Pharyngula

Once more with D’Souza

That recent D’Souza article is a rich vein of lunacy that I have to tap once more. D’Souza has additional tools to woo conservatives in his toolbox: how about the naturalistic fallacy?

But if Christian anxiety is misplaced, conservatives are even further off the mark. That’s because Darwin’s theory actually supports conservative positions in all kinds of interesting ways. First, Darwin gives a dark and selfish view of human nature, which is why we need a tough foreign policy to deal with bad guys who cannot be talked out of their badness–even if U.N. cocktails are served. In addition, the selfishness in human nature warrants a system called capitalism which channels this self-orientation toward the material betterment of society.

I doubt that D’Souza has actually read Darwin for his book (one of the virtues of publishing with Regnery, I suppose, is that actual research is entirely optional.) Darwin saw that nature can be both cruel and beautiful, and he did not make the mistake of assuming that human nature must favor the cruel. Nor did he take the simplistic view of a D’Souza Republican, that the only road to progress is ruthlessness and brutality; there’s also a substantial modern scientific literature on altruism, sexual selection, etc., and we do not make the mistake of confusing mechanisms in nature with moral principles about how we ought to behave.

I’m always puzzled by these conservatives who a) claim that evolutionary biology supports the idea of a designer god, and b) claim that evolutionary biology supports the principles of capitalism. They completely miss the important core idea of Darwinian evolution: no top-down influence is needed, that simplicity can bootstrap itself into greater complexity with only natural properties to promote it. Do they also think that the “Invisible Hand” of capitalism refers to an actual supernatural entity? Have they confused capitalism with command economies? They reveal their simultaneous ignorance of both biology and economics with those kinds of comments.

Perhaps D’Souza has mixed up Darwin with Herbert Spencer.

It gets better. Darwin shows that social institutions like the family are founded in the deep human drive to reproduce and care for the young. Reproduction and self-perpetuation are the natural root of human family arrangements, which cannot be redefined as mechanisms of “self-fulfillment” without jeopardizing their biological basis and function. Consider a simple statistic: when divorced moms remarry or have boyfriends in the house, those surrogate parents are vastly more likely to physically and sexually abuse the children than their own parents. Darwinian theory supplies the reason: the real parent shares the same genes as the child and this forms a bond that dispels sexual attraction and discourages abuse. “Family values” are supported by modern evolutionary biology.

Aaargh, no. The facts of biology are not a prescription for ethical behavior! That evolutionary theory explains why individuals who promote their own progeny at the expense of others are better represented in succeeding generations does not mean that selfishness is a human virtue. It does not imply that we should promote behaviors on the basis of relatedness.

It also ignores reality — relatedness is obviously not the sole regulator of our behavior. If that were so, nobody would adopt children to whom they were not related. Parents would never abuse their natural progeny. Both of those happen routinely. Perhaps the capacity to form emotional attachments to people who are genetically distantly related might confer some advantage to individuals trying to propagate their genes, too? Fancy that — biology might just be a bit more complicated than the shallow perceptions of an ideologue with an undergraduate degree in something other than science.

The recent recent NY Times article on dueling conservatives has some relevance here, too. I think we ought to encourage a public debate between D’Souza and George Gilder — it would be a kind of live-action Punch and Judy show.

Skeptics of Darwinism like William F. Buckley, Mr. West and Mr. Gilder also object. The notion that “the whole universe contains no intelligence,” Mr. Gilder said at Thursday’s conference, is perpetuated by “Darwinian storm troopers.”

“Both Nazism and communism were inspired by Darwinism,” he continued. “Why conservatives should toady to these storm troopers is beyond me.”

We’re part of the universe, and we have intelligence, so I think the notion that the universe contains no intelligence is trivially false from the outset. I know what he means, though: Gilder is one of those loons who believes the universe is a manifestation of the conscious thought of a deity. It’s not storm troopers who perpetuate opposition to that silly idea — it’s the absence of evidence and the absurdity of the clowns who support it that compel some of us to ridicule it. The whole idea that evolutionary biologists want to purge society of undesirables is nonsense, too. It’s hard not to laugh when they bring up the Nazi comparisons; “Gott mit uns,” Mr Gilder.

Just to be fair, though, I should mention that not all conservatives are idiots about evolution. I detest this crank Derbyshire on just about every issue except this one, where he has it about right.

As for Mr. Derbyshire, he would not say whether he thought evolutionary theory was good or bad for conservatism; the only thing that mattered was whether it was true. And, he said, if that turns out to be “bad for conservatives, then so much the worse for conservatism.”

Same for liberalism — it’s just not relevant. Evolution describes reality as it is and has been; political views are about how we want our society to be, and we, whether conservative or liberal, can argue for policies that either defy our biological natures or follow them. I’d even go so far as to argue that culture is often an attempt to impose restraint on what our genes tell us to do; at least, I don’t think either major political party in the US endorses turning our daughters loose at menarche to start having babies ad libitum.

Maybe D’Souza thinks that would be a good idea, though — he seems to believe that a simplistic biology run rampant is a rationale for his political views, after all.