Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Defamiliarization in Chesterton

People who believe in religion are often accused of being narrow-minded. This is a problematic statement as people in general are narrow-minded. Religion or lack of religion has nothing to do with the state at which one choses to live or the way in which they interact with others. What I appreciate about Chesterton is that he seeks to Defamiliarize the reader with their view of social norms. In this way, the audience is able to see something in a way that has always been there, but not in a way in which it is familiar to you. As Dr. Ogden stated, this knocks you out of your comfort zone and consequently leads you to look at something in a fresh way.

This technique is imperative to examining evolution in the light of religion, or religion in the light of evolution. Moreover, it is a technique that anyone who wants to learn something must have. A person who walks into a room with preconceived views with no intention of changing them, will walk out exactly the same way. Chesterton's goal is to not allow this to happen. Despite what you may believe at any point in a conversation with him, if you can look at something in a fresh way, you have achieved the opposite of narrow-mindedness. And for Chesterton to be advocating this, especially from a religious standpoint, is to his credit as he does not allow his bias or doctrine to get in the way of seeking to help you learn something new.

Darwin and Women

What would Darwin have to say about women's rights activists? As discussed in lecture, there is a very clear and definable thread throughout his 'Origin of Species' that connects his theory to themes in Victorian society. But as those societal values began to shift, does this mean that Darwin's theory is not longer applicable? Or does his theory also shift alongside culture? Does evolutionary Theory itself evolve?

Darwin proposed sexual selection as a disclaimer for natural selection as it was not able to encompass all areas of evolutionary life. The Victorian values of a man courting a woman, a male fighting for/conquering the female is considered to be not completely outdated today, however it is viewed upon as a more traditional means of 'sexual selection.' However, these ideals today have evolved; Women gained the Vote in 1919, they gained 'control' over their sexuality in the 1960s and today, they are CEO's and influential leaders. What would Darwin have said to this? Does his theory have to change in order to accommodate these new social norms? In order to understand Darwin's 'Origins' we must familiarize ourselves with Victorian Era values - which isn't so hard as it is part of our ancestry as a former British nation. But what about those who do not have an understanding or a recollection of the Victorian Social Strata? How does one apply Darwinism in that setting? This is a flaw with Darwin, as it is a flaw with all of us - that we are a product of our times - our surroundings, our nature and our nurture. However, despite that disclaimer, Darwin cannot apply something that is era-specific to his theory on multi-era generations/formations/origins. It cannot and will not apply. Victorian values were not present in Homo Sapiens Sapiens, so why is it present in his 'Origin of Species'? Mr Darwin's own gap-filler for natural selection has undone his whole theory.

The Darwin Awards

Considering that Charles Darwin believed that it takes a long time for certain traits to get weeded out of the population, it is amazing that there are the “Darwin Awards” which reward those that died in unique ways. Just because they have died does not mean that their genes are completely removed from the gene pool as they could have already produced off spring. This system seems like another miss conception of Darwin’s Theories by so-called Darwinists. Especially because today in a bookstore I was reading the description of how Darwin was in a book outlining some of the more famous Darwin Award recipients, and it called Darwin the Father of Evolution. As Darwinist Bruce Alexander said, many Darwinists have misconceptions of what Darwin actually said as they have not actually even read his books. Could this be another case where a publisher decided it would be a good idea to put out a book on this topic but not actually look at Darwin and his writings and just label himself a Darwinist? It is perplexing that an idea such as this can be put into print even though it is not necessarily the truth.

It seems like it would be better to call them the Bernard Shaw Award’s, as the individuals did not have the “will to live”. This is similar to the fifth part of Shaw’s play where the elder is telling the newborn about how they will live for about 300 years then have an unfortunate accident to end their life. This could be seen as these individuals’ unfortunate accidents as they were not able to survive. The individuals will to live was lost as they were put into a compromising situation and ended up taking their life. It is important to understand that Darwin’s theories of natural selection do not always apply to every situation, and this seems like an odd place to have his name attached to after studying his theories for the last three months.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is behind the scientific fact?

Many people believe that Darwinism is a scientific fact since their teachers taught them in this way, and usually people won’t doubt these “facts” because “facts” are for people to believe.

I believe that global warming is a very similar case to Darwinism. Most people have learnt that global warming is a scientific fact, and in daily life people can also see many advertisements and organizations that claim to fight against global warming. However, some recent studies have shown that global warming is a scam (Lewis, 2010). Basically, global warming was based on some fake data which was created by the scientists (government). What would be the motive behind promoting global warming as a scientific fact? Because it can be a good excuse for government to raise the carbon tax, just to name one example. Global warming has become a “fact” in mass media even though some studies and researches can prove that global warming is not occurring. Nonetheless many people still deeply believe it because they are taught or they read somewhere that it is a “fact”.

