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April 19, 2003

Responses to question time :)

I'm wrapping two message board posts into one. More efficient....

First, from the post Cannibals:

What is your take on this: the ancient Hebrew story (Genesis) puts agriculture before hunting and gathering. Evolution, of course, puts agriculture AFTER hunting and gathering. Why would the ancient Hebrew story reverse the order in this way?

What of this principle of degeneration? something evolution religiously avoids in principle. I think we may have demonstrated that degeneration is indeed an operative principle in the life force development.

Posted by: David Yeagley at April 18, 2003 05:36 PM

First, to the semantic issue, on this blog, we don't tend to use "evolution" in just one fashion, and often it is explicitly in the context of macro & microevolution, ie; biological evolution. So generalizations can get tricky when the context is unclear. You are in the first paragraph speaking of an inductively observed process of social evolution which is a totally different idea entirely, and frankly without more than the most slim of theroetical bases, in contrast to biological evolution which in the scientific fashion weds fact to theory and can make some reasonable predictions and engages in reproducable experiments.

On the specific question you ask, there are myriad responses. I have noticed Hugh Ross (an Old Earth Creationist who rejects biological evolution and is marginally more plausible in a rational world-view than the Young Earth Creationists) attempt to shoehorn Genesis into an understanding of the fossil record. It works-if you believe his theories ahead of time. Otherwise, Ross' assertions are tenditious, and the science he references as well as the theological paradigm he uses are both subject to personal preference and in my perception cherry picking to suit his idea (big surprise).

The Hebrew conception of Genesis from a secular viewpoint seems quite clearly the product of the Levantine mileau of the Bronze Age (according to Hebrew scholar Elliott Friedmann for instance the Christian conception of creation ex nihilo is not supported scripturally but rather the Lord God creates the universe from a preformed chaos, just like the traditional Sumerio-Semitic creation tales). This was a time when "civilization" as we understand it (literacy, state-craft, etc.) existed as puddles in a sea of barbarism. I believe that "agriculture" did not reach Nordland (Scandinavia) until around 4000 BCE-and there were still plenty of peoples making the transition or existing in a state of tension. It is important to remember that the process of "civilization," transition from hunter-gatherer tribalism to agricultural literate statecraft did not happen in clear cut temporal chunks, one after the other, rather it was messy, overlapping, and halting process that smeared itself over the human species. This is clearly why many of the ancients accepted a cyclical rather than progressive conception of history-the Bronze Age Greeks and Indus Valley Civilization both seemed to "regress" as you term it before the rebirth of their civilizations in their "Classical" phase. But a lifestyle is not inferior or superior.

Going back to the evolutionary conception borrowed from biology-lifestyles are either reproductively advantageous or they are not. There is some indication that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was more healthy than the high-starch low protein agricultural mode. But, the minimum human caloric intakes were maintained in a steadier fashion, and so over the long term, semi-healthy peasants out-bred hunter-gatherers (demic expansion). This does not mean that the peasant lifestyle is "more natural," or "less natural," or even better or "progress." This is all framed in your conception of what is good, what is bad, etc. But it is possible in my opinion to step back and decouple the facts from our norms. Some groups such as the Khoisan (Bushman) of the Kalahari might very well have "regressed" because of historical marginalization by other peoples, especially expansive and agriculturally sophisticated Bantu cultivators from the north and west who sequestered lands previously used in some sort of nomadism.

A standard historicist explanation of the Hebrew conception of their relationship with the earth and the wilderness is that they were nomads who conquered the cultivator civilization of the Canaanites (revisionists will object of course that this is mythology used to justify the ruling Jewish class during the era of United Kingdom). Since their self-worth was tied to their superiority in some sense (at least anachronistically)-it would seem plausible that they would hurl contempt on the cultivators and praise nomadism and hunting. Similarly the Tutsi pastoralists considered themselves "superior" in some fashion to the Hutu Bantu agriculturalists because of the military and political domination that the former imposed upon the latter, though the latter were "superior" if you consider agriculture as the hallmark of progress. The examples are myriad and one only need to look at Central Asia to see the repeated conquest of nomads and hunters among the cultivator oases of the peasants-and yet eventually the "conquerors" were also won over to agriculture because of its competative advantages (the historians of Central Asia speak of peoples like the Turks and Mongols being "cooked" by civilization from their raw state).

