Thursday, October 28, 2010

musings from Bruce Alexanders lecture on Group Selection

Last weeks guest lecture, SFU Prof. Emeritus Bruce Alexander, presented an interesting array of quotes, passages and ideas that up until now - would have been considered in opposition to the concepts that we generally uphold as being from the writings of Darwin, particularly 'On the origins of species'. The adaptive view presented is that it is social unit, our 150 person tribe, that has shaped homo sapient evolution in the past 50'000 years (or so) and given rise to concepts of morality, sharing, altruism.

Interestingly, Prof. Alexander noted in dialogue with a residing biology classmate that the term for this form of evolution by natural selection: 'group selection' has become not just a debated concept, but almost dismissed by many of the sciences and social sciences.

As a psychology major, I have had the opportunity to raise the question within the contexts of Evolutionary Psychology - which pulls explicitly from a Darwinian perspective - but have so far not found much support for it. My current textbook for the course dedicates 1.6% of the content on the subject, and notes in the introduction of the subject that the brunt of research died out in the 1960's.

Similarly, cultural psychology is equally dismissive, but they do so in a much 'nicer' off hand way. In office hours conversation, I was given the reasoning: 'Of course we will never say that evolutionary pressures do not have an affect upon our behavior now. That is blatantly fallacious, however the types of behaviors that they influence and the strength of that relationship is tenacious at best and much better explained through current paradigms.'

Again, not overly supportive - but I am concerned if this is because Bruce's argument was mainly taken from 'the Descent of Man' and not 'the Origins' and thus less popular and therefore less known? Or perhaps it is like art, where only passage of time will show us the value of a work? Hopefully a (future) better understanding of these arguments will help.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Against Darwinism #2
Why did it take so long for the theory of evolution to become part of mainstream thought? Prior to the publication of The Origin of the Species in 1859, evolution had been suggested by numerous individuals, even Darwin’s own grandfather Erasmus had put forward the idea that species evolved over time: although often given with a different name the idea that species evolved had been around some 80 years prior to Darwin’s book. There are essentially three reasons why this was so. Firstly is the influence of religion; many naturalists were understandably wary of declaring that the bible and the “word of God” was false. The second reason was that during the early years of the 19th century evolution was closely associated with the French Enlightenment, and saw the French Revolution and the regicide and terror it spawned as being a product of such thinking. The third reason that delayed the acceptance of the theory of evolution was the inability of anyone to explain its mechanism. Looking at the evidence of the fossil record it was apparent that evolution was taking place but no one had actually “seen” it occur and could not supply a theory as to why it should take place, why species should evolve at all. Enter Malthus.
The breakthrough occurred when Darwin adapted Malthus’ theory found in his Essay on Population which asserted that a given population will tend to increase quickly to the maximum size that its food supply will allow. At the same time, every organism differs slightly from every other organism, even those most closely related to it; some of these variations are inheritable and are passed on to succeeding generations. These two facts lead one quite naturally to “the theory of evolution by natural selection or the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life.” For Darwin’s theory to be considered accurate both of the premises explained above must necessarily hold true of all species at all times; if it does not than one might seriously question the validity as is now formulated. In the case of Malthus’ theory of population one should expect to see any given population doing its utmost to procreate. What follows are several points that call into question the theory’s ability to explain the case of humanity.
· Incestuous Reproduction. If Malthus was correct and organisms tend to increase rapidly to the maximum extent that their food supply will allow, then reproduction would need to begin as early as possible. For the majority of species the first opportunity to procreate would be between siblings or between sibling and parent. However, the exact opposite would seem to be the case. Throughout the animal world a distinct bias against incestuous reproduction (at least in early adulthood) is evident.
· Infanticide, Abortion, and Contraception. Practices such as these are as old as humankind and also represent missed opportunities of reproduction. If Malthus’ theory were correct than all of these deaths, no doubt thousands every day, would all have perished from starvation anyway, which also obviously not the case.
· Marital Fidelity, Virginity, and Religion. Marital fidelity also has had a long history in human communities; although often ignored, it is just as often obeyed. Another example of lost opportunities to procreate in the human population is the high value placed on female virginity at marriage; such a valuing leads to years of lost reproduction even though the food supply would allow it. Much the same can be said of the human propensity to establish specialized orders based on the practice of sexual abstinence which has been a ubiquitous feature of human society. History offers many examples of enduring populations who practiced sexual abstinence and (largely) succeeded in doing so. If Malthus ‘ theory accurately explains reality one would expect to find just as many children in religious communities as in secular ones or at least as many as the food supply would allow, which is not the case.
Malthus was no naturalist. Although he put forward his theory to account for all species, he had his eye on humanity in particular, which makes it all the more ironic that his theory works best the more removed from his target one gets. The principle expressed by Malthus and adopted by Darwin to explain the “why” of evolution is not true without exception, especially so in the case of humans. Although Darwin’s theory of evolution may be the best one available at the present time, that one of the premises on which it is based is demonstrably inaccurate in the case of human beings must lead the rational individual to question its accuracy as a whole; this is not to say that the theory is incorrect but rather a recognition that it is not entirely accurate.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Response to Doctor Alexander

Doctor Bruce Alexander’s discussion of Charles Darwin during Thursday’s class was enlightening to say the least, but still open for interpretation. Alexander discussed three areas which Darwin struggled with during his life time, including free will, morality and that humans are not a creation of God, but instead small changes from much simpler organisms. Even with these areas laid out, the section that I found most interesting was about morality and specifically the individual species and group species. Alexander stated that individual organisms go through much slower variation changes then those that live in groups. This is likely due to the fact that in groups animals, and humans, can identify advantageous characteristics, which would be especially important in Darwin’s sexual selection. There is a struggle in humans, according to Alexander, for individual selection, being the biggest and toughest, and group selection, being caring compassionate and so on. Groups of cooperative people are also continually at war with one another, according to Darwin through Alexander.

