Intelligent Design

TV special trashes social Darwinism: But was it really Darwinism?

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Apparently, Coral Ridge Hour, hosted by Dr. D. James Kennedy, is hosting a special called Darwin’s Deadly Legacy, on the legacy of social Darwinism (= sterilizing or murdering people who are thought to be unfit, sometimes called eugenics). There is a whole history there, ably recounted in a sober way by Richard Weikart’s From Darwin to Hitler.

I think it quite worthwhile that Coral Ridge would want to explore the legacy of social Darwinism, on the “never again” principle. However, some cautions are also well advised.

Strictly speaking, the social Darwinists were completely off the wall in their understanding of Darwinism, as agnostic Australian philosopher David Stove points out.

For example, Darwin himself disapproved, apparently, of vaccination because it preserved weak people:

Consider, for example, the following paragraph from The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, (second edition, 1874).

With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poorlaws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. (p. 9, quoting Darwin, c. (1874) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2nd edition) John Murray, London, Vol. I, pp. 205-6.)

Now, in writing as he did in this specific instance, Darwin was being a true Darwinist (though according to Stove’s Darwinian Fairytales, he often wasn’t).

That is, if you believe that natural selection is the main force that creates diversity and adaptation in the world, you should not interfere via eugenics. After all, the prison sociopath’s selfish genes are probably much better adapted to sheer survival and continuance than are those of the musical genius. The prison socio may well produce eight children on his “trailer weekends,” whom he compels other men to support. The musical genius, by contrast, may produce one or two at best, but very often none.

Yet most human beings who have ever lived would prefer to forego the evolutionary benefits of the sociopath’s selfish genes. Whenever they can, they execute him or keep him locked up, and offer awards, prizes, and fan clubs to the musical genius instead. That approach to human survival seems quite sound to me – but it is hardly Darwinism.

Here’s where the social Darwinists went wrong: They took from Darwinism the lack of respect for the human being as anything other than a brainy ape. But they still wanted to smuggle into Darwinian philosophy at least some respect for human culture and decency, because they were not willing to give all that up. So they developed the worst possible solution: Instead of helping the halt, the lame, and the blind, as well as bumpkins and dullards, because God loves them (the traditional view) OR letting nature take its course (the only reasonable Darwinian view), the social Darwinist came up with a new view that was far worse than either: A system for mass riddance of people who fail a cultural or medical standard.

If they were true Darwinists, they would have just done nothing instead of done murder, for the same reason that Darwin saw a danger in vaccinations.
So we need to be clear here: Social Darwinism is very bad. But, strictly speaking, it is not Darwinism. No human being can live with what Darwinism entails, which is why it so quickly morphed into a bastard social Darwinism.

Neither Darwin nor most of his loyal followers clearly saw the problem because they could not live with the consequences of their own theory. The confusion continues: After the Nazi eugenic horror was fully revealed, people decided to get rid of social Darwinism, but assumed that it was Darwinism in some sense. They couldn’t have lived with Darwiism either, but they did not realize that. 

Then we reacted by vilifying the Nazis – which is 100 percent fine with me, as far as it goes – but, as Richard Weikart points out, we must see clearly the origin of the problem or we have no assurance that we won’t repeat it: Darwinism cannot provide a reasonable account of the human being.

45 Replies to “TV special trashes social Darwinism: But was it really Darwinism?

  1. 1
    Carlos says:

    Above, O’Leary wrote, “No human being can live with what Darwinism entails.” I’m not sure how to interpret that. I can clearly see how no society could function for very long without a widespread sense of compassion or empathy for others. That seems unobjectionable.

    If neo-Darwinist principles can work at all, they must begin from taking organisms as they are — not as the theory says they must be. And many human beings display compassion and empathy towards their fellows, and even (or especially) towards the suffering and unfortunate. So if neo-Darwinism is to work out, it would have to explain this behavior.

    The assumption above, however, seems to be that neo-Darwinism cannot explain such behavior — that morality is simply outside the purview of neo-Darwinist theories of evolution altogether.

    And if that’s the assumption at work here, I confess that I really don’t see how that argument is supposed to go.

  2. 2
    chunkdz says:

    Indeed, Denyse, the problem is that Darwinism can explain everything. Compassion and genocide have equal footing as beneficial survival traits. Monogamy and promiscuity are also equally demonstrable as survival mechanisms. What does one do when circular reasoning has become the dominant paradigm?

  3. 3
    Strangelove says:

    Carlos, you have a good point. The ToE doesn’t require a single type of fitness (our health). A musical genius with a heart condition produces more for the species as a whole as a composer than as a corpse. It is almost always in our species’ best interest to help the poor, have compassion on the sick, rehabillitate the criminals, and treat the mentally ill. For the usefullness of a human cannot be simplified to how many children they have. This is why no one today (that I know about) takes such a foolish, simplified position.

