Tuesday, May 27, 2014

In search of the religious gene

Nicholas Wade in The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures concedes that there is no hard-evidence of the genetic basis for religion, but his inferences are compelling:

“An indirect approach to the genetic basis of religious behavior is through psychological studies of adopted children and of twins. Such studies pick up traits that vary in the population, such as height, and estimate how much of the variation is due to environmental factors and how much to genetics. But the studies cannot pick up the presence of genes that don’t vary; genes for learning language, for example, are apparently so essential that there is almost no variation in the population, since everyone can learn language. If religious behavior is equally necessary for survival, then the genes that underlie it will be the same in everyone, and no variation will be detectable.

“Religious behavior itself is hard to quantify, but studies of religiosity— the intensity with which the capacity for religious behavior is implemented—have shown that it is moderately heritable, meaning that genes contribute somewhat, along with environmental factors, to the extent of the trait’s variation in the population. “Religious attitudes and practices are moderately influenced by genetic factors,” a large recent study concludes. [Kindle locations 745-758]

Wade’s reference “40” is “40 Brian D‘Onofrio et al., “Understanding Biological and Social Influences on Religious Affiliation, Attitudes, and Behaviors: A Behavior Genetic Perspective,” Journal of Personality 67, no. 6 (1999): 953-84.”

“Another survey finds that “the heritability of religiousness increases from adolescence to adulthood,” presumably because the influence of environmental factors decreases in adulthood (when you leave home you go to church if you want to, not because your parents say so). 41. Wade’s reference here is “41 Laura B. Koenig et al., “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Religiousness: Findings for Retrospective and Current Religiousness Ratings,” Journal of Personality 73, no. 4 (2005): 1219-1256.”

Further down Wade writes, “In the absence of direct evidence about the genes underlying religious behavior, its evolutionary basis can be assessed only indirectly. The effect of cultural learning in religion is clear enough, as shown by the rich variety of religions around the world. It’s the strong commonalities beneath the variations that are the fingerprints of an innate learning mechanism. These common features seem very unlikely to have persisted in all societies for the 2,000 generations that have elapsed during the 50,000 years since the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland, unless they have a genetic basis. This is particularly true given the complexity of religious behavior, and its rootedness in the emotional levels of the brain.

“To no less an observer than Darwin himself it seemed that religion was like an instinctive behavior, one that the mind is genetically primed to learn as indelibly as the fear of heights or the horror of incest. His two great books on evolution, Origin of Species and Descent of Man, have nothing directly to say about religion but in his autobiography, written in his old age, he was more explicit about this controversial topic. He wrote, “Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.” [Charles Darwin, Autobiography (New York: Norton, 1969), 93.] [Kindle locations for the above two paragraphs are 764-775]

Comment: I hope I’ve left Wade’s argument as far as he’s developed it intact, but I was especially interested in the statement “studies of religiosity— the intensity with which the capacity for religious behavior is implemented—have shown that it is moderately heritable,” and ““the heritability of religiousness increases from adolescence to adulthood.” I have run across similar references in regard to other “somewhat” or “moderately” heritable phenomena. In those other references the term “trigger” was used, if I remember correctly. In other words we, or perhaps just certain people, have genetic material within us that is quiescent until something “triggers” it. Then the genetic material becomes active. I am tempted to urge, “abandon all Darwinian syllogisms, ye who would enter here” except Wade is clearly a Darwinian and fits all his inferences (thus far) back into the Darwinian schema, and he seems to have especially succeeded in this case. He quotes Darwin as writing, “Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God.” “Perhaps an inherited effect”? How very unDarwin of you.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The rudiments of religion

Nicholas Wade in his The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and why it endures, wrote,

“All these new faculties were doubtless drawn upon as natural selection searched for an effective solution to the most pressing of all problems for a social species— how to make selfish individuals place society’s needs above their own. This departure from self-interest required not just moral self-restraint and social cohesiveness, but an emotional commitment to the group so fierce and transcendent that men would quite readily sacrifice their lives in its defense.

“The solution that evolved was religious behavior. It was those who learned to bond to each other through ritual song and dance who developed the most cohesive communities. It was those who believed that the gods or their dead ancestors were seeing into their hearts who hewed closest to their society’s rules. It was those who most feared supernatural retribution who built the most moral societies with the strongest social fabric and the resilience to outlast others. [Kindle locations 673-780]

Comment: Can one retain a religious belief if one believes that? Probably a Darby-type Fundamentalist wouldn’t be able to, but I wrestled through and those Fundamentalist issues long ago and have no problem with it. In my view the method God chose for creation can be seen in biology and genetics.

Fundamentalists have no problem in accepting that the Greek language was in place for the first Christians to use to describe their religious beliefs. God, they believe, created that sophisticated language and had it ready for them to describe his New Testament. Why then balk at the idea that God also had “morals” in place so that people would know when they were being immoral? And what Wade has written is another way of saying what Blaise Pascal once said, that “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”

Nicholas Wade on the development of language

Nicholas Wade, in The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and why it Endures, wrote

“The human form has undergone extraordinary changes since its lineage split from that of chimpanzees some 5 to 6 million years ago. Our brain tripled in size, our body hair was shed, we downsized our teeth, shriveled our gut and gained a fine facial appendage for conserving moisture in dry climates—the nose.

“Equally radical and transformative, though less well appreciated, have been the changes in human social behavior. In the societies of our apelike forebears, coordination was achieved relatively simply, through a strict hierarchy dominated by the alpha male. Hunter gatherer societies are organized on a very different principle— they are completely egalitarian. It was during the transition from male dominance to egalitarianism that religious behavior emerged.

“Many other social innovations developed in the human lineage as this new species, driven by the increasing intellectual capacity of its individuals, experimented with one novel mechanism after another for communicating among members of a group and governing the interactions among them. The surprising gift of music appeared in the repertoire of human faculties. Even more remarkable was language, a wholly novel system for conveying precise thoughts from one individual’s mind to that of another.” [Kindle Locations 662-672]

Comment: I am ready to accept or at least be open to the early part of what Wade writes, but fell into a coughing fit during his last sentence, “conveying precise thoughts”???? Has he never been married? Has he never been in a discussion forum on any subject? Has he never read Gadamer or any of the other philosophers who describe the difficulty of communicating, or, if I recover sufficiently from my coughing fit and read on, will he define “precise” in some new way I’ve never thought of?

Human altruism, the biological impact of which is not entirely clear

In quoting from Cochran and Harpending, I got so many figurative “blank stares” that I didn’t respond to all of them. So if someone is harboring a conviction based upon the supposition that I said something that is nonsense, they may not have achieved a state of being perfectly accurate.

In the interest of leaning toward communicating, I will say that young soldiers who have never introduced a thing into a tribe’s gene pool (although they are a reflection of it which ought to count for something) will still be willing to give their lives for their tribe. And a tribe with young men who will give their lives for it will survive longer than a tribe whose young men won’t. Actually, there was probably never a tribe whose young men wouldn’t; so we could expand and say the tribe whose young men more effectively fought for their tribe without reference to their lives would survive better than the tribe whose young men were not so effective. Now whether someone can “rebut” me and say that I am saying that there is a process at work which selects a non-input into the gene pool or such like, I say “pshaw.” Nevertheless what I said before the “pshaw” sentence is so patently obvious (I would have thought) that I find it hard to think anyone would doubt it. I myself enlisted in the Marine Corps, during a war, when I was 17. As it happened I survived that war and eventually contributed to the gene pool. Having kids (which was the way we talked back then) didn’t affect (I am quite sure) my ability to be an effective Marine

For the most part, however, that “survival of the fittest tribe” would have occurred during our “hunter-gatherer” days which is before the period Cochran and Harpending were writing about. Some of what they argued had to do with whether 10,000 years were enough for major changes to have occurred. The actual Faith Instinct, if it exists and I find Nicholas Wade’s arguments persuasive, took far longer. He spends the early part of his book describing what can be seen as primitive morals in our simian relatives inferring that our more immediate ancestors were at least that far along in their morals.

The Abandonment by the Amerindian Allies and the new plan

In the last note I described how impossible a Spanish victory seemed. That Diaz was not guilty of exaggeration is evidenced by the Amerindian allies believing that a Mexican victory was inevitable. Most of them gave up the war and returned home:

“About this time our allies of Huexotzinco, Cholulla, Tezcuco, and Tlascalla, had become wearied of the war, and secretly agreed with each other to return to their homes. Without mentioning a single word either to Cortes, Sandoval, or Alvarado, they all suddenly left our encampments, only a few of the most faithful remaining with us. In Cortes' division there remained a brother of the king of Tezcuco, the brave Suchel, (who was subsequently baptized with the name of Don Carlos,) with about forty of his relations and friends. In Sandoval's division a cazique of Huexotzinco, with about fifty men: and in our division the sons of our honest friend Don Lorenzo de Vargas, with the brave Chichimeclatecl, and about eighty men.

“We were not a little dismayed to find that our allies had thus suddenly decamped, and when Cortes questioned those who remained as to the motives which had induced their countrymen to desert us, they replied, that their companions had at length began to fear the threats of the Mexicans and the oracles of their idols, that we should all be destroyed, particularly when they saw what numbers of our men were killed and wounded; besides their own great losses, which already amounted to above 1200 men. To all this was added the warnings of the younger Xicotencatl, whom Cortes had caused to be hung at Tezcuco, namely, that sooner or later we should all be put to death, as he had been assured by his soothsayers.

What was Cortes to do? The above mentioned Suchel proposed a new plan: “"Malinche [this was the Amerindian name for Cortes], you should not humble yourself each day to renew the conflict with the enemy. In my opinion you should rather command your officers to cruize round the town with the brigantines, in order to cut off all its supplies of water and provisions. In that city there are so many thousands of warriors that their store of provisions must soon become exhausted. The only supply of water they have is from the rain that falls, and what they obtain from wells recently dug, which cannot be wholesome to drink. What can they do if you cut off their supplies of provisions and water? For a war against hunger and thirst is the most direful of all calamities!"

