Skip to main content

Evolution and Human History, Part III

Image result for IQ test

This will continue my examination of Nicholas Wade's book, A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: GENES, RACE, AND HUMAN HISTORY (2014).

In my first blogpost on point, I observed and approved of Wade's observations that races are biological realities, and that their development has left more recent genetic traces than sometimes thought. Sociobiologists sometimes posit that we are adapted for a period of about 10,000 years ago. Wade convincingly makes the case that there is no reason to develop such an arbitrary line. Also, race-differentiated genetics go beyond obvious features such as skin pigmentation or hair follicles. They determine matters such as the whites of our eyes, or the phenomenon of blushing, which may well in turn mould the development of behaviors.

But in the second post, I made the case that Wade wants to press this point much further than his evidence will take it.   He wants to argue that people inherit patterns of behavior in a strong sense, that behavior (for example, the tendency to obey authority unquestioningly) varies by race, with East Asians being more inclined to enthusiastic obedience than others, and that distinct civilizations in turn are distinct largely because of their different racial composition. He spends a chapter early on acknowledging the ugly history of precisely such ideas, but maintains that science is unwittingly coming around to the inference that there is some truth to them. I don't see that it is, and his efforts at persuasion fall far short.

I add a third post because I want to say something about intelligence, or its quantization, that is, IQ.  And I'll add a fourth post to say a very few words about language.

Here is that something-about-IQ: Wade distinguishes himself from others who have made analogous arguments in that he does not stress IQ as a key part of the real or alleged racial differences on which he builds his book.   I commend him for staying out of Buck v. Bell territory.

When he does raise the issue of intelligence, it is by way of considering the work of Richard Lynn, a psychologist from Northern Ireland, and Tatu Vanhanen, a political scientist from Finland. Lynn and Vanhanen have together argued, in words of theirs that Wade quotes, that "differences in the average mental abilities of populations measured by national IQ provides the most powerful, although not complete, theoretical and empirical explanation for many types of inequalities in human conditions."

Wade points out, accurately it seems to me, that Lynn and Vanhanen are guilty of the old mistake of confusing correlation with causation. A cannot be said to explain B simply because higher A corresponds to higher B or vice versa. Does higher IQ make a nation wealthier, or are the people of the wealthier nation simply better able to score high on the tests that measure IQ? In the 1980s, East German children scored significantly lower than West German children on standard tests. The obvious explanation involves the environmental differences. The gene pool hadn't had much of an opportunity to differentiate itself, and (fortunately)  the physical separation that did exist at that time didn't survive that decade.

So ... good for Wade there. But his book is, as I hope this series of posts has shown, a very uneven one. I'll have one more point to make about the book, Sunday


Popular posts from this blog

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…