April 19, 2004

LAST VOYAGE:

Death Of Chas. Darwin: The Life And Work Of The Eminent Naturalist, His Ancestry and Education--Earliest Scientific Work--His Publications--The Theory Of Evolution And The Use He Made Of It (NY Times, 4/21/1882)

The qualities and natural bent of his clear mind were inherited. His father and grandfather were naturalists, though the latter, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, was a much more famous and productive man than his son, Dr. R. W. Darwin. [...]

If asked to define Darwinism, the orthodox antagonist of the scientific unbelief of the day will reply that it is an attempt to show how blind matter became the seeing eye; the biologist of the Haeckel school will say that it is a description of the mechanical process by which the cosmic system was produced out of elementary matter acted upon by its own laws. Neither definition is correct, for Mr. Darwin made an extremely modest use of his great attainments. He did not construct a theory of the cosmos, and he did not deal with the entire theory of evolution. He was content to leave others to poke about in the original protoplasmic mire, and to extend the evolutionary law to social and political phenomena. For himself, he tried to show how higher organic forms were evolved out of lower. He starts with life already existing, and traces it through its successive forms up to the highest--man. The central principle--his opponents call it a dogma--of Mr. Darwin's system is "natural selection," called by Herbert Spencer "the survival of the fittest," a choice which results inevitably from "the struggle for existence." It is a law and fact in nature that there shall be the weak and the strong. The strong shall triumph and the weak shall go to the wall. The law, though involving destruction is really preservative. If all plants and animals were free to reproduce their kind under like and equally favorable conditions, if all were equally strong and well equipped for obtaining sustenance and making their way in the world, there would soon be no room on the earth for even a single species. Thirty millions of men in less than 700 years of unchecked reproduction, under the conditions we have mentioned, would have living offspring enough to cover the whole earth at the rate of one for each square foot of its surface. The limit of subsistence and the power of reproduction are the bounds between which the conflict rages. In this struggle the multitudes are slain and the few survive. But the survivors do not owe their good luck to chance. Their adaptation to their surroundings is the secret of their exemption from the fate which overtakes those less happily circumstanced. A variety of squirrels, for instance, which is capable of wandering far afield in pursuit of its food, which is cunning and swift enough to evade its enemies, and has a habit of providing a store of nuts for Winter use, will naturally have a better chance of survival than a variety deficient in these qualities. But Mr. Darwin also discovered that natural selection created special fitness for given circumstances and surroundings. Climate, soil, food supply, and other conditions act in this way, and the result is the differentiation of species. A certain thistle grows in a kind of soil which is rich in the elements which go to produce the tiny hairs upon the surface of the plant. The seeds are thus furnished with downy wings longer than usual, and are wafted further off where they have plenty of space to grow, and they, in turn, reproduce and emphasize the changes to which they owe their existence. Seeds or nuts developing a thick covering for the kernel are thus protected from birds and animals, and live to germinate, producing, also hard-shelled seeds, and thus the process goes on. Varieties which do not develop a high degree of special adaptation to their surroundings fall out of the race, unable to defend themselves against their innumerable aggressors. An infinitesimally minute variation of function or structure repeated and becoming more marked through many successive generations, results ultimately in the production of a variety; or even of a species, quite unlike the parent individual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2004 7:31 AM
Comments

If something changes, the changes might survive if they are not incompatible with survival. Wow. What an insight.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 19, 2004 10:21 AM

Yes, David.

The theory that explains, with the minimum number of assumptions, the entire history of flora and fauna on the earth, is just so trivial and obvious.

So why did no one think of it before?

Well, actually, like all really great insights, it IS so trivial and obvious, once you can see it.

Posted by: Brit at April 19, 2004 10:33 AM

David:

I like how he inherited his scientific bent from his ancestors.

Brit:

It explaions change, not speciation.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 11:48 AM

OJ

You don't see the obvious because you don't want to see it.

If change within a species is inevitable over time and under evolutionary pressures (David's 'trivial insight') then when populations of a species become reproductively isolated from each other and face different evolutionary pressures, then speciation is inevitable over time.

Posted by: Brit at April 19, 2004 12:10 PM

That's not speciation. That's just what Darwinists have been reduced to because the theory turns out to be false. The Great Daner and the Dachsund may not breed but remain merely dogs.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 12:21 PM

Brit: Darwin didn't "explain" anything. It's as if I programmed my computer to display an integer, add 1, and display the result. I then send it back in time to the 19th century. Of all the people trying to explain it, Darwin's the one saying "It's easy. It's just adding one to the number that came before."

By the way, notice that the struggle for survival gloss on Darwinism didn't come from Darwin. As it happens, life isn't a continual struggle for survival. Most of the time, survival is pretty easy. Populations run into trouble when there is a sudden, unprecedented change -- a change that punctuates the more typical equilibrium.

