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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Eugenie Scott's speech at Dragon*Con

I'll be just slightly tentative in this post, since I do not have a transcript of Eugenie Scott's speech at Dragon*Con yesterday (Sunday), and nor did I take notes, other than mental ones. If anyone else who was present wishes to clarify a point, then that is welcome. Still, I think I have a reasonable impression of the points that were made.

To be fair to her, the speech consisted mainly of an attack on Intelligent Design theory, claiming that it is not scientific. I more or less agree with this, though not necessarily for precisely the same reasons. For me, it's enough that ID theory has no genuine research program, is contrived to reach a predetermined outcome, and therefore lacks the very rigorous standards of intellectual honesty that we expect of scientists, etc. It is more like legal advocacy than science - it attempts to put the most persuasive case for a conclusion that is decided in advance. There's nothing wrong with that, in its place, but it's not science. ID's conclusions can in no way be characterised as conclusions with scientific credibility, and the claim that they are can never be relied upon by a public school system that wishes to teach them or to offer them as an alternative to genuine evolutionary biology.

That, however, is not how Scott put it. Still, she must be given credit for what she was trying to do, and she did make some similar points in her own way.

In any event, it was the first part of the speech that worried me. This emphasised the claim that science (Scott said "science", not "reason") is only on way of knowing. The others that she mentioned were personal insight and authority (I don't think she was saying that these three are the only "ways of knowing"). She appeared to be happy to count all sorts of ideas gained from personal insight, perhaps assisted by rituals or drugs, as "knowledge", which is rather odd, since knowledge is, at the least, justified belief. She counted revelation, including the words of holy books, as a sub-set of authority, and explained that the problem is when empirical claims are based on revelation.

Scott also said that science is a limited way of knowing because it can only investigate natural phenomena and can only offer natural explanations for them, and so cannot deal with supernatural claims. She offered no argument for this claim. Indeed, she gave an example of scientific study of truth claims that appeared to refute it. This was a description of a controlled experiment to see whether people really can perform better than chance at dowsing for water. Clearly, if the claim "I can perform better than chance at dowsing for water" is refuted by scientific investigation, it follows, a fortiori, that the claim "I can perform better than chance at dowsing for water by using supernatural means" is also refuted.

The fact is that science has reached a point where it is bad form for scientists to postulate supernatural explanations for phenomena. This is mainly because such explanations have such an unimpressive historical track record (think of preformationist theories of reproduction that depend on an original divine miracle to create an infinite set of tiny homunculi within homunculi, or of diluvian theories of geology that explain rock formation in terms of Noah's flood). So-called "methodological naturalism" is a useful rule of thumb adopted by modern science, and a contemporary scientist who did not adopt it when postulating causes would now be laughed at by colleagues.

However, there is no reason why science cannot offer supernatural explanations. In earlier times, reputable scientists often did this; methodological naturalism was never essential to the definition of "science". Moreover, although modern scientists are (quite correctly) unwilling to postulate supernatural explanations, that does not mean that they are unable to test supernatural explanations when postulated by others. The fact that supernatural explanations have a poor record when tested is (at least part of) the reason why scientists are now so unwilling to postulate them.

Scott's speech was rather long, with no time for questions. It went down well with the audience, and much of its content justified this, but I'd have liked to have seen some challenges to its simplistic claims about scientific epistemology. (She told people with a background in this area of philosophy to "deal [with it]", since she could not give all the detail, but that is hardly satisfactory.)

Alas, none of the speech acknowledged that the problems created by religious thinking - and the acceptance of religious leaders, religious organisations, and holy books as having authority - go FAR beyond those caused when empirical claims are based on scriptural revelation. Of course, those are the problems that Scott is required to deal with at the NCSE, but they are far from the only ones or necessarily the most important ones. Any suggestion that they are is most unfortunate.

This is why, with some regret, I find myself talking about "appeasement". Such speeches effectively say to religious organisations, "You can have all the authority you want (to lobby for banning of RU-486 or whatever your latest problem is) as long as you don't oppose the teaching of evolution."

I know that many rational people don't like the implied comparison of religion, or of particular religions, to Nazism, or the suggestion that goodwilled folks such as Eugenie Scott are selling out to something as evil as Nazism. Nazism was and is a particularly vicious quasi-religious belief system.

