Were Cave Men (Our Ancestors) All Trying to Kill Each Other? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 3, Darwin’s bulldog, T. H. Huxley, offered the Cave Man explanation to solve the seemingly intractable problem of human beings not currently competing with each other in order to survive. Recall that David Stove, in his book, Darwinian Fairytales, recorded Huxley’s Cave Man gambit:

But in those distant times, Huxley informs us, human beings lived in “nature,” or “in the state of nature,” or in “the savage state.” Each man “appropriated whatever took his fancy and killed whomsoever opposed him, if he could.” “Life was a continual free fight, and beyond the limited and temporary relations of the family, the Hobbesian war of each against all was the normal state of existence.”‘

Here is Stove’s response:

What . . . is a Hobbesian savage, presumably an adult male, doing with a family at all, however “limited and temporary”? In a “continual free fight,” any man who had on his mind, not only his own survival, but that of a wife and child, would he no match for a man not so encumbered. Huxley’s man, if he wanted to maximize his own chances of survival, and had even half a brain, would simply eat his wife and child before some other man did. They are first class protein, after all, and intraspecific Darwinian competition is principally competition for the means of subsistence, isn’t it? Besides, wives and children are “easy meat,” compared with most of the protein that goes around even at the best of times.

But what other evidence could Huxley provide?

Huxley naturally realized that, as examples of Darwinian competition for life among humans, hypothetical ancient fights between Hobbesian bachelors were not nearly good enough. What was desperately needed were some real examples, drawn from contemporary or at least recent history. Nothing less would be sufficient to reconcile Darwinism with the obvious facts of human life.

Accordingly, Huxley made several attempts to supply such an example. But the result in every case was merely embarrassing. One attempt was as follows. Huxley draws attention to the fierce competition for colonies and markets which was going on, at the time he wrote, among the major Western nations. He says, in effect, “There! That’s pretty Darwinian, you must admit.”

The reader, for his part, scarcely knows where to look, and wonders, very excusably, what species of organism it can possibly be, of which Britain, France, and Germany are members.

Huxley provides a second example:

A second attempt at a real and contemporary example was the following. Huxley says that there is, after all, still a little bit of Darwinian struggle for life in Britain around 189o. It exists among the poorest 5 percent of the nation. And the reason, he says (remembering his Darwin and Malthus), is that in those depths of British society, the pressure of population on food supply is still maximal.

Yet Huxley knew perfectly well (and in other writings showed that he knew) that the denizens of “darkest England” were absorbed around 189o, not in a competition for life, but (whatever they may have thought) in a competition for early death through alcohol. Was that Darwinian?

But even supposing he had been right, what a pitiable harvest of examples, to support a theory about the whole species Homo sapiens. Five percent of Britons around 1890, indeed! Such a “confirmation” is more likely to strengthen doubts about Darwinism than to weaken them.

In part 5, we’ll look at a final example that Huxley offers to bolster Darwinism as applied to human beings, and we’ll see how Stove summarizes all of Huxley’s attempts.

  • ‘Savage man’ didn’t eat their wives and kids because the species (plural) he evolved from had long since developed a) a big taboo against eating its own species and b) strong bonds to partners and offspring.

    Yet again, one doesn’t see wide-spread mate and offspring murder in ‘lower primates’ so even if one sees ‘not eating mates and offspring’ as a problem for evolution, it only makes sense to ask why it did not occur earlier in our history, rather than in our ‘cave man’ period.

    To put it another way, cave men that ate their kids wouldn’t pass on those cannibalistic, infanticide genes. The cave men that passed on their genes would be the ones that protected their partners and children. The tribes that survived would be the ones that banded together and protected their women and children from any marauding cannibals that DID exist/

    It is instructional to remember that ‘survival of the fittest’ was coined originally by Herbert Spencer to describe capitalism.

    Stove’s question is akin to saying freemarket capitalism suggests not only that no company should ever do business with any other – as they all must be in constant competition – but that every worker in every competition must be constantly trying to stiff their colleagues in order to become the boss.

    It’s pretty obvious that workers collaborating towards a common goal, and firms making deals for mutual benefit, leads to greater success overall and greater success for the individual. An individual company may benefit very briefly by backing out on any deal and refusing to pay suppliers, but pretty soon either its suppliers will go bust or they’ll refuse to do business with it. Countries where contracts are not enforced and property laws aren’t respected simply fall apart (see Somalia).