The Life-Dinner Principle and Creationism vs. Evolution

I recently ran across the “life-dinner principle“. In evolutionary biology, two groups (whether different species, or groups within a species) are often in competition with each other. But the selection pressure may not be equal between groups: a fox that can’t catch up to a rabbit may die of starvation, though it may have time to reproduce before it dies; but a rabbit that gets caught by a fox will not reproduce. Hence, the rabbit is running for its life, but the fox is only running for its dinner.

I wonder whether something similar is going on in the meme war between science and creationism. Those of us on the science side are fighting for education, for scientific literacy, for the future of scientific research in whichever country one happens to be.

But for many people in the creationist camp, the stakes seem much higher: the Truth™, their self-worth as important beings in the eyes of the creator of the universe, basic social cohesion (the “evolutionism implies no moral standards” argument), and even the risk of genocide (see the various attempts to tie “Darwinism” to the Nazi holocaust and Stalin’s purges).

If this is so, then the creationists have much more motive to defend their position by any means, including deception.

While there are parallels between memetic and biological evolution, there are significant differences as well, so I won’t try to apply to a clash of ideas the lessons learned from biology.

I do take heart, though, in the fact that I’ve run across two threads recently on Uncommon Descent where IDists have expressed disappointment with ID: one was when PZ Myers was a guest on a Christian talk radio show and utterly trounced the other guest, a creationist who claimed that there are no transitionals in whale evolution, to which PZ was able to name several of these “nonexistent” transitional species. The rout was so complete that one commenter at Uncommon Descent suggested that “In my opinion we should just close our eyes and pretend that this debate never happened.” His wish was granted when the entire thread was deleted.

The other was in the discussion of Richard Dawkins seeing Expelled. Although many are still pushing the idea that Dawkins somehow snuck into the theater under false colors, others have realized the breathtaking hypocrisy of the situation, and fear that it’ll make their side look bad.

So maybe the solution is what people have been advocating for years: educate the public. Have scientists get out of the ivory tower and talk to the public about science (let ten thousand Carl Sagans bloom!). Show people what despicable liars the creationists are.

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6 Responses to The Life-Dinner Principle and Creationism vs. Evolution

  1. RBH says:

    The identification of the creationism/science conflict as having an asymmetry analogous to the life/dinner asymmetry is a very interesting analogy. I’d encourage thinking more about that.

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  2. Rebekah says:

    I think you have some good points…but I will have to disagree with your main theory that those who believe in Independent Design have so much more to fight for than those who simply believe in evolution

    I have met many evolutionists who hole tightly to their Darwin belief system simply because they do not want to be held accountable for their actions. They deny the existence of a higher being so that they may live without conscience and without accountability. Independence from a just God – now that sounds like something worth fighting for.

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  3. arensb says:

    Rebekah:

    Then these people — assuming they actually exist outside of your mind (do you have any links to these people’s statements?) — are so clueless that they think that evolutionary theory hasn’t made great strides since Darwin; that evolution is the same as atheism; that if evolution is true, there is no accountability; that without a cosmic policeman in the sky, there is no conscience.

    And since you didn’t bother to correct them on these points, I can only conclude you don’t have the faintest clue what evolution is, either. Here’s a nickel, kid; go buy yourself an education.

    I suppose there are other possibilities: you could be lying, or perhaps you misunderstood what these people were telling you.

    You did get one thing right, though: ID is just old-style creationism with the identifying marks filed off.

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  4. Troublesome Frog says:

    Rebekah:

    I have met many evolutionists who hole tightly to their Darwin belief system simply because they do not want to be held accountable for their actions.

    No, I really doubt that you have. You just think that you have.

    They deny the existence of a higher being so that they may live without conscience and without accountability. Independence from a just God – now that sounds like something worth fighting for.

    You’re making a very common mistake: You’d rather ascribe nefarious motives and moral failings to people who disagree with you than accept the fact that they may disagree with you for legitimate reasons.

    Think very hard about this. Did any of these people actually say that their reason for holding a belief about objective reality is that it allows them to live without moral accountability? Aside from the fact that the idea doesn’t make any sense at all (how does not believing in God have any bearing on whether or not God is real and judging us?), it smells strongly of an attempt to avoid real discussion by assuming that people who disagree with you are simply bad people.

    It’s no better than, “You’re only a Republican because you’re a racist who hates poor people,” or, ” You’re only a Democrat because you’d rather steal other people’s money than get a job.”

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  5. Fez says:

    Rebekah,

    …Independence from a just God…

    If you’re referring to the particular god envisioned as the Christian God then He is not a just god, unless you think it is reasonable to visit infinite and eternal suffering for the finite sins of Man.

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  6. Notires says:

    A fascinating argument. Much as RBH said, I encourage you to develop this idea more. I see this sort of thing a lot, where the political “right” is so much more powerful and vocal because they are “fighting” to stop “murder” or the collapse of society or simply against something that might suggest they haven’t wasted much of their lives sacrificing to a literary device of a nomadic middle-eastern tribe. The opposition doesn’t see that fighting their viewpoints gets them the benefit of heavenly real-estate, so it really doesn’t carry the same weight or benefit to be involved in this fight.

    Has anyone else explored this idea? I’m curious if you’ve seen anyone else who has thought about the assymmetry of motivation on this issue in the 18 months since you wrote this post.

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