Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scientific Communities Reluctance To Consider Alternative Thoughts

Charles Darwin’s theories are accepted almost unanimously in the science world, however this seems to cause a contradiction. In an article titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn discusses the effects of normal science. Kuhn argues that through this structure limited efforts are made through science to find new explanations of events, but is instead just to entrench old thoughts (Kuhn, 1962). He argues that accepted paradigms in science are built into scientific thought and scientific procedures are similar to that of building a puzzle that has set pieces (Kuhn, 1962). In addition to the structural problems with the process, when tests show certain results, they are generally discarded as anomalies (Kuhn, 1962). In order for there to be a change in scientific thought a scientific crisis has to occur, which has a strong effect on those inside the community (Kuhn, 1962).
This type of thought could be seen in how Darwin’s theories have been so entrenched in the thoughts of the scientific community that any tests that show differences in opinion are often discarded. The ideas that Darwin presented created a scientific crisis, which lead to the paradigm (which he did not create on his own, but for which he was a major advocate) of natural selection and sexual selection becoming widely accepted in the community. Even individuals that do not necessarily agree with sexual selection still agree with natural selection. Doctor Joan Roughgarden who is the subject of another blog post as well, states at the beginning of one of her articles about the problems with sexual selection:
May a biologist in these polarized times dare suggest that Darwin is a bit wrong about anything? Even worse, does a biologist risk insult, ridicule, anger and intimidation to suggest that Darwin is incorrect on a big issue? We have a test case before us. Darwin appears completely mistaken in his theory of sex roles, a subject called ‘the theory of sexual selection’ (Roughgarden, 2007, p. 23).
Later on in the article Roughgarden discusses the backlash that her criticism of Darwin have lead to (Roughgarden, 2007, p. 36). This further proves Kuhn’s point about science, that it is not necessarily about exploring other aspects of theories and paradigms, but instead moving forward to further solidify their place in the scientific community. Instead of embracing change that could create controversy, the scientific community may actually be trying to resist it.
Note: For a short synopsis of Thomas Kuhn’s article by Professor Frank Pajares please visit Then click “extras”, then click “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”
Roughgarden, J. (2007). “Challenging Darwin’s Theory of Sexual Selection”. In Daedalus, 136(2), pp. 23-36.
Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Synopsis by Pajares, F. Retrieved January 30th, 2010 from the Communications 260 website at:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arguments Against Darwinism

Darwin’s theory of evolution states that “every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that, if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair”. From this premise, to which there is “no exception,” there “inevitably follows” (chapter III, p53 my copy) a struggle for existence in which only the most fit will survive to procreate and pass on their genes. If Darwin’s theory is true then such a struggle would be seen in all species at all times; however, in the case of the human species, such a struggle is clearly not taking place. Contemporary human society has, by and large, developed innumerable institutions, religions, laws customs and codes and etc. all of which are specifically designed to nurture and protect those least able to protect themselves. The existences of social constructs that protect the weak are obviously incompatible with Darwin’s “inevitable” struggle for existence in which only the strong survive.
Darwin’s theory of evolution claims to be universal in its scope: applicable to all species at all times. From this follows that if it makes a statement regarding the human species, that is not true now, then it is simply not true; if the theory is not true of a single species, then it is not true of all – end of story.
Logic aside, one might respond that human beings are no longer living in a Hobbesian “state of nature” that is necessary for evolution, natural selection and survival of the fittest to play a part. However Darwin’s theory states that it is impossible for a species to ever free itself from the process of natural selection because of two inescapable tendencies to which all species are subject: the tendency of all organisms to increase to the limit that food supply allows, and the tendency to inheritable mutations. Taken together, these tendencies create what philosopher David Stowe calls in his book Darwinian Fairytales, “universal and permanent natural selection among competitors (pg, 2). Living in such a state of nature would make human procreation, let alone exponential expansion, extremely improbable due to the extended period of human gestation and subsequent rearing of vulnerable young to maturity. These prolonged periods would make any adult male more vulnerable to those who had neither women nor child to feed; said another way, the human tendency towards cooperation must have always outweighed that towards competition or the species would not have been able to make it as far as it has.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Misunderstanding of the Social Structure

