The Case for Unintelligent Design

A friend observes: “I give my 2 year old a nutritious food he hasn’t had before and he smells it, squishes it in his hand and then rubs it in his hair. But when he finds a rusty nail on the ground, he without hesitation tries to eat it. How did our species survive this long?”

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “The Case for Unintelligent Design”

  1. I speculated on this before, in the days before comments. which excuses the readvertising:

    Nature does make juvenile mammals of many species curious. Perhaps it’s more efficient to let them learn things on their own, subject to adult repression when they go too far, rather than have the adults show them everything. Perhaps curiosity is an insurance policy for orphans, who will probably die without adult protectors if they are curious and adventurous but will surely die if they are not.

  2. Solution: put the new food on the floor and tell him not to touch it. I told my kids that they couldn't have green candy (frozen peas) until they finished the rest of their dinner, then watched them sneak them into their mouths. I told my grandchildren about it, and they like green candy even though they know the story.

  3. There's a story that when the Royal Navy was experimenting with scurvy preventitives, they found that sauerkraut would prevent scury. The sailors didn't want to eat it, but the captain of one ship had the barrels marked 'for officers only', and put them into a dark corner of the hold. By the end of the voyage, it had somehow mysteriously vanished 🙂

    (note that combining lime juice with the daily rum ration made sure that the sailors would take it)

  4. You could argue, on the other hand, that this kind of behavior selects for parents who are attentive and kids who stay more or less in sight of them. I’m not being entirely specious — there are at least some evolutionary biologists who claim that all those over-the-top displays of feathers and bowers and dancing and so forth are actually a way of saying “My genes are so good I can survive to reproduce even with one wing tied behind my back.” In the mammalian case (kittens and puppies and so forth do it too) the risky behavior could well be a way of getting the accident-prone or uncared-for out of the gene pool before too much investment is sunk…

    Or not.

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