“When he had done speaking Cortes gave him a hearty embrace, thanked him for his good advice, and promised to bestow valuable townships upon him. To this he had been advised all along by many of us soldiers; but a Spanish soldier has too much spirit to reduce a town by famine; he is all impatience to fight his way in. After Cortes had maturely considered this plan, he sent word by means of brigantines to Alvarado and Sandoval to desist from the daily attacks upon the town. This new method of conducting the siege was greatly favoured by the circumstance that our brigantines stood no longer in fear of the stakes which the enemy had driven into the lake, for if there was a stiffish breeze and the men vigorously plied their oars, the brigantines were sure each time to break through them. By this means we became complete masters of the lake, and all the detached buildings which stood in the water. When the Mexicans saw the great advantage we gained over them in this way they became considerably disheartened.” [Kindle locations 9597-9625]

Comment: While I quite understand the thoughts of the Amerindians who abandoned Cortes, I must note that this does damage to the idea that Cortes conquered Mexico City with an overwhelming force. Even at this point the only overwhelming force seems to be that of the Mexicans, but the fact that “they became considerably disheartened” bodes ill for them. General Pemberton was given command of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg and might well have held out had it not been for conflicting orders received from General Johnston and President Davis. Sieges don’t always succeed, and Cortes’s forces don’t seem in shape to conduct a very effective one.

If indeed the Mexicans are starved into submission, I suppose the Amerindians could regain their courage and “pile on” at the end; thus substantiating the view that Cortes was able to defeat the Aztecs with an overwhelming force. And where is the plague-like disease that was supposed to play such an important role?

The Aztecs in their final 93 days

To some extent I’ve been reading Bernal Diaz’s The Conquest of New Spain because one of the points made by Cochran and Harpending in their The 10,000 Year Explosion, how Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution was that disease facilitated the ease with which Western Europe conquered the Americas, both north and south. One of their chief examples was the conquering of the Aztecs, or Mexicans as Bernal Diaz calls them. Cochran and Harpending assert that Cortes and his men would not have succeeded unless disease had weakened the forces of the Mexicans. But thus far, and I am 60% through Diaz’s book, I have seen only one mention of disease muting the abilities of the Mexican forces and that was not in a critical battle.

Also, the question of the extent of the aid provided by the Cortes’s Amerindian allies is interesting. Indeed they were present to offer any assistance the Spaniards requested. Cortes in his final 93 day assault on Mexico city divided his 550 or so Spanish force into three division. Each division was backed up by 8,000 Amerindians, mostly Tlascallans, but their aid does not receive much commendation from Diaz. At Kindle location 9358, Diaz writes, “If the Tlascallans had likewise encamped this night on the causeway, we should no doubt have suffered more severely, as their numbers would have embarrassed our movements; but experience had taught us prudence, and each night we ordered them to draw off to Tlacupa, and we only considered ourselves safe when assured they had left the causeway.”

Diaz describes the Tlascallans as not being very good about keeping watch at night. The Mexicans were far more successful in surprising the Tlascallans than they were the Spaniards who were always on the alert. But the Mexicans were learning by their failures. Here is Diaz’s account of an interesting engagement in which Cortes’s division (his 1/3 of the divided Spanish forces) was defeated, and this occurred well into the final 93 days of the final campaign against the Aztecs. Cortes proposed that all three of the Spanish divisions attack at once. Bernal Diaz and others objected saying it was better to take it slow, destroy the houses one by one and fill in the water ways so Mexicans couldn’t come in behind them in canoes, but Cortes thought otherwise:

Cortes indeed listened to our reasons for objecting to his plan, but nevertheless determined that the three divisions, including the cavalry, should make an attempt on the following day to fight their way up to the Tlatelulco, and that the Tlascallans, with the troops of Tezcuco, and of the towns which had recently subjected themselves to our emperor, should cooperate with us; the latter were more particularly to assist us with their canoes. The following morning . . . the three divisions sallied forth from their respective encampments. On our causeway we had forced a bridge and an entrenchment, after some very hard fighting, for Quauhtemoctzin [the last emperor of the Aztecs] sent out terrific masses to oppose us; so that we had great numbers of wounded, and our friends of Tlascalla above one thousand. We already thought victory was on our side, and we kept continually advancing. Cortes, with his division, had fought his way across a very deep opening, of which the opposite sides were merely connected by an extremely narrow path, and which the artful Mexicans had purposely so contrived, as they justly foresaw what would take place. Cortes, with the whole of his division, now sure of victory, vigorously pursued the enemy, who from time to time faced about, to fly their arrows and lances at him; but all this was a mere stratagem on their part, to entice Cortes further into the city; and this object was entirely accomplished. The wheel of fortune now suddenly turned against Cortes . . . for while he was eager in pursuit of the enemy, with every appearance of victory, it so happened that his officers never thought to fill up the large opening which they had crossed . . . When the Mexicans saw that Cortes had passed the fatal opening without filling it up, their object was gained. An immense body of troops, with numbers of canoes . . . now suddenly rushed forth from their hiding places, and fell upon this ill-fated division with incredible fierceness, accompanied by the most fearful yells. It was impossible for the men to make any stand against this overwhelming power, and nothing now remained for our men but to close their ranks firmly, and commence a retreat. But the enemy kept rushing on in such crowds, that our men, just as they had retreated as far back as the dangerous opening, gave up all further resistance, and fled precipitately. Cortes indeed strove to rally his men, and cried out to them, "Stand! stand firm” . . . But all his commands were fruitless here, and every one strove to save his own life. Now the awful consequences of the neglect to fill up the opening in the causeway began to show themselves. In front of the narrow path, which the canoes had now broken down, the Mexicans wounded Cortes in the leg, took sixty Spaniards prisoners, and killed six horses. Several Mexican chiefs had already laid hands on our general, but with great exertion he tore himself from their grasp, and at the same moment the brave Christobal de Olea . . . came up to his assistance, cut down one of the Mexican chiefs who had seized hold of Cortes, and rescued his general, by cutting his way through the enemy sword in hand, assisted by another excellent soldier, called Lerma. But this heroic deed cost Olea his life, and Lerma was very nigh sharing a like fate. During this dubious conflict for the rescue of our general's person several other of our men had by degrees hastened up to his assistance, who, though themselves covered with wounds, boldly risked their lives for Cortes. . . they now succeeded in dragging Cortes out of the water, and, placing him on the back of a horse, he reached a place of safety. . . The enemy in the meantime pursued Cortes and his troops up to their very encampment, hooting and yelling most fearfully. [Kindle locations 9389-9418]

Comment: Diaz doesn’t keep us in suspense. He has told us that these are the final 93 days of their campaign against the Mexicans and that Cortes and his men are ultimately victorious. Had he not told us, the reader approaching this story for the first time could be forgiven for believing that the Mexicans were going to win and that the Spaniards were destined to be sacrificed to the Aztec gods and their limbs consumed by the victorious Mexicans. I recently read about all of the major battles of the American Civil War, and if any of those forces whether North or South was defeated as badly as Cortes was in the above-described battle, the losing generals would be busy trying to collect his panicked men so that they could retreat with some semblance of dignity. But here, Cortes and his men are well within territory controlled by enemy forces. Even retreat would be difficult. One is reminded of the defeat by the Chinese of Army and Marine forces at the Chosen Reservoir. A journalist asked the Marine General Oliver Smith about The Marine’s defeat and he replied, “Retreat Hell. We’re just attacking in another direction.”

I know the Spaniards ultimately win, but if this were a novel, I would be expecting the novelist to introduce a preposterous deus ex-machina solution to enable his band of heroes to achieve an otherwise unbelievable victory. And if I ever knew precisely how victory was achieved in the actual event, I’ve forgotten; so I’m very anxious to read on.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Descent of Man and self-sacrifice

The argument Wade presented in the previous note was from Darwin’s Descent of Man and not from his Origin of Species.

As to the argument that “we need to reject the idea that behaviour that removes an organism from the gene-pool will be 'selected for' because it benefits the remaining group - this simply does not work as a theory, because nothing can be 'selected for' via its removal from the gene-pool.” That can’t be true. I’ve read several authors refer to organisms doing that very thing. One early author, can’t recall his name, referred to a pair of adult baboon males guarding their tribes passage up through a narrow passage where they would be safe for the night. The leopard came and they set upon it with precession. The leopard killed both of them, but before he did, one of them bit into the leopard’s jugular.

I have read a number of similar accounts. The theory advanced to account for this well-documented sort of thing is that while these baboons, for example (and who knows, maybe their genes were passed into the tribes gene pool before this event) were killed. The tribe, including the near relatives of these baboons, lived on. They didn’t protect their own genes, but they their genes, less any individual mutations would have lived on in the tribe.

Wade goes on to write that Darwin’s ideas were “developed by Edward O. Wilson in his landmark 1975 book Sociobiology and extended from animals to people. ‘The requirement for an evolutionary approach to ethics is self-evident,’ he wrote. Sociobiology, though intended by its author as merely a synthesis of new biological ideas, posed a political challenge to Marxists and much of the academic left. It showed how the human mind was not a blank slate, on which governments could write whatever ideological prescriptions they wished in order to shape Socialist Man, but was already shaped or predisposed by evolution to behave in certain ways. Wilson’s book was assailed by Marxist colleagues at Harvard, such as the geneticist Richard Lewontin. Students disrupted Wilson’s lectures and harassed even Hamilton and Trivers. Researchers dared not use the word sociobiology, even if they agreed with its ideas, lest they be caught up in the furor. Sociobiology, as applied to people, is now pursued mostly under the name of evolutionary psychology. Richard Alexander, after the storm over Sociobiology had settled, was one of the first biologists to resume the study of morality. Human ancestors lived in groups, he argued in a book published in 1987, as a defense against other human groups, and warfare had been a major influence in human evolution. Usually predators find it most efficient to live in small groups (wolves, lions, killer whales) while it is prey animals that congregate in large herds for defense. But humans departed from this rule, probably because their most feared enemies were other human groups. Incessant warfare led to selection for greater social complexity and intelligence, and the larger societies required ever greater self-constraint to avoid infringing on other individuals’ interests, Alexander argued. “The function or raison d’ être of moral systems is evidently to provide the unity required to enable the group to compete successfully with other human groups. Only in humans is the major hostile force of life composed of other groups in the same species,” he wrote.

