Best line yet on the Elton John baby

I wonder if the baby in question will ever have to be nervous about his parents finding out that he’s straight?

mister choos.

Which leads me to an interesting question. We\’re near, perhaps not now but getting close to, the first generation of children born by surrogacy/artifical insemination/ in vitro techniques to same sex couples reaching some form of sexual maturity.

At which point we can go looking to see whether there is a higher level of same sex attraction among those children from same sex couples than there is among the children of the heterosexual couples.

This will, at least I assume it will, enable us to answer the age old question of whether it\’s nature or nurture which leads to same sex or opposite sex attraction.

(Leaving aside of course the well known availability effect. Same sex action is of course much more prevalent in situations where opposite sex action is impossible simply due to the complete absence of the opposite sex).

And we might well be able to go even further in the future as well. For there are now (in the lab only so far I believe) which allow the genetic material to be taken from the same sex parents, using an egg purely as the development mechanism rather than a contributor of genetic material.

And when that generation grows up we will be able to observe whether same sex attraction is genetically inheritable.

Only thing is, are we sure that anyone will be able to get a grant to study such subjects?

30 comments on “Best line yet on the Elton John baby

  1. “Only thing is, are we sure that anyone will be able to get a grant to study such subjects?”

    If the chairman of the grant committee uses the word “queer” I’m thinking not.

  2. I think it’s impossible same sex attraction is a genetic mutation. If it was, natural selection would breed it out. Far more likely it’s caused by levels of oestrogen/testosterone exposure in the womb.

  3. “I think it’s impossible same sex attraction is a genetic mutation.”

    Not necessarily so. I seem to recall a Dawkin’s book (The Selfish Gene I think) where a potential advantage to the gene exists. Genes run in families as well as individuals. Thus there can be an evolutionary advantage to the genere for some siblings not reproducing but remaining childless to help rear neices and nephews. After all, most insects (in terms of numbers of individuals) cannot reproduce.

  4. ChrisM: That’s just a neo-Darwinian fairytale.

    Tim adds: JBS Haldane: I would give up my life for two brothers or 8 cousins…….

  5. Paul, on what basis do you claim this? I would have thought it is the kind of claim that is not provable one way or the other.

    What it does show however is that that are plausible mechanisms by which genes can be passed on which do not rely on every individual who possesses those genes passing them on themselves.

  6. ChrisM: Sorry, I could not resist the vulgar pun in ‘fairytale’! However I was also alluding to the excellent “Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity & Other Fables of Evolution” by David Stove (an Australian atheist and philosopher of science).

    Dawkins’ claim is, as you say, not provable or falsifiable, like the absurd claim by J B S Haldane that Tim mentions above. As such, Dawkins’ claim is not a scientific one; so, by Dawkins’ own standards, it’s just a fantasy or a speculative possibility. Scientifically, it’s useless.

  7. Doh! I missed the pun, which was a good one I agree. (I do like vulgar jokes).

    I agree with all that you say about it being merely a speculative possibility. However, George implied that it was impossible for homosexuality to be a genetic trait. A possibility is all that is required in order to show that it is not impossible.

    Whilst it does sound an interesting book, I am reminded of the Richard Feynman quote about scientific philosophers. ‘Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.’

  8. Georges – it depends on whether there are advantages to having a gay uncle in the family. And also, many gay people have had children – the number who have come out of the closet despite a wife and three kids…

  9. If by answering the question you mean conducting a survey I’d put as much faith in the result as the one that ‘revealed’ the incidence of homosexuality in the population at large.

  10. Only thing is, are we sure that anyone will be able to get a grant to study such subjects?

    Of course – if the sponsors are the (Catholic) Church.

    After that, there will be the hand-wringing about the outcome of it that results in “kill all gays” while the parallel study about paedophilia goes underfunded.

  11. ChrisM: I wasn’t disagreeing with your criticism of Georges. As for Feynman’s quip, he is essentially saying that no-one should ever reflect critically on scientific methods, and that is not a reasonable position to hold.

  12. Oh yeah, right, Feynman said no-one should reflct critically on scientific methods. Shows how much you know about Feynman. I imagine the rest of your little diatribe about evolutionary biology is informed by a similar level of knowledge. Kin selection is utterly mainstream science. Before his untimely death in 2000, William Hamilton put the theory on the soundest of footings. C < R × B, which is pretty much Haldane’s quip given rigor.