Once we came to understand the mechanisms of reproduction, all of the explanatory power of Darwinism disappears. It should now be mostly relegated to history of science courses, much like the earth-centric solar system, which was about as useful.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 19, 2004 12:41 PM

David:

Even a change in surrounding conditions doesn't seem to do much though. Instead there seems to be some intervening event--whether sudden radiation bombardment or alien experimentation or God/gods fiddling about--that causes large scale mutations and genuine speciation. The punctuation seems quite unnatural, whatever it is

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 12:53 PM

David:

Oh dear. I wondered what it was you were building up to with your 'it's all trivial' interjections.

And here it is, unleashed at last: Darwinism "should now be mostly relegated to history of science courses, much like the earth-centric solar system, which was about as useful."

Don't do things by halves, that's the spirit, man.

Heh heh.

Posted by: Brit at April 19, 2004 1:17 PM

Brit:

Now, be fair. He did say "mostly". The finches' beaks are really cool. In fact, when you guys all get together to crack a cold one and talk about finches' beaks, I'm in awe.

Posted by: Peter B at April 19, 2004 1:40 PM

Brit:

The earth-centric solar system model was very useful until (a) we needed greater precision than it could afford and (b) we confirmed helio-centricity. Coming to a greater understanding of the mechanism controlling orbits (that is, gravity) makes the earth-centric model look useless, but it wasn't.

If you prefer, the relationship between Darwin, on the one hand, and Watson and Crick, on the other, is a lot like the relationship between Galileo and Newton. Galileo observed that the earth's acceleration of gravity was constant regardless of the mass of the object falling. Newton gave precision and theoretical weight (no pun intended) to the observed results. We are still waiting for the biological Einstein.

The fact that Galileo is mostly taught as history of science does not belittle Galileo.

Don't mistake my opinion of Darwinism, which is mostly that I don't care very much. Evolution does not threaten my personal cosmology, which, as the areligious always point out, is not subject to rational disproof. Now, I probably am, for rhetorical purposes, underestimating Darwin's achievement within the context of 19th century knowledge, but here in the 21st century, with our understanding of mitosis, what Darwin adds to Watson and Crick is trivial.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 19, 2004 2:39 PM

Peter:

We do have to wonder if there is any irony involved at all when a Darwinist says things like: "The power of evolution is illustrated by they way it can design the beaks of different bird species each efficiently to perform a different task."

Posted by: David Cohen at April 19, 2004 2:43 PM

What Darwin observed was not trivial or obvious.

He started from the observation (not his alone) that species go extinct. Yet there are more species now (he did not know this for sure, but we do now).

That needed explaining (why are there any left?), and mitosis doesn't begin to do the job.

For a really interesting history of f the idea of evolution in one particular realm of biology (symbiosis), I recommend Jan Sapp, "Evolution by Association."

For all you scoffers, you cannot tell until the last few pages whether Sapp is a darwinist or not. (He is.)

Anyhow, mitosis plays a big role in the book, and David might be surprised to learn what that was. It wasn't what he seems to think it was.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 19, 2004 10:04 PM

Of course it was obvious once people started traveling around. What is less obvious and what he therefore failed to explain is why.

Posted by: oj at April 19, 2004 10:59 PM

David:

Ok, that's an interesting and new line of attack: not falsifying Darwin, but belittling the significance of his theories.

I can live with that, and I'll grant you your "rhetorical purposes". But here's a few reasons to suggest he is pretty significant:

1) he refutes teleology. After Darwin, we don't explain phenomena in terms of their ultimate causes, but in blind steps.

2) After Darwin, we can no longer think about biology without taking time into consideration

3) After Darwin, we no longer think of species as Platonic 'types', but as populations of unique individuals.

4) Darwin, and the theory of common descent, has fundamentally changed the way we think of humans, and whether the universe is human-centric.

Posted by: Brit at April 20, 2004 5:29 AM

Brit:

Who is "we"?

Posted by: Peter B at April 20, 2004 8:14 AM

Peter:

The majority of biologists - or, near as dammit, every biologist.

And anyone who studies biology and its history must address these theories, even if they disagree.

Posted by: Brit at April 20, 2004 8:33 AM

Brit:

To the contrary, he's entirely teleological, explaining how we got to where we are.

Darwin keeps the universe human-centric both by propounding a theory that leads to us and by putting us at the top of the chain of creation.

That's why he's accepted.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 8:35 AM

OJ

Yes, you keep making those comments and we keep showing why they're wide of the mark.

"...he's entirely teleological, explaining how we got to where we are" - merely shows that you don't understand what 'teleological' means.

"...putting us at the top of the chain of creation" merely shows that you're not addressing Darwinism.

