Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Does evolution cause global warming, or vice versa?

Suppose tomorrow you woke up with (a) a sand dune in your driveway or (b) a glacier in your driveway. There is only one thing you can take to the bank: the culprit would be identified, in either case, as global warming.

That is not to say that I dispute global warming. I'm just making an observation that no climatic data fail to be explained thereby. Glaciers shrink because of global warming. Glaciers grow because of global warming. Al Gore's bank account and fuel consumption swell to unprecedented levels because of global warming.

Evolution is just the same, only worse. Pick any characteristic: obesity, male pattern baldness, the popularity of Neil Diamond, and it must be explicable through evolution because the only explanation for the way we are is: evolution.

Our morality is good example. There are no hard data indicating that man's morality evolved. There are only just-so explanations: our selfish gene selfishly evolved selflessness because a selfless man selfishly has a better chance to survive the selfishness of others when they too behave selflessly, albeit for their own selfish reasons.

If that just-so story falls out of favor, it can be replaced by a new one because the underlying premise, that morality evolved, is axiomatic. All that's left are adjusting details until we agree that it seems just about right.

Of course, the Christian version is that morality devolved: we call it the fall or original sin. It would seem to this observer that Christianity fits the data better. If morality evolved, evolution probably needs to fine-tune its master genetic algorithm, for it didn't evolve all that effectively.

Physics has just-so stories. An experimentalist plots some data. He's puzzled, so he takes the graph to a theorist. The theorist shakes his head, sighs, and says, "Why, an undergrad would have expected this plot," and he proceeds to explain in the most impenetrable mathematical terms why the graph took the shape it did. The experimentalist walks away more confused than ever. Then he realizes he made a mistake, but rather than being upset he sees how to use his blunder to humiliate the theorist. Rushing back, he tells his pedantic colleague, "Gosh, I'm sorry, but I showed you the plot upside down." The theorist, not skipping a beat, replies "Of course you did. Why an undergrad…"

The difference between physics and evolution and global warming is that the just-so story is a joke when it comes to physics. For global warming and evolution, it's de rigueur.

All that is a prelude to this: here is an evolution claim that you just couldn't make up:
The human brain is hard-wired to be susceptible to supernatural beliefs as a result of tens of thousands of years of evolution, a British psychologist said today.
Where are the hard data that support this idea? Here, as far as I can tell:
Credulous minds may have evolved for several reasons. It was once less dangerous to accept things that are not true than it was to reject real facts, such as the threat posed by a nearby predator, and this may have predisposed humans to err on the side of belief. Superstition may also give people a sense of control that can reduce stress
I'm convinced. I mean, a propensity for religious belief had to evolve (where else could it have come from?) so this sounds about right. At least until I hear of a better "evolutionary pathway."

I do like how the article ends, with the theory's champion, one Professor Hood, claiming:
I want to challenge recent claims by Richard Dawkins among others, that supernaturalism is primarily attributable to religions spreading beliefs among the gullible minds of the young. Rather religions may simply capitalise on a natural bias to assume the existence of supernatural forces."
The quality of the science--it really does boggle the mind.

So that's all it takes to publish in evolution, at least in the popular literature. A simple just-so story.
I think I'll try:

The human species is evolving a love for NASCAR because NASCAR has the highest percentage of female fans of any major sport. This means that NASCAR fans tend to meet their mates at the track. Since both parents love the same sport, the racing gene is passed to their offspring. Furthermore, since both parents have the same interest they tend to stay together, enhancing the chance that they will have a whole double-wide trailer full of kids with the NASCAR gene.

Now, where to publish...

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