Exchange 1

Shaun, invitation to join a LinkIn group, The Evolved Self

Is common cause possible?

In my experience, no two critics of neo-darwinism share the same motive for their convictions. I have found no one who shares my concerns, for example. However, so much is at stake (in my opinion) that I intend to persevere in trying to arrive at a consensus of some kind.

I have two concerns: first, I think new-darwinism is shockingly inadequate as a scientific theory; second, I feel threatened by darwinism's hostility to mental properties such as consciousness, creativity and free will. I would like to collaborate on coming up with a new dualism. More at Take On Darwin.

 

David: RE: Shaun Johnston invites you to join The Evolved Self [group] on LinkedIn

Comment

Of course, you're not counting us plain creationists, although there are different groups under that banner. However, as with the explicit attempt seen in the Intelligent Design movement, many of us are willing to set our differences aside for the sake of our shared argument with all materialistic forms of Darwinism, and for the most part theistic evolutionism, which is the same thing with a pietistic "God had something to do with it" afterthought of one variety or another.

The common theme is that Darwinism and neo-darwinism/the modern synthesis were never formally, strictly set forth as good scientific theories should be; and as far as they have come close to that goal, they have been found to come short.

Darwin's original specific ideas were quickly shown to be faulty and rejected. Huxley, Haeckel, and others carried the banner forward and won the popularity contest using Darwin's vague appeals to variation and selection (actually rejection) and slightly different emphases on whatever specifics they dealt in. Haeckel fudged his embryo drawings in order to get his particular progressivist view accepted. Everybody just assumed that animals were somehow "plastic" or infinitely malleable in their generational variations, and vaguely imagined "selection pressure" virtually molding the living tissues of each generation in many ways at once, ever so slightly, in all the right directions.

When scientists finally discovered the discrete, even digital pattern of inheritance that was there to discover with experiments all along, as Mendel had done back in Darwin's day, it was obvious that Darwinism wouldn't work. The "new synthesis" was merely grasping at the last remaining straw of the old scheme, the "sports" which Darwin had assigned a minor role, and making that the key to a new system. Obviously organisms didn't vary indefinitely, so the only remaining possibility for novel variations on which natural rejection could work was mutation. It should have been apparent from the start, just by sheer mathematical logic, that random mutations wouldn't suffice to provide working variations of additional complexity to something as complex as a living thing, but to be fair, even in the early 20th century there was a lot we didn't know about just how complex even "simple" living cells were. Still, when early experiments involving accelerated mutation rates turned up nothing but slight, simple variations; pathetic cripples that wouldn't survive very long in the wild; and bizarre hopeless monsters, it should at least then have been clear that the theory was in serious trouble.

So, full-blown creationists, the IDers who were bold enough not to mind being lumped in with us, and even evolutionists of various stripes who simply doubt Darwinism and new-Darwinism may have different motivations, but we all agree that the reigning theory doesn't have the true, scientific explanatory power it is said to have. Instead, it is the power of the "Just-So Story" and the bed of Procrustes combined with the psychology of The Emperor's New Clothes: All True Scientists are (Darwinian) Evolutionists because they've been taught that all the data fits the accepted scheme, and so all data must be explained in a way that fits, and since all the data fits, (Darwinian) evolution must be true. So creationists must be nothing more than religious kooks.

But what if you accept evolution to the Nth degree, but simply disagree with the specific mechanism? After all, in attacking creationists, evolutionists say it is a false dichotomy to say that disproving evolution means creation must be true. There could be other possibilities, other mechanisms. Generally we figure some of our criticisms apply to all forms and mechanisms, but that's because generally all evolutionists are materialists, atheists, or theists willing to push God right out of the universe for the most part. I'm interested to see what they'll do with a doubter in their midst.

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Shaun: I ask your indulgence,
David, I've been trying to figure out how to respond to learning you're a creationist. When I encounter an anti-darwinist I like to learn why they're anti-darwinist. So far, no two have had similar motivations, and not having found common ground I've no one to share my interest with. In the case of creationists, though, I assume the motivation at root is to preserve conformity with Biblical revelation and their remarks will be configured to achieve that primary concern. However, you don't give that impression. Hence my hesitation.

I therefore ask a favor of you. Would you read an essay I've just written and let me know how you relate to it? I know how tedious it is to be asked to read someone else's writing, particularly upfront, as if it's more important for you to know about me than for me to know anything about you.  But, it feels as if in response to you, I've written a statement of what I think, that would help you identify, and tell me, how your thinking relates to mine. That would make it easier for me to know how to answer your interesting post at LinkedIn.

Without more ado I send the essay, and hit send. Cheers, Shaun.

