Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pathetic Evolution

One of the books I am currently reading is The Folly of Fools by Robert Trivers. Trivers is a Darwinist and seeks to explain these behaviors via evolution instead of looking at the spiritual implications of deceit and self-deception. As I’ve continued through the book, I’ve noticed that he engages in the pathetic fallacy quite frequently. The pathetic fallacy, in addition to being humorous because of the other meaning to the term “pathetic”, actually describes what happens when someone attributes human conduct to inanimate objects. This is hardly a fallacy limited to Trivers, of course. The entire Neo-Darwinian framework is nothing but the pathetic fallacy, most obviously shown by Richard Dawkins’s illustration of The Selfish Gene. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that a Dawkins blurb graces the cover of The Folly of Fools.

The pathetic fallacy actually extends back to Charles Darwin himself, though. In fact, the entire concept of Natural Selection commits this fallacy, inasmuch as the word “selection” requires some kind of rational agent making deliberations. We are told that Nature does this selecting. But Nature has no mind or will. It does not choose anything. It cannot select by definition.

Of course, the committed Darwinist claims that these are merely metaphors used to describe the situation, but I daresay that it is impossible to even talk about the theory of evolution without using just these metaphors. This is not a problem real scientific inquiry runs into. For example, while a chemist might say something like, “A molecule wants an electron to fill its outer shell” (“wants” being the pathetic fallacy), she can just as easily speak of the concepts without the metaphorical language (e.g., “There are certain numbers of electrons that elements have that make them more stable, and therefore if an element like chlorine, which has one fewer electron than it needs to be stable, is in proximity to an element that has one more electron than it needs to be stable, such as sodium, the extra sodium electron can be transferred to the chlorine atom resulting in an ionic bond between the two atoms, and forming a new compound of NaCl—or table salt”). Therefore, because the idea can be explained without the metaphor, the metaphor truly is used just as a short-hand description.

Darwinists do claim to be able to explain Darwinism in non-metaphorical terms, but not only have I yet to see one successfully do so, when they have tried to do so it quickly becomes apparent that the actual scientific aspects of Darwinism are insufficient to prop up the heart of the theory. In other words, Darwinism is built nearly entirely on metaphor, which means that Darwinism only works if the abstract concept of Nature becomes reified and endowed with agency. The actual scientific grounds Darwinists can point to are held by even the most fundamentalist creationist (e.g., animals adapting to the environment) and do not exclusively prove Darwinism. Therefore, the only part of the theory that matters is only "proven" by imputing agency to natural events--the actual definition of the pathetic fallacy.

Perhaps an example of the pathetic fallacy in action might be beneficial. Trivers writes of what to expect in a child witnessing some form of conflict between his parents, and says of that:
By logic, one would expect the child’s paternal genome to accept or acquiesce in the paternal viewpoint, while the maternal genome would be biased to embrace the maternal position. With increasing strife, one can easily imagine that the two genetic sides in the child—maternal and paternal—are hyped by the escalating conflict toward excessive production of their products (proteins, small-interfering RNs, or anti-sense RNAs, all capable of regulating other genes). Thus with greater marital strife, the intensity of the child’s internal conflict may increase at the genetic level and the biochemical, as well as at the psychological.

Trivers, R. (2011). The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. New York: Basic Books. p. 86-87.
Genes “accept” or “acquiesce” to a viewpoint. Other genes are “biased” and “embrace” the other position. In other words, Trivers claims that not only are the genes selfish, but that they A) know whether they are maternal or paternal genes; B) can listen to arguments between parents; and C) can tell which of the two arguers are the source of their genome, such that the paternal genes agree with the father and the maternal genes agree with the mother. As Trivers says, “one can easily imagine” this, but the problem is one can only imagine it.

But it is understandable why Trivers would have to resort to this sort of view given his fealty to Darwinism. After all, human beings are complex creatures that supposedly came from originally random chemical reactions that somehow self-organized. But the fact that we exist as we do now cannot be explained by slow, stepwise Natural Selection. Genes only work if they are part of an advanced system. In the “wild”, outside of an organism, genes cannot do anything. They are completely dependent upon being in the entire system. To move from essentially random chemical reactions between mixtures of elements that “just happened” to be in the neighborhood to self-organization and the proliferation of a species requires the each step of the process to be attainable, and that simply cannot be demonstrated. In fact, logic indicates that the steps are irreducibly complex and therefore impossible to gradually attain.

In order to be science instead of wishful thinking, Trivers needs to show a causal chain, devoid of any intentionality, desire, or thinking on the part of the genes. That chain needs to be established between two parents arguing in front of a child and the child’s genes being activated. These genes don’t want to be activated any more than sodium wants to bond with chlorine. But we can explain table salt from basic scientific premises. What are the basic rules by which an external signal, such as a child hearing his parents arguing, is differentiated so that one gene is activated when the child hears his mother’s voice and a completely different one activated when he hears his father’s voice? What is the biochemical pathway that is dependent solely upon the genetic influence of the maternal line that causes the maternal genes to be activated when the mother speaks, and vice versa for the father? Because if those pathways cannot be demonstrated, then Trivers’s claim is nothing more than a pipedream substituting for argument.

But again, this is not just a problem with Trivers's claims. This is the heart of Darwinism. All Darwinian evolution needs to explain the non-teleological pathways by which evolution is supposed to have occurred, rather than resorting to language like "Nature selects for X trait". Unless they can do so, Darwinists should admit they have no arguments, but only the pathetic fallacy.


  1. Exactly! I don't have anything to add here - just to offer kudos because someone else gets it. I have always seen a stark disconnect in many Darwinian assertions that claim to be scientific, but are really dramatic leaps of logic. Reading the material that evolutionists put out, I often feel like the lady in the now meme-ish commercial: "That's not how it works! That's not how any of this works!"