Am I, Fred, to believe a questionable theory on grounds that it can’t be proved?
By Fred Reed
Toward Being Burned at the Stake
There being millions of things in the world about which to know, and limited time and energy with which to know them, it is not surprising that few really have much grasp of evolutionary theory, and so accept it because, well, everybody does. Further, its more ardent advocates, who do know much about it, can be vicious in its defense, to the point of forcing dismissal of colleagues who express doubt. Overall people accept it as they accept that the earth is round. Yet there is in fact much doubt and often disbelief about many of its elements, much of it among mathematicians and physicists.
The following are bits and pieces that I have found interesting and think that others might. They do not all deal with formal evolutionary theory, though some do. Others are only tangential, some more speculative than others, and few if any are probative of anything. Yet some may think them interesting baubles.
On chemical origins: I was probably in college when I found myself asking what seemed to me straightforward questions about the chemical origin of life.
(1) Life was said to have begun by chemical inadvertence in the early seas. Did we, I wondered, really know of what those early seas consisted? Know, not suspect, hope, theorize, divine, speculate, or really, really wish.
No. We have no dried residue, no remaining pools, and the science of planetogenesis isn’t nearly good enough to provide a quantitative analysis. The less we know, the more leeway we have to believe what we want to believe.
(2) Did we know what sort of seas would be necessary for life to come about? No, we didn’t, and don’t. Note that biological reactions depend heavily on things like temperature, pH, molarities, chirality, and oxidizing or reducing environments.
(3) Had the creation of a living cell by chance been replicated in the laboratory? No, it hadn’t, and hasn’t. Evolutionists will point out that it is hard to replicate in a laboratory a process that took a billion years and oceans full of sea water. True, but am I to believe a questionable theory on grounds that it can’t be proved?
(4) Could it be shown to be mathematically probable that life would form, given any soup whatever? No, it couldn’t, and can’t. (At least not without cooking the assumptions.) Note that we have no idea what it is that we think formed, which makes the calculations yet more difficult.
(5) Can we design on paper a molecule or complex of molecules that (a) might plausibly come about by accident, (b) metabolizes, and (c) reproduces? No.
Well, I thought, sophomore chemistry student that I then was: If we don’t know what conditions existed, or what conditions are necessary, and can’t reproduce the event in the laboratory, and can’t show it to be statistically probable—why are we so very sure that it happened? Would you hang a man on such evidence?
Many years have passed since Watson and Crick elucidated the design of DNA in 1953. Biochemistry is now a mature and sophisticated science. How many more years, decades, or centuries must pass without these questions being answered before we suspect that they can’t be? How long can we be told that the check is in the mail before we conclude that there is no check?
Christianity and Creationism obsess evolutionists, who imagine themselves to be in mortal combat with these. This is peculiar to them. Note that other sciences, such as astronomy and geology, even archaeology, are equally threatened by the notion that the world was created in 4004 BC. Astronomers pay not the slightest attention to creationists. Nobody does—except evolutionists. We are dealing with competing religions—overarching explanations of origin and destiny. Thus the fury of their response to skepticism. Their anger is like that of Nine-Eleven conspiracy theorists when told that, actually, it happened as it seemed to.
Traits evolve, we are told, that promote survival and thus reproduction. Sometimes this makes sense and can be demonstrated, notably when the necessary genes are extant in the population. Think of Darwin’s finches. Sometimes it doesn’t. For example, if intelligence is adaptive—i.e., promotes survival–why didn’t it evolve earlier; and if it is not adaptive, why did it evolve at all? From evolutionists you get various unsubstantiated answers, such as that intelligence is of no use without an opposable thumb, or speech, or something.) Here we see the common evolutionary belief that vague plausibility unsupported by evidence is an adequate foundation for belief.
An interesting question, though probative of nothing, is why a brain that evolved for poking mammoths with pointed sticks is so well adapted to computational fluid dynamics and the writing of concertos.
Intelligence is said to increase rates of survival and thus of reproduction. Psychometrists point out that in the United States the very bright tend to go into fields requiring intelligence, as for example the sciences, computing, and law. They live together, work together, and marry each other, thus tending to concentrate intelligence instead of making it general in the population. They also produce children at below the level of replacement. (We thus conclude either that intelligence does not increase fitness or that fitness leads to extinction.)