Darwin was born in an upper middle class family and had never truly experienced poverty. He might have seen himself as belonging to the strongest social group, which might can cultivated his point of view that to “let the strongest live and the weakest die” (p. 220) is a process of natural selection. However, he was wrong because he might not have known the social structure very well. If there were no lower class, then there would also be no middle class and upper class. Darwin did not understand that much of the wealth of the middle class and upper class is created by the lower class. For instance, the people from upper or middle class would exploit the lower class people in many areas, such as hard labor, low wage, and heavy taxation. Thus, if the lower class (weakest) disappeared, the upper or middle class would no longer be the strongest. In other words, if people are in an equal position, then the people from the upper class would also have to do the things which the people from the lower class used to do. However, people from the upper or middle class might not have the ability to do many things that the lower class people do because they are used to commanding the lower class people to do what they did not want to do. Also, since the upper or middle class people are used to high positions and living in ease and comfort, they might not be able to perform manual or physical works. Actually, physically the lower class people should be stronger than the upper and middle class people.
Because of the social background at that time, the upper-middle class women were probably physically much weaker than the lower class women. Those women did not have to do any work and also did not know how to work, so without money and support from their families, these women might not have been able to survive on their own. Darwin’s wife was also an upper-middle class woman, so without her family wealth and background, she also would not be able to survive. The reason that his wife belonged to the strongest social group is because of her family; it was not natural and instead it was because of human factor. If his wife were left in the nature, she might have been the weakest, and I believe that Darwin did not mean that his wife should die. At the same time, Darwin might also have been a merciless person. When he wrote the statement “let the strongest live and the weakest die”, it reflects that he might just care about people in high social position, and that the people in the lower class might have meant nothing to him. To take a step further, only to “let the strongest live and the weakest die” is also unethical. Are only the people from upper and middle class human being? People that are weak also have their rights to live. Actually, in the reality, governments always try to help the lower class or weaker people to deal with their problems. Thus, when we apply Darwinism to the real society, it is also inaccurate.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perhaps what bothers me most about Darwin’s rhetoric in On the Origin of Species not so much his questionable use of rhetoric to replace empirical data. Nor is it his often contradictory passages that may be a result of a hastily written work. Rather, it is Darwin’s use of what one might call “Whig” vocabulary. Darwin often uses terms such as “advancement” in relation to natural selection and survival of the fittest, very much in keeping with the modern, mechanistic, and forward looking Whig party who used such terms in order to justify the English Imperial agenda of commercial expansion and exploitation of “backwards,” “uncivilized” and ultimately inferior cultures. As much as the vocabulary of the On the Origin of Species closely resembles the world view of contemporary English politics, it also seems to subtlety mirror another pillar of English culture: Christianity.
In many passages of the On the Origin Darwin seems at pains to impart the random and unceasing qualities of both natural selection and survival of the fittest; However, to speak of the “advancement of all organic beings” (pg. 220) unfailingly brings to this readers mind not only the rhetoric of Whigism, but also that of Christianity. Advancement implies to me movement towards a goal, a teleology that implies an endpoint, a perfecting of a system; such perfection can not help but summon up the Christian diety who both embodies and demands at least the attempt to live according to “His” will. This puts me in mind of the what I see as the most interesting sentence of the whole book and can be found at the end of chapter III where he writes that, “we may console ourselves with the full belief, that war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply”(pg. 79). How Christian is that

The Poetic and Religious Aspects of Darwin

One of the most prominent results of Darwin’s theory is the fact that there is no goal, plan or purpose to evolution. Organisms simply evolve based on what characteristics are most advantageous in any particular habitat at any particular time. In the grand scheme of things, one cannot say that life is going in any particular direction for any particular overarching reason other than what is immediately necessary to live in any particular place. Darwin’s theory therefore, in a sense, does not really leave room for life, including human life, to be inherently or eternally meaningful or purposeful. Human religion, on the other hand, typically takes it upon itself to discuss how and why life is inherently meaningful. Because of this, it would seem at first glance as though Darwinism and religion oppose one another on this point quite seriously.
However, I would like to argue that Darwin himself did not necessarily allow the idea of the meaninglessness of life that logically extends from his theory to penetrate the larger scope of his writing. Darwin was an intensely poetic, and in many ways, religious writer. The term religious, in this context, is intended to imply a sense of existence being purposeful and important.
When Darwin discusses how natural selection works, he repeatedly uses the term ‘struggle for existence.’ He goes on to elaborate on how organisms compete with one another to the point where some will lose, and therefore die, and some will win existence as their reward for being victorious in the ‘struggle.’ What this terminology does is set up of a conflict, wherein opposing sides battle in order to win a specific coveted award. If there is no inherent meaning or purpose to evolution and life, then why would Darwin choose such poetic language, that more than anything implies order and significance to the entire process? Darwin also uses the term ‘advancement’, namely in his chapter on instinct. What exactly does advancement imply, other than advancement towards some kind of goal? If Darwin simply means advancement relative to what a particular habitat requires for life to succeed, then in my opinion, advancement is too grandiose and implicative of overarching direction to fit what Darwin intends to say.
Through these examples, it can be seen how Darwin’s use of poetic and ‘religious’ language is in many cases, at odds with certain aspects and implications of his theory.

