Thursday, March 22, 2018

Wanting It To Be So Doesn't Make It So - Or Why It's Important That Zebras, Dandelions and Bacteria Are Different

It is absurd to pretend that a scientific law is any stronger than the reliability of those components that are are involved in it, than the extent to which the supporting contentions that comprise that law, are reliably described and match the other claims of reliability made for science.

If you want to make a law about x, and anything you can know about x is dependent on, not only u, v, and w, but pretty much everything you could symbolize by all of the letters that precede x  then your contentions about x are only good to the extent that your knowledge about all of those other things is good. Not to mention their validity as truth connected to actual physical observation and measurement.   And that's only a very simplified description of what goes into making a scientific law reliable.

Natural selection is different from many, all really,  of the most reliable of scientific laws in that most of scientific law is drawn on observation of very simple phenomena about non-living things.  Those things behave in far more reliably repeatable ways.   Living things are not so simple and cannot even possibly be considered in the same way because the phenomena of life are far more complex, far more variable and often happen over a far longer length of time, the varied and complex events of the lives of organisms being entirely relevant to what is studied.   Compared to the movements of an electron, the aspects of variable reproduction rates in organisms is of effectively infinite variability.  It is nothing like the laws of physics and chemistry because what it purports to explain is a far more complex phenomenon.

Natural selection as not only one but THE supreme law of biology is fraught with such problems.   It purports that some force called "natural selection" comprised of not only why some organisms are successful in a. surviving long enough to reproduce, b. other organisms not surviving long enough to reproduce, c. the success in those who reproduce in leaving more descendants than others, d. the factors which go into the reasons that some leave more descendants than others, those reasons of many varied and often entirely dissimilar reasons. . . and, after you've accounted for all such variable factors in why that happens over all of the different species, subspecies, varieties, tribes . . . in the parts of the taxonomic ranking they don't generally mention in high school or intro to biology courses but which is where natural selection is alleged to operate, you get to the fact that most of the actual events that would have to comprise many of those variables not only is not available to look at in the kind and amount of detail you would need to really know the problem, the largest part of that will never be available to be looked at scientifically and so will forever be unavailable to a genuinely scientific study of it 

If you think I'm making this up, here is what I think is the central problem that Elliot Sober found with Alex Rosenberg's claim that natural selection was the only valid law of biology.

One gap in Rosenberg's argument is that he does not tell us how complicated the living world is, or how complicated it has to be to elude our search for laws.  I am not asking for a precise measure of complexity, but for a reason to think that the complexity of nature puts biological laws beyond our ken.  Consider, for example, what we can know about fitness.  Fitness is the supervenient biological property par excellens.  What do a fit zebra, a fit dandelion, and a fit bacterium have in common?  Presumably, nothing much at the level of their physical properties.  However, this has not prevented evolutionists from theorizing about fitness.   I have already mentioned Fisher's theorem and there are lots of other lawful generalizations that describe the sources and consequences of fitness differences (Sober 1984).  It might be objected that these generalizations are a priori, and so are not laws, properly speaking.  This raises the question of whether laws must be empirical, but let us put that issue aside.  If the multiple realizability of a property makes it “complicated,” then fitness is complicated.  And if the complexity of a property makes it impossible for us to discover qualitative, counterfactual supporting, and explanatory generalizations about the property, then we should have none available about fitness.  But we do, as Rosenberg concedes.  The human mind does not slam shut in the face of radical multiple realizability.  Understanding the sources and consequences of fitness differences is not rendered impossible by the fact that fitness is multiply realizable.  It is therefore puzzling why the multiple realizability of other biological properties should mean that we will never know any laws about them.

I would disagree with Sober in that what he lays out as the variability of "fitness" renders its inclusion in any purported law of science sufficiently problematic to weaken the reliability of any conclusions drawn under any such supposed law that includes it in its realm of consideration.  Including Fisher's.   Wanting to skate over the problems because you want biology to have laws like physics and chemistry doesn't do anything to negate the significance or importance of such problems.  It really does matter that when you talk about the "fitness" as a thing that the "fitness" of a zebra, a dandelion or a bacterium are not the same things.  You're using one word to talk about quite different states of not only being, but living.  Pretending that you're describing one, static condition of being when you're not.  And the same thing would be true about the "fitness" relevant in natural selection, of the "fitness" of one zebra as opposed to another zebra, what that really means and what effect that really does and did have in the variable reproduction rates of those zebras or their entire line of ancestry, right back to the beginning. 