  4. 4
    Strangelove says:

    chunkdz,

    The ToE was not meant to be applied to the social dynamics of humans. We are especially bad at scientifically studying our own behaviours. Social Darwinism is a notoriously faulty science. And no, it is not the dominant paradigm. Do you know anyone who uses social darwinism today to decide how to act or make laws?

  5. 5
    russ says:

    “The ToE was not meant to be applied to the social dynamics of humans. We are especially bad at scientifically studying our own behaviours.”

    Strangelove, I’ve never exactly understood how “social Darwinism” is different from “Darwinism”. If we are 100% the product of physics and chemistry, isn’t our social behavior a product of those forces as well?

  6. 6
    Alan Fox says:

    If we are 100% the product of physics and chemistry, isn’t our social behavior a product of those forces as well?

    I suppose that would depend on whether you think life is pre-determined or whether we have free will.

  7. 7
    Carlos says:

    I suppose that would depend on whether you think life is pre-determined or whether we have free will.

    Unless one thinks, a la Dennett, that free will itself can be explained in neo-Darwinian terms. But there are serious conceptual and empirical problems with this approach.

    Given that there’s no shortage of neo-Darwinian “just-so stories” as to how morality, art, music, religion, etc. came into being, I’m curious as to what the ID criticism here is going to be.

    One way of getting at it is by focusing on objectivity. The ID criticism might go something like this: “sure, neo-Darwinian scenarios can tell us about how morality or art or religion might have evolved. But these scenarios fail because they cannot justify the objectivity of morality or religion, which is what we really want.”

    Does this sound like a reasonable IDist position?

  8. 8
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    Strangelove:

    This is why no one today (that I know about) takes such a foolish, simplified position.

    How about Peter Singer?

    In his view the central argument against abortion is “It is wrong to kill an innocent human being; a human fetus is an innocent human being; therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.” He challenges the first premise, on the grounds that its reference to human beings is ambiguous as between human beings in the zoological sense and persons as rational and self-conscious. (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer)

    Are we smelling the Social Darwinism yet? No?

    Consider Singer’s view in light of Darwin’s words:

    “Spiritual powers cannot be compared or classed by the naturalist: but he may endeavour to shew, as I have done, that the mental faculties of man and the lower animals do not differ in kind, although immensely in degree. A difference in degree, however great, does not justify us in placing man in a distinct kingdom…” (The Descent of Man, p 152 of the “Great Minds Series” edition)

    Still not smelling the Social Darwinism?

    In “A Darwinian Left,” Singer outlines a plan for the political left to adapt to the lessons of Darwinism and evolutionary biology.” (From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Singer)

    The question I would like answered is: What is NOT “Social Darwinism” about Singer?

    Strangelove:

    The ToE doesn’t require a single type of fitness (our health).

    Seems to me it does. Since we’re talking about Darwinism here, does it not all boil down to reproductive fitness? Wherein those individuals that are reproductively unsuccessful are not selected, and those that are selected survive to reproduce?

    Strangelove:

    The ToE was not meant to be applied to the social dynamics of humans.

    What is evolutionary psychology, if not exactly that?

  9. 9
    Zachriel says:

    russ: “Strangelove, I’ve never exactly understood how “social Darwinism” is different from ‘Darwinism’. If we are 100% the product of physics and chemistry, isn’t our social behavior a product of those forces as well?

    Presumably, social behavior can be traced ultimately to “physics and chemistry”, but Darwinism is no more a theory of cultural evolution than it is of the weather. Scientific theories are necessarily limited in their domain of applicability — even “physics and chemistry”. Natural selection is the differential reproductive success due to *heritable* characteristics. Culture works on different principles (though there may be some interesting analogs).

  10. 10
    ThePolynomial says:

    If we are 100% the product of physics and chemistry, isn’t our social behavior a product of those forces as well?

    Yes, but that’s evolutionary psychology, not social darwinism.

    Also, O’Leary, I think you’re really jumping the gun by saying Darwinism prescribes this sort of laissez-faire morality. The TOE aims to describe what did happen and what is happening…not an ideal toward which we should strive.

  11. 11
    Carlos says:

    The question I would like answered is: What is NOT “Social Darwinism” about Singer?

    Singer is a Darwinist, but not a social Darwinist, because he does not reason as a social Darwinist does.

    A social Darwinist’s reasoning is, “let’s do whatever we can to increase the overall fitness of members of our society.”

    Singer’s reasoning is, “let’s do whatever we can to increase the overall satisfaction of preferences held by all persons likely to be affected by our actions.”

