Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Turning Blue

Ooh! Ooh!

Anika Smith, the tankwoman in pink of the Discovery Institute is all excited that a Harvard professor has criticized evolutionary theory.

The fact that it is a professor of government, Harvey Mansfield, who has his own little problems with reality (having greeted Sarah Palin's choice as the anchor tied around John McCain's neck with "modified rapture" and having argued for a "mild affirmative action" for conservative professors at Harvard) doesn't bother her one bit. After all, he's from Haaarvaard!

Mansfield's criticism of evolutionary theory is a little strange. It comes in a "review" in Forbes (rapidly becoming the outlet of choice for evolution kooks) of a book by Richard Bribiescas, entitled Men, Science And Evolutionary Theory. I put "review" in quotes because Mansfield barely mentions the book, instead going off on tangents, apparently of his own devising. As far as can be gathered from Mansfield, the book's central theme (which may mark it as a work of evolutionary psychology and, therefore, not necessarily in the mainstream of evolutionary theory) is that:

... since the dominant function of life is to reproduce, one must, in the case of human life focus on the difference between men and women. The difference most impressive to Bribiescas is the one that is old as the hills and was known prior to all evolutionary science, namely that women know for sure that their child is theirs and men do not.

From this, Mansfield posits that:

He should hire eunuchs to guard her and behave like a sultan with his harem, giving full vent to his jealousy of her and his hostility to all other males who might be rivals as well as to all females who might be bribed by his rivals.

Mansfield conveniently ignores the part where, just a few paragraphs before, he has Bribiescas explaining that there are "trade-offs, throughout human life, between expending energy to stay alive vs. devoting it to reproduction."

But Mansfield then goes on to insist that scientists have a different imperative:

[A]s a scientist, a human male would have quite an opposite duty. A man of science does not take the view of his own sex but rises above it to consider the views of both sexes. He would be devoted to science, not to his own private genes. He would not favor his own child at any cost but would support other children if they showed better promise of becoming future scientists--future Darwinians.

Say what? Where does this come from? The closest we get is this paragraph that Anika thinks is just a perfect critique of evolutionary theory:

Evolutionary theory is at odds with itself: It cannot accept that man is a special being, raised above all others in evolutionary history, and it cannot deny that only man is capable of science, which allows him to transcend his animal selfishness. In closing, I note that I have made no reference to religion but only brought out the inner contradiction of Darwinism.

What we are never told is why science can't reconcile the ability of H. sapiens to do things in ways that other species can't. That is (with apologies to John Wilkins) practically the definition of "species." Yes, humans have evolved a set of intellectual attributes that, while not totally unique, have allowed us, more than any other species, to plan and act beyond mere instinct and to do science. I can also hold my breath and dive underwater. But I'll be damned if I can hold it for a half hour at a time, dive 1,500 feet deep and wrestle, kill and eat a giant squid, the way a sperm whale can.

Unless and until Mansfield or the Discovery Institute can point out a reason, other than a foolish egocentrism, why we should not award the whale the title of having been "raised above all others in evolutionary history" because of its "special" abilities, they are just navel-gazing and mistaking it for the universe.

This kind of argument, that what makes one a human is the ability to do such-and-such, has untoward consequences.

This means that a a being which would otherwise be a candidate for humanity who is not able to do such-and-such is not really human.

We can wonder what the moral consequences of such a "theory of humanity" might be. Rather than doing that, let me just say that it makes me glad that creationists don't value consistency, and shun theories.

Tom S.
We already know what their "theory" means for non-human life forms ... basically, if they're inconvenient, tough luck on them.
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