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Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution [Paperback]

By David C. Stove & Roger Kimball (Introduction by)
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Pages   345
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 6" Height: 8.75"
Weight:   1.2 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Apr 25, 2007
Publisher   Encounter Books
ISBN  1594032009  
EAN  9781594032004  

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Item Description...
Philosopher David Stove concludes in his hilarious and razor-sharp inquiry that Darwin's theory of evolution is "a ridiculous slander on human beings." But wait! Stove is no "creationist" nor a proponent of so-called "intelligent design." He is a theological skeptic who admits Darwin's great genius and acknowledges that the theory of natural selection is the most successful biological theory in history. But Stove also thinks that it is also one of the most overblown and gives a penetrating inventory of what he regards as the "unbelievable claims" of Darwinism. Darwinian Fairytales is a must-read book for people who want to really understand the issues behind the most hotly debated scientific controversy of our time.

Publishers Description
What is culture? Why should we preserve it, and how? In this book renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends Western culture against its internal critics and external enemies, and argues that rumours of its death are seriously exaggerated. He shows our culture to be a continuing source of moral knowledge, and rebuts the fashionable sarcasm which sees it as nothing more than the useless legacy of 'dead white European males'. He is robust in defence of traditional architecture and figurative painting, critical of the fashionable relativists and urgent in his plea for our civilization, which more than ever stands in need of the self-knowledge and self-confidence that are the gift of serious culture.

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More About David C. Stove & Roger Kimball

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! David Stove (1927-1994) taught philosophy at the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney. He is the author of numerous books, including The Rationality of Induction and Against the Idols of the Age.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Darwinian literature is 'a slander on our species'  Jul 29, 2008
This is in a must-read book. I underline that it hardly at all engages with the biology and chemistry of evolution of plants and the lower animals, but only with the nature and behaviour of the human species. Stove says (Preface, p. xiv): "This is an anti-Darwinism book ... My object is to show that Darwinism is not true: not true, at any rate, of OUR [emphasis Stove's) species. If it is true, or near enough true, of sponges, snakes, flies, or whatever, I do not mind that. What I do mind is, its being supposed to be true of man."

This book totally demolishes Darwinism in so far as Darwinism claims to say or know anything about what constitutes the human race as a distinct species. However, I give it four stars and not five because it has one glaring defect. This book (published in 1995, but completed by its author before his death in 1994) cannot stand as a complete work. It is no more than a Part 1, which proves that the Darwinian understanding of the human race is totally false. But it clamours for a Part 2. Faced with the in-your-face fact of the existence of the human race, the author fails to advance a single idea about what may be a correct understanding of the origins and behaviour of the human race. For a thinker as acute as David Stove, this reveals on his part a blinkered mindset as unacceptable to me as is the Darwinism that he so comprehensively demolishes. If Darwinism fails to explain humanity, then what succeeds?

His page 293 is incomprehensible to me. He says that he agrees with Hume, who "was little interested in questions about what a given species, or a given characteristic of a species, has evolved from or about how it evolved from it. And it must be admitted - even if the admission scandalizes Darwinian ears - that all questions of that kind are of little or no interest." Stove goes on, pathetically, to link such an interest in the origin of species (even the human species!) with the origin (where did they come from?) of the Hittites or the Celts, and say that "all questions of that kind are of little or no intrinsic interest." He goes on: "The same kind of uninterestingness attaches to all questions of evolutionary history: to all questions about what this species, or that characteristic, evolved from, or about how it evolved from it. Our species (for example) and any characteristic of ours, evolved, if it did evolve, from something ELSE (Stove's emphasis), and did so by some means or other. But just how it did, or from exactly what, ARE QUESTIONS OF NO GENERAL INTEREST (my emphasis)."

This is arrant nonsense. Stove shows how the Darwinian understanding of the human species is wrong at every turn, and because it is wrong tends to corrupt the reality of the way the human species behaves and should behave, and is a 'slander on our species' (Preface, p. xv); and yet on this page 293, because he has not a single idea of his own to offer, of what alternative views might be possible, he simply says that "ALL (my emphasis) questions of evolutionary history ... are questions of no general interest." How are the mighty fallen!