  13. David Gillies – “Kin selection is utterly mainstream science. Before his untimely death in 2000, William Hamilton put the theory on the soundest of footings. C < R × B, which is pretty much Haldane’s quip given rigor."

    Although there is absolutely no reason to think that homosexuality brings any advantage even in terms of kin selection – claims that it might are based on outrageously old fashioned homophobic ideas about what Queers do and like. That they want to stay home and play mommies basically.

  14. @SMFS, in the era in question ie the last few hundred thousand years, I am not sure there were too many different things for any humans – gay or straight – to do other than eat, sleep and reproduce and tend their young. I think you are seeing bigotry where none exists.

    @Paul, If you have a spare 8 minutes this is a very interesting clip on Feynman on the nature of knowing something http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMFPe-DwULM It doesn’t refute your point in anyway, nor support mine, but is so interesting I thought it worth sharing. In does however manage to cram more interesting thoughts on the nature of knowledge than many scientific philosophers manage to do in a career.

  15. paul ilc – “As for Feynman’s quip, he is essentially saying that no-one should ever reflect critically on scientific methods, and that is not a reasonable position to hold.”

    Surely that is not what he is saying? More likely he is saying the social scientists who do talk about the philosophy of science tend not to be scientists themselves. And as such don’t really know what they are talking about.

    To say that philosophers of science are as useless at tits on bulls is not to say that the philosophy of science *could*not* be useful, but the ways and people who do it now are useless. Tits are fine on cows. But if all you have are bulls, a disregard of ones with tits is not a disregard for tits in general.

  16. @SFMS, quite some of the finest lines I have seen on this or any thread, esp the last line which is pure poetry.

  17. ChrisM – “in the era in question ie the last few hundred thousand years, I am not sure there were too many different things for any humans – gay or straight – to do other than eat, sleep and reproduce and tend their young.”

    Sure. And what special way of doing any of these things did Gay people contribute? Is there a Gay advantage in hunting? Sleeping? It all comes down to tending the young. Is there any reason to think that Gay people contribute any advantage to child rearing? My experience of Gay people, admittedly limited, is that they do not like children.

    This is without raising the obvious point that homosexuality is a social construction of the last 200 years or so.

  18. @SMFS, no I don’t think the idea is that that gay people have any extra special skills in terms of child rearing. The idea is that they have time which they do not have to devote to rearing their own children. The “skill” they have is being childless. A child with a gay uncle or aunt, has 3 adults to look after it rather than 2.

    Homosexuality was prevalent in many ancient societies not least ancient Greece. So if it is a social construction, it is one that is older than 200 years. However, the fact that it is seen in other species too suggests that it is likely not a social construction, or at least not exclusively so.

  19. ChrisM – “no I don’t think the idea is that that gay people have any extra special skills in terms of child rearing. The idea is that they have time which they do not have to devote to rearing their own children. The “skill” they have is being childless. A child with a gay uncle or aunt, has 3 adults to look after it rather than 2.”

    So we should have evolved for polygamy. Oh wait. We did. Doesn’t seem a very strong advantage though does it? Notice two odd assumptions here – one is that Gay people would bother spending any time with their nephews and nieces. As I said, not my (limited) experience. The other is that Gay people don’t have children of their own, that is, the clear assumption is one of exclusivity.

    “Homosexuality was prevalent in many ancient societies not least ancient Greece. So if it is a social construction, it is one that is older than 200 years.”

    Well ours is based on ancient Greece so that is not a surprise. But I would not say it was what we now call homosexuality. I would say there is evidence of same-sex acts. Do you know any ancient Greek homosexuals who did not have children the natural way?

    “However, the fact that it is seen in other species too suggests that it is likely not a social construction, or at least not exclusively so.”

    Again, same-sex acts are observed (and these days we can assume observed with a generous and forgiving eye that has an ideological reason to see what they want to see). Not homosexuality. Or at least not often.

  20. “So we should have evolved for polygamy. Oh wait. We did. Doesn’t seem a very strong advantage though does it?”

