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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing contribution to the debate about evolution
This was a very interesting read. The late David Stove was not a creationist, or even a Christian - he describes himself as "of no religion". However, he lays various charges at darwinism - both as it was presented by Darwin and his contemporaries and as it is presented today by neodarwinists. The heart of these is that, insofar as it is used to explain humans, it is "a...
Published on 7 Sep 2007 by P. M. Fernandez

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars my first thoughts
I am reading this book to counter or as it may turn out, agree with a commentator of a previous review of mine. My first thoughts on the author's attack on Darwinism seems to fall on the premise that all life forms are in a free state of struggle for survival. At a narrow view of Human life his conclusion seems to agree with what we see for ourselves, we as a species are...
Published on 22 Sep 2011 by Peter Alan Clarke


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39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing contribution to the debate about evolution, 7 Sep 2007
By 
P. M. Fernandez "exilefromgroggs" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
This was a very interesting read. The late David Stove was not a creationist, or even a Christian - he describes himself as "of no religion". However, he lays various charges at darwinism - both as it was presented by Darwin and his contemporaries and as it is presented today by neodarwinists. The heart of these is that, insofar as it is used to explain humans, it is "a ridiculous slander on human beings." He points out that:

- human life is not a "continual free fight" in the sense that Darwin envisaged necessary as a driver of natural selection;

- the human population has never increased to the limit of the food available, which is what Darwin understood to be the driver of evolutionary development;

- contrary to the darwinist concept, more privileged (better educated, richer, more socially advanced) humans have generally shown themselves less successful at reproducing than those less privileged;

- the "discovery" of memes is not a scientific advance akin to the discovery of genes, but simply a truism - "Sometimes such things as beliefs, attitudes, etc., are transmitted non-genetically from one person to another";

- if altruism is linked to the number of shared genes (a widely held position), then people should be as altruistic towards their egg or sperm cells as they are to their offspring;

- although neodarwinists claim that they don't believe in purposiveness, their language about genes contradicts this. "For every once that Dawkins says that genes are not purposive, he says a hundred things ... which imply that genes are purposive."

This quick summary of some of Stove's points doesn't do the book justice. His writing is literate and funny. On every other page was a quotable paragraph. There were issues where I felt that his arguments failed to reflect "the state of the art" in darwinism. But suffice it to say that his book makes a great many points which undercut darwinism as it relates to humans.
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48 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Darwinism "a ridiculous slander on human beings"?, 22 Sep 2007
This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
"I believe that neo-Darwinism, though a very good approximation to truth and completeness for many of the simplest organisms, is an extremely poor approximation in the case of our own species. Or rather, to tell the truth, I think that it is, at least in the hands of its most confident and influential advocates, a ridiculous slander on human beings."

This is how late Australian philosopher David Stove (1927-1994), having already made the all-too-necessary clarification "I am of no religion", explains his reasons for writing Darwinian Fairytales, a collection of 11 essays in which he attacks the views of such evolutionary luminaries as Darwin himself, Thomas Malthus, T.H. Huxley, Alfred Wallace, R.A. Fischer, E.O. Wilson, R.D. Alexander and Richard Dawkins, to name just the ones I remember. In the above quotation, I have already given away what grates with Stove more than anything else on this topic: that Darwinists transfer their theories from "pines and cod" to people and then, when the theory wildly fails to predict the facts, blame the facts. He accepts descent by modification from a common ancestor, but denies that random variation + natural selection can account for that modification. His main complaint is that natural selection has been grossly overstated in the higher animals.

Firstly, he asks, where is natural selection going among human populations now? We do not observe "a continual free fight" (Huxley, Essay 1), nor is it true that "The primary or fundamental check to the continued increase of man is the difficulty of gaining subsistence" (Malthus, 2 and 3); and to think that "of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive" (Darwin, 4 and 5) is so obviously false in the case of humans as to be embarrassing to read. Stove is not "quote-farming". When Darwin says "any species" not only does he mean it, but also he has to - otherwise his is not the universal principle so desired by his disciples.