“The surprising idea that people might be inherently moral was difficult for biologists and others to accept because it conflicted with the usual assumption that human nature is selfish. Even harder to swallow, for those not steeped in the concepts of evolutionary biology, was the assertion that something as precious as morality could have blossomed from the murky soil of strife and warfare.” [Wade, Nicholas (2009-10-27). The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (Kindle Locations 558-577). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.]

Wade’s purpose isn’t primarily to show that an individual’s moral instinct is sufficient to put the good of the pack above his own. Too many examples of this exist for this to be questioned (at least by too many). It is to demonstrate that we (and not just we but primates as well) inherited a moral instinct. “In distress, they elicit sympathy with a range of very human expressions. “When upset, chimpanzees pout, whimper, yell, beg with outstretched hand, or impatiently shake both hands so that the other will hurry and provide the calming contact so urgently needed,” de Waal wrote. Chimps have been known to try to save others from drowning in the moats that sometimes surround zoo colonies. This is a huge risk for them because they cannot swim.” [Wade, Kindle Locations 593-597]

“So what then is morality? De Waal’s definition, from his perspective as a primatologist, is very different from that of rationalist philosophers. “We understand morality as a sense of right and wrong that is born out of group-wide systems of conflict management based on shared values,” he writes. “Moral systems thus provide a set of rules and incentives to resolve competition and conflicts within the group in the service of the ‘greater good,’ that is, benefits (to individuals) derived from resource distribution and collective action. Morality, by this definition, is closely related to social behavior.” By breaking out of the specialist frameworks in which philosophers and psychologists had long imprisoned the study of morality, De Waal established that morality is a biological behavior and that evolution is the only framework in which the origins of morality can be addressed. [Wade, Kindle Locations 607-614]

Cortes and Justice in New Spain

Nicholas Wade, in The Faith Instinct, How Religion evolved and why it Endures, in the early part argues that certain species of primates (perhaps all of them) had a sense of justice and not just this sense but many others which those who argued (and still argue) that we inherited nothing of this nature from our more primitive ancestors. At location, 518, Wade writes, “Darwin wrote that “To do good unto others— to do unto others as ye would they should do unto you— is the foundation-stone of morality.” A man who sacrificed his life following this principle would be widely admired and inspire valor in other members of his tribe. “He might thus do far more good to his tribe than by begetting offspring with a tendency to inherit his own high character,” Darwin wrote. The second part of Darwin’s answer raised an issue now known as group selection, the idea that genes can become more common if they confer a benefit on groups of people rather than just individuals. Darwin did not know of the existence of genes, so could not have formulated the problem to himself in those specific terms. Nonetheless, he described a process which, if it occurs, shows immediately how the genes underlying morality and other aspects of human sociality could have become common.

“But Darwin’s insight was dismissed for more than a century because of several intellectual blinders that have begun to fall only in recent years.

“First, people did not want to abandon the idea that morality is the bright line that separates people from animals . Darwin’s idea that there was a continuum of the social instincts from social animals to man cut right through that line. Even biologists didn’t like the idea that morality had been shaped by natural selection. If morality had a genetic basis, it must have arisen as an unintended by-product of some other process, they argued. “I account for morality as an accidental capability produced, in its boundless stupidity, by a biological process that is normally opposed to the expression of such a capability,” wrote George Williams, a leading evolutionary biologist, in 1988. 24 Second, the idea that natural selection works at the level of groups has been rejected by most evolutionary biologists , largely under the influence of George Williams. . . .” [Wade, Nicholas (2009-10-27). The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures (Kindle Locations 523-538). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.]

“Darwin’s thesis about the evolution of morality raises a seriously disturbing possibility. He is saying that morality, viewed by some as man’s noblest achievement, arose from warfare, the least noble, and that the brisker the pace of warfare the more rapidly would morality have blossomed. This suggests that people were highly aggressive in the distant past, an implication that has raised a third mental block. Many social scientists are reluctant to believe that people were more violent in the past than they are today. Archaeologists, seeking to avoid glorification of war, have contrasted the carnage of modern wars to the peaceable behavior of human foragers before agriculture and the birth of cities. Only recently has a careful survey shown how constant and merciless was the warfare between pre-state societies, much of it aimed at annihilating the opponent.

“A fourth obstacle to understanding the evolutionary nature of morality has been the insistence by researchers who study animal behavior that it was fallacious to attribute complex emotions to them, especially positive ones. The primatologist Frans de Waal reports that in his studies of peacemaking among chimpanzees he was instructed to use dehumanized language. A reconciliation, sealed with a kiss, had to be described as a “post-conflict interaction involving mouth-to-mouth contact.” 27 Given the evolutionary closeness of humans and chimpanzees, de Waal considered that the two species were likely to have similar emotions. Excessive fear of anthropomorphism had long stifled research on animal emotions, in his view. It also prevented biologists from acknowledging the continuum of social instincts that Darwin recognized between social animals and people.

“After decades of neglect because of these various intellectual road-blocks, the evolutionary origin of morality has been slowly resurrected as a fit subject of research. . . .” [Wade Kindle Locations 541-556]

So when Cortes treated the Amerindians he conquered with fairness, even to the point of prohibiting the abusive acts of Motecusuma’s tax gatherers, they responded to him. He made converts amongst them as much by his acts of justice as he did through the military prowess of his conquistadores. And when a political rival sends a superior force to New Spain to put Cortes in jail, Diaz is at pains to tell us that while Cortes behaved with fairness and justice, the commander of the opposing Spanish army, Narvaez, was unfair and unjust: Before the battle against the superior forces of Narvaez, Cortez speaks to his soldiers, first reminding them of all the hardships they endured and then saying, “. . . and now, after we have undergone all this, Pamfilo Narvaez comes tearing along, like a mad dog, to destroy us all; calls us villains and traitors, and makes disclosures to Motecusuma, not like a prudent general, but with the spirit of a rebel; he has even presumed to throw one of the emperor's auditors into chains—of itself a criminal act; and to sum up, has declared a war of extermination against us, just as if we had been a troop of Moors." Upon this Cortes launched out in praise of the courage we had shown in every battle: "Up to this moment," he continued, "we have fought to defend our lives, but now we shall have to fight valiantly for our lives and our honour. Our enemies have nothing less in contemplation than to take us all prisoners, and rob us of our property. No one could tell whether Narvaez was commissioned by the emperor himself; all this was merely done at the instigation of our most deadly enemy, the bishop of Burgos. If we were subdued by Narvaez, which God forbid, all the services we had rendered to the Almighty and our emperor would be construed into as many crimes. An investigation would be set on foot against us, and we should be accused of murder, of rapine, and of having revolutionised the country, though the real guilty person would be Narvaez; and the things which would be considered meritorious in him would be construed as criminal in us. As all this must be evident to you," said Cortes, in conclusion, "and we, as honest cavaliers, are bound to defend the honour of his imperial majesty, as well as our own, and all our property, I have marched out from Mexico, reposing my trust in God and your assistance, to bid defiance to such injustice." [Diaz, Kindle locations 6540-6552]

As we might expect Diaz goes on to write that “Several of our officers and soldiers then answered, in the name of the rest, that he might rely upon our determination either to conquer or to die.” [Diaz, Kindle location 6553]

After Cortes and his small force defeated Narvaez and his much larger force, “Daylight in the meantime had broken forth . . . and the drummers and pipers of Narvaez's corps, without instructions from Cortes or from anyone else, suddenly sounded their instruments, and cried out, "Long live these brave Romans, who, though small in numbers, have gained the victory over Narvaez and his troops!" And another merry-making fellow, called Guidela, a negro, cried out at the top of his voice, "Hark ye! the Romans themselves could never boast of so brilliant a victory as this!" [Diaz,Kindle Locations 6655-6659]

Cortes and his men may be teules, but they believe in justice

Cortes and his men fought several battles against the Amerindians, but it was not his intention to fight them all the way to Mexico City. According to Bernal Diaz, Cortes was a master at deception – and politics. The Aztecs sent tax gatherers to some of the tribes Cortes had defeated. Cortes whether from a political motive or deception locked up the tax gatherers and informed the Amerindians round about that they no longer had to pay taxes to Motecusuma. “When the Indians learnt this astounding, and to them so important an occurrence, they said to one another, that, such great things could not have been done by men, but only by teules, which sometimes mean gods, sometimes demons, here in the former sense; which was the reason they termed us teules, from that moment; and I beg the reader to observe, that whenever in future I speak of teules in affairs relating to us, that we are meant thereby. [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 2420-2427). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

While Cortes did not claim that he and his men were teules, he encouraged the idea that they were invincible heroes, and if the Amerindians and Aztecs concluded they were indeed teules, that was okay. Coming upon some soldiers sent by Motecusuma to oppose him, he gathered his men and said, "Methinks, gentlemen, we already pass here for great heroes; indeed, after what has happened with the tax-gatherers these people must look upon us as gods, or a species of beings like their idols. Now, I am of opinion it is best to strengthen them in this notion; and that they may think that one single man of us is sufficient to dislodge the Mexicans from the fortress of Tzinpantzinco, we will send thither old Heredia of Biscay. The malignancy of his features, his huge beard, his half-mangled countenance, his squinting eyes and lame leg, constitute him the most fitting person for this object, besides which he is a musketeer."