Darwin: How His Rhetoric Takes Away From His Point

As pointed out by Doctor Stephen Ogden, Charles Darwin is very extremely entrenched in his viewpoint that there is nothing else besides natural selection. This type of thought is very problematic from a scientific point of view. Scientific discovery is supposed to be about presenting facts and backing them up with different empirical and observational data. Unfortunately in Darwin’s Origin of Species (2009), he strays away from settling on facts and heavily focuses on rhetoric to bolster his argument. It is understood, once again as stated by Dr. Ogden, that Darwin is writing in at a time when this book would have been read more as a novel and not necessarily as a scholarly text as it is used today. However, to me this is not a satisfactory response to the problem with the way the book is presented. As an example Darwin states:
But we may go further than this; for as new forms are continually and slowly being produced, unless we believe that the number of specific forms goes on perpetually and almost indefinitely increasing, numbers inevitably must become extinct (Darwin, 2009, p. 105).
The issue that I take with this line is that it implies that there can only be one type of life form that lives in an area, feeds on a specific substance, and is victorious in living. A simple observation would surely show that this is not the case. Darwin uses sexual selection to explain the differences in appearance between males and females, saying that males are brightly colored to try and attract the female’s interest. However, this is a type of variation within the species that does not seem to go away. Ducks, for example, are very different depending on their gender. Females have dull boring colors whereas males are marked with green markings that help them, allegedly, attract the females. However in Darwin’s theory, would not one of these two traits have to be selected over time? Wouldn’t either the markings of the male have to transfer to the females, or the dull colors of the female be transferred to the male as a selective trait? The end point is that it is not necessarily what Darwin presented from a factual state that is important in his writing, but instead the way he presented it. Part of this is that he continually talks about how the weak will die and the strong will live (Darwin, 2009, p. 220). Once again with birds that fly in a “V” formation, the two birds on the end of the flock will dive down if another is going down. This shows that species will take care of each other and not necessarily worry about the strongest, biggest, and fastest because they want to take care of each other. To conclude if it is ingrained into your mind that natural selection is the only solution, the only plausible explanation for varying traits in species, then it is a lot harder to look at the other side of the coin to consider that despite this slow genetic process there are still variations within the group.

Darwin: Sometimes it must be the strongest that die and the weakest that live

Who are those that are the strongest? In Medieval times (for example) it was those of the upper class. Those who had access to resources as a result of their social standing. While it remains that those peasants who farmed vigorously and worked the land would have great chance at survival, what would happen in times of drought or famine? In these cases it was not those strong ones who survived (necessarily) as with a lack of food and an increase in population – as Malthus so readily points out – it does not matter ones strength and ability in adaptation to survive. Rather, it is those of the upper classes who had access to storage houses and such (along with the capital to obtain such) that survived. Is this survival of the fittest? If by fittest, Darwin refers to those who had the upper hand in society and benefited from such, then yes it is. However, this does not stand true under his statement of allowing the strongest to live and the weakest to die. A weak king or queen would survive, and their lineage would as well due to the fact that they were undoubtedly privileged in society while those who were strong and could endure the elements, would die out. Queen Victoria of England (r. 1837-1901) for whose namesake the ‘Victorian Era’ takes after, had hemophilia – a recessive blood disease that does not allow blood cells to clot. This was a very dangerous disease and Queen Victoria feared it was hereditary for her descendants. She did pass this disease along and her progeny did suffer from it. In this case, the weakest survived.
Likewise, along the topic of my general thesis, simply allowing the strongest to live and the weakest to die, does not account for the varying complexity of the human condition. How Darwinism relates to -humanity in this aspect is not well rounded enough. During the Reign of Queen Mary I of England (r. 1553 – 1558) she did not earn the reputation of ‘Bloody Mary’ for nothing. Many Protestant believers were burned at the stake throughout the Catholic Queen’s reign of terror. In this case, the question of strongest or weakest was not a question. While I acknowledge that this is not natural selection at work within nature, it does counter the statement that the strongest will live and the weakest will die. In my opinion, it takes a much stronger man to die for something he believes in. Yes, Natural Selection is a force within nature, however, throughout history, the human condition has been affected and shaped by more than mere nature. The notion of ‘advancement’ that Darwin speaks of throughout his Origins accounts for so much more than simply strength and weakness; humanism is a multifaceted machine, a regenerative movement and an ever progressive system of being.
To use one of Darwin’s examples himself, where would the peacocks be if only the strongest survived? The dominant males who fought off all others in order to win the females? If those strongest were to live while the weakest were to die that would be fine. However, this then, does not account for the colour and adornment that the peacock feathers indicate. Darwin justifies this by advancing his theory of sexual selection. That being said, it is not merely a question of strength and weakness anymore but rather, a question of outside appearance. The relevance of this is twofold; first, now one does not merely need to be strong in order to survive – they can parade themselves and win a mate and thus sexual selection has allowed the weak to live on and furthermore, reproduce. Secondly, should the peacock choose a mate based on ornamentation, this refutes another theme that Darwin advances – that “Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances” (Darwin, 53). Therefore, ‘strongest’ and ‘weakest’ are very fluid concepts and cannot be used as absolutes as Darwin in fact tries to do.

