Taking Control of Natural Selection
Are humans evolving? If so, should they? Two recent articles asked these questions as if natural selection is something we should no longer allow to push us around. We should take control of it for our own good. But then, it wouldn’t be natural selection, would it?
On the BBC News, Olly Bootle posted a big picture of the elderly big-beard Darwin and asked, “Are humans still evolving by Darwin’s natural selection?” Ever since the father of evolution proposed his theory, “scientists have wondered whether humans were resourceful enough to remove themselves from the grip of natural selection,” he said. Under a photo of a moon-boot print next to a bare footprint, the caption reads, “Could technological advances stop the human species from evolving?” The tone of the article is that it can, and humans should take control of natural selection.
Bootle pointed to examples of microevolution in humans – lactose intolerance, changes in height or weight or skin color, increasing life expectancy – and admitted these minor changes are like those Darwin saw: “In any case, the changes were very small and very slow, similar to those at work in Darwin’s evolutionary studies.” But Darwin, we all know, was talking about a far greater world view – the evolution of all life from a primordial cell. Bootle omitted any evidence for that.
What, then, of our evolutionary future? “Technology may have stopped some evolutionary forces such as predation and disease, but that does not mean humans have stopped evolving,” he said, inserting a brief doubt whether we can discern our own evolution from the inside. But globalization and technology bring powerful forces into the game: “The direction of our future evolution is likely to be driven as much by us as by nature,” Bootle ended. “We may be less dependent on how the world changes us, but ever more so on our growing ability to change the world.”
It’s about time we do, said elderly Nobel laureate Christian de Duve in an interview with Clint Witchalls on New Scientist, who summarized the interview this way: “We have evolved traits that will lead to humanity’s extinction, says Christian de Duve – so we must learn to overcome them.” But why would humans want to interfere with the process that brought them up? De Duve explained that it’s because we are rapidly exhausting our natural resources. Then he summarized the standard view of natural selection as an unguided, uncaring process when Witchall asked him, “You think that natural selection has worked against us. How?”
Because it has no foresight. Natural selection has resulted in traits such as group selfishness being coded in our genes. These were useful to our ancestors under the conditions in which they lived, but have become noxious to us today. What would help us preserve our natural resources are genetic traits that let us sacrifice the present for the sake of the future. You need wisdom to sacrifice something that is immediately useful or advantageous for the sake of something that will be important in the future. Natural selection doesn’t do that; it looks only at what is happening today. It doesn’t care about your grandchildren or grandchildren’s grandchildren.
This strange series of anthropomorphisms about natural selection was followed by an even more bizarre one, the labeling of this kind of evolutionary short-sightedness as “original sin.” Indeed, that was the title of his latest book: Genetics of original sin (Yale University Press). For salvation, we must “act against natural selection,” de Duve told the interviewer, “and actively oppose some of our key genetic traits.”
Witchalls worried that population control (the cause of resource depletion) might be “ethically dubious”. De Duve responded that the number of inhabitants needs to be reduced somehow. “Hunters do it by killing off the old or sick animals in a herd,” he pointed out. But lest he be found to support negative eugenics (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, genocide), he added, “but I don’t think that’s a very ethical way of limiting the population.” If it’s not very ethical, maybe it’s a little bit ethical. What if people in power decide it is very ethical? Would they pay any attention to the advice of an aging biologist? Whatever he meant, he advocated birth control as the best method for population reduction.
Giving more power to women, he feels, can also help. Why would that be? “Speaking as a biologist,” he said, “I think women are less aggressive than men, and they play a larger role in the early education of the young and helping them overcome their genetic heirloom.” He did not seem to consider whether it would also decrease warfare and totalitarianism, which seem to have been big players in population reduction, particularly in the 20th century. Did he mean that women should teach the young not to get married and have children? Did he consider whether the aggressive men, after giving women some power, would take it back? Whatever he meant, he remained “cautiously optimistic,” in order to give a message of hope to the young that they can do something about their evolution – although presently “there is not much evidence that this is happening.” Maybe he feels false hope is good for their evolution.
You have just witnessed smart people acting dumb. If incoherence is a measure of folly, then please explain how Bootle and de Duve were not incoherent by considering the human mind the product of a mindless, uncaring, unguided, amoral process, then lecturing us on ethics and wisdom. What is ethics in Darwinland? What is wisdom? Take away these concepts from their thieving hands, where they raided the Judeo-Christian smorgasbord of values, and they are empty handed, because they cannot get such things at Darwin’s table.
Natural selection is what natural selection does. If it produces a brain by mistake (01/26/2011), or a venomous snake, then natural selection “doesn’t care” one whit, as de Duve himself admitted. “It doesn’t care about your grandchildren or grandchildren’s grandchildren.” It is totally selfish, shortsighted, and uncaring. Ethics and wisdom are defined by what natural selection does, period. If it gives rise to a population that destroys itself, so be it. Happens all the time. Why fight it?
Notice that de Duve and his interviewer know about the Bible. They know the Judeo-Christian doctrine of original sin. They feel it. When Witchalls asked him about his use of the term “original sin,” he answered, “I believe that the writers of Genesis had detected the inherent selfishness in human nature that I propose is in our genes, and invented the myth of original sin to account for it. It’s an image.” He quickly added, “I am not acting as an exegete – I don’t interpret scripture.” Well, he just did, and a jolly botched interpretation of Genesis 3 and Romans 2-3 it was. Instead of sticking to his job as a biologist, he followed up his myth information by preaching a salvation sermon with all the fervor of an evangelist: “We must act against natural selection and actively oppose some of our key genetic traits.” As if we could. That’s like telling dogs to actively oppose their dogness. There he goes again, stealing concepts like responsibility, wisdom, and morality from the Christian world view.
Christian de Duve is a CINO, Christian in name only (literally). One wonders if his parents had better hopes for him by giving him that honorable name than to see him become, despite his accomplishments in genetics, an incoherent babbler and peddler of self-refuting philosophy. As for Olly Bootle, this is what our education system produces when Charlie worship, the state religion, cannot be criticized: a complete dupe for the Darwin dope.