Re: The evolution of "evolution"

From: Dace (
Date: Sun 02 Oct 2005 - 22:41:43 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: The evolution of "evolution""


    > "The Hopeless and the Pointless: What Would Darwin Say?"
    > I think he'd say "I don't like this article".

    In *The Meaning of Evolution: The Morphological Construction and Ideological Reconstruction of Darwin's Theory,* Robert Richards notes that Darwin is generally regarded today as if he'd been a neo-Darwinist. In fact, he asserted that the theory of natural selection depends on the ability of organisms to transmit acquired characters to their offspring. As he wrote in *The Origin of Species,* the dual proposition that the parts of the organism can be altered at any age and that such variations are inherited by offspring at a corresponding or earlier age "must stand or fall together with the whole theory of natural selection."

    Of course, what Darwin didn't know is that phenotypic alterations have no effect on genes. Darwin's hypothetical mechanism for the transmission of acquired traits to offspring, "pangenesis," is dead on the water. We can therefore assume that he would have taken great interest in any theory that would account for such transmission through a different mechanism, such as Walter Elsasser's "holistic memory." As a post-Einsteinian physicist, Elsasser was well aware that nature makes use of action at a distance, which accounts for the ability of the sun to hold the planets in orbit and electromagnetic waves to propagate through deep space without the need for a material "ether." Elsasser wondered if our everyday experience of memory involves action at a distance over time. To explain ontogenesis, we need only posit that newly developing organisms are influenced, via bodily memory, by past, similar organisms, primarily those belonging to the same species.

    Gene theory, on the other hand, has virtually nothing to say about ontogenesis. Researchers can only point out that a particular gene corresponds to a particular trait and that this effect follows from the presence of a particular protein. So, the gene that results in brown eyes provides the template for the enzyme that catalyzes the relevant pigment. That's it. No gene for how the eye is to be structured, what its parts are or how they're assembed, just a template for a protein that influences its appearance. No blueprint, no developmental program, nothing of consequence to the emergence of bodies from eggs. Lacking any compelling reason as to why we should reduce the organism to its genes, we have no reason to reduce evolution to the transmission of genes.

    But would Darwin have seriously considered a "crazy" idea like the inheritance of traits without a material medium? Near the end of *Origin* Darwin pokes fun at Leibniz for accusing Newton of having introduced "occult qualities and miracles" into science with his theory of gravity. Clearly, Darwin was open to the possibility of action at a distance. Given his insistence that natural selection requires the inheritance of acquired characters, he would surely have approved of Elsasser's theory. The fact that Elsasser was German-- and evolutionary theory emerged out of early 19th century German Romanticism-- certainly wouldn't have hurt. From Goethe to Elsasser, all the really useful biological theorizing has been from the holistic standpoint.

    > Really, Ted, if this kind of thing was just wrong, I'd be inclined just to
    ignore it,
    > but you're giving ammunition to the creationists with your ill-informed
    slating of
    > modern biology.

    If you think I've misstated modern biology, perhaps you should point out the error.

    In contrast to contemporary biologists, Darwin was well aware that evolution by natural selection was not a done deal. In order for people to take it seriously, the theory would have to be plausible. Species evolve in response to their environment because organisms adapt and pass on those adaptations to their descendents. It all comes down to the adaptations made by creatures during their lifetimes. You remove this element from the theory, and it's like taking out the key plank at the base of a tower of wooden pieces-- it all comes crashing down. With its dependence on accident in place of adaptation, neo-Darwinism is inherently implausible, and this is why a majority of Americans think creationism ought to be taught alongside evolution. It's not that creationism is so great but simply that
    "evolution" is being conflated with neo-Darwinism, a theory so absurd that anything seems preferable.

    The question, then, is why contemporary biologists are such wide-eyed true believers in such an unconvincing theory. The difference between Darwin's day and ours is that back then most scientists were skeptical of evolution, so you had to have a really persuasive, powerful theory. Now, with the herd mentality having sucked the vast majority of scientifically educated people into the neo-Darwinian vortex, biologists feel they have no need to present a convincing case.

    > In the "war on creationism", I propose you are court-martialled,
    > sent to Lamarckano Bay and made to read Steve Gould's "Structure of
    > Evolutionary Theory" right the way through to the end (including

    The battle against creationism cannot be won without a recognition that evolution does not depend on neo-Darwinist reductionism. This, in turn, requires that we recognize the possibility of inheritance at a distance. Given the acceptance of the principle of action at a distance in physics, it's a wonder that biologists, who imagine their worldview to be grounded in physics, can't bring themselves around. Though banished from respectable physics, Leibniz's injunction against "occult qualities" appears to have mutated and taken residency in the minds of biologists, where it successfully replicates down to the present day.


    Btw, there are no footnotes in The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. All of Gould's references are embedded in the text. If you feel this book contains a refutation of anything in my paper, you'll have to be specific.

    >> At 21:04 27/09/2005, you wrote:
    >> Discusses the evolving meanings of "evolution" in the context of the
    >> against creationism.
    >> ted

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