    (What makes Singer intriguing to many, and disturbing to some, is that he doesn’t think that all and only human beings are persons. Singer argues that there are both human beings who aren’t persons — fetuses and babies — as well as persons who aren’t human beings — most of the higher mammals. This is why Singer thinks that infanticide is morally permissible, but factory farming is not.)

    Singer’s philosophical position is a modified version of utilitarianism, which was developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Darwin’s work was published during Mill’s lifetime, but Mill apparently did not consider it any more than an interesting hypothesis, and certainly not the foundation for his own ethical theory.

    It’s true that some social Darwinists, such as Herbert Spencer, were influenced by utilitarianism. And it’s also true that Peter Singer is both a utilitarian and a Darwinist. But the reasoning underpinning his ethical positions is not based on his commitment to Darwinism.

    If history is any guide, Darwinism is compatible with a broad variety of ethical and political positions, from the far right to the far left. But does it follow that neo-Darwinism does not have any ethical or political implications at all? It strikes me that neo-Darwinism, if accepted, would place a constraint on ethical and political views — it would urge us to reject any ethical or political doctrine which insisted that humans are unique, absolutely different in kind, from all other animals.

    Theodosius Dobzhanky, one of the theorists of the “Modern Synthesis” (i.e. the integration of natural selection and population genetics), tried to reconcile his neo-Darwinism with his Russian Orthodoxy by saying, “all species are unique, but humans are the uniquest.” I’m not sure if this is anything more than a valiant effort to square the circle.

  12. 12
    sabre says:

    Carlos said: “The ToE doesn’t require a single type of fitness (our health). A musical genius with a heart condition produces more for the species as a whole as a composer than as a corpse. It is almost always in our species’ best interest to help the poor, have compassion on the sick, rehabillitate the criminals, and treat the mentally ill. For the usefullness of a human cannot be simplified to how many children they have. This is why no one today (that I know about) takes such a foolish, simplified position.”

    At the heart of the ToE is heritable fitness, not usefulness of the moment. A blind horse can still do useful work, but the blindness itself does not represent an improvement in fitness to be preserved; quite the opposite. The genetic survival of the human race is not enhanced by the preservation of “the sick, the criminal, or the mentally ill.” Indeed, it could be argued that it is accelerating our inevitable genetic death. To preserve and allow to propagate such a flawed genetic blueprint would, according to Darwin, only contribute to the degeneration of the species, the “descent of man” to use Darwin’s phrase. The difference between what the modern Eugenics movement espoused and what Darwin supported (if only reluctantly), as Denyse O’Leary points out, was use of a pro-active approach versus a non-proactive one (if I understand correctly).

    However, while it may not be in our species’ (genetic) best interests to behave in an altruistic fashion, I do believe it is in society’s best interest. This is the point that blind adherence to Darwinism and/or eugenics misses. It is also something that is so obvious to those with a sense of morality that is grounded in the belief that humanity is special among all creatures.

    Respectfully, Sabre

  13. 13
    Strangelove says:

    “Since we’re talking about Darwinism here, does it not all boil down to reproductive fitness?”

    We, as humans pass down much more to our children than genes. Art, History, Literature, Science, Music, etc. All of these things GREATLY improve our standard of living and thus increase our chance for our species’ survival. Yet none of those things require genetic code to pass on. This is an obvious point that social Darwinists haven’t been able to include into their model. Models that ignore key elements aren’t known to deliver good results, so why should you expect them to.

  14. 14
    Strangelove says:

    To fill in the gaps a bit…

    By giving unhealthy kids medicine, etc. we are allowing these kids reach great strides in advancing our culture. Think about Hawking. He surely is a weak individual. But, his contributions to our understanding of the universe and cosmology have been immense. A “straw-man Darwinist” would argue that he should’ve died of his disease a long time ago, before he could waste our resources and father children. But, that “straw-man Darwinist” ignored a large factor, his potential genius as a mathematician and physicist. You can argue against that straw-man all you want. I’ll even join you. But, don’t think that because one subscribes to the ToE, one has to go around killing weak kids or the infirm.

  15. 15
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    Carlos,

    Good distinctions, thank you for you clarifications. Although, contra your distinctions, some of them may be subject to equivocation without a loss of original meaning or intent on Singer’s part, which would seem that in the end they are, in effect, the same.

    Let’s assume for a moment that “the reasoning underpinning his ethical positions is not based on his commitment to Darwinism.”

    My issue is that he uses Social Darwinism’s biological ambiguity to underpin his ethics. That is plain enough from his views I discussed in my first comment.

    So, why is it so logically convenient and rhetorically effective to use Social Darwinian ambiguity to defend his ethical positions?