How to educate future discoverers of evolution


More than two lifetimes ago we made one of the greatest discoveries of all time--we'd evolved. We  weren't exceptional because we'd been created specially by God, instead we were just one more animal species. In fact, because we'd been formed by the same process as all other species we had no right to think of ourselves as exceptional at all.  We had no right to claim for ourselves any capabilities beyond those that, in a couple of billion years, could evolve out of non-living matter. 

When I first learned this, in my mid teens, I was awestruck! The process of evolution was capable to creating such amazing creatures as ourselves. What must that process be like?

I still think I was right to be awestruck. After all, this discovery was new. The possibility of evolution may have been raised before but no one had been able to prove it true. Now, though, the proof for it was convincing--fossils showed living species weren't created each one from scratch, each one appeared where the species most like it already lived. They seemed to spawn each other, forming strings of species like twigs on a tree. Trace that process back and it was hard to argue against all living species having originally branched off from a single trunk.

We had a new origin story, surely destined to be the basis for a new tradition of culture and philosophy, I thought. After all, most of our existing traditions had grown out of one or another origin story; either we'd been created by a God who loved us and gave us powers we'd need to worship him appropriately, or we were cycling through successive lifetimes in a quest for release from earthly existence, or we were pure matter acted on by nothing more than physical and chemical processes. Each of those origin stories imposed on us its own set of assumption about who and what we were, that we'd then turn into traditions through which we found meaning. Now we were abruptly faced with embracing, in place of those, an entirely new origin story.

Yet discovering we evolved has had little impact? Why? I believe, because it's soon. I've come to believe the great pioneer days of forging meaning out of having evolved lie ahead. Quite far ahead: I like to think today's young people will be the grandparents of those who forge those new traditions. One or two of them will become the most famous humans who ever lived, for laying the foundations of a new human nature endowing all future generations with capabilities far beyond those of any prior age, identified through study of the process of evolution and found  to be responsible for its vast creativity.

How should we train young people for them to become in due course the mentors of those future creators of the greatest hinge of history?

If the past is any guide, those future pioneers won't be scientists. Few of the original pioneers of evolutionary theory in the 19th century were scientists, they were physicians, writers, and gentlemen of leisure. It fell to those who came later to turn the insights of those pioneers into systems you could do science with and to create terminology you could use to communicate the results of your experiments. Once those systems arose, however, they seemed to inhibit the kind of speculation through which the original pioneers arrived at their insights. Sciences can be manufactured as needed, scientists can be trained, it's fruitful speculation we should train our potential pioneers for.

Again, if we turn to the past for guidance, the key is study of nature itself, informed but without preconceptions. And being able to dissociate information from the assumptions bound to be embedded in it.

Maybe, if we're to train them, we should prepare by learning how, ourselves.

I arrived at this train of thought from reading an account of the work of the scientists who laid the foundations for modern evolutionary theory a lifetime ago. Their attention seemed focused almost entirely on the implications of each others theories, nature being of interest mainly for providing instances that either supported or contradicted one anothers' theories. I was struck by the absence of an agreed-upon list of the phenomena that needed to be accounted for. I think we can lay a foundation for future speculation about evolution by coming up with such a list ourselves.

Here's my list to start the project off, in the form of questions:

What does the cell's almost-perfect system of DNA repair say about the role of DNA in evolution?

How did dreaming evolve, what did it evolve out of, and how did it or does it now contribute to evolving?

If we're not exceptional in experiencing consciousness, where else in nature could it exist? What could it evolve out of? What kind of process must be involved in conscious experience evolving?

Foals seem to enter the world already equipped to engage in several gaits such as walking, jumping and running , to navigate a world of gravity, solid ground, and solid objects at various distances, and to recognize objects such as other horses. What kinds of patterns of connection must already be built into it, and what kind of process must it take to generate those patterns during gestation? How can such information be stored in genes and read out of them to generate tissues embodying those patterns of connection?

A baby whale, by swimming, very effectively stirs its own tissues. How then is symmetry and proportion maintained over distances of up to 100 feet in whales as they grow?

Swarms of birds and fish many yards across seem to move as one. How is their synchronized movement coordinated? What signal is capable of traveling across such swarms at speeds of hundreds of feet a second, hundreds of miles an hour? How else could such signals be employed in living processes?

What does an evolved creature choosing to become a scientist say about evolution?

How did reading this list make you feel? I expect a lay person to feel nothing more than mild interest; yes, these are the kinds of questions a reasonably informed human being is likely to ask. But I expect scientists to feel frustrated; "these are not the kinds of questions you ask about evolution. Here, I'll tell you what the right kinds of questions are..."

