Evolution: its ideological self-refutation

By Razib Khan | August 29, 2012 11:24 pm

 

Recently I stumbled upon the fact that Honey Boo Boo‘s sister had a child at age 18. The grandmother, Honey Boo Boo’s mother, is 33 years old. Younger than I am! Then I see headlines in trashy British tabloids of the form: The three men who have fathered 78 children with 46 different women… and they’re not paying child support to any of them. Here I am, in the fullness of man-childhood, a new father, groping to understand evolutionary process in all its glory, and here are they who live evolution! There are those around us who don’t blink at maximizing their fitness in the modern world. Here’s some data from the GSS:

Humans developed from animals Number of children
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 or more
TRUE 64.2 55.6 50.7 41.5 35.1 40.7 32.2
FALSE 35.8 44.4 49.3 58.5 64.9 59.3 67.8


Age when first child born

18 and under 19 to 24 25 to 29 30 to 34 35 and above

TRUE 56.6 40.1 54.2 59.2 68
FALSE 43.4 59.9 45.8 40.8 32

Go teen parents! Maybe?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution
MORE ABOUT: Idiocracy
  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    The Pioneer Hypothesis explains this, straight-up. (Among Whites), religious conservatives are the most fecund. They are also the least likely to believe in evolution. The top numbers fit perfectly.

    As for the second set of numbers, these religious, conservative Whites are probably most likely to have their first child between the ages 19-24 (women, anyway), since they marry and start families early (comparatively), hence explaining the concentration of evolution-deniers there.

    Rather ironic, actually.

  • Karl Zimmerman

    As I said in another thread, I think this is due to peer effects. A social norm of few children born late in life developed among the middle class in the U.S. (as it did everywhere). However, among groups insulated from this social norm, it is not operable. In some cases, this is merely a function of poverty, although it’s trickling down even to the poor (people often wrongly assume black women have many more children than white women, when the number is only fractionally higher and on its way down). But in other cases, it’s due to social segregation, like the Amish, Hasidim, or to a less extreme case, Mormons and Evangelicals. Since everyone within the circle gets married young and has lots of kids, this is the “normal” thing.

    What this says to me is that the religious right, even though they deny human nature in theory, understand it better in practice. In contrast, those on the secular left actually practice what they preach – much to its own detriment.

    Edit: I did realize there is one example on the “secular” left where pro-natalist subculture wins. I’ve known many sectarian socialists over my years, and while most groups are expected to forgo any children at all (in order to live for the revolution), maoists (who tend to be batshit crazy) have their own internal rationale to have as many children as possible in order to further the revolution.

  • Thomas Vaughan

    Yes, the ironic anti-correlation between fecundity (by which the development of the human body must proceed) and the “belief” that “humans developed from animals” is interesting.

    But, from my point of view, there seem to be at least a couple of difficulties with drawing a conclusion.

    1. I wonder how I should respond if I had to indicate as True or False the proposition that humans developed from animals. I think it *likely* that the human *body* is the product of evolution by natural selection from a common ancestor, say, of all tetrapods (though one might pick a common ancestor much further back). I highlighted two words in the previous sentence because each gives rise to a different problem for me to grapple with in deciding my response. Let us assume that “development from animals” just means “evolution by natural selection from organisms that are not human”.

    A. While evolution of the human body by natural selection seems probable, it is not certain enough for me to label as True. I have respect for the truth, and I’d rather not assert something as true when it is not something that is certain. Given Euclid’s postulates, the Pythagorean Theorem is certain. One cannot have such certainty about a scientific theory, however likely it seems to be. Now I do not deny the possibility (or even the probability) that the human body is the product of natural selection from non-human animals, but not denying something is different from asserting its truth. In my response, I should need to grapple with a false dichotomy in the questionnaire.

    B. A human being might be something more than a human body. I’m not (necessarily) talking about a ghost in the machine. What I have in mind is to distinguish between what a human being is and what can be said of a human being by way of modern science. Certainly these are not the same thing at the present moment in history; otherwise, there would be no scientific progress to be made with regard to the description of a human being. And it may be that, even given an infinite amount of time, science would never come to an end in its improving description of the human being. This point applies as well to any object of scientific scrutiny, even to a rock, not just to a human being. When one comes to the human being, however, one comes up against even more difficult barriers for science. To me, at least, it seems unlikely that one who has the power to develop scientific models of things like rocks and flowering plants and insects would also have the power to develop a scientific model of oneself. Particularly unlikely would seem to be one’s construction of a scientific model of one’s own ability to construct scientific models. The point of this reflection is that a scientific model is *about* a physical thing, but a scientific model seems unlikely itself to *be* a physical thing. So the human mind in which the model resides seems unlikely to be entirely physical. Even if the human body, the physical aspect of the human being and that aspect which can be described scientifically, were the product of evolution by natural selection, it is not clear that, were it to be real, the non-physical aspect of the human being must also be the product of evolution. So I have trouble with answering True because the assertion is that “humans developed from animals” and not “human bodies developed from animals”.

