From: Dace (email@example.com)
Date: Sun 27 Nov 2005 - 20:53:36 GMT
Richard Dawkins contributes the introductory article to a special section on
"Darwin & Evolution" in the November issue of Natural History. The full text is located here: http://www.naturalhistorymagazine.com/master.html?http://www.naturalhistorym agazine.com/1105/1105_feature3.html
Here's a few excerpts from his article, "The Illusion of Design," followed
by my responses:
"The world is divided into things that look as though somebody designed them
(wings and wagon-wheels, hearts and televisions), and things that just happened through the unintended workings of physics (mountains and rivers, sand dunes, and solar systems). Mount Rushmore belonged firmly in the second category until the sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved it into the first. Charles Darwin moved in the other direction. He discovered a way in which the unaided laws of physics - the laws according to which things 'just happen' - could, in the fullness of geologic time, come to mimic deliberate design."
With the phrase, "unaided laws of physics," Dawkins seriously misrepresents
Darwin's approach. While Darwin obviously never claims that the behavior of
organisms defies physics, he doesn't assert that physics is sufficient,
unaided, to explain organisms and evolution. "Throw up a handful of
feathers," he writes in *The Origin of Species,* "and all fall to the ground
according to definite laws; but how simple is the problem where each shall
fall compared to the action and reaction of the innumerable plants and
animals." In other words, we'll never work out the main issues of life and
evolution by relying on the abstract principles of physics. This isn't to
say that we must rely on a life-force but simply that we must take into
account the will of the whole organism acting in its interests.
According to Neal C. Gillespie, author of *Charles Dawin and the Problem of
Creation* (University of Chicago, 1979) Darwin was a materialist only in the
pragmatic sense, not in a metaphysical sense, as Dawkins seems to believe.
"Darwin frequently rejected scientific theories that touched on philosophical materialism: his ambivalence about spontaneous generation; his Lamarck-like insistence on the role of individual will and volition in originating the now inherited expressions of emotions in man and in the higher animals; his dissent from Huxley's notion of animal automatonism, all come to mind." (p 141) That Darwin was a mechanist who viewed organisms as physically determined assemblages of molecules is a projection of Dawkins.
"The breathtaking power and reach of Darwin's idea... is matched by its
audacious simplicity. You can write it out in a phrase: nonrandom survival
of randomly varying hereditary instructions for building embryos."
This is not Darwin's idea by Dawkins' idea or rather August Weismann's.
Darwin explicitly rejected the notion that natural selection depends on
random variations in germ-plasm. As he writes in *The Origin of Species,*
modification occurs "chiefly through the natural selection of numerous,
slight, favorable variations; aided in an important manner by the inherited
effects of the use and disuse of parts; and in an unimportant manner... by
variations which seem to us in our ignorance to arise spontaneously." For
Darwin, what counts is the organism's "use and disuse" in the course of
adapting to external conditions. The variations feeding the mill of natural
selection come about primarily from willed adaptation rather than
spontaneous mutation of "germ-plasm," i.e. genes.
Furthermore, Darwin rejected the idea that the form of the organism arises
strictly from "hereditary instructions." He pointed out that such a scheme
would inevitably produce monstrosities, since a change in the instructions
for one organ could cause it to grow out of proportion with the rest of the
organism. The influence of hereditary instructions would thus have to be
complemented by a "coordinating power" that brings "the parts into harmony
with each other." (*The Variation of Animals and Plants Under
Domestication,* 1875, vol 2, p 354).
"Yet, given the opportunities afforded by deep time, this simple little
algorithm generates prodigies of complexity, elegance, and diversity of
apparent design. True design, the kind we see in a knapped flint, a jet
plane, or a personal computer, turns out to be a manifestation of an
entity - the human brain - that itself was never designed."
It's odd that Dawkins would contrast a jet or a computer with an organism
given that he views the organism as a set of components under the domination
of physical law, precisely the definition of a jet or a computer. Equally
odd is that Dawkins claims to be dismissing design in organisms despite the
fact that his phrase, "hereditary instructions," can only be interpreted as
a kind of design. It seems that Dawkins himself has fallen prey to the
"illusion of design," not the intentional design of a deity but the unintentional design of physics. Either way, the local causation of willful creatures adapting to real-world environments is replaced with universal causation of one type (theological) or another (physical).
Dawkins claims that "the skepticism that often greets Darwin's idea is a
measure of its greatness." Yet the issue isn't Darwin's idea, which has
been swept under the rug, but Weismann's idea. Where Darwin saw the
adapting organism as the key source of variations to be accepted or rejected
by natural selection, Weismann saw randomly varying germ-plasm as the
ultimate source of evolution. It's this view that is greeted with
widespread skepticism, not Darwin's. A theory of evolution that sees no
role for the adaptive organism is inherently implausible. It is, after all,
the organism, not the gene, that must survive in the wilds. Correcting
Dawkins, "the skepticism that often greets Weismann's idea is a measure of
"Yet the highly improbable does exist in the real world, and it must be
explained." Here Dawkins begs the question. He assumes Weismannian
evolution is true. Therefore the fact that it's improbable doesn't mean it
should be subjected to scrutiny but that this implausibility must somehow be
explained away. But we need not reflexively accept an improbable view of
evolution. If we recognize what Darwin really said, we find that a
plausible view of evolution is already at hand.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun 27 Nov 2005 - 21:11:35 GMT