Cortes then sent for the man and said to him: "You must go with the caziques to the river which flows about a mile from this spot. When you have arrived there do as if you were thirsty, and wished to wash your hands; then fire off your musket. This shall be a signal for me to send someone after you, who will, in my name, desire you to return. All this is done in order that the Indians may suppose us to be deities, and as you have not one of the most pleasing countenances, I trust they will take you by preference to be some idol." Heredia, who had served many years in Italia, perfectly well knew how to perform his part, and gladly undertook this matter. Cortes now ordered the fat cazique, and the other chief Indians who were expecting succours from us, into his presence again, saying to them: "I send this my brother with you to drive the Mexicans out of the fortress, and to bring those whom he does not kill prisoners to me." When the caziques heard this they stood in utter amazement, not knowing whether Cortes was in earnest; but finding he did not change countenance, they began to convince themselves that this was really his intention, and marched away in company of Heredia. When he had arrived between the mountains he loaded his musket and shot it off in the air, that it might be heard by every Indian in the district. The caziques themselves sent notice to the different townships, that they had a teule with them, and were marching to Tzinpantzinco in order to kill the Mexicans there.”

Bernal Diaz then writes, “I have mentioned this laughable circumstance, that the reader may see what artifices Cortes employed to throw dust into the eyes of the Indians. Of course, when Heredia arrived at the river he was recalled; the caziques returning with him, to whom Cortes said, he had formed a different plan.” [Bernal Diaz, (Kindle Locations 2511-2530)]

Comment: It should not be thought, however, that Cortes was all deception. He really did believe that he and his troops could defeat Amerindian forces that far outnumbered them, but why do it if a bluff would serve as well. He had lost some men already from previous battles and knew he couldn’t keep on in that manner. Attrition would one day defeat him.

It helped tremendously that there was an Aztec prophecy saying men from the direction of the rising sun would one day arrive and defeat the Aztecs. Motecusuma procrastinated: one day he was convinced that the Cortes resembled their god of war and was a fulfillment of the prophecy, but then the priests would show up after a bloody sacrifice, their hair and beards caked with blood and report that their gods, especially the god of war, said that the Spaniards could be defeated; so Motecusuma would send out half-hearted attempts to defeat Cortes, but was in no way surprised when his attempts failed.

It is especially interesting that Cortes won over the Amerindians as he advanced by treating them fairly and enforcing justice whenever justice was abused in his presence. For example, Diaz writes in location 2597, “Although Indians, they readily perceived what a good and holy thing is justice, and that Cortes' declaration of our having come into these countries to p they, therefore, became the more united to us. We passed the night in these huts, and returned next morning, in company of our Indian friends, to Sempoalla. Indeed, the only wish of the Sempoallans was now, that we should never leave their country again, fearing Motecusuma would send an army about their ears; they, therefore, proposed to Cortes, since such a close and friendly alliance now subsisted between us, and we could look upon each other as brothers, [Diaz, Kindle Locations 2600-2605]

Cortes’s actions as described by Diaz have an uncanny conformance to the “moral instinct” all Homo sapiens are said (by many geneticists and some anthropologists – who knows how many of each because specialists are still digesting new information) to share.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Hernando Cortez, Evangelist

Cortez was warned that if he took his troops into Mexico, he and all of them would be killed, some of whom would be sacrificed to idols and most would be eaten.  Despite that he and his 550 men entered Mexico and were welcomed by Motecusuma.  Motecusuma earlier sent word that Cortez should not come,  but when Cortez told him that he needed to come to complete his mission, Motecusuma had his priests consult the Aztec gods and their response was that Cortez should be allowed to come.  Motecusuma got along fine with Cortez and most of his men.  One or two were disrespectful to Motecusuma and Cortez had them whipped.  Most like Bernal Diaz treated Motecusuma with great respect, even to the point of saying that he and the others loved Motecusuma.  And Motecusuma reciprocated.  Motecusuma was eventually taken prisoner by Cortez, but it was a gentle imprisonment.  Motecusuma had the freedom to carry on his business as usual, he just had to do it in the Spaniards quarters and presence.  When Motecusuma’s nephews plotted to attack the Spaniards and free Motecusuma, he informed on them to Cortez.  His argument was that if the Nephews attacked there would be a great slaughter which he wanted to avoid, but his actions do sound as though he were experiencing the Stockholm Syndrome.

One doesn’t see religion mentioned prominently in modern historical references, or perhaps I didn’t notice it as much, but it is extremely prominent in Bernal Diaz’s The Conquest of New Spain. William Prescott and perhaps most moderns will make light of the conquistadores and say their primary motive was loot, but it is hard to see that in Diaz’s narration.  Gold is important but less so than the commission they were on and even less so than religion.  Wherever Cortez went he preached to the natives telling them they should quit human sacrifice and that there gods were false and their statues needed to be pulled down.   A priest was along with Cortez and kept telling him to curtail his evangelism, and that more time was needed, but he kept on, despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered in Motecusuma’s Mexican city.  One day in Motecusuma’s holiest shrines, Cortez preached to him again telling him that all the gods there were false and Motecusuma took terrible offense.  Cortez’s priest urged Cortez to give it up and return to his quarters; which Cortez did.  I thought this would have been an ideal time for Motecusuma to escape to his generals and order them to annihilate the Spaniards, but he didn’t.  He returned to captivity. 

If one doubts the sincerity of Diaz and Cortez; which seems a very difficult thing to do if one actually reads The Conquest of New Spain – at least in Kindle which has the complete narration.  An abridgement exists published by Penguin Books which may have some of the religious accounts deleted, I don’t know, but what about the religion of the Aztecs.  Not only did the Aztec priests sacrifice humans, but afterwards they and the population at large perhaps, or at least the upper classes, ate the remains.  Something like a butcher shop existed where those allowed to eat these remains (which may have been everyone) picked out the cuts they wanted.

Cortez ordered the Motecusuma and the Mexicans to stop their human sacrifices.  Motecusuma agreed, but the sacrifices went on anyway and Diaz wrote that they had to turn a blind eye because they were in no position to force them to stop.

It is common to day to scoff at religious motivation: the Conquistadors must have been in it for the gold.  Crusaders must have been in it for the loot, but post-modern (not intended as a technical term) theory suggests otherwise.  Nicholas Wade in 2009 wrote The Faith Instinct, How Religion Evolved and Why it Endures. He isn’t the first to hypothesize that we all have a religious instinct.  This isn’t to say that it can’t be denied or rejected, but it is there and it does provide its adherents with an advantage.  Where is the war where one or both sides weren’t motivated by their religion?  And lest the non-religious are inclined to feel superior, the sincerely religious will fight with more single-mindedness and self-sacrifice than the modern-day (or any previous day) skeptic.  Thus, if skeptics ever did mount an army, believers would be sure to beat it (everything else being equal).

But, someone might object, the sincerely believing human-sacrificing Aztecs far outnumber the sincerely believing Roman Catholic Spaniards, a million plus to about 550; how is it that Cortez and his conquistadores survived?  Well to some extent it was due to their being an Aztec prophesy which foretold that men would one day arrive from the direction of the rising of the sun and conquer them.  Motecusuma and who knows how many other Mexicans had no doubt but that Cortez’s arrival fulfilled that prophesy; so what good would it do to fight them? The Gods had foretold that they would lose.

One in my opinion shouldn’t disparage the intense religious conviction of the Conquistadors.  They prayed fervently, especially when they had to fight against the enormous numbers that the Indians and especially the Aztecs could bring against them.   Cortez knew in whom he believed and felt the obligation to confess Him in the presence of his enemies.  There is a verse some place where Jesus says something like, “if you confess me before men, then I’ll confess you before my heavenly father, but if you will not confess me before men I will not confess you before my heavenly father.”  That Cortez would preach to Motecusuma is, I suspect, an application of that verse.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

“The Great Battle we fought with the Tlascallans”

Bernal Diaz in The Conquest of New Spain describes the second major battle Cortes and his small force engaged in:

“It was the following morning, on the 5th of September, 1519, that we equipped ourselves for battle. Our horse were first arranged in order, then the foot soldiers, and even our wounded were forced to go along with us, if only to swell out our numbers, and do what lay in their power. The crossbow-men received orders that some were merely to load, while others fired, and this always in platoons. The musketeers received similar orders, and the remaining portion of our men, who were armed with swords and shields, were principally to strike at the enemy in the region of the belly, in order to stop them from venturing so near to us as they had the time before. Everyone was also particularly cautioned not to leave the ranks. It was also the particular duty of our cavalry not to leave each other in the lurch, always to attack in full gallop, and only aim at the face and eyes. The ensign Corral received a guard of four men, and in this way we sallied forth from our camp, with our standard flying. We had scarcely proceeded a quarter of a mile when we found the fields covered with warriors; they had large feather-knots on their heads, waved their colours, and made a terrific noise with their horns and trumpets: indeed, the pen that would wish to describe everything we saw here, would not find it such an easy task! this was indeed a battle of as fearful and dubious an issue as well could be. In an instant we were surrounded on all sides by such vast numbers of Indians, that the plain, here six miles in breadth, seemed as if it contained but one vast body of the enemy, in the midst of which stood our small army of 400 men, the greater part wounded and knocked up with fatigue. We were also aware that the enemy had marched out to battle with the determination to spare none of us, excepting those who were to be sacrificed to their idols. When, therefore, the attack commenced, a real shower of arrows and stones was poured upon us; the whole ground was immediately covered with heaps of lances, whose points were provided with two edges, so very sharp that they pierced through every species of cuirass, and were particularly dangerous to the lower part of the body, which was in no way protected. They fell upon us like the very furies themselves, with the most horrible yells; we employed, however, our heavy guns, muskets, and crossbows, with so much effect, and received those who pressed eagerly upon us with such well-directed blows and thrusts, that considerable destruction was made among their ranks, nor did they allow us to approach so near to them as in the previous battle: our cavalry, in particular, showed great skill and bravery, so that they, next to the Almighty, were the principal means of saving us. Indeed our line was already half broken; all the commands of Cortes and our other officers to restore order and form again were fruitless, the Indians continually rushing upon us in such vast crowds that we could only make place with sword in hand to save our line from being broken. Our only safety was owing to the great number of the enemy itself; for they stood so closely crowded that each shot we fired must have done great execution among them. They left themselves altogether no room to manœuvre in, while many of the chiefs, with their men, were not even able to mix at all in the engagement. Besides this, disagreements and inimical feelings had arisen out of the previous battle between the commander-in-chief [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz. The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 3212-3237).]

