Is Sociobiology Nuts?

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9 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I comment on some points in your article? I used italics for your points, and regular for my comments.

    Responding to Bloom’s article, one reader shared the brilliant explanation given by his college anthropology professor for the development of a “G-d-gene”: primitive people who buried their dead in order to prepare them for entry into an afterlife lived in more sanitary conditions and thus were favored by natural selection.

    Primitive people who buried the parts of animals they couldn’t eat instead of leaving them close to their homes would affect their sanitation even more. Yet few religions believe in the immortality of chicken souls.

    For Darwinian social scientists, the ubiquity of a phenomenon, such as religious belief, is proof of its evolutionary origins. As Dennett puts it: “Everything we value… we value for reasons. Lying behind, and distinct from, our reasons are evolutionary reasons…”

    If you believe that we were designed by G-d to survive in pretty terrible conditions (which our ancestors endured, and still exist in many parts of the world), you would also expect many things we value to be beneficial to survival.

    Singer and Hauser seek to establish that moral beliefs are the products of evolution and that organized religion is pointless since all people, in any event, share certain moral intuitions bequeathed to them by evolution. How do they prove these propositions? Through the observation that over 90% of test subjects answer the same to three moral dilemmas posed by Singer and Hauser.

    These moral dilemmas hardly tested the outer limits of moral reasoning. Examples: Must one save a drowning baby if one will get one’s pants wet as a result? May we kill someone to harvest his organs and save five others?

    Stupid experiment unless they chose people from widely varying cultures. It’s fairly obvious the moral opinions about such things as slavery and sexual morality did vary through history.

    Parents commonly show more regard for their children than their children for them, despite the fact that they share the same amount of common genes. Similarly parents act more altruistically towards their offspring than siblings to one another, even though in each pair there is an overlap of half the genetic material.

    A younger person will have more time to propagate his/her genes. Therefore, it makes more sense for parents to be alturistic to their children than for siblings to be alturistic towards one another, and more sense for them to be alturistic towards one another than towards their parents.

    The only question that remains is how could so many highly intelligent men – at least intelligent enough to write books – could say so many patently false and stupid things. Rabbi Dessler would have known the answer.

    You can find plenty of very intelligent men who supported Avodah Zarah. Thomas Aquinos, Aristotle, etc. Same thing…

  2. Shlomo Zalman Jessel says:

    I once saw a book on anomalous psychology which explored things like dowsing, deja vu experiences, and faith healing. It said that people have a seemingly built-in tendency to attach spiritual meaning to things. I heard from Rav Mordecai Becher that Pachad Yitchak says the same thing. We have an intuitive sense that there is more to the world than just its material aspects.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    How can we blame these esteemed professors if their genes made them write what they did? And if their professional accomplishments can be attributed to their professor-genes, should society pay them more than the average guy?

  4. David N. Friedman says:

    It is surely revealing that those who carry water for Darwinian naturalism inevitably become kooky in their analysis. This proves that beginning assumptions are crucial in any intellectual exercise.

    Not only are evolutionary advantages not in evidence regarding many if not most human traits, the entire game of “Darwin in action” is very slim in the natural world at large.

    The elites who push this trash do so because it is the logical extension of their worldview and if they ever stopped to consider how poor their evidence sounds, they might start examining their beginning postulates.

    The fact that there will be no re-examination is ample proof that their work is not scientific, rather, it is “religious” in nature.

  5. Seth Gordon says:

    This page from the Royal Institute of Philosophy Web Site has links to some articles on sociobiology, including some by Stove. I particularly liked Simon Blackburn’s essay showing how it is possible to believe in mainstream evolutionary theory without following such “ultra-Darwinists” as Dawkins, and Mary Midgley’s critique of how Dawkins misleads his audience by how he uses words like “selfish”.

    (Blackburn’s essay, by the way, has a response to Stove’s critique of Hamilton.)

  6. tzvee says:

    Isn’t our vehement opposition to intermarriage a valid support for some of the claims of s-b? Aren’t we in effect defending the genes of our tribe by opposing marrying out?

  7. Seth Gordon says:

    tzvee: In order to make a sociobiological argument that Jewish opposition to intermarriage has some basis in our genes, you would have to establish that in the environment in which we evolved, a subgroup of humans with an intermarriage taboo would leave behind more descendants than a group without.

    If you’re trying to prove this about Jews in particular, rather than humans in general, then you would need to establish that the advantage of not intermarrying is so large that it would take only a few hundred generations, rather than thousands, for the intermarrying subgroup to die out.

    And even if you could establish that, that doesn’t necessarily prove that there’s a “gene for not-intermarrying” that Jews are passing along from one generation to the next (which suddenly lost most of its potency in America around 1950 or so). Philip Kitcher’s Vaulting Ambition explains, in exhaustive detail, how large the jump from “X seems to increase an organism’s fitness” to “there must be a gene for X” is.

  8. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Tzvee, opposition to intermarriage doesn’t protect the gene pool unless:

    1. You don’t accept converts.


    2. You require both patrilineal and matrilineal descend.

    Neither of these holds true for Judaism.

  1. June 25, 2006

    Strive for purpose…

    So, then, do we live just to spawn? Of course not. Jonathan Rosenblum writes:

    Nowhere is it clearer that Darwin……

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