The Evolution of Beauty

The Evolution of Beauty

Blog post by Dean
Wednesday, January 3, 2018

If you are suited to your surroundings, you are better able to survive to reproduce, and your children will inherit your suitabilities. That's Darwin's theory of natural selection, and virtually all biologists will tell you that it explains everything from an amoeba to a brain.

Ornithologist Richard Prum disagrees. He claims that natural selection alone cannot explain outrageous design. Consider the feathers of peacocks. What possible reproductive advantage can that ostentatious display have? Surely it’s a disadvantage. When you make a spectacle of yourself you’re just asking to be the dinner of a more fearsome animal and your reproductive opportunities plummet. 

Prum posits that peacocks have spectacular tail feathers for a simple reason: peahens like them. That means, Prum says, that animals choose mates based on aesthetic preferences, and that means that animals have aesthetic preferences, and that is an incredible thing to claim.

But Prum is not the first to claim it. Darwin was first. Darwin knew that his theory of natural selection doesn't explain peacocks. In The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin theorized that what explains peacocks is something separate from natural selection: sexual selection—selection of a mate based on aesthetic preference.

It’s a fascinating theory for a lot of reasons; here are two:

99.9% of Darwinists put no stock in sexual selection; even though Darwin himself proposed it... well, it was a later book and he just wasn't on his game anymore.

If sexual selection directs design, then physiology is about female choice. Let that sink in for a minute. 

I'm going to stop right there because I am not writer enough or scientist enough to do Prum's ideas justice, but I hope the incomplete information I've dangled before you makes you pick up this acclaimed book. The Evolution of Beauty is as important as Stephen Jay Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel. If you liked those, read this.