January 12, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

"Inclusive Fitness" Is a Just-So Story Generator

Critics of the “inclusive fitness” evolutionary explanation for altruism liken it to Ptolemy’s epicycles.

Why would an animal forgo bearing offspring to help another’s reproduction?  Such natural examples of “altruism” have been answered for 50 years by the notion of “inclusive fitness” – the group benefits when individuals sacrifice.  Not so, say Harvard biologists Martin Nowak, E. O. Wilson and Benjamin Allen: there is no such thing as inclusive fitness.

In an article posted by PhysOrg, they describe the theory as a just-so story generator:

Though it had been accepted for nearly half a century, the first seeds of doubt about the theory were sown several years ago when Nowak, Wilson, and Corina Tarnita (now at Princeton University) published a paper in Nature showing that the math behind inclusive fitness did not work even in simple cases.

In response, proponents of the theory turned to a mathematical regression method to uphold the view that inclusive fitness can always be calculated.

“The regression method is a curiously backwards approach,” Allen said. “It generates a just-so story, which is often wrong, for an outcome that is already known.

To show the ineffectiveness of the technique, Allen and his co-authors produced three models in which the regression method yielded results that were clearly wrong. For example, a nurse who helps the weakest is misinterpreted in this approach as a spiteful bully, and a jealous individual who attacks the strongest is mistaken for an altruist.

The Harvard evolutionists do not deny that altruism evolves; they just criticize the inclusive fitness theory as being able to explain it.  Instead of looking for it at the individual level, they look at the gene level.  To them, inclusive fitness adds unnecessary clumsiness to the theory:

“Inclusive fitness is like the complex system of epicycles devised by Ptolemy to support the idea of an Earth-centric universe,” he continued. “The need for such complexity disappears when you look at the problem from the correct perspective—in our case, the perspective of the gene. On the level of genes there is no inclusive fitness.”

Whether the Harvard evolutionists’ theory can do better at evolving Mother Theresa remains to be seen.  The article launched a barrage of comments.

Don’t think for a moment that science has made progress here, or is self-correcting.  This is an example of an ongoing battle between two false ideas.  It illustrates two important lessons: (1) There are pitched battles within the evolutionary camp, contrary to what the NCSE alleges (that the science is settled), and (2) Wrong ideas can be promulgated in the name of science for decades.

All that Nowak, Wilson and Allen have done is replace one just-so story generator with another one that is simpler.  In essence, they have removed one cartoon character from their cast of characters, like saying the Talking Dog is no longer necessary to keep the plot going.  The math is a distraction.  No amount of math can turn a cartoon into a reality show.

While the evolutionists pummel each other, go ahead and continue your charitable work.  You’re doing it by design, not by evolution.  The evolutionists don’t deserve your charity, since they have chosen to deceive.  If the blind wish to lead the blind, let the dead bury their own dead.


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  • rockyway says:

    “The need for such complexity disappears when you look at the problem from the correct perspective—in our case, the perspective of the gene. On the level of genes there is no inclusive fitness.”

    – If all were merely matter in motion there could be no such thing as the correct perspective… i.e. no objective reason to favor one level over another. (If all were merely particles in motion there couldn’t even be such a thing as perspective.)

    – It’s interesting – in the sense that baloney is interesting – that while ”evolution” is supposed to be a fact, few of the dozens of sub-theories that compose it are even remotely factual. (This is akin to having a boat full of holes and then trying to sell it to someone as being seaworthy.)

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