"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, December 02, 2005

Evolutionary Head Scratcher

This was spurred on by a few lines in a Neal Stephenson novel, probably Cryptonomicon. At one point, Stephenson describes a weed as a stupendous evolutionary badass because it, like every other living thing on earth, was the product of millions of years of winnowing.

So, I carried that thought in my mind for quite some time and my wife, an OB-GYN, tripped a connection. She was talking about the large numbers of women who need C-sections and the many different pregnancy complications that are continually part of her world. I thought, wait a minute, why are there so many faulty child-bearers out there?

After millions of years of winnowing, the trait of having an inadequate cervix, or lack of pushing force, or failure to begin labor should have been bred out long ago. It's only been the last fifty years or so that we could save women like that. Previously, they and their children would have overwhelmingly met their end in labor . . . and did.

Question for the evolutionists: Why aren't we blessed with a flock of women bearing babes with maximum efficiency? Why have the bad childbearing traits survived in such great numbers?


Kathy Hutchins said...

Hunter, I'm not offering this in support of evolution, but merely as some additional information: not all of our physical changes are encoded in our genes. Human babies are a lot larger now than they were 200 years ago, and are larger in the developed world than the undeveloped. This is almost completely because of improved nutrition. In particular, babies' heads are a lot larger now. This size increase has a direct effect on the necessity of Caesarian delivery.

Amy & Jordan said...

This situation is often reversed and used as evidence against an intelligent designer. As one scientist has said, "I know of no proponent of 'Intelligent Design' who has given birth; the human birth canal is surely one of the premier examples of crummy design in the animal kingdom." A theological answer might be to point to a fallen creation, and the curse, such as in Gen. 3:16. But I'm not sure how ID'ers would answer the charge, other than to dispute the premise.

Timothy Birdnow said...


You make an interesting point, but it could be pointed out that this is a matter of proportionality; the WOMEN are larger, also, so their birth canals should, logically, have increased in size also!

The whole business of live births is a fascinating point, Hunter, and strikes me as being at odds with Darwinian Evolution. It is simply dangerous.

Kathy Hutchins said...

the WOMEN are larger, also, so their birth canals should, logically, have increased in size also!

Except they haven't really -- certainly nothing like proportionally. People of both sexes are bigger and weigh more now, but it's mostly because they're taller and have more body fat. The skeletal structure is far more hard-coded by genetics than are the others, which are based on food availability.

Here's an example of unintelligent design (but by humans, not the Great Designer): the great majority of English bulldogs are born by Ceasarian, because breeders have just simply bred their heads too damn big.

Kathy Hutchins said...

The whole business of live births is a fascinating point, Hunter, and strikes me as being at odds with Darwinian Evolution. It is simply dangerous.

There's an obvious problem way before you get to live births. As far as I know, no one has ever explained why survival of the fittest in a population of prokaryotes would ever result in the appearance of sexual reproduction.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

As far as I know [...]

And this, in a nutshell, explains why it's so frustrating to watch people who aren't well versed in evolutionary biology argue about its merits.

By the way, I found this with a single Google search:

Maynard Smith, J. (1978d) The Evolution of Sex. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521293022

Hunter Baker said...

Why don't you just flesh that out a little, LA? Nobody's going to run out to the library for the citation.

Kathy's point is good, but it can't explain away my challenge. Big children could be one factor influencing labor difficulty, but there are many others that still come down to a woman's fitness as a bearer and birther of children. Again, we shouldn't see as many as we do if natural selection has been selecting good birthers (which one would surely expect) to pass on their traits.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

My point is not the explanation of a particular evolutionary process, Hunter. My point is that when folks who are not sufficiently educated in evolutionary biology attempt discussions on the failures of the field, it generally seems to devolve into endless lists of "challenges" for evolution which are really no such thing. Thus my amusement at a claim starting with the phrase "as far as I know."

If your goal is to learn about how biology addresses these issues, then I suggest you find a biologist to answer your questions, or at least use Google. But ignorant challenges do nothing but betray your lack of knowledge of the field.

Do you really think that established and tested scientific theories can be derailed by folks who aren't even fluent enough in the field to know which questions have been answered, which haven't, and which matter?

Jay D. Homnick said...

