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Journal of Creation 36(3):99–105, December 2022

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What’s wrong with being wrong: a closer look at evolutionary ethics—part 3


In part 1, I underscored the difficulty of explaining how something so intangible as ethics could arise through the material process of evolution. Furthermore, altruism is at cross purposes with the selfish reproductive drive of evolution, getting “more of me” into subsequent generations. Part 2 underscored the failure of group selection, Darwin’s original theory of altruistic behaviour. Part 3 will look at another evolutionary explanation for the rise of morality and altruism, kin selection, and some of the insurmountable difficulties which emerge.

Kin selection: blood is genetically thicker than water

Photo of Hamilton
Figure 1. W.D. Hamilton, in order to explain the rise of altruism, saw how circumscribing aid to your immediate offspring would stifle the development of morality. He thus proposed the highly theoretical idea of kin selection, which would permit help to less genetically connected relations.

With a frankness seldom found, W.D. Hamilton, who set out the foundation for a full theory of kin selection (figure 1),1 noted:

“With very few exceptions, the only parts of the theory of natural selection which have been supported by mathematical models admit no possibility of the evolution of any characters which are on average to the disadvantage of the individuals possessing them. If natural selection followed the classical models exclusively, species would not show any behaviour more positively social than the coming together of the sexes and parental care.”2

Thus, the problem of altruism crystallizes: how is this type of behaviour, which appears to have a detrimental impact upon an individual’s survival and reproductive capacity, fixed and spread in a population?

To solve the problem of this working-against-one’s-own-interest behaviour, Hamilton proposed the idea of ‘inclusive fitness’.3 He argued that one’s own fitness is not solely a function of how successfully you aid your genetically proximate individuals, like your immediate offspring. Under certain conditions less propinquitous relatives may serve your ultimate reproductive interests. Hamilton’s lengthy mathematical modelling calculated that these disadvantageous acts must, on average and in proportion to their genetic relatedness, benefit an individual’s siblings and relatives more than they benefit the individual. In a strictly genetically deterministic world,4 Hamilton claimed, however, that “we expect to find that no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person but that everyone will sacrifice it when he can thereby save more than two brothers, or four half-brothers, or eight first cousins.”5 In other words, for actions between kin to be considered altruistic and to be selected for, “the ratio of the recipient’s gain to the altruist’s loss [must be] greater than the reciprocal of the degree of relatedness between them [figure 2].”6 So, for two siblings having on average 50% of their genes in common, if there is “a tendency for altruistic behaviour [to occur in] any particular gene, that gene would increase in frequency when the cost to the altruistic sib is less than one half the benefit to the other sib.”7

Image: Lindasmith0, Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0Photo of a turtle rescue
Figure 2. Hamilton’s Rule: C < rB, states that the frequency of an altruistic trait in a population will increase if the fitness cost paid for helping, C, is less than the product of the average benefit provided to another, B, and the degree to which the two individuals are related, r.

This theory was regarded by its advocates as a major leap forward for an evolutionary explanation of psychological altruism. No recipient relative outwardly pays back the donor, and no donor is actually in search of an outward reward, so it has the form of genuine altruism. The incentive to do ‘good’ lies hidden in the altruist’s genes’ drive to survive better than if aid wasn’t provided to members of the extended family. Sacrificing one’s own interests by promoting the fitness of related others ensures that your genes, with varying degrees of correspondence, will spread and thus be better represented in the broader gene pool.

Obviously, there is no coefficient abacus inside the gene calculating the maths for cost benefit and genetic relatedness. It is sufficient “an animal be pre-programmed in such a way that it behaves as if it had made a complicated calculation.”8 Notwithstanding his genetically determined world seemingly reified by his mathematical modelling, the heuristic value of Hamilton’s calculus doesn’t rise to any great height due to its not being able to reflect real world structure:

“The conventional parameters of population genetics, allele frequencies, mutation rates, epistasis, migration, group size, and so forth, are mostly omitted from the equations. As a result, Hamilton’s mode of reasoning can be only loosely coupled with the remainder of genetic theory, and the number of predictions it can make is unnecessarily limited.”9

The convenient reduction of one novel, altruistic-tending phenomenon to a single fortuitous mutation is routine in evolutionary explanations for social behaviour. Hamilton employed this throughout his kin selection account. In his seminal paper, he wrote about the disadvantageous effect indiscriminate social behaviour toward a neighbour would have on an individual’s fitness. If only this individual, he mused, “could learn to recognize those of his neighbours who were really close relatives and could devote his beneficial actions to them alone an advantage to inclusive fitness would at once appear.”10 Immediately following was his personal deus ex machina: “Thus a mutation causing such discriminatory behaviour itself benefits inclusive fitness and would be selected.”11

Though ostensibly a mathematical model, it took a gain, where none was warranted, moulded by special pleading. Olsen labelled this the fallacy of wishful thinking.12 In order to account for an exigent ability of genes to recognize genetically similar genes in other individuals, Hamilton then goes on to postulate (read, ‘invoke the spirit of’) ‘something like a supergene’.13

Once again, the problem of genetic drift could be raised. Sexual reproduction involves random sorting of genes, irrespective of their selective value. Kin selection proposes that altruism involves a gene mutation that promotes the reproductive success of others. As John Sanford has pointed out:

“Drift is especially strong in small populations, and tends to negate almost all selection. In very small populations selection is essentially neutralized (except selection against near-lethal mutations), and alleles are quickly lost or fixed randomly regardless of their fitness effect.”14

Stuart Altmann dismissed altruism being proportionally provided according to the degree of relatedness: “In sum, deployment of altruism beyond closest kin is entailed not by kin selection theory per se but by a constellation of factors. At present, the optimal allocation of altruism is unknown.”15 Illustrating his case by the act of grooming and tick removal among social mammals, he argues that there is a point of diminishing return past which it just will not pay in the long term to help those not as closely related to you. It is far better, evolutionary speaking, to remove ticks from genetically closer relatives as the rewards are more tangibly effective than from those less related. However, not all transactions are worthwhile, even on this rule of thumb, and the altruistic individual may wander outside of the close genetic relation to others. For example, closer relatives may not be available, not be tick infected or require grooming.16,17

When failure means victory

Kin selection continues to hold an enduring appeal as a solution for one of evolutionary theory’s counter-intuitive phenomena, homosexuality.18 Detractors, however, have labelled homosexuality a ‘paradox’19 because it’s inconsistent with genes’ ‘urge’ to reproduce themselves directly. Kirby sets out the problem:

 Image: Jim Harrison, Wikimedia / CC BY 2.5Photo of E.O. Wilson
Figure 3. E.O. Wilson. Evolutionists who reduce behaviour to genetics find generational continuation of homosexuality very problematic. E.O. Wilson proposed kin selection as a solution. Despite homosexuals surrendering 100% of their own genes by not reproducing, they supposedly aid close relatives who share some genetic common ground, thus spreading a proportion of their genetic material into the population.

“… given the assumed differential reproductive output of heterosexuals and homosexuals, one would anticipate that homosexual orientation, once present in the population, would be driven to extinction over the course of many generations.”20

Likening homosexuals to sterile castes in insects, E.O. Wilson (figure 3) originally proposed kin selection as a solution because homosexuals are liberated from the supposed costly investment of reproducing and channel their resources into their kin by other means.21 This non-directly contributes to the genetic fitness of the homosexual by those who hold some of the homosexual relation’s genes:

“… homosexual aunts and uncles [find] good jobs for their nephews and nieces, or homosexual individuals [provide] unpaid nanny services to their siblings or [donate] money to their relatives during life and death.”22

Calling it ‘an alternative reproductive strategy’ that enables homosexuals to ‘reproduce by proxy’, Ruse claims, with next to no supporting data, that Native American shamans tend to be homosexual and use their position to wield power and financially aid close relatives and others within their community. The vacuity of this explanation comes to light when he circularly concludes, “It seems plausible to suppose, therefore, that in such cases biology itself has promoted genes for manifesting homosexual inclinations and activity.”23

Kin selection’s explanation for homosexuality has come under attack because of its excessive dependence on theoretical modelling. Its initial charm was its unempirical, unfalsifiable quality; but several authors have indicated problems with the hypothesis itself. There are constructional problems in as much as

“… the degree of altruism toward kin required to offset the loss of direct reproduction would have to be extremely large [and] in contemporary societies, it does not appear that homosexual men are given special roles or privileges that would allow them to confer considerable benefits to kin [and t]he amount of time and effort that homosexual men spend pursuing nonreproductive sex and relationships must be at the expense of distributing resources toward kin.”24

Further belying the kin selection argument, a study by Hewitt argues that homosexuals do not lavish their wealth on relatives but rather on their homophile sources:

“[M]any gay consumers display a strong preference for dealing with gay professionals and business, but by implication shows the advantages enjoyed by gay realtors, travel agents, dentists, physicians, etc., who obtain preferential access to affluent customers.”25

This is a direct refutation of any explanation dependent on kin selection.

A series of questionnaires tested if homosexuals actually did give more to their kin. Although limited in sample size (60 homosexual and 60 heterosexual men) and confined to a Western culture, the results were unequivocal. The study concluded that

“… the data showed that there were no significant differences between heterosexual and homosexual men in any of the three family relationship scales (general affinity, generous feelings and benevolent tendencies) … [there is] little (if any) empirical support for the kin selection hypothesis of male homosexuality in Western populations.”26

Bobrow and Bailey insightfully point out that “evolutionary explanations that raise as many questions as they answer are not compelling.”27

Despite dead-end genetics, stalwart counterarguments persist. Jim McKnight, former Chair of Psychology at Western Sydney University, wrote that ‘straight’ men who carry the homosexual gene are superior to those without it. He speaks of how “homosexual genes confer a benefit to the species”, and goes on to say:

“Those straight men who have one homosexual gene (and here we are assuming a single gene for simplicity’s sake; the actual situation is more likely polygenic) probably have an enhanced sex drive which leads to great numbers of children and to a retention of the balanced homosexuality gene. These straight men are therefore genetically superior by virtue of having a dose of gayness—at least in this respect.”28

Faced with considerable conflicting evidence, Kirby settles for “as yet undetermined mechanisms [which] could be operational.” He appeals to a ‘highly speculative’ solution:

“… suppose that homosexual individuals are better “choosers” of new, resource-rich, geographical homes than heterosexual individuals and, on this basis, the groups with proportionally higher homosexual representation end up having higher reproductive outputs than those with proportionally less homosexual representation.”29