    And, if, in effect, Darwinian ambiguity is logically effective as an apologia, then is Singer’s utilitarianism on some levels indistinguishable from Social Darwinism?

  16. 16
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    Stranglove said:

    Models that ignore key elements aren’t known to deliver good results, so why should you expect them to.

    If you are saying that Darwinism has often been employed to deliver bad scientific and ethical results, I will have to completely agree with you on that point.

  17. 17
    Carlos says:

    Art, History, Literature, Science, Music, etc. . . . none of those things require genetic code to pass on.

    How do you know this?

    If “art, history, literature, science, and music” — in a word, culture — can be transmitted to young humans (infants and children), and if the only difference between young humans and young apes is genetic, then it would seem that there is a genetic basis for the capacity to acquire culture.

    And, as I pointed out above, there’s no shortage of neo-Darwinian “just-so stories” about how culture (the capacity for art, tradition, literature, science, music, etc.) could have contributed to overall “fitness” (i.e. differential reproductive success).

    Two recent “just-so stories”: The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body (Mithen) and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Dennett).

    It’s only a matter of time before science itself is subjected to the same neo-Darwinian scrutiny. And then what?

    As an aside: cooperation is just as consistent with neo-Darwinian population genetics as competition is. In fact, cooperation is widely seen throughout the natural world. Is the human capacity for morality is not different in kind from animal cooperation?

    The main thing that distinguishes “us” from “them,” it seems to me, is the capacity for rational reflection. For humans, any proposed action can be subjected to the question, “why should I do this?” That presupposes a capacity to take up a critical stance towards oneself.

    But then, does reason itself stand outside of nature? Or is it itself continuous with the sort of intelligent problem-solving ability found among other animals?

  18. 18
    Inquisitive Brain says:

    A preview option for this blog would be great. Does the internet hosting company for UD offer such a feature? Is this something we can arrange?

  19. 19
    russ says:

    “We, as humans pass down much more to our children than genes. Art, History, Literature, Science, Music, etc. All of these things GREATLY improve our standard of living and thus increase our chance for our species’ survival.”

    Then to the extent that these extras (Art, Music, History, etc.) mitigate our need to improve our survival/reproductive fitness as a species, don’t they undermine neo-Darwinian evolution? Doesn’t the INFORMATION that these “extras” describe, short-circuit the improvement of our genes by letting us survive by inherited knowledge rather than inherited neo-Darwinian fitness? And couldn’t this mean that humans are no longer evolving physically?

  20. 20
    jmcd says:

    Sabre writes: “However, while it may not be in our species’ (genetic) best interests to behave in an altruistic fashion, I do believe it is in society’s best interest. This is the point that blind adherence to Darwinism and/or eugenics misses. It is also something that is so obvious to those with a sense of morality that is grounded in the belief that humanity is special among all creatures.”

    Humans obviously have different constraints on our survival than any other species. The rules of natural selection change more and more as societies become more complex. Darwnism simply cannot apply to humanity because nature no longer has the power to select when we have largely learned to manage nature. It is our societies that indirectly and directly select for survival and we have managed to build up the ability to have a very lenient selection criteria. Human civilization now dictates our survival and has for thousands of years.

    That is one reason why there cannot be moral implications for humanity because of how nature works outside of human society.

  21. 21
    Strangelove says:

    Carlos, I wasn’t clear. I didn’t mean to say that we don’t need a genetic code to absorb culture. Just that our culture isn’t passed THROUGH our genetic code.

    Russ, you’re correct. Although saying that it “undermines evolution” doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like evolution has a goal and we are subverting that goal by having culture. We are what we are. Evolution just tries to explain the origin of species. But, you’re right, we really aren’t evolving physically as species much anymore. Almost everyone except for the sickest can choose to procreate (and they usually do).

  22. 22
    Zachriel says:

    russ: “Then to the extent that these extras (Art, Music, History, etc.) mitigate our need to improve our survival/reproductive fitness as a species, don’t they undermine neo-Darwinian evolution?

    Not at all. There is ample selection in humans for health, social graces, physical graces, intelligence, charisma, caring and loyalty. It’s called sex and there is ample competition among young specimens for preferred mates. There are elaborate displays among species to attract members of the opposite sex, as well as complex social groups which amplify the process and distribute the decision-making.

  23. 23
    Zachriel says:

    Strangelove: “Almost everyone except for the sickest can choose to procreate (and they usually do).

    A few decades after the discovery of antibiotics and everyone wants to claim evolution is over!