Finally another alternative is that the Hebrew Genesis story is garbled in some fashion. Perhaps an ancient scribe reversed the order of some verses by mistake during transcription? Stranger things have been known to happen (Sea of Reeds -> Red Sea).

And as I've alluded to above, I do not believe evolution mandates "progress" or "regress." Rather it seems you are inserting in teolology (purpose) into a scientific world-view that is focused on process and method rather than product. It seems clear that natural historically there has been a general trend toward greater complexity from our perspective-but the vast majority of the biomass of this planet might very well be prokaryotic-and we eukaryotic organisms might be jaded by own macro-scale successes to equate complexity = progress = success. In fact the argument could be made that the least entropic phase was during the "Age of Dinosaurs," but since we don't have access to dinosaur internal anatomy we can't guage that much being speculation.

OK, to another entry....

From Where did the brown chix go?.

So what about the evpsych thing about women being more inherently valuable or whatever it is? Explain this to me, ye Dawkinsites.

Posted by: Justin Slotman at April 18, 2003 09:19 AM

Be carefull of absolutes my friend-aside from your (and many others') fixation on Malkin and Chua. Among mammals females act as a sort of "limiting reagent." While women have a fixed number of gestations men have millions of sperm. The concept is pretty simple. But that does not imply that just because it is "good for the species" that you have more females (more possible births) that it is good for the individual.

Exmaple-you have two populations, A & B. A has 90 females, 10 males. B has a 50:50 ratio. The females in A and B are "programmed" genetically to pop out the ratios above. It seems clear that over time group A will outreproduce group B if you assume equal fertility for the two groups of females. But within group A the women that have sons will be the most successfull of all! Why? Because those 10 males have MANY more children than each of the 90 females. So you have a tension between individual and group and the two will often balance out (this is an example of group selection).

This applies to Haryana-for the society it would be good to have more women. But because of the price of dowaries it is better that individual women have more sons. Additionally the partilineal and patrifocal basis of this society also weights the scale toward sons. Why pay dowaries? Well-it gets rid of daughters! Daughters don't contribute to the social line of descent and don't live with their natal family in the end in any case-in contrast with the boys-rather, many of these families speak of "raising other family's wives." On a social scale Punjabis are smart enough to know it would be better to have more daughers, but individually they are not willing to make the sacrifice. Eventually the costs of sons vs. daughters will change because of circumstances.

Why is the "north" so much more wacked out in this way than the "south"? I emailed Suman a long time ago that northern India-and especially the Cow Belt (Hindi speaking area in the north-centre & north-west) has more social commonalities with the Islamic world if you look at vital statistics than southern India. Kerala is as Steve Sailer has asserted-"is Sweden without the wealth" (I would add Sweden without the hot chicks too). Tamil Nadu is now at replacement level fertility! In contrast regions of the north more resemble Libya or Jordan in their fertility rates. What gives?

One thing that GNXP can address is the genetics. I have already hinted that certain races follow different reproductive strategies-generally following Rushton's rule as far as gender ratio at birth goes. This is not something I have been able to "prove," but there seems a trend that might be explained that way, though other things could account for it (African populations have more female at birth while East Asians have the least, even in Japan where girls are preferred!). In the context of India-we might also bring into play Henry Harpending's idea of a "northern" and "southern" wave out of Africa. India is a mix of the two waves and it seems plausible that the "southern" coastal wave left more of an impact on the south while the "northern" wave has influenced the north more with the neolithic revolution and the expansion of Middle Eastern farmers. This might be a reflection of different mating strategies between the two populations.