    I don’t follow. Polygamy does not allow for any extra adults to tend each child. Having a homosexual uncle or aunt does.

    “Notice two odd assumptions here – one is that Gay people would bother spending any time with their nephews and nieces. As I said, not my (limited) experience. The other is that Gay people don’t have children of their own, that is, the clear assumption is one of exclusivity.”

    Well I spend time with my nephew and neice. Granted, I am not gay, but I have the same genetic relation to my nephew and niece as a gay uncle would. But of more importance is what our forbears did. When considering evolution, there is no point in looking at the lifestyles that prevail now. It is not our present day lifestyles which shape our present day DNA. There is no assumption of exclusivity either merely that they do not tend to have sex with the opposite sex. And if homosexuals do have reproductive sex, then there is no mystery as to why homesexuality could possibly be a genetic trait!

    “Well ours is based on ancient Greece so that is not a surprise. But I would not say it was what we now call homosexuality. I would say there is evidence of same-sex acts. ”

    You are saying homo sexuality is not defined by performing same sex acts? Way too subtle for me!

    “Do you know any ancient Greek homosexuals who did not have children the natural way?”

    I don’t know any ancient Greeks of any type, what with them being dead and all. However, if I did, given the first test tube baby was born in 1978 AD, I am pretty sure all ancient Greek children were born the natural way. But facetiousness aside I am not sure what you think the answer to this rhetorical question is, or where it gets us. You claimed that homosexuality was a modern construct of the last 200 hundred years. I suggested it wasn’t because they existed at least as far back as ancient Greece. Whether ancient Greek gays had children or not does not really change the fact that homosexuality has existed for more than 200 years.

    ‘Again, same-sex acts are observed (and these days we can assume observed with a generous and forgiving eye that has an ideological reason to see what they want to see). Not homosexuality. Or at least not often.’

    There is clearly some new definition of homosexuality that I am not privy to. I thought homosexuality was defined by performing homosexual acts. It seems we are arguing over different words though. Seeing as I do not know what you mean by homosexality (as it apprently is not defined by homosexual acts) I have no idea whether I agree with you or disagree with you. (I am being neither generous or forgiving when I see a monkey stick his willy up another monkey’s bottom, it is not ideology that makes me see this.)

    This is strictly of theoretical interest to me because I don’t judge human traits on whether they are natural or not, but on the nature of the act itself. Whether being a pschopath is genetic or environmental does really change the fact that I want psychopaths to be prevented from indulging their tendencies. Whether homosexuality is natural or not doesn’t change the fact it is none my business and that those who wish to indulge do not need my blessing to do so.

  21. ChrisM – “I don’t follow. Polygamy does not allow for any extra adults to tend each child. Having a homosexual uncle or aunt does.”

    Both forms actually do. First of all, men with several wives have a lot of children – but fewer per wife. Women with a lot of husbands do not have more children. We should have evolved to reward the latter if extra men sitting around brought any advantage at all. It is not only extremely rare, where it does occur (Tibet for instance) it is proverbially unstable.

    “Well I spend time with my nephew and neice. Granted, I am not gay, but I have the same genetic relation to my nephew and niece as a gay uncle would.”

    Sure. But do you spend time with your nephew and niece because your genes drive you to do it? And do you think you confer an advantage on them by doing so? Given the sort of Xmas presents I have been known to buy (which I am now banned from giving) I am not sure I do.

    “When considering evolution, there is no point in looking at the lifestyles that prevail now. It is not our present day lifestyles which shape our present day DNA.”

    So first of all you would have to prove that homosexuality existed before the modern period.

    “There is no assumption of exclusivity either merely that they do not tend to have sex with the opposite sex.”

    If they have sex with the opposite sex they are not available to care for their nieces. They will have their own children to look after. There is an assumption they are having so little sex with women that they have no children of their own.

    “And if homosexuals do have reproductive sex, then there is no mystery as to why homesexuality could possibly be a genetic trait!”

    Except if they had a 0.001% smaller chance of successfully rearing a family the genetic cause would have disappeared by now.

    “You are saying homo sexuality is not defined by performing same sex acts? Way too subtle for me!”

    No. A celibate gay man is still gay. You try telling a gay person that every prison rapist is gay and you will get an explanation of precisely why the act does not necessarily define the person.

