Evolutionary Psychology, Sort Of
All God`s Chillun Gottun Gotta Have Structure. Most'em, Leastways
by Fred Reed
People seem to need an overarching explanation of things—of origins,
meaning, purpose, and destiny. Christianity provided these things for a long
time but, at the close of the Enlightenment, was losing its luster among the
educated. Too much in Christianity just didn't make sense in light of
continuing discoveries. The sciences were more compelling, and a better fit
for the changing mood of the times.
When the Origin of Species appeared in 1859, it offered a plausible
and rational alternative to God Did It. Evidence in its favor existed. Selective
breeding of animals greatly changed them. That this might have occurred by
natural selection made sense.
But natural selection did not explain where life came from in the first place.
The notion of abiogenesis—that life began by accident in remote primal
seas—was tacked on to Darwin. Scientists passed sparks through flasks
of chemicals hoped to represent the primal seas, and molecules of compounds
usually found in living things were discovered afterward. This was exceedingly
thin evidence, but it pointed in the desired direction, and was accepted.
Finally, in 1964, the 3K background radiation pervading the universe was
discovered, and described as the result of a postulated Big Bang. We now had
Genesis without God: the creation of the world, the creation of life, and
its divergence into all creatures, including us. Instead of debating how many
angels could dance on the head of a pin, we talked of the state of the world
10 ^ -44 seconds after the Big Bang.
To people thinking logically, as scientists not infrequently do, the three
elements of this narrative were separable. The world could have come into
being other than by the Big Bang, yet accidental abiogenesis might have occurred.
Life might have arisen by means other than in the oceans by inadvertence,
yet evolution by natural selection might still have occurred. In the minds
of many, however, all three merged into a seamless creation story, and then
acquired the emotional importance accruing to ideological dogma or religious
In many respects it was a religion manqué. Faiths usually have standards
of right and wrong, of morality, of Good and Evil, but evolutionism didn't,
and couldn't, being in the philosophical sense purely material. The
best it could do was to try to make moral behavior somehow conducive to the
passing on of one's genes. It could not begin to explain consciousness,
and so ignored it. The central question of religious concern, what happens
when we die, evolutionism could not even ask, as doing so would imply the
existence of realms beyond the material.
Though strictly speaking evolution doesn't imply progress toward anything,
people want very much to believe that there is purpose or direction in life.
Thus the ineradicable belief in the non-Christian popular mind that evolution
is a straight-line advance from the primitive and inferior to the higher and
better, with (who could have guessed it?) us at the pinnacle. Continuing motion
toward perfection was sure to come.
Scientific inquiry is separated from ideological rigidity by a willingness
to entertain questions and admit doubt. The giveaway of ideology is emotional
hostility to skeptics. Evolutionists today have it in spades. Just as the
church once reacted punitively to Galileo for abandoning the party line, so
do ideological evolutionists to those who do not accept the dogma of evolutionary
An example: In a column I once wrote regarding the alleged accidental formation
of life, asked: "(1) Do we actually know, as distinct from hope, suspect,
speculate, or pray, of what the primeval seas consisted? (2) Do we actually
know what sort of sea or seas would be necessary to engender life in the time
believed available? (3) Has the accidental creation of life been repeated
in the laboratory? (4) Can it mathematically be shown possible without making
highly questionable assumptions? And (5) If the answers to the foregoing are
"no," would it not be reasonable to regard the idea of chance
abiogenesis as pure speculation?"
The response was violent. I found myself accused of "trying to tear
down science," of wanting "to undo the work of tens of thousands
of scientists." I wouldn't have thought the tearing down of science
within the destructive powers of this column, but perhaps I am playing with
a loaded gun. I pictured smoking shards of laser physics, embryology, and
organic chemistry lying in dismal mounds on a darkling plain.
The evolutionarily correct take apostasy seriously. Razib Khan, who largely
runs the website Gene Expression (gnxp.com) flew into
a rage and deleted all mention of me from his web site (to which I had never
posted anything). I was, he said, arrogant and ignorant and just no damn good.
What he actually said was, "Anyone engaging in a Fred Reed impersonation,
that is, talking about shit they know nothing about shamelessly and without
any humility in light of their ignorance, will now be deleted at my discretion."
I pondered this flood of unleashed humility, typical of its kind, and thought,
"Huh? I asked questions. A question is an admission of ignorance. How
is that arrogant?" And if my questions were stupid, why were so many
of his readers, who are not at all stupid, impersonating me?
His reaction was less that of a scientist to questions than of an archbishop
to heresy. Why the savagery? He or any other of my circling assailants could
simply have answered my questions. For example, "Actually, Fred, residual
pools of the ancient seas have been discovered, and you can find a quantitative
analysis at the following link." Or "Craig Venter has in fact
replicated the chance formation of life, but it didn?t make the papers.
Here's the link." (I made those up.)
I would have responded civilly, "Holy Catfish, Batman! I didn't
know. Thanks." And that would have been that. But no one, not one soul,
actually answered them. Why, I wonder?
If the answers to all four questions were "no," it wouldn't
establish that the asserted abiogenesis didn't happen, but only that
we didn't know whether it had happened. So why the blisterish sensitivity?
Because (or so I suspect) "no" answers would be conceding that
the middle link of the Big Bang-abiogenesis-natural selection chain was pure
speculation. It would be like asking a Christian to say, "Well, we don't
really know that Jesus was the son of God, but he could
Richard Feynman said that "science is the culture of doubt." Never