Even though there is truth to this statement, it has a tremendous impact on variation in humans. If one group is able to exterminate another group of humans, their veritable traits are removed. As well humans, especially in the nobility, wanted to have as pure a bloodline as possible in their offspring. These two situations cause problems as it has been proven that pure breeding of humans can lead to genetic problems. This posses the question then of why do humans still insist on pure breed dogs, horses, cats, and other animals of value. As a group we understand what pure breeding can do as to why we still request that in animals. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and just because humans think that something is advantageous does not mean that it necessarily is. There is also only so much pure breed mating that can be done until you do run into a multitude of problems, because no matter how many members are part of the population if you are trying to get as pure as possible you will run into issues.

Missunderstanding of Human Genome

In the last lecture, guest Professor Bruce Alexander mentioned many things about Charles Darwin. He said that Charles Darwin was a great person because he was not only a great biologist but also a great psychologist. He claimed that many later social Darwinists believe that social Darwinism is a pitiless and merciless ideology; however, Charles Darwin himself did not mean it that way, and in Darwin’s works, he actually shows sympathy for human being. However, in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, he actually claims that “one law cover all organic species multiplies strongest survival and weakest die.” In the other words, Charles Darwin did not see human as a higher species compared to other living things.

People cannot deny that Charles Darwin had provided a new angle for us to explore the origin of species. It also means that he pointed out a new way for his followers to do further researches. In his followers’ minds, they of course tend to agree with everything that Charles Darwin said, and they also make efforts to find excuses to explain or cover Darwin’s failures. When people look at the core area of Charles Darwin’s theory, they can find that even today, we still cannot fully understand the human genome, and that the current scientific understanding of genome only touches the surface of this topic. For instance, in the article “Misconceptions about the Human Genome project,” the author states that Darwinist-Materialist are delivering misconceptions about the human genome projects with misleading messages that promote "genetic similarities" between human and chimpanzees and hiding the fact that these are subjective interpretations which do not provide any evidence for the theory of evolution. The Darwinist-materialists like to claim that the discovery of the gene map suggests that “the fate decreed by God can be challenged.” This is a great misconception and deceit put forward by certain circles. In fact, the mapping of the human genes does not show evidence of evolution, not to mention that there are human genes with unknown origins. Therefore, this new angle which Darwin provided may be a misleading one.

One day in the future, scientists may find evidences to prove Charles Darwin’s theories are correct, but at least today, there is not yet any evidence to support that Charles Darwin’s theories are correct.

Ps: for further information about how the Human Genome project may be misleading, people can check the following website:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Evolved Morality and Religion

When Dr. Alexander came to our class to speak in defense of Darwin, he pointed out that because humans have evolved intellectually, we have less of a need to evolve physically. So instead of evolving physical ways to survive socially, human beings, according to Dr. Alexander, have actually evolved a moral faculty. Apparently, Darwin did not really associate himself with what we today call 'Social Darwinism' - he believed human moral behaviour to be profound, important, and ultimately the result of natural (or human?) selection. This understanding of morality as an evolved characteristic makes sense to me, because if humans are indeed social animals, then having a set of behavioural guidelines resulting from a moral sense would probably ensure very good social function. As Dr. Alexander said, if culture evolved to be the mediating force between the conflicting human impulses of 'selfishness' and 'groupishness', then morality evolved to demonstrate the point of balance between the two.

To extend from this idea, I can see how religion, in addition to culture and morality, is a human practice that is the result of our evolutionary path. Religion obviously has a social function, and it works alongside both culture and morality. In many ways, I can see how religion evolved as a logical extension to and development of an evolved cultural and moral sensibility. Thoughts of how the individual relates to the community grow into thoughts about right and wrong, good and evil, and the earthly and the transcendent. The territory of morality becomes encompassed by the territory of religious thinking.

As Darwin and Dr. Alexander both demonstrated, the fact that morality is an evolved characteristic does not demean the meaningfulness and importance of it. Just because it cannot be called 'innate' (insofar as it developed for social reasons and not because humans were born moral creatures) does not mean morality does not define who we are as a species. Perhaps this same logic should apply to religion as well. If religious thinking was also a practice that evolution brought about instead of something innately true for humans, maybe this shouldn't demean its meaningfulness. In other words, maybe thinking that there is divinity in the universe because we have evolved to think that way, instead of because there really is divinity in the universe and we are privy to that knowledge, should not necessarily make religious thinking invalid. If it evolved in us, it clearly evolved for a reason. If it wasn't useful and meaningful, then would it not have died out as a disadvantageous characteristic?

