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New Atlantis dumps on the hard Darwinism of Dawkins and Dennett

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From The New Atlantis 

Biologists, that is, will acknowledge that, at molecular and higher levels, they see almost nothing but an effective employment of a thousand interwoven means to achieve a thousand interwoven ends — all in an almost incomprehensibly organized, coordinated, and integrated fashion expressing the striving of the organism as a whole. The organism, they will say, as it develops from embryo to adult — as it socializes, eats, plays, fights, heals its wounds, communicates, and reproduces — is the most concertedly purposeful entity we could possibly imagine. It does not merely exist in accord with the laws of physics and chemistry; rather, it is telling the meaningful story of its own life.

And then they will take it all back.

In other words, the routine language of biological description, highlighted in the earlier parts of this series, is fully accepted, only to be effectively disowned. The explanation for this remarkable intellectual flexibility lies in a widespread view that runs as follows. Evolution produces organisms that we cannot help describing as purposeful and meaningful agents. That is because natural selection tends to select organisms that are fit — well-adapted to their environments and “designed” for surviving and reproducing. When organisms have features that are adapted for something, we naturally see these features as meaningful and purposeful. And an organism compounded of such features seems to be an agent with a goal of some sort; if nothing else, it seems to act intentionally in order to survive and reproduce.

As for the organism: are its apparently meaningful strivings meaningful or not? If they are not — if, for example, the appearance of purpose is an “illusion,” as Dawkins puts it — then what is the difference between merely illusory purpose and the real thing? Perhaps he will say that there is only illusion. But then, if there is nothing for the illusion to be a convincing illusion of, it hardly makes sense to say it is an illusion at all, as opposed to being just what it seems to be. On the other hand, if Dawkins admits that meaning and purpose actually exist as realities and are therefore available to be mimicked in an illusory way, what grounds does he have for claiming meaninglessness and purposelessness as fundamental to the world’s character?

Readers, am I right in thinking at five years ago, a story like this would have been greeted by howls of media outrage? Where’s the outrage? Where are Darwin’s airheads?

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By the way, the drinks are on Sri Ha-Limmud. Still, don’t drink and drive.

See also: PZ Myers not short of an opinion. But just couldn’t seem to make the time to listen.

3 Replies to “New Atlantis dumps on the hard Darwinism of Dawkins and Dennett

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    Um, you do understand that New Atlantis is a New Age kinda place. I don’t think ANYONE in the real news business cares about ANY writing at New Atlantis. Crop Circles anyone? Ley Lines?? Illuminati dwelling at the center of the Earth?

    They may of course be accurate, but I go to New Atlantis looking for ideas about Shamanism.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    @1 HUH???

    The New Atlantis (journal)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....journal%29
    The New Atlantis tends to publish views in favor of technological innovation but wary of certain avenues of development. For example, the journal has generally advocated nuclear energy;[4] space exploration and development through public-private partnerships,[5] including manned missions to Mars;[6] biofuels;[7] and genetically modified foods.[8] But it has expressed ambivalent or critical views about developments in synthetic biology[9] and military technologies like drones,[10][11] chemical weapons,[12] and cyberwarfare.[13] Articles often explore policy questions on these and other issues, sometimes advocating particular policy outcomes, especially on health care,[14] environmental management,[15] and energy.[16]

    The journal is perhaps most widely known for its work in bioethics, including issues such as stem cell research,[17] assisted reproduction,[18] cloning,[19] assisted suicide,[20] organ and tissue donation,[21] the purported link between vaccines and autism,[22] and informed consent.[23] Articles on these issues often highlight the potential for dangerous or degrading developments, including concerns over human dignity,[24] with many articles examining human enhancement,[25] and life extension,[26] and historical precedents for abuse in eugenics[27] and population control.[28]

    The journal also features broader philosophical reflections on science and technology, and tends to be skeptical of what its authors consider to be speculative overreach common in popular discussions. Examples include articles that have defended the existence of free will in light of developments in neuroscience,[29] questioned the wisdom of using brain scans in courtrooms,[30] and described how growing knowledge of epigenetics has undermined common claims about genetic determinism.[31] While the journal has sometimes aired libertarian views about human enhancement and transhumanism,[32] its contributors generally tend to question whether technologies like artificial intelligence,[33] “friendly” artificial intelligence,[34] and genetic enhancement[25][35] are possible or desirable. The journal also publishes the Futurisms blog, dedicated to criticizing transhumanism.

  3. 3
    News says:

    “The journal also features broader philosophical reflections on science and technology, and tends to be skeptical of what its authors consider to be speculative overreach common in popular discussions. Examples include articles that have defended the existence of free will in light of developments in neuroscience,[29] questioned the wisdom of using brain scans in courtrooms,[30] and described how growing knowledge of epigenetics has undermined common claims about genetic determinism.[31]”

    Actually, these are not especially walks on the wild side. See, for example, Free will not threatened by neuroscience

    Is free will becoming fashionable again in neuroscience?

    A choice argument

    Will power

    I don’t know Mahuna’s views on the death penalty, but I do know that one reason defense lawyers don’t like brain scans introduced in evidence is that they can be interpreted histrionically (how about, “the defendant has a cold, calculating brain, like a reptile …” ) If a juror, all I’d want to know is, I don’t care if he IS a reptile, but did he commit this murder?

    Not sure that New Atlantis is that off the wall here either; critiques of Darwinism are being heard in lots of places I’d not have expected a decade ago.

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