It takes little processing to appreciate just how self-serving this justificatory claim is. Arguments that are data-free, lack control groups, have a complete dearth of anecdotal evidence, and omit any comparative scaling, are considerably more than ‘highly speculative’: they are self-deception.30,31

Then they take it all back

In a complete reversal of allegiance, E.O. Wilson has recently come out swinging and attacked kin selection and, by extension, inclusive fitness. He writes they are “fundamentally wrong”. His most damaging criticism was the dearth of empirical proof, and, if it existed, it would be tied to a very limited number of social insects, almost exclusively Hymenoptera. Field and laboratory studies of termite communities, once the paradigm for kin selection, showed they grew by taking in unrelated workers from other colonies. In a further denunciation, he said that they didn’t explain these insects’ sociality, the theory was too abstract, it didn’t address disciplines such as neurobiology and ecology, and the standard theory of natural selection explains the field data better.32 In a co-authored paper, Wilson argued that the idea of inclusive fitness failed on several fronts. Summing up, the writers stated:

“… inclusive fitness theory attempts to find a universal design principle for evolution that applies at the level of the individual. The result is an unobservable quantity that does not exist in general … or has no predictive or explanatory value … . The dominance of inclusive fitness theory has held up progress in this area for many decades [which] has led to logical obfuscation and false claims of universality.”33

Knauft’s extensive field work among New Guinea tribes, particularly the Gebusi, refutes kin selection.34 The Gebusi have one of the highest homicide rates in the world, some 40 times that of the US’s, outside of its war periods. Furthermore, “at least 64.7% of the middle-aged men in two communities had committed homicide, including some who were among the least assertive and aggressive even by Gebusi standards.” What makes the Gebusi’s rate so significant is that there is no population-to-land pressure (the population density is a mere 2.6 persons per square kilometre), their political and economic life is highly decentralized, with no “big men or headmen, fight leaders, ritual eldership or gerontocracy”, no competitive exchanges and a general sense of reciprocity in food exchanges, infrequent day-to-day hostile or aggressive demeanor and general “dynamics of noncompetitive egalitarianism [which, with] communal cooperation are genuine and deeply valued.”35

Image: Cmacauley, Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0Photo of Yanomami woman and her child
Figure 4. Yanomami woman and her child. Napoleon Chagnon’s lengthy anthropological career among the Yanomamö catalogued the society’s extremely high murder rate, even among close relatives. With up to almost 40% of males being killed, his work proved a strong counterfactual to kin selection.41

Although sociobiology’s staunch defenders were quick to attack Knauft’s data,36 the Gebusi’s extraordinary killing rate nevertheless appeared to confute sociobiological predictions. These data were peculiar in that the victims had been accused of sorcery, and their deaths, either immediately or through public torture with their bodies being eaten, were carried out with their kin’s acquiescence and often initiated by close kinsmen (as an aside, Knauft notes that these practices were still alive due to the lack of, among other influences, mission intervention). The process of establishing guilt was decided through a perceived inability to adequately cook a divination packet of meat or fish, mediumship and séances. As Knauft points out, “Sociobiological theory predicts, other things being equal, that the incidence of interpersonal violence, particularly homicide, will vary inversely with the degree of biogenetic relatedness between offender and victim”37 because kin selection depends on one’s genes proliferating among related individuals. Complicity in the death of near kin would seem to clearly overturn kin selection. The killings mean the Gebusi are “dying out at an exceedingly rapid rate”.38 One reason for this is that young men are more likely to be the victim than older men, some 52.8% of all deaths for the former compared to 32% for the latter.39


Kin selection fails as an explanation for morality, arguably the quiddity of what it means to be human. It begs the question of an altruistic gene’s coming into existence, is committed to unavoidable amounts of special pleading or highly contrived theoretical circumstances and, perhaps more crucially, cannot reasonably overcome that gene’s poor fitness value.40 When empirical projects are undertaken, they do not produce, and often contradict, the theory’s predictive expectations (figure 4).41

In the next part of this paper, I will discuss another central explanation for altruism and the rise of human morality; namely, reciprocal altruism. Just as previous explanations have failed, so this also does for very similar reasons.