My previous posts may have shown that Darwinism is not a scientific fact: over 98% of DNA has largely unknown function, and the scientist call them “Junk DNAs;” Darwinians 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. Why would the government still promote Darwinism as a scientific fact? Because Darwinism may be a good excuse for the government to carry out eugenics projects; and Darwinism may also be able to make poor people blame themselves (with weak genes) instead of the society or the government. Sometimes, education or mass media is a tool for governments to control their citizens and to reinforce their political regimes. Thus, people should be suspicious of what these “facts” are, and what is behind the scientific facts may usually contain conflicts between the people in general and the ruling class.

Scientific facts may change all the time, so people should be open minded to accept new things and always to think about if there are more untold stories behind the facts.



Monday, November 22, 2010

Gulliver's Travels The Movie

Coming this Christmas is 20th Century Fox’s rendition of Gulliver’s Travels. Just incase your interested, here is the link to the trailer:


The setting is not England in this case, but instead New York as the base line and the main character played by Jack Black is heading to the Bermuda Triangle on a mission (20th Century Fox, 2010). The most interesting part of the making of this movie will be to see how closely it actually ties in with Jonathan Swift’s original novel.

Even the fact that the story is still being re-worked and used today shows its importance in society. Even though science has become a very powerful force in society, it is important to look at what its ultimate impact is. The four sections of Swifts novel definitely are able to bring these issues out, but will this film focusing on when he goes to the land of the small people in part one be able to complete the same objective? There is a need to ensure that the story line still follows the same principles that the novel does and that the message that is intended is not lost. Unfortunately for me from this trailer at least it appears that this maybe the case, however I will give it the benefit of the doubt until I am able to watch it for myself.

20th Century Fox (2010). Gulliver’s Travels. Retrieved November 22, 2010 from 20th Century Fox’s Website: http://www.gulliverstravelsthemovie.com/

Darwin in the News

I was listening to News1130 on my way to work this morning and heard this report which I later found on their website; http://www.news1130.com/news/local/article/132485--checking-out-the-caveman-workout - It is a really interesting piece (take it for what you will) on just how prevalent Evolutionary Theory is in our society today.

Checking out the caveman workout
We were built to get fit in an artificial gym
Mike Lloyd Nov 22, 2010 08:24:36 AM
1 Comment(s) 0 Recommendation(s) VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) - Forget the Stairmaster or the elliptical; there is a new workout fad in town. Call it caveman fitness!

Greg Karver is a primal fitness expert with StrengthBox and says the concept has been around a long time. "Most of the time, when we were evolving, we were doing random activities in the wild. We weren't in gyms. We weren't in controlled artificial environments. We had to run, climb and lift heavy things just to survive."

Primal movement is all about mimicking those movements and Karver explains you don't have to be trapped on a repetitive machine.

"Maybe I'm outside at a park and maybe I'm going to pick up a heavy rock. So I'm going to dead lift a rock, then I'm going to throw it as hard as I can and run to it and do it again. Maybe I'm going to do that five times and then I'll walk on all fours. I find a swing set and I'm going to leap up to the bar and do a pull-up, maybe I climb on top of it."

Primal yells aren't required, but they're not discouraged either and Karver says anyone can do it. "Whether you are an extremely fit individual or you are a grandmother, it doesn't matter."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Chesterton's Approach

The human race relies heavily on certainty. To be certain that we have a past, that the sun will come up tomorrow, and that in adversity there is hope and actions that can be taken to get through the event. A lot of Gilbert Chesterton’s writings are meant to keep readers off balance and to give them a new perspective. However, many readers are not interested in a new perspective and, even though it is very important to look at things from many different angles, only want to have their view on a topic and nothing else. The opposite of this can be seen in Darwinism, which states that changes come by stronger variations beating out weaker ones over a long period of time through a random process. This seems like a very plausible explanation, but lets look at what it implies. It means that nothing happens fast, which people will like because most do not enjoy significant changes coming at a rapid rate. It also says that the variations happen not because of the individual but because of some random process.