    As long as the human population continues its rapid expansion, that tends to mitigate the harshest effects of natural selection, but emphasizes sexual selection. In any case, exponential growth is not possible indefinitely within the confines of the Earth’s biosphere. And the chances of a significant expansion beyond that biosphere are negligible in the short term. Nothing unusual in nature about a species rapidly filling a niche with an abrupt expansion. *

    In addition, the “sickest” don’t normally find the healthiest mates, so produce fewer children, on average. Unless they are cured by technology. In which case, they aren’t the sickest anymore. The definition changes. Being differently-abled is not merely a modern semantic. The huge number of possible niches in human society makes the definition quite apt. A person who is nearsighted might be able to better make arrowheads. A person who is farsighted might be a better hunter. Together, they are stronger than either alone. And human culture is then inevitable.

    In fact, humans exhibit more variety within the tribal group than between tribal groups. Social groups all seem to spontaneously form complex and motley combinations, representing a variety of skills, both physical and mental.

    Is a flightless bird sickest? No. The bird has presumably found a habitat that doesn’t require flight, and so can spend more time on the ground eating and getting bigger. Is nearsightedness a disabililty. Hardly, except when you lose the girl because everyone calls you four-eyes. But she sees your true sensitivity and loyalty and marries you anyway.

  24. 24
    Jehu says:

    I posted the below a few months ago but thought it was worth posting again on the subject of whether Social Darwinism is Darwinism.

    There is no doubt that Darwin inspired the eugenics movement. Francis Galton the founder the British Eugenics Society, was heavely influenced by Darwin’s book, the full title of which is “The Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.” Galton once wrote:

    “The publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin made a marked epoch in my own mental development, as it did in that of human thought generally. Its effect was to demolish a multitude of dogmatic barriers by a single stroke, and to arouse a spirit of rebellion against all ancient authorities whose positive and unauthenticated statements were contradicted by modern science.”

    Galton’s successor as chairman of the British Eugenics Society was none other than Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin. (Galton was Charles Darwin’s cousin) Leonard Darwin made the following dedication in his book “The Need for Eugenic Reform”

    “Dedicated to the memory of my father. [Charles Darwin] For if I had not believed that he would have wished me to give such help as I could toward making his life’s work of service to mankind, I should never have been led to write this book.”

  25. 25
    russ says:

    “Russ, you’re correct. Although saying that it “undermines evolution” doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like evolution has a goal and we are subverting that goal by having culture.” – Strangelove

    A recent news article lamented the fact that evolution was not producing new species (or transitions) of finches on the Galapagos Islands. Scientists speculated that human encroachment was to blame for this lack of speciation, and the tone of the piece was that this was unfortunate. That’s why the word “undermine” made sense to me.

    I understand that evolution is not “goal-oriented”, but there seem to be folks out there who want to see new and improved species. Wouldn’t it make sense that they would also like to see new and improved humans with better thinking, better senses, stronger bodies, etc.?

  26. 26
    H.L. Mencken says:

    However unfortunate it may have been, the legacy of “social darwinism” doesn’t negate the scientific reality of evolution. In fact, such reasoning is analogous to social constructionists who use slavery and the Holocaust as arguing points against scientists who examine the possibility of racial or gender differences.

    RE: “altruism” – “Neo-Darwinism” does allow for altruism:

    1.) Kin selection ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kin_selection )
    2.) Reciprocal Altruism ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocal_altruism )

    Additionally, some evolutionary biologists have posited a theory called “group selection” to explain in-group altruism. Darwin himself was sympathetic to the idea, but the vast majority of biologists reject it on scientific grounds.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U....._the_group

    Furthermore, factors other than natural selection have been at work throughout evolution. One example is “sexual selection.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_selection

    I’m really not sure what this post was supposed to accomplish…..

  27. 27
    Strangelove says:

    “I understand that evolution is not “goal-oriented”, but there seem to be folks out there who want to see new and improved species. Wouldn’t it make sense that they would also like to see new and improved humans with better thinking, better senses, stronger bodies, etc.?”

    I don’t know about people that care whether animals are being improved (in what sense, exactly?). But I would like to argue that because of our culture and altruism humans are greatly improved. Medicine keeps our bodies strong. Hearing aides and Lasik surgery keep our senses sharp. Technology helps us gather information easier, allowing us to think more rationally. We don’t need our genes to change to improve our well being. But, we’re unique as animals in that regard. It is our culture that brought us these things. And this is why our compassion and altruism has paid off so well. Surely negatives have come along as well, but not much in the world is problem free.

  28. 28
    Alan Fox says:

    Given that there’s no shortage of neo-Darwinian “just-so stories” as to how morality, art, music, religion, etc. came into being, I’m curious as to what the ID criticism here is going to be.

    It might be easier to criticize the ID position on the origin of art, music,religion etc. if someone could first summarize it here.

  29. 29
    MikeFNQ says:

    … but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.

    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely
    diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.