Posted on homepage: 19 January 2024

References and notes

  1. An early adumbration of a solution was laid out by the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane. Writing in 1932, Haldane stated that “Insofar as it makes for the survival of one’s descendants and near relations, altruistic behaviour is a kind of Darwinian fitness, and may be expected to spread as a result of natural selection” (Haldane, J.B.S., The Causes of Evolution, Longmans, Green, London, p. 131, 1932, as cited in Waddington, C.H., Mindless Societies; in: Caplan, A.L. (Ed.), The Sociobiology Debate: Readings on the ethical and scientific issues concerning sociobiology, Harper and Row Publishers, New York, p. 254, 1978). R.A. Fisher also conceived of the maths a few years prior to Haldane. It is also argued that Darwin suggested something of the concept in the 8th chapter of his On the Origin of the Species: By means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2004 (1859). On this see wikipedia.org/wiki/Kin_selection, accessed Sep 2021. Return to text.
  2. Hamilton, W.D., The genetic evolution of social behaviour—I, J. Theoretical Biology 7(1):1–16, 1964; p. 1. Return to text.
  3. Hamilton’s breakthrough followed from his observation that Hymenoptera (ants, bees, and wasps) have a remarkable mode of reproduction. What became known as the haplodiploid hypothesis, female workers, born from eggs fertilized by both the father and mother, share more of their genes with their sisters (75% due to receiving all their father’s and half of their mother’s) than with their potential offspring (50%) or brothers (25%), the latter arising from unfertilized eggs. This acts as an ‘incentive’ to assist their sisters to reproduce rather than themselves. Hamilton used this observation to explain the existence of altruism in higher-order animals. However, by the ‘90s the theory began to crumble due to, inter alia, its rarity among the social insects. For a comprehensive examination of what occurred, as well as the superficiality of “the connection that is made between data and theory”, see Nowak, M.A., Tarnita, C.E., and Wilson, E.O., The evolution of eusociality, Nature 466(7310):1057–1062, 26 Aug 2010. Return to text.
  4. While not specifically directed as a critique of biological modelling, Oreskes et al.’s article explaining the weaknesses and fallacies of numerical geo-modelling makes an insightful comment about modelling generally. The authors state: “we must admit that a model may confirm our biases and support incorrect intuitions. Therefore, models are most useful when they are used to challenge existing formulations, rather than to validate or verify them. Any scientist who is asked to use a model to verify or validate a predetermined result should be suspicious” (Oreskes, N., Shrader-Frechette, K., and Belitz, K., Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences, Science 263(5147):644, 4 Feb 1994). This is particularly apposite as so much of the explanation for the rise of morality is based on highly artificial, self-serving modelling. Return to text.
  5. Hamilton, ref. 2, p. 16. Note the corollary flip side to Hamilton’s altruistic proposal: “Clearly from a gene’s point of view it is worthwhile to deprive a number of distant relatives in order to extract a small reproductive advantage.” Return to text.
  6. Bertram, B.C.R., Problems with altruism; in: King’s College Sociobiology Group (Ed.), Current Problems in Sociobiology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 263, 1982. Kin-recognition systems also stand in need of explanation and its hypothetical existence has been theorized to further support the moral proscription and disgust toward incest. See Lieberman, D., Tooby, J., and Cosmides, L., Does morality have a biological basis? An empirical test of the factors governing moral sentiments relating to incest, Proceedings: Biological Sciences 270(1517):819–826, Apr 2003. Return to text.
  7. MacMillan, J. and Kofoed, L., Sociobiology and antisocial personality: an alternative perspective, J. Nervous and Mental Disease 172(12):701–706, Dec 1984; p. 702. Return to text.
  8. Dawkins, R., The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 103, 1976. An extremely disturbing flipside to kin selection’s raison d’être is Martin Daly and Margo Wilson’s study on child abuse in families containing a stepparent, in particular when it’s a stepfather. According to the authors, stepchildren are murdered at a rate of up to seventy times greater than a corresponding group of genetically related ones. Upsetting as this statistic is, more so are the authors’ “evolution-minded hypothesis about step-parent reluctance and resentment”. They conclude that a “hypothetical psyche that treated stepchildren and genetic children exactly alike would be a psyche vulnerable to exploitation, and would be evolutionarily unstable in competition with more discriminating alternatives. There is, then, a strong theoretical rationale for expecting that the evolved human psyche contains safeguards against allowing a mere stepchild, however appealing, easy access to that special mental category occupied by genetic children, the appropriate objects for the most nearly selfless love we know.” Daly, M. and Wilson, M., The Truth about Cinderella: A Darwinian view of parental love, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, pp. 33, 66, 1999. For an alternative explanation to Daly and Wilson’s see Jalava, J., Griffiths, S., and Maraun, M., The Myth of the Born Criminal: Psychopathy, neurobiology, and the creation of the modern degenerate, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, p. 74, 2015. Return to text.
  9. Wilson, E.O., Sociobiology: The new synthesis, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, p. 120, 2000. For an insightful article concerning the problems of Hamilton’s argument, as well as other important theorists, see Schwartz, J., Population genetics and sociobiology: conflicting views of evolution, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 45(2):224–239, 2002. Also note: “Inclusive fitness is simply a method of calculation, but one that works only in a very limited domain [and] Hamilton’s rule … has blunted inquiry into mechanisms that foster and maintain sociality in the diverse lineages where sociality has evolved” (Natural selection versus kin selection, Nature, Supplementary Information, p. 3, ped.fas.harvard.edu/files/ped/files/nature09205-s1_0.pdf ǀ doi: 10.1038/nature09205, accessed 23 Aug 2021). Return to text.
