purposes it has effects.

    So, the effect of sexual reproduction is to mingle genes in novel ways. The effect of this mingling is to produce creatures with different attributes. When times are hard, the ‘fittest’, (as in those most fitted to the current environment), of these creatures survive to breed while the rest do not. It matters not whether the creatures are produced by close interbreeding or not.

    As an purely imaginary example let’s take a pod of dolphins that get lost in a river delta. They are not particularly well fitted for the environment, but times are good and the pod survives and breeds. Because the pod is small, interbreeding is inevitable and some of the offspring are, by healthy marine dolphin standards, deformed. But when times get hard, some of the ‘deformed’ dolphins are better fitted to survive. Thus, after a passage of time we find that the dolphins are small, pale coloured and blind. All no-nos in a marine dolphin but these ‘deformites’ allow the dolphins to hunt in narrower reaches of the delta, blend easily in the silted up waters and devote more of their brains to their echo-location system and so become the top predator of the eco-system.

    Incidentally, they then depose, and quite possibly extinguish, the reigning top predator. Perhaps a unique crocodilian or a beautiful golden otter. Creatures that were well adapted to the job, but not well enough. So when another top predator comes along, maybe a creature who can build his own echo location system or dredge the waters to clear up the silt, I’m sympathetic to the dolphin, but not that sympathetic. Such are the effects of evolution.

    Anyway, my guess is that the incest taboo is a group behavioural trait rather than an instinctive one. When youngsters mature, they want to mate and it’s pressures from their parents and their peers, as well as their own preferences, that force them choose the right partner, (from the group’s point of view), and the more complex the species, the more complex the rules.

  12. Oh man. Lots of myths to skewer.

    1. Evolution is something that happens to species, not to individuals, clans, tribes, or even sub-populations.

    2. Evolution is neither a positive nor a negative value. Individuals, populations, species — none of them TRY to evolve. If anything, species strive NOT to evolve, because evolution is usually accompanied by extinction of the precursor species.

    3. Evolution is hypothesized to occur when a species population is going extinct, due to whatever factors. The number of individuals decline precipitously, below replacement levels. Only a few make it out the extinction trap, maybe, and those few do so by expressing novel or hidden genetic code. Only the weird freak mutants survive the species Apocalypse.

    4. War and/or altruism have nothing to do with evolution, since Homo sapiens evolved a million years ago or so, from some extinction trap, and have ceased to evolve ever since. Sorry all you snooty purebred cultural bigots, but you are the exact same species as the lowest form of human being living in dumpster trash and making growling noises.

    5. Don’t wish for human evolution, because it will come about only when the human species is on the brink of extinction and quite possibly not even then. We just go extinct and that’s that. No new Homo superior. Bummer for nazis and other eugenic-minded control freaks, but that’s the drill, according to Darwin.

  13. Briggs

    June 9, 2009 at 5:46 am

    Kevin B,

    Then we have the evidence from Blue Lagoon (briefly co-staring Leo McKern, who found fame as Rumpole; coincidence?).