Oh, I definitely think that those things can be derailed by folks who aren't fluent in the field. And what arrant bulls*** it is to claim that a think like the evolution of sex is established and "tested". Gimme a break - that is a testable proposition?!

That two matching sets of sexual organs can evolve separately, that systems of blood traveling to engorge one organ and secretions emerging to lubricate the other can evolve, that impulses of attraction to feed desire and desire to trigger the sexual activity can evolve, that a parallel set of organs for carrying a pregnancy can evolve in a woman, that a system of muscular contractions to push the baby out when it's ready can evolve, that an aperture to release the baby can evolve, all of which are individually meaningless and even damaging to each creature until they are absolutely complete, and that after all this evolution is finally finished and put into use the prior system of asexual reproduction falls into desuetude, this is a set of premises for a blooming halfwit. All your highfalutin university talk, with your vaunted specialized-discipline expertise, is just a fanvy-pants way of trying to sell people with common sense on the idea of The Emperor's New Clothes.

Timothy Birdnow said...

You`ve hit the nail on the head, Mr. Homnick! Darwinists always seem to fall back on intellectual pedigree and condescension when they`re caught. The old ``blind `em with science``, the attempt to use technical jargon to obfuscate what is being discussed seems to be the hallmark of many of the sopranos in Darwin`s Tabernacle Choir.

The purpose of science, Mr. Liberal Anonymous, is to CLARIFY not obfuscate! Just how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin?

If you want to talk about Evolutionary Biology, then talk about Evolutionary Biology. Speak clearly. Quit hiding behind your pseudo-intellectualism.

Obfuscation, appeals to authority, and insults are tactics usually employed by those losing the argument.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

I will repeat myself, since you both seem to have missed the point:

If your goal is to learn about how biology addresses these issues, then I suggest you find a biologist to answer your questions, or at least use Google.

Hunter Baker said...

Lib. Anon, I'm not allergic to claims of authority, but I can appeal to authority, too. Well-known and well-pedigreed historians and philosophers of science have documented the basic problems the evolution has consistently had, continues to have, and reacts to in ways that are often neither scientific nor honorable. The whole history of it is one that minimizes the substantive challenges while overblowing the successes.

I'll repeat what I've said before. The Darwinian theory is dominant, but I think one would be unwise to assume that it is the last word on the subject.

What Mr. Birdnow said is correct. There have been too many challenges met by claims to authority when too much of the evidence is speculative, nonexistent, or in opposition to the facts as they currently stand. I don't deny that the theory is impressive and as good an explanation of the natural situation as we've seen, but authority won't answer the question. I haven't seen too many of our liberal commentators happy to punt to the authority of a Reynolds or Zycher, have you?

The Liberal Anonymous said...

I haven't seen too many of our liberal commentators happy to punt to the authority of a Reynolds or Zycher, have you?

If you claimed that nobody had come up with an explanation for something that I knew Reynolds or Zycher had explained, I think I'd probably punt to their authority immediately. Whether or not I believed them to be correct would be beside the point.

And that's what I've been trying to get across. (Forgive me if I have been less than clear.) Posing a question like your "head scratcher" to this board may indeed lead to nothing but head scratching. But just because we have no biologists here to answer the "why" question from the point of view of modern biology doesn't mean that nobody has given such an answer. Maybe nobody has been able to figure out why births are so difficult. Perhaps somebody has written a paper in which they have an explanation and give experimental evidence it. It's possible (though unlikely) that nobody has ever thought to ask that quesiton before.

Without an authority, we're just going to run in circles. That's why these challenges bother me so.

Hunter Baker said...

Lib. Anon, I think part of why I decided to make a post of this birthing issue with regard to evolution is because I have never heard it discussed.

We hear so much about the eye, for example, as a problem for evolution theory, but why not birth? I mean, really, human birth would seem to be one of the key, key areas for challenges to be made.

This is one of the things blogs are good for, raising questions and seeing if anyone has a good answer.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

A quick google search came up with something:

Evolution of Human Birth
Difficult Birth - A Scar of Human Evolution

Hunter Baker said...

Both very interesting. It seems the human is a bit of a paradox. Bipedal locomotion with small pelvic openings and babies with too big heads. Doesn't sound like the product of natural selection to me. Sounds like something else.

Thanks for going out and finding something for us to read, Lib. Anon. Much appreciated.