  10. Hamilton, W.D., The genetical evolution of social behaviour: II, J. Biology 7(1):17–52, Jul 1964; p. 21. Return to text.
  11. Hamilton, ref. 10, p. 22. Return to text.
  12. Olsen, R.G., Meaning and Argument, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York, 1969, as cited in Voorzanger, B., No norms and no nature—the moral relevance of evolutionary biology, Biology and Philosophy 2(3):253–270, Jul 1987; p. 268. Return to text.
  13. Hamilton, ref. 10, p. 25. Return to text.
  14. Sanford, J.C., Genetic Entropy and The Mystery of the Genome, FMS publications, Waterloo, NY, p. 217, 2008. The scenarios that evolutionists imagine where an altruistic gene first appeared all indicate a small population group. The impact of drift is universally ignored in these just-so stories. The problem is not ameliorated by invoking large populations either. Sanford also notes that “we cannot make noise ‘go away’ by invoking larger population sizes. Noise is always present, and at much higher levels than is normally acknowledged by population geneticists. In fact, very large populations invariably have enhanced noise. This is, in part, due to population substructure (many smaller subpopulations, each with its own gametic sampling fluctuations). It is also because bigger populations extend over a wider range of environments, becoming subject to even more environmental variation … . Small population size certainly aggravates the noise problem, but large population size cannot eliminate this problem” (pp. 97–98). See also his detailed discussion on pp. 204–205. Return to text.
  15. Altmann, S.A., Altruistic behaviour: the fallacy of kin deployment, Animal Behaviour 27(3):958, Aug 1979. Return to text.
  16. No supporting documentation is provided, but Kitcher writes that social grooming is a puzzle because “the hygienic benefits actually received are disproportionally small in relation to the amount of time invested” (Kitcher, P., Between fragile altruism and morality: evolution and the emergence of normative guidance; in: Boniolo, G. and De Anna, G. (Eds.), Evolutionary Ethics and Contemporary Biology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 161, 2006). Return to text.
  17. Subsequently, I identify a strong tendency for evolutionists to indulge in anthropomorphic language when describing primate behaviour. However, borrowing attributives more apposite to human actions doesn’t end at primates. The real and, allow me to suggest, desperate need for evolutionary theory to demonstrate that altruism is so plastic that it reaches across phyla, and thus is not seen as something special, can no better be illustrated than in the following quote: “Another unambiguous example of kin fidelity is revealed in the experiment of Turner and Chao (1999), in which a bacteriophage evolved lower levels of selfishness when bacteria were infected with phage clone mates than when infected with nonclone mates [emphasis added]” (Sachs, J.L., Mueller, U.G., Wilcox, T.P., and Bull, J.J., The evolution of cooperation, The Quarterly Review of Biology 79(2):143–144, Jun 2004). Return to text.
  18. Also note that kin selection has been leant upon as somewhat ‘discreet’ justification for incestuous pedophilic behaviour because it raises “the inclusive fitness of one or both of the interactants” (see Feierman, J.R., A biosocial overview of adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents; in: Feierman, J.R. (Ed.), Pedophilia: Biosocial dimensions, Springer-Verlag, NY, pp. 25ff, 1990). Citing Wakefield’s criteria for psychopathological nonadaptive behaviour, and putting it down to an in utero failure of the brain’s hormonal mechanism, Quinsey and Lalumière argue that pedophilia, inter alia, “results from the inability of some mental mechanism to perform its natural function, wherein a natural function is an effect that is part of the evolutionary explanation of the existence and structure of the mental mechanism (the explanatory criterion)” (Wakefield, J.C., The concept of mental disorder: on the boundary between biological facts and social values, American Psychologist 47(3):301–315, Mar 1992; pp. 384. Cited in: Quinsey, V.L. and Lalumière, M.L., Evolutionary perspectives on sexual offending, Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment 7(4):301–315, Oct 1995; p. 308). Return to text.
  19. Bobrow, D. and Bailey, J.M., Is male homosexuality maintained via kin selection? Evolution and Human Behavior 22(5):361–368, Sep 2001; p. 361. Bailey et al. also hold that homosexuality is caused by an X-linked gene. See Bailey, J.M. et al., A family history study of male sexual orientation using three independent samples, Behavior Genetics 29(2):79–86, Mar 1999. William Byne presents an important critical summary of the biological theories that lend support to a materialist explanation for homosexuality. Although his paper is almost three decades old the theories he discusses are still being, unfortunately, bandied about by both scholars and lay people. See Byne, W., Human sexual orientation: the biological theories reappraised, Archives of General Psychiatry 50(3):228–239, Mar 1993. Return to text.
  20. Kirby, J., A new group-selection model for the evolution of homosexuality, Biology and Philosophy 18(3):683 Nov 2003; pp. 683–694. Of course, one may just as easily remain quite positive about the matter and apply Donald Campbell’s advice: “I believe the case for sociocultural evolution is strong enough so that psychologists and other social scientists, when considering an apparently bizarre, incomprehensible feature of their own social tradition, or that of another culture … expecting that when eventually understood, when our theories have caught up with it, that seemingly bizarre superstition will turn out to make an adaptive sense” (Campbell, D.T., On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psychology and moral tradition, American Psychologist 30(12):1103–1126, Dec 1975; p. 1105). Return to text.
