Open letter to Institute for Cultural Evolution

I am impressed by the intelligent treatment of issues in the ICE Evolutionary Worldview document of December 2012. I like the grounds for discussion, I don’t agree but I have no specific changes to suggest. I write merely to give feedback, because the issues matter to me, too.

I see your policies and philosophy as those of Hegel, who you credit. A lot of your wisdom is his wisdom. I see a risk in that. He was very concerned as you are that the community build a new worldview. He was very concerned that Germany build a new community able to support the next stage in consciousness. At the same time, he rejected Kant’s insistence that worldview approximate ever more closely to some external physical reality. The danger is embarking on a journey without a rudder. Without any replacement for Kant’s setting of a criterion there is danger of intellect spirally freely under no other constraint than powerful personalities. These can be supposed to have appeared in the form of Bismarck, Nietzsche and Hitler. No logic in Hegel limited them.

To me you seem to accept postmodern values without any justification, merely because they appear to succeed “modern” values. You seem to assume that equality for women has a logic that requires no defense. I sense an unquestioning adoption of a politically-correct set of values, without any intellectual foundation. You seem to depend on Hegel’s approval of later-appearing values that appear to fulfill the prior stage’s musings. I see no principles underlying the values you recommend except that they are eco-friendly, as if that alone was justification. The argument seemed circular. Later values justify themselves.

In Hegel’s time two other statements of evolution appeared. One was Comte’s, with his three stages of cultural development leading to the culminating and final stage of Positivism, leading in turn to our materialist modernism. The other was biological evolution. I see you opting for Hegel over Comte.

My preference is to reform biological evolutionary theory. I notice that you, and the other “evolutionaries,” do not suggest that. I see “Darwinism” as what stands in the way of a set of values independent of nationality and century.

National Center for Science Education

The National Center for Science Education is supported primarily by membership contributions, with some additional assistance from grants.The Center is the premier institution dedicated to keeping evolution in the science classroom and creationism out. (From the NCSE web site.) The Center is located in Oakland, CA.

The Center identifies evolution with Darwinism. "Evolution accounts for the striking patterns of similarities and differences among living things over time and across habitats through the action of biological processes such as natural selection, mutation, symbiosis, gene transfer, and genetic drift." In practice, the Center is a private pressure group acting to suppress opposition to Darwinism, on the grounds that any such opposition could only be a front for Creationism. Darwinism is held up as poster child for all of reason and science, and any challenge to Darwinism is hailed as the onset of barbarism.

Because the NCSE is a child of the clash between two silly theories, Darwinism and creationism, it it has been driven into upholding some silly positions of its own. One of these is to forbid mention in school science classrooms of "intelligent design." It's obvious that living creatures are intelligently designed, to become adaptated to their environment for example. All of Darwin's "Origin of Species" is an account of how the blind process of natural selection accomplishes the intelligent design evident in living creatures. By insisting living creatures are not intelligently designed the Center sells evolution and Darwinism short. The reason for the Center's prohibition against acknowledging intelligence in evolution has to do with some confusion of intelligence with religion.

You will look in vain through the Center's web site for any consideration that the strength of creationism could be due to inadequacies in Darwinism as an explanation for evolution.

National Humanities Center (NHC)

The Center is a privately incorporated, independent institute for advanced study in the humanities. It exists to encourage excellent scholarship.

The Center recently organized three conferences  ("Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity: The Human and The Humanities": ASC") "to discuss how  new knowledge in scientific fields is shaping contemporary understanding of issues central to the humanities." This initiative spun of first the web site www.onthehuman.org where visitors can  "access archives of the  ASC initiative. . .and an open forum where leading minds continue the open dialogue among scientists and humanists surrounding and emerging from the project" (from the Center's website, www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org). Also being spun off from these conferences is the forthcoming volume "Creating Consilience: Evolution, Cognitive Science and the Humanities" edited by Edward Slingerland.

The NHC is therefore the complement on the humanities side to EvoS (which see) on the side of the sciences in the Great Consilience Project to which this site is also offered as a contribution.

The Center is located at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Evolutionary Studies Consortium (EvoS)

The Consortium (slogan: "Advancing the teaching of evolution in higher education") was launched at Binghamton University by David Sloan Wilson to "teach evolution in a truly integrated fashion, beginning with core principles and extending in all directions, from the biological sciences to all aspects of humanity." From there it spread to SUNY New Paltz, site of the launch of the North Eastern Evolutionary Psychology Society, "NEEPS." 36 colleges and universities are now members of the Consortium.

From the EVoS website :

The Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) Consortium is designed to facilitate the development and implementation of Evolutionary Studies Programs at colleges and universities across the United States. An Evolutionary Studies Program introduces students from all majors to evolutionary theory early in their academic careers, emphasizes human-related subjects in addition to biological, promotes the continuation of evolutionary training throughout the undergraduate education, and promotes faculty training and collaborative research related to evolution.

So the program to draw all the humanities into a consilience based on Darwinism is highly organized and well advanced.

The Evolutionary Review

In the first half of 2010 SUNY Press launched an annual publication, "The Evolutionary Review." The Review boasted a formidable editorial board, including Stephen Pinker and David Buss. One of the two editors, Joseph Carroll, in an online interview said "The aim of the journal is to give evidence that evolutionary perspective--'This view of life,' one of Darwin's phrases--is adequate to encompass every aspect of human concern." It was therefore part of the program described elsewhere ("Consilience) to bring the sciences and humanities together under the umbrella of Darwinism. The Review ceased publications after four issues.

Joseph Carroll is author of "Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice (forthcoming, 2011), Evolution and Literary Theory (1995) and other guides to finding Darwinian underpinnings in works of literature. Carroll is a Faculty Member in the English department and Curators' Professor, Arts and Sciences, at University of Missouri - St. Louis.

The other editor of the Review is Alice Andrews who teaches psychology and evolutionary studies at the State University of New York at New Paltz. By a strange coincidence, Alice and I (Shaun Johnston , publisher of this site) ply our respective trades just six miles from each other in the mid Hudson Valley. The similarity goes beyond sharing the same location and launching our publication in the same year. Both our publications propose that the humanities be refounded on the basis of evolutionary theory. In so far as we do differ, we differ by which theory of evolution we propone as that basis, Alice's choice being the Modern Synthesis, mine being Lamarckism, and in who is to oversee the process, Alice I think favors those already committed to Darwinism as a universal metaphor for all human endeavor, while I encourage the humanities to come up theories perhaps more suited to their mission than Darwinism.