But the great organised religions are, collectively, a bigger problem than Nazism these days. When a religious organisation such as the Catholic Church is welcomed as an ally of the cause of reason merely because it takes the right side on one issue, that looks like a form of appeasement. The Vatican hierarchs are not our allies merely because they don't oppose evolutionary theory. The Vatican is the same organisation that teaches that the use of the contraceptive pill, masturbation, homosexual acts, etc., are all very serious "sins". It is anti-rational and authoritarian.

It doesn't hesitate to try to get the coercive power of the state to ban whichever of these "sins" it can, wherever and whenever it can. It is a kind of opportunistic predator in that respect. Most recently, RU-486 was legalised in Italy only in the face of strong Vatican opposition. The Catholic Church continually does all it can to interfere in personal decisions about how we live our lives, and especially about bioethical issues at the beginning and end of life. It does not merely preach its benighted moral views to the faithful, but tries to get governments to enshrine those views in legislation, thus getting them imposed on us by force.

In short, the Catholic Church is a far greater menace to our liberties than a bunch of American fundamentalists whose immediate goal is to undermine the teaching of biological evolution in American schools. Of course, organisations such as the Discovery Institute have a much broader theocratic agenda, but this is precisely what Eugenie Scott will never criticise them for. The only problem, apparently, is that they make empirical claims based in scriptural revelation.

No, that is not the only problem, or the greatest problem. The far larger problem is the epistemic, moral, and above all political authority claimed by many religious organisations. This most definitely includes the Catholic Church, which Scott obviously sees as an ally - even employing a Catholic priest to head the NCSE's faith outreach program.

I am not suggesting that the NCSE enlarge its remit to attack religion more generally. That is not its raison d'etre at all. But it can be neutral about such questions as whether science undermines a large amount of religious thinking, far beyond the claims of creationism and Intelligent Design. It can stop relying on an unnecessarily narrow (and very dubious) view of scientific epistemology, designed to leave as much authority with religion as possible. It can stop selling Gould's intellectually bankrupt principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria on its website.

It's a pity that Scott's talk left no time to debate any of this. Perhaps next year the Dragon*Con organisers will provide space in their program for challenges to the more dubious and dangerous epistemological claims that Scott was trying to sell to us yesterday. Maybe Jerry Coyne would be a good speaker for next year. Put your hand up, Jerry.

38 comments:

Brian said...

Maybe Russell Blackford would be a good speaker? ;)

P.S. Russell, hope you didn't a dodgy email for some website from my email account. Sunday morning it appears my account was used to spam a message all over the shop. I think I've fixed the problem. Sorry if you got the email.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, I did get it. But don't worry; these things happen in our modern networked lives.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"This is why, with some regret, I find myself talking about 'appeasement'. Such speeches effectively say to religious organisations, 'You can have all the authority you want (to lobby for banning of RU-486 or whatever your latest problem is) as long as you don't oppose the teaching of evolution.'"

The problem with this idea of appeasement is that it suggests that the NCSE is somehow offering an exchange, letting religious organizations have their way on other issues provided that they accept evolution. However, as you yourself pointed out, it's not as if the NCSE would be expected to engage in the fight over RU-486, etc., in the first place, and it isn't getting in the way of such fights, either.

So where is the analogue to letting the Germans conquer the Sudetenland?

matthew wilhelm said...

You need to understand that Eugenie is a *very* traditional American biological anthropologist, with training in "other forms of understanding" and cultural relativism...

Russell Blackford said...

How did I know that JJ would turn up here to ask a question that I've already answered? I must have used some supernatural method.

Well, some things never change. :)

J. J. Ramsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Zara said...

A worrying report.

Something struck me after reading this post....

"The Vatican hierarchs are not our allies merely because they don't oppose evolutionary theory."

Isn't there perhaps something mistaken about the obsession with the teaching of evolution if it is approached this way? If there are alliances with organisations like the Catholic Church, isn't that winning one battle (evolution), but conceding defeat in so many other areas? If this is NOMA, the magisterium of science and reason is small indeed.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"How did I know that JJ would turn up here to ask a question that I've already answered?"

You didn't answer it very well. When Chamberlain appeased the Nazis, there was a clear attempt at an exchange: The Germans would be allowed to take the Sudetenland, and in exchange, the Germans would not attempt to conquer any more territory. Here the supposed exchange is muddier:

"You can have all the authority you want (to lobby for banning of RU-486 or whatever your latest problem is) as long as you don't oppose the teaching of evolution."

