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The Evolution of Evolution

The End of Darwinism Evolution
Evolutionism vs. Creationism

The surest way to gin up some traffic here is to put those terms into the post.  Heheh. 

Now, I cheated in the title, as will become apparent in a moment.  Aristo-Thomists might already suspect the pun.  If so, keep quiet until I'm done here. 

On one side of the debate is a group of people with deeply held metaphysical beliefs who tell fables.  On the other, a group of people who desire above all that their beliefs be recognized as a science.  I speak, of course, of evolutionists and creationists respectively.  The atheist philosopher, Michael Ruse, once made an important distinction between evolution and evolutionism, the latter being a pseudo-religious commitment to the former.  A similar distinction can be made between creation and creationism, with the latter desiring the former be exalted to the status of science.  There is a symmetry to it all that is pleasing to geometers, string theorists, and auld curmudgeons. 

Mary Midgley addresses this in her book Evolution as Religion

1. Evolutionism. 
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics.  But it is baldly asserted by evolutionists that the "fact" of evolution has "proven" God unnecessary. This is as if the fact of the piano and the physics of vibrating strings "proves" there is no need for the pianist, as the music has been completely explained by the acoustics.   One suspects that a step is missing. 

The statement is silly on several levels.  First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena.  Rather it is a conclusion reasoned from various facts about the world.  This is not the venue for that; but let it be said that neither God nor evolution is "necessary" for auto repair.  And ponder the whole "X is not necessary for Y" argument.  Why after all, should X be necessary for Y?

What gives evolution such lofty credentials, anyhow.  Does it possess the Subtle Knife?  Why do we not suppose that Maxwell's Equations made God obsolete?  Back in the old days, Gregory of Nyssa engaged his dying sister Macrina in a Platonic dialogue, which is what people did before Twitter, I suppose.  Gregory told her that mechanical automata were said to have proven that God was unnecessary.  So this sort of thing has been going on for a long time, with the death of God announced breathlessly every generation or so. 

For St. Macrina's answer, see: Gregory of Nyssa, On the soul and ressurection and scroll down to the part beginning "But what, I asked, if, insisting on the great differences..."  Basically, she said that such automata provided supporting evidence for God's existence.  And the same is true of evolution. 

Secondly, as James Chastek has pointed out:
Presumably, evolution means we can stop looking for some magical elf-and-Santa-workshop where God busily assembles new species.  Great. Call off the search. If evolution were to fail, what then? Would it leave the sort of hole that could be filled by the the magical mystery species shop? No. We would just look for another natural explanation, whatever it was. If evolution were to fail, it would not leave a God-shaped hole, and so it follows that it is not filling one now, nor has it ever done so.

2. Intelligent Design. 
You cannot draw a metaphysical conclusion from the physics.  But it is baldly asserted by IDers that the "fact" of irreducible complexity has "proven" a Designer necessary. 

The statement is silly on several levels.  First of all, in philosophy God is not an hypothesis put forward to explain particular physical phenomena.  Oh, wait.  I am repeating myself.  It's almost as if they were mirror images of....  Well, ah, hmm.  Let's continue.

For some comments on Intelligent Design, per se: Michael Behe: Teach evolution and ask hard questions

Behe's theory is: A) Some things are irreducibly complex.  B) Natural selection cannot account for irreducible complexity.  Therefore C) an Intelligent Designer is necessary. 

Critics, driven mad by C) have attacked A) and B) with vigor.  I have sometimes thought that if he had simply stopped with B) he would have been okay.  

Critics of A) usually miss the point. He did not say that some things were really really complex. He specified a particular kind of complexity: one in which the whole must exist before it can function. Gradually adding parts in slow Darwinian manner would not do it. This is easily seen in artifacts: e.g. a circuit that does not function unless all components are in place. It is not clear that the same is necessarily true of organisms. Of course, Darwin started it by citing the artificial breeding of pigeons as the model for the actions of Nature.  But it is not clear that truths about artifacts carry over to nature without a Breeder lurking in the background.

Critics of B) also miss the point.  He does not say that natural selection is false.  He believes it does account for most of evolution but does not see how it can operate at the microcellular level.  (Remember, the Darwinian engine is overbreeding + ruthless winnowing.)  Behe has not proven his case. Absence of evidence -- no known Darwinian pathway -- is not evidence of absence -- no possible Darwinian pathway. But neither is it refuted by telling "just so stories" about how it might possibly could maybe happen. Behe has pointed out that in some of the proposed pathways rebutting him there are intermediate links that by Darwinian logic would have been selected against.   