Perhaps that is what is happening to us as a species now. Atheism is on the rise, and religious fundamentalists are (rightly) considered to be lunatic outliers. Religion must have been useful enough for it to have developed in our species to the point that it did, but is it still relevant and useful to us today, or is it being selected against somehow?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More on Shaw

Shaw brings up some more points in his preface that require additional digging and searching deeper. He speaks of a conversation he has with a religious clergyman. The conversation goes as follows: “The universe exists, said the father: somebody must have made it. If that somebody exists, said I, somebody must have made him” (27). This small exchange demonstrates that Shaw really wants to put the creation and possible divinity of the universe into human comprehension. Is it quite absurd to believe that the human brain cannot possibly grasp the origins of our being and everything that surrounds us?

Science can figure out how something works, but not necessarily why it works, the reason for which it is in being, or how it got there. However, in trying to do so, what we have done is limited the story of our origins to our own understanding. The fact remains that there are phenomena within our world (and beyond) that cannot possibly be understood or explained. Furthermore, even Darwin attributes these phenomena to something he cannot explain the origins of or the reasons behind its motivating factors – natural selection.

Moreover, are we committing the genetic fallacy here? If we attempt to understand something incomprehensible, we call it fact because it is science. We understand Evolution – but does that make it true? We refute other means of our origins because they do not make sense or are not understandable, but does that make them false?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Roger Ebert the Darwinist?

While completing my Midterm Essay this afternoon, I decided to search the news for what kinds of information was available for Darwinism and came across this interesting article. In the article (link to it is at the bottom of the page) Roger Ebert is criticizing fellow critics Andrew O’Hehir of Salon of his view of the movie Secretariat (2010). This is the section of the article that I found most important in terms of this blog is as follows:
As an admirer of Darwin, I question O'Hehir's description of Secretariat as a "genetic freak." Secretariat was not a lucky roll of the dice by the blind watchmaker, but the outcome of many carefully recorded generations of selective breeding. The horse can be read as one more demonstration of the survival of the fittest -- a phrase that could apply to the winner of every race (Ebert, 2010, para 10).
Nor did Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, "luck into" the horse. As the film spells out, she won the horse by losing a coin toss, which she wanted to lose, because her understanding of horse breeding led her to hope the millionaire betting against her would "win" the wrong mare. Her reasoning was correct (Ebert, 2010, para 11).
I question if a single American, right-thinking or left-thinking, thought even once of Secretariat as a Nietzschean Überhorse. Nor did many consider the Triple Crown victories as a demonstration of white superiority, because race horses (which seem to enjoy winning for reasons of their own) are happily unaware of race. Does a horse think of a human as belonging to another race? I speculate that a horse considers a human as a differently-abled horse. A cat, now, may belong to another race (Ebert, 2010, para 12).

This section actually plays into our class in a number of different ways. First of all, selective breeding is an interesting terms of Ebert’s view on Darwin. His view of “survival of the fittest” by winning the race is an issue as it is humans deciding what are the best traits to have for horses, not nature. This is not natural selection, as horses are designed by humans to run for a specific race not nature. Humans have handed these horses a task, not by nature in trying to compete for scarce resources. If the horse gets injured or loses it may not be a return to the field to graze, but instead likely a trip to a manufacturer to make goods for humans utilization.
The second interesting part is that who is right in terms of why these horses are the best of the best, Darwin or Samuel Butler. Could Ebert actually be a Butlerist (if that is even a term) as these horses that are able to run races faster then their competitors due to the fact that their parents were put into this lifestyle. It is a lot about habitat that these horses are able to benefit from, including proper feeding practices and training to get to the winners circle. This is not just about having the right genes to win, but also the correct situation in terms of the desire to win.
The other interesting part comes from the third the third part that talks about if horses see humans as an equal race. This is interesting in terms of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (2008) section titled “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhmns”, as the main character, Gulliver, comes across a land of horses called Houyhnhmn’s that he portrays as more intelligent and rational then human beings. In this section of the book Gulliver becomes very attracted to the civilization that the horses have created. Although Gulliver’s Master is very alarmed at the way that humans treat the Houyhnhmns or horses, in his homeland as they do brush them and treat them well, but is horrified at the way they ride on their backs for transportation or enjoyment, and put the animals down if they are harmed. The point of this is that Ebert talks about humans and horses not thinking of themselves as the same race, however it is not fair to say that humans are always smarter then other members of nature (Ebert, 2010). Does a horse enjoy winning a race, or does it enjoy the excitement that is around it after a victory including the recognition it gets. This is not clear. Due to its environment, the horse is taught that if it runs faster then the rest of the horses it will be rewarded, so of course it will be happy if it wins. However is this an appropriate way to handle horses? I am not going to go further into this debate as I have my own personal views after growing up in the country in Alberta. However it is an important issue to think about.
As shown, a few small paragraphs from an opinion piece on a movie about a horse can have a lot to do with Darwinism, but still has to be analyzed appropriately.
Ebert, R. (2010). Secretariat Was Not A Christian. Retrieved October 19th, 2010 from the Chicago Sun Times Website:
Wallace, R. (Director) (2010). Secretariat.
(Motion Picture) United States of America: Walt Disney Pictures.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Shaw and Humanity in World War 1

Shaw’s life experiences through the first world war are quite evident in his works. Is the first world war an authentic indication of survival of the fittest? Is it a legitimate representation of the advancement of human society and civilization? While it does show demonstrate Darwinistic survival of the fittest, it does so in a purely animalistic fashion. World War One was both the debasement of humanity; men fought like savages (as the discourse of most wars does prove) and yet, it was a bombardment of this same humanity. Europe, as the moral center of the universe during this time had to come into a new light after 1919 as the whole world became privy to the destruction that mankind was capable of. Britons, French and Germans alike all had to come to an acceptance that their ‘high society’ was no longer valid under the terms of this wretched war. Thus the First World War proved that human beings have not evolved so much as we thought into a highly civilized society; war has proven that we are still very close to those animalistic tendencies of survival of the fittest, kill or be killed, survive at any and all costs.

