Skip to comments.The Delusion of Darwinian Natural Law
Posted on 12/27/2003 12:44:51 AM PST by bdeaner
The Delusion of Darwinian Natural Law
In a short, inconspicuous paragraph in the conclusion to the first edition of On the Origin of Species, Darwin speculates that "in the distant future psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation." One hundred and forty years later, Darwin's eerie prediction about the revolutionary effect of his work on human beings' self-understanding seems all too prophetic. After a century of dissemination, the once-novel theory of evolution is widely accepted as established scientific fact. Given the quasi-religious hold of evolutionary theory over the modern mind, it is not surprising that it should serve as the spiritual inspiration for developments within the field of psychology. First popularized in the 1970s by Harvard's Edward O. Wilson, evolutionary psychology, originally called sociobiology, interprets all human behavior in light of the evolutionary process. Evolutionary psychology aims to be a comprehensive science, explaining the origins and ends of every human behavior and institution.
Not wanting to be left behind, a number of conservative thinkers have let themselves be caught up in this movement. Conservatism initially identified evolution exclusively with Darwinian materialism and, therefore, viewed it as a fundamental threat to human dignity. But, recently, conservatives such as James Q. Wilson, Francis Fukuyama, and Charles Murray have used evolutionary psychology to show that morality is rooted in human biology. Fukuyama's The Great Disruption goes so far as to claim that "a great deal of social behavior is not learned but part of the genetic inheritance of man and his great ape forbears." Drawing on categories borrowed from evolutionary psychology, Fukuyama argues that human beings are drawn to the kind of moral order provided by traditional rules of trust and honesty.
Evolution's most ambitious and vocal conservative advocate, however, is political scientist Larry Arnhart. But where Wilson and Fukuyama speak of evolution generally, Arnhart appeals directly to Darwin himself. In Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature, Arnhart argues that conservative thought has fundamentally misunderstood Darwin. For Arnhart, Darwin is not a biological materialist but a modern disciple of Aristotle. Properly understood, Darwinism proves that morality is rooted in human biology. Indeed, Arnhart claims that Darwinism can identify twenty biological desires that are common to all human societies. The fulfillment or frustration of these desires provides universal standards for judging the morality of human social behavior. Darwinian natural right consists of the "right" to have these biological desires satisfied. Arnhart recently argued in the conservative religious journal First Things that both secular and religious conservatives currently "need Charles Darwin." By "adopting a Darwinian view of human nature," both groups would be able to give a rational, non-sectarian response to the prevailing dogma of moral relativism. For Arnhart, the attraction of Darwinism is essentially practical: It provides a "scientific"not "metaphysical" or "sectarian"basis for "conservative moral and political thought."
One has to question, however, the wisdom of evaluating any account of human nature primarily in terms of its political utility. But this does explain why, on every critical point, Arnhart lets his political concerns shape his theoretical defense of Darwinism. Consequently, Arnhart never really confronts conservatism's original charge that Darwinism reduces human beings to clever, biologically determined animals. But he does present natural lawyers with an intriguing and, by no means, inconsequential choice: Should they embrace Darwinism and give natural law conclusions the air of "scientific legitimacy," or should they continue to defend an unfashionable but richer account of human nature that transcends human biology?
The Biology of Morality
Essential to the Darwinian defense of morality is the belief that social behaviors are "biologically rooted" in human nature. Darwinians such as Arnhart start from the premise that human beings are "hard-wired" for specific species-preserving behaviors. Darwinism explains all human societies, ranging from families to political communities, as unintended byproducts of the evolutionary process. Social behaviors and institutions came into existence as evolutionary responses to "species-threatening" changes in man's environment. Friendships, marriages, families, and even political communities, all of which are commonly seen as vital features of a meaningful human life, have their origins outside of the moral universe. Every society came into existence in a world where "species-survival" and "species-extinction," not good and evil, were the fundamental human categories. Darwinism views sociality and morality as part of man's genetic inheritancethe adaptive means through which the species perpetuates itself. Contrary to popular belief, morality is really instrumental to the larger goal of individual and collective preservation.
Darwin's thesis that all species, including the human species, possess a biological drive for self-preservation is not novel. Arnhart, for example, frequently observes that Saint Thomas Aquinas, the natural law's classical exponent par excellence, makes a similar claim. And as Arnhart likes to note, Aquinas even once described natural right as "that which nature has taught to all animals." Aquinas's strongest statement on this matter, however, occurs in the context of a wider discussion of natural law. Aquinas there states that the natural law's second inclination, which man shares with all animals, directs him to preserve the species. But as Arnhart shows, Darwin extends this insight substantially further than Aquinas does. In contrast to Aquinas, Darwin believes that those behaviors that are necessary for the survival of the species gradually become woven into human biology itself. Over time, human beings eventually come to view behaviors that are necessary for survival as both meaningful and moral.
The Darwinian defense of morality characteristically points to the end of the family as illustrative of how morality is rooted in human biology. Arnhart himself traces the family back to the strong sexual drive of young men. Rooted in their "biological nature," this drive plays an important role in the preservation of the species, yet it also fulfills "the natural desire for conjugal bonding." Once properly channeled (Arnhart conspicuously never explains how or why this occurs), the sexual drive allows for the kind of bonding that naturally occurs within the family. The preservation of the family and, ultimately, of the species itself are the result of the "biological drive for sexual mating." Scrutinized from the Darwinian perspective, the biological desire for conjugal bonding is revealed to perform the necessary task of stabilizing society.
