Evolution and the Media: Liberals, Atheists Are More Highly Evolved?

The Kanazawa study claiming that liberalism, atheism, and sexual exclusivity are evolutionary novel and advantageous has been making its rounds both in the blogosphere and in the mainstream media.  I will not be criticizing the article now (although I plan to do so at some point because I have some beef with it) but I wanted to discuss the MSM’s coverage of it – specifically National Geographic’s article.

Liberals, Atheists Are More Highly Evolved?.

Honestly, this is just stupid. The reason this upsets me is that National Geographic, a site of authority and prominence in the minds of many, is pushing an unfortunately common (but easily correctable) misconception of evolution. That title should not have been published.

Why is the title incorrect?

There is no concept of “more highly evolved” in evolutionary theory – it makes no sense. Our anthropocentrism leads people to think that we are somehow more “highly evolved” than bacteria, grass or even chimpanzees and this just is not true. Evolutionary theory rid science of the Great Chain of Being and has shown us that in the eyes of evolution, we are more equal than unequal (if such a concept even makes sense in the first place). The bacteria, grass, and chimps alive today share an equally long evolutionary history with humans. Not only that, but evolution is not forward-looking – it is a process that occurs in the here and now. Organisms alive today are no “better” than their ancestors; they are just better fit to the current environment.

So there is no “high” and is there no “low;” every organism alive shares the same length of evolutionary history and are adapted to their current (but ever-changing environments). In the words of Aldo Leopold, we humans should not see ourselves as “conquerors” of the world, and perhaps not even as “stewards,” but as “citizens.” We are no better than the bacteria, the grass, nor the chimpanzee.

And with that, even if liberals and atheists have some evolutionary advantage that does not mean they are more highly evolved than conservatives and theists – it (assumingly) just means they have more children in the current environment.

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