However, this war also came to overload the human mind and body. Thousands of men returned home with shell shock. This is a physical demonstration of the mind’s inability to cope and rise above the pressures of the war. Some men would never be the same again. A short video on the physical detriments of shellshock

Shaw questions “whether the human animal, as he exists at present, is capable of solving the social problems rasied by his own aggregation, or, as he calls it, his civilization” (9). It is evident that Shaw doubts that humankind has reached ‘civilization’ or not. Shouldnt we, as higher, thoughtful, rational human beings have overcome the need (or arguably, the desire) for war? Obviously not. Instead of enhancing ourselves to be above the need for war, we have simply enhanced the methods and medium of war itself.

This leads me to the question of self improvement. Shaw recognizes that within Darwinism, such progress is not possible “because improvement ca come only through some senseless accident which must, on the statistical average of accidents, be presently wiped out by some other equally senseless accident” (14). Has humankind improved? If the answer is yes, then plainly, Darwin is wrong because there is no hope according to his theory. If the answer is No, then we as a human society is in despair and there is no hope for us. Personally, I hope the answer is yes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


During last week's discussion on fallacy, my group came to the conclusion that despite that the fallacy of affect and the genetic fallacy make complete sense, and apply very well to many academic arguments, they're not enough to change the opinions of the everyday person. If someone wants to think that socialism is a failure because Obama has ruined the economy, they're likely going to think that despite that that line of thinking falls under the category of the affective fallacy.

Another student objected to this statement by saying that there is a difference between logical thinking, and belief. He questioned whether or not a society where people can say and believe whatever they would like to regardless of whether or not it is fallacious is really ideal.

Perhaps such a society is not ideal, but I maintain that this is the sort of society that we live in. We value freedom of speech, and so this means that we allow people to say and think things that according to many other people, probably aren't true. One example of this is the failure of socialism because of Obama, and another could be that a divine being created the universe and all the creatures in it exactly as they are. Many people consider these statements to be true, but many others consider them to be products of fallacy. The coexistence of both kinds of thinking, whether logical and valid or not, must be allowed in our society.

This becomes problematic when people argue for the right to say things that others think are false, and that lead to pain and discrimination. The limit on this freedom despite fallacy then becomes just that; we can say whatever we want as long as we don't cause pain to others and spread hate. Again, I think it's worth noting that I'm neither advocating nor arguing against this tendency, I simply think that this is how our society is, and that fallacy doesn't mean very much on a grander social scale. Moreover, I think it's clear that people will continue to say and think what they want to, not only despite fallacy, but despite the fact that they actually are spreading hate and pain. For example, the recent story of the American pastor who denounced Islam and wanted to burn the Quran. Most people agreed that what he was saying was not logical (fallacy of affect? "Because there are Muslim extremists, the Quran must be evil"), but he also said what he did despite that it was so obviously hateful and harmful.

Academics might care a lot about the fallacy of affect and the genetic fallacy, but the average person's opinions probably are not guided or checked by either. Perhaps this is not ideal, but would the opposite really be ideal instead? A world where people couldn't say or think anything unless it was logically valid seems just as, if not more, frightening and dangerous than our current situation. Should people not be allowed benign faith? How does one explain such elements as love, altruism, and devotion using solely logic, and still capture the magic of human existence? Arguably, many so-called Darwinists and proponents of evolutionary biology probably don't really understand all of the logic and reasoning behind evolutionary theory. They probably just think evolution and natural selection are true because they have been told they are true. I would think that most people don't actually witness and know for themselves all the processes of natural selection and evolution, and just have to take other people's word for it. Is this also not a form of belief?

What the ideal society would look like is up for debate, but if our current one isn't ideal, then one that bans everything that is technically speaking, fallacious, probably wouldn't be ideal either.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Skin Pigmentation And Darwin

When searching Ted Talks online this week, I came across one by Nina Jablonski on skin pigmentation. Jablonski is not against Darwinism from what I can tell from her talk, although she does point out a flaw in part of his line of thinking (Jablonski, 2009). According to Jablonski, in a book published after the Origin of Species (2009) in 1871 that one of the most interesting things about humans is the differences in skin color (Jablonski, 2009). Darwin does not think that this has to do with the climate that people live in, but Jablonski does not enlighten us as to what he does think skin pigmentation is a result of (Jablonski, 2009). Jablonski goes on to show that climate does have an effect on skin pigmentation as most humans were dark when they first came into existence as they lived close to the equator, but as they spread out the skin pigmentation became lighter (Jablonski, 2009).
This plays nicely into our discussion from this past week as to what causes the variations in different types of animals, and in this case humans. Doctor Stephen Ogden says that Samuel Butler thinks that variation comes as a result of effort, desire, and behavior (Ogden, 2010). In this case it would be behavior that has had an effect on the changes in skin pigmentation as depending on where the humans were living, the darker or lighter skin a human will have. This is not due to slight variations based on human genetics, but instead the environment that you are living in. This opinion would help strengthen Butler’s attacks on Darwin as it does help show that Darwin was not right about everything in terms of evolution.
Jablonski does say that it is unfortunate that Darwin did not have NASA’s mapping systems that are currently in place to look at different types of radiation entering the atmosphere to be able to compare it to the darkness of human’s skins (Jablonski, 2009). There is also recognition that Darwin was aware of the differences in skin pigmentation as he notes that there are changes depending on the location on earth that the human colony is living (Jablonski, 2009). The difference could be that there had already been a mix in the different colors of individuals all over the earth, so Darwin was not able to see the changes due to environmental factors. Either way, this is one point that Darwin missed the mark on.
Jablonski, N (2009). Nina Jablonski breaks the illusion of skin color. Retrieved October 16, 2010 from Ted Talks website at:
Ogden, S (2010). Humanities 321 Lecture Critics of Darwinism. Simon Fraser University Burnaby Campus, Fall 2010.
Darwin, C. (2009). On The Origin of Species.
Strand, London; Penguin books