While Darwinism can defend the family as a natural institution, it is not a genuinely moral or spiritual defense. Wedded to biological materialism, Darwinism necessarily reduces the good to the usefulfinally viewing the family as instrumental to evolution's larger goal of the preservation of society. While family life undoubtedly helps stabilize society, this clearly is not the only thing that is good about it. Arnhart's recognition of natural desires for "conjugal and familial bonding" shows that he is aware of this fact. But the logic of his position ultimately requires him to view the family in terms of its preservation of society.
The Morality of Biology
But is this really compatible with conservatism? Is it really possible to understand family life solely in terms of its role in the preservation of society? Setting aside for the moment any sacramental notion of marriage(not mere conjugal bonding) and family life, Darwinism would have one believe that a husband's self-conscious love for his wife or the personal sacrifices that parents willingly make for their children are byproducts of a primordial desire to perpetuate the species. Viewed from the perspective of human beings' lived experience, Darwinism's appreciation of the family is even more dehumanizing than modernity's view of marriage as simply a contractual arrangement.
Part of the reason for this flattening of the human horizon is Darwinism's systematic identification of the good with the flourishing of the species rather than with the self-conscious individual. There is then something fundamentally incoherent about the effort to defend the intrinsic goodness of morality on the basis of Darwinism. This incoherence, however, explains a number of oddities about the Darwinian defense of morality. The most obvious of these is its creative effort to present Darwin as a teacher of "evolution." As surprising as it sounds, Darwin never uses this term in The Origin of Species. Rather, he speaks of "descent with modification." The difference between these terms is not merely semantic. Darwin realized that evolution is a teleological term. To say that something evolved is to say that it has evolved toward something. Evolution implies the kind of purposeful change by which something unfolds according to a prearranged planprecisely the understanding of evolution that the Roman Catholic Church claims is not necessarily inimical to Christianity. While often popularly misunderstood, what the Catholic Church consistently has opposed, from Pius XII's nuanced 1950 encyclical Humani Generis to John Paul II's recent statements, is not the idea of evolution per se but, rather, those materialist theories that reduce psychic humanity to biological animality.
Darwin, however, eschews such teleological thinkinggoing so far as to note in his manuscript not to use "hierarchical" terms such as higher and lower. For him, nature is intrinsically mechanistic. Change results from "natural selection," the process by which species adapt to environmental changes by weeding out variations that jeopardize their survival. Far from acting towards an end, nature responds to external forces of chance and necessity. It is not difficult to see why Darwinians such as Arnhart try to gloss over the harshness of this teaching. By drawing attention to the fact that nature is a blind and continuous process, they effectively undermine their political defense of the intrinsic goodness of morality.
Darwinism's teaching on perpetual modification points to another problem with the idea of Darwinian natural law. For Darwin, the process of modification is, in principle, continuous. Contrary to what they may wish to believe, human beings are not the end of the evolutionary process. The Darwinian defense of natural morality, therefore, is not to be taken too literally. Lacking the fixity of any genuine end, the goods supported by natural law are useful only over long periods of time. Like nature itself, they are transitionally good. This explains why Arnhart places so much emphasis on biology, since it offers the only real source of "temporary fixity" in the world.
Natural Law and the Humanization of Biology
What is most striking about the Darwinian defense of morality is that it argues for one of the positions that natural law traditionally has argued against. Natural law historically has opposed any simplistic identification of the natural with the biological. Contrary to Darwinism's identification of the natural with the instinctual, natural law associates the natural with the reasonable. It seeks to humanize and transcend the realm of biology by incorporating it into the realm of reasonto view the low in light of the high, not vice versa. Whereas materialist Darwinians see human nature culminating in the biological instinct to perpetuate the species, Aquinas thinks that man's natural inclination directs him to seek the truth about God and to live in society. Rather than insisting that he be completely at home in the biological world, natural law realizes that his natural desire for transcendence ensures that man can only be ambiguously at home in the world. Psychically different from other creatures, the rational creature (not merely the calculating, species-preserving animal) somehow embodies all of the aspirations of the evolved biological world.
This natural desire to know does not negate the desire to perpetuate the species but, in fact, can explain why such perpetuation is desirable. Part of the attraction of natural law thinking, therefore, lies in its ability to show that human beings are not slaves to their instincts but, rather, that they possess the psychic freedom to make sense of these instincts. Over and against Darwinism's biological determinism, natural law theory is grounded in the all-too-human experience of wrestling with matters of conscienceof trying to do what one ought to do and not merely what one instinctively wants to do. Rejecting the reality of such an inner life, Darwinian-based defenses of morality are necessarily self-defeating. They replace relativism's belief that nothing can legitimately make a claim on the human soul with materialism's belief that human beings are biologically incapable of caring about their souls.
