Influential Evolutionist Fails to See His Own Contradictions
He trains philosophically-unsophisticated students with self-refuting ideas with the force of moral subjectivity.
Rare is the scientist or reporter who can detect internal contradictions, especially in stories about Darwinian evolution. One of the new champions of the unsophisticated thinkers is Dr. Tim Clutton-Brock, whose new book Mammal Societies received uncritical acclaim on PhysOrg.
Clutton-Brock’s field work appears admirable. He has spent decades studying meerkats, red deer, and monkeys, taking interns out into the wild and training them in scientific observation. He is also a gifted science communicator, endearing millions of TV viewers with real-life stories of wild mammals great and small. But when it comes to Darwinian explanations, Dr. Tim fails to think clearly.
With no apologies to Loren Eiseley, Dr. Tim appears happy to be part of “Darwin’s Century,” which he feels began not in 1900, but in the 1960s when long-term studies on individual life histories became feasible. To him, Darwinian evolution can only be understood in the light of the societies in which animals compete for mates: females for food, and males for unfertilized ova. There’s no question that a spectrum of behaviors are seen today in mammal societies—both cute and disgusting—from cooperation among meerkats to fratricide among hyena cubs. But can the same evolutionary process explain opposite outcomes? That question is not asked (see Stuff Happens Law).
When Clutton-Brock comes to mankind, which he views (like Darwin) as nothing but another species of mammal, things get tense.
The final chapters focus on human social progress, from our hominin ancestors’ journey through the polygynous breeding societies still seen in the great apes, to the unique cooperation with strangers and kin alike that defines us as a species.
If you want to put human society and evolution in perspective, says Clutton-Brock, it is the other mammals which provide it, and generalisations drawn from across mammalian social behaviour feed into our understanding of humanity.
“Though modern humans are mostly monogamous, we carry the legacy of past polygyny, as our ancestors lived in societies where a single male dominates several females. In polygynous mammals such as red deer, males only breed for a short time, as competition is so fierce and often brutal. This may relate to the shorter lifespan and larger bodies we see in men,” he explains.
Several problems arise here. Dr. Tim never watched the mating habits of “hominin ancestors”—he merely assumes that they took a “journey” through behaviors observed in living great apes. At the endpoint of his assumed scenario, he sees “unique cooperation with strangers and kin” that “defines us as a species.” If it is unique, then how does he know it evolved? What other species is so defined? Do meerkats send money to Doctors Without Borders? Of course not. But if it requires “other mammals” to see human society in perspective, and if we must draw generalizations from across mammalian social behavior to understand humanity, to which species would one point to understand a unique trait? To red deer? Extending his logic, he would justify polygamy because men are larger (on average) than women and don’t live as long (on average). Extending his logic further, fierce competition to the point of brutality is justifiable, because that’s what evolution produced in other mammals. On what basis could he argue otherwise?
We know he would not wish to advocate brutal polygamy, and yet one of his favorite books (if the article indicates correctly) is Darwin’s Descent of Man, wherein Darwin predicted “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world” (see Evolution News & Views, “We’re all just apes here”). Certainly Dr. Tim would not wish to be called a racist. That would be political suicide, even for a scientist. But on what philosophical ground would he justify cooperation as morally superior to brutality? It’s unlikely Clutton-Brock would take Alfred Russel Wallace’s view that human uniqueness implies intelligent design (see Michael Flannery video clip in Evolution News & Views).
So the author is in a clear conundrum; he either has to justify violent racism, or acknowledge that humans are not mere mammals produced by blind processes of evolution. This contradiction is lost on him, and on the PhysOrg reporter. At the ending of the article, which asks, “Why us?”, he takes the side of morality. He becomes a preacher of righteousness.
“Many of the characteristics of higher primates may have facilitated the evolution of our own unusual traits,” he says. “They live in complex societies with many competitors and rely on support from other individuals to breed and protect their offspring. The difficult social decisions they have to take has probably played an important role in the evolution of our large brains and understanding of cause and effect.“
The book closes with a warning to our species: that controlling population growth and preventing environmental destruction requires cooperation on a global scale – a feat no animal has managed. “This would be a novel development in mammals, and it remains to be seen whether humans are able to meet this challenge.“
It would certainly be very un-Darwinian to fight the evolutionary forces to which all animals are subject, in order to “meet this challenge” of facing “difficult social decisions that they have to take” in order to cooperate on a global scale. How, exactly, does one make a decision contrary to evolutionary forces? Did animals “decide” that? Can humans do that? Why? What is the cause that produced the effect of social conscience?
As for population growth, many are worried that western European societies are vanishing by not reproducing fast enough. Their numbers are being swamped by societies of religious fanatics determined to wipe them out sooner rather than later, whose leaders would see environmental destruction as a good thing, as vindication of their religion. Why is Dr. Tim preaching to the vanishing choir instead of to the fanatics? Didn’t Darwinian evolution produce them, too, in his philosophy?
There are no warnings in Darwin’s century. Stuff happens. So be it.
Is Clutton-Brock that ignorant of the dark history of Social Darwinism that he continues to spew this vile worldview in 2016? He propounds social evolution as the key to understanding life. Well, let him go to Galton, Hitler, and Stalin and tell his interns about their wonderful advances in social progress. Let him justify the 60,000 forced sterilizations in America as worthy efforts at population growth. Let him justify the abortion mentality that could have deprived him of life. The only morality in Darwinism is the law of the jungle. Dr. Tim Clutton-Brock is blind to his own inconsistencies, and when the blind lead the blind, they all fall into the ditch.
His book would be more consistent if it had the title “Stuff Happens,” a subtitle “Whatever will be, will be,” and then a bunch of blank pages. You’ll notice he studies the meerkats; they don’t study him. The meerkats are smarter, in a way; they don’t write self-refuting nonsense to deceive impressionable minds, stealing Christian morality to warn them about things Darwinian evolution couldn’t care less about. Having undermined any claims to credibility, his arguments can be ignored. But since he poisons the minds of students, he must be opposed. Here’s a good way to start: call the New York Times to label him a racist, polygamist and social Darwinist. Let him wriggle out of that one!