You keep using the word Evolution; I don’t think it means what you think it means.

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I’ve been stuck in a review rut for a while, but just like what happened back in my Penis Cake[1] post, I heard something so mind numbingly wrong, it required a response. Today we’ll be taking a look at evolution through the eyes of creationist Darek Isaacs. He was recently featured on a segment of the show Creationism Today and he was attempting to answer the question, “If evolution were true, then how shall we live?” I’ll be transcribing pieces of it, but if you’d like to watch the two minute segment, you can find it here.[2]

‘How shall we live’ is an excellent question to ask and I’m always glad to see someone considering things from a worldview they consider to be counter to their own. Before I go to much further I’m going to make it crystal clear that I DON’T believe evolution and a belief in god are mutually exclusive. Many people find room for both in their lives. Darek Isaacs doesn’t, but many people do and this post is in no way meant to criticize that philosophical position. I’m sorry Mr. Isaacs, I interrupted you.

“If we were a product of evolution, of survival of the fittest, if there is no god, and we’re just here by random chaotic force, and we’re just molecules in motion if you will, how would that impact our lives?”

Interrupting you again. Evolution isn’t random. You may be thinking of the process of DNA recombination which does indeed have some elements of chance but even that chance isn’t random. We have plenty of species in the world who reproduce asexually, so don’t benefit from the DNA recombination that humans do. It turns out that the random recombination in sexual reproduction allows for a much more flexible genome and a species better able to adapt. This means we came to randomness not by randomness. To add to that just because DNA recombination can be random doesn’t mean the forces of natural selection are random, and to ignore natural selection is to ignore the actual engine behind evolution. Often people call evolution random as a nice shorthand though so they don’t have to type out the entire paragraph I just did each time they use the word, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time.

“I found out that once I studied it, and I studied Darwin, I studied Dawkins, Hitchens, E.O. Wilson, some of the purveyors of evolutionary thought.”

Not going to quibble about how some of the names you just mentioned certainly don’t consider themselves experts in evolution. I’m just going to be glad that once again you’re reading things from a different perspective. Reading sources that don’t fit exactly what you believe is how I stumbled upon this piece that I’m quoting. I’m certain you won’t stomp on my cheerfulness with your next sentence in a manner reminiscent of what a wildebeast migration does to a delicate savannah flower.

“And they led me to a very, very dark place. Because you have to start asking questions: Well, if evolution is true, and it’s just all about the male propagating their DNA, we had to ask hard questions, like, is rape wrong?”

Ok, I’m going to stop you again. The only way evolution leads you to that question is so you can look at that question, think to yourself, “That’s a stupid fucking question,” and then move on to ask a real question. From that sentence alone I can actually entirely disregard your previous statement that you studied evolution because if you had you’d know evolution isn’t about one sex’s DNA. Evolution doesn’t care about males more than females, females more than males, or either sex over creatures without sexes.

I’m going to interrupt myself here to point out that evolution doesn’t actually care about anything. It isn’t in any way a recommendation for how things ought to be. It is simply our best description of how things came to be the way they currently are. One more word from the segment before I get to his ‘hard question’

“Marriage would be, in an evolutionary worldview, marriage would be the anathema. Because it’s one man married to one woman for life, but according to the evolutionary worldview, if that male is strong enough and he had wonderful genes, he should propagate his DNA as much as possible so that the species can progress”

This passage nicely emphasizes not only something many people get wrong about evolution, but also why so many people who don’t understand evolution feel really intelligent for putting forward theories like this. It’s easy to play armchair biologist and come up with something that makes sense in your head for a certain physical trait or behavior to increase humanity’s survivability therefor evolution must work in such a way.

Temple Grandin does an excellent write up in her books Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation of a case study that shows why you can’t single out traits when looking at how a species might work. In the early 90s there was a massive increase in roosters raping hens on industrial chicken farms. The problem was never entirely pinned down, but the leading theory is that in breeding for increased breast size among the roosters, the roosters became physically unable to perform their mating displays. When the hens didn’t see any mating display, they didn’t become sexually active towards the rooster and as a result the incidence of roosters raping hens skyrocketed. You can’t look at any single trait in a vacuum when it comes to evolution.

The questions of ‘is rape wrong’ and ‘is marriage anathema to evolution’ both fall into the same trap of ignoring the phenomena of group selection. When you get multiple people working together towards the same purpose you often end up with better results than when you have just one person. There are plenty of cases in nature in which individuals don’t breed, but they still work towards the betterment of the species. You can see this in plenty of insects, ants and bees, where there is only one queen who breeds, but the whole hive still works together because everyone is related, so they’re still helping their genetics even by not directly creating offspring.

In humans this is called the gay uncle hypothesis[3]. More people nurturing children leads to an increased likelihood of those children surviving. Having limits to how many children can be produced, like having some members of the group interested in sexual relationships that can’t bare children, helps to keep the number manageable.

Marriage increases the likelihood of more people being around to raise a child and rape decreases the likelihood of more people being around to raise a child. If male monkey A rapes female monkeys, but doesn’t stick around to help raise the children, and male monkey B forms a long lasting pair bond with one female monkey and their children survive at a rate greater than monkey A’s then monkey B’s strategy is more successful even if he creates a smaller total of offspring if more of his offspring survive to adulthood. It doesn’t just matter how many children you have. Those children have to live long enough to pass on their genes as well or you might as well just be literally jerking off.

Are there species that rape and don’t use long term pair bonding? Absolutely, and that can work in other species in which the children can be independent at a much younger age. Humans put a lot of energy into each child and that’s why our species does better using methods that increase the number of caregivers per child like embracing pair bonding and shunning rape.

To sum up: evolution doesn’t care about male DNA as somehow special, it doesn’t encourage a group species like humans to do a thing that breaks up the family unit like rape each other, trying to judge any single trait by itself is a terrible idea, and how about people who haven’t actually studied biology stop trying to make claims about what it does and does not say.

As a final note, I’m not certain a biblical creationist should be trying to cast stones regarding ethical objections to rape considering Deuteronomy 22:28-29, “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days”

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

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