A Reason to Believe Evolution is True

Goose bumps. Here’s Harvard’s Steven Pinker:

Our own bodies are riddled with quirks that no competent engineer would have planned but that disclose a history of trial-and-error tinkering: a retina installed backward, a seminal duct that hooks over the ureter like a garden hose snagged on a tree, goose bumps that uselessly try to warm us by fluffing up long-gone fur.

Here’s Thomas Jefferson wearing a fur coat to replace the one he lost during his ancestors’ evolution:

thomas jefferson

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to A Reason to Believe Evolution is True

  1. Staffan says:

    Yes, but sadly most proponents of evolution find it racist to even consider the fact that evolution may have created differences between groups in mental abilities and preferences. We know there is a difference in built skin and eye color and things like insuline respond to glucose, cardiovascular disease etc. But evolution ends at the neck so that we can maintain Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” at least in the intellectual sphere.

    Is this why most evolutionists are so fascinated by creationists, because it diverts attention from their own irrational dogma?

    • Mikels Skele says:

      “Mental abilities” are poorly defined. If anything, I would expect groups who have most recently been hunter-gatherers to excel in mental abilities, except that 10,000 years is a small interval for significant changes. Up until agriculture, all humans faced similar challenges, and given the generalized nature of human intelligence, there is no reason to believe any significant differences in intelligence between groups would have evolved. As for “preferences,” that is entirely irrelevant to evolution, since, by definition, it’s a matter of choice, not breeding.

      • Staffan says:

        Mental abilities are measurable and have clear validity. Not having perfect measures is certainly not a reason to avoid a topic altogether. And clearly we have evolved adaptions to new environment since then as can be seen on build and pigmentation but which goes deeper than that too, as I mentioned in my previous comment – and this due to facing different challenges that the various new environments created. And 10K years is a small intervall if time was the only factor. But the world’s population exploded under this period and the number of individuals affect the rate of evolution so even that period could have created significant changes too.

        By preferences I mean things like extraverion/introversion, and they are not a matter of choice but highly heritable. For instance, you’ll find that peoples who have lived long in a cold climate are significantly more introverted than others.

      • Mikels Skele says:

        Standard measures of mental ability have been shown to be culturally biased, and thus not reliable for this particular question. Pigmentation, etc., evolved long before agriculture. The total number of humans doesn’t affect evolution. As for Northern reticence, I think you’ll find that a Norwegian born and raised in Italy will behave like an Italian. Please learn a bit about the subject; it takes some time, but is not difficult..

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Race can always be a radioactive subject in a democracy, but you’re being unfair here, in my view. Andrew Sullivan, for example, a liberal believer in evolution, openly discusses race and IQ at his blog. He’s a former editor at The New Republic and was chief editor when Murray and Hernstein were published there positing race and IQ issues. That would be all the way back in the 1980s or early 90s, I believe.

      It’s no secret that the descendants of Eastern European Jews have higher IQ scores than other Europeans (on average) and have won more Nobel Prizes than any other group of people, and that Asians do better than Europeans on math tests, etc. And, of course, it has to do with a combination of culture and evolutionary biology (geographic isolation putting very particular selective pressures on one group of people as opposed to another, etc.).

      And then there are cases of convergent evolution (two groups taking different genetic routes to the same outcome, as when bats and birds both evolved flight), which clouds the identification of “genes for intelligence” question. Geographically isolated groups may take different routes to arrive at similar skills.

      And there’s a way to make use of such facts in a racist way and a non-racist way. Here’s are two examples of non-racist discussions of such matters at Sullivan’s blog:



      You can put “race and IQ” into the search engine at Sullivan’s blog and find full and open discussions of the issue (with lots of links to academic discussions surrounding the topic). If you don’t think liberals engage in at least some honest back and forth over the issue, you’re not looking. If you think these issues can be thoughtfully raised in the noise machine of, say, the Sean Hannity program, that’s another matter.

      Bringing nuance and complication to the discussion is a good thing, but it also requires a certain degree of intellectual and emotional maturity, some ability to evaluate arguments and evidence marshaled from the sciences, and good faith on the part of everybody involved (if it is not to devolve into a racist v. pc stand-off). These are not always in much supply among popular media outlets sniffing for soundbites and “gotcha” moments between right and left.


