Archive Classic: The Arrest of Dr. Darwinlover
The commentary of this entry from 9/30/07, “Evolutionists Say Parasites Made Humans Successful,” included an arresting cop episode with the Baloney Detector dog.
Evolutionists Say Parasites Made Humans Successful
by David Coppedge, reprinted from 09/30/2007
“If cooperation has been the secret to our evolutionary success, we may have our parasites to thank for that.” That’s a pretty big If, but that’s what two evolutionary biologists claimed this month Current Biology.1 The cooperative behaviors naturally selected in evolutionary host-parasite wars, by implication, are what gave human beings the ability to build cities, governments and scientific laboratories – like the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh, where Andy Gardner and Stuart A. West work.
Surprisingly, their claim came at the end of an article that discussed primarily the downfall of one of the leading theories for social cooperation: the kin selection theory of W. D. Hamilton. Their first paragraph explained why this theory fails:
Cooperation abounds in the natural world, and biologists are faced with the difficulty of reconciling this fact with the principle of the ‘survival of the fittest’. A fundamental step in our understanding of cooperation was provided by W. D. Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness. This reveals that altruistic behaviour, where an individual pays a direct fitness cost in order to enhance the fitness of others, can be favoured by selection if individuals tend to promote the reproductive success of their genetic relatives. This raises the question of how altruists ensure that their selfless behaviour is directed primarily towards their kin. One possibility is genetic kin recognition, where individuals identify close kin on the basis of physical similarity because relatives look more similar than unrelated individuals. Despite the apparent incentive for such kin recognition, however, there is relatively poor empirical support for this mechanism in nature. A new theoretical study of genetic kin recognition by Francois Rousset and Denis Roze reveals that, left to its own evolutionary devices, this mechanism will drive itself to ruin.
They proceeded to demonstrate that theoretical and observational evidence for Hamilton’s celebrated theory for the origin of cooperation is rare in nature, if it works at all. There was only one example they could provide: parasitism.
But all is not lost for genetic kin recognition. As Crozier suggested, the mechanism could be stabilised by extrinsic processes that maintain marker diversity. Rousset and Roze have confirmed this by incorporating an ad hoc advantage to rare markers into their model and found that, provided this was sufficiently strong relative to the fitness consequences of altruism, genetic kin recognition is maintained and selflessness prevails. This could explain why, when genetic kin recognition does occur, it often involves genes that are implicated in host-parasite interactions, a potent source of strong balancing selection. The paragon of genetic kin recognition is the detection of major histocompatibility (MHC) genes, involved in immune function, upon which rodents and humans appear to decide their social and sexual relationships.
And that was the context for their ending sentence quoted earlier: “If cooperation has been the secret to our evolutionary success, we may have our parasites to thank for that.”
This statement clearly implies far more than a desire to uncover a mechanism for evolutionary behavior. It is implying that our deepest relationships and longings, even to the point of self-sacrifice for one we love, is rooted in blind, uncaring processes of evolution at the genetic level. Ultimately, it is a claim that selflessness is an illusion, arising from Darwinian selfishness.
With the downfall of Hamilton’s popular theory, there may be no current working model for the origin of human love, cooperation and reasoning. Of one thing Gardner and West are sure, however: they came about by Darwinian survival of the fittest.
1Andy Gardner and Stuart A. West, “Social Evolution: The Decline and Fall of Genetic Kin Recognition,” Current Biology, Volume 17, Issue 18, 18 September 2007, pages R810-R812, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2007.07.030.
Scene: a university science lab. Excuse me, sir. May I help you, officers? We’re looking for a Dr. Darwinlover. That’s me; what is this about? I’m afraid we’ll have to take you into custody. You’re under arrest. Wha…? On what grounds? What’s going on here? According to our warrant, you are being charged with impersonating a scientist, violating established laws, and using academic resources to promote a narrow religious agenda. What are you talking about? Who are you? The CEH Police. I’ve never heard of you. We are a non-governmental agency of trained volunteers authorized by the court to conduct citizen’s arrests. What court? The court of public opinion.
You can’t do this to me. I’m a scientist. So you say. We hear that one all the time. Please don’t cause a disturbance, sir. We’re just doing our job. And violating the laws… what laws? The laws of logic, sir. What are you talking about? I told you I’m a scientist. According to the warrant, you claimed, in writing, that human behavior evolved by a material process of evolution, but then reasoned as if this represented a true account of human origins. So? Truth cannot evolve, sir. According to the prosecutor, this represents a contradiction. According to the law of non-contradiction, this is punishable by demotion to the realm of the irrational – in other words, losing your license to practice science.
And I’m not promoting any religious agenda! I’m an atheist! According to the federal courts, atheistic humanism is a religion. The prosecutor said you went far beyond the empirical evidence and taught your own personal beliefs using academic resources. But lots of scientists are atheists! What you believe in your private life is protected free speech, sir, but scientists are not supposed to use their academic positions to promote a narrow religious agenda, according to your own writings. This is another one of the counts of violating the laws of logic being charged against you. In fact, the count alleges that you yourself used this very argument to convince the dean to deprive a colleague of tenure because of his private religious beliefs.
This is outrageous. Nobody has ever accused me of such things. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, sir. Scientists have a position of high trust in our culture. Presumably, when you took this position, you committed to abide by the laws of logic and should have received the proper instruction in the law. But I’ve written things like that paper all my professional life. And so have all my colleagues! Are you confessing to collusion, sir?
For crying out loud, I haven’t done anything that isn’t common practice among all my peers. I realize that, sir. The chief recognizes this is a widespread problem. He has decided it’s time to start cracking down. The only way to make progress is by tackling one case at a time. Why me? He decided to make you an example, so that others would hear, and fear, and commit no more such abomination in the land.
What will they do to me? Most likely, you will be given an opportunity to confess your crimes, then cease and desist. For a probationary period, your speaking and writing will be under surveillance. However, if you persist in irrational behavior, repeat offenses will lead to your being stripped of your credibility. Hardened criminals might even be pilloried in public.
And if I fail to cooperate? You have the right to remain silent. But remember, anything you speak or write can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. What’s with the dog? That’s our K9 unit; Apollos here is trained to sniff out contraband. [Barking and a brief scuffle ensues.]
Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting episode of: Creation-Evolution Headlines, the top-rated science investigative reporting show, featuring Apollos, the wonder dog. Brought to you by Master Plan, the universal leader in information management design technology, and by Moral Support, a global network of encouragement.