To a more prosaic answer-you might try the "hydraulic thesis." North-northwest India requires complex social organizations predicated on centralization to keep the irrigation networks going. Additionally the agriculture is labor intensive and monopolized by men. In contrast one could argue that Kerala with its more salubrious climate (warmer & more equitable rainfall) did not require such centralization to mobilize social resources to keep up a high population density. Additionally perhaps the agricultural style (more gardening) was conducive to female participation in the communal work giving them greater power. Of course this can act as a selective pressure and the social & historcal could cause a genetic shift as well (in other words only certain personality types are successfull in hydraulic civilizations vs. garden civilizations).

Kerala is the home of groups such as the Nayar who were the last to keep up matrilineal & matrifocal practices that were found in other regions of southern India in the pre & early historical periods. The current gender equity is probably partially a reflection of this. Please note that matrilineal and matrifocal cultures are different from matriarchal cultures. The latter are really not existent insofar as women take over men's temporal roles (exclusively queens instead of kings, female generals, etc.)-but rather groups like the Iroquois had women in positions of power who acted as consultative and veto-wielding voices that tempered the male leaders-it was more complementary equality than female domination.

On the role of Christianity-most of them in Kerala are not recent converts but rather old Syrian Christian communities, so it is not likely due to a wholesale importation of "Western values." On the other hand the Christians almost certainly serve as a gateway to Western outlooks and also missionary and philanthropic organizations would have found it easier to work among the "Christians of Saint Thomas" and their cosmopolitan environs in Kerala than the more closed and xenophobic mileau of northern India. Also, Christians form about 5% of Tamil Nadu's population. I invite readers to inspect the sex ratio tables at Census India, Christian states tend to have good ones (balanced), but so does India's most Hindu state, Orissa.

On whether this will be a boon for women, I don't think so. Call me a pessimist but we might see women being viewed less of an expense than as a commodity whose price might be recouped at some point. Perhaps that is an improvement, but individuation and separation from familial identity need to be driven by overall cultural changes, not just economic incentives, at least in my view. Arm these chicks, they need to kill some of their obnoxious brothers and fathers off.

Posted by razib at 03:45 PM

>> What is your take on this: the ancient Hebrew story (Genesis) puts agriculture before hunting and gathering. Evolution, of course, puts agriculture AFTER hunting and gathering. Why would the ancient Hebrew story reverse the order in this way?

The answer seems pretty obvious to me. In post-Neolithic times, food production became increasingly important as food gathering waned. The ancient Hebrews thus got most of their food from domesticated animals and crops, not by hunting or gathering. It would have been unimaginable to think of a time when people did not do this. How could they possibly live? Cultivation and stock-breeding would seem like the natural state of mankind, while hunting and gathering as innovations, luxuries, designed to bring more variety to the staple diet of domesticated crops and animals.

Note also, that the Hebrews lived in the middle of the Neolithic cradle. They didn't have as many chances of hearing about hunter-gatherer populations, which persisted elsewhere for much longer.

Finally, the Hebrew mythology is young. Parts of it were borrowed from the older Mesopotamian civilizations, but even those started thousands of years after the invention of agriculture.

Posted by: Dienekes at April 19, 2003 06:47 PM

Razib: in your 'Group A', if there is any genetic variance in the tendency to produce male or female offspring, the 'male producing' genes will increase in frequency, as 'male producers' have higher reproductive fitness, for precisely the reason you give yourself. This is an example of the classic Fisher argument for a 50:50 sex ratio (or, to be more precise, for a 50:50 ratio of reproductive investment in the two sexes).

Even if there is no genetic variance for the sex ratio, I don't see where your 'balance between individual and group selection' comes in. Assuming equal fertility (and mortality), as you do, and assuming a ceiling to overall population size, your Group B would rapidly go extinct.

