Creationism, Evolutionism, and Categories

I’ve been thinking about the progression of ideas about natural categories, such as “men” and “women,” “cows” and “mules,” “English” and “Polynesian.” Not exactly our high philosophical progression, but a somewhat commoner one.

It seems that 100 years or so ago, most people would have explained the differences between things with a simple, “Because God wanted them to be that way.” And if God wants it that way, then the way they are is good and you should leave them alone.

I have heard my [sibling] wax practically poetic about the way God made mules and horses for farm work, and why you should not yoke together an ox and a donkey. (One of the interesting parts of meeting my siblings for the first time as an adult was realizing that dorkiness is genetic.)

The evolutionary perspective is that evolution created things (or, as we like to call it around here, GNON, the God of Nature and Nature’s God.) Gnon and God are functionally rather similar, for Gnon also made things in natural categories, and while we may refrain from deeming them “good” in quite the same way as religious people, we certainly believe that each group’s features serve purposes that have helped members of that group survive where others did not.

The conservative creationist denies the role of evolution, but he does not deny that categories exist. He merely disputes their method of creation. To quote Answers in Genesis:

So, a good rule of thumb is that if two things can breed together, then they are of the same created kind. …

As an example, dogs can easily breed with one another, whether wolves, dingoes, coyotes, or domestic dogs. When dogs breed together, you get dogs; so there is a dog kind. It works the same with chickens. There are several breeds of chickens, but chickens breed with each other and you still get chickens. So, there is a chicken kind. The concept is fairly easy to understand.

But in today’s culture, where evolution and millions of years are taught as fact, many have been led to believe that animals and plants (that are classed as a specific “species”) have been like this for tens of thousands of years and perhaps millions of years. So, when they see things like lions or zebras, they think they have been like this for an extremely long time.

From a biblical perspective, though, land animals like wolves, zebras, sheep, lions, and so on have at least two ancestors that lived on Noah’s Ark, only about 4,300 years ago. These animals have undergone many changes since that time. But dogs are still part of the dog kind, cats are still part of the cat kind, and so on. God placed variety within the original kinds, and other variation has occurred since the Fall due to genetic alterations.

For all that people accuse the Answers in Genesis folks of being crazy, and for all that they are trying awfully hard to re-invent the wheel, this is an unobjectionable approach to species and hybridization.

By contrast, the liberal creationist, since she cannot fall back on God in his rejection of Gnon, asserts that the categories themselves do not exist. “Race is a social construct. Gender is a social construct.” etc. Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, who is definitely not a crazy Creationist with no respect for science, writes:

When people talk about the differences between men and women they are often drawing on sex – on rigid ideas of biology – rather than gender, which is an understanding of how society shapes our understanding of those biological categories.

Gender is more fluid – it may or may not depend upon biological traits. [bold mine.] More specifically, it is a concept that describes how societies determine and manage sex categories; the cultural meanings attached to men and women’s roles; and how individuals understand their identities including, but not limited to, being a man, woman, transgender, intersex, gender queer and other gender positions. …

The sociology of gender examines how society influences our understandings and perception  of differences between masculinity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “man”) and femininity (what society deems appropriate behaviour for a “woman”). We examine how this, in turn, influences identity and social practices. We pay special focus on the power relationships that follow from the established gender order in a given society, as well as how this changes over time.

And the New York Times writes:

Race is not biological. It is a social construct. There is no gene or cluster of genes common to all blacks or all whites. Were race “real” in the genetic sense, racial classifications for individuals would remain constant across boundaries. Yet, a person who could be categorized as black in the United States might be considered white in Brazil or colored in South Africa.

Answers in Genesis understands genetics better than the New York times or people with doctorates from actual universities. That is pretty damn pathetic.

crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct
crayon map of racial distribution. Not guaranteed correct

Of course, some of our ideas about what “men” and “women”  or “blacks” and “whites” are like are cultural (especially any that involve technology, since technology has changed radically over the past 100 years.) As an amateur anthropologist, I am quite aware that different cultures have different ideas on these subjects. This does not negate the fact that “maleness” and “femaleness” are basically biologically-driven. Female interest in babies and male interest in violence has its roots in biology, not culture. Genetics have a huge effect on personality. Likewise, races are absolutely real, biological categories, which no doctor attempting an organ transplant can afford to ignore.

The idea that races don’t exist in some kind of genetic way is absurd. Let’s just take the EDAR gene:

Ectodysplasin A receptor (EDAR) is a protein that in humans is encoded by the EDAR gene. EDAR is a cell surface receptor for ectodysplasin A which plays an important role in the development of ectodermal tissues such as the skin.[3][4][5] …

A derived G-allele point mutation (SNP) with pleiotropic effects in EDAR, 370A or rs3827760, found in most modern East Asians and Native Americans but not common in African or European populations, is thought to be one of the key genes responsible for a number of differences between these populations, including the thicker hair, more numerous sweat glands, smaller breasts, and dentition characteristic of East Asians.[7]… The 370A mutation arose in humans approximately 30,000 years ago, and now is found in 93% of Han Chinese and in the majority of people in nearby Asian populations. The derived G-allele is a mutation of the ancestral A-allele, the version found in most modern non-East Asian and non-Native American populations.

