Friday, June 11, 2010

Evolution Predicts: Benedict Will Dig Catholic Church's Grave

The Roman Catholic Church is falling victim to one of the best-understood aspects of Darwin's evolution – sexual selection. They're becoming a self-perpetuating failure.

Sexual selection is one of the most interesting and weird aspects of evolution. I'll explain using an example. Suppose some women, due to random genetic variations, just happen to like men with unusually large noses. Who will they marry? Probably men with large noses. Now think about the children of these unions: They'll inherit the large noses from their fathers, and they'll inherit their mother's fondness for large-nosed men. So at the next generation, and on down through their descendants, men with small noses won't have very good luck, and men with larger and larger noses will be favored.

We see this all the time in nature. The tailfeathers of peacocks and birds of paradise, the huge antlers of moose and the elaborate dances of fruit flies are all excellent examples. We even find it in ourselves. For example, a woman's shapely figure is purely "for show." Other great apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas have no trouble producing milk without large breasts. And we men have genitals that are something like four times the size, relative to our body mass, of the other great apes. It's purely for show, and has nothing to do with our ability to have sex. The other apes do it with much smaller "equipment."

What does this have to do with the Roman Catholic Church? Everything. Those of us who study memetics (applying the principles of evolution to culture and ideas) find that everything that happens in nature also happens with culture, and sexual selection is no exception.

Imagine you have two companies. One was founded by an aggressive, take-no-prisoners retired Army colonel, and his company is known as aggressive and always able to get the job done. The other was founded by a laid-back latter-day hippie who advocates an environmentally friendly product and a happy workforce. Along come two job seekers, one recently discharged from a successful Army career, and one a recent graduate of UC Berkeley who participated in Earth Day demonstrations. Which company is going to hire each of these two candidates?

These cultural entities that we call corporations are exhibiting the memetic version of sexual selection. Their cultural "personalities" are self-amplifying. Just like the Bird of Paradise's long tail feathers, a company's "corporate culture" becomes stronger and stronger as time goes on.

So it is with the Roman Catholic Church. A young man with a normal, healthy sexual appetite would never consider a life of celibacy, whereas a man with a weak libido, or worse, a man confused about his sexuality, would find it attractive, so he joins the priesthood. As time goes on, the priests who are the best advocates of the Church's "corporate culture" are the ones who get promoted to bishops, archbishops and so forth. At the head of the church you have men who are the most committed to the most extreme ideas that the Church espouses.

In an ultimate twist of linguistic irony, the Catholic culture of celibacy is a perfect example of Darwin's sexual selection.

So when I heard about Pope Benedict's speech yesterday in which he once again strongly endorsed celibacy for priests, I was saddened but not surprised. Darwin's principles of evolution predicted it!

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