  21. Wilson, ref. 9, pp. 428, 468, 513, 693. Also see his On Human Nature, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 144–147, 1978. It’s quite possible in this latter book that Wilson expresses something of the real object for his interest in this subject. After providing brief anecdotal anthropological support for the perceived ubiquity of homosexuality in contemporary hunter gatherer and simple agricultural societies—they are, after all, ‘less removed’ from the earlier cultures we’ve evolved from—he warns that these anthropological “clues are enough to establish that the traditional Judeo-Christian view of homosexual behaviour is inadequate and probably wrong. The assumptions of this religion-sanctioned hypothesis have laid hidden for centuries but can now be exposed and tested by objective standards” (pp. 146–147). As further demonstration of urgency, Kirkpatrick has argued that homosexuality is “a survival strategy, not a reproductive strategy [and] will be best explained by reference to the costs and benefits of reciprocal altruism” (Kirkpatrick, R.C., The evolution of human homosexual behavior, Current Anthropology 41(3):385–413, Jun 2000; p. 388). For an explanation of reciprocal altruism see my forthcoming part 4. Return to text.
  22. Kirby, ref. 20, p. 689. Notwithstanding Kirby’s well-grounded scepticism that kin selection and other explanations for homosexuality have no genuine empirical support, Kirby’s own explanatory group model is a paradigmatic exercise in tendentiousness. It begins with a parent group containing 100 heterosexuals and another (most unlikely) group of 100 homosexuals. Conveniently, before natural selection can act upon the group’s homosexual members, it splinters, creating counterintuitively, a ‘fitter’ colony of 10 heterosexuals and 90 homosexuals and a substantially ‘less fit’ one of 90 heterosexuals and 10 homosexuals. This comes about because Kirby randomly assigns fitness values to each splinter group in which the first subgroup’s members are given higher fitness values than their comparable members in the second subgroup. In other words, while recognizing the fact that, ceteris paribus, heterosexuals have more children than homosexuals, Kirby assigns fitness values to heterosexuals and homosexuals of 10 and 6 respectively in the first, and 5 and 3 respectively in the second. Globally averaged out (the average across the two groups), the heterosexual average attains a fitness value of 5.5 and the homosexual, 5.7. Another interesting paper exploring the difficulty is Vasey, P.L. and VanderLaan, D.P., Sexual orientation in men and avuncularity in Japan: implications for the kin selection hypothesis, Archives of Sexual Behavior 41(1):209–215, Feb 2012. This paper rules out elevated avuncular tendencies in androphilic males as an adaptive cause for homosexuality. What is of further interest in this latter paper is the unblushing urgency of incorporating auxiliary hypotheses to vindicate evolution’s lack of oracular ability for the persistent presence of human homosexuality. Hypothetical reasons include the existence or lack of transgenderism, homophobia, and childhood separation anxiety. Return to text.
  23. Ruse, M., The morality of homosexuality; in: Baker, R. and Elliston, F. (Eds.), Philosophy of Sex, Prometheus Books, New York, pp. 380, 381, 1984. Return to text.
  24. Bobrow and Bailey, ref. 19, pp. 362–363. See the extensive references in this paper for others who have further criticized the hypothesis. Trivers also comments homosexual relations would divert energy and resources from kin to same-sex partners: “the sexual and romantic side of homosexual relations would seem to interfere with kin-directed altruism: insofar as one is sexually attracted to another individual, one will naturally be inclined to invest some resources in intrasexual competition to gain this individual’s favors. Should the relationship blossom into a love relationship, it will be natural to devote some of the same resources and energy that would go into a loving heterosexual relationship” (For the full argument, see Trivers, R., Social Evolution, Benjamin/Cummings, Menlo Park, CA., p. 198 and passim, 1985). Return to text.
  25. Hewitt, C., The socio-economic position of gay men—a review of the evidence, American J. Economics and Sociology 54(4):461–479, Oct 1995; p. 475. In his conclusion, Hewitt writes, “Gay activists paint a bleak picture of employment discrimination against homosexuals [yet o]ur review of the evidence suggests that such claims are certainly exaggerated. Gays are more successful than heterosexuals, and their occupational distribution is as much a result of preference as discrimination” (p. 476). Return to text.
  26. Rahman, Q. and Hull, M.S., An empirical test of the kin selection hypothesis for male homosexuality, Archives of Sexual Behavior 34(4):461–467, Aug 2005; pp. 465–466. Bobrow and Bailey’s study likewise reported that “contrary to predictions from the kin selection hypothesis of male homosexuality, we found no evidence that gay men are generous to their relatives [when contrasted with heterosexual men]” (ref. 19, p. 366). Of considerable interest is a thorough analysis of data relevant to, inter alia, homosexuality, bisexuality and gender polymorphism in Mayer, L.S. and McHugh, P.R., Sexuality and gender: findings from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, The New Atlantis, Special Report: Sexuality and Gender, Center for the Study of Technology and Society 50:10–143, Fall 2016. However, note Vasey and Vanderlaan, ref. 22, where they point out the stark cultural differences between a Western homosexual culture and their researched Samoan milieu. Return to text.
