The Science Times, the New York Times’ weekly science section, just can’t get enough of those pseudo-scientific stories in which the reporter tries to connect contemporary sexual mores with the theory of natural selection. The argument, always, is that we do it because in early times those who did it were more likely to have more children, thereby passing on their genes to future generations.
In the story in question, first published in this week’s Science Times, reporter John Tierney details a few interesting studies about human mating behavior.
Here are some of the findings reported in the article, all valid and interesting. I put the Darwinian myth that the reporter used to explain the finding in italics:
- Men in a relationship think other women are less attractive when they are in the fertile stage of their menstrual cycle, whereas guys on the prowl think the fertile woman more attractive. Darwinian myth: “Natural selection favored those who stayed together long enough to raise children: the men and women who could sustain a relationship by keeping their partners happy. They would have benefited from the virtue to remain faithful, or at least the wiliness to appear faithful while cheating discreetly.” Note the contradiction in the explanation!
- At peak fertility, women with unattractive men are more likely to notice other men. Darwinian myth: “This fits the ‘good genes’ evolutionary explanation for adultery: a quick fling with a good-looking guy can produce a child with better genes, who will therefore have a better chance of passing along the mother’s genes. But this sort of infidelity is risky if the woman’s unsexy long-term partner finds out and leaves her alone to raise the child. So it makes sense for her to limit her risks by being unfaithful only at those times she’s fertile.” Just throw out Occam’s razor, that core principle of science and philosophy which proposes that the simplest explanation is most likely the right one.
The research was worth presenting, but why do we have to draw such convoluted and speculative conclusions from it? The studies demonstrate that we communicate on the chemical level. To my mind, that’s enough of a finding for an interesting article. I don’t need the BS reasoning that sounds more like religion than science.
In fact, these Darwinian myths by which we attempt to justify all behavior by natural selection have less to do with the science of evolution than with the philosophy of Leibniz. He’s the late 17th century and early 18th century German philosopher who created calculus independently of Isaac Newton but is better known for his ridiculously optimistic philosophy which states that by definition whatever is, is for the good. In Voltaire’s Candide, Leibniz becomes the buffoonish Dr. Pangloss, who proposes that no matter how bad things deteriorate we are nonetheless living in “the best of all possible worlds.”
Here’s the Leibnizian thinking of the Darwinian myth-makers: Whatever we do has a reason and that reason is always our own selfish self-preservation which is embedded into us by nature and therefore has to be good.
The first thing we notice is that selfishness is equated with both the natural and the good. Selfishness is the reigning spirit of state-supported capitalism and justification for an inequitable distribution of wealth. Thus the hidden ideology of all Darwinian myths is the glorification of free-market capitalism. It is no coincidence that the proliferation of these Darwinian myths in English and American popular science began around the time Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took office. It was, and unfortunately remains, the zeitgeist.
Now let’s take a deeper look: More than 90% of all species that have ever existed on earth are currently extinct. That means that not everything that animals do leads to their survival. Okay, lots of these extinctions resulted from extreme weather change, continents moving or another animal changing the environment rapidly. But lots of times, species just outgrew their environment or developed habits that impeded survival in even a slightly changed condition.
In other words, just because we do it, doesn’t mean it helps us survive. And more important, just because it helped us survive 10,000 or 35,000 years ago doesn’t mean it will help us survive today. Natural selection is not necessarily always good, at least as it concerns human beings.