This strange overestimation of human infant mortality is reflective of the "problem of altruism" (Essay 6), which of course is only a problem for Darwinists (Stove likens it the problem of evil faced by Christians), and which has dogged Darwinism from its inception. One might think that the problem has been resolved by moving the language of all-out-war from the level of the individual to that of the ("selfish") gene, but it hasn't, says Stove, and here's why:

1. This view makes individuals epiphenomenal to their genes (Essay 7). Now, Stove is by no means the first to notice the glaring self-contradiction which Dawkins commits off the back of this view, between saying

"we are survival machines, robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes" (The Selfish Gene, preface)

and saying

"we have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth (ibid., chapter 11).

But even without that dialectical eyesore, the view that "an organism is just DNA's way of making more DNA" (Wilson) is still obviously false. There is such a long list of popular human behaviour detrimental to genetic fitness as to be exhausting to read. Stove likens this genetic determinism to other "puppet theories" astrology, Freudianism, Marxism and Calvinism. For Stove, it is no surprise that someone as prone to such theories as Dawkins should discover (with a minimum of effort and zero research) another set of puppet-masters in the shape of "memes".

2. The inclusive fitness (kin selection) theory hereby used to solve the "problem of altruism" (Essay 8) would lead to some very strange expectations if we really took it seriously:
a) Given that the amount of genetic material shared by parents and children is the same in all sexually reproducing species, parental altruism should be the same in all those species - but it isn't.
b) "There is nothing special about the parent-offspring relationship [...] the full-sibling relationship is just as close" (Hamilton): and so we would expect sibling altruism, or indeed child-to-parent altruism, to equal parent-to-child altruism - but it doesn't.
c) Asexually reproducing organisms should be identically concerned about the welfare of exact genetic copies of themselves as they are of themselves - but they aren't.
d) So should identical twins - but neither are they.
e) Incestuous families (where they survive) ought to be more harmonious than others - but they aren't.
...and so on.

3. Dawkins and others cannot help attributing purposes, desires and intentions - in short, teleology - to genes themselves, which of course utterly defeats the purpose of the exercise (Essays 9 and 10). He may protest every so often that such language is not to be taken literally, and that it can be "translated back into respectable terms" later, but Stove would very much like to see a translation of such terms as "selfishness" (and indeed, exactly how benefiting an exact copy of oneself is to benefit oneself), "benefit", "manipulation", "striving" and "function". On my view, this is the weakest part of the book, and the only point where I start to see some of the "anti-philosophy" about which some have complained. Surely the non-teleological translation of "each gene is striving to make as many copies of itself as possible" is something like "those genes which are best at making copies of themselves end up more numerous than others" (a tautology, to be sure, but no tautology was every false)? Dawkins may be guilty of sloppy or even misleading use of the English language, but that in itself doesn't count against neo-Darwinism. The point that "`not conscious' does not imply `not purposive'" is, however, well taken.

By way of conclusion, Stove notes that human behaviour in general is one giant amalgamation of what "armour-plated neo-Darwinians" would describe as errors, that is, characteristics which count against an organism having as many descendants as possible: natural celibacy, accepting submission signals in a fight, contraception and abortion, adoption, baby-snatching and the resentment of it, homosexuality, devoting one's life to the pursuit of truth or beauty instead of making babies, various kinds of asceticism, heroism and its admiration... It is manifestly not the case that "we are programmed to use all our effort, and in fact to use our lives, in reproduction" (Alexander). While this critique may not always hit the mark squarely, I think Stove succeeds perfectly in showing that

