Darwinian Heroism in History
By Bryan Caplan
Contraception is a common challenge to evolutionary psychology. Why on earth would evolution lead us to try to have fewer children than we can? In The Moral Animal, Robert Wright provides the standard evolutionary psych response:
[N]atural selection’s primary means of getting us to reproduce hasn’t been to instill in us an overwhelming, conscious desire to have children. We are designed to love sex and then to love the consequences that materialize nine months later – not necessarily to anticipate loving the consequences… Only in the wake of contraceptive technology has this designed faltered.
Robin Hanson tells a more sociological story about low modern fertility. People (especially “young, single, energetic” people) want to raise their status by trying to “save the world,” and having extra kids doesn’t qualify. Why not? “It is hard to tell grand hero stories” about high fertility.
But how secure are the premises that people don’t crave children, and can’t frame parenting as a noble quest? Even nowadays, these claims seem exaggerated. The vast majority of women, and even a majority of men, admit to having some degree of “baby fever.” But leaving aside the modern world, an ultra-Darwinian yearning to have vast numbers of descendents – and grand hero stories about this yearning – seem like common memes throughout history. These Biblical quotes predate Darwin by millenia – yet they’re exactly the promises/threats a crude Darwinian would expect humans to put into the mouth of God:
Genesis 22:17: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply
thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which [is] upon
the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
Genesis 26:4: And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will
give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the
nations of the earth be blessed…
Deuteronomy 1:10: The LORD your God hath multiplied you, and, behold, ye [are] this day as the stars of heaven for multitude.
Deuteronomy 28:62: And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of
heaven for multitude; because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the
LORD thy God.
1 Kings 4:20: Judah and Israel [were] many, as the sand which [is] by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.
Isaiah 48:19: Thy seed also had been as the sand, and the offspring of thy bowels
like the gravel thereof; his name should not have been cut off nor
destroyed from before me.
Nehemiah 9:23: Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and
broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to
their fathers, that they should go in to possess [it].
Hebrews 11:12: Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, [so many]
as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the
sea shore innumerable.
Request: Provide other influential pre-Darwinian expressions of child-yearning and grand hero stories about the same. This might sound like I’m encouraging confirmation bias, but remember: The purpose is to unearth evidence disconfirming the commonly expressed opposing view.