A Non-religious Critique of Darwinism

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

Moderators: AMod, iMod

mickthinks
Posts: 793
Joined: Thu Oct 18, 2007 1:10 am
Location: Augsburg

Post by mickthinks » Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:42 pm

I think evolutionary theory has to explain the evolution of cellular components just as much as it has to explain the evolution of more obvious phenotypic traits (like a giraffe's neck).

Maybe, but there's room for much confusion here. Firstly, I'm not convinced I have to assume that everything I can observe in a cell is the product of evolution. Secondly, I'm not convinced that I have to assume every product of evolution is the result of a Darwinian process.

Mick

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:45 pm

But it is surely implicit within any theory of evolution that there must be some kind of primordial organism(s) from which everything evolved and developed. I I could be contradicted on this point then I am already making gains in the philosophy of the subject!
I think that modern evolutionary theory is committed to this claim about primordial organisms. There is a lot of work being done at the moment trying to recreate those conditions to see if it is possible to create amino acids and long protein chains from simpler molecules. The idea, as far as I understand it, is that once created these complex molecules would compete with each other to form yet larger molecules and then eventually basic single cell organisms. It's a bit of a just-so story at the moment but if we are to avoid invoking supernatural explanations or little green men then something like this must have happened.

Nikolai
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:36 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Nikolai » Wed Mar 26, 2008 4:54 pm

mick said: 'Firstly, I'm not convinced I have to assume that everything I can observe in a cell is the product of evolution'

Sounds interesting, but how could something complex like a mitochondrian develop other than by evolution?

Also, there are components within a cell that seem even less organic than mitochondria e.g microtubules. How could the ordered arrangement of these have arisen?

But all this aside, we've unwittingly started trying to explain evolution scientifically rather than philosophically.

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:01 pm

But all this aside, we've unwittingly started trying to explain evolution scientifically rather than philosophically.
The scientific objections are non-theological objections which is what I thought we were after. Are you interested in purely philosophical objections?

mickthinks
Posts: 793
Joined: Thu Oct 18, 2007 1:10 am
Location: Augsburg

Post by mickthinks » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:04 pm

It's a bit of a just-so story at the moment but if we are to avoid invoking supernatural explanations or little green men then something like this must have happened.
Any old story will do, so long as it isn't The Wrong Story?! That looks like very bad science, and I hope no one is actually working to that agenda. I am pretty certain that Darwin never suggested that project, so I don't see how it comes to be associated with Darwinism?

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:14 pm

Any old story will do, so long as it isn't The Wrong Story?! That looks like very bad science, and I hope no one is actually working to that agenda.
I'm not sure any old story will do mick. It's just that we need to know how organic complex forms evolved from simple inorganic molecules. Just because this is difficult to explain, it doesn't mean it didn't happen. This sort of thinking leads right down the road to creationism.
I am pretty certain that Darwin never suggested that project, so I don't see how it comes to be associated with Darwinism?
Maybe Darwin speculated on the origin of life, maybe he didn't. I don't think it matters. I assumed we were discussing the modern synthesis version of evolutionary theory that combines Mendelian genetics with evolutionary theory, not the original.

Nikolai
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:36 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Nikolai » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:15 pm

My worry is that the scientific objections just explain the mysteries as being gaps in knowledge. So if we don't know how life started it is treated as a 'more research in this area needed' type question.

I suppose I treat evolution as an inadequate theory because i think it depends on certain myths: the most potent of these is linearity of time.

But philosophy might be able to say how in principle that evolution is an incomplete or inadequate explanation for life as we perceive it. The trouble is I cannot formulate the argument, and I cannot understand such a thing as a dinosaur bone as being anything other than what we think it is. In other words I cannot see a dinosaur bone as being anything other than evidence for time linearity, and evidence for a Realist (rather than transcendentalist) interpretation of matter.

If I've not made myself clear do ask me to clarify, because this area is of great interest and I can tell that you and Mick have knowledge enough to help me frame my thoughts.

mickthinks
Posts: 793
Joined: Thu Oct 18, 2007 1:10 am
Location: Augsburg

Post by mickthinks » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:20 pm

... how could something complex like a mitochondrian develop other than by evolution?
I don't know and I don't believe it is particularly relevant here. From what I understand of Darwin's theory, it is almost inconceivable that anything we actually observe in biology could be beyond the reach of DNA and eons of natural selection.

What is important for us as philosophers is to avoid arguments like;
  • We cannot imagine a way something as complex as a mitochondrian could develop other than by Darwinian evolution.
  • Here's a way it could develop other than by Darwinian evolution
  • Nonsense! We've already ruled that out using argument from lack of imagination
Mick

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:35 pm

What is important for us as philosophers is to avoid arguments like;

We cannot imagine a way something as complex as a mitochondrian could develop other than by Darwinian evolution.

Here's a way it could develop other than by Darwinian evolution

Nonsense! We've already ruled that out using argument from lack of imagination
I agree with you that we shouldn't be uncritical when thinking about scientific theories mick. I can certainly imagine lots of different ways in which mitochondria evolved, some of them quite silly. The reason that I believe the Darwinian explanation is correct is that it has a stack of evidence to support it (or if you want to be Popperian about it, it hasn't been falsified on a huge number of occasions).

Nikolai
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:36 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Nikolai » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:36 pm

I've tried to outline what i see to be the philosophical assumptions of Darwinism below?