    2. While I doubt that most respondents would think of the problems above explicitly or consciously, I think that at least some respondents are affected by the problems above implicitly or subconsciously. For example, any Catholics in the sample might be influenced to some degree by the teaching of the Catholic Church, which is that the human body might be the product of evolution by natural selection, but the human soul definitely is not, and so the human person as a whole is not. Also, there might be some respondents who struggle with the false dichotomies between True and False for an assertion that might be neither. Faced with a false dichotomy, a person must choose one answer, neither of which he really believes, and this must color any interpretation of the results of the survey.

  • Chris

    Razib, we’ve all gathered here today because we care about you. We are really concerned you are so interested in Honey Boo Boo. We need you to admit you have a problem. Just turn off the TV and walk away. It’s a nice day outside.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    The Pioneer Hypothesis explains this, straight-up. (Among Whites), religious conservatives are the most fecund. They are also the least likely to believe in evolution. The top numbers fit perfectly.

    just so you know, younger people accept evolution to a higher extent than older. so there’s major erosion. this is a problem with assuming that fertility explains all. theoretically it is powerful, but empirically it can’t explain the arc of western civilization since 1800, when secular french started their demographic transition. i don’t know if malthus had thought about it, but he would have predicted in 2000 that all french would be staunch catholics since the catholic french (along with catholic polish and southern europeans who were migrated into france) had larger families in that period, and down to the modern period.

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    Razib, I think that, yes, you’re right that there’s more involved. The current (and likely temporary) rise in secularism probably speaks to the other factor: the general decline adherence to religious belief in the population. Since religiosity is only partly heritable, a general rise in secularism can cause “phenotypic” religiosity to decrease even if “genotypic” religiosity is increasing.

    Demographic transition may have occurred earlier in France perhaps because it has been historically one of the most populous countries in Europe. Population pressure may have come to bear there earlier than it did in the rest of Europe (especially since the French didn’t emigrate for the New World like their European neighbors did).

    The staunch Catholic French of the day may not have been as religious as modern day religious folks are, at least, not genotypically. (As well, did their offsprings’ survival rate compared favorably to secular French?)

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    #6, also, the “god shaped hole” can take other forms than organized religion.

    The staunch Catholic French of the day may not have been as religious as modern day religious folks are, at least, not genotypically. (As well, did their offsprings’ survival rate compared favorably to secular French?

    they probably weren’t. but this isn’t just about genes. people also inherit memes. my only point is that these theoretical frameworks are awesomely persuasive…except they can’t even predict the past. frankly, most people know a lot less about the past than i do, so they’re more easily persuaded. doesn’t mean that they should be.

    note: the trend toward secularism may not be secular…so to speak, either. there were strong anti-clerical sentiments in the 19th century in various catholic nations which seems to have abated by the 20th century, only to crop up again more recently.

  • Grey

    “Then I see headlines in trashy British tabloids of the form: The three men who have fathered 78 children with 46 different women… and they’re not paying child support to any of them.”

    The transition from a policy of full employment to one of mass unemployment and a welfare underclass – effectively a complete change of habitat – completely changed the type of men who had the most kids from the steady family man type to chancers and gangsters. If you work in that kind of environment for 30 years or so you can see it happening in front of your eyes.

    “and they’re not paying child support to any of them”

    That’s why they can have so many. They spend all their money on display to entice new girl friends: cars, clothes, spending money etc – and don’t feel guilty about it.

    So the habitat changes and different types of men start having the most kids – very display-focused “r” types on the one hand or the successfully violent (through a mixture of intimidation of the women and chasing off any male rivals) on the other – and those types of genes become more prevalent. Obviously the change in 30 years can’t be that high but if you have a population that had been part of an industrial working class for a long time (and pre-welfare) then the level of those kind of “r” type behaviors was initially very low so even a small jump is pretty noticeable i.e. a change from 1% to 2% is more noticeable than from 9% to 10% because the jump is bigger.

    “who have fathered 78 children with 46 different women”

    The women who have had multiple kids from the same chancer tend to be dumber than the ones who only had one so that adds to the almost comically dysgenic nature of it all as well.