"Darwinism was always intended to bridge the gap between man and the animals, to mortify human self-importance, and to "cut us down to size". Now isn't that just too bad? Because a vast gulf does separate us from all other animals, in point of altruism, as in point of intelligence. That is simply a fact, and a very obvious one"
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful analysis of Darwinian dogma by a master of philosophy, 16 Jan 2008
By 
Derek Hilsden "Devarim" (Dartford UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
David Stove is not a creationist nor is he religious, he is a Scientific Philosopher and he meets Darwinism, Neo-darwinism and Dawkinsian pseudoscience on their own ground. He examines suppositions on which Darwin based his theory and demonstrates that as far as humans are concerned,the conclusions drawn by Darwin are just not tenable.Stove is precise in his use of the English language, and illustrates very clearly how Darwinists are very imprecise to the point of deceit in their own use of it.Stove cuts through the arrogant dogmatism of Dawkins like a hot knife through butter,while at the same time exercising a wicked sense of humour that could only come from a down to earth Australian. The book is an excellent read and should be mandatory for every socio-biologist before writing another word.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contrarian, 13 July 2008
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
David Stove was a well known Australian contrarian opposing intellectual fashions such as feminism, Marxism and, in the final years before his suicide in 1994, Darwinism. Stove's strength - his wit and ability to draw out the absurdity in the prevailing paradigms of the intellectual world - are well set out in Darwinian Fairytales. He draws attention to the intellectual environment within which Darwin lived, the influence on the Origins of Species of the flawed ideas of Thomas Malthus on population, the political objective of Darwin's works and the failure of Darwinists to confront the dilemmas inherent in the application of evolution by natural selection and adaption to humankind.

The political context of the Origins, both prior to publication and, in the long term, to the development of the pseudo-science of Eugenics reflected the pomposity of the Victorian intelligentsia who believed they led the world, carrying Social Darwinism and "enlightenment" to foreign climes as a "favoured race".

Although he professed no religion himself Stove placed Darwinism in the category of a secular religion. "Genetics has merely provided the new religionists with the precise locality of their gods, on the chromosomes of the sex cells." However, the moral and intellectual arrogance, bordering on madness, of the new Darwinist socio-biological priesthood in the era of post-modernist deconstruction leaves them as vulnerable to attack as their monotheist religious predecessors.

Darwinism, he concludes, is irrelevant to human life. It does not describe or explain it. Darwin knew it, Huxley knew it and modern day Darwinists know it too but have deserted science for pseudo-science and the advocacy of atheism, suppressing truth in the process.

This book would have received five star status had not Stove's polemics and wordiness got in the way of a straightforward read. Nonetheless it is an excellent book which should be read as a corrective to the mythical world of Dawkins's meme which has perpetuated the errors of Darwin and Malthus for a century and a half and produced countless deaths of those considered not fit to survive.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars my first thoughts, 22 Sep 2011
This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
I am reading this book to counter or as it may turn out, agree with a commentator of a previous review of mine. My first thoughts on the author's attack on Darwinism seems to fall on the premise that all life forms are in a free state of struggle for survival. At a narrow view of Human life his conclusion seems to agree with what we see for ourselves, we as a species are not competing for individual survival. Maybe it could be countered that we do struggle on ideological differences, surely the reason for most wars to this date. Also in his division of ideas on natural selection on humans David Stove categorises three ideologies. The first I wish to concentrate upon this review is the "Cave Man" philosophy as just because it is not seen in the present the struggle for life and limited resources for humans that doesn't mean it did not happen in the past. I take it that the cave was the refuge for the unobservant witnesses and because they did not see or experience a struggle you cannot say it did not happen. A strong counter to Stove's first critique that struggle for human survival is not evident and therefore not relevant in our origin makes the major mistake of not understanding the total annihilation of our close cousins the Neanderthal. Surely this is a perfect example of our struggle for limited resources and a fundamental victory for the group theory in evolution that pitted one type of species against another based purely on species recognition. The Neanderthals were too different from our species that they were easily recognised as competition and destroyed. I will have furthur views as I delve deeper into the book but disappointed that such an omission of historical fact was left out of the author's argument.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative significant fun, 11 July 2011
By 
David Dewhurst (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
This is not a perfect book; with several paragraphs one longs to channel Stove and challenge him with "what abouts?" and "do you really means?" However I have never laughed so much when reading philosophical polemic. Much of the time I was thinking, "Why have I never heard of this guy before?" For some chunks you must be prepared for a slightly tougher intellectual work-out than the average popular science book. However if you broadly buy into the "selfish gene" tendency this book is a crucial challenge to your intellectual integrity.
There is scope for more discussion of potential resolutions of the tension between conventional causality and crypto teleology provided by the early cyberneticians - hierarchies of negative feedback loops and so on. And both sides of this debate are becoming eclipsed by current research debunking what a real geneticist like Jack Cohen derides as the "folk knowledge" of biological inheritance (cf. his piece in "The New Optimists" ed. K Richards) although expositors do not provide a smoothly digestible story yet. (Fodor shows awareness of some difficulties in, 'What Darwin Got Wrong' 2011.)
The previous 7 reviews give as decent an idea of contents as can be hoped for in a book where much of the strength (like OotS) is in the accumulation of examples and perspectives.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A victory of altruism over selfishness, 15 April 2008
By 
Dr. Nicholas P. G. Davies (Halifax, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book. Well written, sharp, and very logical. Devastating dissection of the notion of "selfishness" as applied to genes. Very clear demonstration of how altruism is a fact in the world, and not a problem or error.