Against this we must put St. Thomas Aquinas, who compared Nature to an Artifact:  
Nature is nothing but the plan of some art, namely a divine one, put into things themselves, by which those things move towards a concrete end: as if the man who builds up a ship could give to the pieces of wood that they could move by themselves to produce the form of the ship.
-- Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Physics II.8, lecture 14, no. 268 

IOW, Aquinas saw no contradiction between considering Nature as an Artifact and Nature moving by her own internal powers.  Behe and company missed that completely, which is why their work fails theologically before it fails as science.  In fact, there very well may be biological phenomena unaccounted for by the Darwinian metaphysic.  (After all, gravity does not explain how protons and neutrons form a nucleus.  Electromagnetism does not account for radiation.)

Even if the theory of natural selection failed to account for cellular machinery, there could well be other mechanisms that do.  Perhaps chemical or physical!  (Though biologists would probably hate that as much as an Intelligent Designer!)  One of the bad effects of creationism is that it has caused Darwinians to circle the wagons and get defensive and not look for other possibilities.  Even Eldrege and Gould took flack for their punctuated equilibrium theory because it "gave comfort to the creationists."  Rally round the paradigm, boys!   

Behe himself admits that other natural explanations are possible; i.e., that B) can be correct without C) following:
The underlying point of all these criticisms that needs to be addressed, I think, is that it is possible future work might show irreducible complexity to be explainable by some unintelligent process (although not necessarily a Darwinian one). And on that point I agree the critics are entirely correct. I acknowledge that I cannot rule out the possibility future work might explain irreducibly complex biochemical systems without the need to invoke intelligent design, as I stated in Darwin’s Black Box.
Michael Behe: Philosophical objections to intelligent design, response

Irreducible complexity actually is scientific in the Popperian sense.  One may falsify the proposition that X is irreducibly complex by actually reducing it; not with coulda woulda just-so stories, but by demonstrating the actual Darwinian pathway -- meaning that for each alteration of the genome along the pathway, the resulting organism is better fit for survival than its competitors. 

The Intelligent Designer is not natural science.  BTW, Behe also believes that the Big Bang implies an Intelligent Designer.  And a few scientists actually denounce the Big Bang as "theistic creationism" on that account.  But not too many.  If they do not fear the spirit of God, they do fear the spirit of Einstein.  Physics, man; that's real science.   

Now, Intelligent Design is a shape-shifter, an SFnal critter, since many of its fanboys mean different things by it at different times, depending on the exigencies of the circumstances.  But as we saw with Aquinas, one may believe in a God who has designs [plans] for the world without believing in the specific hypothesis that calls itself Intelligent Design.  In fact, considering the God of traditional theology, one ought not buy into the theory.  

One further note is the "third way" described by U.Chi researcher, James Shapiro: A third way

3. Evolution
There is persistent confusion between cause and effect ever since Hume cut them both off at the knees.  In physics, it is much easier to distinguish between empirical facts, natural laws, and physical theories.  Falling bodies are empirical facts.  Regularities like s = 0.5gt^2 are the natural laws.  And "gravity" is the theory that "makes sense" of the facts and laws.  From it, the laws can be deduced and the facts predicted.  But a theory is simply a story we tell that makes sense of the facts.  No matter how well supported, it never "graduates" to "fact" because it never ever becomes empirically real.  You cannot show me a gravity or tell me how much it weighs or what its length is (objective properties).   

That species change over time and are genetically related are facts.  "Natural selection" (overbreeding+death) is the theory, the "engine" that "drives" evolution.  Without it, evolution would only be, it would not "make sense."

There are logical problems with evo, which we won't go into.  The atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor has pointed out some of these problems here: Jerry Fodor: Why pigs dont have wings  And David Stove, another atheist philosopher, asks:  So you think you are a Darwinian?

Darwin started by drawing an analogy to pigeon-breeders, which right away is a problem.  Pigeon breeding is intelligent design.  The breeder knows what traits he will select for.  "How could a studied decision to breed for one trait or another be ‘the very same thing’ as the adventitious culling of a population?" 

Also Darwin tried to explain species while denying the real existence of species which is rather problematical:
"I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other..."  -- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
This is raw nominalism, and as such philosophically incoherent.  If a species is only a term, what exactly is 'evolving'? 