Near the end of his essay in First Things, Arnhart celebrates the remarkable recent advances of science in the areas of neurobiology and genetics. In light of these advances, Arnhart warns that "if conservatism is to remain intellectually vital, [it] will need to show that [its] position is compatible with this new science of human nature." But what does Arnhart think Darwinism has to say to these new sciences? If there really are no natural limits on human beings, if nature really is in a constant slow state of flux, how can a Darwinian, even a morally serious Darwinian, oppose something such as the "new science" of human cloning? A self-conscious Darwinian such as E. O. Wilson realizes that cloning is simply the next stage of human "modification." Faithful to the spirit of his Darwinism, Wilson looks forward to the day when cloning or "volitional evolution" will allow scientists to alter "not just the anatomy and intelligence of the species but also the emotions and creative drive that compose the very core of human nature." Less consistent Darwinians such as Arnhart choose to remain blissfully unaware of this fact. Consequently, they fail to recognize that what they offer is not so much up-to-date moral guidance as the ultimate moral justification for the "brave new world."
It will make my argument clearer if I build it upon an analogy. I should like you to consider an important difference between a juke-box and a gramophone --- or, if you like, between a barrel-organ and a tape-recorder. A juke-box is an instrument which contains one or more gramophone records, one of which will play whatever is recorded upon it if a particular button is pressed. The act of pressing the button I shall describes as the ``stimulus.'' The stimulus is specific: to each button there corresponds one record, and vice versa, so that there is a one-to-one relationship between stimulus and response. By pressing a button --- any button --- I am, in a sense, instructing the juke-box to play music; by pressing this button and not that, I am instructing it to play one piece of music and not another. But --- I am not giving the juke-box musical instructions. The musical instructions are inscribed upon records that are part of the juke-box, not parts of its environment: what a juke-box or barrel-organ can play on any one occasion depends upon structural or inbuilt properties of its own. I shall follow Professor Joshua Lederberg in using the word ``elective'' to describe the relationship between what the juke-box plays and the stimulus that impinges upon it from the outside world.
Now contrast this with a gramophone or any other reproducing apparatus. I have a gramophone and one or more records somewhere in the environment outside it. To hear a particular piece of music, I go through certain motions with switches, and put a gramophone record on. As with the juke-box I am, in a sense, instructing the gramophone to play music, and a particular piece of music. But I am doing more than that: I am giving it musical instructions, inscribed in the grooves of the record I make it play. The gramophone itself contains no source of musical information. My relationship to the gramophone --- again following Lederberg --- I shall describe as ```instructive''; for, in a sense, I taught it what to play. With the juke-box, then --- and the same goes for a musical-box or barrel-organ --- the musical instructions are part of the system that responds to stimuli, and the stimuli are elective: they draw upon the inbuilt capabilities of the instrument. With a gramophone, and still more obviously with a tape recorder, the stimuli and instructive: they endow it with musical capabilities; they import into it musical information from the world outside.
It is we ourselves who have made juke-boxes and gramophones, and who decide what, if anything, they are to play. These facts are irrelevant to the analogy I have in mind, and can be forgotten from now on. Consider only that organism on the one hand --- juke-box or gramophone; and on the other hand, stimuli which impinge upon that organism from the world about it.
During the past ten years, biologists have come to realize that, by and large, organisms are very much more like juke-boxes than gramophones. Most of those reactions of organisms which we were formerly content to regard as instructive are in fact elective. The instructions an organism contains are not musical instructions inscribed in the grooves of a gramophone record, but genetical instructions embodied in chromosomes and nucleic acids. Let me give examples of what I mean.
The oldest example, and the most familiar, concerns the change that comes over a population of organisms when it undergoes an evolution. How should we classify the environmental stimuli that cause organisms to evolve? The Lamarckian theory, the theory that acquired characters can be inherited, is, in its most general form, an instructive theory of evolution. It declares that the environment can somehow issue genetical instructions to living organisms --- instructions which, duly assimilated, can be passed on from one generation to the next. The blacksmith who is usually called upon to testify on these occasions gets mightily strong arms from forging; somehow this affects the cells that manufacture his spermatozoa, so that his children start life specially well able to develop strong arms. I have no time to explain our tremendous psychological inducement to believe in an instructive or Lamarckian theory of evolution, though in a somewhat more sophisticated form than this. I shall only say that every analysis of what has appeared to be a Lamarckian style of heredity has shown it to be non-Lamarckian. So far as we know, the relationship between organism and environment in the evolutionary process is an elective relationship. The environment does not imprint genetical instructions upon living things.
Another example: bacteriologists have known for years that if bacteria are forced to live upon some new unfamiliar kind of foodstuff or are exposed to the actions of an anti-bacterial drug, they acquire the ability to make use of that new food, or to make the drug harmless to them by breaking it down. The treatment was at one time referred to as the training of bacteria --- with the clear implication that the new food or drug taught the bacteria how to manufacture the new ferments upon which their new behavior depends. But it turns out that the process of training belies its name: it is not instructive. A bacterium can synthesize only those ferments it is genetically entitled to synthesize. The process of training merely brings out or exploits or develops an innate potentiality of the bacterial population, a potentiality underwritten or subsidized by the particular genetic make-up of one or another of its members.
