Question: Why Two Genders?

12May08

I just read part of a debate on intelligent design vs. evolution.  People made good points on both sides.  But I still am not sure why there are two genders.

Someone said there are actually three, but they were counting hermaphrodites.  There is not a distinct third gender which is as different from male and female as those two are from each other.

One participant said that two genders gives you genetic diversity, but with more than two you start to run into costs that make it evolutionarily unprofitable.  In other words, nature designs for efficiency, and superfluous genders would be unnecessary and therefore inefficient.  That seems sensible enough.  But wouldn’t we see some species, somewhere, that are (or were) in the process of working through that?  Some kind of bird that has three or four genders, for instance.

It also seems like you could get even more genetic diversity, and could increase the likelihood of survival of the species, if people were able to reproduce regardless of gender.  Like in the situation where the men of a tribe got wiped out by warfare, or where women just get tired of men, or vice versa — why didn’t the ability evolve to reproduce by sharing earwax or otherwise cross-pollinating?  I guess one answer would be that evolution just hasn’t gotten around to that yet.  And that may be.  But I’d think that the force of life, just busting out all over, would have developed that sort of ability quickly, as a top priority.  Am I correct in thinking that cell self-division is the starting point?

Also, if genetic diversity is the goal, why just one mate?  Why not permit or require three- or four-way cross-pollination?

These sorts of question don’t prove anything, which is fine with me.  I’m not trying to prove anything.  I would just like to understand.

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