Saturday, June 6, 2009

Darwin's Corpse

I sometimes feel as though I have been sent here—ill-equipped as I am—to reclaim science from all the scientists. I wake up each morning and sense Darwin has been somehow kidnapped, tortured and murdered, and the duty has fallen on me to go retrieve his mutilated corpse.

Take this passage from Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, enough to make any admirer of Darwin utterly despair:

Evolution often produces spectacular abilities when adversaries get locked into an “arms race,” like the struggle between cheetahs and gazelles. Some anthropologists believe that human brain evolution was propelled more by a cognitive arms race among social competitors than by mastery of technology and the physical environment. After all, it doesn't take that much brain power to master the ins and outs of a rock or to get the better of a berry. But outwitting and second-guessing an organism of approximately equal mental abilities with non-overlapping interests, at best, and malevolent intentions, at worst, makes formidable and ever-escalating demands on cognition.

Of the many problems plaguing evolutionary psychologists, certainly none can be more troubling than this collectively appalling grasp of evolution. It as though all have found themselves the summertime denizens of a freshman remedial biology class, and have decided to make a cause célèbre out of their combined ignorance.

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