  27. Bobrow and Bailey, ref. 19, p. 367. Also see Vasey and VanderLaan, ref. 22. Measured in categories such as babysitting, tutoring, and providing money for their siblings’ education, the data collected seem to support the authors’ hypothesis that “fa’afafine [transgender men] exhibited greater avuncular tendencies relative to gynephilic men, both with and without children” (p. 827). However, the authors conclude that “it is possible that androphilia in fa’afafine does not represent an evolved adaptation for increasing kin directed altruism [and] it is equally possible that elevated avuncular tendencies do not represent an evolved adaptation for offsetting the reproductive cost of male androphilia” (p. 828). And despite multiple, quite often tentative, qualifications connecting these heightened avuncular tendencies to kin selection, the authors admit their fieldwork does not contribute anything to the rise of homosexuality as such: “more research will be needed to test these various evolutionary perspectives on the origins and maintenance of male androphilia” (p. 828). Elsewhere the same authors conclude, “more research will be necessary before strong claims can be made about the evolutionary basis of fa’afafine’s elevated avuncularity or their androphilic orientation” (Vasey, P.L. and VanderLaan, D.P., Monetary exchanges with nieces and nephews: a comparison of Samoan men, women, and fa’afafine, Evolution and Human Behavior 31(5):373–380, Sep 2010; p. 379). Another attempt to explain away the enigma of human homosexuality involved a comparison with marmoset monkey studies. The males, apparently, share the child-rearing responsibilities with the females, and from this it’s concluded that human homosexual households can lead to positive child outcomes. For a brief explanation of this, see Silverstein, L.B. and Auerbach, C.F., Deconstructing the essential father, American Psychologist 54(6):397–407, Jun 1999; p. 400. In borrowing these monkey data, the authors make their objective plain: “we do not believe that the data support the conclusion that fathers are essential to child well-being and that heterosexual marriage is the social context in which responsible fathering is most likely to occur … that neither mothers nor fathers are unique or essential … the emphasis on the essential importance of fathers and heterosexual marriage represents … an attempt to reassert the cultural hegemony of traditional values, such as heterocentrism, Judeo-Christian marriage” (pp. 398, 399, 404). The authors make reference to the original study by Smuts, B.B. and Gubernick, D.J., Male-infant relationships in nonhuman primates: paternal investment or mating effort? in: Hewlett, B.S. (Ed.), Father-Child Relations: Cultural and biosocial contexts, Aldine de Gruyter, New York, pp. 1–31, 1992. One academic gave the paper the only possible judgement, calling it ‘unusually silly’ (Dailey, T.J., Homosexual parenting: placing children at risk, ac21doj.org/contents/homosexuality/homosexualParentingPlacingChildrenAtRisk.html, accessed 4 Sep 2021). Return to text.
  28. McKnight, J., Straight Science? Homosexuality, evolution and adaptation, Routledge, New York, pp. 76, 77, 1997. He also claimed that women are attracted to heterosexual men carrying a homosexual gene because these men are more like the women. These ‘homosexually enabled’ men make better lovers, partners, and fathers because they offer more “sensitivity, creativity and better communication skills” (p. 106). Though not as bizarre, but certainly equally as baffling, is the tautological “Homosexuality may have evolved to promote same-sex affiliation through a conserved neurodevelopmental mechanism” (Rahman, Q. and Wilson, G.D., Born gay? The psychobiology of human sexual orientation, Personality and Individual Differences 34(8):1337–1382, Jun 2003; p. 1337). In other words, same-sex affiliation may have evolved to promote same-sex affiliation. For two brief, but sufficient responses to the main arguments put forward in support of a biological origin of homosexuality, see Byne W. and Lasco, M., The origins of sexual orientation; in: Corvino, J. (Ed.), Same Sex: Debating the ethics, science, and culture of homosexuality, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, MD, pp. 107–120,1999; and Dallas, J., The Gay Gospel? How pro-gay advocates misread the Bible, Harvest House, Eugene OR, pp. 111–133, 2007. Return to text.
  29. Kirby, ref. 20, pp. 692–693. For further attempts to explain homosexuality’s evolutionary origin and continued existence, see Rahman and Wilson, ref. 28, pp. 1343–1349. The whole paper is a wealth of information referencing the putative bio-genetic explanations for homosexuality. Return to text.
  30. One other highly theoretical and vacuous explanation is set out by Weinrich: “homosexual and heterosexual couples alike report that the highly charged sexual excitement so prominent in early couplehood recedes to a more stable level of bondedness that is less ‘sexy’ but retains an erotic tinge. It is a reasonable hypothesis that the highly charged component of sexual attraction could have functioned, as in preadaptation, as the initial emotional motivator of behaviours that lead to a same-sex bond; once the bond is formed, other bonding mechanisms (which need not include such genitally focused sexuality) can come into play” (Weinrich, J.D., A new sociobiological theory of homosexuality applicable to societies with universal marriage, Ethology and Sociobiology 8(1):37–47, 1987; p. 43). He also describes another idea involving ‘limerence’, “the ability to fall head-over-heels in love with another individual, an ability shared by heterosexuals, homosexuals, and bisexuals alike” and which leads to the purpose of “motivating extramarital, rather than marital, bliss.” How does this explain homosexuality’s value? No problem: “one difference of reproductive significance between homosexuals and heterosexuals in a society in which everyone gets married would be that heterosexuals have extramarital affairs with members of the other sex, whereas homosexuals have them with members of their own sex. This possibility has an immediate consequence for R[eproductive] S[uccess]: that heterosexuals in such a society are more likely to have children out of wedlock than homosexuals are. Hence, being homosexual in such circumstances can be, as in the orthodox theory, a reproductive altruistic act” (Ibid, pp. 41–42). Return to text.
  31. For an overview of how important the evolutionary view was to explaining the rise and continuance of homosexuality, see Bayer, R., Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The politics of diagnosis, Basic Books, New York, pp. 20–47, 1981. Summarising the late 19th-century criminologist Cesar Lombroso, Bayer writes: “[he] argued that homosexuals were at a lower stage of human development than heterosexuals. Though the human race had evolved over eons, leaving behind its own primitive behavior, each child was required to recapitulate the process in the course of its own development. Those with defective heredity failed to complete that process and remained at a less civilized point in the evolutionary course” (p. 20). Bayer’s book thoroughly examines the history and the politics behind the removal of homosexuality as a pathological disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM), psychiatrists’ official list of mental diseases. His work presents as disinterested research and competently rises above the often emotionally charged atmosphere that this subject historically generates. Return to text.