So why bother? Find another line of attack. Your 'beauty' line was at least original, if a little oddball.

Posted by: Brit at April 20, 2004 8:41 AM

Harry:

I'm saying Darwinism is trivial today, not that it was obvious in Darwin's time. My point is that the hard part of Darwin's theorizing comes from the fact that he lived before we understood the mechanism for transmitting genetic information. Knowing that mechanism, and understanding mutation somewhat better, Darwin's insight becomes trivial.

On the other hand, I used "mitosis" inexactly.

Brit:

I really don't intend to "attack" Darwin or Darwinism. As I said before, I just don't care very much. Why? Because it strikes me as trivial in the 21st century.

As to your specific points:

1) he refutes teleology. As we've talked about before, the language does not allow for discussing this subject in anything but teleological terms. Indeed, your explanation of why Darwinism is important is, at bottom, teleological: It explains how we ended up here.

2) After Darwin, we can no longer think about biology without taking time into consideration. Sure, because it's teleological.

3) After Darwin, we no longer think of species as Platonic 'types'. Want to bet? Let's go ask Audubon, or the American Kennel Club. (To echo OJ, who is this "we". The popular understanding of Darwin has always been that he explains the mechanism by which ever more complex and fitter species arise, ending with us, the flowers of creation.)

4) Darwin . . . has fundamentally changed the way we think of humans, and whether the universe is human-centric. You really might want to think about this one, which boils down to "Darwin isn't trivial because he convinced human beings that human beings are trivial."

Posted by: David Cohen at April 20, 2004 10:01 AM

David:

1) "As we've talked about before, the language does not allow for discussing this subject in anything but teleological terms. Indeed, your explanation of why Darwinism is important is, at bottom, teleological: It explains how we ended up here."

Which is OJ's argument, too. But it's self-evidently incorrect, if you know that 'teleology' means that there is a final aim, or purpose behind the process. Darwin claims the opposite.

And it is perfectly simple to discuss darwinism is non-teleological terms. (Just read anyone other than Dawkins.) Show me the teleology in the statement "The biological world is as it currently is due to the processes of natural selection."

If you think that is a teleological statement, then you would also claim that "the water has filled the riverbed so, due to the shape of the riverbed" demonstrates teleology on the part of the water.

Or, that "these ballbearings have moved through the bagatelle board thus" indicates teleology on the part of the ballbearings.

Perhaps you or OJ could give me an example of something you consider to be a non-teleological process of change, to compare with a teleological one.


3) 'Population thinking' is not just universal among biologists now, it is perfectly intuitive for the layman. You are genetically unique, and different from all the other people on the earth, and all the other people who have ever lived on the earth. The same goes for your dog.

4) Says who? Just because humans aren't the ultimate 'aim' of the universe, why should that make us trivial? Trivial compared to what?


Posted by: Brit at April 20, 2004 10:45 AM

Brit:

Last week, you admitted openly that man is unique because of consciousness. Higher or lower?

I know you don't like it when we spill over into epistomology, but you seem to have just asserted that the fact that David and I are different-looking, and know it, is proof that there are no species. This comes after innumerable protestations that the fact that we share 98.4% of our genes with chimps means we are closely related species. Can you clarify?

Also, what weight do you give the fact that there is a near consensus among biologists? Do you not see how such a consensus arises when certain opening assumptions about what constitutes knowledge are relied upon. There are all kinds of examples of a professional consensus being proven wrong. Surely the issue that should be troubling you is why this consensus does not extend outside of biologists and why there is so much resistance and second-guessing, even among other scientists.

Posted by: Peter B at April 20, 2004 11:46 AM

Brit:

The weather on Tuesday, March 30, 3321 AD.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 12:30 PM

Peter

Species: of course there are species. But the term 'species' is now understood to refer to a biopopulation of genetically unique individuals.

That's known as 'population thinking'. Darwin introduced the notion, and gradually it has become accepted amongst biologists.

Prior to population thinking, species were thought of as 'types'. So there is an ideal type 'horse' and all actual horses are varyingly imperfect copies of the ideal. So in evolution one 'type' would have to, at some point, metamorphosise into another 'type'. Nobody in biology thinks like that since Darwin.

Consensus: well, my line on BrosJudd has always been that Darwinism is the best explanation we currently have for evolution. it could be falsified tomorrow, though I'm not expecting that. There really isn't much resistance among 'other scientists' as you put it, but there is a hell of a lot of popular misconception , as David rightly states.


OJ:

Is that your response to my request that you give an example of a non-teleological process? Care to elaborate? That's not a process, it's a single state of affairs.

(Weather processes are non-teleological though, unless you think God is making it rain).