In human populations, daily observation tells us that men prefer cute, sexy women to strong, smart, and ugly. It then becomes crucial for evolutionists to show that cute and sexy are more fit than strong, smart, and ugly. Good luck.
Evolution is said to come about through one of two mechanisms, either the very slow (and improbable, I would say) accumulation of mutations over millions of years, or the concentrations of genes already in the population (such as the beaks of Darwin’s finches). The second is much, much faster as any dog breeder will tell you. Selection, whether natural or directed, can produce conspicuous results in a few generations, depending on the intensity of the selection.
Here we encounter an evolutionary mystery. The genes already exist in the population for the astonishing vision of Ted Williams, the endurance of marathon runners, the general physical plant of Mohammed Ali, the intelligence of Gauss, and so on. Are these becoming general? Reading Xenophon, Juvenal, Vergil, the work of Archimedes suggests that people were as smart in classical antiquity as they are now. So it goes with the other qualities. If these have not increased, one must conclude either that they do not confer fitness, or that fitness does not become general.
Then there is the vexed matter of consciousness. What is consciousness? Does it have a derived definition, like f = ma? Or is it an undefined primitive, like “line” or “point”? With what instrument do you detect it? Is something either conscious or not, or do you have shades and degrees? Is a tree conscious, or a rock? How do you know?
In an evolutionary context, did the first (probably imaginary) living molecule have a teeny weeny itsy bity consciousness, just a smidgin? Or did awareness not evolve until the time of trilobites? Why would it evolve at all?
Does consciousness have physical existence? If it does, is it electromagnetic, gravitational, or what? If it doesn’t have physical existence, what kind of existence does it have?
Does consciousness interact with matter? It seems to. When I drop a cinder block on my foot, it certainly interacts with my consciousness. And if I consciously tell my hand to move, it does.
But if consciousness interacts with matter, then don’t you have to take it into account in describing physical systems? If it does not interact with matter, then something exists beyond physics, no? Eeeeek.
Speculation disguised as science flourishes in pop-evolution. For example, some say that consciousness is just a side-effect of complexity. Then is a federal tax form conscious? How do we know? Complexity defined how? If a man is conscious because he’s complex, then a whole room full of people must be even more conscious, because the total complexity would have to be more than any one fellow’s complexity. The universe has got to be more complex than anything in it, so it must be motingator conscious.
Nonsensical “Just So” stories about evolution are often taken seriously by intelligent people. For example, human beings are conspicuous in the natural world for being weak and slow, and for having poor senses of smell and hearing. Why? Evolutionists have multiple stories. One is that because humans walk upright, they can see farther on open veldt and thus have substituted vision for other senses that just are not necessary.
This makes no sense, which doesn’t seem to matter. Obviously being able to detect approaching predators at night by smell would be a great advantage. Lions are the color of dirt and dead vegetation and use both. Horses, which have good vision, and eyes at about the level of a human’s, have an excellent sense of smell. This story doesn’t live up even to the usual evolutionary standard of vague plausibility.
Another example of fabulistic thinking is the explanation of the poor olfaction of humans as saving energy. According to this story, a better sense of smell would require larger olfactory regions in the brain and, since a surprisingly large proportion of the body’s energy is expended by the brain, these larger olfactory regions would increase the need for food and cause starvation in time of famine.
Does this make sense? No.
Consider. Rats have a much better sense of smell than do humans, which they use in finding what they regard as food. A rat’s brain weighs two grams, a human’s about 1350. Let us assume that a rat’s entire brain is dedicated to smell, which of course it isn’t. Adding all of a rat’s brain to the human would increase its size from 1350 to 1352 grams, an increase of 2/1350 or .15%. Since the brain uses 15% of a human’s energy budget, the overall increase in energy requirements is 2/1350 X 100 X .15, or .02%. Not 2%, but .02%. This minute increase cannot possibly offset the advantages of an acute sense of smell. Similar calculations could be made regarding hearing which in humans is greatly inferior to that of dogs.
Why are there so many traits that have no obvious value yet seem to be the result of multiple genes and thus the consequence of considerable evolution? For example, kidneys have well developed nerves. Kidney stones are agonizing. Yet there is absolutely nothing an animal can do about a kidney stone. How do those nerves increase fitness? Traits that do not increase fitness, remember, die out.