Comment: It has been objected that Cortes never fought against overwhelming numbers with an army as small as this, but that is what Bernal Diaz has described on two occasions thus far in his book. Is such a thing possible? I’ve run across the same sort of account more than once. Caesar describes such battles. And of course the Spartans engaged in many such against far superior forces. Even in the America Civil War where both sides had similar training, battles led by Stonewall Jackson against superior forces succeeded perhaps to a large extent because the Northerners he fought against feared him and the maniacal behavior of his troops. And here, even though the Tlascallans sought to destroy Cortes’ forces, they feared them at the same time thinking them a band of demons. Despite overwhelming numbers it seems probable that many did not expect to win but rather rushed against this Cortes tiny force out of duty expecting to be killed.

Thus far Diaz hasn’t mentioned the armor the Spanish soldiers wore, but surely it protected them against the arrows that rained down upon them in this battle. Their horses too must have been heavily armored.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pregnant Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy


This is a bit of a coincidence.  I’m reading about the Reconquest in Spain which leads up to the Inquisition and here we see part of the Islamic world about where the Spanish Inquisitors were in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Just as there is no law against stupidity, neither is there any world law against new “Inquisitions.”  After all it doesn’t seem as though the Sudanese are going out looking for violators.  There is no Torquemada amongst them as far as I know.  Of course this woman has four days to accept Islam.  Many of the Jews converted to Christianity during the Spanish inquisition as well and were called “Conversos.” 

If this woman converts and becomes a Conversa then interest will probably die, but if she refuses and is sentenced to death, world interest will continue.   If she is actually executed, I’m sure other mostly non-Islamic nations will want to take some sort of action against Sudan – probably not military.

We have long known that Islamic Fundamentalism wants to revert the modern Islamic world to what existed in the 8th century.  For them to believe that isn’t very threatening.  Lots of people believe all sorts of things.  But for any of them to act upon those beliefs is, or can be with enough attention, very threatening. 

Were the Sephardic Jews as smart as the Ashkenazis?

One person reading my comments on Cochran and Harpending’s arguments about the Ashkenazi Jews being among other things smarter than other Jews sent me this reference:


He argued that this reference proved that the Sephardic Jews were money lenders in the Ottoman Empire.

I commented as follows:

I looked at your reference. This is from its footnote #10: “Prior to the arrival of the Iberian Jews, the Jewish population in the Ottoman territories was comprised of Romaniot or Griegos, Greek-speaking Jews who had survived Byzantine persecution; Arabized Jews, Arabic speakers and inheritors of Islamic traditions who came from territories ruled by Islamic caliphates; Ashkenazi Jews, Yiddish speakers originally from North, Central and Eastern Europe, and Karaite Jews, Karaim speakers who originated in Baghdad during the 7th century. The Sephardim from Spain and Portugal, who arrived after 1492, became the largest group during the following century, absorbing the rest of the Jewish communities. See Stanford J. Shaw, The Jews of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic, 44-47. See also Walter F. Weiker, Ottomans, Turks and the Jewish Polity: A History of the Jews of Turkey (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 1992), 53-57.”

Note that the author of your reference is concerned about Spanish Jews which Cochran and Harpending do mention, saying they didn’t develop intelligence levels matching the Ashkenazis because they were treated better under the Muslims and didn’t have to perform at the high level the Ashkenazis did under the threats and stress of the Europeans. Note also in your footnote ten that your author writes, that present in the Ottoman Empire before the arrival of the Sephardic Jews were the “Ashkenazi Jews, Yiddish speakers originally from North, Central and Eastern Europe.”

There is no conflict between your reference and the writings of Cochran and Harpending that I can see. Their focus was on the Ashkenazis and not on all of Jewry. The Ashkenazis were isolated, and “money lenders” as well as engaging in other “white collar” tasks prior to the time the Reconquest was being completed and Jews as well as Muslims had to flee Spain and Portugal. But some of the Ashkenazis had to flee Europe prior to the influx of the Sephardic Jews and may have already been established as money lenders in the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps some of the Sephardic Jews managed to perform at that high level as well but the Ashkenazis distinguished themselves in that task in Europe and probably did in the Ottoman Empire as well. Of those who later fled Islamic nations to live in Israel, none perhaps, or at the most very few, measured up to Ashkenazi intellectual levels.

Did the idea for the Crusades originate in Spain?

It is new to me that the idea for the crusades may have originated in the efforts the Spanish were making to reconquer their land from the Muslims.

“Pope Urban’s letters reveal that he was fully cognizant of the efforts of Christian Spain to conquer lands held by the Muslims. Indeed, he seems to have had a broad view of the relationship between the Islamic world and Christendom. If he could offer remission of sins and indulgence to the Catalans striving to repopulate and defend Tarragona, he could extend the same benefit some years later to those going on crusade to the Holy Land. Just ten years after the fall of Toledo and four to six years after urging the restoration of Tarragona, he launched the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont in 1095. The same remission of sins offered by Alexander II in 1063 and Urban II in 1089– 91 was now offered to those who would deliver the holy places from the “infidels.” In seeking the genesis of the First Crusade one must look to these Spanish antecedents.”  [from O'Callaghan, Joseph F. (2011-01-01). Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (Kindle Locations 741-747)]

While the religious motive may have been paramount in Pope Urban’s thinking, O’Callaghan suggests otherwise:

He writes, “The second invasion of Spain by the Almoravids in 1089 brought home to Urban II, as Guibert de Nogent noted, the threat not only to Christian Spain but also to southern France. In order to counteract Islam the pope encouraged Archbishop Bernard of Toledo to restore the other metropolitan sees still under Muslim rule (namely, Tarragona, Braga, Mérida, and Seville) and to bring about the (namely, Tarragona , Braga , Mérida, and Seville) and to bring about the conversion of the “infidels.” The latter admonition— almost an afterthought— is the first indication of papal interest in a mission to Spanish Islam. In practical terms the restoration of the archbishopric of Tarragona in the northeast, though deserted, seemed most feasible.  With that intention, Urban II in 1089 exhorted the Catalan bishops and nobles, in remission of their sins, to rebuild Tarragona: We encourage those who will set out for Jerusalem or other places in a spirit of penitence or devotion to expend all the labor of that journey on the restoration of the church of Tarragona, so that that city . . . may be celebrated as a barrier and a bulwark against the Saracens for the Christian people, to whom, out of the mercy of God, we offer that indulgence which they would gain if they had fulfilled the journey [to Jerusalem]. [O'Callaghan, (Kindle Locations 717-728).]

In another place O’Callaghan tells us French knights were promised land in Spain if they would drive the Muslims from it – not land the Spanish were engaged in fighting for but other land, land the Muslims had held for many years and was not being immediately contested by the Spanish.  I read a couple of books 10 or 15 years ago on the Crusades and recall the comment that one of the Popes encouraged the Franks to go off and free Jerusalem in order to get them out of Europe where they kept stirring things up.  O’Callaghan doesn’t give us quite that picture of them during Urban’s time.

O’Callaghan’s book covers the “reconquest” and “crusade.”  Apparently his argument that the idea of the crusade originated out of the Spanish struggle against the Moors in Spain isn’t widely accepted.  He quotes a great number of occurrences where a Pope provides indulgences to leaders who agree to fight the Muslims and drive them from previously held Spanish land.  I’m sure all those references are accurate, but I often wonder if my Kindle isn’t inadvertently repeating something I’ve already read.

On the validity of Cochran and Harpending’s effort

In a debate some of the things I was writing about Cochran and Harpending’s book were challenged.  It was asserted that genetics ought not to be allowed to have precedence over “established historical fact.”  I responded as follows:

Wow. Genetic “facts” are falsifiable in the laboratory. “Historical facts” whether “established” or not – are not, making genetic “facts” factier than historical ones, if what you mean by “fact” has anything to do with provable “truth.” In “fact” historians don’t usually say things like “historical facts” because history is based upon records written by humans, testimony in other words, and testimony is not considered reliable enough to refer to it as a established fact. If more than one person says the same thing then it is deemed a bit more reliable than if one person says it, but still . . . groups of people have testified to seeing flying saucers and not everyone considers their testimony to be an “established fact.”

What Cochran and Harpending have done in their book is a work of consilience, applying the latest conclusions from geology, archeology, and genetics to history – or rather, applying those disciplines to each other. “History” that hasn’t agreed with archeology and geology has been modified until it does. And now the same thing must occur in regard to genetics.

Cochran and Harpending are not breaking much new ground. Cavilli Sforza (father and son) wrote The Great Human Diasporas, the History of Diversity and Evolution” back in 1993. Bryan Sykes has done something very like that in his Saxons, Vikings, and Celts. Cochran and Harpending have gone beyond Sykes in some respects but not hugely so.

And while you haven’t offered any “established historical” facts or even references in regard to what went on during Cortes conquering of the Aztecs, try reconciling the testimony of the people who were there or quoted people who were there. Bernal Diaz was there. He was one of Cortes’ conquistadors and awarded for his heroic acts by being made governor of Guatemala. What he wrote supports what Cochran and Harpending wrote about Cortes as I understand it. When Cortes first faced huge numbers in his first battle, numbers as much as 300 to 1 at certain points according to one witness, Cortes had 400 soldiers on the ground.

