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epistemological issues in neo-Darwinism v. cretinism

 
 
jeeprs
 
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Reply Mon 8 Mar, 2010 08:29 pm
@Dave Allen,
Dave Allen;137452 wrote:
The theory is agnostic as to purpose - Darwin himself wasn't an atheist, so to he say his theory is based on the idea of something purposeless going on is another misconception.


But the question of purpose is explicitly addressed. The following is one of the most well-known quotes from the Origin, and I think it actually states it very plainly:

Quote:
It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing in the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each orther, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with reproduction, Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct actions of the conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiveing, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Source

(I think it is, incidentally, a great quote and idea and virtually 'Darwin's Theory in a Nutshell'.)

The implication is clear - if you remove the tip-of-the-hat to 'The Creator' and replace it with abiogenesis, then the theory explicitly states that the higher animals are directly the result of the war of nature, famine and death, and the application of the simple laws which Darwin has discovered. And it is abundantly clear that many scientifically-inclined philosophers and thinkers since, including Spencer, Huxley, Monod, Wilson, Dawkins, Dennett, and many others, have used this very passage in the sense that I have critiqued.

So, I still maintain that evolutionary theory is used to advance arguments which are really quite beyond its scope. It leads to the view that life evolved fortuitously which in turn, in my view, undermines many of the principles of the Western philosophical tradition.
Dave Allen
 
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Reply Tue 9 Mar, 2010 03:15 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;137743 wrote:
And it is abundantly clear that many scientifically-inclined philosophers and thinkers since, including Spencer, Huxley, Monod, Wilson, Dawkins, Dennett, and many others, have used this very passage in the sense that I have critiqued.

What did Spencer or Huxley know of abiogenesis?
jeeprs
 
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Reply Tue 9 Mar, 2010 05:02 am
@Dave Allen,
Dave Allen;137810 wrote:
What did Spencer or Huxley know of abiogenesis?


Well, nothing, but I bet they would have jumped at the idea.

We did note that in the Origin, Darwin acknowledged that 'the Creator' had breathed life into the 'one or several forms', from which the whole panorama ('The Greatest Show on Earth') then got underway.

At the time, the idea that life might have been self-originating was, apart from being heretical, probably not even conceivable. The intellectual background was Deism - the idea that the Great Architect had set the wheels in motion, which thereafter ran according to strictly logical principles, similar to those of Newton's. Darwin's reference to the Creator is clearly Deist, which was the favoured model at the time. In the Deist model, God is a remote abstraction who has no need to interfere in the Great Machine he has created and is indeed sufficiently ethereal as to be completely disregarded, which is indeed exactly what happened soon thereafter.

I daresay that the modern reading of this specific passage would be something along the lines of: "in Darwin's day, it was simply a given that life began with The Creator. Even Darwin himself was neither intellectually equipped, nor sufficiently bold, to suggest that the whole panorama could be explained with reference to his laws.

Now, of course, we know better."

Or so it is said.

This passage in the Origin, then, really is a watershed in modern intellectual history. It is here that the great idea is first articulated, that, given the original Act of Creation, the rest could be interpreted simply as the expression of natural laws which would in time yield their secrets in much the same way as Newton's Laws of Motion. It was a short step from there, to the proposition that, should the Creation Myth be replaced with a satisfactory account of the actual circumstances that prevailed in the 'warm little pond', then the whole problem could be wrapped up, once and for all.

At which point, it is worth considering that shortly after Darwin's work had been published, Lord Kelvin confidently proclaimed that "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." He expressed the view that the physical account of the Universe was practically completed, save the 'two dark clouds on the horizon', the Michelson Morley experiments. Of course, investigation of these anomalies was one of the spurs to Einstein's discoveries which completely overturned Kelvin's intellectual framework and ushered in the era of Quantum Mechanics, which to this day defies a naturalist explanation.

I suggest that an analogous situation has actually developed in evolutionary biology. The difference is that the subject matter under investigation is orders of magnitude more complex than the motion of bodies and sub-atomic particles. The principles identified by Darwin in the Origin are far less precise in their application than those expressed in either Newton's or Einstein's laws, as it might be expected, because biological systems contain vastly higher orders of complexity than mere stuff. But this unswerving faith that the whole shebang really boils down to the expression of what amounts to a basic algorithm is, in an important sense, as much an article of ideology as the religious account that it seeks to displace.

Now as I have said many times, I completely accept the broad outlines of evolutionary development and indeed the Darwinian principles that underlie it. But I, and many others, are very dubious about the extent to which those principles amount to a complete description of the processes by which the 'miracle of life' can be accounted for. The principles which Darwin articulated are very much those which were circulating in the intellectual milieu in which his research was conducted. That they have become much more than mere scientific axioms is made obvious by current and ongoing debate about their cogency. Darwinism has come to represent much more than a scientific theory: it represents an outlook that life, at the end of the day, is a scientific problem. But life is so much more than a scientific problem.