Then why does homosexuality in males not disappear? Judging by ancient literature, it is as common now as it was then. What is the reproductive value of not reproducing? I can invent desperate and imaginative answers. Maybe homosexuals are homozygous in some undiscovered gene that is highly beneficial when heterozygous. There is no evidence for this, understandable because I just invented it, but why let such considerations inhibit a good story?
The list of inexplicable traits could go on. Masochism. Schizophrenia. Migraines. Suicide (though I suppose that a suicide bomber can be said to effectuate the widespread dissemination of his genetic material).
There is the question of the noise level in evolution. Consider the epicanthic fold that makes East Asians “slant-eyed.” I have read various evolutionists arguing that it evolved to protect the eyes against the cold winds of frigid north Asia or, alternatively, to conserve energy. No evidence was given for either understanding. Nor did the advocates say how many mutations were needed to bring about the fold as almost certainly no one has the slightest idea. But, the evolutionary principle being that those mutations flourish that promote survival—we have to accept that the first fellow to have the fold had more children because of it than his fellows who didn’t. Are we to believe that such a minute difference would have any effect at all?
For the fold to become fixed in the population—that is, for everyone without exception to have it—it would have to have a lot of survival value. Yet traits such as very high intelligence remain rare. We conclude that if you want to survive, it is better to have an epicanthic fold than to be smart. Evolution is ever fascinating.
The study of evolution of entire peoples is called “population genetics” and endeavors to show that populations evolve according to Darwinian principles. Much of it makes sense, and much doesn’t, or at least involves mental contortions to accept. For example, Henry Harpending, a population geneticist at the University of Utah, once told me, “In population genetics, “fitness” means the rate of reproduction, nothing else.” This means that a genetically retarded ghetto woman who has thirteen equally retarded children by twenty-five drive-by fathers is more fit that a Fields Medalist at Harvard who runs triathlons and has two children. It also means that reproduction determines fitness instead of fitness determining reproduction.
It seems somehow counterevolutionary that populations able to support more fecund reproduction don’t while those least able to support children have them in abundance. A great many advanced and prosperous countries breed at below the level of replacement, as for example Japan, China, and Europe. Meanwhile sub-Saharan African countries explode despite poverty and very low measured IQ. Yet the countries presumably of greatest fitness, themselves in numerical decline, send food to these less fit countries genetically unrelated to themselves. Odd.
Fans of evolutionism often say that that declining populations come about because of contraception, as though it were an outside influence like drought or epidemic. But to say that contraception causes declining populations is like saying that spears cause hunting. People wanted to eat, so they invented spears. They wanted not to reproduce, so they invented contraception. The desire not to have children comes from within, not without, and therefore must have evolved. This amounts to saying that there is an evolved drive not to evolve. Isn’t this fun?
To evolutionists I say, “I am perfectly willing to believe what you can actually establish. Reproducibly create life in a test tube, and I will accept that it can be done. Do it under conditions that reasonably may have existed long ago, and I will accept as likely the proposition that such conditions existed and gave rise to life. I bear no animus against the theory, and champion no competing creed. But don’t expect me to accept fluid speculation, sloppy logic, and secular theology.”
I once told my daughters, “Whatever you most ardently believe, remember that there is another side. Try, however hard it may be, to put yourself in the shoes of those whose views you most dislike. Force yourself to make a reasoned argument for their position. Do that, think long and hard, and conclude as you will. You can do no better, and you may be surprised.”
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FRED REED describes himself as [previously] a “Washington police reporter, former Washington editor for Harper’s and staff writer for Soldier of Fortune magazine, Marine combat vet from Viet Nam, and former long-haul hitchhiker, part-time sociopath, who once lived in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the Yankee Capital.”
His essays “on the collapse of America” Mr. Reed calls “wildly funny, sometimes wacky, always provocative.”
“Fred is the Hunter Thompson of the right,” seconds Thomas E. Ricks in Foreign Policy magazine. His commentary is “well-written, pungent political incorrectness mixed with smart military commentary and libertarian impulses, topped off with a splash of Third World sunshine and tequila.”
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