Re: Dawkins on Darwin

From: Derek Gatherer (
Date: Wed 30 Nov 2005 - 09:04:22 GMT

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    So is Natural History going to publish your responses, then, Ted?

    At 20:53 27/11/2005, you wrote:
    >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:
    >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
    >its weakness."
    >"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)

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