Info on Queen Victoria:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Darwin's Fatal Flaw?

Darwin’s The Origin of Species is undoubtedly one the 19th century’s most influential works. It’s concision and the exceedingly rational progression of its authors argument leave, this student at least, at a loss as to an entry point for criticism. This said I am bothered about some of the books fundamental assumptions and one in particular, which seems to undermine the strength of Darwin’s theory as a whole. This concern arises from Darwin’s refusal or inability to include and apply his theory to humanity preferring to place the species above or outside of its scope. To illustrate the effect that such an omission may have on his theory as a whole I would like to look at this omission in relations to The Origins third chapter: “The Struggle for Existence.” Were Darwin alive today he might very well give his forehead a resounding slap: for all our supposed intelligence, we are yet bound by the same rules that govern even the most humble of single celled organisms.
Darwin takes up Malthus’s well known theory of the “Geometrical ratio of increase” in populations early in chapter III and also goes over, at some length, the supposed nature of the checks that keep any given organism from quickly spreading to a point at which it covers the entire face of the earth. To me it seems that Darwin exempts humankind from this “law” out of hand, offering only the weak arguments of the “artificial increase of food and . . . prudential restraint from marriage.” Perhaps it was optimistic thinking on the part of Darwin that food production would continue to outstrip the demand from a population that continues to grow geometrically, perhaps he never considered the difficulties distribution. Whatever the case may be one thing is clear well over a century after publishing his theory the human population has in now part stabilized; even after two world wars and innumerable regional ones, after mass famines and worldwide epidemics humanity has continued to expand at a geometric rate, with no end in sight.
For all of Darwin’s empiricism he is still very much a Christian: underlying his theory is a belief that there is a deity who has set all in motion, who has placed man at the very pinnacle of “creation,” and who continues to direct a mysterious yet benign master plan. I would argue that the books Christian underpinning is subtle, yet ubiquitous, even deliberate. Take for example the final sentence of the 3rd chapter which reads: “we may
console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.” By attempting to “console” his contemporary readers that there is indeed some ultimate plan to the seemingly endless strife in nature Darwin makes what are obviously wildly erroneous statements that contradict his own theory: the vigorous and healthy do not always survive but rather have an increased chance of doing so, and the happy? I’ll let you decide.
Darwin’s adherence to Christian doctrine which places Humanity above and beyond all other species leads him into what I see as a possible flaw in his theory: his failure to include Humanity in among “organic species.” Chapter three discusses in detail the “complex relations of all animals and plants to each other in the struggle for existence.” Darwin cites many examples as to how events occurring to seemingly unconnected species of flora and fauna can have serious and lasting effects upon one another. The importance of the interconnection of life leads Darwin to state that “the relation of organism to organism is the most is the most important of all relations” (chapter heading). If it is the relation between organisms that is so important how then is Darwin to understand any species without an understanding of how they are affected and affect the world’s dominant one? Although perhaps not fatal to the theory of natural selection, we can here see at least a large lacuna in his thinking.
Darwin’s theory and research may place him on the cusp separating the naturalist the 19th century from the biologist of the 20th and this certainly marks him as a man ahead of his time. However, Darwin perhaps pulls up short of following his research through to its ultimate conclusion: whereas biology is the study of individual or groups of organisms, ecology is the study of the interrelationship of living organisms and their environments which seems a much more accurate description of what Darwin is after. Darwin may have been a man ahead of his time, but perhaps by less than one might think.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Natural Selection VS Human Selection