The NCSE isn't in the business of opposing religious organizations' attempts to push their moralities, so it's not as if their not engaging in business that they wouldn't engage in anyway could be much of a term of an exchange. Nor is the NCSE in much of a position to let or not let religious organizations have authority on anything. This doesn't correspond very well to not interfering with the conquest of the Sudetenland.

Steve Zara: "If there are alliances with organisations like the Catholic Church, isn't that winning one battle (evolution), but conceding defeat in so many other areas?"

But who is conceding defeat here? Letting other organizations fight the Vatican on RU-486, condoms, etc. is hardly a concession.

Tom Coward said...

As did Steve Zara, I found the report somewhat troubling. The NSCE seems to increasingly take on the charateristics of a political organization (which I suppose actually is its major purpose) in that it seeks to accomodate the views of groups like the Catholic Church in order to win support for what the NSCE sees as its larger goals. Hence, making nice with an organization that (sort of) accepts the accuracy and importance of evolution, but which also promulgates the most outrageous lies on other subjects of a scientific nature (the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of HIV, for instance). This sort of realpolitic may be ultimately productive and useful, but it sure is hard to lie back and "think of the Empire" while is is being done.

On the subject of NOMA: I have never understood the argument that supernatural claims are "outside the scope" of science. Science is a means of exploring the observable universe. If a particular "supernatural" claim does not affect something in the observable universe, then of course such a claim is "outside the scope" of science. However, it seems to me that such claims are ususally trivial, and, on a practical level, don't really matter to anyone. Most of the "supernatural" claims that anyone cares about are the those that posit some "supernatural" effect on the observable universe, and as such are the legitimate subject of science.

Even the so-called "Big Questions" can be amenable to scientific exploration. The claim that there exits an omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent diety, that actively intervenes with some frequency in the observable universe, is in essence falsified each time a study fails to find a correlation between intercessory prayer and medical outcomes, or an actuarial study fails to find that the godly have fewer fatal accidents than do atheists, and so on.

Of course, such an outlook would be politically inconvenient for the NSCE, as it implicitly requires the proponents of religion to provide evidence for their claims to justify the belief that they are true.

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J. J. Ramsey said...

Tom Coward, the NCSE is an organization that is specifically about "working to keep evolution in public school science education." Despite its name, it was never meant to advocate on behalf of a wide range of scientific issues the way that, say, the AAAS does. It has always been about the creation-evolution conflict. The NCSE isn't silent about "the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of HIV" in exchange for favorable religious views on evolution. It is silent on the matter because it is not on their turf, and it isn't stopping the organizations for which such a matter is on their turf from having their say.

Anonymous said...

Normally one doesn't find such anti-Catholic bigotry outside of a Jack Chick tract.

If the RCC opposes abortion or RU-486 it is out of a desire to protect human life and dignity and to prevent what CS Lewis referred to as the "abolition of man".

(BTW, from a purely Darewinian point of view which society is superior and more succesful: one that embraces abortion and birth control, or one that does not? You can see it in the birth rate differentials between secular atheists and religious believers. Atheists just don't breed and must be considered a failed "species". Ironic, no?)

The RCC also opposes euthanasia for the same reason. So it is ironic that you should compare them to the Nazis. Years before they began killing Jews the Nazis insituted a Darwinian eugenics program that killed the mentally and physically handicapped ("life unworthy of life"). The new eugenics will have even more powerful tools at its disposal, which it wil use without hesitation once we have achieved the "total eclipse of all values" predicted by Nietzsche.

Unlike the Nazis,the RCC considers all human life to be worthy of life, whether too young to defend itself, too handicapped to provide for itself, or too old to be considered "useful". All human life is sacred.

It is also why the RCC opposes the death penalty and is in favor of uber-liberal social programs to help the poor and needy. In regards to social programs, the RCC is further left than any American liberal.

Furthermore, the RCC has as much right as any other issues group to lobby the government, organize protests or instruct its membership on behalf of its views and beliefs. Don't agree with what the RCC to be a sin? Fine, don't be a Catholic.

Nobody is forcing you to join.

