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Were Cave Men (Our Ancestors) All Trying to Kill Each Other? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

caveman Were Cave Men (Our Ancestors) All Trying to Kill Each Other? Part 1Agnostic philosopher David Stove opens his book Darwinian Fairytales with the following:

If Darwin’s theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species.

Stove refers to this as “Darwinism’s Dilemma” and he notes that

the inconsistency is so very obvious that no Darwinian has ever been altogether unconscious of it. There have been, accordingly, very many attempts by Darwinians to wriggle out of the dilemma. But the inconsistency is just too simple and direct to be wriggled out of, and all these attempts are conspicuously unsuccessful. They are not uninstructive, though, or unamusing.

One way out this dilemma is what Stove calls the Cave Man way out. Here is the Cave Man explanation offered by some Darwinists:

You admit that human life is not now what it would be if Darwin’s theory were true, but also insist that it used to be like that. In the olden days (this story goes), human populations always did press relentlessly on their supply of food, and thereby brought about constant competition for survival among the too-numerous competitors, and hence natural selection of those organisms which were best fitted to succeed in the struggle for life. That is, human life was exactly as Darwin’s book had said that all life is.

But our species (the story goes on) escaped long ago from the brutal regime of natural selection. We developed a thousand forms of attachment, loyalty, cooperation, and unforced subordination, every one of them quite incompatible with a constant and merciless competition to survive.

We have now had for a very long time, at least locally, religions, moralities, laws or customs, respect for life and property, rules of inheritance, specialized social orders, distinctions of rank, and standing provisions for external defense, internal police, education and health. Even at our lowest ebb we still have ties of blood, and ties of marriage: two things which are quite as incompatible with a universal competition to survive as are, for example, a medical profession, a priesthood, or a state.

Does the Cave Man explanation work, though? Can we really believe that human beings formerly were at each other’s throats constantly in order to survive? And that somehow, while other species were unable to escape this competition, we did? And is this theory really compatible with Darwinism? Stove explains:

This Cave Man story, however implausible, is at any rate not inconsistent with itself. But the combination of it with Darwin’s theory of evolution is inconsistent. That theory is a universal generalization about all terrestrial species at any time. Hence, if the theory says something which is not true now of our species (or another), then it is not true. . . . In short, the Cave Man way out of Darwinism’s dilemma is in reality no way out at all: it is self-contradictory.

If Darwin’s theory of evolution is true, no species can ever escape from the process of natural selection. His theory is that two universal and permanent tendencies of all species of organisms-the tendency to increase in numbers up to the limit that the food supply allows, and the tendency to vary in a heritable way-are together sufficient to bring about in any species universal and permanent competition for survival, and therefore universal and permanent natural selection among the competitors.

In part 2 of this series, we will continue to look at Stove’s analysis of the Cave Man solution to Darwinism’s Dilemma. You’ll want to return, as Stove’s analysis is truly brilliant.


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  • rericsawyer

    Maybe there is something I am missing, but I don’t understand why this issue even comes up.

    Whether or not evolution via natural selection is true (I suspect it is, although it is so far outside my field that my opinion counts for nothing), I can’t for the life of me see what is possibly contradictory in the idea that group behavior would conceivably give members of that group a reproductive advantage over lone individuals, whether in catching prey animals or in protecting young from predation
    It also seems odd to suggest that humans themselves developed the trait towards community (or pack, or heard) cooperation, as it is seen in many, many other animals. If the evolutionary biologists are to be believed, this would suggest that the trait arose quite far back on the evolutionary tree.
    I see no dilema to be solved. This seems so obvious that I am sure I have drastically misunderstood something in the post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    I agree. There’s nothing in Darwin’s theory that says all members in a species must always be trying to defeat each other. You might as well say “If Darwin was right, we’d expect everyone to have three arms. We don’t, so Darwin was wrong”.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Eric,

    In Origin of Species Darwin claims exactly what Stove says:

    [there are] two universal and permanent tendencies of all species of organisms-the tendency to increase in numbers up to the limit that the food supply allows, and the tendency to vary in a heritable way-are together sufficient to bring about in any species universal and permanent competition for survival, and therefore universal and permanent natural selection among the competitors.

