Evolutionary theory (WAS Re: Evidence for "Big Bang Theory")

John Wilkins (wilkins@wehi.edu.au)
Tue, 23 May 1995 10:19:17 +1000

In article <858@landmark.iinet.net.au>, gil@landmark.iinet.net.au (Gil Hardwick)

: In article <wilkins-1705951018240001@mac213.wehi.edu.au>, John Wilkins
(wilkins@wehi.edu.au) writes:
: >True enough, but I think that there was no conspiracy as implied by the
: >"Wedgewood/Darwin family" parenthesis. That this family was capitalist
: >industrialist is plain, but the base conditions from which Darwin wrote
: >don't explain why Wallace, from very different conditions, came up with
: >substantially the same theory. Moreover, Lamarck wrote well within the
: >established church, and was from very different times and environment, and
: >though his is not what we would call a Darwinian theory, it *was* a theory
: >of evolution.
: But John, we simply do not have Wallace and Lamarck jammed down our
: throats by the Education Industry as the Heroes of the Revolution.

Sure, but I was arguing against your implicit assertion that evolutionary theory
en soi is the result of capitalist industrialism, a view often repeated and
occasionally argued for with evidence, but which is too simplistic by half
(IMO). That counter examples exist from outside an industrial culture (ie,
18thC France and lower middle class Britain) tend to weaken the linkage.
And as to what the Education Industry may jam, I've done ten years study
in the history and philosophy of science, and Darwin *never* came up until
postgraduate level. But one cannot generalise from one's own experience, I
guess. Physics, now, that's another story...
: I grant that my use of "conspiracy" can as easily be interchanged
: with "stupidity", but that does nothing to explain the systematic
: and systemic use of their theories by the Politically Inspired in
: their rampage against us.
: Surely you will agree, that were all of that effort directed to our
: edification we would have long ago been invited to think about what
: was being said, to examine ideas critically and seek presentation of
: facts in their support.

I agree that politics is what gave some impetus to the spread of evolutionary
(but not necessarily Darwinian) ideas in general culture. However, the science
was not determined by the politics, although it clearly influenced the range of
possibilities to be considered by scientists in their research. In France, the
idea of natural selection was essentially rejected (even Monod seemed
antipathetic to it). In Germany, it continued to have overtones of teleology and
directed evolution. In the US, while the biological theory was accepted the
caricature of Spencer's social philosophy took root and often overshadowed the
biological model. And until Fisher and Wright, it was broadly thought that
Mendelian genetics have shown that selection could not accounted for biological

Science has a duality of social and intellectual, and the two realms are not
irrevocably linked. Popper (wrong about so many things but close enough to be
thought provoking) said that there was a "logic of the situation" that was
counter to or uncoupled from the sociological and psychological forces
involved. I think he overstated his case, but there remains the fact that the
"logic" of science has crossed over cultural boundaries. The reason we do not
canvass contrary ideas in science has less to do with Feyerabend's "hegemony"
of imperial intellectual dominance and more to do with the fact that many
ideas often promoted as competitive mythologies are in fact views
supplanted and abandoned by science for good reasons. There is no real
commensurability of astrology and astronomy, nor Hindu and Hawking's
cosmologies, nor empirical research versus biblical literalism, nor any of
the other Weltanschauungen so commonly put up against science. [I sometime
wish that some satirist would write about a world in which these views
*were* true -- imagine what it would be like. We'd abandon these
superstitions of science, and "learn" that the world was supported on a
turtle and that the sky was a brass dome and the sun pulled by white
horses, that the stars were deities that influenced our individual and
corporate destinies, that disease was due to evil spirits and bad karma...
A proposal for Terry Pratchett :-)]

: Surely we would also have been allowed to compare the ideas with the
: ideas of others, never fearing for one moment that we should be
: beaten for it, or subjected to court hearings, and all the rest of
: that nonsense.

To which I have two general points: heredoxy has always been disadvantaged; and
evolutionary theory is hardly in the role of Savronarola or the Inquisition. As
to comparison of ideas -- coming from a humanities perspective of theology,
sociology, philosophy and history, it was the *Darwinian* view that was
parodied and pilloried and straw men constructed for easy disposal. The "sui
generis" approach to society and culture was the one assumed, and I was argued
out of it by osmosis.

Biology, like any full science, is *hard*. It has extensive unique vocabularies
and methods, and dealing as it does with the realm of the particular,
there are
a mountain of specific details to learn. There's the maths (my own Achilles
heel). But you *can* find out about it if you try, there's no secrecy other
than proficiency provides. It took me about three years to become familiar, and
I can recommend some good books if you like.
: In short, if this scientific interpretation is if such substance,
: why are its proponents so insistently violent and abusive in its
: propagation.

Because, they're people. People of all persuasions have this awful tendency to
act abusively and without manners. And often they are the more urbane even in
their battles with each other, than those who claim science has abandoned
this or that fundamental truth of morality or methodology (I'm thinking of
talk.origins flame wars).
: Please don't sit there telling us that the public are stupid, and
: need to be beaten and kicked into line else never to be granted any
: standing as scientists and scholars; indeed intelligent, knowledgable,
: well-informed and thoughtful people in any event.