      • Staffan says:

        It seems most people view Sullivan as a conservative with some liberal tendencies, but it’s nice that a handful of liberals will discuss it. But looking at the big picture the dominant reaction is silence or condemnation. So my impression is still that most people who embrace evolution uses it in a dubious way to give a little sciency prestige to their irrational beliefs – much in the way intelligent designers do.

        Where is the discussion of immigration, affirmative action, cultural identity etc in view of the fact that intelligence is extremely hard to improve by means of external influence? If groups differ in how they are wired – which you appear to agree with at least to some extent – than the implications are huge. But politics is still blank slatism.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” continues to be the best book on this subject, in my view. And he’s a liberal as well.

        Also, your bemoaning that liberals don’t jump into this subject without reserve is to drop the context of historic racism.

        And the policy implications are not nearly as clear cut as you presume. You wouldn’t, for example, stop treating individuals as individuals, regardless of what percentage of this or that group trait is discovered to be genetic verses cultural. And monocultures (like Poland or Saudi Arabia) in an interconnected, globalized, urban, and capitalist world are not necessarily fitter cultures than the polycultures of Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you say that the average IQ of Los Angeles County is lower than the average IQ of South Korea, it doesn’t follow that South Korea has brighter cultural and economic prospects going forward. Diversity gets creative juices flowing and opens novel avenues for trade. And, as Hitler reminds us, monocultural longing can also develop political dynamics that lead a country to ruin.


  2. Staffan says:

    An ordinary IQ test correlates 0.6 to work performance and 0.4 to brain volume. All major ethnic groups have identical rank order in IQ and education and income.

    Yes, pigmentation evolved before agriculture – meaning that group differences evolved before that time. But for some reason adaptions in the brain couldn’t have taken place?

    The more people the more potential mutations.

    A Norwegian in Italy may or may not behave like an Italian. Normally ethnic minorities retain certain behaviors and attitudes.

  3. dcyates says:

    In truth, of all the atheist arguments against the existence of God, I think the “Flawed Design” fallacy is the one I find the silliest. Besides that, I think it takes a degree of arrogance that could only be described as gargantuan to argue that because God didn’t design something the way you personally think he should have, he therefore must not exist.

  4. Staffan says:

    First off, Steven Pinker is hardly a liberal “as well” until you’ve established that Sullivan is, and he seems to be an eclectic who identifies as conservative. Next, I don’t think Pinker is another example of how liberals gladly discus these matters either. In The Blank Slate, he writes about conservatives and liberals according to Thomas Sowell’s dichotomy of the Tragic versus Utopian vision,

    “My own view is that the new sciences of human nature really do vindicate some version of the Tragic Vision and undermine the Utopian outlook that until recently dominated large segments of intellectual life.”

    So he is far from a clear-cut liberal either.

    History is not a good excuse for ignoring to take human nature into account in politics. Shall we dismiss religion and stop talking about that too?

    I’m not saying the implications are clear-cut. Above all, I’m saying if we think we can ignore important aspects of human nature then we will set ourselves up for serious problems. Did you know that some intellectuals in Saudi Arabia actually discuss the problem of inbreeding and what can be done about it – even though this custom is an integral part of their way of life and they are one of the most obdurate nations on earth? If they can do that, then surely the West can have a discussion about human nature and its political implications?

    Diversity can have its advantages; I’m not denying that. But intelligence seems to be a better predictor of future wealth. Yes, South Korea is smarter than the US – and so is Poland. Polish kids now outperform American according to the PISA survey. There is research that shows that the variation of GDP can to 70 percent be explained by IQ and personality traits. And that’s not adjusted for oil or anything. That should give you an idea of why I’m concerned with mass immigration of people with IQs slightly above 80.

    The cultural wealth is of course harder to quantify. It seems to me that America was more original in the first half of the 1900s so maybe that diversity was more fruitful than the one you have today, with all the remakes of foreign movies and visual effects replacing good storytelling. Mixing can be good but you’d make a bad bartender if you just assumed that any mix was a good as the other.

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