  32. Wilson, E.O., The Meaning of Human Existence, Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York, pp. 61–75, 2014. What is arguably of more interest than this in-house squabbling is the accusation levelled by Wilson that the evolutionary establishment was viewing him and his small troop of supporters as heretics and that there was a conspiracy to silence or ignore their work. Wilson writes how Richard Dawkins (revealing some of his resentment, he calls Dawkins an ‘eloquent science journalist’) “responded with the indignant fervour of a true believer [of inclusive fitness]. In his review for the British magazine Prospect, Dawkins urged others not to read what Wilson had written, but instead to cast the entire book away, ‘with great force’, no less.” See Keim, B., E.O. Wilson proposes new theory of social evolution, Wired, 26 Aug 2018, wired.com/2010/08/kin-selection-challenged/; and Johnston, C., Biological warfare flares up again between E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins, The Guardian, 7 Nov 2014, theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/07/richard-dawkins-labelled-journalist-by-eo-wilson, accessed 4 Sep 2021. Washing his hands of his past claims, Wilson stated, “But ask me what ants have to say about how we should behave and what they tell us about our own morality. The answer is nothing. Their societies are almost completely female. They eat their injured and they are in almost constant, obliterating war with colonies of the same species. And whereas we send our young men to war, they send their old ladies. There’s not much there to be learnt.” Connor, S., Why Richard Dawkins ‘is not a scientist’, the survival of the least selfish, and what ants tell us about humans—E.O. Wilson on his new book, The Independent, 10 Nov 2014, independent.co.uk/news/science/why-richard-dawkins-no-scientist-survival-least-selfish-and-what-ants-can-tell-us-about-humans-eo-wilson-his-new-book-meaning-human-existence-9849956.html, accessed 4 Sep 2021. Return to text.
  33. Allen, B., Nowak, M.A., and Wilson, E.O., Limitations of inclusive fitness, PNAS 110(50):20135–20139, Dec 2013; p. 20138. Return to text.
  34. Knauft, B.M., Reconsidering violence in simple human societies: homicide among the Gebusi of New Guinea, Current Anthropology 28(4):457–500, Aug–Oct 1987. Return to text.
  35. Knauft, ref. 34, pp. 460, 466, 476. Return to text.
  36. See esp. Daly and Wilson’s reply in Knauft, ref. 34, pp. 482–483. Return to text.
  37. Knauft, ref. 34, p. 467. Return to text.
  38. Knauft, ref. 34, p. 491. Return to text.
  39. Knauft excoriates Daly and Wilson for claiming that sociobiology is irrefutable and thus adopting it as “a religious faith [and for not giving] up the cloak of sociobiological sanctity” (Knauft, ref. 34, p. 493). Return to text.
  40. Several researchers have commented on the best kept secret of genetics, for example “Since most mutations, if they have any effect at all, are harmful, the overall effect of the mutation process must be deleterious” (Crow, J., The high spontaneous mutation rate: is it a health risk? PNAS 94(16):8380–8386, Aug 1997; p. 8380). “… the vast majority of mutations are deleterious. This is one of the most well-established principles of evolutionary genetics, supported by both molecular and quantitative-genetic data” (Keightley, P.D. and Lynch, M., toward a realistic model of mutations affecting fitness, Evolution 57(3):683–685, Mar 2003; p. 684); and despite opposing Keightley and Lynch, others do make a small concession concerning the problem: “we agree [with Keightley and Lynch] that of the modest body of evidence bearing directly on the question of directionality of mutational effects, there is considerable support for the view that the majority of mutations are deleterious in most organisms that have been studied” (Shaw, R.G., Shaw, F.H., and Geyer, C., What fraction of mutations reduces fitness? a reply to Keightley and Lynch, Evolution 57(3):686–689, Mar 2003; p. 688). Also note the tendency to perpetual fitness decline as mathematically modelled in Basener W.F. and Sanders, J.C., The fundamental theorem of natural selection with mutations, J. Mathematical Biology 76(7):1589–1622, Jun 2018. Return to text.
  41. Napoleon Chagnon unintentionally puts forward adamantine evidence, gathered over decades of field research while living with the South American Yanomamö, which would clearly appear to undermine the theory of kin selection. While fully supportive of evolutionary theory, particularly understanding it in terms of reproductive survival, he nevertheless writes that “kinship is not an impediment to lethal violence” (Chagnon, N.A., Noble Savages: My life among two dangerous tribes—the Yanomamö and the anthropologists, Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, New York, p. 73, 2013. Also see his Yanomamö: The fierce people, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1977). Yanomamö societies are a demi-Hobbesian “pure state of nature”; that is to say, a bellum omnium contra omnes, where life is “nasty, brutish and short”. He presents a plethora of incidents and statistics to buttress this claim that close relatives do murder each other for what seems, from an evolutionary perspective, counter-intuitive and ultimately internecine. Also see David McKnight’s anthropological work among Northern Australian Aborigines, in particular the intra-tribal violence. Summarizing previous studies, McKnight writes: “35 Kaiadilt were killed by other Kaiadilt during the years 1910–1947 … . Given that the mean population fluctuated from 105–120, the homicide rate was about one a year” (McKnight, D., Of Marriage, Violence and Sorcery: The quest for power in Northern Queensland, Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot England, p. 47, 2005). Compellingly, McKnight puts the violence substantially down to the existence of polygyny. More interestingly, McKnight states, “During the years 1948–1978, when the Kaiadilt were under Mission hegemony, there were no killings” (p. 55). Return to text.