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More pushback against evolutionary biology’s takeover by nonsense?

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This, from the Weekly Standard suggests the mag has its ear to the ground:

Evolutionary biology is imperialistic, overtaking entire fields of endeavor simply by attaching the prefix bio- or neuro- to their names: bioethics, neuroeconomics, even, God help us, neurotheology. Its logic is deployed against hapless laymen as a bully’s truncheon or an argument stopper. A famous example of biological imperialism was offered by one of the greatest biologists of them all, Francis Crick, who believed his discovery (with James Watson) of DNA had exposed all philosophical problems, from free will to the nature of the self, as meaningless.

“You,” he wrote, “your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”

For 50 years this reductionism has been a prevailing view among biologists and their publicists in academic philosophy and science journalism. …

Wow. Really? Tell us something else we didn’t know.

The problem isn’t that it is imperialistic but that so few of these forays are supported by science, as traditionally understood. And some of the claims that are better grounded in science and coming under serious scrutiny too. See, for example: Top sci mag Nature says urgent rethink sought on evolution theory but resisted because … it might make people think they support ID.

Does that mean, it’s a mess but they can’t/daren/t fix it? And nonetheless these people want to take over?

The human brain is more like all the oceans of the world than it is like a machine. So, winds of change:

Skepticism isn’t as contagious as credulity, especially in journalism, but it can spread in unexpected places. The James S. McDonnell Foundation, once known as a “neuromill” for all the brain studies it funds, has posted a disclaimer to its grant guidelines. “Proposals proposing to use functional imaging to identify the ‘neural correlates’ of cognitive or behavioral tasks (for example, mapping the parts of the brain that ‘light up’ when different groups of subjects play chess, solve physics problems, or choose apples over oranges) are not funded through this program. In general, JSMF and its expert advisors have taken an unfavorable view of … functional imaging studies using poorly characterized tasks as proxies for complex behavioral issues involving empathy, moral judgments, or social decision-making.”

In short, the kind of rubbish best suited to the pop science press will no longer be funded.

Good that, …  and it’ll make no difference. The people attracted to this kind of “research” could crowdsource the funding, publish the results in a fake journal, and still get publicity.

The commonest criticism of reductionism—the idea that we are a pack of neurons and nothing more—is that it will lead us to treat our fellow human beings as if … well, as if they were a pack of neurons and nothing more. John Evans, a sociologist of religion at University of California, San Diego, has set about testing whether the criticism has any merit.

We’ll let you find out what he found  here.

And the article ends on an optimistic note too:

But the grip is loosening. This is thanks in part to the new field of epigenetics, which suggests that environmental factors can alter the genes that we pass on to our children—an idea deemed heretical since the dawn of modern genetics. Some evolutionary biologists have even begun to speak timorously of “predictable evolution,” a process in which certain patterns recur and to which evolutionary adaptations conform. More heresy: Nothing can rile a dogmatic biological determinist like the suggestion that evolution might point in a certain direction or have anything like an ordained outcome. Who knows where such thinking might lead?

Might such thinking lead to a renewed respect for evidence? There might be a market for that, you know.

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

2 Replies to “More pushback against evolutionary biology’s takeover by nonsense?

  1. 1
    Upright BiPed says:

    Excellent.

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    Interesting.

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