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Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution Paperback – March 15, 2007
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Like a clever agnostic in Sunday school, Stove (Scientific Irrationalism) relentlessly frustrates Darwinism in this posthumous collection of 11 linked essays. To the chagrin of creationists, however, he also takes pains to note he is of no religion and believes it's "overwhelmingly probable that humans evolved from some other animal." His more modest objective is to show that Darwinism, while largely valid, fails to explain known humanity. Unfortunately, this effort is confused: if Darwin's theory of evolution were true, "there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive," when "it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that." To illustrate, Stove cites altruism, alcohol, anal intercourse, abortion and other behaviors that shorten lives or lessen the number of children people have. He goes so far as to condemn Darwinism as a "ridiculous slander on human beings," whom he views as mammals, but not animals in the evolutionary sense. The great unexamined problem in all of this is how did humans jump off the evolutionary track? This is not to say that Stove, who made a name for himself as a conservative philosopher (most recently at the University of South Wales), is necessarily wrong. Rather, he exists in a skeptical abyss, borrowing from two distinct and potentially correct perspectives. This makes his work provocative, but flawed.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Publisher
Philosopher David Stove concludes in his hilarious and razor-sharp inquiry that Darwin's theory of evolution is "a ridiculous slander on human beings." But wait! Stove is no "creationist" nor a proponent of so-called "intelligent design." He is a theological skeptic who admits Darwin's great genius and acknowledges that the theory of natural selection is the most successful biological theory in history. But Stove also thinks that it is also one of the most overblown and gives a penetrating inventory of what he regards as the "unbelievable claims" of Darwinism. Darwinian Fairytales is a must-read book for people who want to really understand the issues behind the most hotly debated scientific controversy of our time.
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But, that is about as defensible as "because we have different genes than chimps, we got here by evolution". It all depends upon the structure you start with. Either idea is defensible only in that there is no evidence that absolutely forces us to abandon either model. You cannot say that simply because your model seem to fit (today) that it may not die a horrible intellectual death tomorrow.
What?! You mean science cannot prove anything? Sorry. Science can only disprove something and that makes a book like this, although heavy reading, an entertaining use of your time. Sometimes it's fun to see how the other side thinks.
In the early essays, Stove makes central to Darwin's thought the claim by the Reverend T.R.Malthus that populations tend to increase to the limits of their food supply. This idea is said to have been to key to Darwin proposing an explanatory theory - suddenly the change in species evident in the fossil record could be explained in terms of natural variation and Malthus' principle. Stove then delights in showing that populations are not constrained solely by food supply; he cites Malthus's own revisions to the theory, adding first the `biological' opposition of famine, war, and pestilence, and finally `moral restraint'; and, with rhetorical relish, he states the obvious in that humans do not, as a matter of fact, reproduce as frequently as well they might - and `hunger' is not the only restraint here. Stove's writing has wit, but it is also repetitive and verges on the condescending.
Stove also feels that `genunine' Darwinian thought is committed to a continuous and literal battle between conspecifics. If blood is not being spilt, then, for Stove, this is evidence that what is `predicted' by Darwinism is false. With this characterisation of Darwinism in mind, Stove then labours the point that we, along with other animals and plants, are not constantly tearing at each others throats. Many pages of faintly humorous examples follow.
In these essays, Stove has shown that Darwinian thinking, at least when deployed in the ways Stove cites, is a poor explanation of the everyday behaviour of humans, and for that matter most organisms. But Darwin's theory is one that hopes to explain the evolution of the species, not everyday behaviour. The fact that its explanatory limits stop well short of everyday behaviour is a point well made, but not that interesting a point - certainly it is not surprising, even by the lights of the theory itself.
When it comes to tackling Richard Dawkins, Stove aims his criticism at the imprudent extension of Darwinian explanation to human motivation. His strategy here is analogous to that mentioned above. In `The Selfish Gene' Dawkins makes himself a ripe target for such criticism, and the blows surely fall. Stove pillories Dawkins' use of anthropomorphic language in discussions of genes, along with Dawkins' disingenuous promises to translate such ideas back into the `respectable' language of science; Stove also gives a plausible psychological explanation as to why such interpretations of Neo-Darwinism are popular, drawing analogies with other `puppet theories' of human motivation or `demonologies', positing a perverse inclination to, evidence be damned, regard humans as `fundamentally' selfish, and acknowledging the startling effect the discovery of genes has had on the human psyche in general. As an addendum, the theory of memes is summarily dispatched, although with less rigorous argument that might be expected - Dawkins' own reservations, contained in a paragraph of The Extended Phenotype, are, ironically, more damning than Stove's invective.
Stove's discussion of `inclusive fitness' theory is more telling. He highlights the explanatory limitations of such a theory by demonstrating that many events it would predict do not in fact occur, often real life presenting the very opposite actuality.
Ultimately, the book reads as a warning not to take Darwinian theory as explanatory beyond certain boundaries. For fossils, and some of the baffling adaptations seen in insects, plants, and animals, the theory offers an explanation where no alternative exists. As some kind of guide as to how a human life is in fact lead or, worse still, how it should be lead, Darwinian thinking tells us precisely nothing. In sum, this is Stove's point and, unfortunately, obvious though it be, it seems like it is one that needs making. Perhaps thanks to its repetitiveness, lack of argumentitve rigour, and its sarcastic tone, the book is an entertaining read - although to actually extract arguments which one can use in one's own discussion is a much more onerous task.
For example, the theory of natural selection states that animals will maximize their number of offspring up to the available food that can sustain the population. However, humans routinely limit there number of offspring, sometimes having none at all! And many human populations have plenty of food to sustain further population growth. Thus Stove concludes, "Darwin's explanation of evolution, then, contains as an essential element a proposition which is false in the case of man."
This book was well written. It gets repetitive in some sections. It is an in depth look at Darwinism past and present with a critique of the theoretical elements.
No alternative belief system other than common sense is expected from the reader.
The first few essays, which attack primarily the third chapter of "Origin of Species" (the aforementioned struggle for existence), are the best parts. However, I found the later essays, which bring in neo-darwinist views from Dawkins and similar, less compelling, as I felt he instead attacked a cherry-picked straw version of Dawkin's theory. "The Selfish Gene" has a good explanation of altruism which Stove never directly refutes.
The language of the book never gets in the way too much, though Stove has this odd fixation on pines and codfish for his examples, which bothered me a bit.
Overall, it's worth reading, but it's not consistently good, so feel free to skip around.