I am sure there are many scientists who would agree with that. So let's not loose sight of what evolutionary theory does and does not explain, and let's look for a richer and fuller evolutionary account that really does justice to H Sapiens, as the one species who has managed to work out how we got here.
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jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 9 Mar, 2010 10:01 pm
@odenskrigare,
I have found an essay by Richard Dawkins on this very section of Origin of Species. In commenting on 'the most exalted object that we are capable of conceiving', he has this to say:
Quote:
for all his personal modesty, Darwin nursed high ambitions. On his world-view, everything about the human mind, all our emotions and spiritual pretensions, all arts and mathematics, philosophy and music, all feats of intellect and of spirit, are themselves productions of the same process that delivered the higher animals. It is not just that without evolved brains spirituality and music would be impossible. More pointedly, brains were naturally selected to increase in capacity and power for utilitarian reasons, until those higher faculties of intellect and spirit emerged as a by-product, and blossomed in the cultural environment provided by group living and language. The Darwinian world-view does not denigrate the higher human faculties, does not 'reduce' them to a plane of indignity. It doesn't even claim to explain them at the sort of level that will seem particularly satisfying, in the way that, say, the Darwinian explanation of a snake-mimicking caterpillar is satisfying. It does, however, claim to have wiped out the impenetrable - not even worth trying to penetrate - mystery that must have dogged all pre-Darwinian efforts to understand life.
I think there are very many contestable claims in this paragraph.

The main one being that 'spirit' is a 'product of the brain' which in turn is 'a result of evolution'. In this depiction, spirit - not a word I like much, incidentally - can only be understood as a form of thought, dependent on the brain. The idea of spirit as a discarnate intelligence, or something like the Nous of Plotinus or Brahman of the Vedantins, is completely incompatible with this idea. So that even though he claims that the Darwinian view "does not 'reduce' them [i.e. the higher aspects of human culture] to a plane of indignity" it simply must regard them as reducible to neurology and thence biology. So it is indeed reductionist, and can never be anything else.

So - when Darwinism is employed as a philosophy - which is Dawkins' entire repertoire - there can be not a shadow of doubt that it sees the operation of Darwin's laws as logically, and ontologically, prior to anything which could be understood as a metaphysical principle. The only reason this is not abundantly clear to Dawkins himself, is that I don't think he has any conception of what a metaphysical principle might consist of.
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north
 
  1  
Reply Tue 9 Mar, 2010 10:23 pm
@jeeprs,
HMMM....

the Nature of evolution is not by chance , at all

have any of you read Sean Carroll's book " THE MAKING OF THE FITTEST " ?
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josh0335
 
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Reply Wed 10 Mar, 2010 09:47 am
@Dave Allen,
Dave Allen;128458 wrote:

Irreducible complexity is, of course, not a creationist meme - it's one of Darwin's ideas that he proposed as a possible challenge to his own ideas.

(This is one of the things that I think undermines the assertion that evolution is a religion - what religion provides criteria that will prove it wrong if found in nature?)

However, the idea that nature shows examples of irreducible complexity is wrong as far as we know - the irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum, for example, has been savagely debunked, both in courts of science and law.


Wouldn't the scientific community or evolutionists have to provide a standardised or clear definition of what 'complexity' is? Is there already such a definition?
north
 
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Reply Fri 12 Mar, 2010 12:15 am
@josh0335,
from Sean Carroll's book " The Making of the Fittest " ( pg, 16 & 17 ) ;

" DNA evidence is also revolutionizing the study and understanding of Human origins and early civilization. While the sequencing of the Human genome has grabbed most of the headlines , it is the decoding of the genes and genomes of other primates and mammals that enable us to interpret the meaning of the Human text. Our genes contain tellable clues to both how we are different and how we evolved to be so , Many genes bear the scares of natural selection--of the battles our ancestors fought with the germs that have plagued human civilization for millennia.

I wrote this book with a variety pf readers in mind . First , for those with a keen interest in natural history , I will roam the planet to show how many fascinating species have adapted to boiling-hot springs, caves , jungles ,lava formations , the deep oceans and other remarkable places. There is a grangeur in this new knowledge of how changing one or a few letters in a simple code can dramatically change the form or physiology of complex organisms. Second , for students and teachers , I have focused on what I believe are the best examples that illustrate the key elements of the evolutionary process while reinforcing and expanding our awe for the amazing diversity and adaptability of life. Most of the stories I tell are not yet in textbooks , but many will become key chapters in evolutionary science. And third , for those trying to sift through the rhetoric and pseudoscience of evolution's opponents, I have provided some background to understand the tactics and arguments used to doubt and deny evolutionary science , and plenty of scientific evidence to vaporize those arguments.

The new DNA evidence has a very important role beyond illuminating the process of evolution . It could be decisive in the ongoing struggle over the teaching of evolution in schools and the acceptance of evolution in society at large. It is beyond ironic to ask juries to rely on the human genetic variation and DNA evidence in determining the life and liberty of suspects , but to neglect or to undermine the teaching of the basic priciples upon which such evidence , and all of biology , is founded . The anti-evolution movement has relied on entirely false ideas about genetics , as well as about the evolutionary process . The body of the new evidence in this book clinches the case for biological evolution as the basis for life's diversity , beyond any reasonable doubt . "
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