If I'm right, this tendency of scientists and their supporters to limit speculation to only what can be expressed in terms of existing theories is  a major barrier to preparing young people for the next great revolution in evolutionary science.  I suggest those entrusted with the education of pioneers in that revolution discipline themselves to shed any assumptions they may have about how you should talk about what it means we evolved.
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David:
Shaun, it's hardly an indulgence; I consider it a privilege if not an honor to be granted this preview and insight into your life and vision of the world around us.
 
Very few evolutionists seem capable of considering a creationist has any other consideration in rejecting evolution other than an unreasoning allegiance to their religious beliefs. I wouldn't deny that religious belief came first in my case and provided the initial motivation to question and evolution and continue to reject it, but I could not hold to my religious beliefs, which include putting a premium on knowing and accepting Truth, if I felt that the story about life forming by natural processes alone and then likewise evolving into all forms of life were true. Alternatively, I might then come up with a clever modification of my religious beliefs to accommodate this truth.
I'm going to be 53 years old this year. When I was young, the excitement over the Miller-Urey experiment was still high, Ichthyostega was presented to us younglings as a near-ideal intermediate between fish and amphibians, the universe was said to be most likely 20 billion years old, and Nutcracker Man was big news as almost certainly right on the cusp of the ape-man lineage. Well, perhaps you know that none of those things have lived up to expectations, or aren't considered true at all.  It's true that other things have stepped up to take their place or be proclaimed as advances, such as the emphasis on australopithecines, Tiktaalik and other "fishapods" and several "walking whales," but to me at least these fail to present a picture of scientific advance in spite of setbacks. It certainly doesn't compare to other fields in advancement of demonstrable knowledge and practical applications.
Since I was young I've also gone from hearing evolutionists claim that nobody with a scientific mind could possibly believe in creation to joining (as a non-voting member) an organization with hundreds of creationists with advanced degrees in science, medicine, and engineering, and knowing of several creationists who have made significant contributions to scientific endeavors. And I've seen a whole new (if overlapping) subset of Darwin doubters arise in the ID movement (which, despite its strong creationist ties, includes a number of people who don't believe in Divine creation). Certainly still a very small minority of scientists are creationists, but the growth of doubt and opposition is, I think, inconsistent with evolution being an undeniable "scientific truth" (as if the postmodernists were right about their being different truths).
Furthermore, I have made some effort to keep abreast of scientific developments and read articles about evolution in journals such as Nature. I have sought to discern what has been determined with scientific rigor and what is believed because of philosophical assumptions, extrapolations and interpolations. What has become apparent to me is that everything involved in the debate is at best a secondarily-derived conclusion and not something that has been scientifically demonstrated.
So, while my religious beliefs play a role in my opinion of Darwinism, I could not continue to doubt it apart from my considerations of philosophy, history, and "scientific facts."
Now, having shared that background, I will tell you that what struck me first and most about your essay was this statement: "...this discovery was new. The possibility of evolution may have been raised before but no one had been able to prove it true. Now, though, the proof for it was convincing--fossils showed living species weren't created each one from scratch, each one appeared where the species most like it already lived. They seemed to spawn each other, forming strings of species like twigs on a tree. Trace that process back and it was hard to argue against all living species having originally branched off from a single trunk."
You seem to be conflating the idea that the fossil record "proves" evolution to be true with "this discovery was new." The concept of a history of evolutionary stages of life is actually ancient, and if you're referring to Darwin's work, he recognized that the fossil record did not provide good support for his theory, and instead provided excuses and rationalizations for why it might never do so; which philosophical concepts or rhetorical devices are still being used. It is true that species have changed over time, but it takes a leap of faith to believe that "all living species" have descended "from a single trunk." You can trace living mammals and birds back to some 40 lineages each of more-or-less archaic but recognizable and distinct fossil types in the Cenozoic; any connection with the mammalian and avian fossils of the Mesozoic is generally a great stretch (with a few late-Cretaceous exceptions such as Gansus being an ancestral duck/goose-type waterfowl). It's a similar situation when tracing back the great diversity of dinosaurs until suddenly there's a mere handful of "primitive" forms, and (generally) below those a great diversity of amphibian forms that seem to have burst (after a mysterious gap) from one or two candidates for intermediates from fish. The fish  suddenly exhibit thre or four main distinct forms with many lesser variations after a long thin trail of possible ancestors. It all begins, with a few exceptions, early in the Cambrian where we find all the major phyla represented, so that the main branches from the central trunk are entirely within the realm of faith and imagination. No, I don't think the fossil record proves evolution at all, rather I think belief in evolution has guided and provided the interpretations of paleontology.
The second thing that struck me was your separation of belief in evolution from the belief that "... we were pure matter acted on by nothing more than physical and chemical processes" without any appeal to religious belief of any sort, nor any indication of what more there might be, or what hints you see in evolution or elsewhere that there is something more. You seem to think that the story of evolution itself suggests a transcendance of mere physical processes (which would include the chemical ones, ultimately). On the contrary, evolution was devised on the basis of the belief that nothing existed (or at least, was effectively operative in our universe) except matter and energy from the beginning of time, IF it had a beginning. Galileo showed "how the heavens go," later men said there wasn't any Heaven to go to. Sir Francis Bacon had described nature as a second book of God's revelation (with limitations), later men took Nature as the superior or only source of truth. Sir Isaac Newton showed that physical forces explained the motions of the planets (created and started by God), later men said that science must work to explain the entire history of  the universe with nothing but physical forces as we knew them. Linnaeus had begun the work of trying to discern and catalogue the kinds of life that God created, later men said that if his categories were actually mutable, then all life could have resulted from transformations from one kind.  If science must explain all of the universe in terms of natural forces, then the only plausible origin of that one kind must be some form of spontaneous generation.
So how do I relate to your essay? It gives me the sense that, having had to "know my enemy" to oppose evolution without simply sticking my head in the sand (or the Bible), I would make a better evolutionists than you, if I wanted to. ;) winking Maybe I'm wrong, see what you think of my responses below... maybe show your questions to a known evolutionist and then show my responses without saying I'm a creationist... ah, I probably can't resist leaving some clues...
Your questions are not aimed at creationists; some of them seem to be simply ordinary subjects of scientific investigation, such as creationists might investigate without thought to their application one way or the other. Let me put on my Evolutionist cap and respond to them:
"What does the cell's almost-perfect system of DNA repair say about the role of DNA in evolution?"
Well, since we know that life began from simple chemicals, we know it isn't required. Of course, there are DNA repair mechanisms (please ignore the ID connotations of the term) even in bacteria, but the original lack of them probably contributed to the early diversification of life. (Oh yes, a number of evolutionists now believe that it may be impossible to determine what the original life form was like, as life probably diversified rapidly and early before settling down into prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and archaea).
"How did dreaming evolve, what did it evolve out of, and how did it or does it now contribute to evolving?"
Most likely forms of dreaming gradually evolved along with levels of consciousness; it's straightforward enough to test the brainwave activity of various animals as they sleep. Given the indications that some form of dreaming is fairly widespread, it probably has some survival value, but for now we can't rule out that it is simply a harmless side-effect of consciousness."