Posted by: Brit at April 20, 2004 1:46 PM

Brit:

Is human reproduction teleological? From the viewpoint of the sperm and egg, no. From the viewpoint of the parents, sometimes.

Are we talking about the narrow, crabbed and true Darwinism you and Harry (Jeff, less so) retreat to when pushed, or Darwinism as it is understood by 99.44 percent of the population?

Darwin's purpose was to explain how we got here through a mechanism that, though random in its particulars, creates complexity out of simplicity over time. Darwin was teleologically driven. He had an endpoint and final design in mind.

As for individuals v. species, I'm pretty sure that people living before Darwin accepted that they were unique, and even that their dogs were unique. They nonetheless thought that, for their purposes, all blacks, or all Jews or all Brits were the same and not worth differentiating. If Darwin had actually changed that, he would be the polar opposite of trivial. Do you think that's really changed?

As for explaining humanity's triviality to humanity, aren't you saddling Darwin with responsibility for this:

It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning…. It is hard to realize that this all [i.e., life on Earth] is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 20, 2004 2:03 PM

BRIT:

YES. WEATHER IS A NON-TELEOLOGICAL PROCESS.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 2:12 PM

Brit:

Teleolgy is just development towards a specified end. In Darwin's case that end is the status quo:

tel·e·ol·o·gy ( P ) Pronunciation Key (tl-l-j, tl-)
n. pl. tel·e·ol·o·gies

1. The study of design or purpose in natural phenomena.
2. The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena.
3. Belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history.

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 6:45 PM

I don't give a hoot what 999 44/100% think about darwinism, if they have never made any effort to understand it, which is true for most; the rest are desperate not to know what it is, because they know, at heart, that it does wreck their superstitions.

Orrin is trying, with his tortured idea of teleology to sneak back in the idea -- thankfully dead on this blog for some time, having been hooted out -- that the odds that evolution would have led, by chance, to us (or, though they never bring it up, tapeworms) are smaller than one in th e number of particles in the universe.

That's true enough, but at no point before us did anyone state that Us was the goal. And the odds that, once rolling, evolution would result in Something, are Unity.

This is a concept that no Christian (and, presumably, no Jew) is ever going to accept: that for a prophecy to be valid, IT HAS TO BE STATED BEFOREHAND.

To be telelogical, the GOAL HAS TO BE STATED BEFOREHAND.

Even if Darwin were concerned to place man at the peak of evolution (antifactual), he could not do it; too late.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 20, 2004 7:18 PM

Harry:

GOAL: Explain how Creation came to its present satate without the intervention of intelligence.

METHOD: Darwinism

Posted by: oj at April 20, 2004 7:32 PM

OJ and David

Sorry chaps, you're just conceptually wrong on this one. It's black and white.

And OJ, your last post there is a red herring, and a very obvious one at that. You might be able to make a case that Darwin and his ilk had a conscious purpose to invent the theory (eg. refuting Creationism) , but even if they did, the theory they came up with is non-teleological.

Not terribly difficult to grasp that, is it fellas?

So:

The whole point - the very essence - of Darwinism is that it explains evolution non-teleologically. That is what distinguishes it from Intelligent Design.

After all, Darwinism + Teleolgy would = Intelligent Design, and you wouldn't have a problem with it. So why are you trying to claim that Darwinism is teleological, and also wrong?

OJ is right that weather is a non-teleological process.

If I were to say: "the weather is like it is today (cloudy and drizzly here in South-West England, surprise surprise) because of these weather processes (a warm front from the west etc)" - I would not be ascribing teleology to the weather.

You can understand that, yes? Imagine a timeline. We're on a point labelled '21 April 2004'. We have no idea how far that line stretches into the future, but we know we're on a point on it, and that there is nothing particuarly special about the point except that it happens to be NOW.

If we could trace the weather processes back we could find causes and effects that explain the rain here today.

But we would not be claiming that all through history, there has been a conscious aim, on the part of the weather processes, to make it rain on 21 April 2004. We would not be claiming that the weeather started out with the intention of making it rain on 21 April 2004. Because weather processes are non-teleological.

BECAUSE EXPLAINING HOW SOMETHING GOT FROM POINT A TO POINT B IS NOT THE SAME AS SAYING THAT THERE WAS A CONSCIOUS AIM TO MOVE FROM POINT A TO POINT B.

If you have the intellectual capacity to grasp that, as you obviously do, then I'm confident in your intellectual capacity to grasp that Darwinism takes the same non-teleological approach to evolution.

Yes, it explains how we got to the flora and fauna of this point in the timeline, labelled '2004'. We have no idea how long the timeline goes into the future, and there is nothing particularly special about point '2004' other than that it happens to be NOW.

And there is nothing in the Darwinian theory that claims that all the time, there has been a conscious effort on the part of evolutionary processes to create exactly THIS bunch of flora and fauna in 2004.