    Just thought someone should continue that original quote a bit.

  30. 30
    John A. Davison says:

    I don’t expect anyone to take this seriously but here goes anyway. Evolution WAS an acsending process violating everything we know about themodynamics. A friend of mine once called it thermogodammics.

    The age of fishes was succeeded by the age of amphibians, next by the age of reptiles, followed by the age of birds and mammals, the terminal or climax phase of an irreversible, self-limiting sequence.

    When man apeared some 100,000 years ago, he also began to pass through a series of stages, the hunting and gathering age, followed by the iron age etc. Each of these ages was requisite for the one that followed just as each stage in ontogeny must be completed before the next can occur. It is my conviction that all of these sequences must have been prescribed in the evolutionary scenario which is the essence of the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis.

    Now here is where I will probably lose some listeners. I believe that all of man’s culture was also prescribed in the human genome somehow. Music provides some interesting examples. Until Bach invented the tempered scale, music could make little progress. It was the requisite for all that followed just as the blastula must precede the gastrula. Since then music has undergone a clear sequence of stages which are even described as ages, the baroque age, the classical age, the romantic age. We even speak of the “golden age of opera” which as near as I can tell ended in the 1920’s with the passing of Puccini. We have had the jazz age, the swing age, the age of rock and roll until now popular music has become an insult to our senses. There hasn’t been a decent Broadway musical in thiry years. Thank God for recordings and the great virtuosos that can keep our musical history alive. I firmly believe that all these ages were also presribed and were part of an obligatory sequence.

    A similar sequnce could also be presented for literature which also had its golden period which has come and gone.

    Otto Schindewolf had an interesting view of evolutionary progress which he regarded, as I do, as cyclical and irrevereible. He recognized three periods in an evolutionary sequence, typogenesis, typostasis and typolysis. The names are self-explanatory.

    I believe that evolution has ended and that we are now in the typolytic stage of the human condition. We have completed the serial obligatory scenario and are now in the terminal age, the age of technology. That too must have its limits just as every other age has proven to have. What lies beyond? In my view oblivion.

    I also believe that the great geniuses of the past, Mozart, Gauss, Shakespeare were also prescribed to be what they were. Isn’t it possible that the music which Mozart presumably composed was already there and he was simply the predetermoned instrument for its discovery? Certainly all of mathematics was always there and had only to be discovered. It is interesting that Gauss was the son of ordinary peasants. Mathematics was certainly not “composed.” Discovery is all that science has ever been. Maybe all of man’s culture also was only “discovered.”

    Einstein was a great fan of Mozart and music generally and often referred to what he called the “music of the spheres” which he felt only certain humans coud hear.

    Here he is again, using music as his vehicle:

    “Everything is determined… by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust – we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
    Alice Calaprice, The New Quotable Einstein, page 196

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  31. 31
    Scott says:

    I agree with Dr. Davison that the arts, etc… were prescribed to a great degree. The capacity was coded into the genome.

  32. 32
    jmcd says:

    I think John’s view is certainly plausible, but I have no idea how it could be demonstrated as fact. I would say that such beliefs will remain in the realm of the metaphysical for some time to come. As I have said before I make a design inference too, but I consider that to be a metaphysical belief based on science but not part of it.

  33. 33
    John A. Davison says:

    Scott

    I feel it was not only the capacity but the arts themselves, the paintings, the musical compositions, the books, all of mankind’s conventions and presumed inventions. In short, the whole enchilada, the bitter and the sweet, may have been prescribed. That is one of several reasons I believe there must have been at least two Creators, one benevolent, the other malevolent. Such an assumption makes the world, past and present, understandable for me.

    “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
    George Bernard Shaw.

    Is that blasphemous enough? If it isn’t, I will try to do better next time!

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution udemonstrable.”

  34. 34
    Carlos says:

    John,

    First, let me say that I feel some admiration for someone who’s defending orthogenesis in the 21st century. I guess the emergence of information theory has given new life to some of the old rivals to Darwinism? And I can sympathize with the difficulties you’ve had trying to present your views, since by now “Darwinism” and “evolutionism” are largely treated as synonyms.

    Second, it seems that the defense, in the version presented above, depends on a progressivist or at least teleological interpretation of history. But that’s not entirely borne out by the paleontological and archeological record. New species of insects, fish, and amphibians evolved alongside mamals, primates, and hominids. The ray-finned fish, especially the teleosts, diversified after amphibians split off. Among primates, monkeys underwent a major adaptive radiation after the apes went their separate way. And turning from paleontology to history, many cultures have remained at a hunter/gatherer or subsistence-agricultural mode.

    I’ll admit that my theory of history has been influenced by Gould’s Wonderful Life and Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. (Perhaps that will make my biases more evident.)

