July 8, 2007

Ignorance is strength

The article isn’t hard to criticize for its sensationalistic angle and its lack of references (though it is a book excerpt), but it brought to mind my longstanding observation, which I’ve been meaning to mention here:

The anti-evolution (creationist, ID, etc.) movement is not just a silly, misguided, and annoying attempt to impose a fantasy rulebook onto human knowledge. It serves (intentionally and not) to undercut the insight into human nature that we gain from evolutionary psychology.

If you can recognize and understand the evolved predispositions of human nature—our instincts—then you can choose to master your response to those instincts and to armor yourself against other people’s attempts to push those buttons. The serious danger lies in this: If you refuse to even look at those buttons—because if you hold to the belief that evolution is a lie, then you must discredit evolutionary psychology—then those other people, who know the buttons well, will push them with impunity.


  1. I’ve always thought that some of the darker sides of human nature was a result of our faulted selves. A person with creation-based beliefs would see it as selfishness due to our post-Eden nature, and maybe an person with evolution-based beliefs would see it as self-preservation. I see it as both. In a faulted world, a person may do some really messed up things to survive, causing others to be in a situation where they have to do the same, or worse.

    Whether you believe in evolution or creation, I think you are going to see the same things when you observe human behavior- it’s just that with different beleifs, you’ll come up with different explanations for the origin of the same behavior.

    Clearly people are capable of some really terrible things. Yet some people manage to do some good things in the world as well. It seems to me that while some people feed the darker side of human behavior, some people manage to rise above it.

    I think that the origin of our darker nature is really what is at the center of the debate. Whether you think it’s evolutionary in nature, or a result of our fall from Eden is a matter of faith in one belief or another.

    When I was younger, and being driven to church on a weekly basis, we’d always hear about Noah, his ark, and many other stories in the Bible. However, nobody ever mentioned anything about the layers of fossils found all over the world. Those beds of fossils seemed to be pretty obvious, and I had been to the museum of natural history and seen examples. It took a while but after reading a few books, I finally came across an explanation that fit a “Creationist” or “ID” perspective. The smaller, simpler creatures would tend to be found at the bottom layers, as they would be washed away by floodwaters first. Now, you can’t prove if that’s the reason that the fossils are found that way, because nobody was there at the time. I just wanted to give an example of looking at the same evidence in a different way.

    I saw the same article mentioned on DIGG last week, and found the suicide bomber explanation rather interesting.

  2. Evolutionary psychology, like many kinds of etiology-based disciplines, seems to be grounded on a false metaphysics. I take this example from Mark Bickhard, a philosopher at Lehigh University.

    We want to say that we have hearts because, some millenia ago, some organism with a heart-like structure arose and had an evolutionary advantage. So it survived, thrived, had lots of offspring, and eventually the trait of having a heart came to dominate the physiological landscape. That’s the basic form of an etiological explanation for why we have hearts.

    But imagine that, through some crazy random quantum mechanical fluke, a lion materialized out of nowhere right in front of you. Never mind the mind-numbingly low chance of that happening; this is a thought experiment. Said lion has a heart, and that heart beats.

    Well, that lion has no evolutionary history whatsoever, it having materialized from thin air. So there is no ground for making an etiological explanation of why it has a beating heart. We’re left only with what we, intuitively, think about that heart: it’s like a pump, it pumps blood, if that blood pumping process were interrupted the lion would die. Etc. This is more of a mechanical and homeostatic explanation: the heart is analogous to a mechanical object (pump) which contributes to the self-maintenance of the overall system (the lion). Besides being closer to the explanatory mark, this kind of reasoning has better logical groundwork under it. And you can see, of course, that the problem of explaining why “real” lions have hearts is really no different from explaining why this fantastic lion does. The evolutionary history is beside the point.

    This isn’t to say that you can’t get good ideas, even correct ideas, from etiological explanations. It’s just that those explanations sit atop a broken framework and should always be suspect for that reason. You might take etiology as a starting point, but never as the finish line, for an explanation.

    Evolutionary psychology, it seems to me, rests on similarly shaky ground. The linked article uses phrases like “evolutionary logic.” No. There’s no such thing. That article gives what are (pejoratively) termed “just so stories” (following Rudyard Kipling): believable timelines which produce the result in question by a series of events which happened just so (all of which usually unverifiable). There’s almost no explanatory content in such stories. They’re stories, in other words narratives, not reasoning. That they’re at all believable says a lot more about the reader than it does about the situation in question.

    That said, I think intelligent design is a bunch of doodoo. But I’d rather hit it with a weapon which doesn’t give it ammo for a return shot.

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