June 25, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

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!

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  • Reflectory says:

    There is only a “contradiction” if one is operating off of the mistaken premise that explanation is synonymous with exculpation, as you apparently are.

  • Robert_Saunders says:

    This is complete nonsense. That evolution occurs has been conclusively demonstrated, and the theory which explains it is provably correct:
    1. Heritable mutations occur. This has been known since Mendel. It means that, once a mutation occurs (which happens at EVERY reproduction), the mutation remains in place in succeeding generations unless and until it is modified by a subsequent mutation.
    2. SOME mutations are advantageous for survival and reproduction. This should be obvious.
    Since these two premises constitute the ENTIRETY of the theory of evolution, and since both are demonstrably correct, the theory of evolution is perforce also correct. Which means that ANY criticism of that theory — past, present, or future — is WRONG.

    • Editor says:

      Robert & Reflectory,
      How about proving you two actually read the article (and understood it)? Otherwise, you look like hit-and-run, drive-by Darwin disciples spewing Darwinian talking points through a loudspeaker… not particularly convincing.

  • noblackholes says:

    I guess I would slightly reword Robert_Saunders to read “these two premises are the ENTIRETY of the proof of the theory of evolution”–which proof seems a bit light if the goal is to show that the “theory or evolution” is sufficient to explain the diversity (and many claim the origin) of life.

  • noblackholes says:

    I’ll bite, if explanation is not synonymous with exculpation, what is the meaning of exculpation, and how is that meaning derived from a Darwinist world view?

  • Ian P. says:

    Robert Saunders’ Item #1 is his explanation of the theory of evolution is incomplete. He neglected to mention that the mutation only remains in place in succeeding generations, if the mutation didn’t kill the original organism in the first place. Most mutations are either deleterious (killing the organism outright or causing it to be less fit) or neutral (neither deleterious nor beneficial). However, several successive neutral mutations over multiple generations can become deleterious. Over time, due to the buildup of negative genetic load, a species is more likely to go extinct than evolve. Evidence for this is plentiful in the fossil record, which finds extinction to be the rule, not evolution.

  • andreigbs says:

    As a biologist, if I may, I would like to offer a few thoughts.

    First, “evolution” has not been at all conclusively demonstrated, neither by a well-explained set of working laws that can predict what will or should happen, nor by repeatable experiments that establish how randomness gives rise to new features. If there is any experiment that shows how amphibian fins evolve into arms and legs, that would certainly be a start. All we have are hypotheses and stories built on fossil samples, much of which are wrongly interpreted. Just because some structures look similar across different species does not mean the species are related or that the structures evolved from primitive versions into advanced versions.

    Secondly, criticism of ANY theory is in itself a constructive and useful endeavor, as this is what drives scientific progress (ie, corrections, refutals, new approaches and hypotheses, etc.). As such, any individual becoming sensitive to the very idea of criticism is already suspect of being biased and is therefore unscientific or able to think critically (or both!).

    Thirdly, reproduction of cells is performed with amazing accuracy and integrity of the genetic code. The error-rate is incredibly tiny and most times the errors are caught by error-checking mechanisms well before the cell divides. To suggest that mutations happen at every replication cycle shows vast ignorance of even the basic principles of cellular life presented at a high school level.

    Lastly and most important, mutations are RANDOM events. They are not an organism’s response to pressures to adapt or evolve. They are the result of factors which a cell cannot control (think cancer!). Random means random, hence uncontrolled and unpredictable. The types of mutations that we control in the lab are different, in that we know how to cause them and do so at will (ie, chemically or otherwise, such as UV radiation causing thymine dimers and others) in order to further study their effects and the repair mechanisms put to work by the cell. However, in normal cellular function, mutations are not the norm during the thousands of cycles of reproduction in a given cell. Among those rare mutation events there are small mutations and large, most of which are HARMFUL to the organism. Many of the harmful mutations lead to deletions of nucleotides in a given RNA sequence, which cause amino acid sequences to be misread, leading to a non-working protein. Smaller, less harmful mutations can lead to nucleotide substitutions, which may alter that specific amino acid and lead to a different shape of the protein when folded, which in turn affects its efficiency. Some of the more rare mutations insert a nucleotide into the sequence which changes the entire reading frame past the insertion point and completely changes the 3-base codon sequence which dictates what amino acid is being assembled and therefore alters the rest of the sequence. Depending where along the RNA sequence this happens, the protein may still function or may not; if early in the sequence, it usually renders the protein useless. In the vast majority of the above cases, critical functions are lost and overall fitness is reduced. No new structures are gained.

    There is much more that could be said but I believe the main points should suffice. Darwinian evolution is crumbling under the weight of mounting evidence pointing to the stunning complexity of even the most simple single-cell organisms, not to mention the exponential increase in complexity of eukaryotic systems. To maintain a Darwinian position is woefully ignorant at the very least.

    Happy Monday.

  • wspires45 says:

    I am curious if the Evolutionists believe the human conscience is a product of Evolution.

  • Reflectory says:

    The irony, Editor, is that in an article that leads with the sentence talking about “philosophically-unsophisticated students” you commit an elementary philosophical mistake in mistaking explanation with exculpation or is with ought.

    “he either has to justify violent racism, or acknowledge that humans are not mere mammals produced by blind processes of evolution.”

    The unstated premise in your choice here is: evolution=explanation therefore ought racism /or/ creation=explanation therefore ought not racism.

    Talk about philosophically-unsophisticated. You cannot logically derive prescriptions from descriptions. It’s called Hume’s Guillotine. Look it up.

    • Editor says:

      Reflectory, we know the difference between is and ought, but you miss the point. His contradiction lies in pretending to give a truthful and honest account for a scientific paper by appealing to mindless processes of evolution, which are incapable of delivering truth or honesty. This undercuts his own credibility. It cuts off the branch on which he sits. Clutton-Brock cannot exclude himself from the evolutionary forces that he says produced racism and polygamy, which he suggests are less evolved than today’s cooperation. But if those results are amoral, then so is the attempt to present a scientific explanation: his own work cannot be taken to be truthful or honest. Please look up “Yoda complex” in Darwin Dictionary. Clutton-Brock’s worldview is self-refuting and therefore it is necessarily false. That, my friend, is philosophically unsophisticated.

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