The same argument probably applies to what goes on when animals develop. At one time there was great argument between ``preformationists'' and those who believed in epigenesis. The preformationists declared that all development was an unfolding of something already there; the older extremists, whom we now laugh at, believed that a sperm was simply a miniature man. The doctrine of epigenesis, in an equally extreme form, declared that all organisms begin in a homogeneous state, with no apparent or actual structure; and that the embryo is moulded into its adult form solely by stimuli impinging upon it from outside. The truth lies somewhere between these two extreme conceptions. The genetic instructions are preformed, in the sense that they are already there, but their fulfilment is epigenetic ---- an interpretation that comes close to an elective theory of embryonic development. The environment brings out potentialities present in the embryo in a way which (as with the buttons on a juke-box) is exact and discriminating and specific; but it does not instruct the developing embryo in the manufacture of its particular ferments or proteins or whatever else it is made of. Those instructions are already embodied in the embryo: the environment causes them to be carried out.
Until a year or two ago we all felt sure that one kind of behavior indulged in by higher organisms did indeed depend on the environment as a teacher on instructor. The entry or injection of a foreign substance into the tissues of an animal brings about an immunological reaction. The organism manufactures a specific protein, an ``antibody,'' which reacts upon the foreign substance, often in such a way as to prevent its doing harm. The formation of antibodies has a great deal to do with resistance to infectious disease. The relationship between a foreign substance and the particular antibody it evokes is exquisitely discriminating and specific; one human being can manufacture hundreds --- conceivably thousands --- of distinguishable antibodies, even against substances which have only recently been invented, like some of the synthetic chemicals used in industry or in the home. Is the reaction instructive or elective? --- surely, we all felt, instructive. The organism learns from the chemical pattern of the invading substance just how a particular antibody should be assembled in an appropriate and distinctive way. Self-evident though this interpretation seems, many students of the matter are beginning to doubt it. They hold that the process of forming antibodies is probably elective in character. The information which directs the synthesis of particular antibodies is part of the inbuilt genetical information of the cells that make them; the invading foreign substance exploits that information and brings it out. It is the juke-box over again. I believe this theory is somewhere near the right one, though I do not accept some of the special constructions that have been put upon it.
But you know that it has been done, and that there is just one organ which can accept instruction from the environment: the brain. We know very little about it, but that in itself is evidence of how immensely complicated it is. The evolution of a brain was a feat of fantastic difficulty --- the most spectacular enterprise since the origin of life itself. Yet the brain began, I suppose, as a device for responding to elective stimuli. Instinctive behavior is behavior in which the environment acts electively. If male sex hormones are deliberately injected into a hen, the hen will start behaving in male-like ways. The potentiality for behaving in a male-like manner must therefore have been present in the female; and by pressing (or, as students of behavior usually say, ``releasing'') the right button the environment can bring it out. But the higher parts of the brain respond to instructive stimuli: we learn.
Now let me carry the argument forward. It was a splendid idea to evolve into the possession of an organ that can respond to instructive stimuli, but the idea does not go far enough. If that were the whole story, we human beings might indeed live more successfully than other animals; but when we died, a new generation would have to start again from scratch. Let us go back for a moment to genetical instructions. A child at conception receives certain genetical instructions from its parents about how its growth and development are to proceed. Among these instructions there must be some which provide for the issue of further instructions; I mean, a child grows up in such a way that it, too, can eventually have children, and convey genetical instructions to them in turn. We are dealing here with a very special system of communication: a hereditary system. There are many examples of systems of this kind. A chain letter is perhaps the simplest: we receive a letter from a correspondent who asks us to write to a third party, asking him in turn to write a letter of the same kind to a fourth, and so on --- a hereditary system. The most complicated example is provided by the human brain itself; for it does indeed act as intermediary in a hereditary system of its own. We do more than learn: we teach and hand on; tradition accumulates; we record information and wisdom in books.
Just as a hereditary system is a special kind of system of communication --- one in which the instructions provide for the issue of further instructions --- so there is a specially important kind of hereditary system: one in which the instructions passed on from one individual to another change in some systematic way in the course of time. A hereditary system with this property may be said to be conducting or undergoing an evolution. Genetic systems of heredity often transact evolutionary changes; so also does the hereditary system that is mediated through the brain. I think it is most important to distinguish between four stages in the evolution of a brain. The nervous system began, perhaps, as an organ which responded only to elective stimuli from the environment; the animal that possessed it reacted instinctively or by rote, if at all. There then arose a brain which could begin to accept instructive stimuli from the outside world; the brain in this sense has dim and hesitant beginnings going far back in geological time. The third stage, entirely distinguishable, was the evolution of a non-genetical system of heredity, founded upon the fact that the most complicated brains can do more than merely receive instructions; in one way or another they make it possible for the instructions to be handed on. The existence of this system of heredity --- of tradition, in its most general sense --- is a defining characteristic of human beings, and it has been important for, perhaps, 500,000 years. In the fourth stage, not clearly distinguishable from the third, there came about a systematic change in the nature of the instructions passed on from generation to generation --- an evolution, therefore, and one which has been going on at a great pace in the past 200 years. I shall borrow two words used for a slightly different purpose by the great demographer Alfred Lotka to distinguish between the two systems of heredity enjoyed by man: endosomatic or internal heredity for the ordinary or genetical heredity we have in common with animals; and exosomatic or external heredity for the non-genetic heredity that is peculiarly our own --- the heredity that is mediated through tradition, by which I mean the transfer of information through non-genetic channels from one generation to the next.