This book is a very significant challenge to Darwinism and its offshoot, "sociobiology." It exposes a severe mismatch between the predictions of evolutionary theory and life as it actually is.

Well worth reading
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reproductive words, 15 Mar 2008
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
I've read several works challenging Darwinism and Evolution. This book is a collection of essays and therefore there is a lot of repetition throughout with the same arguments repeated over and over again. This became very tedious and made me wonder whether the writing was mimicking the replication of the alleged selfish genes that the Author challenges. The author also had an annoying habit of using a whole paragraph to write what could be stated in a sentance.

The strong point of the book was the blunt criticisms of Dawkins.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Darwinian Fairytales, 16 Mar 2013
By 
M. C. Jacoby - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
"Darwinian Fairytales" by David Stove 1995, Encounter Books, New York

David Stove was a friend of a friend from whom I heard anecdotes. You can look him up in Wikipedia where you will find that he was an Australian philosopher.

"Darwinian Fairytales" is a collection of essays in which the author questions the philosophical validity of "Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and other Fables of Evolution", to quote the subtitle. This wording sets the tone of sarcastic and bitter invective which Stove uses on those with whom he disagrees. Some have ascribed this to Stove being Australian, but this is grossly unjust to the many Australian scholars of the highest repute. Others have found his style entertaining, but they probably do not understand the central role the Darwin/Wallace insight has played and will play in human evolution.

Stove claims to be `not a biologist' (p xv), and this is distressingly obvious in the elementary misunderstandings in that subject which litter this book. To avoid repetition in this review, I have labelled each of the phrases I consider to show weaknesses with a letter in brackets {} and will use them when they occur in the quoted text. So far I have mentioned invective {I}, and misunderstandings in biology {B}.

More fundamentally, Stove clings throughout to absolutes {A}, using the words `all', `every', `never', `total', `universal' and `permanent' as if he were in casual conversation, rather than offering cogent criticism of a way of understanding. His use of absolutes often invalidates what he is trying to say; and this is a pity because there are places where it appears that he might have been developing an interesting idea which could have corrected an error of logic and so contributed to understanding.

Another general flaw in the book as a whole is that Stove frequently takes a single idea from a complex suite of them and uses it as the central core of his argument. He then tears the idea to pieces out of context and claims to have demolished the whole, even though the context may later contain qualifications of that single idea {C}. A number of his statements are simply false {F}. Sometimes he later demolishes these false statements, having led the reader to accept them; the result is further confusion.

Perhaps Stove's greatest failing, after his lack of biology and absolutist cast of mind - and it may be a product of them - is that he sees arguments and theories about the natural world as a chain of philosophical points: one link breaks and the whole argument or theory is destroyed. Biology and its subsets of human behaviour, thought and history are not like that. Living things are messy, inconsistent, sometimes contradictory and frustratingly complex. It is more productive to think of ideas about them as ropes. (This metaphor is described in David Lewis-Williams's brilliant book "The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art", Thames & Hudson, 2002). Understanding in biology is not a chain of absolute links; each line of argument is more like a single fibre in a rope: eventually it comes to an end, but it is supported by surrounding arguments/fibres which continue to sustain the overall thesis {D}.

