Maybe it’s just me, but for many years I’ve thought there’s a creepy relationship between neo-Darwinian theory and certain political views. If Republicans, Libertarians, Teabaggers and their ilk weren’t so busy pretending to be religious (and often creationist), they would flock to a theory that’s all about struggle and competition and fitness – a theory that sounds a lot like the fantasy of “free” enterprise. The concept of “market forces” is much like natural selection – both are given the status of natural laws, but squishy, elusive “laws” that can’t be pinned down well enough to define them.
Economics isn’t really a science (collecting data isn’t enough to make something a science) and markets are things created by humans. Natural selection was derived from the artificial selection of breeding programs, something else created by humans. Some decades ago, in a moment of rather stunning honesty, E.O. Wilson wrote a book called Sociobiology. He took a lot of heat for suggesting that something like social Darwinism was the logical, inexorable result of neo-Darwinian theory, but he was right. The theory leads to eugenics as well, since eugenics and social Darwinism are pretty much the same thing. Trouble is, these aren’t the patterns we see in nature. Contrary to the erroneous ideas that sprang from Ayn Rand’s little Hollywood brain, the true “producers” are the plants – they know how to photosynthesize and we animals don’t. If you’re a plant there’s an excellent chance that somebody eats you. Some animals eat plants, some eat other animals, but this flow of matter and energy doesn’t mean life on Earth is nothing but a big, bloody battle about getting your two bits into the gene pool.
It’s a bit like anti-abortion groups versus pro-choice folks – the point is to keep the screaming going for as long as possible, more as a distraction than anything else. I don’t believe the right wing types have any intention of overturning Roe vs Wade – it’s such a useful tool. The creation vs evolution “debate” is quite similar, I think – the argument is not over differing evolutionary theories – it’s about creationism (or “intelligent design,” or whatever) versus the neo-Darwinian theory, and only the neo-Darwinian theory, focused solely on natural selection plus mutation. In many ways, mutation is still a black box to biologists, but this makes it fine camouflage. Either I’m old and poor because some god-thing hates me for having offended it in some way, or I’m old and poor because I’m not very fit and I’m being properly stomped by that magical force, natural selection. Either way, the “banksters” win.
This is the wrong debate. Creationists’ beliefs belong in the comparative religion class. In the biology class, we should be comparing actual theories of evolution. I know, Richard Dawkins and his fellow gatekeepers of the holy theory act as if all of this were settled science, but it isn’t. Just because he’s sold a lot of books over the years doesn’t make it so. If we got into a real discussion over a theory of evolution based on natural selection compared to one derived from the second law of thermodynamics and its behavior in systems open to the flow of energy, neo-D would lose. A theory based on the 2nd law offers a vastly more accurate picture of/explanation for what we see in the real world.
The gatekeepers on both sides of the “debate” are powerful, and there is no place for me or the other scientists I write about in More Than the Sum. But I know there are smart people out there who may have vague misgivings about this “debate,” thoughts they can’t quite articulate. I want to encourage your skepticism and outline an alternative!