James Chastek wrote:
Didn’t “natural selection” used to be nothing but boring, old fashioned “death”? Did we do that much more than recognize an interesting side effect of death? Include some mutations too, I guess. So death and freaks. “A closer look at death and freaks”, however, isn’t the name for a theory that could make anyone giddy with the idea that they’ve killed God, or overthrown everything once claimed about nature, or ushered in an absolutely different new era of human understanding.  

4. Why Evolution and Creation Cannot Contradict Each Other
The problem with ID is the same as the problem with evolutionism: equivocation in the terms.  There is Intelligent Design [caps], a specific theory proposed by Behe and others.  Then there is intelligent design, the notion that the universe is created according to a plan by God.  IDers can slip back and forth between them because the terms they use could mean either. 

Aquinas famously gave five arguments from empirical facts to the existence of God, but none of them were the argument from complexity, either Paley's version or Behe's version.  Both Paley and Behe accept the post-Newtonian metaphysic of dead matter subject only to external forces.  In this, they are like Dawkins. 

But evolution of whatever stripe is only "moving matter around."  Something that has the form of an ape changes into something that has the form of a man.  Matter is transformed; it is not brought into being.  Creation otoh is continuous and from nothing.  It is not something that happened long ago; it is happening right now.  It is not a hypothesis explaining how something apelike became something manlike.  Rather it explains how nature has the power to do that in the first place.  As Augustine of Hippo wrote:

It is therefore, causally that Scripture has said that earth brought forth the crops and trees, in the sense that it received the power of bringing them forth.  In the earth from the beginning, in what I might call the roots of time, God created what was to be in tmes to come.  [Emph. added] 
On the literal meanings of Genesis, Book V Ch. 4:11

Here we see the root of evolutionary thinking.  Creation was not a point event, but a creation of things including their time-dimension.  It is a sustaining in being not a poofing into existence.  Aquinas even addressed it assuming an eternal universe.  It did not matter to creation if the universe had no beginning in time. 

ID tends to demote God from Creator to transformer of matter.  It is thus theolgically unsound.  Because modern science recognizes only certain kinds of efficient causes, IDers imagine God to be some sort of really powerful efficient cause operating within the universe, making things happen that would not have happened by themselves.  Yet, God is said to have looked on all he created and saw that it was good, and surely "good" includes "works right without tweaking."  The problem with imagining God as an efficient cause in rivalry with other efficient causes is that when a natural efficient cause is found, that "eliminates" God.  ID is a God-of-the-Gaps argument, about in a par with the unGod of the Gaps that holds that knowing how something is transformed eliminates the issue that it exists at all. 

But if God exists and is the source of being, as some suppose, then he is the source of falling apples and the ability of sodium and chlorine to form salt, not just of weird flagella or oddball hemoglobin cascades.  IOW, there is no need to suppose something is unlikely in order reason toward God.  Aquinas did not.  In traditional theology, the likely things that we think we do understand pretty well also receive their being from him.  So the evolution of the flagellum is hard to figure.  Big deal.  Someday we might figure it out.  (That's Aquinas again.)  But unless it just *poofed* into existence, it must have come from something pre-existing; and that something was necessarily some thing - it had a form.  But if so it merely has been transformed into another form.  And if it has been transformed, there was a physical series of operations by which it transformed.  It may or may not have been natural selection; but it was surely natural. 

For a Thomist critique of ID see the following.

Michael Tkacz: Thomas Aquinas versus the Intelligent Designers

Francis Beckwith: Thomas Aquinas and intelligent design

Stephen Barr: The end of intelligent design

5. The End of Evolution

Much of the modern problem of understanding stems from the rejection of final causes.  This was due to fear of Early Moderns that if final causes were recognized, then God would have to be admitted.  That is, establishing finality is hard; but once you do, God pops out like Jack-in-the-Box which startles small children and modern sophisticates.  But this gets it backward.  Aquinas thought that finality in nature was obvious, but reasoning from there to God was very difficult.  After all, Aristotle saw finality in nature too; but never concluded a God from it.  

Hence, the modern sees everything in terms of a certain kind of efficient cause, and the old idea of God is pasteurized into an engineer sitting at a drafting table having a bit of fun with the platypus before getting down to the serious business of puff adders and praying mantises.  God must be some sort of efficient cause, too; right?  