It just happens to have turned out this way.

So, just like the explanation of the weather today, the Darwinian explanation of flora and fauna today is non-teleological.

Geddit?

And if you don't geddit, go and think about it until you do geddit.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 5:18 AM

Brit:

Goddit. Except, if evolution is completely non-teleological and responds to random pressures, why does it always seem to flow from the simple to the more complex? We know lots of species go extinct, but do any evolve into simpler, stupider species? Are you saying that, while we can all contemplate the extinction of man, Darwinism, properly understood, can also foresee the evolution of man back to chimp or somehow back down the historical chain?

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 6:47 AM

Peter

In my opinion, that is the single best question you, or any of the other sceptics here, have ever asked about Darwinism.

Because it does address Darwinism.

For the answer, have you still got your copy of Mayr?

He addresses that very question: the answer is, natural selection DOESN'T always produce greater complexity.

And there are numerous examples of creatures which have become more simple. I can't remember the names of the species off the top of my head, but there are various fish lurking in the gloomiest dark depths of the ocean that have gradually lost their ability to see - the energy needed to power the useless eyes being inefficient.

Whales evolved from walking land mammals. There are lots of other examples, though I don't have them to hand.

To the second part of your question. I don't think Darwinism can foresee anything - there are too many variables and evolution is too complex to predict. But if a species DID 'regress' to a simpler form, it would not contradict Darwinism.

Because natural selection produces 'fitness'. Not greater complexity, not greater strength, or fercocity, or intelligence. But fitness for the current environment.

If simpler creatures are better adapted for their environment, and have a slightly better chance of reproducing, then they will become more prevalent in the population over time.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 7:05 AM

Brit:

Hey, I have an idea. You know all those experiments where frustrated evolutionists try to teach chimps how to type or talk. Maybe they have it backwards. MAYBE THE CHIMP IS GOING THE OTHER WAY! Why don't they see if they can get it to wallow in mud or catch flies with its tongue?

Brit, you (pl) have the theoretical bases well covered, but you are laying the groundwork for the popular rejection of evolution. As David says, what you are saying is completely contrary to how evolution is commonly understood and taught in schools. Harry may not care, but surely your (pl) scorn for skeptics is misplaced when you (pl) all stand by and allow such a huge misunderstanding to prevail.

In the end, all you are saying that what is, is, and came from somewhere that was and Que sera, sera. As a self-contained explanation of how we got where we are it is so incomplete and so counter-intuitive that reasonable, intelligent people have good grounds to reject it as nothing more than a descriptive yarn that is fun for technicians but doesn't even dent faith.

Geddit?

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 7:38 AM

Peter

"but surely your (pl) scorn for skeptics is misplaced when you (pl) all stand by and allow such a huge misunderstanding to prevail."

Gee thanks. I call that a pretty harsh assessment, given the the amount of time I've spent on here trying to clarify some of those common 'huge misunderstandings.'

And I've got no great interest in a 'crusade' to 'prove' Darwinism. People can read the theory and make their own minds up.

But what makes you (pl) think that there is an 'orthodox' view of Darwinism that is different from the one discussed by myself, Harry, Jeff, Robert D and the other Darwinists who occasionally post on here (AOG and others) ?

There's a lot of popular misunderstanding, certainly. There's a lot of popular misunderstanding about most science. There's even more people who don't care one way or the other so long as they can watch their favourite TV soaps.

Neither does it help that some religious lobbies are trying to get ID, and in some cases even Creationism, taught as 'science.'

But doesn't it strike you as odd that all the bods on BrosJudd have the same concept of Darwinism? We're all just laymen who have a sufficient interest in evolution to have taken the trouble to understand what the theory actually says.

If you are sufficiently interested in it to criticise it, you might want to take the same trouble.

Or you could just ignore it, like most people.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 8:14 AM

Brit:

You're kidding right? Harry has fairly open disdain for Jeff's overreaching about Darwin and not even you would aggree with his foolishness aboutsuch obvious creations of intelligence as language and capitalism being precise doppelgangers for natural selection. You guys don't agree on much except that there's no Creation.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 8:40 AM

Peter:

Not more complex; why does it select for the "better adapted"? These guys are now arguing that a process that has contyinually chosen for the better has not rendered us the best adapted so far (and thus teleology in action).

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 8:42 AM

Brit:

As Mayr says Darwinism is just a historical explanation, not a science. It starts from Point B, is teleological.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 8:48 AM

Brit:

Oh, I hardly think those of us here holding on to our wallets can be accused of failing to take the time to understand. Unless that is a fancy way of saying failing to agree. Why do you have such a hard time getting your head around the idea that your non-teleogical natural selection is a theory that can be criticized through reason? You yourself have admitted it is pretty clumsy and lacking on man, but then you forget the implications of that and keep insisting we don't read enough. It seems to be an article of faith among you that willful ignorance or fear are all that is preventing a universal acceptance of your belief.


Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 8:52 AM

OJ

What ARE you talking about? Doppelgangers?

Jeff uses language and capitalism as analogies to natural selection to show how, in principle, things can evolve non-teleologically. Just like my weather analogy above. They strike me as perfectly valid analogies.

For your other point, I refer you to my long post above.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 8:58 AM

Peter:

Because the faith in Darwinism is not derived from reason but from personal psychological needs.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 9:00 AM

Brit:

The length of your error does not convert it to fact. Darwin starts at point B, not A. Indeed, as you'll readily concede, Darwin never even addresses A (how life initially arises from non-life).

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 9:02 AM

Brit:

I'm sorry, but Jeff does nothing of the sort. He advances the proposition quite categorically that language is explained completely by random, unconscious evolution and that there is no element of intelligent design because nobody knows exactly what English syntax will look like in five hundred years. In other words, he believes Intelligent Design requires omnipotence and an ability to see into the future, not for a creator but for man.

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 9:05 AM

Peter:

Steady on, man. I've just been addressing the very narrow issue of whether the Darwinian theory of evolution is teleological.

David and OJ say it is, I say it isn't.

Show me an instance where I've said "Darwinism is right and your beliefs are wrong" and I'll apologise.

I explicitly stated above: "I've got no great interest in a 'crusade' to 'prove' Darwinism. People can read the theory and make their own minds up."

I do prefer it if people read THE theory, not a misinterpretation of the theory. But I have no problem at all with valid criticisms of THE theory, such as your question about complexity above.

So why the vitriol?

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 9:06 AM

Peter:

Yes, Jeff does say that,and I agree with him. So, I believe, does Harry.

What's it got to do with the biological evolution of say, the button mushroom?

It's an analogy to show that enormous diversity and complexity can arise unconsciously. You still haven't grasped that, yes, at one level, people consciously and intelligently use words.

But at the large scale, languages develop - into French, English, American English, Noo Yoik English, Deeep Saaath English, Scots, Franglais, whatever, unconsciously and unintelligently.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 9:12 AM

Brit:

Your statement:

"We're all just laymen who have a sufficient interest in evolution to have taken the trouble to understand what the theory actually says.

If you are sufficiently interested in it to criticise it, you might want to take the same trouble."

Suggests that you alone understand it. Indeed, that anyone who understood it would believe it. We're saying you don't understand it.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 9:12 AM

Brit:

Then there';s really no disagreement among us all. Creationists just argue that God acts in Creation the same way men act in language and economics, tweaking here and there to arrive at a set end.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 9:16 AM

OJ

No, that's generally called ID, not Creationism. And it's the 'set end' we fundamentally disagree over.

I don't doubt that there are a large number of people who DO understand Darwinism, and also disbelieve it. I dunno, maybe the Arachbishop of Canturbury is one - he seems pretty clever.

Your comments suggest to me that you're not one of these people.

I think you don't understand Darwinism. You think I don't understand it.

An impasse. Oh well.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 9:21 AM

Brit:

Vitriol? This is just my morning exercise. Sorry, I'll try to be more polite and respectful like you and Harry are when you discuss religion.

Brit, you stated a few weeks ago that evolution is a FACT! Now you say it is a theory and people can make up their own minds. See a little problem there?

Your language theory is bizarre and amounts to little more than an assertion that evolution is proven because man can't tell the future. Somehow a billion conscious decisions add up to one big unconscious one. You are lowering the bar, my friend.

Whither the button mushroom? Boy, you sure know how to zero in on my weak points, don't you? :-)

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 9:24 AM

ID is Creationism in fancy dress.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 9:27 AM

Because natural selection produces 'fitness'. And thus is teleological: "The use of ultimate purpose or design as a means of explaining phenomena".

Now, I understand that you have a special definition for fitness that simply means something like that organisms with expressed random mutations don't die before they reproduce. I understand that mutations are random, in your view, rather than teleological. That is, however, no part of Darwinism as I understand it. Darwinism, after Crick and Watson, says something like: "Mutations happen. They might survive if they are not incompatible with survival." The mechanism causing mutation can be, for Darwin, a black box -- we don't need to know how it works.

This, as I understand it is OJ's point: evolution happens, mutations happen, speciation happens, but we don't know how. We might be the product of random occurrence, we might be created by G-d, we might be some alien seventh grader's science fair project, or (as OJ has implied in the past) the being we call G-d might simply be an alien with powers or technologies so advanced as to seem magical, or some other explanation out of the infinate possibilities.