In a lot of circles Darwinism is held as the only option that could potentially explain the evolutionary process. This however seems like a safe fall back as it is a simple process to explain. Darwinists that hear Chesterton’s readings would likely become highly offensive in trying to defend themselves, as they would not want to try and accept these ideas. They would also likely tell them that they are wrong, as they do not want to hear about why Christianity and miracles could actually be real. This is why I appreciate Chesterton’s approach to writing as it gives a different perspective then the regular writings that are straightforward and suppose to present the evidence in a very methodological manner.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sociobiology and Altruism

According to the new school of Darwinian thought all humans are essentially selfish creatures. Sociobiologists like E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins believe that all acts of human altruism are a thin veneer that disguises an essential selfish nature. Altruism in a sociobiological context could be defined as the behavior by an animal that may be disadvantageous to it, but that benefits others of its kind. For the Sociobiologist, all such altruistic actions simply seem unselfish, but actually supply the agent with some evolutionary advantage, i.e. aids them in their pursuit of food or offers increased chances at reproduction. However, Sociobiologists like Wilson and Dawkins are the first to admit that altruism is difficult to explain; acts of true altruism cannot exist in their theory because such acts damage a person’s chances of acquiring more food and sex: aiding another to survive in the struggle for life means one more competitor in the conspecific war of all against all, and amounts to a decrease in available food and potential mates for the altruistic actor.

An example of altruistic behavior in animals can be seen in the submission signals sent by humans, dogs, and many other species that tend to terminate fights between conspecifics before they result in death, like a dog that rolls onto its back and exposes its throat to an adversary. For the sociobiologist, such behavior is puzzling: why wouldn’t one dog immediately tear the throat out of the other, thus eliminating a competitor for both food and sex? Another example is the phenomenon of “baby snatching” observable in some primate species where a bereaved mother kidnaps another female’s baby, adopting it as for its own. For the sociobioligist such behavior makes little evolutionary sense, the kidnapper not only wastes her own time to bring someone else’s genes to maturity, but also frees a rival female from raising the young and to mate that much sooner. The problem for the sociobiologist is why don’t all species always fight to maim or kill, or why don’t mothers welcome baby snatchers?

In an earlier argument I mentioned that human society, when it reaches a certain level of sophistication, always develops specialized castes: warrior, priest and doctors, all of which are inconsistent with the siciobiological belief that humans are essentially selfish. A soldier risks increased chances of being maimed or killed in battle; priests often take on oaths of celibacy, fasting, and self-mortification; doctors try to improve the sick, injured and diseased. The practitioners of these trades receive no evolutionary advantage for serving others, and know this when they when they enter one of these professions; most of us would say that they do so because they are moral people.

Many proponents of the selfish theory of the individual might respond by saying that human morality is itself simply a veneer that was, at some point in the past, grafted onto a selfish human society, either by priests, or Kings, or law givers, as a way of manipulating the masses for the benefit of the few. Such arguments, however, must always have as their starting point ideas of shame or pride. If human society, at some long forgotten point in the past, was essentially selfish, a war of all against all completely lacking in any sort of morality, then the very notions of honorable or shameful, good or bad, would simply not exist and could not ever have been intelligible, even by the sneakiest of priests or the most savvy of politicians. Trying to do so would amount to trying to explain to a fish what it’s like to breath air: no frame of reference is possible.

Those who believe that altruism and morality are mere veneers that cover a selfish human nature often cite cases of extreme deprivation in order to prove their case – of shipwreck survivors killing one their number and eat them to survive, of political prisoners who turn over their accomplices under extreme torture, and etc. Those who believe in a selfish human nature think that these are instances proving the veneer theory: that under extreme duress the true nature of humanity is revealed. One might respond with the same experiments on rats, placing several in a glass cage and submitting one to prolonged torture. After a short time, when the tortured rat sees you coming he will do anything to avoid you and try to hide in the only place it can, under or behind one of its fellows. Now this rat is displaying the same behavior that a human might display under the same circumstances, yet we don’t say that the rat, an imminently social animal, is displaying its “true” moral nature that rat society has been disguising: rats have neither morality nor society. Such experiments do suggest that something is being removed, but what? David Stowe argues that what is stripped away in these extreme cases is biological rather than cultural, “the successive layers of biological development which is natural to our species between infancy and mature adulthood” (Stow. Darwinian Fairytales, 111). Stowe argues that in these extreme examples humans revert to something like infancy and has the benefit of better explaining behavior seen in all mammals, than does the sociobiological one, and he may be right.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Questions on Dogma in Society