    “I don’t know any ancient Greeks of any type, what with them being dead and all. … But facetiousness aside I am not sure what you think the answer to this rhetorical question is, or where it gets us.”

    It is clearly not rhetorical. If allegedly Gay Greek men were having children they were not homosexual in the sense we mean it of having an exclusive sexual preference for the same sex. And the evidence seems to be clear they were having children.

    “You claimed that homosexuality was a modern construct of the last 200 hundred years. I suggested it wasn’t because they existed at least as far back as ancient Greece. Whether ancient Greek gays had children or not does not really change the fact that homosexuality has existed for more than 200 years.”

    Then you have no evidence for homosexuality in ancient Greece at all. Hence you cannot claim it existed that long ago. Whether they had children or not is entirely the point depending on how you want to define being Gay. Perhaps the best solution would be to start with that and work backwards?

    “There is clearly some new definition of homosexuality that I am not privy to. I thought homosexuality was defined by performing homosexual acts.”

    Obviously not. Or prisons would be full of gay people. I think gay people might be offended by that claim. They do not even like the claim that most child molesters are gay. In the past we defined the crime of “homosexuality” by acts – certain acts were banned. Since the rise of the Gay Rights movement, the claim has been that homosexuality is not something people do, but something they are. It is a question of identity.

    “(I am being neither generous or forgiving when I see a monkey stick his willy up another monkey’s bottom, it is not ideology that makes me see this.)”

    As far as I know monkeys don’t actually do this. Bonobos have been observed engaging in a wide variety of sexual acts but not, as far as I know, anal sex.

    “Whether being a pschopath is genetic or environmental does really change the fact that I want psychopaths to be prevented from indulging their tendencies.”

    It matters for law enforcement of course. Do we treat these people as ill or evil?

    “Whether homosexuality is natural or not doesn’t change the fact it is none my business and that those who wish to indulge do not need my blessing to do so.”

    I don’t see anyone disputing that. The issue is another one about the children and whether what EJ is doing is a good idea.

  22. I posted in haste. I’d rephrase my comment as, “I think it’s highly unlikely same sex attraction is a genetic mutation.”

    Please don’t think I’m arguing that being gay is a “lifestyle choice”. All my gay friends knew from a very young age they were gay – and most say their mothers knew too. My point is the opposite. You can be born gay without genes being the specific thing that made you that way.

    If there’s a gene mutation which when expressed causes males to lose all desire to reproduce with females, it’s hard to see it thriving and taking hold. I suppose there could be a gene which, when expressed in females, bestows some fantastic reproductive fitness benefit; but when it’s expressed in males makes them gay. That would work. It would mean that male and female homosexuality would have distinct genetic causes. Lesbianism would not be the female version of male homosexuality, but a different phenomenon.

    There is a slight statistical trend for gay men to be later born in a series of brothers. That suggests to me that homosexuality is caused not by genes but by fluctuating levels of testosterone in the womb.

  23. “Both forms actually do. First of all, men with several wives have a lot of children – but fewer per wife. Women with a lot of husbands do not have more children. We should have evolved to reward the latter if extra men sitting around brought any advantage at all. It is not only extremely rare, where it does occur (Tibet for instance) it is proverbially unstable.”

    True, but for those forms, the extra adults do not have any genetic steak in the children.

    “Sure. But do you spend time with your nephew and niece because your genes drive you to do it? And do you think you confer an advantage on them by doing so? Given the sort of Xmas presents I have been known to buy (which I am now banned from giving) I am not sure I do.”

    Yes, I am pretty sure my genes drive me to it as I am not a big fan of ALL little children. Whether I confer an advantage is not the question. The question is in our past (when lifestyles were very different to now), did having an extra adult relative to look after you confer an advantage. The answer is almost certainly yes.

    “So first of all you would have to prove that homosexuality existed before the modern period.”
    This is a little hard to prove. The best we can do is note that it has existed in all recorded human history, and is also observed in our closest relatives.

    “If they have sex with the opposite sex they are not available to care for their nieces. They will have their own children to look after. There is an assumption they are having so little sex with women that they have no children of their own.”

