Against Darwinism #2
Why did it take so long for the theory of evolution to become part of mainstream thought? Prior to the publication of The Origin of the Species in 1859, evolution had been suggested by numerous individuals, even Darwin’s own grandfather Erasmus had put forward the idea that species evolved over time: although often given with a different name the idea that species evolved had been around some 80 years prior to Darwin’s book. There are essentially three reasons why this was so. Firstly is the influence of religion; many naturalists were understandably wary of declaring that the bible and the “word of God” was false. The second reason was that during the early years of the 19th century evolution was closely associated with the French Enlightenment, and saw the French Revolution and the regicide and terror it spawned as being a product of such thinking. The third reason that delayed the acceptance of the theory of evolution was the inability of anyone to explain its mechanism. Looking at the evidence of the fossil record it was apparent that evolution was taking place but no one had actually “seen” it occur and could not supply a theory as to why it should take place, why species should evolve at all. Enter Malthus.
The breakthrough occurred when Darwin adapted Malthus’ theory found in his Essay on Population which asserted that a given population will tend to increase quickly to the maximum size that its food supply will allow. At the same time, every organism differs slightly from every other organism, even those most closely related to it; some of these variations are inheritable and are passed on to succeeding generations. These two facts lead one quite naturally to “the theory of evolution by natural selection or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.” For Darwin’s theory to be considered accurate both of the premises explained above must necessarily hold true of all species at all times; if it does not than one might seriously question the validity as is now formulated. In the case of Malthus’ theory of population one should expect to see any given population doing its utmost to procreate. What follows are several points that call into question the theory’s ability to explain the case of humanity.
· Incestuous Reproduction. If Malthus was correct and organisms tend to increase rapidly to the maximum extent that their food supply will allow, then reproduction would need to begin as early as possible. For the majority of species the first opportunity to procreate would be between siblings or between sibling and parent. However, the exact opposite would seem to be the case. Throughout the animal world a distinct bias against incestuous reproduction (at least in early adulthood) is evident.
· Infanticide, Abortion, and Contraception. Practices such as these are as old as humankind and also represent missed opportunities of reproduction. If Malthus’ theory were correct than all of these deaths, no doubt thousands every day, would all have perished from starvation anyway, which also obviously not the case.
· Marital Fidelity, Virginity, and Religion. Marital fidelity also has had a long history in human communities; although often ignored, it is just as often obeyed. Another example of lost opportunities to procreate in the human population is the high value placed on female virginity at marriage; such a valuing leads to years of lost reproduction even though the food supply would allow it. Much the same can be said of the human propensity to establish specialized orders based on the practice of sexual abstinence which has been a ubiquitous feature of human society. History offers many examples of enduring populations who practiced sexual abstinence and (largely) succeeded in doing so. If Malthus ‘ theory accurately explains reality one would expect to find just as many children in religious communities as in secular ones or at least as many as the food supply would allow, which is not the case.
Malthus was no naturalist. Although he put forward his theory to account for all species, he had his eye on humanity in particular, which makes it all the more ironic that his theory works best the more removed from his target one gets. The principle expressed by Malthus and adopted by Darwin to explain the “why” of evolution is not true without exception, especially so in the case of humans. Although Darwin’s theory of evolution may be the best one available at the present time, that one of the premises on which it is based is demonstrably inaccurate in the case of human beings must lead the rational individual to question its accuracy as a whole; this is not to say that the theory is incorrect but rather a recognition that it is not entirely accurate.