How much of Darwinist theory is dogma? How much of it does society accept simply because we were taught it from young up? How many people actually question Evolution? And if we do, are there avenues to do that which will allow us to remain unstigmatized?
The problem is not with evolution. The problem is with people blindly accepting it because it is delivered to them in a curriculum textbook, or in an offhanded remark by an authority figure, or it’s a single line from a Hollywood movie. How much of our society lays in na├»ve ignorance in what they believe to be true? How much evolutionary theory do people actually know? And how much is simply assumed?
How much do people believe in evolution simply because it is the most highlighted antithesis to religion? As Churchland has written that “there is no doubt at all that physical matter exists, while spiritual matter remains a tenuous hypothesis.” Yes there is not necessarily physical matter evidence for spiritual concepts and beliefs. But even Darwin’s theory is not 100% physically based – his theory requires some belief as well; to look around at the world and conclude that it all came about from one unknown common ancestor, requires a lot of belief if you ask me. And a lot more questions need to be raised and answered should that be the case.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

on (scientific) theory, hypothesis & assumptions

In thinking about our last class, it was intriguing to hear individuals and their groups attempting to operationalize a definition for Scientific Theory, and Scientific Fact. While there was a general class consensus as to what a Theory is, and in turn what constitutes a Fact, there was tremendous variability presented and much debate about where the threshold for Scientific laid. This variability seems analogous to the view and dissemination present in our writings of Darwin and the so-called Darwinists as seen here in this medium.

Truthfully - operational definitions vary from science to science, and there are rarely clear well defined distinctions between the varying levels of 'classical' or 'hard' sciences, like chemistry and physics, and the 'soft' social sciences like sociology, psychology or anthropology. Here the level of analysis is important and debated, set, reset and dynamically decided within each field.

Our group approaches in this class have, it appears to me, followed a similar vein of rationality. What is acceptable fact to our Darwinists, lacks the logical heft for both critics of Darwinists and Logicians themselves. What is damnable evidence regarding the failings of Evolution Theory to explain human culture and development is a misunderstanding of assumptions.

For example, the theory of Evolution by the mechanism of natural selection (including individual, sexual and group methods) makes the assumption that individual development is static, that is, it does not change. This is done to unpackage complexity/variance from the greater variables regarding selection, mutation, and inheritance for instance. What this does not mean is that Natural Selection ignores individual development, but simply that within the given theoretical framework, it is assumed to be constant and therefore not impacting the group of individuals (ie. species development), such that the scientists may look solely at the group level.

Thankfully, with much of the work largely supporting Darwin's theories, these little issues of variance (like individual development) are being pulled from the list of assumptions and (scientifically) tested. It is from here largely accepted and supported 'Theories' are to be called into doubt, and current fields of the 'softer sciences' are bridging into one another. Developing fields of Biopsychology, Evolutionary Psychology particularly are leaving the simplistic adaptationist theories and adopting more holistic systems-theories that allow for bidirectionality in the expression of genomes, phenomes, the environment and personal (individual) experiences.

Education and Darwin

Bernard Shaw questioned the education system stating that it is problematic as it just re-iterates the same information from generation to generation (Shaw, 1963, p. xiii). This type of thought can be used when scrutinizing Darwinism as well. The ideas that were presented by Charles Darwin have been passed down from generation to generation, but it seems as though the message has been lost. To use an analogy, it is like the telephone game where one person starts with a message, then the message is whispered from person to person in a circle, and the final person has to say out loud what the message they received was and it is generally very different from what was originally intended. This is in part because everyone has different ways of interpreting messages and picking out the important parts of the information.

Doctor Bruce Alexander who presented to the class even said that there is a group of Darwinians that he does not agree with, as they do not follow the true word of Darwin. How can Darwinism live on in what is presented in the general public as a united faction when really it is very divided. Even though the message of Darwin was written in Origin of Species and Descent of Man, there are those from the 19th century that critic his work and those today that do. In primary education there is no discussion about whether Darwin’s thoughts could be discredited, but instead just told that this is the way it is and to accept it. There needs to be a more critical approach taken not only to Darwinism, but a wide range of other topics in primary education to prepare students for the real world. In high school biology I recall my teacher stating, “This class will teach from a scientific point of view, not a religious one”. After reading a number of critics of Darwin, it is easy to see that Darwinism is not an indisputable theory. Shaw’s critic of the education system is very valid, and needs to be taken into consideration.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Darwinism & Unidentified DNA