"If we're not exceptional in experiencing consciousness, where else in nature could it exist? What could it evolve out of? What kind of process must be involved in conscious experience evolving?"
Consciousness is probably a corollary of the evolution of certain forms of intelligence, and appears to be possessed to some extent by several other animals, such as the great apes, whales, and probably other mammals and even some birds. Again, as an evolutionary development, there is probably no clear line dividing some level of intelligent awareness and what we might be tempted to call "true consciousness."

"Foals seem to enter the world already equipped to engage in several gaits such as walking, jumping and running , to navigate a world of gravity, solid ground, and solid objects at various distances, and to recognize objects such as other horses. What kinds of patterns of connection must already be built into it, and what kind of process must it take to generate those patterns during gestation? How can such information be stored in genes and read out of them to generate tissues embodying those patterns of connection?"
All of this is simply a matter of studying cerebral organization down to the cellular or possibly molecular level, along with genetic and epigenetic factors.

"A baby whale, by swimming, very effectively stirs its own tissues. How then is symmetry and proportion maintained over distances of up to 100 feet in whales as they grow?"
The symmetry and proportion is encoded in the genes. I'm not sure what you mean by "stirs its own tissues." The cells of its bones and even soft parts all maintain the same positions relative to each other. Besides, as whales evolved in the water, hydrodynamic effects probably contribute to maintaining symmetry and proportion.

"Swarms of birds and fish many yards across seem to move as one. How is their synchronized movement coordinated? What signal is capable of traveling across such swarms at speeds of hundreds of feet a second, hundreds of miles an hour? How else could such signals be employed in living processes?"
It seems that you are unaware of research in to this area and computer simulations demonstrating that a few mental rules (or reflexes) in each individual can produce this group behavior and there are no signals and there is nothing especially mysterious about the behavior, or that requires anything more than the electrochemical activity of nerves and neurons.

"What does an evolved creature choosing to become a scientist say about evolution?"
Whatever he or she wants to say about it! but seriously, "becoming a scientist" is merely the latest manifestation of the curiousity that evolved and emerged from the activity of the brain we consider intellince, and continues to have value for survival and reproduction.
Oh, one last thing. Please find attached a thought-experiment I wrote (the zzizzm experiment) imagining a situation in which evolution is not in question, but the idea that "there is something more" is challenged. I didn't come up with this sort of thing whole cloth; I'd read Vonnegut's _Galapagos_ and possibly haven't offered anything new, but only made certain things more explicit.

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