The truth of the situation is that these days the full Darwinian view is not only a matter of scientific interest. The sociobiologists who advocate it (as Stove calls them) advance this Darwinism as a full explanation of human society and human behaviour, and as an explanation that explicitly and deliberately excludes any concept of religion and of the existence of a creator God. To say that this is a `question of no general interest' is ridiculous. It is the only matter of interest.

Unfortunately, since he died in 1995, we shall never know how Stove would have responded to this call for an essential Part 2 ('The Question of Consummate Interest: The Real Explanation of Human Origins'). So also we shall never have his direct counterblast against Dawkins's "The God Delusion" or Christopher Hitchens's "The Missionary Position", about Mother Teresa, whom Hitchens elsewhere calls "a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud". Nevertheless, in many chapters of "Darwinian Fairytales", the absurdities of the later writings of these two authors are already anticipated and ridiculed.

It is incredible to me that Stove, who claims forty years' acquaintance with Darwinian literature - and found it wanting - should give no indication that he has any close knowledge of the worldview that provides the compelling answer to the faults that he himself finds with the Darwinian view of the human race. This is the worldview of supernatural religion, and especially the Judeo-Christian religion. Yet Stove makes only a very few passing references to religion, which he always dismisses scornfully in a word or two. The word 'Religion' does not figure in the index. This simply will not do.

To return to the main thrust of the book.

I quote from p. 288 a four-point summary of Darwinism (which Stove repeats substantially on pp. 292 and 296): "[Darwinism holds] [1] That organisms strive to survive, and increase; [2] that any other purposes they may have are subordinated to those great ends; [3] that organisms have to struggle in order to achieve even the first of these objects, survival; and [4] that a large part of their struggle for life is with members of their own species [conspecifics]". [I have inserted the bits in square brackets.] In the 325 pages of his book Stove repeatedly establishes, by quotations, that Darwinians extend the same evolutionary reasoning to all species, man included.

Stove devotes excellent pages to showing that contraception, abortion, and homosexuality disprove the Darwinian 'religion' about every organism's and every species' relentless drives to procreate and multiply and improve, and to eliminate all hindrances to such a programme.

On page 323 Stove quotes from 'The Origin of Species': " ... we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious [to surviving and propagating their kind (these are Darwin's words)] would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection." Abortion and homosexuality, by Darwinism's own philosophy, should by now have been eliminated from the human species. They haven't. So Darwinism is false. To approve of this behaviour one must logically reject Darwinism.

Now the greatest opponent of abortion, contraception, and homosexuality is the Christian religion. Yet Stove cannot bring himself to say so.

Furthermore, in his attack on the selfish gene, Stove equally, on the positive side, advocates altruism (including selfless devotion to those with whom we share no genetic inheritance), parental (especially maternal) love, the existence of whole professions devoted to altruism (he constantly refers to soldiers, priests and doctors), and so on. As he also keeps pointing out, the characteristics that inspire such people and such conduct are all of the sort that would be fatal to the Darwinian concept of the struggle for the survival of the fittest AT THE EXPENSE OF ONE'S CONSPECIFICS (my emphasis).

Once again, it is the Judeo-Christian worldview which provides a crystal-clear advocacy of exactly these positive values. Once again, Stove has not one word to say about this. This is unforgivable. (Sorry. I forgive Stove, because I suppose he didn't see that this omission is absurd.) Civilized society is based on values which are found in their fullness in Judeo-Christianity. Civilized society based on Darwinism is a contradiction in terms.

Stove's book is excellent, and must be read. Also, may I recommend forty years' experience, and continuing, of the Judeo-Christian literature, and not merely of the Darwinian literature.

A Tangled Web  Jul 16, 2008
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!"
-- Sir Walter Scott

Stove must have practiced a lot, because he was really good at it! So I've found reading - and debunking - Darwinian Fairytales to be both an entertaining and a challenging way to brush up my Darwin. Here are some examples.