None of these possibilities, as you point out, is necessarily at odds with religion. I am comfortable with the possibility that an omniscient G-d, intending to produce us, set up the initial conditions on earth knowing and intending that we would be the result of a series of random mutations. Of course, I'm also comfortable with the possibility that we all popped into existence 30 seconds ago with all our memories created for us by some advanced computer simulation, which, as someone pointed out here recently, is most likely if at all possible.

But, in all these possible worlds, the observation that a random expressed mutation might survive if it is not incompatible with survival, is trivial. It tells us nothing, unless it is understood to imply that we are alone and naked in an uncaring universe. That is an inference that it cannot logically sustain, that I reject and that, in its rejection of religion, is for many Darwinists the whole point of the theory.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 21, 2004 9:32 AM

Peter

"stated a few weeks ago that evolution is a FACT! Now you say it is a theory and people can make up their own minds. See a little problem there?"

I said evolution was a fact. I said Darwinism was a theory that explained the fact, about which people can make up their own minds.

I've said that quite a few times. What is it that's puzzling you about this position?

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 9:34 AM

"Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain."

Posted by: Ernst Mayr at April 21, 2004 9:37 AM

David

Entirely correct. That's why people can 'make up their own minds' and if you understand Darwinism and nonetheless reject it, or reject the idea that there is NO design or teleology, I respect that.

Alternatively, Darwinism and God are compatible (ie. could both be true) in the following ways:

1) If God started the whole thing off, made the rules, and then just left everything to get on with it.
2) If God is making it all happen, but has made it look like random happenings.
3) If God wants everything to happen just as it is happening, even though he doesn't control it (a bit like a sports fan who wants his team to win, and it does).

The reason Darwinists tend not to believe in both God and the natural processes is the application of Ockham's Razor. Darwinian processes don't REQUIRE God, so we don't have to believe in Him to explain evolution. The processes alone will do it.

Which does not disprove or logically rule out God.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 9:43 AM

Brit:

But, as you have admitted previously, the processes alone do not explain consciousness and much of man's nature. Surely Ockam's Razor would only apply if they did. What actually happens is that darwinists assume there is a natural explanation that will be discovered some day, and they are hell bent on both finding it and interpreting whatever they find as consistent with that. They are playing "Where's Waldo" rather than discovering him.

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 9:50 AM

Peter:

Even the claim to be using Ockham's razor is nonsense. Darwin can't explain the rise of life, requires physics to explain the Universe itself, etc. If you're truly looking to simplify you'd just say everything is down to one Being.

Posted by: Ernst Mayr at April 21, 2004 9:58 AM

Peter:

Not at all. I personally think that the processes alone DO explain consciousness. I'm a 100% materialist. I think consciousness is a function of brains and neurons.

But I also accept that a very large quantity of the details are still a mystery. So neuroscience, as it develops, might prove me right or it might prove me wrong.

What I suspect you probably find difficult is the notion that materialism can be true, and yet things like love, goodness, honour etc can still be real. I guess you think that if a mother's love for her child can be caused by neurons hitting other neurons, then somehow that love is not 'real', or is 'cheapened'.

I can understand that viewpoint, but I don't see it that way. There are just different ways of describing the same thing. Mozart's music can be written as a series of inkblobs on carbon-based paper, or transmitted as vibrations of such and such frequencies in my ear. It's still beautiful and real music.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 10:00 AM

Brit:

Not beautiful. If all is just material then nothing is more "beautiful" than anything else. All is just your neurons responding.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 10:07 AM

I think you're beautiful, Ernst.

Unlike that OJ, he's horrid.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 10:08 AM

Brit:

Now let's make a deal. I won't accuse you of wanting to be a god if you won't patronize me by suggesting I'm just fighting for gooey maternal love. Although I don't mind if you suggest I'd like to save a few lives here.

Ernst is right. You can't possibly rely on Ockham's Razor while you are still desperately searching for the evidence that will substantiate your simple theory. Read the other post on Crick, where he admits up front he has decided how it all works and is confident that in a few hundred years the evidence will be found and all thinking people will accept it. That seems completely opposed to Ockham's Razor. Funny thing is that guys like Mayr and Dawkins say we are there now and that all thinking people know it. It amazes me that evolution is asserted as proven fact but seems to need a never-ending stream of further proof.

Posted by: Peter B at April 21, 2004 10:14 AM

Brit:

that's just how your neurons are wired. There is no beauty.

BTW: The great anbition of Brothers Judd is always to demonstrate the interconnectedness of everything, which makes it especially pleasurable that following on the aesthetic conversation we arrive at your neuronal point. Because, of course, the very essence of the material philosophy is the denial of beauty, which is why it's so ugly.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 10:17 AM

Peter:

Not to mention that none of our trio will so much as put in a good word for Dawkins, who even they acknowledge is just a loon.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 10:20 AM

Peter

Re: Ockham's Razor.