Most East Asians and Native Americans (that is, the greater Asian Race,) have the G-allele of EDAR. Most non-Asians have the A-allele.

World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes
World map of Y-DNA Haplotypes

If you don’t have some form of causality to explain how the world’s variation came to exist, I guess you fall back on “it’s totally random and meaningless.”

The Most Important People in History?

Who's that guy in the middle?
Who’s that guy in the middle?

While searching for a children’s book about that incident with Teddy Roosevelt and the bear (which you really would think someone would write a kid’s book about,) I decided to rank the importance of historical figures by number of children’s books (not YA) about them in the library database.

The round numbers are estimates, due to searches generally returning a number of irrelevant or duplicate titles that just have an author or title with a similar name to what your looking for. With the rarest subjects, I was able to count how many relevant books there were (I decided to exclude, for example, a fictional series with characters named Nick and Tesla, but you might have included them,) but for the guys with multiple hundreds of books, I just subtracted about a quarter of their score. This did not change the rankings, but it does remove some granularity.

The most important guys in the room:

Jesus: 250

Einstein: 150

Columbus: 150

George Washington: 100

Lincoln: 100

Moderately Important:

MLK: 50

Jefferson: 40

Edison: 40

Sacajawea: 30

John Brown (raid on Harper’s Ferry): 30

Rosa Parks: 30

Harriet Tubman: 30

Sojourner Truth: 30

Amelia Earhart: 25

Darwin: 20

Gandhi: 15

Washington Carver (peanuts): 15

Frida Kahlo: 15

Marie Curie: 15

Nelson Mandela: 12


Isaac Newton: 10

Malcolm X: 9

Botticelli: 6

Teddy Roosevelt: 5

Beyonce: 5

Malala Yousafzazi: 5

Mary Terrell (female civil rights activist): 3

Jonas Salk (Polio Vaccine): 3

John Snow (helped eliminate Cholera, but who cares about that?): 1

Tesla: 1

Niels Bohr (father of quantum physics): 0.1 (part of a series.)


Thoughts: This is a winner-take-all economy. The cultural leaders are clearly enshrined on top. Does the library really need 100 books about George Washington? Probably not. Could it use a few more books about Teddy Roosevelt or Niels Bohr? Probably.

The cultural leaders appear to be hanging on to their positions despite modern liberalism; John Lennon is not out-selling Jesus (at least among kids.) Columbus’s numbers were a surprise to me, given that a lot of people really hate him, but his popularity is probably due to the fact that Columbus Day is still celebrated in elementary schools and school kids have to write reports about Columbus. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Columbus’s numbers shrink quite a bit over the next few decades.)

In the Moderately Important category, we have most of our diversity and civil rights inclusions. MLK might not have risen to the levels of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (yet), but he’s beaten out Jefferson for third-most-famous American status.

This section most exemplifies how fame is created by cultural elites (aka the Cathedral). Jesus’s popularity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but the fact that you know Rosa Parks’s name and not that of thousands of other people who made similar stands against segregation is due simply to a committee deciding that Rosa Parks was more likeable than they were, and so they were going to publicize her case. If someone decided to make an obscure Serbian scientist who used to work for Thomas Edison famous, he might suddenly jump from John Snow-level obscurity to Amelia Earhart fame, though the acquisition of children’s books for the library would obviously lag by a few years. And if someone decides that maybe Teddy Roosevelt isn’t so important anymore, maybe we should talk about some other guys, then Roosevelt can drop pretty quickly from #4 American to the bottom of the list.

At the bottom, we have people who are even less important than Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart, like Jonas Salk and John Snow. I know I harp on this a lot, but I consider it a fucking tragedy that the guys who saved the lives of millions of people are less famous than some woman who crashed a plane into the Pacific Ocean.







Are the Pygmies Retarded?

While researching the previous post, I came across a claim that the Pygmies are retarded due to having IQs around 55.

No, the Pygmies are not retarded.

If you’ve already read Two Kinds of Dumb, you already know why, and don’t need to continue on. But if you’ve just wandered in, here’s the quick and dirty version:

An actual diagnosis of mental retardation requires not only a low IQ score (I think the bar is 75 but could be 70, I forget,) but also major life impairments. That is, the person must be unable to do, unsupervised, the normal things people do to function, like hold down a job, get dressed, or feed themselves.

While I don’t know the exact IQs of the pygmies, all of the evidence I’ve seen suggest that the average is probably pretty low. For starters, books are heavy, so hunter-gatherers tend not to carry them around, which has a real impact on the average hunter-gather’s ability to read. Second, hunter-gatherers tend not to conduct much trade, so they tend not to need much in the way of mathematics. Some groups don’t even have words for numbers over three. Such groups tend to score lousily on math tests.

