Creative Destruction

March 22, 2006

Evolution is killed off by natural selection

Filed under: Evolution — Adam Gurri @ 12:46 pm

From the Vulgar Moralist:

As a Darwinist, Dawkins should be less righteous about unscientific attitudes, and more interested in adaptive behaviors. Here’s why. Some of those “conservative segments of society” Longman writes about refuse to believe in the theory of evolution, yet they are breeding healthily. Secularists who embrace evolution, and indeed make a cause of it, are refusing to put the theory to practice: they are dying without heirs. It would truly be a transcendental joke if, a century or so from now, evolution fell out of favor due to the process of natural selection.

It is kind of weird how evolutionary biologists seems so disinterested in the eccentricities of human behavior.

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19 Comments »

  1. I’ve always been amused/dismayed at how the people who insist that we must teach evolution in the public schools are generally the same people who insist on acting as though evolution has no impact on the human species.

    Comment by bobhayes — March 22, 2006 @ 4:49 pm | Reply

  2. I’ve always been amused/dismayed . . .

    You’re not the only one. Creationists of the Right don’t want evolution taught at all while Creationists of the Left want it taught because they think it shows them to be more rational than those to their Right, but they want it taught as though it never applies to modern humans.

    Each side clings to their faiths and teaching evolution simply becomes a symbol for each side in the Culture War.

    Comment by TangoMan — April 6, 2006 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  3. What about diagonal? Is that a side? And what’s their view on evolution?

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 6, 2006 @ 11:30 pm | Reply

  4. It sounds to me as if the Vulgar Moralist has confused Darwinist evolution with social Darwinism. Scientists are quite right to embrace the former but not the latter.

    Ideas are not genes; they can be passed on in ways other than biologically. And the process by which some ideas become less accepted is not the same thing as “natural selection.”

    Comment by Ampersand — April 6, 2006 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

  5. No? Then what is the process?

    And at least one scientist in this field would disagree with you, Amp–Richard Dawkins, the man who coined the word “Meme”.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 6, 2006 @ 11:56 pm | Reply

  6. Adam, you don’t understand Dawkins at all, if you think the quoted paragraph from Vulgar Moralist (VM) is at all related to Dawkins’ “meme” concept. A meme does not travel through breeding; it travels through communication (speech, emails, mime, pictures, songs, etc).

    VM, in contrast, is arguing that ideas live and die according to if the people possessing those ideas breed. But ideas can live and die in ways other than breeding; for example, persuasion, debate, fashion, changing circumstances, etc..

    For example, same-sex marriage is now favored by about a third of the country. But it would have been opposed by greatly more than a third of the country 50 years ago. Do you think that change is due to more numerous breeding by those who favored SSM 50 years ago, or do you suppose the change has been caused by other factors?

    Comment by Ampersand — April 7, 2006 @ 12:21 am | Reply

  7. Ideas are not genes; they can be passed on in ways other than biologically.

    My interpretation of what Ampersand is saying can be illsutrated by looking at the issue of Gay Marriage. Vulgar Moralist’s confused thinking would lead to the conclusion that only gay people can pass on, to children that they can’t have “naturally”, the appeal of gay marriage as an idea. Also, where do the supporters of gay marriage come from if not from being born in heterosexual marriages? How does Vulgar Moralist reconcile the process of these supporters coming to advocate for gay marriage when nothing in their backgrounds predisposed them towards the idea?

    Now the flip side of the argument is that the idea, ideology, issue, etc has to have a lot of crossover appeal to surmount the values, modes of thinking, tradition, etc that are ingrained into children from the process of being raised in a particular environment.

    Vulgar Moralist tries a bankshot off of Longman’s observations by assuming that because social conservatives are outbreeding secular liberals that the children born to a social conservative community will have 100% adherence to the values they were raised in, and that these values would be as immutable as the genetic legacy the children carry. The problem for Vulgar Moralist is that the ideas one holds aren’t as immutable as the genes one carries, but the problem for secular liberals is that ideas are sticky and for enlightenment values (not saying that this is strictly the preserve of liberals, but in the evol-creation wars, they’re on the right side) to hold prominence in the future the conversion rate of conservative children to liberal adults has to be great enough to compensate for the smaller stock of children born to liberal parents. From the polling data I’ve seen I don’t give much credence to the process of conversion compensating for decreasing liberal birthrates.

    Comment by TangoMan — April 7, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Reply

  8. As a complicating note, it should be remembered that memes also can have impact on the fitness of the people carrying them. A woman who carries a belief that she can wait until 40 to start looking for a mate and planning her reproductive life is significantly less likely to have positive outcomes than a woman who believes the appropriate age is 22.

    Comment by Robert — April 7, 2006 @ 1:23 am | Reply

  9. Adam, you don’t understand Dawkins at all, if you think the quoted paragraph from Vulgar Moralist (VM) is at all related to Dawkins’ “meme” concept. A meme does not travel through breeding; it travels through communication (speech, emails, mime, pictures, songs, etc).

    And you misunderstand both of them, if you think that what they’ve said is so different.

    Do you think that memes thrive equally in all cultures and subcultures? Do you think that the only factor involved in their spread is the act of communicating them?

