- Hits: 9855 9855
(An extended version of this glossary now appears in "Neither Darwin Nor Deity,")
Adaptation. Take any dozen plausible theories of evolution and one thing they must all account for is adaptation, because if living creatures aren't adapted to their environment they can't survive. Being able to account for adaptation is the lowest-common denominator that all theories of evolution must share, it cannot by itself tell us which of those dozen theories is the most plausible. It is however the principal lure by which Darwinism draws you in. It then entangles you in spirals of discourse that reel you into its heart like a whirlpool. Instead of setting a test that all theories of evolution must pass, a better test would be to ask, which can account for the features by which living creatures differ most from un-evolved matter, such as human consciousness and volition. When you set criteria like that you can more readily assess the relative plausibility of your theories.
Consilience. The unity in knowledge that results when separate fields of knowledge are refounded on a common basis, giving them also a shared language. As knowledge has become more splintered, consilience has become more desirable. In his book "Consilience" the biologist Edward 0. Wilson appealed for the humanities to join science in a consilience based on physics and Darwinism. This site suggests the humanities instead join all their separate branches into a consilience based on a new theory uniting volition and evolution, neither of which science appears capable of accounting for. This consilience would then be reconciled with material science and offered as a comprehensive consilience to incorporate all of science into the humanities.
Darwinism. Refers to all Darwin's theories but especially his theory that the mechanism driving evolution is natural selection. It's also come to refer to the later combination of natural selection and genetic mutation, though this is more specifically referred to as the Modern Synthesis, title of a book by Julian Huxley published in 1942. Neo-Darwinism has been a term for updates of Darwinism going back to the 19th century and does not have a clear meaning.
Determinism. In his private notebooks Darwin declared himself a determinist, which no doubt influenced his choice of a creation story free of free will. Treating determinism and free will as opposites creates a false dichotomy and leads to a sterile scholasticism. A better option may be a discourse based on evolution. Evolution is creative; once there were no elephants, now there are elephants. One might say what we have is neither free will nor determinism, what we have is volition. And what's that? We don't know, we just experience it as a process taking place in consciousness with a capability for creativity something like the process behind evolution. This takes the issue out of logic and puts it in the real world, associating it with the evident powers of evolution far beyond our ability to account for today. Sample the futility of trying to resolve this issue using logic at http://www.naturalism.org/fatalism.htm (source of my reference to Darwin being a determinist). Elaboration of a discourse based on evolution able to account for volition is clearly a task for the humanities.
Free will. Free will is the conscious self’s experience (see "self" below) of being able to initiate thoughts and actions. In contrast to what I observe of matter—that it’s entirely determined on physical principles—I experience my free will as able to exercise judgment and be creative in ways those principles can’t account for.
The conscious self experiences being able to review the thoughts it initiates, and to make judgments about them. Using both its creativity and its judgment the conscious self can extend a train of thoughts to a conclusion. It also can tell the body’s muscles to express that decision as something happening in physical matter—by talking and writing about its experiences, for example.
Intelligent design. By adopting this phrase as a code word for Special Creation (by God), Creationists have shrewdly maneuvered evolutionists into appearing to admit they fail to see any intelligence in nature. What evolutionists mean, of course, is that even though the outcome appears intelligent the process behind it doesn't involve an intelligent agent such as a god. One unfortunate result has been to foreclose consideration of theories of evolution such as Lamarckism that do propose a mechanism with intelligence. In the context of a consilience linking science and the humanities, where the humanities should be permitted to come up with their own theories of evolution, the widespread use of "intelligent design" as a term of abuse is inappropriate. It is employed very widely by, for example, the National Center for Science Education. "What is Intelligent Design, and how does it threaten science education?" asks their website.
Intelligent genome. In this variant of Lamarckism the intelligent agent driving evolution is the genome supposed to have intelligence and free will and able to create new species by thinking changes into genes.
Physicalism. Claim that only physical agents can be the cause of changes in the material world. Therefore, because consciousness is not physical, it cannot be the cause of such physical processes as speaking and writing. Implied: such behaviors must have their origin entirely within brain chemistry, making them subject to physical determinism. This issue has implications for theories of evolution. If we could originate behaviors within consciousness then in the course of natural selection they'd compete with behaviors with a purely genetic basis, and Darwinists would have to take consciousness into account in their theories. More damaging, behaviors could be pre-selected within consciousness, only those judged fittest permitted expression, and natural selection would no longer be the primary mechanism driving evolution. Because you have to believe in phyicalism for Darwinisn to make sense, widespread acceptance of Darwinism appears to endorse physicalism.
Population statistics. Evolutionists will sometimes refuse to discuss evolution except in terms of population statistics, mathematical re-statements of natural selection and mutation that supposedly make biology scientific, making it possible to carry out experiments in accordance with Positivist scientific principles. You can respond by asking them if they have ever studied Ronald Singer's classic 1930 study that established the field? Can they explain why he showed rare beneficial mutations spreading slowly but inexorably through a population but failed to apply the same procedures to harmful mutations which are bound to spread much more rapidly and quickly lead to extinction? Since no biologist today understands statistics or has read Singer this will put the two of you on a level footing.
Reductionism. Scientists guiltily confess to a delight in practicing reductionism, to wanting to be able to account for anything in terms of the properties of its elements. But they will quickly point out that they also practice synthesis and they'll even concede the possibility of emergence--new properties appearing out of nowhere as systems grow more complex. What they may fail to realize is how much they're in thrall to the powers of the scientific method to answer questions. They may not realize that's not the ultimate goal of the humanities which, as I understand it, is to elaborate both a self and an environment for the self leading to ever-richer conscious experience. ln contrast to that goal, the entire problem-solving impulse in scientists can all be labeled reductionism. It's a reduction of experience to questions for science to solve. A consilience with reductionism at its root would turn the humanities into PhD-thesis-topic generating factories for science.
Self. When I recall my dreams I remember them as experiences. The person who experienced those dreams I recognize as me: the self in the dream feels distinct, and I have that same feeling whether I’m dreaming or conscious. It feels like something to be me. That’s the agent that does my experiencing. That’s what I call “I” or my conscious self, or “the self.”
Volition. This is a useful technical term for what distinguishes the humanities from the sciences, that physicalism denies the existence of. In us it refers to our experience of consciousness and free will. Think of "doing things of your own volition." The issue at stake is, can our own behavior originate, to any extent at all, within consciousness, where it appears to us to operate free of limits otherwise imposed by today's science? Or is what we do and say and think driven entirely by chemistry in our brains and our experience of being able to arrive at decisions "consciously," of having volition, is an illusion? Volition nicely sums up what's at stake. Also, being a nice abstract term it allows us to ask, is there any volition involved in evolution, without reference to traditional concepts such as gods or intelligent design or consciousness. Conceivably intellectuals within the humanities could come up with discourse accounting for evolution in terms of volition, which could provide us with a second independent instance of volition in the universe and possibly lead to a consilience uniting the humanities and the social sciences.