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fallacy of Affect

Last Lecture brought a question to my mind. When we were discussing whether or not death or survival was the driving force of evolution it occurred to me that the only way we can judge the answer to this is by looking at society around us today. Butler and Darwin both do this. For example, in looking at the Giraffe’s long neck, did it become this way because he strove to reach food on a higher branch, or because the giraffe with the predisposed longer necks were able to survive past those with smaller necks (and therefore could not reach food enough to eat). Here, What Evolutionists have done, is looked at the circumstances in the world, and made a judgement call on their origins. Isn’t this the fallacy of affect? Darwin, Butler, humankind – all we see are the affects of what we theorize to be evolution. We make judgement calls and base the truth in terms of these consequences. Is this correct? Should we be doing this? Is there another way to confront the question of our origins?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Musing’s on Shaw

In reading through Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” he has made some very critical points on Darwinism and Evolution that are worth contemplating. These ideas also stand worthy of having some critique themselves.

On the first page of preface to Shaw’s text, he gives the reader extensive material to mull over. He speaks on the progress of science and gives a small outline on enlightened thought; “For the pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was standard scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo’s demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci’s simple remark that the earth is a moon of the sun, Newton’s theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy’s invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post” (7-8). This sentence is packed full of the narrative of human development of scientific theorem. What intrigues me is not the history of science, but the history of human thought within this science. In the Dark Ages, men were sure of the Bible’s authenticity in its description of human origins. As time went on, we began to see the critiques of this and men like Galileo, Da Vinci and Newton gave humanity more to think about. In the time of these intellectuals, how much more did they know than those in the Dark Ages? And how sure were they during their own lifetimes, that what they believed or discovered was true? Likewise, the same can be applied to us today. How much more do we know now than sir Humphry Davy? Similarly, how much are we sure of ourselves, in what we believe, that it is the absolute truth? How much of this will be discounted in another 100 years?

Science is an evolutionary concept just as we ourselves are continually learning, adapting and adopting new habits. Can we ever reach the end and figure out all the answers to the all the questions? Or do we merely think that we do, when in reality we are not even close?

Shaw addresses these questions however he does not begin to answer them. He establishes that “the power that produced Man when the monkey was not up to the mark, can produce a higher creature than Man if Man does not come up to the mark. We must beware; for Man is not yet an ideal creature” (13). According to Shaw, we will never fully be finished changing – there will never be an end point. And should that be the case, I would like to argue one step further that neither so shall we ever come to the full realization of our origins

Reductionism; the failing of Darwins theory

In the initial page of Origins, Darwin notes that his contemporary Wallace has come to the same conclusions regarding the evolution of species over the history of time. From here his ‘long essay’ goes on to not introduce the idea of evolution - which had been established within biology for such time that even his own father and grandfather had written on the topic - but that of the mechanics of evolution that Darwin would call natural selection. Natural selection itself was a complicated mechanism: the process by which a feature, as seen at a specific moment in time, evolved from within a species in particular, and over time with enough variation, into its own genus or sub-species in an never-ending process of adaptation, survival and reproduction. The interaction between environment (climate change, migration, competing species, &c.) and the individual (being extant, fecundity, inheritance of genes, variation/modification of genes, &c.) over the span of generations are involved in this highly complicated and developed process, the ideas for which had been floating around, in parts and pieces, waiting for a unifying theory. Darwin provided this: he brought together with wonderful rhetoric and prose such that the common person at the time was able to grasp and understand – perhaps the 1st time for many of them – the idea of evolution, which is that nature left alone, will through the selection of varied options, choose that feature which best enables the individual and thus the species to survive and reproduce such that their features will be passed on to the next generation, over and beyond that of their competitors, i.e. Natural Selection.

However, in 2005 a survey was taken regarding acceptance of the theory of evolution: the United States placed 31st out of 32 countries. Just behind Lithuania, Latvia & Cyprus; but ahead of Turkey. Nearly 40% of Americans surveyed responded “FALSE” as to whether they personally accepted the theory of evolution.

This is the failing of Darwin, and in turn: the theory of evolution via natural selection. Darwin was, whether he meant to or not, a reductionist. He was able to reduce vast amounts of inconceivable histories, data sets, biology’s, anthropologies into a single homogenous theorem that he could explain in a succinct paragraph. From this Darwin or Darwinism became synonymous with natural selection, as natural selection did with evolution and such that over a century later nearly 40% of a sample of the American population are able to answer with ONE WORD (‘false’) their entire view of what is a mind-boggling complex, and much disputed, theory. Not Law, not fact but theory.