I eagerly await you next post on the evil conspiracies and machinations of the Jesuits.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "from a purely Darewinian [sic] point of view which society is superior and more succesful: one that embraces abortion and birth control, or one that does not? You can see it in the birth rate differentials between secular atheists and religious believers. Atheists just don't breed and must be considered a failed 'species'."

Some XKCD for you: http://xkcd.com/603/

There are a couple things that you are overlooking:

1) The societies that embrace abortion and birth control are generally the more prosperous ones. Fewer children are born, yes, but those fewer children have far better odds of survival than children from a large (and probably religious) family in a Third World country.

2) Atheism doesn't have to spread by parents passing down their beliefs to their children. Religious believers can deconvert as well. Also, children don't even have to accept the religion of their parents, and they are increasingly not accepting their parents' faith.

CW said...

"Don't agree with what the RCC to be a sin? Fine, don't be a Catholic.

Nobody is forcing you to join."

You appear to have missed the "Vatican opposition to secular legislation" problem, which was, as it happens, the very point RB was making. By attempting to influence my government on such issues as RU-486 they are, in fact, trying to force me to join.

Steve Zara said...

CW-

Indeed. The Vatican is a political organisation. Allying with the Catholic Church is a political act that implies tolerance of their political goals.

Anonymous said...

"By attempting to influence my government on such issues as RU-486 they are, in fact, trying to force me to join."

So does every other political organization with an agenda and a goal of changing society, whether they be Greens, Libertarians, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or the RCC.

So what is your point? That it is OK for secular religious groups to advance their view of society, but not religious groups?

Anonymous said...

"The societies that embrace abortion and birth control are generally the more prosperous ones."

You have cause and effect backwards. Prosperity preceeds declining birth rates, not the other way around.

However, those societies with below replacement level TFRs will be top heavy in pensioners as the age demographics shift into the "gray zone". Geezers do two things:

1. consume a great deal of accumulated and produced capital (mostly in the form of health care and pensions both public and private) while not producing any wealth, and

2.vote with a vengence.

God help any politican who even thinks about limiting benefits to old Americans once the Boomers begin to retire enmasse.

We Boomers are going to be a crushing financial and tax burden on the younger generation. And we will be the biggest voting block. Econmic growth isn't sustainable under these conditions.

"Religious believers can deconvert as well."

Conversion isn't just one way. Those raised as atheists can also embrace religion (the son of Madyln Murray O'Hare being a famous example). For the most part however, children adopt their parents memes and seldom reject them permanently or totally.

The conversion rate of religious to athesit is simply not large enough to compensate for the latter's inability to breed.

Steve Zara said...

So what is your point? That it is OK for secular religious groups to advance their view of society, but not religious groups?

Anyone should be able to advance their view of society providing it is based on evidence and reason, and not on the theological gang-warfare of religion, where the arguments reduce to "No, Got told ME what is true!"

If a religious person wishes to advance a view using the same standards of debate as anyone else, there should be no restriction on that.

CW said...

"So what is your point? That it is OK for secular religious groups to advance their view of society, but not religious groups?"

No, that is not the point at all. The church may do as it pleases. The NCSE, however, should not be embracing the church simply because they happen to be in agreement (more or less) on one very narrow issue.

I would have thought that it was perfectly clear in the original: "When a religious organisation such as the Catholic Church is welcomed as an ally of the cause of reason merely because it takes the right side on one issue, that looks like a form of appeasement."

J. J. Ramsey said...

CW: "When a religious organisation such as the Catholic Church is welcomed as an ally of the cause of reason merely because it takes the right side on one issue, that looks like a form of appeasement. [emphasis added]"

Ok, and when a religious organisation such is welcomed as an ally on the cause of working to keep evolution in public school science education because it takes the right side on that cause, what does it look like then?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Oh, "Anonymous," you might be interested in this post on the Friendly Atheist blog: "Atheist Demographic Growth Stable".

CW said...

Are you suggesting that "the cause of working to keep evolution in public school science education" is somehow not the cause of reason? Or are you suggesting that in the interest of that one very narrow battlefield in the fight for reason we should just abandon the rest of the war?

Jerry Coyne said...

Hand up! (I hope I don't have to wear a nurse's uniform . .. .)

jdhuey said...

"The societies that embrace abortion..."

