Or, "Charles Darwin Lied."* Part one of an at-least-three-part series.
First, a disclaimer: while I have a modest background in science, that science is not biology, and I am by no means an expert in these matters.
(1) There are a whole host of aspects to life that, while wonderfully aesthetic, imply no obvious reproductive advantage. One can still attempt to explain them through the framework of natural selection and random mutation, and indeed many do attempt so, but these attempts often strike me as strained, and are circular themselves inasmuch they seek to offer evidence for evolution.
A few examples:
- Forgive me for allowing most of the details to escape me, but I remember reading several years ago about a prize awarded to a man for thinking of an explanation for why people aren't nearly as hairy as other apes.
His prize-worthy idea? Perhaps mothers preferred babies who were less hairy and were thus more likely to care for them.
My problem with this reasoning is that it could be used to justify any trait unique to humans. Who knows what would be possible if our great-grandmothers had different tastes! Perhaps we would all be able to sing "Do your ears hang low?" with much more gusto. Perhaps Chewbacca would exist in reality and not in myth.
- The peacock's tail is a prime example of what is called "sexual selection:" the trait makes the peacock no more fit physically, indeed less so, but nevertheless makes him more fit in the evolutionary sense because peahens are impressed by peacocks with more impressive tails. The tails are said to signal fitness, perhaps because the man is able to survive despite the handicap.
The logic strikes me as just a bit twisted. He proves he has good genes by surviving despite having bad genes (which give him a functionally useless display of feathers).
(And why should peahens prefer mates with more impressive tails to begin with? Would this trait itself not have to evolve?)
Another challenge is presented by the knowledge that it seems peahen mate selection is rather independent of peacock tail impressiveness. For the evolutionary argument to hold up in light of this knowledge, peahen preference toward impressive tails must have evolved some time ago, then evolved away again after the men had gone through all the effort of evolving their tails. Women are so hard to please.
Consider, for a moment, an alternative explanation: Peacock tails are beautiful, and this fact has something to do with their origin.**
- As a final example, consider breasts in women, a topic upon which my male readers should have no trouble focusing. Believe it or not, their presence presents a significant challenge to evolutionary theorists.
The story is similar to the puzzle of why we aren't so hairy. Put simply, most female mammals develop breasts only after giving birth, and their breasts remain only while nursing. Only in human women do they develop first and for always at adolescence, then further around the time of birth. Breasts in other mammals are decidedly unattractive to males, since they signal that the female is not in much of a state to bear young.
Why should this be so? There are evolutionary ideas. Perhaps breasts evolved so that babies would have an easier time nursing. I think it was Stephen Jay Gould who posited that they developed so men would have an easier time getting used to mating face-to-face (which raises the question of why people evolved the propensity to mate face-to-face). Evidently, our great-grandfathers much preferred their wives' posteriors to their faces. Men are so insensitive.
But these ideas are just speculation. In short, there is no good reason why this trait ought to evolve, from a Darwinian perspective. One can posit, "There must have been a good reason, because this trait clearly evolved!" But that is circular reasoning and placing faith in Nothing.
And so I say, only one third in jest, is it not evident that breasts are a great gift from God to men, women, and babies alike?
"I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment..." (Ezekiel 16:7a).
In short, the world is full of incredible beauty, and this beauty is very difficult to explain with a framework that only rewards survival, like a society of Van Goghs which cares nothing for its artists.
Rather, it is evident to me that many things are beautiful because they were made with beauty in mind.**
*Not especially true, as there is a world of difference between lying and simply being mistaken. But it goes well with another recent post of mine.
**This, of course, requires that beauty exists in an intrinsic, objective sense.***
***This, of course, requires that there exist someone with the authority to set such a standard. You can see where I'm going...