Yet another basic difficulty with Stove's way of reasoning - and again it probably arises from his absolutism - is that he does not appear to appreciate that language evolved for social reasons. (See Robin Dunbar's delightfully stimulating "Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language", Faber & Faber, 2004). This means that many words in daily use are loaded with prejudice and expectation, if not emotion {E}, and these attributes add to difficulties in describing external phenomena objectively. The physical sciences can escape into numbers, but biology is irredeemably untidy, and still needs words. Because of this, I regard all knowledge and explanatory theories are provisional: `the truth' is no more than what appears to be a best description today. Science can never (absolute) prove (in the sense of confirm beyond doubt, rather than `test'). Its main function is to test to destruction, in spite of Stove's attack elsewhere ("The Plato Cult: And Other Philosophical Follies", Basil Blackwell, 1991) on this thesis which was put forward by Karl Popper.

I shall go through "Darwinian Fairytales", line by line and as far as I can, trying to understand what Stove means and to assess how valid are the points he is making. I shall begin each quotation with three numbers which sequentially signal the number of the page, the paragraph (including part paragraphs) and the line. Dashes in place of the latter mean that I have quoted the whole paragraph.

3,1,-: "If Darwin's theory of evolution were true {A}, there would be in every {A} species a constant {C} and ruthless {E} competition to survive: a competition in which only a few can be winners {E}. But it is perfectly {A} obvious that human life is not like that {B}". As mentioned above, the word `true' is not one that can be sensibly applied to a theory - all are better thought of as best, and more or less tentative, explanations in the light of information to hand. Indeed, Stove acknowledges this point at 33,2,5. There is a quotation, whose source is not given, at 32,4,2, and it mentions constancy. Wallace and Darwin thought and wrote, in the early stages of their understanding, that natural selection was constant, but it is not now realistic to say that the theory of evolution insists on it.

As also mentioned above, words have emotional overtones, and `ruthless' is a good example. It is hard to see what Stove means by describing competition as being ruthless, other than loading it with emotional value of some sort. In reality, there are many behavioural occasions among wild animals as well as human beings in which competition is evidently light-hearted, ritualised or pursued in clearly non-ruthless ways. But these words describe the entities that are competing. I cannot believe that competition itself is capable of compassion (ruth). Like natural selection, competition itself is entirely indifferent to the fate of individuals on which it operates.
I presume that by `winners' he means that certain individuals survive and have a reproductive advantage over others. Again, it doesn't help understanding to use the word `winner' with such human social values attached to it.

Of course human life is `not like that' because Darwinian evolution isn't either. But that is not the same thing as saying that human beings are not evolving in a Darwinian fashion. I shall assume that Stove actually means that the human species does not appear to be evolving in the way the early formulations of Darwinism describe, though he doesn't add these qualifications. If he had, what he says in this section becomes obvious and uninteresting.

It is clear that Stove does not appreciate that there are many examples in which a species or a group of related species has, in the past, evolve a new way of dealing with survival problems. Examples, such as breathing air, flight, sociality, cooperation or intelligence spring to mind, and each of them has opened huge new ecological niches into which the species has been able to expand the populations of its descendants. With this sudden and vast increase in food, shelter, freedom from predators etc., individuals with one or more of these adaptations have found themselves in a position where, for a period, most of their offspring survived. This has given the appearance that the usual levels of pre-reproductive mortality on that species have been reduced - in Stove's parlance `no longer constant'. Consider: in an imaginary population of a species of moth, each mated female lays on average 200 eggs. If 199 of them die before they can breed, the population halves. If 196 of them are prevented from breeding, the population doubles. Yet there are records of half the offspring in a single generation surviving to breed, and this has surely led to the impression that natural selection has lifted from the population.

