This will be one of our rare excursions into that unknown (to us) domain of social science. A day or so ago we saw this at PhysOrg: Small family size increases the wealth of descendants but reduces evolutionary success. The article discusses a century’s worth of data about 14,000 people born in Sweden and concludes:
The researchers found that having a small number of children increased the economic success and social position of descendants across up to four generations, but reduced the total number of long-term descendants. [Duh!] They conclude that the decision to limit family size can be understood as a strategic choice to improve the socioeconomic success of children and grandchildren in modern societies, but this socioeconomic benefit does not necessarily translate into an evolutionary benefit.
Here’s a link to the paper they’re talking about: Low fertility increases descendant socioeconomic position but reduces long-term fitness in a modern post-industrial society. Maybe we’re just grumpy today, but we’re not impressed. We understand that for an entire species, severe infertility can be an evolutionary dead-end, but in a numerous and highly successful species like ours, it’s a bit of a leap to confuse the fertility rates of prosperous Swedish families with evolutionary success. Anyway, let’s not dwell on that.
We were going to ignore the whole thing, but then it popped up at the blog of the neo-Luddite, neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).
The Discoveroid article is Family Size in Affluent Cultures: Another Failed Prediction of Darwinian Theory. It’s by David Klinghoffer, whose creationist oeuvre we last described here, and upon whom the Discoveroids have bestowed the exalted title of “senior fellow” — i.e., flaming, full-blown creationist. His name has some of the resonance of Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper.
In his latest post, Klinghoffer (or Kadiddlehopper) imagines that the social science study we mentioned above somehow disproves Darwin’s theory of evolution. Really, that’s what he thinks. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:
If natural selection really is the creative driving force behind the evolutionary development of species, you ought to find it programming creatures to maximize the number of their descendants.
That was his first sentence, and he’s wrong already. Natural selection is not a “creative driving force.” It’s a filter. Let’s read on:
But this prediction of Darwinian theory is foiled by research newly reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists in Sweden and the UK studied a cohort of 14,000 Swedes born between 1915 and 1929, plotting the relationship between family size, social and biological success [link to the paper].
Darwin’s theory doesn’t hang on that “prediction,” and even if it did, the study proves nothing — Swedes are still reproducing. As for the reasons why wealthy families choose to limit the number of children they have, that’s hardly a mystery. Kids are expensive, especially if they’re expected to go to college. It makes sense not to have a dozen of them — well, unless you’re a Kennedy or something, in which case money is not a consideration.
The opposite behavior can be often observed in a rural family that operates a farm. They may choose to have many children — again, for economic reasons. These decisions have nothing to do with Darwin’s theory, unless one imagines that a wealthy, urban family has some kind of mysterious “prosperity gene” which could be the next big thing in human evolution. But no one is hypothesizing anything like that, so Darwin’s theory is unaffected. We continue:
I take this subject personally since, with five kids, my wife and I consider ourselves as having a packed house. However, that’s only relative to the culture around us — Seattle — which competes with San Francisco for the title of America’s most childless city. In other places our family would be considered modest in size. My brother-in-law and his wife in Jerusalem, for example, have 18 (eighteen) kids.
Aaaargh!! Skipping a bit, we come to this:
Given natural selection, you would expect one thing. What you get is the opposite. That’s called a failed prediction and Darwinists have a variety of strategies for dealing with those, as Cornelius Hunter [a Discoveroid "fellow"] writes …
We’ll skip most of the Hunter quote, but you’ve gotta see this:
[Klinghoffer quotes Hunter:] Evolutionists argue that evolution is a fact, and that we ought to focus on evolution’s successful predictions rather than its false predictions. The tendency to seek confirming evidence over contrary evidence is known as confirmation bias.
Right! In the Bizarro World of the Discoveroids, it’s evolutionists who overlook inconvenient facts, but creationists never do that. Klinghoffer concludes his brilliant essay with this:
Those British and Swedish researchers ought to have a chat with our friend Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education, who advises Darwin advocates to avoid giving the impression that evolutionary theory has any serious weaknesses at all.
What can we say? Klinghoffer’s keen mind has found the soft under-belly of Darwin’s theory. The only thing that can save us now is for the rich folks of Sweden to … well, start doing their evolutionary duty. If they don’t, Darwin is doomed!
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