It is here from this over-simplification, this reductionist, this universal-law type idealism that is attributed to Evolution via Darwinism via Natural Selection via the author that we are able to, and will, criticize Darwin from a pluralistic platform that extends beyond the gist.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Social Darwinism: Economic Effects

Nowadays, Social Darwinism is a very popular topic which many scholars like to debate about. Basically, Social Darwinism refers to Darwin’s theory “survival of the fittest,” and it has also been used to explain the economic growth under capitalism. It sees the economic environment as an ecosystem: the weak businesses would be weeded out, and the strong businesses would continue to compete in the marketplace. In other words, Social Darwinism is a symbol of free market.
If the market is absolutely free, then monopolization will appear. If the market is monopolized by a few big corporations, the small businesses may even not have a chance to enter the market, and then the lower class and middle class people may never have a chance to improve their social positions. Thus, there are already anti- monopolization laws in different countries in order to protect the medium and small businesses. This can prove that Social Darwinism is not a suitable theory which can apply in the reality. However, even though sometimes governments will intervene into the market, it still cannot change the current economic power relationship. The marketplace can be controlled by the major capitalists, and even the society can be also controlled by these capitalists since in capitalist countries wealth means everything. Specifically, the rich people can own the mass media, and the mass media can be a tool for them to control many people’s minds. Rich people can also financially support politicians to win elections, and as a result, the politicians may make policies which may benefit those people. Therefore, Social Darwinism can cause inequality to different classes of people. In addition, I believe that poverty and unemployment problems are also caused by Social Darwinism to some degree because most of the economy is occupied by the major capitalists. For the people in general, no matter how hard they try to make effort to their lives, there is very limited space for them to improve their positions. Thus, there is no equality under the Social Darwinism.
Overall, Darwinism is a basic model of the modern western ideology because it can reinforce the status of the upper class. People should be awake of the theory because it is an inhuman and unmoral philosophy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Criticism of Butler Criticizing Darwin

In Lecture, Professor Ogden pointed out from Butler’s writing that “[t]he development of the steam-engine and the microscope is due to intelligence and design.” The logic behind this statement, Butler explains is that “the man who made the first kettle did not forsee the engines of the Great Eastern, or that he who first noted the magnifying power of the dew-drop had no conception of our present microscopes – the very limited amount, in fact, of design and intelligence that was called into play at any one point – this does not make us deny that the steam-engine and microscope owe their development to design.” In this context, Butler’s opinions are clear in that he doesn’t accept Darwin’s argument of pure chance and happy accidents, but that at each point of mutation, some degree of intention was required despite the fact that the end product may not be conceivable anywhere in mind.

I do not wish to disagree with Butler; on this point, I find his argument quite strong and convincing, not to mention logically sound and irrefutable. However, in regards to Darwinism, I do wish to explore or at the very least point out that even Butler acknowledges that in order for the first steam engine to be developed (by way of “intelligence and design”), there was first the man who made the kettle. While this is a metaphor used to point out Butler’s arguments, if he does not show me where the kettle came from (except that it was invented by man), I am unable to take the rest of his arguments on Darwinism as holistically intact. I understand his reasoning, and furthermore, I enjoy it – I find it very enlightening to refute Darwin’s Origins on its own terms. And in Butler-esque fashion, I would like to do the same thing to him.

Butler clearly makes his argument that there is “far too much evidence of design in animal organisation to allow of our setting down its marvels to the accumulations of fortunate accident, undirected by will, effort and intelligence.” I agree. Just as the steam engine was not fully conceptualized until the dawn of its invention, and neither did it invent itself, nor so did the human species – as we know it today – come into being. Archaeological evidence testifies to this; Olduvai Gorge as the “Cradle of Mankind” is renowned for having been the site of the first discovery of homo habilis remains. While it is debated as to whether or not the fossils found in this East African Gorge are direct ancestors of our present day genus, it is still evidence as to how species have evolved throughout time. Dating back to the Pleistocene era, homo habilis had less distinctive facial features, were shorter and had a smaller cranial size and their appendages were disproportionate to their body size (long arms). Tracing these attributes through Homo Erectus and then Homo Sapiens, this logic of the teapot to steam engine is made divinely simply.

But the answer to the age-old question – where did we come from – remains.

Butler takes sweeping advantage of the givens that Darwin has established, most importantly in this case, that things exist. Butler has taken up the theory of evolution in mid-span, given his critique (and in his opinion, improvement) of the argument and then dropped it. Yes it makes sense that human beings evolved. But something imperative is missing and that is, where did we evolve from? Yes the steam engine is a direct descendent of the tea kettle, but where did the tea kettle come from? These are aspects that Butler has not addressed, and debates that from his side of the room remain silent.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Religion, E.O. Wilson, and Darwinism: Response to Sofie's Post on Eugenics

In the E.O. Wilson article, "Intelligent Evolution," Wilson claims that religion has been responsible for some terrible crimes over the centuries. Religion burned Giordano Bruno at the stake, tortured Galileo, and dehumanizes infidels, among other things. Wilson pauses briefly to acknowledge religion's positive attributes, but he all but implies in his conclusion that its costs outweigh its benefits.