Intelligent cooperation is just such an innovation as those mentioned above, and is the main reason for the success of Homo sapiens as a species, which is to say that this is why most human babies survive. But it is not to say that they always will. Our reproduction has far outstripped mortality for maybe 350 years. It is certain (absolute) that it will not continue to do so indefinitely because we live on a finite planet and shall simply run out of food and space, if we don't poison ourselves with our waste first. If we stand back in time and look at the 200,000 years during which we have been recognisably Homo sapiens, it is clear that natural selection has lifted its pressure on us for some about 0.2 % of that time. If we think of the whole period of our evolution, then our excessive reproduction has persisted for one 10 millionth of it.

So much for the opening paragraph of "Darwinian Fairytales".

3,2,1: "This inconsistency {F}, between Darwin's theory and the facts of human life {B}, is what I mean by "Darwinism's Dilemma."" Of course there is an inconsistency here because the `Darwin's theory' that Stove describes is not the theory that has grown up from Darwin's original idea. It is a pity that Stove finds it necessary to seize on one word, `constant', and use it to characterise the mechanism of evolution, so artificially creating a dilemma that does not exist in reality. Though he later uses the `facts of human life' (I presume this to mean that we have reduced our death-rate) to separate our species from all others, it is, in fact, widespread in other animals. It is true that a high proportion of human babies survive today, but this is more sensibly explained as cooperation being a device whereby DNA increases the number of copies of itself in other individuals, as described by W H Hamilton and Richard Dawkins. In this light, the rest of Stove's second paragraph is meaningless.

Even though these two opening paragraphs do not reasonably connect with reality, and thereby cast doubt on the book as a whole, I shall pretend that his overall argument is valid and continue looking at what he has written, if only in response to his unnecessarily abrasive attack.

4,1,-: "... you admit {F} that human life is not now what it would be if Darwin's theory were true, ..." I find it hard to imagine that such a woolly proposition could conceivably be admitted even by a reader who was unfamiliar with the idea of intelligent cooperation. It seems to be a wholly false assumption, even with the qualification in the next paragraph `that it used to be like that.' (original italics).

4,2,1-8: "In the olden days (this story goes) {I}, human populations always {A,C} did press relentlessly on their supply of food {F,B}, and thereby brought about constant {A,B} competition for survival among the too-numerous competitors, and hence natural selection of those organisms which were best fitted to succeed in the struggle for life. That is, human life was exactly {A} as Darwin's book had said that all {A} life is. But our species (the story goes on) {I} escaped long ago from the brutal {B,E} régime of natural selection." It is clear from the context that Stove is using `natural selection' in two opposed ways: 1) natural selection of those organisms which were best fitted to succeed, and 2) the brutal régime of natural selection. The first refers to the individuals in a population that are selected to breed in the way that a farmer selects the best of his herd or crops; while the second is used in the sense that the farmer selects individuals to cull and prevent from breeding. Though Stove muddles these two usages throughout the book, I shall try to make clear which is appropriate in the current context.

The word `succeed' needs definition. Does Stove mean survival of the individual, or does he mean that it left more offspring? Only the latter is a measure of evolutionary success. Again, the use of the emotive word `brutal' does not clarify his argument; indeed, it points again to his lack of biological understanding because the vital essence of natural selection is that it is wholly indifferent to the sufferings or joys of the individuals it operates upon.

Stove's style condescends to opponents of his ideas with the fairy-story phrase, "olden days ... story". Such practice belittles the author, not the reader who may hold another view. The absolutes `always', `constant' and `exactly' simply do not realistically describe the natural world. One can hardly escape the conclusion, mentioned in the introduction above, that Stove picks on them so that he can demolish the argument by showing that they are false.