    No, the assumption is that they have fewer. Evolution is not driven by absolutes, but by differentials. The antelope than can run fraction faster than his peers has the advantage; that does not mean his peers cannot run. The point I was making was either way, it allows for homosexuality to be have a genetic component. Either he can look after his neice increasing her chances of survival, and passing on some of his genes that way, or he can also father his own children, passing his genes on that way.

    “Except if they had a 0.001% smaller chance of successfully rearing a family the genetic cause would have disappeared by now.”

    On the basis all genetic illnesses that strike before reproduction is over would have disappeared, yet we see that is clearly not the case, therefore we know this to be wrong.

    “No. A celibate gay man is still gay. You try telling a gay person that every prison rapist is gay and you will get an explanation of precisely why the act does not necessarily define the person.”

    Prison rape happens largely because there are no alternatives on offer. Not so in ancient societies.

    “It is clearly not rhetorical. If allegedly Gay Greek men were having children they were not homosexual in the sense we mean it of having an exclusive sexual preference for the same sex. And the evidence seems to be clear they were having children.”

    Hold on, a moment ago you were saying the act does not define the person. A paragraph later and it does! If you want to define homosexuality as you do above, then you should have no problem with EJ, as he was married!

    “Then you have no evidence for homosexuality in ancient Greece at all. Hence you cannot claim it existed that long ago. Whether they had children or not is entirely the point depending on how you want to define being Gay. Perhaps the best solution would be to start with that and work backwards?”

    You are claiming there is no evidence that men had sex with men in ancient Greece! Come on, you don’t beleive this do you? I define gay as same sex relations between people.

    “As far as I know monkeys don’t actually do this. Bonobos have been observed engaging in a wide variety of sexual acts but not, as far as I know, anal sex.”

    You need to watch more documentaries.

    “It matters for law enforcement of course. Do we treat these people as ill or evil?”
    This is cannot be answered by knowing whether something is environmental or genetic. If you are a psychopath because of your upbringing how is this more or less your fault than if it was down to genes? People have no control over either. And it doesn’t matter as far as deciding that the trait of being a psychopath is something we wish to prevent. Genes or environment, psychopathy is something we try and control in people.

    “I don’t see anyone disputing that. The issue is another one about the children and whether what EJ is doing is a good idea.”
    I think it neither a good idea or a bad idea.

  24. ” I suppose there could be a gene which, when expressed in females, bestows some fantastic reproductive fitness benefit; but when it’s expressed in males makes them gay. That would work. It would mean that male and female homosexuality would have distinct genetic causes. Lesbianism would not be the female version of male homosexuality, but a different phenomenon.”

    Much like certain blood disorders, which can be fatal, but can also confer near immunity to some diseases such as maleria.

    “There is a slight statistical trend for gay men to be later born in a series of brothers. That suggests to me that homosexuality is caused not by genes but by fluctuating levels of testosterone in the womb.”

    I’ve heard this one too. Of course the mother’s womb was also created by the action of her genes so this could still make it a genetic trait. However it would be one that is caused by the mother’s genes rather than the child’s. Of course half the child’s genes come from its mother so that would still make it a genetic trait (or one with a genetic component).

  25. ChrisM – “Whether I confer an advantage is not the question. The question is in our past (when lifestyles were very different to now), did having an extra adult relative to look after you confer an advantage. The answer is almost certainly yes.”

    Still not quite the right question – it has to be a bigger advantage than having more children. There is nothing certain about that.

    “The best we can do is note that it has existed in all recorded human history, and is also observed in our closest relatives.”

    For your definition of homosexuality and given the generosity of how it is define in our closest relatives (which would include gorillas and non-bonobo chimps would it?)

    “No, the assumption is that they have fewer.”

    If it is a question of fewer, then why don’t all males have fewer? We do not go for large scale reproduction as it is. If there is an advantage to a male to have fewer children and to look after their nephews, why doesn’t that apply to all the males?

    “Either he can look after his neice increasing her chances of survival, and passing on some of his genes that way, or he can also father his own children, passing his genes on that way.”

    And he can do that whether he is having sex with other men or not. Where is the need for homosexuality at all?

    “On the basis all genetic illnesses that strike before reproduction is over would have disappeared, yet we see that is clearly not the case, therefore we know this to be wrong.”