Being raised in Southern California I was exposed to a lot of Spanish History as I grew. I had more interest in it in college than later on, primarily because historians writing in English weren’t all that interested in Spanish history . . . apparently Spanish historians weren’t all that interested in it either from what I read. But now we have many more of the early texts available in English as well as a few more historians taking up various aspects. O’Callaghan’s Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain published in 2003 interests me.

Gomara’s account of Cortes’s first battle

Even Bernal Diaz’s literary criticism is entertaining:

Francisco Lopez de Gomara, in his account of this battle, says, that previous to the arrival of Cortes with the cavalry, the holy apostle St. Jacob or St. Peter in person had galloped up on a gray-coloured horse to our assistance. I can only say, that for the exertion of our arms and this victory, we stand indebted to our Lord Jesus Christ; and that in this battle every individual man among us was set upon by such numbers of the enemy, that if each of them had merely thrown a handful of earth upon us we should have been buried beneath it. Certain it is, therefore, that God showed his mercy to us here, and it may, indeed, have been one of the two glorious apostles St. Jacob or St. Peter who thus came to our assistance. Perhaps on account of my sins I was not considered worthy of the good fortune to behold them; for I could only see Francisco de Morla on his brown horse galloping up with Cortes, and even at this very moment, while I am writing this, I can fancy I see all passing before my eyes just as I have related it; although I, an unworthy sinner, was not considered worthy of beholding one of the glorious apostles face to face: yet again I never heard any of the four hundred soldiers, nor ever Cortes himself, nor any of the many cavaliers, mention this wonder, or confirm its truth. We should certainly have built a church, and have called the town Santiago, or San Pedro de la Vitoria, and not Santa Maria de la Vitoria. If, therefore, what Gomara relates is true, then we must indeed have been bad Christians not to have paid greater respect to the assistance which God sent us in the person of his holy apostles, and for having omitted to thank him daily for it in his own church. Nevertheless, I should feel delighted if this historian has spoken the truth, although I must confess that I never heard this wonder mentioned before reading his book, nor have I ever heard any of the conquistadores speak of it who were present at the battle.  [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 1840-1854). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

As to the history of Bernal Diaz’s book, Wikipedia tells us, “As a reward for his service, Díaz was awarded an encomienda by Cortés in 1522. This was confirmed and supplemented by similar awards in 1527 and 1528, according to documents cited by Carmelo Saenz de Santa María (pp. 89–90). In 1541 he settled in Guatemala and, during the course of a trip to Spain, was appointed regidor (governor) of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, present-day Antigua Guatemala in 1551. His Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, finished in 1568, almost fifty years after the events it described, was begun around the same time as his appointment as regidor and was well in progress by the mid-1550s when he wrote to the emperor, describing his services and seeking benefits; it was then expanded in response to what he later found in an alternative history published in 1552 by Francisco López de Gómara. The title Historia verdadera (True History) is in part a response to the claims made by Gómara, Bartolomé de las Casas, Gonzalo de Illescas and others who had not participated in the campaign. Despite Bernal Díaz's lack of formal education and the self-interest that gave birth to his volume, the Historia verdadera evokes, like no other source, the often tragic and painful yet fascinating process through which one empire ended and another began to take shape.”

“Bernal Díaz died in January 1584, without seeing his book published. An expanded and corrected copy of the manuscript kept in Guatemala was sent to Spain and published, with revisions, in 1632.”

Lopez de Gomara died in 1566; so he didn’t see its publication either.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

First Battle fought by Cortez in New Spain

In Chapter XXXIV, Bernal Diaz describes the first battle Cortez and his forces fought in “New Spain.” The chapter is entitled “How we are attacked by all the caziques of Tabasco, and the whole armed force of this province, and what took place.” I cannot tell how numerous the forces involved were. Whatever force Cortez had come to Tabasco on his ships. Diaz at one point said that an attack he advocated was rejected at first because it would involve each of Cortez soldiers going up against 300 Indians. No doubt that shouldn’t be taken literally, but the Spaniards were facing overwhelming numbers. They had the advantage of better weapons, better tactics, and horses; which the Indians had apparently never seen before.

Since Diaz describes the first battle Cortez and his forces fought in “New Spain” we see something of what Cochran and Harpending had in mind when they wrote that Cortez achieved something very like that in a modern adventure movie where a single man defeats an army of enemies. I’ll quote this chapter up to the point where Diaz states that the battle is over:

“The Indians were already moving forward in search of us, when we came up with them: every one had a large bunch of feathers on his head, a cotton cuirass on, and their faces were daubed with white, black, and red colours. Besides having drums and trumpets, they were armed with huge bows and arrows, shields, lances, and large broadswords; they had also bodies of slingers, and others armed with poles hardened in the fire. The Indians were in such vast numbers that they completely filled the bean fields, and immediately fell upon us on all sides at once, like furious dogs. Their attack was so impetuous, so numerous were the arrows, stones, and lances with which they greeted us, that above seventy of our men were wounded in no time, and one named Saldaña, was struck by an arrow in the ear, and instantly dropt down dead. With like fury they rushed at us with their pikes, at the same time pouring forth showers of arrows, and continually wounding our men. However, we fully repaid them with our crossbows, muskets, and heavy cannon, cutting right and left among them with our swords. By this means we forced them to give ground a little, but only that they might shower forth their arrows at a greater distance, where they thought themselves more secure from our arms. Even then our artilleryman Mesa made terrible havoc among them, standing as they did crowded together and within reach of the cannon, so that he could fire among them to his heart's content. Notwithstanding the destruction we made among their ranks, we could not put them to flight. I now remarked to our commander Diego de Ordas that we should rush forward upon the Indians and close with them. My motive for advising this was, because I saw that they merely retreated from fear of our swords, but still continued to annoy us at a distance with arrows, lances, and large stones. De Ordas, however, considered this not expedient, as the enemy's numbers were so vast that every single man of us would have had to encounter 300 of the enemy at once.

“My advice, however, was at length followed up, and we fell so heavily upon them that they retreated as far as the wells. All this time Cortes still remained behind with the cavalry, though we so greatly longed for reinforcement: we began to fear that some misfortune might also have befallen him. I shall never forget the piping and yelling which the Indians set up at every shot we fired, and how they sought to hide their loss from us by tossing up earth and straw into the air, making a terrible noise with their drums and trumpets, and their war-whoop Ala lala. In one of these moments Cortes came galloping up with the horse. Our enemies being still busily engaged with us, did not immediately observe this, so that our cavalry easily dashed in among them from behind. The nature of the ground was quite favorable for its manœuvres; and as it consisted of strong active fellows, most of the horses being, moreover, powerful and fiery animals, our small body of cavalry in every way made the best use of their weapons. When we, who were already hotly engaged with the enemy, espied our cavalry, we fought with renewed energy, while the latter, by attacking them in the rear at the same time, now obliged them to face about. The Indians, who had never seen any horses before, could not think otherwise than that horse and rider were one body. Quite astounded at this to them so novel a sight, they quitted the plain and retreated to a rising ground.

“Cortes now related why he had not come sooner. First, he had been delayed by the morass; then again he was obliged to fight his way through other bodies of the enemy whom he had met, in which five men and eight horses were wounded. Having somewhat rested from our fatigue under the trees which stood on the field of battle, we praised God and the holy Virgin, and thanked them with uplifted hands for the complete victory they had granted us: and, as it was the feast of the annunciation to the holy Virgin, the town which was subsequently built here in memory of this great victory, was named Santa Maria de la Vitoria. This was the first battle we fought under Cortes in New Spain.

[Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 1802-1832). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

Comment: Should we trust the account of Bernal Diaz or is there some other? Diaz throughout is critical of the history written by Francisco López de Gómara. Apparently Gomara’s history was well received in Spain. But note that Gomara was born in 1511 and the battle Diaz describes occurred in 1519. Wikipedia says of Gomara, “Francisco López de Gómara (c. 1511 - c. 1566) was a Spanish historian who worked in Seville, particularly noted for his works in which he described the early 16th century expedition undertaken by Hernán Cortés in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Although Gómara himself did not accompany Cortés, and had in fact never been to the Americas, he had firsthand access to Cortés and others of the returning conquistadores as the sources of his account. However other contemporaries, among them most notably Bernal Díaz del Castillo, criticised his work as being full of inaccuracies, and one which unjustifiably sanitised the events and aggrandised Cortés' role. As such, the reliability of his works may be called into question; yet they remain a valuable and oft-cited record of these events.”

While Amazon does provide Diaz’s account in Kindle format, they do not provide Gomara’s. Gomara’s “history” has had an interesting history: “Whether through the desire to aggrandize his patron, [Lord Don Martin Cortés, Marques del Valle"—the son and heir of the conqueror] or through relying on the firsthand information which the latter gave him (Gómara was never in America) or from malice, or for some other reason Gómara fell into serious errors and in many instances sinned gravely against historical truth. It was perhaps for this reason that Prince Philip (afterwards Philip II of Spain), in a decree issued at Valladolid on November 17, 1553, ordered all the copies of his work that could be found to be gathered in and imposed a penalty of 200,000 maravedis on anyone who should reprint it. This prohibition was removed in 1727 through the efforts of Don Andreas Gonzalez Martial who included Gómara's work in his collection of early historians of the New World (Coleccion de historiadores primitivos de las Indias Occidentales). The Verdadera historia de la Conquesta de Nueva Espana ("True History of the Conquest of New Spain") of Bernal Díaz del Castillo, a companion of Hernán Cortés, was written to refute Gómara. The latter's style is concise and agreeable, the narrative running on rapidly and gracefully, all of which has had the effect of attracting readers to the work. Among other works of his which have remained unpublished are Batallas de mar de nuestros tiempos ("Contemporary Naval Battles") and Historia de Harrue y Harradin Barbarroja.

