From Jessica Riskin at ABC:
Since Weismann’s [a 19th century German biologist] refutation of Lamarckism was obviously false, you might think it couldn’t have had much influence. On the contrary. Weismann actually had a huge influence on Darwinism that has lasted until the present day.
Today’s neo-Darwinists—people such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett—are really Weismannians (in fact, Dawkins has called himself an ‘extreme Weismannian’).
Even outside of evolutionary biology, some of the most influential thinkers and writers in biology and cognitive science today have adopted the Weismannian view that living organisms are essentially passive, made of dumb and inert mechanical parts.
Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker is an example: he has written that the human mind can be reduced to ‘armies of idiots’—mindless sub-routines in the brain that merely do what they are programmed to.
The idea that mind can be reduced to mindlessness and living agency to passive mechanical parts is a central tenet of the New Atheism movement.
I don’t think any of these thinkers and writers realise that the view they are espousing against religious and theological views of nature actually originated as part of a theological program: the argument from design. More.
Riskin is trying to integrate self-organization with naturalism by arguing that the idea that the body is a machine is a religious one. She writes,
Lamarck’s description of evolution as resulting from living organisms’ own agency threatened God’s monopoly on creation. In the wake of the French Revolution, this made Lamarck seemed like a very dangerous sort of Frenchman.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Darwinists wanting to promote a strong and viable Darwinism started trying to eradicate every trace of Lamarckism.
No, they wanted to erase every trace of Lamarckism in order to eradicate the very idea of agency in favour of naturalism. They knew that self-organization would raise all the same problems as any other system that is not strictly naturalist. It is, on that very account, more likely to be a correct description.
Nice try though.
See also: James Shapiro on intelligence in nature The attraction of Shapiro’s proposal of natural genetic engineering is that it confronts what Darwin’s followers merely talk around: the vast amount of intelligence inbuilt into nature that cannot be accounted for by natural selection acting on random mutation (unless one holds that position as an article of blind faith).
Michael Denton on the discontinuity of nature. Denton focuses on the many examples of fundamental features of life forms, like the pentadactyl limb of vertebrates, that are uniform, but serve no adaptive purpose in particular, pointing perhaps to discoverable physical patterns in nature, like the patterns in the chemical elements.
Epigenetic change: Lamarck, wake up, you’re wanted in the conference room!
Darwin’s “horrid doubt”: The mind