    In any event, the theory of history presented above really does strike me as both anthropocentric and Eurocentric, and that strikes me a serious problem — because that means that a lot of interesting patterns and phenomena aren’t explained adequately, they don’t fit the Procrustean bed. If this isn’t a problem as far as you’re concerned, I’d like to hear more as to why.

  35. 35
    Charlie says:

    A lot of artists and thinkers have experienced what JAD is talking about.
    They talk about discovering a song and unwrapping it from its possibilities, or about ideas coming to them from outside themselves.
    One famous and cliched example is that of Paul McCartney rolling out of bed one morning and playing a song he remembered hearing. For days he played it for anyone who would listen, asking if they could place the source. When nobody could he determined that the music for Yesterday had come to him in his sleep.
    This is the same way that ideas came to Edison during his naps. And Emerson felt we all had access to the common mind, where all the thoughts and feelings could be gathered. Michelangelo said that his statue David was already in the marble and that he merely had to knock away the excess stone. LAwrence Olivier gave a greta performance one night and afterward was visibly upset. When asked why he said that he had no idea where that performance had come from nor how to ever do it again.

  36. 36
    Charlie says:

    My typos, of course, are from computer gremlins.

  37. 37
    John A. Davison says:

    Thank you Charlie. I like that!

    Carlos

    Robert Broom was very much aware of the ups and downs of the evolutionary sequence yet he also insisted that there had been a Plan, a word he capitalized and, as far as I know, his only reference to a higher power. He explained in one of his books, and I can’t find it right now, that the reason for all the various ages with all their bizarre plants and animals was to maintain the balance of nature so the evolutionary process could continue. I like that too of course. It is only natural for me to be anthropocentric since I have openly challenged the establishment to document a younger mammal than Homo sapiens or for that matter a younger genus than Homo. Robert Broom claimed that a new genus had not appeared in two million years. So did Julian Huxley as I have fully documented in my Manifesto and elsewhere in hard copy. I regard a universe with man as the ultimate product as indicated by the fossil record so I can hardly regard anthropocentricity as a defect in my reasoning. Quite the contrary, I feel it supports a goal-directed evolution. I am not the first to present an anthropic view of the universe in any event. It is even known as the “Anthropic Principle” by folks like Hugh Ross. I like that too as it remains in concert with the PEH, although I hesitate to identify it with the Christian ethic as some insist on doing. Christianity is a wonderful ethic but it should not influence our science. Indeed, insistence that it does has caused many problems.

    I hope I can quote Einstein wthout fear of bannishment or deletion.

    “The main sourse of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in the concept of a personal God.”
    Alice Calaprice, The New Quotable Einstein, page 203

    I hope that further explains my position.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  38. 38
    Carlos says:

    John,

    Well, there certainly are species younger than Homo sapiens. I don’t know about genera. But, from a neo-Darwinian perspective, genera aren’t real — they have a merely nominal existence, ways of classifying species. The species alone are real, as populations of reproductively isolated organisms. So that’s one answer, perhaps not the most satisfying one.

    I interpret your quoting of Einstein as an indication that you don’t think that the concept of a personal God has any scientific status. Is that a fair interpretation of your view?

  39. 39
    John A. Davison says:

    Oh but genera are very real indeed. The bionomial system of Linnaeus is the most sound taxonomic system imaginable. Genera, whether plant or animal, are categories in which the members share a number of commmon characters. What separates them from true species is only the sterility of their hybrids assuming they can succesfully mate. To deny the reality of the genus is unthinkable to any taxonomist I know. It is the most convincing evidence imaginable for a highly regulated reproductive continuity with change (evolution). In a Darwinian world there would be no taxa whatsover. It would be nothing but a giant morphological and physiological blur of animals and plants with no evidnece for any relationship whatsoever.

    Which mammalian species are younger than Homo sapiens and which genus younger than Homo? Saying so does not make it so. That is another of my many unanswered challenges to the Darwinian fable. You will be the first to prove I am wrong which I am always prepared to admit.

    Where did you get the notion that genus has no meaning from a neoDarwinian point of view? Who are these people? Come to think of it, you may be right, because nothing makes any sense from a neoDarwinian point of view. It is the biggest and most long lasting hoax in the history of science.

    My feelings about a personal God are like Einstein’s – agnostic. I see no need for a personal God and I see no evidence for one so I can hardly regard it as having scientific value. I also know of not a single scientific achievement that ever involved a personal God. Does anyone? Nevertheless, I am definitely a creationist but not of a sectarian variety. I, again with Einstein, don’t believe in an after life and am even looking forward to the end of this one, one of the very few virtues of growing old.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  40. 40
    Carlos says:

    John,

    Firstly, I didn’t say that there are any mammalian species younger than Homo sapiens — only that there are species younger than we are. I was thinking of the cichlid radiation in Lake Victoria, which has been dated to a few thousand years ago.