    You assume that all genetic diseases are old. We know this is not true. What is more we know some of them brought benefits that out weighed their disadvantages – sickle cell for instance.

    “Prison rape happens largely because there are no alternatives on offer. Not so in ancient societies.”

    But your definition was just about same sex sex. Which makes prison rapists gay by your definition. Of course female infanticide in Greece (as well as slavery) meant that there were a lot more men than women. So it was the case in ancient Greece.

    “Hold on, a moment ago you were saying the act does not define the person. A paragraph later and it does! If you want to define homosexuality as you do above, then you should have no problem with EJ, as he was married!”

    I agree. The preference defines homosexuality in the modern sense. An exclusive preference. I am not changing my claims at all.

    “You are claiming there is no evidence that men had sex with men in ancient Greece!”

    I have never once done that. Why are you wasting my time?

    “You need to watch more documentaries.”

    Wikipedia seems to agree with me.

    “If you are a psychopath because of your upbringing how is this more or less your fault than if it was down to genes?”

    Because you have no control over your genes. You do over your behaviour no matter what your upbringing was.

  26. I’m not saying kin selection ‘explains’ homosexuality. What I was objecting to, a touch belligerently, sorry paul, was the idea that Haldane’s bon mot was in some sense inane*. It’s not: it contains a kernel of deep and surprising truth.

    I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, but nothing I’ve seen, read or been told has indicated that it’s a ‘choice’ in any meaningful way, any more than being straight is. So the idea that there is a genetic basis for it is hardly fanciful. But, given a genetic basis — which is to say, there is a genotype that has this phenotypic effect that has a frequency different from the wild type — we ask: is it heritable? Does it differentially affect reproductive fitness? If so, then natural selection can get a handle on it. It might be that there is a genetic cause for homosexuality, but a non-heritable one, so under this scenario basically gays are each one-off mutants (NTTAWWT) so although it’s explicable in terms of genetics, it’s not explicable in terms of evolutionary biology. But it is hardly beyond the bounds of possibility for any phenotypic effect to be akin to the sickle cell anaemia gene, where a single allele is beneficial and a double copy deleterious.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am really rather militantly indifferent as to whether a pair of elderly queens foist a kid on the world. In a world of behemoth evils, this whole brouhaha strikes me as almost the definition of inconsequential. I’m not a professional biologist, just an interested amateur.

    * oh, and dissing Feynman to me is like crapping on a Koran is to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He’s the reason I got a degree in Physics.

  27. “Still not quite the right question – it has to be a bigger advantage than having more children. There is nothing certain about that.”
    Evolution does not require certainties, it simply requires differential survival of genes.

    “For your definition of homosexuality and given the generosity of how it is define in our closest relatives (which would include gorillas and non-bonobo chimps would it?)”

    I’ll tell you what, you tell me what definition of homosexuality you have a problem with and we can deal with that one.

    “If it is a question of fewer, then why don’t all males have fewer? We do not go for large scale reproduction as it is. If there is an advantage to a male to have fewer children and to look after their nephews, why doesn’t that apply to all the males?”

    If everything applied equally to all members of a species then there would be no evolution. The advantage is not to the male, it is to the gene. And if you look at your question again you should be able to see it is a bit silly. Clearly not all men can forgo having children themselves and look after their nephews because then there would be no nephews.

    “And he can do that whether he is having sex with other men or not. Where is the need for homosexuality at all?”
    Perhaps evolution has a problem with breeding out the sexual urge altogether so it was easier to neutralise it. Who knows!

    “You assume that all genetic diseases are old. We know this is not true. What is more we know some of them brought benefits that out weighed their disadvantages – sickle cell for instance.”

    I make no such assumption at all. My point stands if there is only one genetic disease that is old! I beleive I made that very point about sickle cell, and likewise it is possible that homosexulaity is also a trait that has benefits to genes that out weigh its disadvantages when it comes to passing on genes.

    “You are claiming there is no evidence that men had sex with men in ancient Greece!”
    I have never once done that. Why are you wasting my time?

    I am not wasting your time, you are wasting mine by changing you definition of homosexuality continually. Just how exactly are you definining homosexuality?