  14. So I share 98% of my genes with a chimpanzee and 50% with my sister? I shan’t sleep tonight.

  15. I have just finished an interesting book by J.P.Changeux “The Truth , the Beauty and the Good” .
    J.P.Changeux is a famous neurobiologist who first discovered a neurotransmitter receiver and is the father of the “selective stabilization of synapses” theory .
    Indeed the brain undergoes an explosiv development of the synaptic density untill about 10 months after the birth when it reaches a maximum .
    This period is then followed by a selective decrease of this density untill about 10 years .
    While most of the first stages (neuron growth , synaptic density growth and orientantion etc) are dominantly genetically determined , the selective stabilisation of synapses is an epigenetic process .
    It is through spontaneous or environment induced cerebral activity that some connections get stabilised and the majority disappears .
    So clearly it is the social interaction that builds on the genetical brain foundations and finishes by producing the stabilised end product – an adult brain which defines what we are .
    .
    What differenciates man from animals is the extreme development of the frontal cortex and it is here that the darwininian selection did its work .
    Now the originality of the frontal cortex is that it has no direct interaction with the environment to the contrary of other brain areas who manage the sight , auditio , touch and other sensorial functions .
    Beside self consciousness , the frontal cortex is also the site of “empathy” function .
    It has been proven that specific frontal cortex areas are activated when the evaluation/prediction of actions of “The Other” are concerned .
    Now it is easy to understand why this function is necessary and why the evolution has promoted it .
    Even animals activate their frontal cortex when they have to decide whether this Other thing is a threat or a meal because upon this decision depends the choice of action – flee or attack .
    So the human frontal cortex is able to “simulate” the brain states of The Other which is called ability of empathy .
    Autists present anomalies in frontal cortex which alter their self consiousness and inhibit their ability to evaluate/predict the actions of Others .
    Interestingly there is 5 times more male autists than female autists what suggests that men are more apt to have their empathy function inhibited .
    One could speculate that this differentiation has also been selectively chosen by the evolution in order to enable men to exhibit a violent behaviour (f.ex war) but it would be sofar just that – a speculation .
    Also interestingly it has been proven that art (painting , music) activates the same frontal cortex areas that ate activated by empathy functions . This suggests that the ability to appreciate art depends on the ability of the observer to “project” himself in the artist’s mind and to interpret his mental states .
    .
    Of course Rousseau ignored everything about biochemistry and neurobiology so what he wrote is hardly relevant to the way how a brain functions .
    The Good savage and the Civilised man have exactly the same brain with the same abilities .
    The difference is in the fact that the Good savage will live in average 30 years while the Civilised man will live 70 .
    That means that both during the synapse stabilisation period and during the following epigenetic development , the Good savage will evolve much less so that his frontal cortex will be in a more “primitive” state and therefore he will do less art , less mathematics , less philosophy .
    .
    Altruism or Egoism has nothing to do with evolution or genetics .
    Evolution and genetics provide a tool that is able to evaluate/predict the mental states of The Other (and as we have seen it is very necessary) but this tool can be indifferently used to kill him or to give him food .
    There is a very controversed theory which is a kind of social darwinism and which postulates that groups of individuals evolve so that the survival of the Group is maximised even if the survival of each of its members is not .
    The Marxism belongs to this kind of theories too (historical materialism) .
    This theory fails because it is unable to provide the material support of this evolution – there are no “group” genes which would be transmitted from group to group .
    That’s why this kind of theories belong to ideologies and not to science .
    Of course it is a known result from the game theory that cooperation (let us not confuse cooperation with altruism) is a winning strategy when the game duration is infinite but that has nothing to do with genetics .
    .
    P.S for William
    .
    It is out of topic but for a mathematician I thought that you might be interested by knowing that the ability to do mathematics is also a genetic ability selected by the evolution .
    It has been proven that only a few days old babies already “know” that 1+1=2 and vehemently object if one tries to tell them that 1+1=3 🙂
    Not only the result but the experiment concept are interesting .

  16. Briggs

    June 9, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Thanks Tom, interesting viewpoint. And few days old babies object vehemently to everything.

  17. To the previously mentioned list of “myths to skewer”, allow me to amend.

    1/3) Evolution happens on 2 scales, EITHER the extreme dire circumstance noted by Mike D which causes (necessarily so) an overall shift in the species – but this is the rare event, not the rule.

    OR it happens on a sub-population gene level which happens ALL THE TIME. The easiest example of this has to be the textbook example involving malaria. Here’s how evolution actually works. Every person’s genes during development will introduce point mutations at a frequency of maybe 1 in 100,000 nucleotides (each gene may be hundreds to thousands of nucleotides long). Most of these changes will have no effect, some will be deleterious and the person carrying the change will suffer to some extent and over generations the changes will disappear because they offered some disadvantage.

    However, sometimes you get 1 change…. such as a single change in the B-globin gene, and all the sudden your life expectancy doubled, because you are now IMMUNE to malaria. Life expectancy of people with high incidence of malaria is about 40 years, and many many people die before capable breeding age. The people in these areas who obtain this change have a much higher chance to reach adulthood, and will pass this trait to their offspring. over a few generations, the majority of the population will have evolved in the sense that this gene will become the norm rather than the chance event.

    In this case, interestingly and proof that evolution does not necessarily work species wide, the change had a side effect that if you are unlucky enough to receive 2 copies of this change you will have sickle cell anemia. This has more or less kept populations with low incidence of malaria at a low frequency of this change.

    5) Before attributing your exclusive definition to Darwin, you should really re-read his literature. He clearly describes both divergence of 1 species into 2 or more independent species AND 1 species having a subpopulation diverge into its own species with the original still in tact.

  18. Alan D. McIntire

    June 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Curt brought up Steven Pinker’s book, “The Blank Slate”. True, there’s altruism brought about by genetic relatedness, but Pinker addressed another kind of altruism in that book: friendship, where two unrelated individuals can demonstrate altruistic behavior.

    In this situation we are altruistic in the hopes that our friends will reciprocate if we’re in trouble. When they don’t, they’re “fair weather friends”.

  19. No human species divergence has happened or will happen without near complete catastrophic annihilation of the species. We all have different genes. That’s why we look different, have various adult heights, skin colors, etc. But we are all the same species. Difficult concept to accept when those weirdos (pick your sub-group to disdain) are considered, but factual nonetheless.

  20. Oh no William 🙂
    It would appear that day old babies are quite happy when presented with 1+1=2 which seems to generate a warm and fuzzy feeling while 1+1=3 makes them very unhappy and upset .

  21. Briggs

    June 10, 2009 at 6:12 am

    Thinking that their meals come at them in pairs, you might be right, Tom.

  22. More important than the frontal lobe is the nucleus amygdalae. when it comes to empathy or innate sensitivity. There is a part of the Amygdala that’s said to be larger in female than male brains.
    Babies of the different sexes respond differently from a few days old. Apart from being informative the doccumentary below showed over several episodes, that men really do think differently. Men would say better.