However, I would like to put forth the idea that Darwinism is responsible for some pretty terrible crimes of its own. I think Sofie's post on eugenics did a good job of outlining some of the more frightening effects of Darwinism. In this day and age, humans are taught to value other human lives, and generally speaking, those who do not are considered to be sociopaths. Eugenics does not value all human life, it is without a doubt an appalling and extremely offensive idea. And most relevantly, it is a way of interpreting the concept of 'the survival of the fittest'.

Eugenics could be justified using Darwin's theory of natural selection. If the strongest survive long enough to pass on their genes the most, and if this process is for the betterment of the species, then actively preventing those deemed weak from reproducing could be seen as an attempt to work towards that same goal of betterment. Eugenics, through this thought process, could even be called 'natural', or at the very least, helping along or hastening a natural process.

This is more than just mere speculation about the possible costs of eugenics, and by extension, aspects of Darwinism - eugenics has actually done serious harm. As Sofie pointed out, eugenics was behind the forced sterilization of countless women. It has even been said that the Hitler and the Holocaust were influenced by theories on eugenics. If this is the case, then Darwinism has a very heavy burden of guilt to bear. The term 'Darwinism' indicates ways of thinking that grow out of Darwin's theories and writings, and that is exactly what eugenics is, whether modern Darwinists like E.O. Wilson choose to acknowledge that or not.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Darwin’s “natural selection” actually has strong influence on the topic of eugenics. For instance, Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), who was influenced by and a half cousin of Darwin, was the first person to talk about eugenics. Galton believed that eugenics is a branch of study which is concerned with the genetic improvement of human population by the systematic eradication of genetic characteristics which are deemed dysfunctional and the simultaneous promotion of preferred genetic profiles. He also believed that some individuals and entire groups of people, such as Jews, Africans, and Latinos, were more predisposed to the defective genes. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was an American birth control activist. In her own words, she argued that “it is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one care for both, and that is to stop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for then. Herein lies the key of civilization. For upon the foundation of an enlightened and voluntary motherhood shall a future civilization emerge.” (Sanger 1915, p.40) In the 1960s, Sanger combined birth control with eugenics and white supremacist. In other words, she thought that people of colour and the colonized people needed to have their population reduced. Consequently, in 1972 between 100,000 and 200,000 American women (Relf sisters) were sterilized under different US federal funds, and 20% of the black women and 24% of the aboriginal women were sterilized. In 1970s 35% of Puerto Rico women of childbearing age were sterilized. In Canada, in 1970s, Inuit women were coerced into sterilization by government health services. In Alberta, the government also forced sterilization on native, disabled, unemployed, and catholic women, and at that time 2800 women were sterilized by the Alberta government. Overall, eugenics originated from Darwinism. However, eugenics brought many negative impacts to our society, and it also caused many social problems, such as racism and discrimination, and it is also an inhuman and unmoral concept.
Davis, S. Population Control and Reproductive Rights: Technology and Power.
Sanger, M. (1915). What Every Girl Should Know.


When talking about human nature, a professor at Simon Fraser University once proclaimed, “Everything humans do is unnatural”. After the class discussion on technologies affects on humans it is clear this is very true. Technology is a major part of humanity as we know it today. It affords certain segments of the population to avoid past daily activities including scavenging for food, searching for shelter, and fighting for their lives. Instead we are able to use tools and other social structures to complete these tasks, and have extra time for other activities. This free time has allowed the species to figure out ways to help deal with diseases, hazards, and other factors that may harm humans.
The technology that has been developed in the medical field has had a tremendous impact on prolonging our lives. It has also let some people live that may have died before, allowing these individuals to pass on their genes to another generation. In this way, it is a manipulation of natural selection as due to human interference the specific traits that nature maybe wanting to wean out of the population are actually able to continue on due to medicine. Humans, like all other animals, are trying to stave off death on a daily basis. Instead of using camouflaged coats of fur, or sharp claws to defend ourselves, we use technology. This is not a natural part of life as instead of using natural tools we create products to help us. Even though we have all these tools, it is important to examine these statements from Alexander Pope’s point of view that just because we have the technology does not mean we should necessarily use it. This does not mean that I am suggesting that we all live in the mud because frankly I am glad that there are these technologies in place. Darwinists would argue that humans have been able to slowly develop traits that gave us expanded mental capacity to develop these technologies, so it is alright to use them.
Humans have been trying for a long time to choose traits they think are advantageous and be able to isolate them. However they have, for the most part been unsuccessful in this endeavor, as traits that humans want do not always arrive. Even though Darwinists might believe that we deserve the advantages we have been given, this is likely not the case. We have to be cautious as to how far we go with technology incase we upset the balance that keeps us alive as a species.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Modern Darwinism and Religion

Richard Dawkins himself, who is often dubbed ‘Darwin’s Rottweiler’, admits in his book, The God Delusion, that the kind of God he argues against the existence of is a personal creator-God. In recognizing this, Dawkins must recognize that his arguments, which heavily utilize Darwinian Evolution, do not apply to the existence or non-existence of other conceptions of divinity. However, I think it's safe to say that Dawkins’ name, and by extensions, Darwin’s, has become attached to a kind of contemporary cultural atheistic movement, calling all kinds of religious belief delusional and irrational.
The question that must be asked in light of this, and which I hope to explore in my blog posts, is whether Darwinism can really be used to rule out all kinds of religious thinking, and whether the probable nonexistence of a creator God implies the probably nonexistence of any God at all.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Swift, Pope, Bacon and Darwinism.

