Science: May 2007 Archives

Undercover Black Man has a nice post outlining the genetic advantages to race-mixing, something I've always thought should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about genetics. You don't even need to know about genetics. Just look at the hereditary problems in close-knit and inbred populations. The post details quite a few of those. It's a nice, inconvenient fact for those who think race-mixing is unnatural. Even aside from the difficulty such views face in identifying exactly which populations are the races that can't be mixed, it does seem as if nature prefers combinations of genes that are less closely-related than combinations that are too closely-related.

I do think, however, that it's worth acknowledging that some effects of combining the DNA of very distantly related people could be more harmful. If a trait requires gene coordination from both parents, and the coordination requires more closely-related DNA, then such a crossbreeding could lead to a loss of those kinds of traits, even if it's more likely to preserve traits one of the populations has lost (because those traits are usually simpler).

So it's not purely a matter of race-mixing being healthier and monoracial reproduction being less healthy. There are benefits and disadvantages either way. But the most common opposition to race-mixing in the U.S. context is the racist idea that white genes shouldn't be polluted with black genes, and blacks and whites in the U.S. at this point are much more closely related than most other interracial pairings, largely due to race-mixing in the past (ironically caused mostly by white slaveowners raping or seducing their slaves). Given that, I would expect these negative effects to be significantly reduced in black-white pairings than would have been true in the time of slavery.

So I do think the conclusion is correct. If anything, interracial relationships are at least in one respect more natural than same-race pairings.

[cross-posted at Prosblogion] Elliot Sober has a new paper, "Intelligent Design Theory and the Supernatural: The 'God or Extra-Terrestrials' Reply", in the latest issue of Faith and Philosophy (January 2007). I received my copy today, and I was amazed that this paper could get past the reviewers of a top philosophy of religion journal without serious modification, even from such an important philosopher of science as Sober.

Sober makes the following argument. Defenders of intelligent design often point out that ID arguments are not religion, and one support for this (a relatively less important one, in my view) is that the conclusion of ID arguments is silent on what the designer is like other than that the designer is intelligent and must have worked purposes into nature somehow. Sober's paper is a response to that argument, and his response is extremely strange. He argues that supernatural assumptions are implicit in the ID argument, and thus the ID defender is committed to a conclusion that there is some supernatural being.

Suppose that's all true. I'm not invested very seriously in whether that part of his argument is correct, since I happen to believe there is a supernatural being. I don't even care whether ID defenders are committed to the existence of a supernatural being, since I know no one who accepts ID who doesn't also accept a supernatural being. So I'll assume for the sake of argument that Sober is correct, and ID arguments do involve a commitment to the existence of some supernatural being. My question is how this helps Sober. His point in the paper is to show that ID arguments involve a religious conclusion. The only way he should be able to conclude that is if he thinks being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is somehow itself religious. Yet it isn't.

Lots of people think moral evaluation commits you to the existence of a supernatural being. They don't necessarily think that calling an action wrong is a religious practice. So it doesn't seem that being implicitly committed to the existence of a supernatural being is the same as practicing a religion. What's worse is that plenty of people accept theistic arguments on philosophical grounds without being religious practitioners. I personally know several people myself who do exactly that. Their theism is merely a philosophical view. It is not religious in any sense. It doesn't even affect their life. They are areligious. So how can implicitly being committed to the existence of a supernatural being amount to religion when even being explicitly committed to theism doesn't count as religion?

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