I am, of course, saying something utterly obvious: society changes; we pass on knowledge and skills and understanding from one person to another and from one generation to the next; a man can indeed influence posterity by other than genetic means. But I wanted to put the matter in a way which shows that we must not distinguish a strictly biological evolution from a social, cultural or technological evolution: both are biological evolutions: the distinction between them is that the one is genetical and the other is not.
What, then, is to be inferred from all this? What lessons are to be learned from the similarities and correspondences between the two systems of biological heredity possessed by human beings? The answer is important, and I shall now try to justify it: the answer, I believe, is almost none.
It is true that a number of amusing (but in one respect highly dangerous) parallels can be drawn between our two forms of heredity and evolution. Just as biologists speak in a kind of shorthand about the ``evolution'' of hearts or ears or legs --- it is too clumsy and long-winded to say every time that these organs participate in evolution, or are outward expressions of the course of evolution --- so we can speak of the evolution of bicycles or wireless sets or aircraft with the same qualification in mind: they do not really evolve, but they are appendages, exosomatic organs if you like, that evolve with us. And there are many correspondences between the two kinds of evolution. Both are gradual if we take the long view; but on closer inspection we shall find that novelties arise, not everywhere simultaneously -- pneumatic tires did not suddenly appear in the whole population of bicycles -- but in a few members of the population: and if these novelties confer economic fitness, or fitness in some more ordinary and obvious sense, then the objects that possess them will spread through the population as a whole and become the prevailing types. In both styles of evolution we can witness an adaptive radiation, a deployment into different environments: there are wireless sets not only for the home, but for us in motor-cars or for carrying about. Some great dynasties die out ---airships, for instance, in common with the dinosaurs they were so often likened to; others become fixed and stable: toothbrushes retained the same design and construction for more than a hundred years. And, no matter what the cause of it, we can see in our exosomatic appendages something equivalent to vestigial organs: how else should we describe those functionless buttons on the cuffs of men's coats?
All this sounds harmless enough: why should I have called it dangerous? The danger is that by calling attention to the similarities, which are not profound, we may forget the differences between our two styles of heredity and evolution; and the differences between them are indeed profound. In their hunger for synthesis and systematization, the evolutionary philosophers of the nineteenth century and some of their modern counterparts have missed the point: they thought that great lessons were to be learnt from the similarities between Darwinian and social evolution; but it is from the differences that all the great lessons are to be learnt. For one thing, our newer style of evolution is Lamarckian in nature. The environment cannot imprint genetical information upon us, but it can and does imprint non-genetical information which we can and do pass on. Acquired characters are indeed inherited. The blacksmith was under an illusion if he supposed that his habits of life could impress themselves upon the genetic make-up of his children; but there is no doubting his ability to teach his children his trade, so that they can grow up to be as stalwart and skillful as himself. It is because this newer evolution is so obviously Lamarckian in character that we are under psychological pressure to believe that genetical evolution must be so too. But although one or two biologists are still feebly trying to graft a Lamarckian or instructive interpretation upon ordinary genetical evolution, they are not nearly so foolish or dangerous as those who have attempted to graft a Darwinian or purely elective interpretation upon the newer, non-genetical, evolution of mankind.
The conception I have just outlined is, I think, a liberating conception. It means that we can jettison all reasoning based upon the idea that changes in society happen in the style and under the pressures of ordinary genetic evolution; abandon any idea that the direction of social change is governed by laws other than laws which have at some time been subject of human decisions or acts of mind. That competition between one man and another is a necessary part of the texture of society; that societies are organisms which grow and must inevitably die; that division of labor within a society is akin to what we can see in colonies of insects; that the laws of genetics have an overriding authority; that social devolution has a direction forcibly imposed upon it by agencies beyond man's control --- all these are biological judgements; but, I do assure you, bad judgements based upon a bad biology. In these lectures you will have noticed that I advocate a ``humane'' solution to the problems of eugenics, particularly of the problems of those who have been handicapped by one or another manifestation of the ineptitude of nature. I have not claimed, and do not now claim, that humaneness is an attitude of mind enforced or authorized by some deep inner law of exosomatic heredity: there are technical reasons for supposing that no such laws can exist. I am not warning you against quack biology in order to set myself up as a rival pedlar of patent medicines. What I do say is that our policies and intentions are not to be based upon the supposition that Nature knows best; that we are at the mercy of natural laws, and flout them at our peril.
It is a profound truth --- realized in the nineteenth century by only a handful of astute biologists and by philosophers hardly at all (indeed, most of those who held and views on the matter held a contrary opinion) --- a profound truth that Nature does not know best; that genetical evolution, if we choose to look at it liverishly instead of with fatuous good humor, is a story of waste, makeshift, compromise and blunder.
I could give a dozen illustrations of this judgement, but shall content myself with one. You will remember my referring to the immunological defenses of the body, the reactions that are set in train by the invasion of the tissues by foreign substances. Reactions of this kind are more than important: they are essential. We can be sure of this because some unfortunate children almost completely lack the biochemical aptitude for making antibodies, the defensive substances upon which so much of resistance to infectious disease depends. Until a few years ago these children died, because only antibiotics like penicillin can keep them alive; for that reason, and because the chemical methods of identifying it have only recently been discovered, the disease I am referring to was only recognized in 1952. The existence of this disease confirms us in our belief that the immunological defenses are vitally important; but this does not mean that they are wonders of adaptation, as they are so often supposed to be. Our immunological defenses are also an important source of injury, even of mortal injury.