4,2,8-19: "We developed a thousand forms of attachment, loyalty, cooperation, and unforced subordination, everyone {A} of them quite incompatible {B} with a constant {A} and merciless {E} competition to survive." The rest of the paragraph lists examples. This, then, appears to be what Stove means by the `facts of human life'. It is clear that he has failed to grasp the idea that Darwinian selection can work perfectly well on groups, whether they are closely related genetically or not. Interestingly, Darwin himself was perplexed by the sterile females of hymenopterous insects ["On the Origin of Species (Oxford World's Classics)" 1859 p 236]. He also pointed the way to a solution by describing their reproduction as swarming rather than egg-laying. The difficulty was resolved by W. D. Hamilton's 1964 paper Narrow Roads of Gene Land: Volume 1: Evolution of Social Behaviour: The Collected Papers of W.D.Hamilton: Evolution of Social Behaviour Vol 1, and is well illustrated by meerkat families that post sentries. Those groups that do so, survive longer and leave more offspring than those that don't, even though it may reduce the chance of individual sentries surviving. In fact, there may well be another motive operating here: it is possible that those individuals that do sentry duty so enhance their social standing in the group that they obtain more mating opportunities later - a deferred pay-off. In short, cooperation is an effective and perfectly natural device for giving groups a reproductive advantage. Obviously it became incorporated into the genome by groups of genetically related individuals - families - adopting and benefiting from the behaviour, and so leaving more offspring than families that didn't. Thus, there is no conflict between human cooperation and Darwinian evolution. Cooperation certainly does not distinguish us from other species.

The shape of this first essay is worth discussing. Having declared the dilemma, Stove's next move is to describe what he imagines are: [3,3,-] "The attempts to escape from Darwinism's dilemma [which] all fall into one or other of three types. These can be usefully labelled "the Cave Man way out," "the Hard Man," and "the Soft Man."" [original punctuation]. Broadly stated, the Cave Man way out admits that we were once subject to natural selection but now no longer are. Stove tries to demolish this argument thus: (4,3,2-6) "Darwin's theory of evolution ... is a universal generalisation about all {A} terrestrial {B} species at any time. Hence, if the theory says something which is not true now of our species (or another), then it is not true - finish."

Stove's insistence on `terrestrial species' implies that aquatic or arboreal species are perhaps exempt, but this is almost certainly a slip caused by his lack of biological knowledge. In the second sentence Stove insists that the theory must apply to all species all the time. Again, the notion of constancy dominates his thinking. In fact, we are straining after gnats because the essence of Darwin's theory is that it is an untidy approximation, but still the best one we have. Can one reasonably say that natural selection is operating (either for or against the survival of an individual) for every millisecond of a deeply hibernating insect frozen in ice and protected from predators and need for food?

Stove's dogma is reinforced in the next paragraph (4,4,1-2) "If Darwin's theory of evolution is [sic] true, no {A} species can ever {A} escape from the process of natural selection." Again, absolutes do not mix with biology. How does Stove know for certain that there is not some undiscovered species that is not subject to natural selection every second since life evolved? I suppose that natural selection can operate on species, but it is more useful to imagine it acting on individuals or related groups of them. Again, we can do no more than take Stove's words at face value.

The rest of the paragraph becomes even more dogmatic. 4,4,2>: "His theory is that two universal {A} and permanent {A} tendencies of all {A} species of organisms - the tendencies to increase in numbers up to the limit that the food supply {B} allows, and the tendency to vary in a heritable way - are together sufficient to bring about in any species [sic] universal {A} and permanent {A} competition for survival, and therefore universal {A} and permanent {A} natural selection among the competitors." Let us note and accept without further comment the blizzard of absolutes. This is the first of many times that Stove uses the idea that populations increase up to the limit that the food supply allows. Again, his insistence on this one factor, food, implies that others are not to be included in his severe definition. In reality, it is only top predators that are usually limited by their food supply; the populations of other species lower in the food chain are more usually limited by disease or predators.