This is, I think, an unfortunate choice of words. The word 'embrace' connotes a certain amount of warm approval that does not apply. 'Accept the need for...' or 'Acknowledge a woman's right to...' is closer to the mark. On the other hand, 'embracing' birth control, strikes me as just about right.

J. J. Ramsey said...

CW: "Are you suggesting that 'the cause of working to keep evolution in public school science education' is somehow not the cause of reason?"

Yes. Mind you that keeping the theory of evolution in public schools can certainly help the cause of reason in practice. At the very least, it helps students in public schools have the right facts, at least on biology, and reason needs the facts as input. However, promoting evolution and promoting rationalism (a.k.a. the cause of reason) are not the same thing.

CW:"Or are you suggesting that in the interest of that one very narrow battlefield in the fight for reason we should just abandon the rest of the war?"

No, I'm suggesting that it is nonsense to call what the NCSE does "appeasement."

CW said...

"I'm suggesting that it is nonsense to call what the NCSE does "appeasement."

Appeasement: The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace.

I'm afraid I don't see how this is "nonsense". When, as a matter of strategy, an atheist like Scott espouses NOMA or a national science education agency embraces the Catholic church, well appeasement seems rather the exact term.

J. J. Ramsey said...

CW: "Appeasement: The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace."

But that assumes that the Catholic Church is seen by the NCSE as a potential enemy. Now, really, do you think that Scott lies awake at night worrying that if she stops talking about "ways of knowing" that the Catholic Church is going to do an about-face on evolution?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Another thing. As a supposed act of appeasement, NOMA is problematic because it requires concessions by the religious, and serious ones at that, whereas appeasement implies something far more one-sided. The religious abiding by NOMA are left with not being able to use their religion to make empirical facts, and NOMA offers them no safeguards that their claims on "moral meaning and value" will go without challenge. It's not the NCSE's business to make such challenges itself, but it isn't stopping anyone else from making them.

Steve Zara said...

But that assumes that the Catholic Church is seen by the NCSE as a potential enemy.

It should be. Any group promoting education about science should not be associated with an organisation that lies about the science of AIDS, about condoms.

J. J. Ramsey said...

First, what part of "Despite its name, it was never meant to advocate on behalf of a wide range of scientific issues the way that, say, the AAAS does. It has always been about the creation-evolution conflict" do you not understand?

Second, how do the NCSE's actions actually abet the Catholic Church's stance on condoms?

Steve Zara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Zara said...

First, what part of "Despite its name, it was never meant to advocate on behalf of a wide range of scientific issues the way that, say, the AAAS does. It has always been about the creation-evolution conflict" do you not understand?

If an organisation is labelled as promoting science, it is assumed that this is what it supports, even if it happens to be focussing on one particular aspect of science. It should be assumed it is, you know, generally in favour of science. That explains the use of the word "Science" in the title.

Second, how do the NCSE's actions actually abet the Catholic Church's stance on condoms?

They lend them credibility.

By the way, I was reminded of this this great site again today:
http://redwing.hutman.net/~mreed/warriorshtm/
ferouscranus.htm

J. J. Ramsey said...

Steve Zara: "If an organisation is labelled as promoting science, it is assumed that this is what it supports, even if it happens to be focussing on one particular aspect of science."

Which does not mean that the NCSE is going to comment on every bit of bad science that there is, especially when they have their hands full just dealing with creationists.

Seriously, what do you expect the NCSE to do? Talk about issues that aren't part of its business, simply because Catholics are involved? Fire its Catholic members, who may or may not even agree with the Pope on certain matters? Not point out when the Catholic Church gets it right on issues within the NCSE's remit? Not have its Catholic members discuss their views on theistic evolution on its website?

Steve Zara: "They lend them credibility."

On condoms? How? You seem to, I guess, be assuming that there is some sort of halo effect, where pointing out the Catholics' relative reasonableness on evolution is going to encourage people to think that the Catholic Church is reasonable on its other positions. Or something. It's not entirely clear if you've even thought about how you've made the connection between the NCSE and condoms, RU-486, and so on.

By the way, I was reminded of this this great site again today:
http://redwing.hutman.net/~mreed/warriorshtm/
ferouscranus.htm

If I were "utterly impervious to reason, persuasion and new ideas," I wouldn't have written a mea culpa not too long ago.

Steve Zara said...

Seriously, what do you expect the NCSE to do?

