From Douglas Hoffman, interviewed at Quanta:
Quanta Magazine: People often use Darwinian evolution as an argument that our perceptions accurately reflect reality. They say, “Obviously we must be latching onto reality in some way because otherwise we would have been wiped out a long time ago. If I think I’m seeing a palm tree but it’s really a tiger, I’m in trouble.”
Hoffmann: Right. The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions — mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. The mathematical physicist Chetan Prakash proved a theorem that I devised that says: According to evolution by natural selection, an organism that sees reality as it is will never be more fit than an organism of equal complexity that sees none of reality but is just tuned to fitness. Never. More.
Critics, especially ID-friendly ones, tend to respond by asking: Why those who embrace this view think that their prejudices are somehow more valid than others?
It’s really hard to get this across to bookish, well-meaning types of people but here goes: The attitude is not new and the answer to the objection is quite simple. Their prejudices are not better than anyone else’s but once they have acquired political and cultural power, they can enforce them on the rest of us anyway. That is as good as reality for them. Actually better.
Darwinism, for example, is at its most immensely powerful in our culture when there is no pretense of objective accuracy, just depth of commitment. Which is why, in the end, the Royal Society was not able to hold a serious meeting about rethinking evolution in the light of new discoveries, just a dumbed-down, watered-down one.
That makes sense though. Curiosity about the nature of the world we live in is fungible if our perceptions cannot be accurate. But power is a drug, one that naturalists seem to need a lot of.
C.S. Lewis put it like this:
When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains. (…) The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. (…) My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse. (…) I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. – The Abolition of Man
See also: Tom Wolfe on Evolution as a Theory of Everything: In The Kingdom of Speech, Wolfe understands this element of cultural belief. Evidence is superfluous but sometimes trotted out for show amid contentedly stupefied belief. – O’Leary for News
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