Natural Selection is one of the most important theories in On the Origin of Species. However, in the first chapter “Variation under Domestication,” Darwin states that if the wild plants and animals became domesticated, they will become variable. It means that natural selection is not the only way for species to survive; instead people can help them overcome the struggles from the nature.
Darwinism has become an accepted theory in contemporary ideologies, and the idea that only the fittest survive suggests that only powerful people can live in this world. The term “the survival of the fittest” might have given aggressive people the excuses to launch World War I, World War II, and even the Cold War. To some degree the wars helped some countries to further develop their power over the world, but at the same time it also destroyed human civilizations and killed countless innocent people. Even today, the world is still not peaceful, and Darwinism may still affect many politicians’ minds. This kind of social Darwinism is actually harmful for the human race. Instead of only the strongest survive, in the real world, people will help each other to overcome difficulties such as disasters, starvation, and poverty across countries. Compared to destroying others’ future to survive, it would be better to help each other, and to provide a brighter future for others. Because human is a kind of social animal, we should be helping each other instead of fighting against each other.
In reality, people often try to help the species which are in danger of extinction to survive in the nature. For instance, the Chinese government spent a lot of money per year to save pandas; many countries have banned the hunting of whales. Thus, natural selection is not the only way for species to survive. In addition, sometimes, the extinction of a species is not because of nature, but instead it is because of humans. For instance, people kill sharks and whales thus endangering these species; people also pollute the environment in the process of developing their industries; over deforestation also can put species in danger of extinction. Therefore, sometimes human may be more harmful than the nature, and to some degree human selection may be more powerful than the natural selection. In this case, Darwin underestimated human’s ability to destroy.
Darwinism has existed for over a hundred years, and as time goes by, more and more people start to believe that Darwinism is an awkward theory, and in reality, whether it is applied in biology or in politics, it is indeed inaccurate in many aspects.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Critical of Darwin

From what I understand, this is where we are to post thoughts and commentaries on what we have read and what we are taking from the course at present. In that regard, I have come across some things in Darwin’s Origin of Species that as of my current reading of the book (I will admit I have not completed it yet), I cannot quite come to terms with.

In Darwin’s first chapter on the “Selection by Man” he states that “One of the most remarkable features in our domesticated races is that we see in them adaptation, not indeed to the animal’s or plant’ own good, but to man’s use or fancy” (Darwin, 19). I take this to mean that species that have varied in ways that are beneficial to man are the ones that are in essence, used up by them. Although this does not refer to selective breeding necessarily, it brings about the same principle that the choices of man determine the outcome of the variance of species (as the chapter is called – Selection By Man). However, from an Evolution standpoint, this does not make sense to me as Survival of the Fittest pertains to those species that acquire the traits necessary to live through dire climates/circumstances. It is those butterflies that blend in to their surroundings that persevered over those that stood out and thus got devoured correct? Therefore, wouldn’t it remain that those species that did not pose a benefit to man would be the ones that lived on? While this thought is preliminary and not fully articulated with knowledge of Darwin’s complete Origin, it seems to me to contradict what he is proposing, that Survival of the Fittest is the answer to our current state. Those animals or plants that benefitted mankind would be the first to die out, and those that posed no assistance to humankind would be the ones that prospered.

Yet I am aware that Darwin accounts for any perceivable discrepancies within his writing as he concludes this chapter with; “Over all these causes of Change I am convinced that the accumulative action of Selection, whether applied methodically [my emphasis] and more quickly, or unconsciously and more slowly, but more efficiently, is by far the predominant Power” (28).

Comprehensively, Darwin does very well in setting the groundwork for his argument. He acknowledges that he himself must come to terms with what would come to be known as Darwinism. When he first began examining pigeons, he “felt fully as much difficulty in believing that they could ever have descended from a common parent, as any naturalist could in coming to a similar conclusion in regard to the many species of finches, or other large groups of birds, in nature” (18). While being honest with his readership, he still is able to bring the audience to a place where they can accept his statement that “thus, the forms of life throughout the universe become divided into groups subordinate to groups” (38).