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

Gil Hardwick (
Thu, 25 May 1995 05:56:53 GMT

In article <>, John Wilkins ( writes:
>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 apologise. You are making a distinction here between "scientists";
that is, the offspring of industrialists funded by their industry,
and "industrial capitalism" itself, which I had not been doing.

Excuse me that I am just a tad confused about how you can legitimately
separate children from their parents in anthropology, and then go on to
assert that one class of person is quite different from the other, in
particular with respect to all the other world cultures we must of
necessity take into our account.

You cite here even 18c France and "lower middle class Britain", yet
at no time do you offer us as examples substantiating your claim to
independent reliability of data from other cultures entirely. Even
were we to cite such an advanced culture as the Chinese in evidence,
without at all bothering with these "Stone Age" cultures like we have
here in Australia, at not time is the strength of association of
evolutionary theory with industrialised Europe weakened one iota.

Perhaps you will want to argue rather on which came first, industry
or evolutionary theory, yes?

>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

Ah so! "Science" is distinct from "general culture", is it? Or do you
merely suggest that a relatively few individuals had set themselves
apart from the "general culture" on the basis of their own idea that
they were pursuing something else again called "science".

Or are you suggesting merely that our observations of nature preceed
our politicising of the intellectual constructs so derived. I cannot
agree with you more! That is precisely what I am attempting here to
discuss with you, in fact! Let me assure you that every culture does
it differently, by definition; industrialising Europe coming up with
evolutionary theory as distinct, say, from 4th century Christianity
arising from the violent decay and collapse of Rome.

Do you wonder, John Wilkins, that people quite legitimately raise
their eyebrows at all this humbug so plainly pursued in the realm of
pure logic, selecting out and reifying only those facts which appear
able to sustain it against the unrelenting encroachments of "general

Perhaps stand back and look at the WHOLE, yes?

>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

Science has no more "duality" than you yourself choose to assert in
constructing your argument. I will say one thing for your dear friend
Rindos; that he himself decries such duality and has been observed to
rant against it right there at Steve's Hotel in Nedlands, in fact.

>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

All you are arguing here is that there is no real commensurability of
all these different people's points of view. You reify their various
constructs as being above and beyond the minds that created them, as
if they had provided you with an entirely separate set of concrete and
material entities which can be subjected to the same empirical tests
accepted as standard method in science.

You assert no more here than different world views (nice big word,
this "weltanshauungen") being "put up against science", presupposing
unilaterally there that the problematic you address is *a priori* to
the construct.

No, I say to you that it is only * a posteriori* to your constructed

Now, the question to my mind is what empirical facts are there to
support this idea of inherent conflict between science and other ways
of looking at the world. I get the same thing from those of religious
persuasion, expressed in particular in the Judeo-Christian idea of
_persecution_ from which this very position on science derives!

To persuade me that this is not so, you need to be able to explain the
behaviour of the very many other established scientists who simply
take it all in their stride, found among very many diverse cultures

Otherwise, let me suggest to you that you are not being persecuted
for your views as such, merely raising eyebrows and attracting our
ridicule for your paranoid obsession with defending so aggressively
and vigorously only the one extremely limited, and self-limiting
weltanshuuang indeed!

Come outside and play, eh? Get a life!

>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 you are free to abandon your superstitions of science as you
see fit, Mr Wilkins, leaving others free to do the same as they so
choose without you worrying so about them.

In the meantime, if it pleases you, let me say to you that the world
is indeed supported on the back of a giant elephant. The elephant in
turn is supported on the back of a giant turtle, which itself stands
on the back of another giant turtle in turn. After that, Sahib, very
goodness gracious me, it is turtles all the way down . . .

>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.

Ah, but here you cast this mere intellectual construct as an active
agent against a real person, or group of persons. I shall ask you once
more, Mr Wilkins, what differentiates persons who take up evolutionary
theory as a bludgeon against others, from those who take up religious
dogma as a bludgeon against others?

The *Darwinian* view is copping it in reprisal now, while the view of
the Church was copping it in reprisal way back then. In order to come
to terms with such reliably observed behaviour among real people out
there I can only suppose the "sui generis" approach to start with, and
then look more closely to see what else I can shake out of the data.

Surely you can accept that I would start my analysis with relatively
indifferentiated masses of data, then by deploying standard methods of
disciplined enquiry to uncover what informatioin it might contain on
the behaviour of the people currently under scrutiny.

My only assumptions in attempting to keep the survey within managable
proportions are those discussed and discussed again at length with my
colleagues, so as to present as unbiased (i.e, fair and reasonable) a
report as possible.

But that's fair, isn't it? What we miss this time around we can pick
up next time.

>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.

I have no question with biology; never have. There is no reason to
suppose that anthropology is any less rigorous ("hard") than biology
either, for that matter.

That has never been at issue here on sci.anthropology. Rather we are
continually being confronted, extremely rudely and aggressively I must
add, with a few who insist that the overlap between two disciplines
offers them open invitation to attack the mainstream of anthropology,
and in particular abuse us who focus our attention on the social and
cultural aspects of humankind.

I merely insist, in reply, that the distinctions are no more than
administrative convenience pursued by the Universities, while out
here in the field there is a great deal of interdisciplinary work we
have long been joining. Your problem, Mr Wilkins, is institutional not

In real life I insist that I be allowed to remain free to make up my
own mind on particular issues, and where it is appropriate to point
out to others that the vocabulary is often becoming confused. I have
asserted here repeatedly that those who are studying primate sociology
please do so elsewhere so as to free up the language of anthropology
for other work we have at hand.