I don't know what you are talking about. If it's your personal war with the
anthro-l crowd, I'm not interested. Otherwise, apart from the open
exchange and promotion of publicly held views, I've never seen evidence of
such a conspiracy, apart from the usual politics of academe, which goes in
all directions equally.

: >I'm not sure what you mean by this, but I strongly disagree that
: >evolutionary theory is tautologous. This is usually due to a literal
: >reading of the Spencerian phrase "survival of the fittest", but when it is
: >fleshed out, the resulting formulations (there are more than one) are
: >anything *but* tautologies. See Elliot Sober's _The Nature of Selection_
: >for a good discussion.
: I'll not argue with you on this point. Somebody, however, appears to
: be doing a damned poor job of explaining things to the rest of us. I
: grant that it may be their own arguments which are tautological, but
: that merely serves to confirm my position.

I read a book on anthropology once -- it showed me that all anthropologists are
Marxist atheists and moral relativists. That I can't understand what
anthropology is all about merely serves to confirm my [a priori] opinion.
: >And here I must totally disagree. The _Origin of Species_ has case after
: >case of well documented examples, and the unfinished and never published
: >major work of Darwin (forget the name right now) was an exmaple of almost
: >obsessive documentation. Moreover, Darwin had developed the theory as a
: >result or *direct* researches and observation, and was forced to his
: >position by the incongruity of the data he collected on the voyage of the
: >Beagle -- somehting he was uniquely in a position to see, at least until
: >Wallace went to the Malay archipelago.
: Sorry, but Darwin made his observations and wrote specifically within
: the discursive framework he carried about with him through all of his
: travels. He took so long to finally come out with it NOT through the
: weight of evidence that he had accumulated YEARS BEFORE, but because
: in his advancing maturity as a human, he was finally able to overcome
: his own dread of being disinherited, and ostracised as a gentleman of
: some standing in his own social circle.

Sorry, but Darwin commenced on his voyage a committed literalist and follower
of Lyell, and although his tutor Grant had introduced him to Lamarck and St
Hilaire, and he had known of the _Vestiges_, he was not alone in any of these
and yet it was him and not others who came up with the theory of natural
selection. It was not until *after* the voyage he changed his mind and not for
some time after he actually formulated natural (and sexual) selection.

So why did he opt for transmutation? True, the zoologists findings
surprised him; the mockingbirds and tortoises _could_ be seen as immigrants
that had settled in differently on each island. ... But they need not have
been. No one else saw them this way, not Gould or Lyell... [Desmond and
Moore _Darwin_ 221]

Darwin was unique in that he was the first to overcome some of the
essentialist prejudices of his contemporaries. Unlike Ruse, who thinks
that Darwin was a pure child of his age, I think he was some time ahead of
it, simply *because* he was so committed to the intellectual realm of
science and observation, without subordinating it to the poolitical
correctness of the time (read: Anglican orthodoxy). I think that Darwin
was, like Aristotle, a supreme observer, but after the Rob Roy debacle was
slow to jump to conclusions, and though he had a weight of evidence for
years, and the glimmerings of transmutation, his explanation of the
process took a long time to form and check. This is pure science at its

: : >: Admittedly were it capable of standing alone in any more substantial
: >: manner than we have experienced historically, I myself would be very
: >: interested in the idea myself. As it stands, it is simply not worth
: >: all the resources taken up pursuing it any further.
: >
: >A personal judgement you are entitled to make. I'm equally entitled to
: >think you wrong on that matter, but I am pleased to see that you are open
: >at least to the possibility that evolutionary theory might have something
: >to contribute.
: As always open minded on the matter, as you are already well aware
: John. But for your part you yet have to explain the need for such
: insistent violence among the theory's proponents. If it is so
: substantial, surely it can rest on the evidence.

As it does. As for violence, it is not the evolutionist who bombs abortion
clinics and kills doctors, or kills hundreds of people as a "political
statement" against the lawfully constituted government. So you must mean
some sort of metaphor: what that is, is unclear. Forceful statements of
personal views on matters of public debate do not constitute violence. Can
you elucidate?
: >Along with any other academic discipline that has developed since the
: >universities were church properties, ie, since about 1600.
: Looks like we are arriving back right here to my original enquiries
: as to the behaviour of academics which had originally got me kicked
: off ANTHRO-L, and took me all the way through the Supreme Court and
: Lord knows whatever else they had wanted to dish out.

No comment on this hobby horse.
: Just goes to show that if one sticks to one's guns long enough,
: finally the debate comes around to addressing the topic at hand.
: I have to go, else my wife will miss her bus.
: Your article will be printed out and I will have a further look at it
: when I get back.

I look forward to some constructive feedback.

Note: I've trimmed sci.astro and alt.astrology from the distribution.

John "Chris" Wilkins, Assoc. Prof. of Recent Runes, Uni of Ediacara
Also: Head of Communication Services, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
Home Page: http://www.wehi.edu.au/~wilkins/www.html
"When everything seems planned out | When everything seems nicely planned
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