The Spanish Y-Chromosome in Latin America

Cochran and Harpending write that Central and South American women have Amerindian MTDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) but the men have the Spanish Y Chromosome. Bernal Diaz in his New Conquest of Spain describes a case of that happening. Cortez in 1519 learns that the Amerindians have two Spanish slaves. He negotiates with the locals and they say Cortez can have them if he pays a ransom. He agrees to that and sends the locals off with the ransom and a letter of introduction to the Spaniards. Here is his letter:

"Dear Sirs and Brothers,—Here, on the island of Cozumel, I received information that you are detained prisoners by a cazique. I beg of you to come here to me on the island of Cozumel. To this end I have sent out an armed ship, and ransom-money, should it be required by the Indians. I have ordered the vessel to remain stationary off the promontory of Cotoche for eight days, to wait for you. Come as speedily as possible; you may depend upon being honorably treated by me. I am here with eleven vessels armed with 500 soldiers, and intend, with the aid of the Almighty and your assistance, to proceed to a place called Tabasco, or Potonchon; etc."

Diaz continues: With this letter the two Indian merchants embarked on board our vessel, which passed this narrow gulf in three hours, when the messengers with the ransom-money were put on shore. After the lapse of a couple of days they actually handed over the letter to one of the Spaniards in question, who, as we afterwards learnt, was called Geronimo de Aguilar, and I shall therefore in future distinguish him by that name. When he had read the letter and received the ransom-money we had forwarded, he was exceedingly rejoiced, and took the latter to the cazique his master to beg for his liberation. The moment he had obtained this he went in quest of his comrade, Gonzalo Guerrero, and made him acquainted with all the circumstances; when Guerrero made the following reply:

"Brother Aguilar,—I have united myself here to one of the females of this country, by whom I have three children; and am, during wartime, as good as cazique or chief. Go! and may God be with you: for myself, I could not appear again among my countrymen. My face has already been disfigured, according to the Indian custom, and my ears have been pierced: what would my countrymen say if they saw me in this attire? Only look at my three children, what lovely little creatures they are; pray give me some of your glass beads for them, which I shall say my brethren sent them from my country."

Gonzalo's Indian wife followed in the same strain, and was quite displeased with Aguilar's errand. "Only look at that slave there, (said she,) he is come here to take away my husband from me! Mind your own affairs, and do not trouble yourself about us." Aguilar, however, afterwards made another attempt to induce Gonzalo to leave, telling him to consider that he was a Christian, and that he ought not to risk the salvation of his soul for the sake of an Indian woman. Moreover, he might take her and the children with him if he could not make up his mind to separate himself from them. Aguilar, however, might say what he liked, it was all to no purpose; he could not persuade Gonzalo to accompany his heretofore companion in good and ill fortune. This Guerrero was most probably a sailor, and a native of Palos. He remained among the Indians, while Geronimo de Aguilar alone took his departure with the Indian messengers, and marched towards the coast where our ship was to have waited for them: but she had left; for De Ordas, after staying there the eight days, and another in addition, finding that no one appeared, again set sail for Cozumel. Aguilar was quite downcast when he found the ship was gone, and he again returned to his Indian master.

Ordas, however, did not meet with the best of reception when he returned without the ransom-money or any information respecting the Spaniards, and even without the Indian messengers. Cortes said to him, with great vehemence, he expected he would have fulfilled his commission better than to return without the Spaniards, and even without bringing him any information respecting them, although well.

Off Cortez goes but one of his ships develops a leak so he is forced to return to Cozumel, much to the delight of Geronimo de Aguilar: “When the Spaniard, who was in the power of the Indians got certain information that we had again returned to the island Cozumel, he rejoiced exceedingly and thanked God with all his heart. He immediately hired a canoe, with six capital rowers, for himself and the Indians who had brought him the glass beads. The former being richly remunerated with these, so valuable in their estimation: they performed their work so well, that the channel between the island and mainland, a distance of about twelve miles, was soon crossed. After they had arrived off the island and stepped on shore, some soldiers who were returning from the chase of musk swine, informed Cortes that a large canoe had just arrived from the promontory of Cotoche. Cortes immediately despatched Andreas de Tapia with a few men to learn what news they had brought. As Tapia with his men approached the shore, the Indians, who had arrived with Geronimo, evinced great fear and ran back to their canoe in order to put off to sea again. Aguilar, however, told him in their language they need have no fear; for we were their brothers. Andreas de Tapia, who took Aguilar also for an Indian, for he had every appearance of one, sent to inform Cortes that the seven Indians who had arrived were inhabitants of Cozumel. It was not until they had come up to them and heard the Spaniard pronounce the words—God, holy Virgin, Sevilla, in broken Spanish, and ran up to Tapia to embrace him, that they recognized this strange-looking fellow. One of Tapia's men immediately ran off to inform Cortes that a Spaniard had arrived in the canoe, for which news he expected a handsome reward. We all greatly rejoiced at this information, and it was not long before Tapia himself arrived with the strange-looking Spaniard. As they passed by us many of our men still kept inquiring of Tapia which among them was the Spaniard? although he was walking at his very side, so much did his countenance resemble that of an Indian. His complexion was naturally of a brownish cast, added to which his hair had been shorn like that of an Indian slave: he carried a paddle across his shoulder, had one of his legs covered with an old tattered stocking; the other, which was not much better, being tied around his waist. An old ragged cloak hung over his shoulders, his maltatas was in a much worse condition. His prayerbook, which was very much torn, he had folded in the corner of his cloak. When Cortes beheld the man in this attire, he, as all the rest of us had done, asked Tapia where the Spaniard was? When Geronimo heard this, he cowered down after the Indian fashion, and said: "I am he." Upon this Cortes gave him a shirt, a coat, a pair of trousers, a cap and shoes, from our stores. He then desired him to give us an account of the adventures of his life, and explain how he had got into [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 1445-1545). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

Comment: As far as I’ve read Gonzolo is still living with his Amerindian wife and three children and enjoying his status with is “as good as cazique,” and being of powerful physique admired as a powerful warrior. He would obviously be of more use to Cortes than the simple Aguilar who was employed in menial tasks and was too weak to walk 12 miles. Probably no modern-day Amerindian can trace his Y-Chromosome back to him. It is interesting though that everyone had difficulty believing that Aguilar was not an Indian. He was apparently born with a dark complexion and then living with the Indians he developed their mannerisms. How many other Spaniards could fit into that environment as well as Aguilar and Gonzolo, I wonder? But I wonder also why he spoke in “broken Spanish.” He surely hadn’t been with the Indians so long that he forgot his native language. Perhaps Spaniards employed in menial activities in Spain spoke an inferior form of Spanish and that is what Diaz intends to be inferred here, but I don’t know.

On surviving plagues and travelling to Yucatan

Cochran and Harpending write on page 162, “In Mexico, where Hernán Cortés and his troops had made the Aztec emperor their puppet, the Aztecs rose against them, killing Moctezuma II and two-thirds of the Spanish force in the famous “Noche Triste.” The Aztecs probably would have utterly destroyed the invaders, were it not for the smallpox epidemic under way at the same time. The leader of the Aztec defense died in the epidemic, and Cortés and his men conquered the Aztec Empire. The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

How were these Aztecs contaminated? Bernal Diaz Del Castillo in his The Conquest of New Spain wrote of how 110 of them (Cortez wasn’t with them at this point) sailed away from Cuba in 1517 and up the coast of the mainland, discovering Yucatan. They needed to go ashore for water from time to time, and those activities did not always go well. Here is the first foray to get water:

As these Indians approached us in their canoes, we made signs of peace and friendship, beckoning at the same time to them with our hands and cloaks to come up to us that we might speak with them; for at that time there was nobody amongst us who understood the language of Yucatan or Mexico. They now came along side of us without evincing the least fear, and more than thirty of them climbed on board of our principal ship. We gave them bacon and cassave bread to eat, and presented each with a necklace of green glass beads. After they had for some time minutely examined the ship, the chief, who was a cazique, gave us to understand, by signs, that he wished to get down again into his canoe and return home, but that he would come the next day with many more canoes in order to take us on shore. Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 400-405). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.

The Indians ask where they came from and when they admit to coming from where the sun rises the Indians decided to kill them. “The cazique had no sooner given the signal, than out rushed with terrible fury great numbers of armed warriors, greeting us with such a shower of arrows, that fifteen of our men were immediately wounded. These Indians were clad in a kind of cuirass made of cotton, and armed with lances, shields, bows, and slings; with each a tuft of feathers stuck on his head. As soon as they had let fly their arrows, they rushed forward and attacked us man to man, setting furiously to with their lances, which they held in both hands. When, however, they began to feel the sharp edge of our swords, and saw what destruction our crossbows and matchlocks made among them, they speedily began to give way. Fifteen of their number lay dead on the field. [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 422-427). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

Bernal Diaz and his fellows didn’t learn their lesson and later on needing more water answered the same question in the same way, that they came from the direction in which the sun rises, and met with the same result. Eventually so many of them were injured that they couldn’t man all their boats. They burned one, and headed back toward Havanah, but they needed water and no longer had enough sound men to fight off the Indians long enough to get it. But eventually most of them got back to Havana.

But I noticed an interesting anecdote way back at the beginning of Bernal Diaz’s narrative: “In the year 1514 I departed from Castile in the suite of Pedro Arias de Avila, who had just then been appointed governor of Terra Firma. At sea we had sometimes bad and sometimes good weather, until we arrived at Nombre Dios, where the plague was raging: of this we lost many of our men, and most of us got terrible sores on our legs, and were otherwise ill.” [Del Castillo, Bernal Diaz (2013-11-03). The Conquest of New Spain (Kindle Locations 347-349). Bybliotech. Kindle Edition.]

What was this plague and what caused the sores that Bernal Diaz and most of the others had on their legs? He writes initially of 1514 and it wasn’t until 1517 that they had several battles with the Amerindians on the coast of Yucatan, but that Diaz and the others were carriers of more than one disease doesn’t seem a stretch.