Which they proceeded to do, in fact, by having their own newsgroup
sci.anthropology.paleo constituted as a subdomain of sci.anthropology.

Only a determined extremist minority in the process got the whole
thing by the short and curlies, and decided unilaterally that nobody
is to raise such issues in anthropology, and were they ever to dare
then they must necessarily be ostracised and rejected outright from
all further involvement with their own colleagues.

>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
> flame wars).

You agree that we are dealing here with people, Mr Wilkins? Wonders
will never cease!

Now that we have got you to that point, does it seems possible to
you that people might be taught to behave better than they do? Or do
you too insist that they must be allowed to just behave any way they
feel like it on no better excuse than that evolutionary theory has
shown that they have advanced biologically to this point and nothing
can be done about it?

That such teaching might be inherent in the great religions of the
world? That internalising certain standards of morality and good
behaviour taught through religious (socially binding) thoughts and
ideas might very well make them better scientists into the bargain?

>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.

To what personal war with the anthro-l crowd do you refer, Mr Wilkins?

The facts are that the "list-owner", one Hugh Jarvis, had me kicked
off we know now as part of his campaign against Western Australian
anthropologists. For my part it was immediately for daring to query
the usefullness of evolutionary theory in anthropology, and then
(Shock! Horror!) for daring to stand up against the abuse forthcoming
as a result.

>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.

You read a book on anthropology once? Goodness very gracious me, I
can't believe this. It showed that we are all Marxist atheists and
moral relativists, did it? Astonishing!

We know already that you have not read Foucault, and that you have
in fact expressed your utter horror here that anyone else should have
bothered to read him either, but surely some grounding in our work
beyond some book you read once would far better serve your purpose.

Assuming that it is sci.anthropology in which you want to participate
and not another of these unrelenting flame wars you
people find glee in spreading across to this group from time to time.

>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.

Oh, are you saying here that he had fully made up his mind at that
age, and was only persuaded to change his views later? Sounds like
you are attacking the thing from some religious conversion model of
behaviour, instead of the normal life-cycle maturation I would very
strongly suggest to you as far more reliable.

Undergraduates and young graduates, and I would insist the wad of
education tunnel doctorates into the bargain, have nowhere near a
sufficiuent life-experience for them to be able to conclude one way
of another what life is about at that age. The young Darwin was
plainly no exception, and only found a place on the expediation at
all as a near also-ran through own his teacher's contacts and his
father's influence in certain social circles.

The Doctor, I remind you, apart from his medical practice was a usurer
of the first order to the declining landed aristocracy of the day.

Only the contemporary West, I tell you, has been so foolish as to
set up a system of education which rewards the average intellect from
the moneyed classes and then goes on to insist that those who survive
the process for the full twelve years to Tertiary entry, then the four
years to an Honours degree, and another three to seven years pursuing
a doctorate, are somehow the brightest students we have.

Utter crud nonsense! What we plainly observe then AND now are the
arch-conformists in each new generation being squeezed by the
Establishment through a machine like so many sausages, and making
utter and complete fools of themselves the moment they come out and
are faced with the empirical reality of the real world.

All other cultures esteem the elderly for their accumulated wisdom
and substantial knowledged gained over a whole lifetime, regarding
all these juvenile pretenders like I do myself, as just a bunch of

Up in the desert they are made to sit and be quiet while their elders
are speaking, else go off and fool around with some girls somewhere, or
whatever other juvenile fancy takes their attention.

>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).

Well yes, I agree with you on this point. But I must add that he was
able to survive the process through his own family's standing in the
society of the day. Were you to bother doing any substantial field
anthropology on elites, on the other hand, or further to study the
actual distribution of high intellect as the opportunity had arisen
during the Mensa experiment (further refined and enhanced by the work
of my own colleague Chris Harding, for example), you will soon find
that there is no correlation whatsoever between high intellectual
achievement and social standing.

The vast wad of Darwin's age-peers and contemporaries were the usual
common or garden variety idiots, as you'd expect to find in any other
population sample. The question arises, again, on the reasons the
similarly high achievements (using your own definition here, Mr
Wilkins) of the "lower orders" are so systematically suppressed.

Or do you propose that it is only the best intellects from among the
moneyed classes capable of high achievement? Or that the expeditions
mounted by said moneyed classes are the only ones at all capable of
gathering reliable field data? Interesting that these Americans so
favour such a research model, and as consistently make fools of
themselves when confronted with facts from lifetimes of field research
by local people in their own area, for free.

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

I'm glad you said, "I think", Mr Wilkins. You have no evidence that
Charles Darwin was any more acute an observer than any other person
of his intellectual stature. The only difference is that he got away
with it through his powerful social contacts, while the vast number
of scientists every bit as good are systematically oppressed.

>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?

Well, sure, you can go off on a tangent and cite any number of others
who choose violence as their preferred means of getting their point
across. But that neither excludes nor excuse evolutionary theorists
who chose the same option. I merely tell you, once again (and again
and again and again if I must) that such behaviour is NOT science.

>No comment on this hobby horse.

You don't have to make any comment. From my own point of view their
behaviour has nevertheless to be explained. I don't know at all why
they should be excluded from anthropological enquiry, nor suppose
that they should be cast *a priori* above the wad of humanity.

In particular, I am very interested indeed to monitor their impact
on others; not merely myself in this particular case but including the
entire world system of institutionalised and dependent industrialism
as it sucks up the planets resources and systematically destroys all
who query its long term viability. But that's a more general concern,
isn't it.

So all you people can keep this going as long as you want. It is all
grist to the mill . . .