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Website: Descent of Man Revisited
The most confusing aspect of the study of evolution is the nature of the first step, natural selection. The debate over evolution tends to degenerate into a conflict of science and religion, deflecting our attention from the basic problem with Darwin’s theory: the limits of selectionist explanation with ‘Just So Stories’, or adaptationist scenarios. It is very convenient for Darwinists to confront Creationist critics who tend to reject the fact of evolution. This deflects attention from the real problem. In the final analysis the proposition of natural selection would seem implausible. The original criticisms of the first generation of Darwin critics in many ways still stand. T. H. Huxley himself, ironically, warned Darwin on the eve of publication of the problem with natural selection. The intractable character of the debate is no mystery and arises from the violation of the limits of observation, Karl Popper famous ‘metaphysical research program’.[i]
In general some process of self-organization is at work beyond the limits of selectionist oversimplifications. In the words of S. Kauffman in his At Home in the Universe ,
The existence of spontaneous order is a stunning challenge to our settled ideas in biology since Darwin . Most biologists have believed for over a century that selection is the sole source of order in biology, that selection is the tinkerer that crafts the forms. But if the forms selection chooses among were generated by laws of complexity, then selection has always had a handmaiden. It is not, after all, the sole source of order, and organisms are not just tinkered-together contraptions, but expressions of deeper laws. If all this is true, what a revision of the Darwinian worldview will lie before us! Not we the accidental, but we the expected![ii]
In general, severe, almost certainly fatal, mathematical challenges have always stood in the way of selectionist assumptions. In a now classic text, Evolution From Space, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe give one version of this objection.
Darwinian evolution is most unlikely to get even one polypeptide right, let alone the thousands on which living cells depend for their survival. This situation is well known to geneticists and yet nobody seems prepared to blow the whistle on the theory.[iii]
This viewpoint has been ‘refuted’ so many times that we forget genetic research has essentially confirmed it with the discovery of new developmental structures and processes. The full random run is in fact ‘compressed’ by the existence of some other process of development. In general, we must be wary of statistical reasoning applied to evolution. Even the suspicion of a directional process will throw any calculations here out of kilter. The amount of sophistry attempting to counter Hoyle, strewn over the Internet, is remarkable. Current thinking has quietly shifted to claims for the emergence of some ‘evolutionary toolkit’. Now it is claimed this arises by chance alone.
The literature critiquing natural selection is considerable, and we will assume some familiarity with such. A number of classic studies beggar the idea that all critics are religiously motivated. Beside Soren Lovtrup’s Darwinism: Refutation of a Myth, we have Robert Reid’s Evolutionary Theory, The Unfinished Synthesis, where the author notes, “I thought my failure to understand selection theory fully was the result of the specialization of the subject beyond my simple comprehension. Confident that every aspect of natural selection was for the best, I little knew that it had long been criticized for just that Panglossian felicity”. In Beyond Natural Selection, Robert Wesson gives a naturalist’s second opinion of the gritty details that mount up and cast a shadow on the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, noting, “Natural selection is credited with seemingly miraculous feats because we want an answer and have no other. There probably cannot be another general answer. Biologists, it seems, must do without a comprehensive theory of evolution.” Wesson summons up an impressive list of oddities that current theories simply disregard. Simple things, like the absence of selective advantage in dreaming, the failure of sexual selection in practice to feedforward intelligence, the six-leggedness of insects, a host of discrepancies. “Many very simple facts, such as that all the millions of species of insects, and no species of non-insects have six legs, might well might well be considered to disprove natural selection as a generalization.”[iv]
Again, as S. Kauffman notes in At Home in the Universe,
“Since Darwin, we turn to a single, singular force, Natural Selection, which we might well capitalize as though it were the new deity. Random variation, selection-sifting. Without it, we reason, there would be nothing but incoherent disorder. I shall argue in this book that this idea is wrong. For, as we shall see, the emerging sciences of complexity begin to suggest that the order is not all accidental, that vast veins of spontaneous order lie at hand. Laws of complexity spontaneously generate much of the order of the natural world. It is only then that selection comes into play, further molding and refining.” [v]
We are still without a theory of evolution, in part because we have never observed its mechanics in action, confused by the superficial surface of evolution, selection-sifting.
Historical Counter-evidence Debates over natural selection are mostly repetitive propaganda exchanges. The debate revolves around a set of abstractions. But a picture is worth a thousand words. It can help to examine a rich data set such as that of the eonic effect in order to see how misleading the claims for natural selection can be. We soon discover that natural selection is often counter-evolutionary, and can lead to degradation of evolutionary forms. A close look at world history shows that the fittest survivors are a problem historical evolution is required to solve.
The Axial Age/Eonic Effect World history seen at close range suggests something entirely different at work than natural selection. The competition of cultures and empires rarely leads to advance, which comes from a different source. The competition in history that we see too often degrades the outcome. Compare Axial Age Greece and Imperial Rome. The latter is a clear winner of competition. The former shows a state of higher realization that declines very quickly as it enters a stage of empire.
[i] Sherrie Lyons, Thomas Henry Huxley (New York: Prometheus, 1999), p. 231. Soren Lovtrup, Darwinism: Refutation of a Myth (New York: Croom Helm, 1987), Robert Reid, Evolutionary Theory, The Unfinished Synthesis (New York: Cornell, 1985), Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection (Cambridge: MIT, 1991), Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (New York: Adler & Adler, 1985), Kevin Kelly, Out of Control (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994), Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), Mark Kirschner & John Gerhart, The Plausibility of Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005). Popper’s essay, “Darwinism as a Metaphysical Research Program”, can be found in his intellectual biography, Unended Quest, (New York: Open Court, 1976). A new wave of critics is emerging, Suzan Mazur, The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry (Wellington, New Zealand: Scoop Media, 2009). Jerry Fodor & Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010).
[ii] Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 9.
[iii] Cf. F. Hoyle & N. Wickrmasinghe , Evolution From Space (London: Dent, 1981), p. 148.
[iv] Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection (Cambridge: MIT, 1994), p. xii.
[v] Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe (New York: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 8.