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Darwinism Project: Can’t avoid language of purpose and design

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Also can’t avoid this:

A fly in this ointment is that there are serious reasons to doubt that fitness is in fact maximised. The central assumption of the approach has been known to be untrue in general for decades…

Not that the rest of us were necessarily let in on that.

The goal of the formal darwinism project is to construct a mathematical bridge between two of the many ways of studying natural selection. One approach is population genetics, in which models are constructed that trace the change over time of the frequencies of some defined set of genotypes. … The other approach is based on the expectation of finding good design in nature: this stretches back at least to natural theology in the eighteenth century, and was invigorated and reinforced as a scientific approach by Darwin (1859) and later Fisher (1930).

Today, as molecular biologists choose to call some of their discoveries ‘mechanisms’, and ascribe ‘functions’ to enzymes, they use purposive language and so they also adopt the design approach. It is arguably impossible to undertake work in many areas of biology without doing so: purpose in explanations has great power, and attempts to do without it in ethology (for example, Kennedy 1992, reviews his earlier campaign in ethology as well as bringing in further subjects), have long ago been abandoned as unworkable.

Hmmm. Wonder why. Also, as above:

A fly in this ointment is that there are serious reasons to doubt that fitness is in fact maximised. The central assumption of the approach has been known to be untrue in general for decades, and it is here that the other of the two approaches to studying natural selection becomes relevant.

It sounds as though Darwin’s followers are trying to avoid an obvious conclusion (one can’t avoid purpose and design) and are then forced to doubt that fitness is maximized, which guts Darwinism.

The Formal Darwinism Project online abstract:

The formal darwinism project aims to provide a mathematical framework within which important fundamental ideas in large parts of biology can be articulated, including Darwin’s central argument in The Origin (that mechanical processes of inheritance and reproduction can give rise to the appearance of design), modern extensions of evolutionary theory including ESS theory and inclusive fitness, and Dawkins’ synthesis of them into a single structure. A new kind of argument is required to link equations of motion on the one hand to optimisation programs on the other, and a major point is that the biologist’s concept of fitness maximisation is not represented by concepts from dynamical systems such as Lyapunov functions and gradient functions. The progress of the project so far is reviewed, though with only a brief glance at the rather complicated mathematics itself, and the centrality of fitness maximisation ideas to many areas of biology is emphasised.

One could possibly get a copy from (hat tip:) Scientia Salon blog.

One problem: When Darwin’s followers are bailing their sinking ship is that it is hard to know exactly what the problem is most of the time, as they speak in tongues, prophecies, tautologies, conundrums, and riddles. So far as I can see, they can’t eliminate the language of design and purpose from a discussion of nature, and it isn’t necessarily true that fitness is maximized, which means that Darwinism is probably not an important source of innovation in life forms.

It’s not clear how a mathematical bridge will help, though one can always c laim to have solved such problems through computation, the way a failing firm can claim to be afloat through accounting wizardry.

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3 Replies to “Darwinism Project: Can’t avoid language of purpose and design

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    ‘One problem: When Darwin’s followers are bailing their sinking ship is that it is hard to know exactly what the problem is most of the time, as they speak in tongues, prophecies, tautologies, conundrums, and riddles.’

    That hilarious(ly true) sentence put me in mind of the prophets of Baal and Asherah, in their competition with Elijah, in their desperation, cutting and gashing themselves with knives and spears! In the hope verbal corybantic dancing make ju-ju.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Aside from the honest admission, couched as it was, that neo-Darwinism lacks a mathematical basis ‘to link equations of motion on the one hand to optimisation programs on the other’, I found this other honest admission in the article to be surprising as well:

    The formal Darwinism project – June 2015
    Excerpt: Today, as molecular biologists choose to call some of their discoveries ‘mechanisms’, and ascribe ‘functions’ to enzymes, they use purposive language and so they also adopt the design approach. It is arguably impossible to undertake work in many areas of biology without doing so: purpose in explanations has great power, and attempts to do without it in ethology,,, have long ago been abandoned as unworkable.
    of note: *Ethology is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour
    per scientiasalon

    I found this honest admission surprising since improperly ascribing agent causality where it does not belong is a far bigger problem for materialists than many atheistic neo-Darwinists would be willing to admit.
    It is a problem that, in fact, brings the entire materialist’s worldview crashing down.
    Stephen Talbott puts the insurmountable problem for atheistic materialists like this:

    The ‘Mental Cell’: Let’s Loosen Up Biological Thinking! – Stephen L. Talbott – September 9, 2014
    Excerpt: Many biologists are content to dismiss the problem with hand-waving: “When we wield the language of agency, we are speaking metaphorically, and we could just as well, if less conveniently, abandon the metaphors”.
    Yet no scientist or philosopher has shown how this shift of language could be effected. And the fact of the matter is just obvious: the biologist who is not investigating how the organism achieves something in a well-directed way is not yet doing biology, as opposed to physics or chemistry. Is this in turn just hand-waving? Let the reader inclined to think so take up a challenge: pose a single topic for biological research, doing so in language that avoids all implication of agency, cognition, and purposiveness1.
    One reason this cannot be done is clear enough: molecular biology — the discipline that was finally going to reduce life unreservedly to mindless mechanism — is now posing its own severe challenges. In this era of Big Data, the message from every side concerns previously unimagined complexity, incessant cross-talk and intertwining pathways, wildly unexpected genomic performances, dynamic conformational changes involving proteins and their cooperative or antagonistic binding partners, pervasive multifunctionality, intricately directed behavior somehow arising from the interaction of countless players in interpenetrating networks, and opposite effects by the same molecules in slightly different contexts. The picture at the molecular level begins to look as lively and organic — and thoughtful — as life itself.

    This working biologist agrees with Talbott’s assessment:

    Life, Purpose, Mind: Where the Machine Metaphor Fails – Ann Gauger – June 2011
    Excerpt: I’m a working biologist, on bacterial regulation (transcription and translation and protein stability) through signalling molecules, ,,, I can confirm the following points as realities: we lack adequate conceptual categories for what we are seeing in the biological world; with many additional genomes sequenced annually, we have much more data than we know what to do with (and making sense of it has become the current challenge); cells are staggeringly chock full of sophisticated technologies, which are exquisitely integrated; life is not dominated by a single technology, but rather a composite of many; and yet life is more than the sum of its parts; in our work, we biologists use words that imply intentionality, functionality, strategy, and design in biology–we simply cannot avoid them.
    Furthermore, I suggest that to maintain that all of biology is solely a product of selection and genetic decay and time requires a metaphysical conviction that isn’t troubled by the evidence. Alternatively, it could be the view of someone who is unfamiliar with the evidence, for one reason or another. But for those who will consider the evidence that is so obvious throughout biology, I suggest it’s high time we moved on. – Matthew

    But it is not only in biology that materialists improperly ascribe agent causality where it does not belong. Materialists also improperly ascribe agent causality where it does not belong, (i.e. to material objects), in physics itself.
    In regards to the improper highjacking of agent causality by materialists, C.S. Lewis quipped:

    “to say that a stone falls to earth because it’s obeying a law, makes it a man and even a citizen”
    – CS Lewis

    Professor J. Budziszewski weighs in here:

    A Professor’s Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist – University of Wyoming – J. Budziszewski
    Excerpt page12: “There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition.
    If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don’t know. “But there is gravity,” you say. No, “gravity” is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. “But there are laws of gravity,” you say. No, the “laws” are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term “laws”; they prefer “lawlike regularities.” To call the equations of gravity “laws” and speak of the apple as “obeying” them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the “laws” of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more.
    The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn’t trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn’t have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place.”

    As Professor J. Budziszewski briefly outlined, the denial of agent causality in science leads to the epistemological failure of science, i.e. “blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn’t trust my beliefs”.
    For instance, Jerry Coyne’s materialistic premises forces him to believe that he is not really a person but is instead a ‘neuronal illusion’:

    The Confidence of Jerry Coyne – January 6, 2014
    Excerpt: But then halfway through this peroration, we have as an aside the confession that yes, okay, it’s quite possible given materialist premises that “our sense of self is a neuronal illusion.” At which point the entire edifice suddenly looks terribly wobbly — because who, exactly, is doing all of this forging and shaping and purpose-creating if Jerry Coyne, as I understand him (and I assume he understands himself) quite possibly does not actually exist at all? The theme of his argument is the crucial importance of human agency under eliminative materialism, but if under materialist premises the actual agent is quite possibly a fiction, then who exactly is this I who “reads” and “learns” and “teaches,” and why in the universe’s name should my illusory self believe Coyne’s bold proclamation that his illusory self’s purposes are somehow “real” and worthy of devotion and pursuit? (Let alone that they’re morally significant: But more on that below.) Prometheus cannot be at once unbound and unreal; the human will cannot be simultaneously triumphant and imaginary.

    Coyne is hardly alone. This insane denial of the reality of person-hood is rampant throughout supposedly ‘higher education’:

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt: Even materialists often admit that, in practice, it is impossible for humans to live any other way. One philosopher jokes that if people deny free will, then when ordering at a restaurant they should say, “Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined I will get.”
    An especially clear example is Galen Strawson, a philosopher who states with great bravado, “The impossibility of free will … can be proved with complete certainty.” Yet in an interview, Strawson admits that, in practice, no one accepts his deterministic view. “To be honest, I can’t really accept it myself,” he says. “I can’t really live with this fact from day to day. Can you, really?”,,,
    In What Science Offers the Humanities, Edward Slingerland, identifies himself as an unabashed materialist and reductionist. Slingerland argues that Darwinian materialism leads logically to the conclusion that humans are robots — that our sense of having a will or self or consciousness is an illusion. Yet, he admits, it is an illusion we find impossible to shake. No one “can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free.” We are “constitutionally incapable of experiencing ourselves and other conspecifics [humans] as robots.”
    One section in his book is even titled “We Are Robots Designed Not to Believe That We Are Robots.”,,,
    When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is Flesh and Machines by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational. It has no basis
    within Brooks’s worldview. It sticks out of his box.
    How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t. Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.” He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience. He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.

