Today's post, Anthropomorphic Optimism was originally published on 04 August 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


You shouldn't bother coming up with clever, persuasive arguments for why evolution will do things the way you prefer. It really isn't listening.

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The proffered theory was that if there were multiple, geographically separated groups of e.g. foxes, then groups of foxes that best restrained their breeding, would send out colonists to replace crashed populations. And so, over time, group selection would promote restrained-breeding genes in foxes. Suffice it to say that there was no empirical evidence to start with; that no empirical evidence was ever uncovered.

Among some species in some circumstances, when population increases then homosexual (breeding-restrained) behavior appears or increases. This is not found in all species in all circumstances, and there is the possibility the data is being mis-read. But it is wrong to say that there is no empirical evidence.

John B Calhoun: "Population Density and Social Pathology" (1962).

This is a behavioral change in a single generation, not evolutionary adaptation, so not an evidence for group selection.

EY and the "right" evolutionary biologists equally engaged in just what EY criticizes:

You shouldn't bother coming up with clever, persuasive arguments for why evolution will do things the way you prefer. It really isn't listening

More to the point, it's a mistake to tell evolution what it can't do. Instead, what you'll find, is that

Among some species in some circumstances you're just wrong.

Whether the simulation occurs in your head, in a computer, or in a lab, reality has more richness than your simulation, and that's true whether you're a creationist or an evolutionary biologist.

Evolutionary biology is probably helpful in identifying evolutionary pressures and showing things that might happen because of them. Telling evolution what it can't do is much more presumptuous. As Dirty Harry says: "A man's got to know his limitations."