    .
    “but empirically it can’t explain the arc of western civilization since 1800, when secular french started their demographic transition”

    “Demographic transition may have occurred earlier in France perhaps because it has been historically one of the most populous countries in Europe”

    I wonder if the demographic transition may be something to do with this

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2008/02/why-cousin-lookin-fertile/

    “show a significant positive association between kinship and fertility, with the greatest reproductive success observed for couples related at the level of third and fourth cousins”

    If you have a little valley with a population that has inter-married locally for a long time then they’d have an average level of relatedness which could be expressed in nth cousin terms. So in theory if such a population was on average at the 2nd cousin level and the population increased they might shift into the 3rd / 4th cousin fertile zone and experience higher fertility simply through the effect of having a larger population pool. By the same token if people from separate closely related little villages moved to a city neighborhood then the average relatedness of the composite population might shift into the 5th+ cousin range and experience a drop in fertility.

    So i’m wondering if this might be a factor?

  • http://www.astraean.com/borderwars/ Christopher@BorderWars

    Brilliance can’t be too advantageous to fecundity given just how rare it is. Now certainly, we can always define brilliance by a relative standard such that it will always be at the upper tail of the bell curve of whatever we measure.

    But this observation of fecundity booms being misaligned with what we would assume are the positive factors is seen world-wide. The industrial and green revolutions have had echo booms in countries that were decidedly not a part of those innovations.

    Right now when we look at Mexico, India, and China, can we attribute their population booms to intrinsic factors or to external ones?

  • http://jaymans.wordpress.com/ JayMan

    Razib,

    that these theoretical frameworks are awesomely persuasive

    Perhaps, at least in this case, that is so for a reason. ;)

    I admit that my Pioneer Hypothesis is in its infancy. Indeed, it is quite possible that it may be limited in its applicability (e.g., the religious and especially the political association with fertility may be a uniquely America/Anglo/Western European phenomenon). That said, I see nothing wrong with pointing out where the facts are consistent with the hypothesis or in line with what it predicts.

    Some parts of the hypothesis are currently in better shape than others. The inverse relationship between fertility and population density, at least in today’s world, seems fairly solid. It even holds in India:

    http://www.demographie.net/sifp/maps/TFR2001.gif; http://indiabiodiversity.org/node/70/popup (of course, the source of this relationship may be somewhat or very different from that in Europe and the Anglo-world and East Asia).

    Populations, at least those in a Malthusian world or are otherwise resource constrained, likely do bounce back and forth between earlier breeders and later breeders over time. As well, there is pretty strong evidence that colonization does select for earlier breeding.

    Do I expect this pattern to hold in the future? Perhaps, but it’s hard to predict because the social and technological developments of the future (which may impact fertility). I developed this hypothesis primarily to explain three facts:

    That European Americans have a higher fertility rate than Europeans.
    That White Americans are more conservative and religious than Europeans.
    The fairly reliable difference in fertility between “Blue” states and “Red” states.

    My hypothesis explains all of these facts.

    In fact, I suspect, due to the quirks of Anglo/NW European psychology (itself molded in part by evolution), the political/religious component in North America may have been an endemic adaptation to the selection for faster reproduction that generally occurs when people move into new land. This may have been simply because these so happened to be traits that significantly differed between fast- and slow-breeding colonists.

    “but this isn’t just about genes. people also inherit memes.”

    No argument about that, but it is notoriously tricky to separate the two. Who’s to say that a difference between two peoples, separated either by space or by time, is necessarily a “cultural” difference or necessarily genetic one? There are instances where we can fairly confidently say it’s more one over the other, but overall—even among “hereditarians”—there seems to be less emphasis on looking at the latter.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    In fact, I suspect, due to the quirks of Anglo/NW European psychology (itself molded in part by evolution), the political/religious component in North America may have been an endemic adaptation to the selection for faster reproduction that generally occurs when people move into new land. This may have been simply because these so happened to be traits that significantly differed between fast- and slow-breeding colonists.

    this sort of stuff makes me wonder about boundary conditions. do you think your hypothesis can explain the peculiarities of quebec and protestant new england, which went from incredibly hyper-fecund societies (the most explosively natalist in all of north america) to among the least? is it straight negative density dependence?

    to put all the cards on the table, you seem to be positing a moderately ambitious project. now i need to assess whether i should take time out to give it more thought and dig deep into your models. do you really know enough that you think it is worthwhile on my part? i’m not too interested in your logical abilities, i’m sure that suffices. my problem is most people don’t know jack shit, and i’m tired of doing due diligence on people who don’t know jack shit. you, i presume have based your hypotheses on a thick constellation of facts? if so, i’m game.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    There are instances where we can fairly confidently say it’s more one over the other, but overall—even among “hereditarians”—there seems to be less emphasis on looking at the latter.

    the theoretical reason for this is pretty straightforward: the phenotypic characteristics of cultures are highly plastic, even within a generation. there are probably genetic differences which effect cultural outcomes, but they don’t seem determinative. if you want to follow up on this, give me detailed and informed examples of what you’re talking about.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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