I see your point, but it depends what your 'default' position is.

If you think that the first and most obvious explanation for everything is an omniscient, omnipotent God, then that will be your default position. Any evidence that contradicts your belief will be assessed accordingly. Fair enough.

But for me, the default position can't be such a God, because I think there are too many questions and problems with the idea. Which it would be rank hypocrisy to mention here.

For me, the default position is: "what we see is all there is", and nothing else gets a look in until I see evidence or an overwhelming reason for it.

(Please don't take that as another "brave existentialist" puff - I can't take yet more of that. Maybe it's just the way my neurons are wired. Maybe God made me that way...)

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 10:28 AM

Brit:

So you've seen speciation and the Big Bang?

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 10:45 AM

No, but I saw a peanut stand.

Heard a rubber band too. And a needle that winked its eye.

Posted by: Brit at April 21, 2004 10:50 AM

That Darwinism cannot (and does not try to) explain the origin of life is not a criticism of Darwinism.

It starts with life, however it got started. God, if you like. And follows the evidence from there.

That Mendeleev did not know about electrons did not prevent him from creating an accurate theory of how elements interrelated, although his theory did require a black box, which was first thought to be electrons but much later was realized to be the weak force.

The idea that Darwinism requires an increase in complexity amazes me. It only allows it. It is true that life has become increasingly complex and ramified, but there are plenty of species that have become simplified.

I dunno, has anybody here ever mentioned tapeworms? They're a lot simpler than their ancestors.

In fact, at least among the metazoa, the majority of species are simpler than their ancestors. This is true for many, perhaps most, parasites; and there are a lot more kinds of parasites than there are hosts.

How many more, nobody knows. I've seen only one estimate, a ratio of 4:1, although if humans are typical metazoans in this respect, that estimate must be too low by at least an order of magnitude.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 21, 2004 3:35 PM

Harry:

Yes, so it really isn't about the "origin" of species at all. It's about minor changes in the species that exist.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 3:55 PM

It's about speciation. Ax grinders like yourself have interpreted the title to mean, "Origin of Life," but that isn't what it says, it isn't what it is, and it isn't what Darwin theorized about.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 21, 2004 5:58 PM

It's not about speciation either. It's about how Farmer Brown got one kind of sheep to be hairier and the finches on Galapagos likewise have different sized beaks. Making the connection was brilliant.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2004 6:26 PM

Actually, it was about the logical consequence of extinction.

If there was one Original Creation, and if there were later extinctions, then eventually life ceases.

This was not a problem for the Creationists as long as the world was only 6K years old and the Second Coming was, at most, a few generations away.

By the time Darwin started thinking and observing, it was obvious that the world was old and that extinctions was real.

That left only two possible situations: repeated special creations or natural evolution.

Since repeated special creation looks exactly like natural evolution (unless the new creatures share no commonalties with earlier creations, which is not the case), then you have to have speciation.

The speciation had to have a mechanism.

Darwin thought it was natural selection.

If you deny speciation, you also have to deny age of the earth and extinction. Go shout that from the housetops and see how many of the mob, even among the Christians, think you're on to something.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 22, 2004 3:21 PM

There is speciation. It doesn't happen by natural selection.

Posted by: oj at April 22, 2004 3:32 PM

You have been denying that there is speciation for months. Now you're in a corner, you admit it happens.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 22, 2004 7:28 PM

Harry:

Humans are a different species than monkeys. Of course speciation occured. It just doesn't occur as a result of natural selection. Speciation seems to require some intervening event or force which we have yet to identify--perhaps a massive radiation influx or something?

Posted by: oj at April 22, 2004 8:55 PM

OJ

So why isn't the reproductive isolation of two populations of the same species sufficient to produce speciation?

Posted by: Brit at April 23, 2004 9:42 AM

Yes, that is the question, isn't it. Isolation seems to have nothing to do with it. Some kind of intervention is apparently required. I'm agnostic as to what form that intervention takes.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 9:48 AM

What makes you say that "some kind of intervention is apparently required?"

Have you some evidence for this requirement?

Posted by: Brit at April 23, 2004 10:07 AM

Yes. Human observation suggests that speciation does not occur naturally and when it does occur at all it is "punctuated".

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 10:16 AM

So you're a punctuated equilibrium man?

Posted by: Brit at April 23, 2004 10:24 AM

No. I'm a "we've never seen anything evolve in all of human history" man. So I don't believe in gradualism.

Posted by: oj at April 23, 2004 11:16 AM

Nor do Darwinists - at least, not the straw man version of gradualism.

Posted by: Brit at April 23, 2004 11:48 AM
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