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Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2001 / 11 Kislev, 5762

David Limbaugh

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Hello muddah, hello faddah -- AS I was skulking around on, foraging for column fodder, I came across a bizarre article in a bizarre publication.

The article "Deception Fuels Domestic Bliss" appears in Nature Science Update, a self-described "authoritative and accessible online round-up of what's new in science research."

If that description is true, perhaps we should be concerned about the state of modern science. See for yourself. Here's a sampling of some other articles on the site's homepage. "Friends Are Stranger Than Strangers -- If your friends were normal people, they would not know you." "Bugs Enjoy Hamster Sex -- Bacteria caught mating with mammalian cells." "Warm Balls Wrap She-Males -- Transvestism takes the chill off snakes." OK, enough about the site, now onto the article.

In "Deception Fuels Domestic Bliss," John Whitfield summarizes the "scientific findings" contained in a report by Paola Bressan, "Why Babies Look Like Their Daddies: Paternity uncertainty and the evolution of self-deception in evaluating family resemblance." Don't be intimidated; you'll better understand the title after I translate the psychobabble.

The article (and the report) warns us not to be fooled by common scenes of family bliss. Mother, father and child might look like a happy trio, but evolutionary biologists reject that idea. To them, each of the three is pursuing his or her "own, often competing interests."

Bressan appears to be arguing that, contrary to popular belief, parents and their children have an interest in not knowing whether the father and baby are biologically related. Please follow this.

First, let's look at fathers. If they pass on a "genetic badge" making their children identifiable as theirs, they can avoid raising some other man's child. But -- and get this, you philanderers -- they will not be able to sneak any offspring into other families, which is even more important. On balance, then, fathers have an interest in the baby being "anonymous."

What about the baby? "The wild card is adultery," says the article. "The baby comes into the world unsure of whether the male providing for it is its biological father." Not being related to the father could result in neglect, or even infanticide. The article concludes, "It's easy to see how, in an evolutionary sense, babies might not want to resemble anyone in particular." Can't you just see a baby, or even a toddler, cogitating over these weighty matters and concluding, after much deliberation, that it's better off not looking like either of its parents?

In fairness, Bressan may be suggesting that the baby is not consciously calculating these things, but acting at a more fundamental, evolutionary level. "It will be adaptive on the part of infants to conceal their father's identity." When you think about it, that's scarier yet. It's almost ascribing a deliberative intelligence to evolution itself, kind of a non-design design. But I suppose nothing's new about that -- evolution, for some, is the secular god.

Are you getting the picture? While we tend to think that all family members have an interest in knowing that both parents and their children are biologically related, the opposite is true, so babies may tend to evolve in such a way as not to resemble their parents.

Ah, but there's a catch. As you might suspect, evil males are the culprits. If fathers were unsure whether the children were their offspring, they would be less likely to support them. Not to worry. There's a simple solution, which the god of evolution will be sure to effectuate.

Once babies consummate their conspiracy to achieve biological anonymity, mothers will inevitably develop a strategy (presumably also through the design forces of evolution) to decrease the father's uncertainty about his paternity. I'm not kidding you. Mothers will appeal to the evil male ego with "unsolicited comments on the babies' resemblance to their putative fathers."

Bressan's "mathematical models" show that putative fathers can be willingly duped into believing the children are theirs, "as long as the chance that they are being deceived is slim enough" -- whatever that means.

Permit me to summarize: Modern science teaches us that fathers, mothers and children have an interest in being ignorant of the fathers' and children's biological relationship, and evolution will facilitate that result. But evil fathers won't be happy anyway and will start neglecting, abusing or killing their children. Mothers will then begin lying to them, and they'll all live happily ever after.

So the next time your family gets together, remember to tell dad how much his babies look like him, understanding that you'll fool him, but not the babies.

David Limbaugh, a columnist and attorney a practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the just-released exposť about corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power." Send your comments to him by clicking here.