    Regarding species and genera: here I’m speaking for myself, not for any other evolutionist. Recall, for a moment, the scholastic distinction between the real and the nominal. A real distinction is one that tracks how things are. A nominal distinction is a classification that we introduce as a bit of clarification and tidying-up.

    Under a neo-Darwinian picture, species are real, as a distribution of features over a reproductively isolated population. A species is reproductively isolated if any of the following conditions apply: (a) it does not mate with members of any other species; (b) it mates with members of other species, but fertilization does not occur; (c) cross-specific mating and fertilization occur, but the offspring are non-viable; (d) the offspring are viable but sterile.

    But as for higher taxa — these, it seems to me, are terms that we introduce in order to better understand the similarities and differences between species.

    Linnaeus, I would assume, thought of these as “real” — as picking out, or referring to, How the World Really Is. But I don’t think that it’s possible to retain a realist interpretation of higher taxa under the terms of the neo-Darwinian picture.

    By the way: I do think that Spinozism and Darwinism are incompatible. I feel the appeal of both. In this respect you are more consistent than I am.

  41. 41
    John A. Davison says:

    Carlos

    I know what you didn’t say but I felt compelled to explain I was referring to mammals and cichlids are not mammals. Most of those cichlids are now extinct by the way so we really don’t even know what their relationships are or were to each other do we? The Darwinians have been very careful never to test their convictions and when Dobzhansky did and discovered selection was impotent they promptly forgot about it. The history of Darwinism is its most devastating testimony. Its critics are not permitted to exist. My several papers have elicited not a single response in the professional literature except one shortly after I published my original evolutionary paper in 1984. That was only as a letter to the editor to which I responded in the same journal – the Journal of Theoretical Biology. I am not alone in being ignored. Try to find references to the books by Otto Schindewolf, Richard B. Goldschmidt, Leo Berg, Reginald C. Punnett, Robert Broom. Pierre Grasse, Soren Lovtrup and Henry Fairfield Osborn, each a distinguished leader in his field, all convinced evolutionists, and not one a Darwinian by the wildest stretch of the imagination.

    The whole business is a manifestaion of how man regards himself in the universe. The Darwinians are convinced we are accidents. My God, Gould actually put that in words -“Intelligence was an evolutionary accident.” He even wrote a book with the title “Full House!” It is hard to believe isn’t it?

    I am convinced this is a genetic predisposition just as has been out preferences for political parties, brands of beer, tooth paste, clothing, pets, jewelry and mates. Those have already been established. The question we should be asking is what HASN’T been “prescribed” if I may be so bold: not much in my opinion.

    We are all victims just as Einstein claimed and I won’t quote him again here. I am certain it grows tiresome, even unacceptable, to those genetically predisposed not to accept the convictions of one whom I regard as the greatest and most penetrating intellect of all time. Some of us have been luckier than others and I am certain that every person sees himself as one of the lucky ones!

    A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  42. 42
    tinabrewer says:

    John: why do you feel “lucky” to have been prescribed to be one of the few to realize that you have no free will? I myself have apparently been prescribed to be completely steeped in the delusion of my own freedom. I love it. Its so empowering and fills life with such purpose! I bet you are secretly jealous that those *&%#$@! creator/s put you into the “he gets to get it” group…:)

  43. 43
    John A. Davison says:

    Tinabrewer

    Unfortunately I am uncertain about what you are trying to say. Perhaps you should be more specific.

    I have quoted Einstein. What is OK with big Al is just fine with me.

    I am not jealous of anything, never have been, and I laugh at your suggestion. I am immune to such innuendo and will remain so to the end. I at least know what I am not which is a hypocrit! I hope others have the same self confidence.

    “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”
    George Bernard Shaw

    My heresies are published and I have yet to recant anything I ever committed to hard copy.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

  44. 44
    tinabrewer says:

    John: I just like chatting with you now and then. What I was trying to say, and which I did a poor job of saying, was that if there is some set of creators, who decided how everything would turn out from the beginning, and no one has free will, then it is actually lucky, in my opinion, to be one of the ones who is UNaware of this miserable state of affairs. I was just wondering how you could possibly consider yourself lucky to know about the chains which bind you.(?)

  45. 45
    John A. Davison says:

    As I keep saying:

    “We are all victims.” determined “by forces over which we have no control.”

    Does anyone think that J.S. Bach had any control over his genius? He was “prescribed” to be to music what Gauss and so many others were to mathematics. They all only discovered what was always there.

    A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”

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