For example: vertebrate animals evolved into the possession of immunological defenses long before the coming of the mammals. Mammals are viviparous: the young are nourished for some time within the body of the mother: and this (in some ways) admirable device raised for the first time in evolution the possibility that a mother might react immunologically upon her unborn children --- might treat them as foreign bodies or as foreign grafts. The haemolytic disease that occurs in about one new-born child in 150 is an error of judgement of just this kind: it is, in effect, an immunological repudiation by the mother of her unborn child. Thus the existence of immunological reactions has not been fully reconciled with viviparity; and this is a blunder --- the kind of blunder which, in human affairs, calls for a question in the House, or even a strongly worded letter to The Times.
But this is only a fraction of the tale of woe. Anaphylactic shock, allergy, and hypersensitivity are all aberrations or miscarriages of the immunological process. Some infectious diseases are dangerous to us not because the body fails to defend itself against them but --- paradoxically --- because it does defend itself: in a sense, the remedy is the disease. And within the past few years a new class of diseases has been identified, diseases which have it in common that the body can sometimes react upon its own constituents as if they were foreign to itself. Some diseases of the thyroid gland and some inflammatory diseases of nervous tissue belong to this category; rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and sclerodma may conceivably do so too. [They do. PM] I say nothing about the accidents that used to occur in blood transfusions, immunological accidents; nor about the barriers, immunological barriers, that prevent our grafting skin from one person to another, useful though it would so often be; for transfusion and grafting are artificial processes, and, as I said in an earlier lecture, natural evolution cannot be reproached for failing to foresee what human beings might get up to. All I am concerned to show is that natural devices and dispositions are highly fallible. The immunological defenses are dedicated to the proposition that anything foreign must be harmful; and this formula is ground out in a totally undiscriminating fashion with results that are sometimes irritating, sometimes harmful, and sometimes mortally harmful. It is far better to have immunological defenses than not to have them; but this does not mean that we are to marvel at them as evidences of a high and wise design.
We can, then, improve upon nature but the possibility of our doing so depends, very obviously, upon our continuing to explore into nature and to enlarge our knowledge and understanding of what is going on. If I were to argue the scientists' case, that case that exploration is a wise and sensible thing to do, I should try to convince you of it by particular reasoning and particular examples, each one of which could be discussed and weighed up; some, perhaps, to be found faulty. I should not say: Man is driven onwards by an exploratory instinct, and can only fulfil himself and his destiny by a ceaseless quest for Truth. As a matter of fact, animals do have what might be loosely called an inquisitiveness, an exploratory instinct; but even if it were highly developed and extremely powerful, it would still not be binding upon us. We should not be driven to explore.
Contrariwise, if someone were to plead the virtues of an intellectually pastoral existence, not merely quite but acquiescent, and with no more than a pensive regret for not understanding what could have been understood; then I believe I could listen to his arguments and, if they were good ones, might even be convinced. But if he were to say that this course of action or inaction was the life that was authorized by Nature; that this was the life Nature provided for and intended us to lead; then I should tell him that he had no proper conception of Nature. People who brandish naturalistic principles at us are usually up to mischief. Think only of what we have suffered from a belief in the existence and overriding authority of a fighting instinct; from the doctrines of racial superiority and the metaphysics of blood and soil; from the belief that warfare between men or classes of man or nations represents a fulfilment of historical laws. These are all excuses of one kind or another, and pretty thin excuses. The inference we can draw from an analytical study of the differences between ourselves and other animals is surely this: that the bells which toll for mankind are ---- most of them, anyway --- like the bells on Alpine cattle; they are attached to our own necks, and it must be our fault if they do not make a cheerful and harmonious sound.
Pretense is not necessary in acknowledging that there is an important logical distinction between the phenomena being explained and the theories that purport to explain them. This is the sense in which theories are "autonomous" (although that's not really the right word). It doesn't mean we have to ignore either the sociological or psychological aspects of science, or the embedment of natural phenomena in matters of moral, emotional or spiritual import. It only means that bearing in mind the flow of implication between theory and phenomena is important to constructing good and productive theories and testing them.
You are wrong on many levels. Just flat out incorrect.
The science proscribes a mathematical model. If the science is an instantiation of a mathematical model (and they always are), one can derive a great deal from what has already been proven about all systems of that type. Once the model for a physical phenomenon has been established (at least as a hypothesis), one can immediately constrain the physical phenomenon to the possibilities allowed by the mathematics. To do otherwise would be effectively the same as disavowing mathematics altogether.
You also are apparently unable to distinguish between "application mathematics" and "fundamental mathematics". Applied mathematics are domain specific and only as good as the model they were derived for (i.e. if the science is flawed, the mathematics for the science will naturally be useless though technically correct from the assumptions given). Foundational mathematics underly all possible systems and cannot be casually discarded. You cannot conceive of a system for which these maths do not apply.