    “Wikipedia seems to agree with me.”
    Well I don’t having seen such monkey business.

    “If you are a psychopath because of your upbringing how is this more or less your fault than if it was down to genes?”
    Because you have no control over your genes. You do over your behaviour no matter what your upbringing was.

    You are confusing upbringing with behaviour. We have control over our behaviour, but not over either our genes or our upbringing.

  28. DG: “Kin selection is utterly mainstream science” I beg to differ, David. Kin selection is a patch applied to a punctured theory – if you don’t believe that conspecifics are always struggling for life with one another, where is the problem in the fact that altruism survives?? Furthermore, it’s not a very effective patch. Consider identical twins: their mutual altruism should be 100%, but it isn’t! And why aren’t individuals of species that reproduce parthogenically or by fission mega-altruistic to each other? (Hamilton dodges these issues in his 1964 paper, as I recall.) And then how does kin selection explain the altruism of saints and heroes? (E.g. a man risking his life to pull a complete stranger from a burning car.) And how does kin selection theory explain an otherwise normal woman (like an aunt of mine) who clearly loved her dogs more than her children?
    If neo-Darwinism cannot explain adequately the fact of altruism – and I’d submit that it hasn’t yet – then that strongly suggests that there is something wrong with the theory in the first place.

    “I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am really rather militantly indifferent as to whether a pair of elderly queens foist a kid on the world. In a world of behemoth evils, this whole brouhaha strikes me as almost the definition of inconsequential.” Quite so, David; but it has raised some fascinating questions and the thread has been fun and illuminating.

    ChrisM: Thanks for the Feynman link. Interesting stuff. But ironic too, because here’s a near-genius who dismisses philosophy of science and then proceeds to do it himself! And good for him, I say – even if in so doing he refutes his own suggestion that philosophy of science is as relevant to science as taxonomic avian ethology is to birds. Turf wars between different disciplines are rather tedious and very limiting. I want to know what experts in one field think about other fields of enquiry – that’s when things start to get really interesting!
    (Btw, your Bruno on the other thread: bwahahahaha, let’s hope not! :) )

    SMFS: philosophers of science are not generally social scientists, though some might be. (Are you confusing the philosophy of science with the sociology of science, perhaps?) And do you really think that Occam’s Razor and Popper’s falsifiability principle are as useless as tits on bulls? Occam’s Razor is a guiding methodological principle in scientific explanation; and Popper’s insight has been invaluable in enabling us readily to distinguish between science and non-science – even though some scientists like Dawkins (most of the time) and Hawking (occasionally) dress up their non-scientific claims as scientific ones.

  29. paul ilc – “philosophers of science are not generally social scientists, though some might be. (Are you confusing the philosophy of science with the sociology of science, perhaps?)”

    No. But some are. Popper for instance had no training I know of in the sciences. Thomas Kuhn was a physicist – which is odd because he must have come up with the least flattering picture of how scientists work. Someone like Michael Polyani started out as a doctor, moved to chemistry before moving to philosophy. He was literally a social scientist as they had to create a Chair in Social Science specifically for him as they had no idea what else to do with him

    “And do you really think that Occam’s Razor and Popper’s falsifiability principle are as useless as tits on bulls?”

    Well it is not so much what I think as what Feynman thought and I would not like to speak for him. I expect Popper is fairly irrelevant.

    “Popper’s insight has been invaluable in enabling us readily to distinguish between science and non-science – even though some scientists like Dawkins (most of the time) and Hawking (occasionally) dress up their non-scientific claims as scientific ones.”

    Yeah. We have trouble reproducing all sorts of experiments in astro-physics and evolution. It being a little hard to re-wind the universe and start again. But I think most people would call those fields science.

  30. SMFS: Simply to assert that Popper is irrelevant is silly and arrogant. How would you distinguish between science and non-science? What are your criteria? — I’m not disputing that astrophysics and evolutionary biology are science. I’m rather saying that Popper’s falsifiability principle helps us distinguish between scientific and non-scientific claims. So astrophysicists/cosmologists may come up wth a theory, and as long as the theory makes testable predictions then it is science. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. And Dawkins’ speculations about altruism etc involve no testable predictions whatsoever; so they are not science.

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