Cochran and Harpending write, “The European advantage in disease resistance was particularly important because those early attempts at conquest and colonization were marginal. Shipping men and equipment across the Atlantic Ocean presented huge logistical difficulties. European military expeditions to the New World were tiny and poorly supplied. The successes of the conquistadors are reminiscent of ridiculous action movies in which one man defeats a small army—and that’s a lot harder to do with an arquebus than an Uzi. Early colonization efforts often teetered on the edge of disaster, as when half the Pilgrims died in their first winter, or when most of the settlers in Jamestown starved to death in the winter of 1609. Epidemic disease didn’t just grease the skids for the initial conquests: It reduced Amerindian populations and made later revolts far weaker than they would have been otherwise. If they had not died of disease, the Amerindians would have had time to copy and use many European military innovations in the second or third round of fighting. [pp. 164-165. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.]

Did Agriculture render tribes and cities unequal?

Cochran and Harpending write, “The assumption that more recent expansions are all driven by cultural factors is based on the notion that modern humans everywhere have essentially the same abilities. That’s a logical consequence of human evolutionary stasis: If humans have not undergone a significant amount of biological change since the expansion out of Africa, then people everywhere would have essentially the same potentials, and no group would have a biological advantage over its neighbors. But as we never tire of pointing out, there has been significant biological change during that period—tremendous amounts of change, particularly in those populations that have practiced agriculture for a long time. Therefore, the biological equality of human races and ethnic groups is not inevitable: In fact it’s about as likely as a fistful of silver dollars all landing on edge when dropped. There are important, well-understood examples of human biological inequality: Some populations can (on average) deal far more effectively with certain situations than others. [from The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (p. 156-157). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

The Human Genome has been available for study only since 2003, a mere 9 years after Popper died. But a good deal was known before 2003. Cavalli-Sforza, father and son, published in 1995 wrote, The Great Human Diasporas, the History of Diversity and Evolution. On page 138 they write, “Our theory contradicted the prevailing views, particularly in Britain and the United States, where archaeologists had rejected the theory of expansion and migration in favor of the idea that population composition changed very little, and that only ideas and artifacts circulated. . . We called the two explanations demic, implying the spread of populations (ours – a very special type of migrationist hypothesis, in which a technological innovation determines a population explosion followed by migration, and hence expansion), and cultural, the classical indigenist one (implying the transfer of ideas, technologies, and artifacts).

Sticking just to this matter of agriculture, and the “migration” and “expansion” that followed, Cochran and Harpending state an obvious conclusion: “Early adopters ought to be better at agriculture than late-comes: They should be better adjusted to the new diet, tougher against the new diseases, and better at tolerating crowding and hierarchy.”

And “populations with a biological advantage, more often than not, should have won the wars. They would have been able to generate more young warriors than their neighbors. They would have been able to afford to fight more often and recover faster from defeat. If the expanding group’s success depended upon some improved tactic or weapon, the defenders could have copied it. But they couldn’t copy a gene. It’s hard to fight biological superiority, and expansions based on such superiority could have gone on far longer than ones based upon cultural advantages, which are ephemeral.

Cochran, Gregory; Henry Harpending (2009-01-27). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (p. 158). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Comment: We can’t see differences in personalities by looking at DNA, yet, but differences have been deduced. Attempts to introduce agriculture to hunter-gatherer societies such as the Pygmies in Africa have not gone well. The farmer knows things are often going to be tight right before planting season. His family may be hungry but he needs to keep planting seed available for planting. He needs to keep his breeding stock available for breeding. The hunter-gatherers, so Cochran and Harpending wrote some place, would get hungry and eat their goats.

Which causes me to wonder whether this advantage, the advantage of practicing agriculture for longer than their neighbors gave Rome an advantage over its neighbors for longer than if those neighbors had been farmers and not merely herders.

The contestants in the American Civil war were both Agricultural; so neither side had an advantage in terms of war-making ability. But it is a perfect test to separate a people for 15000 years and then have them come together, and see how the non-agriculturalists (the Amerindians – or the Australian Aborigines for that matter who were separated even longer) fair against the agriculturalists. We see that the mere presence of the Agriculturalists is enough to kill off the majority of the non-Agriculturalists through the diseases the Agriculturalists have become immune to, but still transmit, and the non-Agriculturalists who die as a result.

How infectious diseases helped the Old world conquer the new

Here are a few paragraphs from Cochran and Harpending in regard to the ease with which the Spanish conquered the Amerindians of America: 

“The Amerindians migrated from Northeast Asia some 15,000 years ago. They did not carry with them crowd diseases that arose after the birth of agriculture, nor did they carry the genetic defenses that later developed against those diseases. Since their path to the New World went through frigid landscapes like Siberia and Alaska, they left behind some of the ancient infectious diseases that were vectorborne or had complex life cycles—malaria and Guinea worm, for example. . .”

“Although Amerindians did develop agriculture independently—a very effective agriculture that included some of the world’s most important crops, such as maize and potatoes—they domesticated few animals, mostly because they had already wiped out most of the species suited to domestication. . .”

“. . . infectious disease was so unimportant among Amerindians, selection most likely favored weaker immune systems, because people with weaker immune systems would be better able to avoid autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system misfires and attacks some organ or tissue. Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that make insulin, and multiple sclerosis, where it attacks the myelin sheaths of the central nervous system, are well-known examples—both are rare among Amerindians. A less vigorous immune system would have been an advantage under those conditions.

This Amerindian vulnerability was a primary reason for European success in the Americas. Epidemic disease, particularly smallpox, interfered with armed resistance by Amerindians and thus played an important part in the early Spanish conquests. In Mexico, where Hernán Cortés and his troops had made the Aztec emperor their puppet, the Aztecs rose against them, killing Moctezuma II and two-thirds of the Spanish force in the famous “Noche Triste.” The Aztecs probably would have utterly destroyed the invaders, were it not for the smallpox epidemic under way at the same time. The leader of the Aztec defense died in the epidemic, and Cortés and his men conquered the Aztec Empire. It is hard to see how Cortés could have won without those microscopic allies, since he was trying to conquer an empire of millions with a few hundred men.

Cochran, Gregory; Henry Harpending (2009-01-27). The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution . . .. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Comment:  We’ve known about the conquering of the Amerindians by the Conquistadors for a great many years, but what we didn’t know until scientists began working with the human genome (completed in 2003) was that the Amerindians didn’t have the diversified HLA systems.  In the Old World with all its years of agriculture since 8,000 BC, humans were subjected to a variety of diseases from animals, poor hygiene, and the close proximity they were to each other in cities.  Having different HLA alleles expands the range of pathogens that our immune systems can deal with.  Amerindians didn’t have that diversity.  Many tribes had only a single HLA allele.  

This also explains why the British had such an easy time colonizing North America.  The Amerindians had been decimated by disease.  The New World was largely empty. 

How Civilization accelerated Human Evolution

I read The 10,000 Year Explosion, How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, 2009.  

If “natural selection” isn’t at work raising intelligence and adapting us to new technology then it is something very like it.  Cochran and Harpending marshal a number of evidences demonstrating key evolutionary advances.  Our becoming lactose tolerant for example enabled our ancestors to raise cows for milk giving them a 5 to 1 advantage over those who raised cattle for food.  

The “10,000 year explosion” in their title refers to agriculture.  When our ancestors could stop wandering about with herds of cattle and settle down in fixed locations to farm, this necessitated the creation of ‘elites’ needed to guard their property, govern disputes and assemble them in order to fight groups of intruders bent on robbing them of their property and women.  But towns centered on clusters of farms had advantages over wandering tribes of herders – eventually.  Attila and his Huns were herders rather than farmers, but the potential was there for farmers to produce larger armies.

An increase in intelligence was required in order for homo sapiens to learn how to farm.  And then further increases as well as other evolutionary changes were required in order to learn how to reduce disease, adapt to eating foods that were not significant when they wandered as hunter-gatherers or herders.

Cochran and Harpending end with a discussion of the Ashkenazi Jew.  Evidence exists, they argue, that their intelligence (and peculiar diseases) were not created by “bottlenecks” but by natural selection.  These Jews (as opposed to Jews living in Muslim countries for example) worked in “white collar” activities as money lenders and in more modern times especially starting in the 19th century in science and mathematics, excelled.  They began doing this about 800 years ago; then in the early 1800s when many of them opened up to enlightenment ways of thinking, their money-lending intelligence enabled them to excel in mathematics and science. 

Cochran and Harpending allude to the possibility that Israel being a cross-road to a number of invasions and a lot of traffic may have benefitted from increased genetic variation, but they find no indication that Jews 2000 years ago were smarter than the norm for that time.  Perhaps that is why they didn’t draw a parallel to the modern-day U.S.   We have had an influx of the brightest people from all over the world especially after World War II.  Hasn’t the resultant genetic variability enhanced intelligence in a significant few?  American entrepreneurs do seem to be developing new technology at a greater rate than other nations.  Could the reason for this be to some extent due to so many bright people having moved to the U.S. in the 20th century?

And I also wondered about the heritability of things learned.  The Ashkenazi Jews learned money lending and this enabled them to become leading scientists and mathematicians in the 20th century.   Cochran and Harpending don’t go beyond “natural selection” to account for the reasons for this.  Somehow in the past 800 years the smarter Ashkenazi Jews had more children than the dumber ones and thus were able to produce Einstein-level brilliance by the 20th century.  And yet Cochran and Harpending describe some serious illnesses that are also found in the Ashkenazi Jews which would seem to argue against inordinately larger families for these Jews than the norm. 

Everyone on this forum knows that if we study a subject a lot and then keep on studying it; eventually we will know more about it than almost anyone we know – assuming we start our study with adequate intelligence.   This seems to me what the Ashkenazi Jews started doing 800 years ago.  But is natural selection an adequate explanation for what happened in the 20th century, for Einstein for example?   We know there are genetic “triggers” of various sorts; mightn’t the intense study needed for mastering money-lending have triggered an intellectual benefit that was to some extent heritable?  Maybe not, but it doesn’t seem as though there were enough generations for natural selection to explain those results.