    No. Just as certain combinations of DNA only last in specific situations that give them an edge, so too do memes stick in cultures that they seem more persuasive within.

    We are not blank slates when it comes to ideas–we already have a great deal of traditions emparted to us by the time we come of age. Do you really think that this will have no effect at all on which ideas can from then on be the most or least persuasive to us?

    I’m not saying that it’s equivalent to genetic evolution. I’m saying that the process that determines it is still natural selection–if one group believes something that translates into beneficial behavior while another group believes something else which translates into self-destructive behavior…well, you get the idea.

    The difference is that gaining an understanding of another culture can sometimes allow people to alter an idea in order to fit into a different context. This is the meme equivalent of interbreeding.

    But I don’t see how you could make the argument that natural selection isn’t at work here. Natural selection is at work with everything that interacts. Natural selection is as simple as “something will survive and continue to so long as it is in a situation that allows it to”.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 7, 2006 @ 5:04 pm | Reply

  10. Adam, unless the paragraph quoted from VM is wildly unrepresentative of what VM actually says, then VM is saying that ideas are passed on – or fail to be passed on – through breeding. Period. That’s simply a false statement, and it has nothing to do with the idea of “memes.” And nothing you wrote in your more recent post in any way rescues the quote from VM. The paragraph quoted doesn’t talk as if breeding is one of many factors affecting memes; it talked as if breeding was the one and only relevant factor. That’s not a defensible idea.

    I do agree that, putting aside the fact that term has a specific meaning in biological science, ideas could be said to live or die via “natural selection.”

    However, even with that granted, I have some problems with your discussion here. You write that “if one group believes something that translates into beneficial behavior while another group believes something else which translates into self-destructive behavior… well, you get the idea.”

    No, I really don’t get it. What happens, in this scenario? Is the second group wiped out? That seems unlikely, from a natural selection perspective; populations don’t have to continuously grow to sustain themselves. Why are we now discussing what’s destructive to groups, rather than what’s destructive to ideas – surely you’re not saying the two things should be conflated?

    Also, I’d point out that even the concept of a “self-destructive idea” is dubious. It’s probably more accurate to say that an idea is self-destructive in a certain environment; that same idea may be harmless in a different environment.

    Comment by Ampersand — April 7, 2006 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

  11. Ack, we’re going in deep here, and I’ve been attempting to limit the length of my comment but find that I cannot.

    I’ll address this in a followup post 🙂

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 7, 2006 @ 6:34 pm | Reply

  12. […] This post and the excellent discussion it spawned prompted some reflection. Go read it if you haven't already. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » On Non-Adaptive Memes and Game Theory, Politics and Demographics — April 8, 2006 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  13. Adam, sorry for stealing an idea for a post here ;).

    Comment by Tuomas — April 8, 2006 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  14. Foreigners! Coming over here and taking our blog post ideas!

    That’s it, I’m calling my Senator.

    Comment by Robert — April 8, 2006 @ 2:31 pm | Reply

  15. Hahaha, that’s ok, Tuomas! Inter-CD plagiarism is not only ok, it’s encouraged! 😉

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 8, 2006 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

  16. […] Having completed that behemoth, I returned to make good on my promise to Ampersand that I would respond at length to our debate in the comments section of a previous post.  I intended to use this notion of situational evolution to explain memes in the manner that I had just finished using it to explain economics. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » The Situational Element of Natural Selection — April 8, 2006 @ 3:42 pm | Reply

  17. […] Here at Creative Destruction, a post of mine sparked quite a discussion.  The original post took a quote from the Vulgar Moralist, and he has just stepped into the arena. I am interested in "ideas" only so far as they influence behavior. Suppose, then, that all of us non-Mormon Americans keeled over tomorrow, and left the country in the hands of the Latter Day Saints.  With a greater degree of freedom than is the norm in the Muslim Middle East, the next generation might indeed see some individualists and free-thinkers who deviate from church teachings.  But would they approximate the numbers of cultural liberals today? Traditions are not learned from a manual.  They are taught in the school of family life, and in the shared rituals of the community.  They are not a matter of intellectual assent or reasoned proof.  We feel the moral vision implicit in our traditions in the form of powerful emotions, which link our lives to the larger story of the community, infuse them with meaning, and seem, not infrequently, worth dying for:  dulce et decorum est.  In a very literal sense, morality commands our biology.  (Those interested in the biological drivers of morality, check the work of Antonio Damasio and Jonathan Haidt.) […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » They exactly float in the air — April 12, 2006 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

  18. I’ve always been amused/dismayed at how the people who insist that we must teach evolution in the public schools are generally the same people who insist on acting as though evolution has no impact on the human species.

    Or, as I put it,

    what they really mean is: “I thought the whole point of evolution was just to deny God. I didn’t think it was actually supposed to tell us anything.”

    Comment by Glaivester — April 6, 2007 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  19. […] comment string over at Creative Destruction, started by a light-hearted post of mine, tiptoes around both the […]

    Pingback by Personal choice, moral imperatives « vulgar morality — December 9, 2009 @ 8:58 pm | Reply


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