August 20, 2007

THE TRUISM IS TRUE, IT'S ONLY THE REST THAT'S FALSE:

Darwinism at AEI (Tom Bethell, July/August 2007, The American Spectator

The truth is that Darwinism is so shapeless that it can be enlisted in support of any cause whatsoever. Steven Hayward, a resident scholar at AEI, made this clear in his admirable introduction. Darwinism has over the years been championed by eugenicists, social Darwinists, racialists, free-market economists, liberals galore, Wilsonian progressives, and National Socialists, to give only a partial list. Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, Communists and libertarians, and almost anyone in between, have at times found Darwinism to their liking. Spencer himself first used the phrase "survival of the fittest, "and Darwin thought it an "admirable" summation of his thesis.

Both selfishness and (with a little mathematical ingenuity) altruism can be given a Darwinian gloss. Any existing psychological trait, from aggression to pacifism, can be deemed adaptive by inventing a just-so story explaining how genes "for" that trait might have arisen. The genes themselves do not have to be identified, nor does the imagined historical scenario have to leave any trace behind.

The underlying problem is that a key Darwinian term is not defined. Darwinism supposedly explains how organisms become more "fit," or better adapted to their environment. But fitness is not and cannot be defined except in terms of existence. If an animal exists, it is "fit" (otherwise it wouldn't exist). It is not possible to specify all the useful parts of that animal in order to give an exhaustive causal account of fitness. If an organism possesses features that appear on the surface to be inconvenient-such as the peacock's tail or the top-heavy antlers of a stag-the existence of stags and peacocks proves that these animals are in fact fit.

So the Darwinian theory is not falsifiable by any observation. It "explains" everything, and therefore nothing. It barely qualifies as a scientific theory for that reason. The impact of Darwinism on any and all political groups can be argued any way you want and it's not very illuminating for that reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 20, 2007 12:00 AM
Comments

The science of genetics, not evolution, is the Big Idea in biology to me. Better we should worship Mendel than old Charley.

Oh, wait. Mendel was a priest.

Posted by: Ed Bush at August 20, 2007 10:10 AM

But fitness is not and cannot be defined except in terms of existence. If an animal exists, it is "fit" (otherwise it wouldn't exist). [...] So the Darwinian theory is not falsifiable by any observation.

If one looks only at animals that exist right now, maybe. But we can also compare them to animals that used to exist (fossils) and to animals that never existed.

Also, fitness can be defined as more than "existence" (and usually is). Biological success also involves range, robustness, etc. The platypus and cockroach both exist, but nobody believes they are equally "fit" or "successful" in evolutionary terms.

The impact of Darwinism on any and all political groups can be argued any way you want and it's not very illuminating for that reason.

Which is also true for astronomy, faith, and numerous other topics. But wait: doesn't that also mean Bethell and OJ should stop using (anti-)Darwinism as a political club to beat their opponents?

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 20, 2007 12:20 PM

oj: You already drove away all the Darwinists (well, save one, apparently). Long winded "conversations" that boil down to theology and semantics (mostly the latter) aren't all that interesting, anyway...

Posted by: b at August 20, 2007 2:03 PM

The ones that don't exist weren't fit. The ones that do are. Deep....

Posted by: oj at August 20, 2007 3:05 PM
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