Actually, evolution is very hard to get to using only efficient causality.  Not even Dawkins can avoid teleology in his writings.  (His famous example of deriving a sentence from a series of random letters is not only teleological -- he has the target sentence already in mind; but unDarwinian -- the intermediate sentences do not make sense and so are "unfit" for their niche as information-bearers.  The real trick is to start with an intelligible sentence and, by accumulating random mutations and eliminating the results that become unintelligible, wind up with a different sentence.  Better yet: start with the Don Quixote genome (biblionome?) and watch it mutate into Moby Dick!    

It makes much more sense when viewed from the four Aristotelian causes, including finality.   

Because, without finality, efficient causes make no sense.  If there is not something in A that "points toward" B, then how can A cause B "always or for the most part and not cause C or D or nothing at all.  Hume realized this and wound up denying causality, too.  There is only correlation. 
Pfui, sez I.  Which is about what ibn Rushd said to al-Ghazali (who had said much the same as Hume). 

The proof of finality is the existence of natural laws.  Science thus denies finality while quietly relying upon it.  Falling bodies move to the point of lowest gravitational potential.  Complex systems move toward equilibrium in "attractor basins" with sometimes "strange attractors."  Tiger cubs mature into adult tigers, and never into tiger lilies.  The adult tiger is the final cause of the maturation of the tiger cub.

(If finality really does imply God, as Aquinas reasoned, then the existence of a natural law of evolution is an evidence for God's existence, rather than against.)  

So what is the end of evolution?  First of all, "evolution" is a global cause and so the end must be a global end.  And that means it is not this or that particular species or trait.  The end of evolution would seem to be "a multiplication of species."  After all Darwin called his tome "The Origin of Species."  We also observe globally a tendency toward greater complexity even if not each and every step along the way has done so.  This may be do more to a second law of evolution and not natural selection per se. 

On the specific level, the evolution of species X would seem to have as its end "greater fitness to this ecological niche."  What particular trait or behavior achieves this fitness would seem a matter of chance. 

On the individual level, living things have a drive to go on living and are apt, when finding themselves in possession of a new trait, to find some way of exploiting that trait.  For example, Fodor's polar bears finding themselves blinding white and seeing land prey running away might wander about looking to strike it rich and wind up prospering in the Great White North.  IOW, perhaps the environment did not select for white bears but white bears selected their environment.   

6. An Apology

I didn't have time to make this shorter. Perhaps reflection will help an edit. But some may note that the links critical of evolutionism were mostly to "atheists" like Fodor, Stove, Midgley; while the links critical of intelligent design were to "theists" like Barr, Tkacz, and Beckwith. This appealed to my sense of humor.  

6. Addendum  
It's been pointed out that medieval art often portrayed God directly designing the universe with compass and square, and therefore portrayed him as a direct efficient cause.  However, the medievals were quite clear on the idea of metaphor and allegory.  It is the modern, infused with science, that insists on seeing everything with a remorseless literalism.  



Feb. 19th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC)
Take the sentence:

Methinks it is much like a weasel.

Suppose a sentence is a portion of a "genome" and its survivability is equivalent to its intelligibility. That is, the sentence must "mean something" at every stage of its evolution.

Is it possible for such a sentence to come about by cumulative mutations of the phonemes from an earlier sentence? If not, then it is "irreducibly complex," in the sense that it could not remain intelligible if even one part of it were changed. (Let's not look at letters but phonemes. English spelling doesn't catch the phonemes exactly.)

A single point mutation gives us this: the ea sound came from a short a sound by the elongation of the vowel. The schwah vowel realized as -el remains a schwah but is realized as -ail

Methinks it is much like a wassail.

This is still intelligible (if a bit silly) but recall that Hamlet was shamming insanity at the time anyway. Unless he really had gone insane, which is another post entirely. So the sentence is still intelligible in the larger context of the play, even.

Now suppose there were some other mutations, such as fused phonemes separating, additional phonemes inserted, phonemes clipped, and so forth. And suppose, too, the equivalent of regulatory genes that insist that certain sounds cannot come together or which "correct" other parts of the string according to the "grammatical" or "orthographical" rules of nature. An earlier version might be:

Methinks I smack like a wassail

"Smack" means "to taste" so perhaps a wassail bowl has been dumped on his head.

A still earlier version might be

Meath inks' mat link a boss ail

Which means that printer's mats inked up with inks made in Co. Meath, Ire. have been correlated to illness in management. Whether this is still compatible with the rest of Hamlet is problematical.

If you can't do something like that the sentence is irreducible.


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