Darwinism (and I'm talking about current darwinism which includes mendel) requires the random and chaotic mutation of genes.

Is there an argument against this randomness?

Darwinism requires the absence of teleology.

Is there any evidence of purposiveness on earth. Does Gaia theory have anything to say on this.

Darwinism requires linearity of time?

But are there not philosophical objections to this
.

Darwinism requires a Realist philosophy

How else could a dinosaur bone be explained?

Darwinism requires the emergence of life from inert matter

But how could this happen?

I see these as being philosophical questions that cannot be settled by science

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Wed Mar 26, 2008 5:58 pm

Nikolai,
Is there an argument against this randomness?
The only arguments I know of against randomness would be scientific, not philosophical.
Is there any evidence of purposiveness on earth. Does Gaia theory have anything to say on this.
I don't think there is any compelling evidence but I suppose it depends how you look at things. Why do you mention Gaia here?
But are there not philosophical objections to this.
I don't know much about philosophy of time but I'm sure you are right about this.
How else could a dinosaur bone be explained?
I don't think you need to be a realist to explain dinosaur bones. Antirealists can just say that evolutionary theory explains the observable evidence.
But how could this happen?
I don't agree with you on this one. I think this is firmly in Science's court now. Perhaps in the past it belonged to philosophy but they've nicked it. Much in the same way that the mind-body problem is slowly migrating to science.

User avatar
bullwinkle
Posts: 34
Joined: Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:05 pm

Post by bullwinkle » Wed Mar 26, 2008 7:31 pm

Hi all,

Interesting discussion. I noted that in chapter 4 of his 'God Delusion' Dawkins invoked the anthropic principle for the origin of life. He also acknowledged that it might need to be evoked for the origin of eukaryotic cells and for conciousness because these major developments seemed to be beyond Darwinian natural selection. I don't find the anthropic principle a very satisfying argument.

There are a couple of other things that bug me about the Darwinian story. It seems that a complex adaptation which is achieved in stages requires every stage to have some survival advantage. I find it quite difficult to see how it is in the nature of these small changes to add up to the achievement of something like a brain. It is as if we are explaining the thing that seems significant as a by-product of another process. Is there something missing here?

The other thing is that evolution is so slow, does our experimental work on genetics cover a large enough time period to justify the extrapolation of the theory so far back in time?

I read an interesting idea the other day which suggested that evolution was an act of emergence. Random mutation should be considered as the means of releasing the action of evolution and natural selection sustained it. The idea seemed to be a bit like Einstein's rubber-sheet model of gravity where life would appear on something like a potential surface. Random mutation and natural selection allow life to make progress towards some kind of potential well. I thought of it in the same way as the moon's orbit eventually decaying until it hit the earth.

The idea is unconventional but I liked it. It would help with the problem of how small steps can amount to such complex achievements. Achievement is obviously teleological here.

Bullwinkle

Nikolai
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:36 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Nikolai » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:18 am

Rortabend,

I guess Gaia theory changes darwinism quite a bit because it changes the way we view adaptation. An organism's (or it gene's) survival or death can no longer be understood in their own but rather with reference to a larger system of organisms and non-organic phenomena.

What I don't fully undersrand is this: Should earth be viewed as an organism which comprises of a system of cooperative and coordinated processes? This would suggest that different orgainsm are somehow communicating, in the same way that my brain and my liver and my stomach and my mind are all communicating to achieve organisation. To me this is a teleological argument.

Or should it be understood as a stable community of organisms each of which are disparate but which limit and facilitate each other by accident and without teleology. An example of this would be a dearth of rabbits leading to a dearth of foxes, which in turn provides the circumstances for rabbits to flourish and thence the foxes. Over time this lends to equilibrium, but it doesn't require the foxes and rabbits behaviour to be coordinated - the equilibrium just emerges.
Last edited by Nikolai on Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

Nikolai
Posts: 232
Joined: Sun Feb 24, 2008 10:36 pm
Location: Finland

Post by Nikolai » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:24 am

Bullwinkle,

You said: 'Random mutation should be considered as the means of releasing the action of evolution and natural selection sustained it.'

Random mutation occurs every time an organism's cells divide, so the effects of mutation are likely to be an ongoing factor alongside natural selection. If this didn't happen then the genome of an organism would rapidly become fixed and unable to respond to environmental change.

By the way, you haven't ever read Sheldrake's book on Morphic resonance have you - the way you talk about rubber sheets reminds me of his argument?

User avatar
Rortabend
Posts: 261
Joined: Wed Jan 16, 2008 11:36 am
Location: Cambridge

Post by Rortabend » Thu Mar 27, 2008 11:44 am

There are a couple of other things that bug me about the Darwinian story. It seems that a complex adaptation which is achieved in stages requires every stage to have some survival advantage. I find it quite difficult to see how it is in the nature of these small changes to add up to the achievement of something like a brain. It is as if we are explaining the thing that seems significant as a by-product of another process. Is there something missing here?
This is a common complaint and has re-emerged in many different forms throughout the history of the debate on evolution. The most recent version of the argument that I am aware of is due to Michael Behe that I mentioned above. I think the objection gets its force from the fact that it is very difficult for us to imagine an eye or a brain evolving gradually over millions of years.

Yet the fact it is difficult for us to imagine isn't really a compelling objection. I think the best rebuttal to this argument can be found in Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker. He's best when talking about biology rather than theology where he tends to rant and get a bit evangelical.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 3 guests