Struggle -- In Essay 1, Stove sets up a straw man he calls "Darwinism's Dilemma": first, quoting Huxley, that: "... [human] life was a continual free-fight.", Stove, as if assuming this to be an accurate representation of Darwin's "Struggle for Existence," concludes: "If Darwin's theory of evolution were true, there would be in every species a constant and ruthless competition to survive: a competition in which only a few in any generation can be winners. But it is perfectly obvious that human life is not like that, however it may be with other species." It does sound something like a dilemma, doesn't it? He then describes three unsatisfactory approaches to this "dilemma".

But wait! Stove, hoping you're still mulling over "hard man", "cave man", etc., mentions in passing that: "Fighting between conspecifics, even fighting for food, is not at all a necessary element in competition as Darwin conceives it, whether it be humans, flies ...." Now that is absolutely correct! In Origins, Chapter 3, Darwin says "I use the term Struggle for Existence in a large and metaphorical sense, including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny." In Chapter 4, he says "In social animals, it [natural selection] will adapt the structure of each individual for the benefit of the community." Further, in "Descent of Man", Darwin explains in detail how survival and selection are different for social organisms in general and unique for man. In short, there's not a free-fight to be found.

So now we have what Huxley thought Darwin meant, what Stove thought Huxley meant, and what Darwin actually said. If there had been any dilemma, it was Huxley's or Stove's, not Darwin's or Darwinism's.

Evolutionism -- In Chapter 2, Stove launches a guilt by association attack on Darwin, associating "evolutionism" with the French Revolution, saying it was "inextricably associated with revolutionary republicanism, regicide, and anti-religious terrorism and the deliberate destruction ... of thousands of innocent people and high culture in any form.", and "When Charles Darwin was born in 1809, therefore evolutionism still stank of the Terror of 1793." Evolutionism is defined as "a belief system based upon the assumption that there is a purely materialistic explanation for the origin of virtually everything that ever has existed, or ever will exist." (David N. Menton)

And Stove deliberately used the terms "Darwinism" and "Darwinian" to imply a belief system. But Darwin didn't propose a belief system - he simply proposed a scientific theory. Creationists do try to make the case that Darwin's theory is an evolutionism belief system by erroneously claiming it incorporates abiogenesis. Putting the lie to that contention are the many theistic evolutionists who have no difficulty reconciling evolution theory with their religious beliefs. Two noted examples are Kenneth Miller - renowned biologist, evolutionist, and Roman Catholic, and Francis Collins - renowned physician-geneticist, former Head of the Human Genome Project, evolutionist, and Evangelical Christian.

Evolution theory is a valuable tool for biologists, but it is only a tool: a tool is not responsible for who uses -- or misuses -- it. Neither does its validity depend on who developed it or uses it.

Malthus Misquoted -- Stove goes on to misstate Malthus' population statement as "the proposition that, in every species of organisms, population ALWAYS presses upon the supply of food available, and tends to increase beyond it." (My emphasis added.) But what Malthus actually said was that "population, when unchecked, increased in a geometrical ratio and subsistence for man in an arithmetical ratio." (Chapter 2, "An Essay on the Principle of Population") When unchecked: what a difference those two words make!

As Darwin noted: "The amount of food for each species of course gives the extreme limit to which each can increase; but very frequently it is not the obtaining food, but the serving as prey to other animals, which determines the average numbers of a species," and "Climate plays an important part in determining the average numbers of a species, and periodical seasons of extreme cold or drought, I believe to be the most effective of all checks." (Chapter 3, The Origin of Species) That's why we see relatively calm ecosystems, rather than the carnage and chaos that Stove would have us believe Darwin calls for. Predators, prey, scavengers, parasites, etc. interact with each other and the rest of their environment to produce a near static resolution of forces -- usually.

Despite Stove's incredulity, the world's human population IS growing as Malthus predicted. Consider these statistics from :

Year Population (in billions)
1850 1.2
1950 2.55
2010 6.8 (projected)
2050 9.2 (projected)

The population has been and is pressing on the food supply because the supply is not uniformly available to all (particularly crucial and chronic in Africa). Over 5.9 million people have died of starvation this year, as of July 27. ( Millions more have died, and more will die, too malnourished to fend off diseases and other ailments. Out of a world population of about 6.7 billion, 5.9 million isn't a large percentage: perhaps Stove figured such small numbers could safely be ignored.