Swift states that no Person can disobey Reason, without giving up his Claim to be a rational Creature (Swift 212). In examining this text, we must first ask ourselves, what is Reason? Well it is the faculties within the brain that allows for human beings to act in a logical, uniform way. One of the ten laws of economics is that human beings are rational creatures and inasmuch, they will act to various circumstances in a uniform fashion. Now, this definition is derived from our present understanding of logic.
However, according to the Augustans, Alexander Pope points out that Reason is the rule of nature; in his “Essay on Criticism” he states that one must “First follow NATURE, and your judgement frame / by her just Standard, which is still the same” (ll 17-18). He goes further to contend that “True Wit is Nature to Advantage drest, / What oft was Thought, but ne’er so well Exprest...” (ll 41-42). So we see that there must be a balance between logic and wit and furthermore, that these two are interconnected via nature and traditional vies of the ‘Great Chain of Being’.
In this point of view, Nature is not something that can be extracted or put under the microscope for close scrutiny. Rather, Nature is something that every human being has and must abide by. When one does not follow reason, this turns into a political statement. This is indicative of the continuous battle between the arts and the sciences; Bacon is accused of reducing nature to nature, Goethe puts forth that by naming and quantifying certain elements, the life is taken out of them. Swift encapsulates this in that “Such constant irreconcileable Enemies to Science are the common People” (137). And what is it in the human being that causes them to be an enemy to science? It is nature. In the ‘common human being’ nature unites us all. And we recognize – according to swift – that science doesn’t care about us. Yet we keep demanding that it obey our human limits and our common morality.
So where does Darwinism fit in?
There are aspects of this argument that Darwinism cannot and does not account for. This would be the reason and logic that human beings have – and our ability to disobey the same. Take the example given in lecture on Thursday; a college student commits suicide after extreme privacy violation (from his roommate) in which his conduction of sexual relations was streamed over the internet without his knowledge or consent. Where is the rational logic in either of these actions? The student who took the videos of his roommate? It can be argued that his use of technology demonstrated his indifference to his friends’ privacy. According to the Augustans, science does bad things and technology is problematic. In this case, his use of technology superseded the rational of his logic and thus he committed this horrendous act leading to the disappearance of his roommate. As for the man himself who committed suicide, this refutes Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Not all human beings have this desire to live at all costs – as is demonstrated by this suicide, and countless others throughout our times.
Furthermore, as Darwinism cannot seek to answer these questions of logic, wit and rational, can Nature answer them? Is the natural instinct proposed by Pope enough to account for the actions of human beings? Where does the emotional aspect of the mind fit in? Is there more or less at stake that govern the human condition?

Friday, October 1, 2010

More of Darwin on the BBC

I have unearthed an apparent British obsession with talking about Darwin...

If anyone is interested, here are 4 more programs available to listen to about Darwin's life, work, and travels. They're from a BBC Radio 4 panel show called "In Our Time" (a personal favourite).

Darwin: Life After Origins -
Darwin: On the Origin of Species -
Darwin: On the Origin of Charles Darwin -
Darwin: The Voyage of the Beagle -

BBC Darwin Documentaries

Here are some video links I found of Darwin-related documentaries hosted by the BBC:

"The Darwin Debate" - Focuses on Darwinism's relevance to human life and society (points out some potential areas where Darwin's theory doesn't apply to people):

"Did Darwin Kill God" - A documentary about my particular area of interest, whether Darwinism necessarily implies atheism:

Baconian vs. Augustinians or Whig vs. Tory

The Baconian view of science prevalent in the 17th century can, not surprisingly, be more or less summed up by Sir Francis Bacon's Utopian novel, The New Atlantis (1627). This fictional work lays out the perfect society, a la Sir Thomas Moore, in which science rules every aspect of society under the watchful and benevolent eyes of its most erudite scientists. Sir Francis Bacon, notable for such memorable quotes as, "we must put nature on the wrack and wrest her secrets from her," and "Nature must be a spouse for fruit, not a mistress for pleasure," believed that the best society would be one organized around the pursuit of pragmatic knowledge, a technocracy or a technocratic empire overseen by a priesthood of scientists who would dole out knowledge to the admiring masses as they saw fit. According to this view, nature was something to be exploited without mercy or moral: if it can be done it will be done; such an approach to science and human progress completely eschews questions of whether it should be done. Such views dovetailed neatly with contemporary Whig political views.
The Whigs of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries believed wholeheartedly in unrestricted laissez-faire capitalism, in reform of the traditional English social order, in expanded Empire, trade and industry across the face of the globe. Opposed to these priests of progress were the Tories. Tories favored tradition most of all: Monarchy over Parliament, cottage industry over industrialization, and country over Empire. Just as the Whigs had authors and artists who championed their cause in the arena of public opinion, so too did the Tories, among whom were the likes of Alexander Pope, William Blake, and Mary Shelly.
Proponents of Tory-ism charachterised nature in a much more wholistic way, as a "great chain of being" in which every organism had a place and played a part, where the persuit of knowledge was tempered by reason and a moral "common sense." In this view, a heavy emphasis is placed on tradition and the past: what is worth knowing is the wisdom gleaned from hundreds of generations of trial and error: if it ain't broke why fix it?
From today's perspective it's obvious which team won: science reigns supreme. However, it also seems apparent the pendulum may have swung too far, that technology has run amok and that a balance conducive to human happiness has yet to be discovered. In this author's mind notions such as these make studying the debates of previous generations both fruitful and fitting.