March 31, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Sacrificial Love Evolved from Colored Beards

Scientific jargon is like a foreign language to most lay people, but anyone stumbling across a paper on “altruism through beard chromodynamics” in Nature1 this week must surely wonder what on earth Vincent Jansen and Minus van Baalen were talking about.  Let’s see if their introduction can explain, or if Nature has printed a grown-up version of Dr. Seuss:

The evolution of altruism, a behaviour that benefits others at one’s own fitness expense, poses a darwinian paradox.  The paradox is resolved if many interactions are with related individuals so that the benefits of altruism are reaped by copies of the altruistic gene in other individuals, a mechanism called kin selection.  However, recognition of altruists could provide an alternative route towards the evolution of altruism.  Arguably the simplest recognition system is a conspicuous, heritable tag, such as a green beard.  Despite the fact that such genes have been reported, the ‘green beard effect’ has often been dismissed because it is unlikely that a single gene can code for altruism and a recognizable tag.  Here we model the green beard effect and find that if recognition and altruism are always inherited together, the dynamics are highly unstable, leading to the loss of altruism.  In contrast, if the effect is caused by loosely coupled separate genes, altruism is facilitated through beard chromodynamics in which many beard colours co-occur.  This allows altruism to persist even in weakly structured populations and implies that the green beard effect, in the form of a fluid association of altruistic traits with a recognition tag, can be much more prevalent than hitherto assumed.   (Emphasis added.)

Evolutionists sometimes employ fairy-tale metaphors for effect, such as the “red queen” hypothesis to explain the origin of sex, “prisoner’s dilemma” to explain group dynamics, and the “tinkerer” who cobbles together whatever parts are around to describe evolutionary innovation.  (Perhaps astronomers contribute to the fun with their talk of “red giants” and “white dwarfs.”)
    Ladies might contribute to the scientific research of this particular hypothesis and decide which beard colors belong to the most unselfish men.  The guys could further test the idea by going to the paint store and experimenting with beard chromodynamics (samples).


1Jansen and van Baalen, “Altruism through beard chromodynamics,” Nature Nature 440, 663-666 (30 March 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04387.

Need we say anything more?  Do you get the picture that evolutionary theorists have gone totally wacko?  Thanks, Jansen and van Baalen; keep up the good work.  Anti-evolutionists appreciate the free ammunition.
    The most egregious dumb idea in this story is not the fairy tale of the “green beard effect.”  It is their belief that altruism might actually evolve by a mutation in a gene.  The second most egregious aspect of this story is that Nature would print such balderdash with a straight fuzzy face.  It’s not even April Fool’s Day yet.  “Beard chromodynamics.”  Sad.  Funny, but sad.

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Categories: Dumb Ideas

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