Posted by: David Burbridge at April 20, 2003 10:05 AM

As late as the first half of the 19th century, there were people who chose to leave an advanced agricultural society (the US and Canada) to join more primitive societies where agriculture merely supplemented hunting-gathering (American Indians). The northeast Indians way of life seriously lacked security (a high death rate among the young from warfare and among the old from starvation), but it certainly had it's attractions as compared to continuous hard labor on a farm. European-style agriculture supported about 100 times the population density, which is needed for factories manufacturing steel knives, firearms, etc. - so it wasn't at all hard to see that the Indians were doomed, but as long as it was possible to ignore this, there were white men leaving the settlements and joining the Indians.

Posted by: markm at April 20, 2003 06:16 PM

Raz. Despite the variety of time frames in which different groups of homo sapiens have developed, I think there is still a question of oddity regarding the Hebrew version of it all, which actually is quite consistent: what we see today is degenerative, and not the product of progress. I'm not addressing the ultimate truth of such a view, but only that in ancient literature, it was quite unique. All you have to do is read the available ancient literature to see the differences. I don't see any comparison, at the important levels. But we're not even dealing with the matter of oral tradition here...that puts a monkey-wrench in all theories that first texts represent authenticity...

I man is an advanced primate, he would pass through the stages, somehwere along the line, of dietary challenges. Are you saying some were carnivorous, some vegetarian, some mixed, etc.?
Well, that's another Hebrew element: the original diet was vegetarian. Not until after the flood was meat eating by man a custom. This is what I mean about the overall consistency in the Hebrew idea that man is in a degenerate state.
Never mind what's actually true and what isn't. We're only talking literary concept here.

Now, descending from the gods is a different kind of degeneration, though in this sense the Hebrew story may seem similar to the others, all of which have their creators. I guess I'm saying they just aren't so consistent in the details, perhaps.

I guess what I'm getting at is the question of genetic impetus in religion. Is there any? Does it exist at all? Do different genes produce different cosmologies? Are Hebrew genes (as far as the ancient ones can be conjectured) different from everyone elses?

Posted by: David Yeagley at April 20, 2003 08:13 PM

davids ask hard questions. will get to them at some point :)

Posted by: razib at April 20, 2003 08:52 PM

The Hebrews were nomadic herdsman, not hunter/gatherers. Totally different thing. Now, as to whether domesticated animals followed grain agriculture, or were a parallel devleopment, I'm not sure (and I'm not sure anyone else is sure, either...)

The Hebrews had the typical herdman's distain for the those who "scratch their living from the earth" (like the Eqyptians, who they might be decended from...) Thus, when Cain presents his sacrifice of "fruit of the earth", Yahweh has "no regard" for it, while he digs Abel's offering of the firstlings of his flock...

Posted by: jimbo at April 21, 2003 08:17 AM

Jimbo, the argument goes: Abel's offering was connected to the theology of sacrifice. But the Hebrew 'version' used animal instead of human sacrifices. That is understood to be a major advancement. Yet, if you consider the possiblity that the Hebrew story was authentic, then animal human sacrifice is a perversion of the idea, which, again would add to the consistency of the Hebrew idea that man is degenerative, in every way.
Odd thing is, The Hebrew story clearly states that man was made in the image of God! So, he ain't no accident of nature. The accident was in the "fall."
I mean, never mind the actuallity of the story, just consider its remarkable consistency and depth of insight. Those old rabbis just have to be the greatest story tellers and writers on earth!

also, the trend is from hunter to herdsman, not from agriculture to herdsman, as I understand it.

but it is true, even though God appointed agriculture in Eden, then immediately after the Fall, the herdsman's sacrifice alone was accepted, as per reasons mentioned above.

Posted by: David Yeagley at April 21, 2003 07:53 PM

Orissa is also one of the poorest states in India. And Kerala is 25% Muslim (highest proportion of any state in India). I don't think religion explains any of the variance.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at April 24, 2003 02:09 PM