I’ve searched high and low for whether or not Pygmy languages contain words for numbers over 3, and come up with nada. But I think Pymies tend to use a lot of words from other languages/be multi-lingual, so if the Pygmies are speaking some other language they picked up from an agricultural tribe, the language could easily have a full suite of number words whether the Pygmies had any interest in numbers or not.

Third, given neither books nor maths in Pygmy history, it’s unlikely that there’s been any selective pressure on the Pygmies to adapt to readin’ and ‘rithmetic.

Fourth, there is a pretty strong correlation between IQ scores and technological complexity. You don’t have to think of IQ as “intelligence” if you don’t want to, but whatever it is, it is necessary for building technologically complex societies. If the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is your thing, then you don’t need much in the way of IQ.

And fifth, their heads are kind of small. Unfortunately, brains have to go somewhere, and this poses a limit on grey matter.

That said, Pygmies are perfectly functional in their environment. They can hunt and gather their own food, carry on some trade with their neighbors, build their own houses, make their own clothes, get dressed, cook, take care of their children (one Wikipedia article claims that one Pygmy group has some of the highest level of fatherly involvement in child-rearing in the world,) are bi- and tri-lingual, and otherwise conduct their lives.

If you and I got dropped in the rainforest, we’d probably die within three or four days.

To over-simplify, mental retardation is generally caused by some form of traumatic brain injury, say, by getting dropped on your head as a child, eating lead, or being born with an extra chromosome. These injuries change your IQ from what it should have been, and cause a general loss of brain functioning.

If you live in a society where the average IQ is 100, then the average person you meet with a 50 IQ is most likely someone who suffered a traumatic injury.

However, if you live in a society where the average IQ is 50, this is the normal, um-injured IQ of people in your society. It just means that people in your society are bad at reading and math, not that they were all dropped on their heads as infants and cannot care for themselves.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “what if Pygmy low IQ is caused by malnutrition? After all, they ARE pretty short.”

Doubtful. There’s no reason to think that Pygmies would have been more malnourished than all of their neighbors for thousands of years (we have records going back that far.) Also, their height is genetic (see studies on Pygmy genetics,) not due to malnutrition. According to Westhunter, an average-heighted person would have to starve to death twice before mere malnourishment would make them as short as a pygmy.


Are Pygmies human?

I’ve also come across this question during my research, so I think it bears addressing.

Look, the term “human” is a social construct. So is the whole concept of “species.” You can come up with a personal definition of “human,” if you feel like it, that doesn’t include the Pygmies. Certainly their neighbors, who rape, murder, eat, and enslave the Pygmies (and sometimes evict them to make more room for gorillas,) do not regard the Pygmies as human. Personally, I look down on the Pygmies’ neighbors for their despicable behavior toward the Pygmies, rather than look down on the Pygmies for their stature and lifestyle.

Practically speaking, people only declare other groups of people “not humans” in order to justify killing them. I have no desire to kill the Pygmies; it seems more pleasant to me to live in a world where Pygmies exist, while still recognizing them as one of the most genetically distinct groups on Earth.


Reality is a Social Construct

I agree that gender is a social construct. So is sex. (So is the other kind of sex.) So is species. So is “fish”. So is blue. So is reality.

People say “X is a social construct” as though this were some deep, profound statement about this thing being actually some form of mass delusion.

All “socially constructed” really means is that the definition of a word–or concept–is agreed upon via some form of common consensus. Thus, the meaning of words can be changed if everyone decides to do so.

“Gay” was once socially constructed to mean “happy.” Now, by popular consensus, “gay” means something else. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, homosexuality and pedophilia were conceptually linked–we would say, homosexuality was socially constructed to include pedophilia. Today, the two terms are not seen as synonymous–the social construction has changed.

You ever notice that “red onions” are purple? Our socially constructed categories of “red” and “purple” have changed.

We all filter the raw material data of reality through the ideas, concepts, patterns, and categories already in our heads–our assumptions about the world can lead two different people to have radically different experiences of the exact same physical reality.

This is a natural effect of language being language, rather than, say, rocks. It is not a profound statement. It is a caution that we may be led astray at times by conceptual categories, our categories/definitions may need occasional updating in light of new data, or that edge cases may not always fit neatly into broad categories.

Most people understand this intuitively, as part of how interfacing between our fallible little selves and reality works. That reality does not always conform exactly to our notions about it is confirmed every time we stub a toe.

When people start making a big deal out of social constructivism, it is natural to think this must be some big, profound, important insight, otherwise they wouldn’t be going on for so long.

But people only pull out this argument when they want to deny the existence of actual reality, not when trying to argue that your notion of “ornamental shrub” is socially constructed and you should plant a blueberry bush.

Reality exists, no matter how we care to conceptualize it and organize the data we’re getting about it. Most categories that weren’t invented for the sake of a novel (“elves” probably are totally made up,) exist because they serve some sort of functional purpose. Being able to call someone “male” or “female,” “black” or “white” or “Bantu” or “Japanese” allows me to convey a bundle of information to the listener–a feature of language obvious to virtually everyone who has ever engaged in conversation, except to folks trying to eliminate such words from the language on the grounds that they are made up and so carry no information.