Wednesday, October 13, 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. I think that how you trace the history of Evolutionary theory is very enlightening. And the fact that Darwin was able to surmise this history in one paragraph as you say, does not testify to his legacy as a great scientist or revolutionary theorist, but simply his great ability as a writer. In reading Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” he backs this up in saying the very secret of Darwin’s ‘popularity’ was that “he never puzzled anybody. If very few of us have read the origin of Species from end to end, it is not because it overtaxes our mind, but because we take in the whole case and are prepared to accept it long before we have come to the end of the innumerable instances and illustrations of which the book mainly consists” (35). We are able to believe Darwinism because of the convincing attributes of his writing, not necessarily the content of his work.