Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 4, Darwin’s bulldog, T. H. Huxley, offered a couple of examples of natural selection at work in England. Philosopher David Stove, in his book Darwinian Fairytales, provides yet another example of Huxley’s attempt to show that men are competing to survive.
A third attempt is this. Huxley implies that there have been “one or two short intervals” of the Darwinian “struggle for existence between man and man” in England in quite recent centuries: for example, the civil war of the seventeenth century! You probably think, and you certainly ought to think, that I am making this up; but I am not. He actually writes that, since “the reign of Elizabeth . . . , the struggle for existence between man and man has been so largely restrained among the great mass of the population (except for one or two short intervals of civil war), that it can have little, or no selective operation.”
You probably also think that the English civil war of the seventeenth century grew out of tensions between parliament and the court, dissent and the established church, republic and the monarchy. Nothing of the sort, you see: it was a resumption of “the struggle for existence between man and man.” Cromwell and King Charles were competing with each other, and each of them with everyone else too, a la Darwin and Malthus, for means of subsistence. So no doubt Cromwell, when he had the king’s head cut off, ate it. Uncooked, I shouldn’t wonder, the beast. And probably selfishly refused to let his secretary John Milton have even one little nibble.
So where do all of Huxley’s failed attempts leave us?
Huxley should not have needed Darwinism to tell him-since any intelligent child of about eight could have told him-that in a “continual free fight of each other against all” there would soon be no children, no women and hence, no men. In other words, that the human race could not possibly exist now, unless cooperation had always been stronger than competition, both between women and their children, and between men and the children and women whom they protect and provide for.
And why was it that Huxley himself swallowed, and expected the rest of us to swallow, this ocean of biological absurdity and historical illiteracy? Why, just because he could not imagine Darwinism’s being false, while if it is true then a struggle for life must always be going on in every species. Indeed, the kind of examples for which Huxley searched would have to be as common as air among us, surrounding us everywhere at all times. But anyone who tries to point out such an example will find himself obliged to reenact T. H. Huxley’s ludicrous performance.
There is (as I said earlier) a contradiction at the very heart of the Cave Man way out of Darwinism’s dilemma: the contradiction between holding that Darwinism is true and admitting that it is not true of our species now. But I should perhaps emphasize that the absurdities which we have just witnessed in Huxley, though they no doubt were generated by that initial contradiction, are additional to it.
And there it is. “Ocean of biological absurdity and historical illiteracy” indeed. Huxley and the Cave Man way out fail to resolve the dilemma. Stove’s key point is that Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” just does not reflect what we actually see among human beings, and surely this is a massive problem for the theory.
Instead of stretching the limits of ridiculousness by re-casting human behavior in terms of nature red in tooth and claw, why can’t we admit what is obvious? Natural selection, taken as the primary mechanism, cannot explain much of what we see today in the human species. In fact, much of what human beings do every day in helping the genetically weaker goes directly against natural selection. It’s time we let this mechanism for human evolution go.