In the last lecture, we discussed what scientific theory and scientific fact are respectively. Clearly, Darwinism is not a fact since many people have already proved that Darwin was wrong in many aspects. Then, is Darwinism a scientific theory? Basically, the central idea of Darwinism is about the evolution of species based on natural selection. However, the current biological scientific technology still cannot properly explain genes or DNAs. For instance, over 98% of DNA has largely unknown function, and the scientist call them “Junk DNAs” (Suurkula). Why are the unidentified DNAs called “Junk DNAs”? Is it because scientists cannot use science to identify them? Maybe one day in the future, scientists will provide a proper answer (a scientific fact) for us to understand our genomes, and at that time Darwinism can become a kind of scientific theory. Thus, to some degree, Darwinism is now just a scientific hypothesis, or even has nothing to do with science.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Williard Van Orman Quine's "Common Sense"

“Science is a continuation of common sense, and it continues the common-sense expedient of swelling ontology to simplify theory” (Quine, 1961, para. 8). That is a direct quote from Williard Van Orman Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism (1961) and in light of further course readings is a very delusional statement. As was noted by Professor Steven Ogden and in fact Quine himself, this author is a very strong empiricist. An empiricist, by definition, is “the view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge” (answers.com, 2010). Therefore if I cannot feel, hear, smell, see, or taste something, it cannot be real. This feels like a very Darwinist viewpoint as it calls on existence of everything on earth, but does so by saying that there has to be some way to know it is there.

However, we do not know about certain aspects of the world and universe. There is no way to sense it or quantify it in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, there are certain individuals out there that do believe that everything can be broken down quantitatively and qualitatively. This however is a miss conception as not everything in this world can be known to be true. To say “Science is common sense” is a very big stretch, as not every situation can be broken down into a simple mathematical formula or theory (Quine, 1961, para. 8). No one can be sure that one chain of events causes another.

Darwinists would like to think that mapping, documentation, and studies would be able to give them the proper answer that it is natural selection that causes variation in different species. They would say that it is just common sense that this is the way nature works. As was stated last class, we have come a long way in thinking that it is just religious fanatics that think that Darwinism may not be true to see that there are other critics as well. Well this is an example of absolutism, and even though Quine does not state he is a Darwinist, I can almost guarantee you that Darwinian followers would love to use this as ammunition. This is almost as bad as religious fanaticism as it does not leave the door open for anything else besides these thoughts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New theories of Evolution

New Theories of Evolution?

Darwin was not the first to suggest that species evolved. The theories put forward by those such as Lamarck, Buffon, and Erasamus Darwin although interesting and thought provoking never succeeded in entering the public imagination, and remained a part of a specialized intellectual discourses and to a fringe element . I think that what accounts, at least in part, for the success of Darwin’s theory is that it offers a straightforward and logical mechanism that is easily followed by the average member of society. Darwin’s theory offers a clear explanation that requires no specialized knowledge and does not require a leap of faith on the part of the reader. One might say of Darwin’s theory what Winston Churchill said of Democracy, that it may be the worst explanation of evolution, except for all the others that have been tried; as imperfect as it is, it is still the only game in town, or is it?

In a recent article entitled “Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land” authors S. Sahney et. al., engage in a statistical analyses of “tetrapods” in the fossil record in an attempt to explain their “exponential increase from one species to many tens of thousands .” In their explanation for the explosion of tetrapod species the authors offer an alternative to competition as the driving force behind evolution citing instead “the expansion of habitats occupied as tetrapods moved from the waterside to exploit new sectors of the earth’s surface, such as forests, plains and deserts.” Although the authors of the paper do admit that competition in the form of “incumbent replacement” does take place, this would mainly occur after “major environmental disruption such as a mass extinction” and the authors conclude that “tetrapod diversity was primarily achieved by unrestricted expansion into empty eco space.” It was not unrelieved competition that was responsible for bio diversity (evolution), but rather that organisms adapted to make use of previously unexploited sources of food, allowing them the run of the niche as it were.

Advances in science and technology and a more complete picture of the fossil record have resulted in new theories that claim to explain evolution, such as that discussed above. However, these new and viable theories seem to have little impact on the primacy of place given Darwin’s never ending struggle for existence. Perhaps one of the factors that explain the continuing success of Darwin’s theory is not so much that his argument is airtight – as a theory it still leaves many questions unanswered, but rather its rhetorical or narrative force. Put simply, Darwin’s theory is a much more dramatic, even romantic view of evolution that dovetails nicely with the way many would see themselves: the noble individual struggling against all odds to establish a family and live a peaceful and fruitful life; compared to the statistical analyses of taxa and minute inspections of the fossil record, Darwin wins hands down. My guess is that Darwin’s theory will remain the leading one in the mind of the average rational individual until one more exciting comes along.

J. McNamara