5,2,2: "But the Cave Man part of it is also utterly {A} incredible in itself. It may be possible, for all I know, that a population of pines or cod should exist with no {A} cooperative {B} as distinct from competitive relations among its members." Again, Stove has shut his mind to the possibility that cooperation is a perfectly normal adaptation among all (absolute) sexually reproducing living things. How else can they reproduce except by cooperating together? It is equally clear that he does not understand the continuity of evolution; that is to say, there is no discernable break in the parent to offspring chain from cooperation between two molecules at the dawn of life and a deed of philanthropic generosity by a human being, unless, of course, one invokes the existence of a human soul or spirit, or a god. And that, mercifully, is beyond the scope of both Stove's book and this review.

5,3,4-7: "We need to remember how severe {E} the rule of natural selection is, and what it means to say that a species is subject to it. It means, among other things, that of all {A} the rabbits, flies, cod, pines, etc., that are born, the enormous majority must {A,F} suffer early death and it means no less of our species {B}." From the context, it is clear that Stove is using `natural selection' in its eliminatory, rather than preservatory, sense. On first reading this section, I thought that it was Stove's lack of biological understanding that had led him to compare the reproductive strategies of flies with that of humans but, when I reached page 91, I found that he was at least aware of `r/K', though he dismisses the idea as "nowadays a branch of neo-Darwinism". Had he looked at the concept more closely, he would have understood that some species, such as flies, cod and pines, produce huge numbers of offspring and give little parental care - a pattern of behaviour called `r-strategy'; while others, for example us, produce fewer but give them more care such as supplying them with a nest and milk and, later, solid food and education - called K-strategy. While it is true that `the enormous majority' of r-strategy offspring perish before they can reproduce themselves, it is false to say that K-strategy offspring do so as well. I have already mentioned moths that lay 200 eggs, but there are more extreme examples. If, on average, a pine tree sheds 500,000 seeds over its life time, and one of them survives it, the population of pine trees remains stable because the enormous majority are eliminated. If, on average, a woman has six children in her life and two of them survive her, the population of human beings remain stable. Neither Stove nor we can label four out of six as `the enormous majority' in the same sense of absolute numbers as was used about pines: we are talking about 1/500,000 survivors compared with 1/3.

The rest of this paragraph is devoted to an embarrassingly snide fantasy of "Darwinian Cave Man ... Social Contract ... Department of Family Planning ..." etc. and ends with 5,3,13>: "Yet some explanation, of the same order of improbability [as the fantasy above], seems to be required, if we once allow ourselves to believe that though we are not subject now to natural selection, we used to be." Medicine is the short answer to why we appear to have a reduced mortality.

So much for the first five pages of "Darwinian Farytales".

Stove takes his critical position as a philosopher, and it seems far removed from mine as a naturalist. As such, I know of no testable evidence to indicate that we human beings are anything but a normal member of Earth's fauna. We differ from all other known species in four main ways: 1) we have evolved intelligent cooperation and this has enabled us to: 2) adapt our behaviour rather than our genes as we encountered new habitats, 3) use more energy than we eat, and 4) become our own main predator. These four attributes are, in my view, the perfectly natural consequence of organic evolution as first described by Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. Their description, in 1858, was necessarily incomplete and, like most worthwhile theories, has been modified in the light of new discoveries and ways of thinking. It seems a pity that Stove has expended so much effort in attacking his own misunderstanding and preconceptions.
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13 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Darwinian literature is 'a slander on our species', 30 July 2008
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trini "HWS" (Hertfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity and Other Fables of Evolution (Paperback)
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 animmals, 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.

This of course points up a compelling problem that almost never gets any attention. It is this: Although the demolition of Darwinism (as is done by Stove in his 'Part 1', here) in a certain sense is a self-contained and satisfying operation, it clamours for a Part 2 ('What then does explain the human species?); but this Part 2 itself must be of two parts: first, the answer must be, in Part 2.1: There is Intelligent Design; but secondly, equally clamorously, there must be a Part 2.2: There is an Intelligent Designer. Even Part 2.1 is truncated, insufficient. The researcher must get to Part 2.2, and discuss the Intelligent Designer. Therefore for me the question of God, and in fact the God of the Judeo-Christians, must come into the discussion.

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.
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