    Five or six men and women were set tasks, driving, parking, orienteering, nappy-changing, Recall of events and media items.
    When they were asked to change nappies, there was only one man who picked up the baby and cuddled it after the task. The others did as requested and stood by. ‘Anything else?’ Every woman of whatever age picked up the baby or played with the child, interacted in other words. Please don’t think I’m having a go, I’m not at all I think it’s sort of charming that men are so excellent at so many things but so rubbish at things that seem natural to women.
    The man that had picked up the baby had a baby of his own and scored highly on all tasks.
    The women who thought they were tomboys were not. One of the more feminine looking women scored higher on the male type tests, orienteering or driving, I think. All of the participants seemed pleased to learn their hidden strengths.

    If your ring finger is longer relative to your index finger, you’ll make a good athlete.

    I have a theory that oestrogen stopps ability to think clearly. This is not just an excuse.
    It all boils down to how much testosterone a baby is exposed to when it develops. It’s not just genetic.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAvBwAKq3k0

  23. Mike, we could go back and forth forever, but the fact is your definition of evolution is different than the definition of people who actually work in science. Untill you accept the real definition of evolution you will continue to be wrong.

    ‘Those who choose not to care’ tend to adopt a similar definition as yours because the general populous will not accept it, and it makes the religious stance on the issue look stronger.

    Evolution does not require formation of new species, extinction of old ones, or massive abrupt shifts in genetic make up. When a change in a gene gives an advantage to the individuals/populations who carry it, that gene becomes more prevalent, shifting allelic frequencies. That is evolution, end of story.

  24. John — I am not arguing from any religious point of view, though apparently you are. I find it troubling (but not surprising anymore) that so-called scientists are actually religious fanatics, or anti-religious fanatics, which are much the same thing.

    And I suppose that many will find the following attitude objectionable, too: I think about 95% of those who call themselves scientists, and practice what they refer to as science, are actually quacks. That tragic irony crosses all scientific disciplines.

    IMHO, whatever so-called “people who actually work in science” think is wrong 95% of the time. In this case some fanatics are out to deny the existence of God and base all that they do on that religious proposition. Same old same old.

  25. My point on religion was only that the extreme definition of evolution did not exist untill religion attacked the concept of evolution as a whole.

    The extreme definition (ie your definition) became set in the populous mind because it was broadcast the loudest. Now everyone and their mother thinks your definition of evolution is real, when it is not.

  26. Darwin’s theory is hardly complex, John, but yet it doesn’t explain all sorts of trivial adaptations that seem to have stuck.
    Very easy to see why being faster or stronger or better at metabolising food might give an advantage, but some adaptations seem such a trivial advantage that it’s hard to believe these would be replicated across the entire human race without the explanation of the bottle neck.
    Mike’s correct.
    What is it about individuals high in their field of study that become blinkered and unable to question current doctrine.
    That is not the way to make scientific breakthrough or limit dead end areas of enquiry.
    Contrary to current academic opinion, I see religion as a high function and vital to our ongoing human well being on an individual, social and cultural level. it will take different forms but will never go away. Nor should it. It is important to recognise when science is mixed with religious thinking. I’m not talking about schooling here either, but the two cannot be mixed in a cognitive way.
    Attempts to do so end in a curdled mess.

  27. I would have expected a blog partially devoted to statistics to have a better understanding of genetics, but I guess knowledge of a subject and application of it do not go hand in hand.

    “What is it about individuals high in their field of study that become blinkered and unable to question current doctrine.” This phenomenon is in every field and is part of the reason universities, companies, etc force the super tenured to step down.

    Most ‘new to a field’ are too eager to challenge the doctrine with any sort of flimsy evidence, while those in the field too long cannot fathom the gospel they preached for so long might be fallible. Good science(philosophy, business practices and ideas) is available by the truck loads from people in the middle.

  28. Thinking about birds,
    The bird who’s name I forget now, but was featured in spring watch is truly evil, it found a female with three chicks, killed the chicks and mated with the female in the nest. How is that advantageous other than for the first time it’s practised? If such behaviour becomes the norm, it simply becomes another obstacle to ensuring that your own chicks ever make it to full maturity. The genes that are wicked and selfish, therefore have less of an advantage! Which is what Briggs maybe meant about the altruistic gene.

    David Attenborough is here perpetuating the myth that birds who mate for life do it to protect their genes in the egg. They don’t do it for company, or even to protect each other, no, it’s for what’s in the genes. That is failure to ascribe cause and effect, or misattribution, rather, it’s attribution without evidence.
    No, I say, they are not analysing the future, they simply have maternal and paternal instincts the same way we do. He describes the foreplay of these two birds as ‘a dance’. How does he know what the birds are thinking! To me, they look like they’re playing, using their appendages as a bird would with a beak like that. Like someone once said to me when I complained about how spiders move. ‘look at it! It’s pure evil’.
    “If you had just a body and legs like that, how would you move?” For a brief moment I sympathised with the spider.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2XyDF4cdpA

    Watch, mind, it’s X rated!

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