Malthus Distorted -- Neither Darwin nor Malthus concluded that any species has to go to abnormal lengths to fulfill Malthus' projection, thus Stove's "early and often reproduction" scenario, while amusing, is a caricature that has no applicability to humans and limited applicability elsewhere. Among other objections, it would be counter to basic survival of the fittest. In brief, the fittest isn't simply the one who produces the most progeny: it's the one who produces the most progeny who survive and reproduce. Equally absurd is Stove's contention that incest has any consideration as a fitness strategy. Incest (close inbreeding) is the equivalent of genetic suicide. Darwin said: "...close interbreeding diminishes vigor and fertility..." (Chapter 4, The Origin of Species) If incest had ever been practiced in the human lineage, natural selection would have eliminated it long ago. Modern day incest is a cultural aberration.

Where it's at - Stove references only 7-8 pages of Descent of Man. I'm surprised he referenced it all. A close reading of "The Origin of Species" and especially of "Descent of Man" puts the lie to Stove's claimed shortcomings in Darwin's theory.
Marking the explanatory limits of the theory  Jul 13, 2008
For his rhetorical criticisms to have bite, David Stove focuses on a particular vision of Darwin's own thought and, later in the book, on the less circumspect pronouncements of Richard Dawkins. In both cases, Stove denies that he has constructed `straw men'. He wants his criticisms to strike at the core of Darwinian thought, both in its historical form and in the guise of current `Neo-Darwinism'. While his targets may not be made entirely of straw, they certainly do not seem central - it seems entirely likely that a proponent could reject Stove's characterisation and still feel a `mainstream' Darwinian.

In the early essays, Stove makes central to Darwin's thought the claim by the Reverend T.R.Malthus that populations tend to increase to the limits of their food supply. This idea is said to have been to key to Darwin proposing an explanatory theory - suddenly the change in species evident in the fossil record could be explained in terms of natural variation and Malthus' principle. Stove then delights in showing that populations are not constrained solely by food supply; he cites Malthus's own revisions to the theory, adding first the `biological' opposition of famine, war, and pestilence, and finally `moral restraint'; and, with rhetorical relish, he states the obvious in that humans do not, as a matter of fact, reproduce as frequently as well they might - and `hunger' is not the only restraint here. Stove's writing has wit, but it is also repetitive and verges on the condescending.

Stove also feels that `genunine' Darwinian thought is committed to a continuous and literal battle between conspecifics. If blood is not being spilt, then, for Stove, this is evidence that what is `predicted' by Darwinism is false. With this characterisation of Darwinism in mind, Stove then labours the point that we, along with other animals and plants, are not constantly tearing at each others throats. Many pages of faintly humorous examples follow.

In these essays, Stove has shown that Darwinian thinking, at least when deployed in the ways Stove cites, is a poor explanation of the everyday behaviour of humans, and for that matter most organisms. But Darwin's theory is one that hopes to explain the evolution of the species, not everyday behaviour. The fact that its explanatory limits stop well short of everyday behaviour is a point well made, but not that interesting a point - certainly it is not surprising, even by the lights of the theory itself.

When it comes to tackling Richard Dawkins, Stove aims his criticism at the imprudent extension of Darwinian explanation to human motivation. His strategy here is analogous to that mentioned above. In `The Selfish Gene' Dawkins makes himself a ripe target for such criticism, and the blows surely fall. Stove pillories Dawkins' use of anthropomorphic language in discussions of genes, along with Dawkins' disingenuous promises to translate such ideas back into the `respectable' language of science; Stove also gives a plausible psychological explanation as to why such interpretations of Neo-Darwinism are popular, drawing analogies with other `puppet theories' of human motivation or `demonologies', positing a perverse inclination to, evidence be damned, regard humans as `fundamentally' selfish, and acknowledging the startling effect the discovery of genes has had on the human psyche in general. As an addendum, the theory of memes is summarily dispatched, although with less rigorous argument that might be expected - Dawkins' own reservations, contained in a paragraph of The Extended Phenotype, are, ironically, more damning than Stove's invective.