When you talk about thermodynamics, you are talking about a specific narrow instantiation of deeply fundamental maths. The lovely thing about this is that I don't need to hear the ridiculous science theory du jour, if it violates the fundamental maths then the assertion is in grave doubt.
BTW, what the hell is "mathematical modeling" exactly? Science proscribes a mathematical model, not the other way around. Math exists independently and science just develops a mathematical expression that is convenient for it within the standard framework.
And since you appear to be out of your depth on this matter, I would point out that the predictive limits of finite algorithmic models is relatively well-understood in mathematics. Or to put it another way, we already know how to measure the limits of what we can and can't know mathematically in a particular instance given the data provided by the science.
And since we are on the subject, have you ever done real science, math, and engineering? You obviously don't grok the relationship between them, though most people don't as a general rule.
Yes, which is why I know that the final word on any area of science or engineering is experimental, not mathematical. I've seen lots of "mathematical proofs" of physical systems blow up in the faces of those proposing them.
You want improbabilities? I'll give you improbabilities! Consider this: In a few days, maybe less, I can put together a complete computer, made out of store-bought, off-the-shelf parts. It will be unique, because I'll mix-and-match things to make a configuration you won't find commercially available. Maybe it will work well, maybe not. But I can built it. All by my little ol' self. When I'm done it will be a technological marvel. What are the odds against that?
Consider this, while you're at it: A computer is useless without a keyboard, or a monitor, or a hard drive. Yet I can buy a complete hard drive (or the other items), ready to add to my computer. A hard drive is absurd by itself, yet I can buy them by the carload! Amazing. What are the odds against that happening?
It's all so improbable that it's quite impossible. When I contemplate the complexities of my computer, and I consider the odds against it, why ... it's as if ... yes, it's as if a tornado in a junkyard resulted in a 747! (How's that for an original analogy?) Hey, get your own dirt!
I've used autonomy expressly to indicate what is modern: to ignore the embedment or flow of implication inherent between the two.
Get a clue, buddy, your flagellum example has already been shown to be NON-irreducibly complex. Furthermore, no one has proposed that any such structure has jumped together simultaneously from individual atoms or proteins (ex nihilo), so you are arguing against some "special creation" scenario not a series of discrete events from an evolutionary sequence of modification and natural selection.
As a grounding point, I would throw in that it is widely believed (in theoretical circles at least) that mathematically random processes don't exist in our universe. A lot of nominally stochastic processes are expressible as the high entropy output of deterministic machinery.
In other words, "randomness" in the universe is actually a limitation of measurement and the Kolmogorov complexity of the machines we use to analyze the universe (brains inclusive).
Only if the science was inadequate to properly characterize the system, or the guys doing the math were idiots and did the math incorrectly.
I would also note that for many kinds of engineering, complex mathematical models without experimental verification is how MOST of the engineering work is done i.e. it will go from design to production without ever existing in the real world. And this includes systems for which a convenient mathematical solutions don't exist e.g. an unsolvable system of differential equations. It is worth pointing out that we use "unsolvable" approximate expressions primarily because the correct solvable expressions are intractrable in application.
If you've kept up in science and engineering at all, you know that more and more of all the science and engineering that is done is mathematically derived rather than experimentally determined. Not only is it more accurate in practice, but often cheaper as well since computing power doesn't cost much these days. It is why all sciences now have a subfield called "computational field", which is slowly taking over many laboratory functions of science. We still do experiments occasionally to see if the science was right on the fringe where the science is uncertain, but for most well-studied areas of science one does not need to verify a mathematical derivative.
I'm still waiting for an example where science is not subject to mathematical derivation. But since that would mean that mathematics was fundamentally flawed, I'm not holding my breath. Mathematics only produces garbage if the science that uses it is garbage.
Yes. Cards with velcro that works for some combinations but not others. After a few shuffles, you get the ordered sorting you're looking for. That example was originally from jennyp.
No. What I'm showing [for those who are slow-or-unwilling to grasp concepts] is that when you have component parts that already exist, you can assemble larger structures without the need to simultaneously re-invent each sub-component. So if you factor in the use of previously existing sub-assemblies, as nature does, your model collapses.
No. Most probabilistic models are continuous. You should study Itô's work to see what is really going on.
It's generally accepted I think that quantum phenomena are random.
It is only treated this way statistically for many practical purposes. Nothing in our universe is inconsistent with a purely deterministic model, and certain properties of the universe are only expressed in deterministic systems which lends some credence to the concept. Quantum phenomenon in particular have been formulated as expressions of deterministic processes (whether those specific formulations map to reality is unknown -- they only prove the possibility). Papers have been published on this.
There are many classes of simple finite state systems that cannot be perceived as anything but random even if you had an intelligent machine with the full state space of a finite universe at your disposal. For example, strong cryptography is premised on this fact and uses algorithms with exactly this property.
Solomonoff induction is one of the most brutally limiting concepts in mathematics, and somewhat analogous to the incompleteness theorem but in systems theory. There are a great many things about any finite state system that can never be known from within that same system. Quantum phenomena my very well fall under this umbrella such that even if we can know that it is deterministic in fact, we can never treat it as such as a practical matter because we cannot measure the state of any particular instance.