    Darwin and his contemporaries saw evolution by natural selection as kill or be killed, survival of the fittest. They saw nature as red in tooth and claw.

    The dilemma is that when you look at human beings, we don’t act that way at all. In fact, we act just the opposite. According to Darwin we should be at each other’s throats every day, fighting it out for survival, but we clearly are not.

    So what Stove does is consider the explanations that Darwin’s followers give for this anomaly. The Cave Man way out is the first explanation. Basically it says that a long time ago, men were killing each other and it was literally every man for himself, but somehow men evolved these social traits which we now see today and we take for granted. Stove is questioning how this could have happened and whether it is true.

    Hopefully you’ll understand more as we proceed with more posts.

  • staircaseghost

    Why did you quote Stove’s summary of what is in Darwin’s book as though it were a direct quote of what Darwin actually wrote?

    Wag of the finger, Mr. Pratt. Wag of the finger.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “survival of the fittest”

    But that phrase doesn’t necessarily mean ‘survival of the meanest or most vicious’. The ‘fittest’ for a given environment might well be the most docile or smallest or weakest. Rabbits might well thrive in an environment that tigers die out in.

    “According to Darwin we should be at each other’s throats every day”

    I’m fairly sure that biologists knew about symbiotic relationships in nature before Darwin. Regardless, Darwin put forward his theory more than 150 years ago, and biology has moved on since then. So have other spheres of knowledge, such as game theory, in helping us understand how humans and other species interact.

    “Basically it says that a long time ago, men were killing each other and it was literally every man for himself, but somehow men evolved these social traits which we now see today and we take for granted”

    Why assume these traits evolved as late as that? Other primates, and in fact all ‘social species’, have societal structures based on mutual support. Seeing as we evolved from ‘lower apes’ it seems likely we’d have simply brought these traits with us.

    It’s pretty self-evident that a community that supports each other will thrive more than one that is constantly at loggerheads.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    Seems like David Stove was an odd character and had a strange view of humanity too (which is relevant, as he’s making judgments on what ‘human life’ is like).

    “Stove made controversial arguments in some of his works, most notably in “The Intellectual Capacity of Women” and “Racial and Other Antagonisms” (both of which appear in Cricket versus Republicanism and Against the Idols of the Age). In the former he argued that women are “on the whole” intellectually inferior to men, while in “Racial and Other Antagonisms” Stove asserted that racism is not a form of prejudice but common sense:”Almost everyone unites in declaring ‘racism’ false and detestable. Yet absolutely everyone knows it is true”.”

    I notice too that Roger Kimball writes the introduction to Stove’s book. Odd that such an arch Republican (both social and economic) would believe that humans aren’t in constant competition.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    This is the problem with Darwinian theory nowadays: it is unfalsifiable because it is a tautology. No matter what trait of human beings I could point to as evidence against natural selection or survival of the fittest, the Darwinist could simply say, “Ah well, since we have evolved that trait, it must be conducive to our survival.”

    Why are soldiers willing to die for people they never met? Helps with survival.

    Why do humans commit suicide? Helps with survival.

    Why do we have moral feelings against rape? Helps with survival.

    Why do we like music? Helps with survival.

    Why do some people kill other people? Helps with survival.

    There is literally no human trait that I or anyone can mention that Darwinists won’t repeat the mantra: “It must help with survival.”

    What this means is that evolution by natural selection, or survival of the fittest, explains absolutely nothing, because it is true by definition, not by observation.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Andrew,
    This is a thinly veiled attempt to discredit Stove by attacking his character instead of dealing with his argument. You can delete your comment or I will consider this as strike 3 against you, which means you will be banned from the blog. It’s your choice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “Why are soldiers willing to die for people they never met? Helps with survival.”

    Why do worker ants sacrifice themselves? We see this behaviour in all sorts of animals and insects. And sure, it helps with survival.

    As for why soldiers are willing to die, there are all sorts of reasons. Some do it for their religion, some for the camaraderie, others patriotism or because they simply believe in the cause.

    “Why do we have moral feelings against rape? Helps with survival.”

