Over the years I have occasionally expressed doubts over the tenets of evolutionism which, perhaps wrongly, has seemed to me a sort of political correctness of science, or maybe a metaphysics somewhat related to science. As a consequence I have been severely reprehended. The editor of a site devoted to genetic expression furiously began deleting any mention of me from his readers. Others, to include Mr. John Derbyshire of Taki’s Magazine, have expressed disdain, though disdaining to explain just why.
In all of this, my inability to get straight answers that do not shift has frustrated me. I decided to address my questions to an expert in the field, preferably one who loathed me and thus might produce his best arguments so as to stick it to me. To this end I have settled on Mr. Derbyshire.
He has the several advantages of being highly intelligent, an excellent writer, ardent of all things evolutionary and genetic, and well versed in them. I would profit by his instruction in things in which I am only an amateur—should he be so inclined. (He may well have other things to do.) To this end, I submit a few questions which have strained my admittedly paltry understanding for some time. They are not new questions, but could use answers. I agree in advance to accept his answers (if any be given) as canonical.
(1) In evolutionary principle, traits that lead to more surviving children proliferate. In practice, when people learn how to have fewer or no children, they do. Whole industries exist to provide condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, vasectomies, and abortions, attesting to great enthusiasm for non-reproduction. Many advanced countries are declining in population. How does having fewer surviving children lead to having more surviving children? Less cutely, what selective pressures lead to a desire not to reproduce, and how does this fit into a Darwinian framework?
Two notes: (1) The answer cannot rely on contraception, which is not a force imposed from outside. Just as people invented spears because they wanted to kill food and each other, they invented condoms because they wanted not to have children. The question is how that desire evolved. (2) The non-evolutionary explanation is clear and simple. “We could have two children and a nice condo, or fifteen and live in a shack.”
(2) Morality. In evolution as I understand it, there are no absolute moral values: Morals evolved as traits allowing social cooperation, conducing to the survival of the group and therefore to the production of more surviving children. The philosophical case for this absence of absolutes usually consists in pointing out that in various societies everything currently regarded as immoral has been accepted as acceptable (e.g., burning heretics to death).
I cannot refute the argument. However, I think it intellectually disreputable to posit premises and then not accept their consequences.
Question: Why should I not indulge my hobby of torturing to death the severely genetically retarded? This would seem beneficial. We certainly don’t want them to reproduce, they use resources better invested in healthy children, and it makes no evolutionary difference whether they die quietly or screaming.
(For more cranky questions, click the link.)