I took a break this weekend to enjoy being back on my laptop, but I’m about two-thirds through The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s been a great ride so far, and Dawkins does a good job of covering different aspects of evolution, examples, and, of course, the nature of the evidence behind those aspects.
Readers from my old blog might remember Gabriel the racist troll (and many probably wish otherwise). He once tried to argue that Dawkins was describing Lamarckian evolution in the book with respect to the evolution of dogs, and unsurprisingly, I can’t find anything remotely like that, unless Gabriel thought Dawkins was talking about literally chiseling their bone and flesh, despite explicitly saying he was talking metaphorically, and what was really being subtracted was their gene pool by excluding dogs with less desirable traits from breeding, or, in other words, artificial selection. The only arguably “acquired characteristics” talked about were genetic mutations, which don’t fit the Lamarckian model because you’re not changing the parents’ features to cause such mutations.
Naturally, the discrete nature of genes came up in the book, something which Gabriel seemed unable to grasp in our conversations. If race could be “diluted” as he often asserted, it would suggest heredity was continuous instead of discrete. If heredity worked like that, evolution would have been in serious trouble as a theory because any novel mutations or less common traits would be diluted by the more common counterparts. In such a case, genetic diversity wouldn’t last very long. Thankfully for the theory of evolution, heredity turned out to be pretty discrete by way of genes, so minority heritable features will continue to exist so long as some members of the species pass them on to their offspring. Even if the implied smart genes Gabriel seemed to believe exist in white people were real and distributed by race, they wouldn’t cease to exist from racial “dilution.” They’d just become mixed with their counterparts in the other races’ gene pool. If these mythical smart genes were Mendellian and recessive, they’d still show up whenever a kid was born with matching pairs, regardless of race or racial mix.
And that leads me to how discrete genetics, even assuming such genius genes exist and had a disadvantage at being expressed, undermines one of the implications of racist thought: That you can predict a person’s intelligence by measuring their race. The only way I can imagine to rescue racism would be to demonstrate that such genius genes exist and are are inherently connected to “racial” characteristics like skin color and facial features. Naturally, that would involve actually getting into the details of the human genome, which Gabriel bravely shied away from.
Do bear in mind that this line of argumentation is being extremely charitable by assuming a large number of false enthymemes Gabriel tried to keep hidden. For anyone who hasn’t been going through life in a perpetual haze, intelligence is a very complicated topic, but we know with a great degree of confidence that environment affects a person’s mental capabilities quite profoundly, ranging from issues of nutrition (you can’t build a powerful brain out of nothing), to educational systems, to cultural influences. Building an intelligent brain takes a lot of resources, and we don’t live in a finely playtested and balanced video game world. The playing field didn’t start out level, hence some regions had a known resource advantage for technological advancement, and that’s plenty to explain the disparities between nations. With known, parsimonious explanations in play, that’s plenty of reason to be highly skeptical of racist claims of genetic advantage.
Oh, and just in the off chance you decide to show up, Gabriel: Read the comment policy. I have to approve your first comment before any of yours get shown. I chose that setting to block commercial spam. I don’t want my inbox cluttered (again) with a million martyr whines about how I psychically read your post and frantically clicked through my blog’s dashboard just in time to delete it, all in the two seconds it took you to refresh the page. I’m not a lightning fast robotic dog made of bronze, that’s just my pseudonym. I have physical limits on my speed, which includes the speed at which my eyes can scan across your writing and the processing time for my brain to parse the text and interpret these squiggly lines with which we communicate ideas. I probably also need a moment or two to decide whether to laugh at the absurdity or headdesk/facepalm out of frustration at your inability to read for comprehension followed by another moment or two to carry out the chosen response. So hint: If you don’t see your post immediately after a refresh, it’s probably a computer that blocked it, not me.