Demonstrating that a process is finite state to extremely high certainty is cheap and trivial. Determining the actual state of the same process is typically intractable.
No, that's not correct. The state evolves determinstically according to the theory but the state is not the observable. The observable phenomena are "generated" from the state in a random manner, again according to the theory. It is not a matter of practicality - there is currently no better description.
Ermmm, you almost said what I said (I probably wasn't clear). I'll rephrase.
We can mathematically test that the system is extremely likely to be deterministic i.e. not mathematically random. However, we are (perhaps just currently) incapable of measuring or reverse engineering the state for most systems. Without knowledge of the state the system will appear random, not because it necessarily IS random but because induction is intractable, as it often is.
Strong PRNGs are good classical examples of this. Cryptographically strong PRNGs are generally very simple deterministic processes, yet there exists no possible machine in our universe that can discern the deterministic nature of these processes without knowledge of the internal state (for the good ones anyway). As a result, we have to accept these processes as "random" for all practical purposes when they are not random by definition.
Our inability to see inside the state of quantum processes forces us to model them as "random", yet there is substantial evidence that these are in fact deterministic processes that are merely intractable from the standpoint of Solomonoff induction. Therefore, we treat them as "random" even if we know they probably are not from a strictly technical standpoint.
The importance of the distinction is that "random" and "deterministic" have VERY different consequences from a theoretical standpoint. It does not matter that we cannot discern the state of quantum processes, merely knowing whether or not they are deterministic is immensely important and powerful. More so than most people imagine. It is what puts hard limits on what is possible in our universe.
Having quantum processes that are truly random describes a universe that is wildly different from quantum processes that are deterministic but merely beyond the predictive limits of our machinery to discern.
Without knowledge of the state the system will appear randombut according to the theory we can have complete knowledge of the state of a system and (certain) measurements will still yield random results.
As to your claim that having quantum processes that are truly random describes a universe that is wildly different from quantum processes that are deterministic that seems very unlikely to me.
Therefore, computers are impossible. Or miracles.
Buzzzzzz, wrong. Do you need some instruction in how to use Google or are you just blind to the facts?
Accompanied by a large number of attempts.
All 50 proteins:...
You are misinformed, there can be wide variation in flagella's, as evidenced by the fact that there are, in fact, a wide variety of flagella extant in various creatures. Where there can be variation, there can be selection. See "Finding Darwin's God", by Miller, for a blow-by-blow account of Behe's failed predictions on this subject.
Such arguments suffer badly when forced to come to grips with the real world. Much of the functionality of our genetic heritage is really rather flexibly manifest in the architecture of our folded protein structures, which will often still be quite functional with a few random hits in the exact composition of the generative DNA chain. This means we, as a population with dominents and recessives, can end up with a toolkit of nearly-alike genes, any one of which might suddenly be heavily favored by natural selection, in a mere couple of generations after a traumatic major change in the environment.
& give some thought to what the immune system does--producing overnight a brand-spanking new protein in response to an invading virus.
The model you are working with to produce these bogus odds-calculations is an insult to the richness of the field of discourse it pretends to describe.
Remember that "random" means utterly discontinuous functions of time.
That is not what "random" means. You may be referring to the particular case of uniform continuous distributions. But if so, it still sounds kinda garbled. Distributed over time is merely one possible attribute of a random function, and it's unclear to me what it means to be "discontinuously" distributed over time. I think you might be meaning to say: NOT a function of time at all.
...which might, or might not, mean a uniform continuous distribution. If it does, then this is, I think, your strongest argument. Assuming it is, I will point out that, while mutational change appears to be random with a uniform continuous distribution (but probably isn't quite). The resultant mutated population that gets to breed is decidedly a mean distribution with a strong central tendency, because the outliers have been eliminated by natural selection.
At some point if the improbabilities become too large then theory becomes insufficient.
You weren't there, Behe wasn't there, and Dembski wasn't there. You cannot construct a meaningful calculation of the odds against an event, if you can't rigorously specify the state-space and the selection criteria--and you can't.
Given that, there is a scientific rule of thumb that says: "don't bet on miracles, it ain't paid off yet one single time". Which suggests lots of small steps with small odds against, and lots of time to throw the dice, and, we suspect, extrapolating from the behavior of the immune system, decidedly crooked dice, on top of all that.
No they aren't. Behe's foundational arguments, particularly with respect to the flagellum example, have been torn to shreads by subsequent (and some not-so-subsequent) scientific findings. See Miller Op. Cit. for the gruesome details.
However, continuous random distributions, followed by winnowing through a selection criteria, to create a mean distribution with a central tendency, is all you need. It doesn't take rocket science to realize that an environent sculpts a plastic population in a direction to better survive in that environment.
If it's impossible for you to calculate the future, in any far-reaching sense, why should you care if it's predestined or not? You can presently predict where the earth will be in respect to the sun in 25 years--do you think that that will prevent you from enjoying the fall leaves in 25 years?
At the end of each path which has creatures, said creatures can all look back and say "Goodness--look at the odds against our particular outcome".
I believe it leads them to put meat on the table more reliably. And that those who believe things that are sub-optimal, are sub-optimal meat-getters, who tend to die out along with their belief systems.
I see most belief as hubris.
I see it as human. Some are better, or luckier, at it than others.
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