I'm about to blog about this.

After all the recent controversy, and especially after this excellent post by Russell, I'll tell you what I would like the NCSE to do.

Nothing at all. Literally nothing.

Struggling to make an impact on the matter of the teaching of evolution while making all kinds of controversial concessions to religion in other areas of reason seems pretty much a waste of effort to me.

Anonymous said...

Oh, "Anonymous," you might be interested in this post on the Friendly Atheist blog: "Atheist Demographic Growth Stable".

I'd think you'd be interested in the fact that the article in question references unscientific surveys that suffer from confusion of terms (hint: non-religious =! atheist).

Be that as it may, assuming you are right and conversions to atheism will sweep the globe in a vast tsunami of unbelief, we are left asking: then what? Once the human race is 100% athiest it is apparently doomed to extinction given the inability of atheists to breed.

Furthermore, your claim of effective memetic conversion to increase the number of athiests does not address their lack of offspring. By any Darwinian definition, this inability would classify atheists as an inferior species. Darwin wold have to classify any species this impotent and infertile as a failure. And that is very, very ironic.

Besides, there was another group that tried to rely exclusively on memetic reproduction instead of genetic. They were called the Shakers.

They aren't around any more.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "I'd think you'd be interested in the fact that the article in question references unscientific surveys"

If you think that ARIS and the Pew surveys are unscientific, then you are pretty clueless on the matters that we are discussing.

On another matter ...

I do see myself as at least trying to be on the side of reason, and if you were simply saying that the bit about "ways of knowing" was problematic or that she's coming dangerously close to endorsing the idea that the religious have a "proper" magisterium as outlined by Gould's NOMA concept, I'd say that this was fair.

Your ideas on how Eugenie Scott is somehow engaging in appeasement, however, don't stand up to close examination. The sort of thing that you have Scott conceding--namely authority to lobby to ban RU-486, block condom distribution, etc.--is not something that she even has to offer, and she isn't even putting roadblocks in the way of those who want to counter such lobbying. The idea that Scott is somehow complicit in the Catholic Church's misdeeds, even when what she has done hasn't come close to rising to the level of material support, smacks of lazy guilt by association. From what I can see, Eugenie Scott's positions look like outgrowths from attacking the creationists' contention that evolution entails atheism, rather than as an attempt to appease.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

You're determined not to be taken seriously, aren't you?

Pay attention:

Many atheists do choose to have children. Those that don't are not necessarily incapable of having children, and may later change their minds. The world is currently overpopulated -- tens of millions at least are already starving to death, and the population is still rising. There is no risk of the human race going extinct. In many ways, it is both more ethical and more adaptive for individual humans not to have children so as to support the human race as a whole.

Furthermore, atheists are the same species as theists. They can, and sometimes do, interbreed.

A species that simultaneously halves its birth rate and doubles its life expectancy plays a zero sum game -- there's no sudden drop-off in population. This is why, despite the fact that the average number of children per family has dropped in the last century, that the population of American has only risen during that century. In the same time, the proportion of that population that are atheists has also increased. How can you reconcile any of these facts with...well...I wouldn't want to go so far as calling anything you've said in this thread a "point".


You should feel really stupid for needing all that explained to you.


"BTW, from a purely Darewinian point of view which society is superior and more succesful: one that embraces abortion and birth control, or one that does not?"

It depends, are the populations limited to islands? Chatham islanders, before being wiped out by the Maori, engaged in infant castration to prevent the population from outstripping the island's resources.

Easter islanders, on the other hand, did no such thing and suffered a huge population crash in the 19th century after decades of overfishing, over-hunting, and non-sustainable agriculture.

In a situation with limited resources that can be depreciated by over-harvesting (the planet earth for example), the ability for a population to constrain its growth is actually very adaptive. This lesson can be learned from many biological organisms. For instance, in at least some species of fig tree, pollination is performed by tiny wasps that spend almost their whole life cycle within the fruit of the fig tree. Also living in those figs is a nematode worm that is a parasite to those wasps. If the nematodes are too fecund, they consume or weaken the wasps before the wasps can emerge to pollinate another fig, thereby dooming both the wasps and the nematodes to death inside their delicious, juicy prison.

-Dan L.

Russell Blackford said...

No offence, Jerry, but I think Margaret Downey looks better in the nurse's uniform than you would.