Salvo Approved Christmas Gifts #3

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That's right, the X-Men First Class DVD is the next Salvo approved Christmas gift. First of all, it's an awesome movie. Kevin Bacon makes for an excellent super villian and the film has a number of scenes that will stick with you for quite a while. Of course, as with most movies, discretion is advised. You're gonna want to see it yourself first  before you go giving it to your 7-year-old nephew. It has some graphic scenes.

Besides just being fun movie, it raises some interesting questions about ethics. See this article by Cameron Wybrow. X-Men Ethics Class: Why Help the Weak If It Thwarts Evolution?

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The X-Men films, with their elaborate plots and dazzling special effects, make for highly entertaining cinema. But my purpose here is not to offer a film review, but to meditate upon the significance of the argument offered by Magneto and rejected by Professor X. It seems to me that this argument is very much pertinent to current debates over "evolutionary ­ethics."

En route to our discussion of evolutionary ethics, we here comment briefly upon the scientific plausibility of the transformations postulated in the series. All the X-Men stories presume that neo-Darwinian evolution is a fact. In neo-Darwinian evolution, random mutations in the genome are filtered by natural selection, and, over time, beneficial mutations accumulate and produce entirely new species, families, classes, and so on.

Natural selection performs the stabilizing role in the process, but the truly creative work is done by the mutations. Mutations have created such marvels as the sonar of the bat, the wings of the bird, and the brain of human beings. Mutations are, it appears, in the business of creating creatures with amazing new powers. Thus, in the X-Men stories, they are treated as capable of producing humanoid beings with new, superhuman powers.

In the real world, of course, most mutations are harmful (or do nothing—see Salvo 17), and the tiny fraction that are beneficial would be unlikely to provide significant advantages of any kind—let alone super-powers—for their beneficiaries. And given the time-scale required by the neo-Darwinian theory, it is even more unlikely that dozens of new, selectively fit, super-gifted humanoids (each different enough to constitute at least a new species, if not a new genus or family) would emerge in the space of three or four decades. So even if we provisionally accept the neo-Darwinian (henceforth abbreviated as "Darwinian") view as true, the X-Men are based on fantasy science. But in a comic-book universe, suspension of disbelief regarding scientific premises is an entrance requirement, so we can let that pass.

For our purposes here, it is more important to focus on what the X-Men stories get right about Darwinian evolution. While they grossly exaggerate its power and its speed, they portray its general character bang-on. And this is where they lead us to clarity in discussions of "evolutionary ethics."

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Don't forget about Salvo approved gifts #s 1 (CHEsterton T-shirt) and 2 (the book What We Can't Not Know). And you can give Salvo at a reduced price with the keycode CHRISTMAS on the gift subs page.

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