Stove's discussion of `inclusive fitness' theory is more telling. He highlights the explanatory limitations of such a theory by demonstrating that many events it would predict do not in fact occur, often real life presenting the very opposite actuality.

Ultimately, the book reads as a warning not to take Darwinian theory as explanatory beyond certain boundaries. For fossils, and some of the baffling adaptations seen in insects, plants, and animals, the theory offers an explanation where no alternative exists. As some kind of guide as to how a human life is in fact lead or, worse still, how it should be lead, Darwinian thinking tells us precisely nothing. In sum, this is Stove's point and, unfortunately, obvious though it be, it seems like it is one that needs making. Perhaps thanks to its repetitiveness, lack of argumentitve rigour, and its sarcastic tone, the book is an entertaining read - although to actually extract arguments which one can use in one's own discussion is a much more onerous task.
Dawkins ridiculed....  Apr 5, 2008
Dawkins' "memes" and "selfish genes" have been critically scrutinized in a brilliant and amusing way ("intelligent" genes smarter and more manipulative than humans?). Stove writes: "I try to think of what, or anyone, could say to Dawkins, to help restrain him from going over the edge into ABSOLUTE MADNESS". This is by far the biggest reason I love this book that delivers a blow to so called neo-Darwinians (for eample: leader of sociobiological school Wilson and Dawkins' mentor Hamilton)who try to animalize us and at the same time are often contradicting themselves. It is not the Watchmaker who is blind, rather many sociobiologists suffer for dangerous scientific myopia, arrogance and need for constant "preaching" of the same religion-like bunkum in different books and publications, over and over without the end. David Stove points, that these whom he criticizes are all scientists, whereas he is the merest layman in biology. But "inclusive fitness theory" is not a hard one even for layman to understand and find and plenty obvious punctures. While punching holes in foundations of so called "theory of kin selection" (sometimes in a repetitive manner; book could be more compact) and dwelling on altruism's complex ontology he is far from entering the war "evolutionists vs. creationists". You will not find doxology in his work. He just does not see how neo-Darwinian concept of evolutions can possibly be fully explained and applied to humans (and for some other creatures as well). Theory of evolution still struggles with inconsistencies, and this is author's message. Very important book.
A Good Book That Will Make No One Happy  Jan 23, 2008
The Publisher's Weekly review at the top of the this site site says it pretty well. Stove exists in a world inhabited by few others, at once disparaging of religion, organized or otherwise, and evolution, at least evolution of the Darwinian stripe.
The strengths of the book: Humorous writing style. Always good to see cult-like beliefs belittled, it's one of the best part of the Simpsons (for example) and most satire.
Very well versed in the history of evolution, the philosophical component in particular. Quite adept at pointing out inconsistencies.
The weaknesses: For me, the biggest weakness was probably his major premise- that the presence of altruism, particularly in humans, derails Darwin. I know Darwin himself said that it would, but it seems more likely to me that the presence of altruism and of things like a less than maximum birthrate, etc. implies that a species is no longer evolving in a major way, but not that evolution happens nowhere, case closed. The common argument that most altruism is only altruism in appearance also explains a lot, and as someone who believes in total depravity I'm actually sympathetic to this defense. I find a lot of problems with Darwinian evolution, but I don't think this is one of them and this is where the fulcrum of the book's logic lies. A shame, I'd like to have seen his wit and intellect put to a broader use, but even his (I believe failed) attempt to expose the Evolutionary theory is instructive. Some of his lesser points make better cases for examining the issue, and his research in pointing out where Darwinism, right or wrong, has led us as a society is arresting. Unlike most evolution/design books that divide pretty well where you think would, this one probably will not completely please anyone. Were the author still alive I doubt he'd care what we thought, anyway. It makes one ponder and question, though, and for a debate that tends to cause calcification of thought I'd have to put that as a good thing.

In summation, the book is well written- hilarious as it says on the book jacket is a bit strong, yet it has a good wry and dry wit about it, and you learn quite a bit. The author's passion for David Hume comes through continually, and there can't be many sorrier picks out there in the favorite philosopher category, but for whatever reason he latched on to him. So if you don't mind wading through a little pessimism I think you will find the book to be a quite stimulating read.

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