    Whether or not ‘helps with survival’ is the direct reason, it’s pretty obvious that ‘feelings against rape’ DOES help with survival. Societies where two people are bringing up a child they both produced are going to be healthier than societies where ‘fathers’ forcibly impregnate women randomly and then move on.

    “Why do humans commit suicide?”

    There are as many answers to that as there are suicide cases.

    “This is the problem with Darwinian theory nowadays”

    Well NOWADAYS biologists don’t talk so much about ‘Darwinian’ theory because science has moved on in the past 155 or so years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “the Darwinist could simply say, “Ah well, since we have evolved that trait, it must be conducive to our survival”

    I don’t think that’s what biologists do in fact say. Far a start, we might have evolved a trait that helped us a hundred thousand years ago, but which is now a hindrance.

    Also, we can point to evolved traits through ‘runaway sexual selection’ that are actually a hindrance to a species, such as the peacock’s cumbersome tail.

    For a third, some traits are offshoots of a beneficial trait and are not actually beneficial at all. Susceptibility to sickle cell anaemia seems to have ‘piggy backed’ on genes that give protection from malaria.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    “Even at our lowest ebb we still have ties of blood, and ties of marriage: two things which are quite as incompatible with a universal competition to survive”

    Darwinism predicts blood-ties. Your siblings share your genes – of course one would expect close relatives to collaborate. Similarly, we see ties between mates of virtually all social species – why not expect it among humans too? My wife and I would have to be pretty close and mutually supportive to get through all the ups and downs we encounter and continue bringing up our children in a loving environment. Do you really think serotonin would give families no advantage?

    I don’t understand how Stove thought any of this goes against Darwinian ideas.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Sociobiologists say these kinds of things all the time. Biologists may not feel so free to make up fairytales, but their colleagues in the social sciences departments feel quite free to spin all sorts of yarns that have absolutely zero empirical evidence to back them up.

    Your points about peacock tails and susceptibility to sickle cell anemia show why natural selection as an explanation is a failure.

    There is no empirical way to know how peacock tails evolved and whether natural selection ever selected for it. This would require us going back in time and finding the first peacock with a tail and doing a careful analysis of its genome, and then comparing its genome with the genomes of conspecifics.

    Then, to see whether the tail was beneficial, we would have to launch a longitudinal study that lasted over many generations of peacock, which controlled for all variables that could possibly taint the results. Ergo, it ain’t gonna happen. It’s impossible for us to know how exactly the tail evolved and what its original effect was on the peacock.

    All we get are guesses and bedtime stories about may have happened a very long time ago. This is not empirical science.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Try and name some human traits or behaviors that would be defeaters for natural selection. If survival of the fittest is not a tautology, you should be able to easily name a whole list of human traits that, if they existed, would prove that natural selection is not the dominant mechanism driving human evolution.

  • Andrew Ryan

    We already have all the empirical evidence through other disciplines. Evolution remains the only game in town; we’re quite justified in conjecturing about the evolution of the peacock’s tail. Runaway sexual is currently the best explanation we have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Ryan/511764596 Andrew Ryan

    A bit more information for you Bill. “Survival of the Fittest = tautology” is actually a fairly common creationist argument, and as such there are many resources online pointing out why it isn’t. A good one is on the talkorigins website:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html

    My own brief answer is that ‘survival of the fittest’ is not the sum total of evolutionary theory and is not the sole driver of evolutionary change. As I already pointed out, sexual selection is not synonymous with ‘survival of the fittest’.

    The point of a scientific theory is that it best fits the observable facts. If you want to undermine the current theory, you need to offer an alternative that bitter fits the facts.

  • John Corbitt

    In response to the comment, “the Darwinist could simply say, “Ah well, since we have evolved that trait, it must be conducive to our survival” you reply “I don’t think that’s what biologists do in fact say.”

    And then in this comment you turn around and say it time and again. You are trying to have it both ways Andrew.

    As one of your compadres below put it “Wag of the finger, Mr. Ryan. Wag of the finger.”

  • Andrew

    Have I said that this applies in EVERY case? No. Wag of the finger back at you.

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