    The Heretic – Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt:,,,Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.

    In fact, since it is impossible to live as if materialism were true, then that is, in fact, a very powerful argument against materialism being true:

    Existential Argument against Atheism – November 1, 2013 by Jason Petersen
    1. If a worldview is true then you should be able to live consistently with that worldview.
    2. Atheists are unable to live consistently with their worldview.
    3. If you can’t live consistently with an atheist worldview then the worldview does not reflect reality.
    4. If a worldview does not reflect reality then that worldview is a delusion.
    5. If atheism is a delusion then atheism cannot be true.
    Conclusion: Atheism is false.

    Moreover, as mentioned previously, the denial of agent causality by materialism leads to the epistemological failure of science since it denies that we are rational agents instead of mindless automatons:

    Sam Harris’s Free Will: The Medial Pre-Frontal Cortex Did It – Martin Cothran – November 9, 2012
    Excerpt: There is something ironic about the position of thinkers like Harris on issues like this: they claim that their position is the result of the irresistible necessity of logic (in fact, they pride themselves on their logic). Their belief is the consequent, in a ground/consequent relation between their evidence and their conclusion. But their very stated position is that any mental state — including their position on this issue — is the effect of a physical, not logical cause.
    By their own logic, it isn’t logic that demands their assent to the claim that free will is an illusion, but the prior chemical state of their brains. The only condition under which we could possibly find their argument convincing is if they are not true. The claim that free will is an illusion requires the possibility that minds have the freedom to assent to a logical argument, a freedom denied by the claim itself. It is an assent that must, in order to remain logical and not physiological, presume a perspective outside the physical order.

    (1) rationality implies a thinker in control of thoughts.
    (2) under materialism a thinker is an effect caused by processes in the brain.
    (3) in order for materialism to ground rationality a thinker (an effect) must control processes in the brain (a cause). (1)&(2)
    (4) no effect can control its cause.
    Therefore materialism cannot ground rationality.
    per Box UD

    As well, it is interesting to note that the presupposition of agent causality, i.e. God, behind the mathematical laws of the universe was presupposed by the Christian founders of modern science when they first discovered the mathematical laws of the universe.

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    And it is not as if the Theist is lacking in empirical evidence for agent causality within physics. Quantum Mechanics itself is literally screaming for agent causality to be let back into science:

    What Does Quantum Physics Have to Do with Free Will? – By Antoine Suarez – July 22, 2013
    Excerpt: What is more, recent experiments are bringing to light that the experimenter’s free will and consciousness should be considered axioms (founding principles) of standard quantum physics theory. So for instance, in experiments involving “entanglement” (the phenomenon Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), to conclude that quantum correlations of two particles are nonlocal (i.e. cannot be explained by signals traveling at velocity less than or equal to the speed of light), it is crucial to assume that the experimenter can make free choices, and is not constrained in what orientation he/she sets the measuring devices.
    To understand these implications it is crucial to be aware that quantum physics is not only a description of the material and visible world around us, but also speaks about non-material influences coming from outside the space-time.,,,

    A Short Survey Of Quantum Mechanics and Consciousness
    Excerpt: Putting all the lines of evidence together the argument for God from consciousness can now be framed like this:
    1. Consciousness either preceded all of material reality or is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality.
    2. If consciousness is a ‘epi-phenomena’ of material reality then consciousness will be found to have no special position within material reality. Whereas conversely, if consciousness precedes material reality then consciousness will be found to have a special position within material reality.
    3. Consciousness is found to have a special, even central, position within material reality.
    4. Therefore, consciousness is found to precede material reality.
    Four intersecting lines of experimental evidence from quantum mechanics that shows that consciousness precedes material reality (Wigner’s Quantum Symmetries, Wheeler’s Delayed Choice, Leggett’s Inequalities, Quantum Zeno effect)

    And when the agent causality of God is rightly let back into science, then a solution to the most profound enigma in modern physics readily pops out for us.
    Namely, the resurrection of Christ from death provides a empirically backed reconciliation of Quantum Mechanics/Special Relativity, (Quantum Electrodynamics), and General Relativity into the much sought after ‘theory of everything’:

    The Center Of The Universe Is Life (Jesus) – General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Entropy and The Shroud Of Turin – video
    Shroud of Turin – a few notes on corresponding empirical evidence

    Verse and Music:

    Colossians 1:15-20
    The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

    Matthew 28:18
    Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

    Hillsong: “Lord Of Lords” – music

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