The problem he points out would have an impact on natural selection that would impeach ITS status as a law, but not all aspects of biology include such extravagantly broad and variable components.   I would think any proposed law about just about ANY more modestly scaled biological problem, even a very complex one, would be more complete and likely more reliable than any general claim about natural selection.

The extent to which the story telling of Darwin and his disciples has been just accepted, choosing to ignore the problems of pretending the component aspects of the problem, extending back more than three billion years of evolving life don't matter, in order to pretend that their claims about among the most complex of all problems has general explanatory power seems more illusory to me every time I look into it.

If you were able to do a general survey of all PhDs in just properly biological topics as to how they would define natural selection, the most sophisticated of those definitions, taking into account the scope of the problem would seldom if ever actually match each other.  What does such a scientific "law" actually mean if there is not something approaching a universal understanding of what it means?    I don't think you would run into the same problem with many of the longer standing laws of physics and chemistry, even those of the same vintage as Darwin's theory which I doubt anyone actually holds as he set it out.    I would think there are many less ambitious holdings in biology that are more successful in describing observations and predicting things because they don't include such ideas as "fitness".   I wonder if that had something to do with the fact that Darwin's attack dog, Thomas Huxley, seldom taught his students anything about Darwinism, insisting that they concentrate on physiology. 

I think natural selection functions far more as a required framing of the language and thinking of biologists than as a law of science, a required way of thinking about biological problems than a scientific law.  It functions far more as a mandatory dogma than most of the doctrines of mainstream religion are alleged to,  in that it is more accurately seen as a doctrine than a dogma.

And that's before we even get to the ideological use of Darwinism in pseudo-scientific fields, evolutionary-psychology,  the pseudo-scientific part of anthropology, etc. pretty much all of the parascientific academic fields, now including some sects of philosophy, in which all hell breaks loose.   In the popular use of the term "natural selection" it functions as a magic spell or charm which is accepted, unthinkingly, as an explanation when no explanation has been produced.

I think it is retained because of its alleged power in attacking religious belief, not because of its reliability in explaining the evolution of species. I think that' Alex Rosenberg's real motivation in his claim for it. And a lot of that power is more alleged than real. There are people who maintain a non-ideological belief in conventional Darwinism while still believing in Christianity and don't suffer in the least from the psychological or intellectual damage that atheists insist they must.   The fact is, most of the people who believe in evolution also believe in God, in the United States, most of them probably Christian or some other monotheistic belief in God.

There are other reasons for maintaining the status of natural selection, one of the strongest is the desire of people studying evolutionary biology to pretend they have a completeness of knowledge of it that they never will have,  I think a lot of that is about status and glamor, which accounts for why most of what most people know about Darwin and his theory these days is based on costume dramas on TV and other vastly simplistic presentations about it.   I think the actual status of the theory in science isn't all that much more sophisticated than that.   These days, it's more like sports fandom, rooting for the Snobs, or the Yahoos.   Only the real situation isn't like the cartoon presentation of the problem.  Lots of those Snobs aren't as smart as they think they are and lots of the Yahoos aren't as stupid.   Lots of the Snobs don't know why they believe in Darwinism and lots of the Yahoos don't reject science and some of them are a lot more sophisticated in their knowledge of it than a lot of the Snobs like to believe they are.   I would bet if you asked most of the fans of the Darwin cult for an explanation of natural selection, a good number of them wouldn't be able to differentiate between that and evolution, I would suspect a lot of them couldn't give you anything like a definition of natural selection, nevermind have a complex understanding of it or the issues it generates.   It's about choosing a side, not science.


  1. The problem with "fitness" (other than we use the term to describe an idealized physical state for humans, as in "physical fitness," which has been reduced over time to just "fitness," but with the same meaning still attached) is that it conceived as a static description of a dynamic process.

    Is one zebra more "fit" than another? By what criteria, except "survival"? But survival simply means the species is still in existence (v. extinct). If the species goes extinct, clearly it is no longer "fit," since it no longer is. But was it "unfit"? What, then, of the Northern White Rhino, now facing extinction as the only two living members of the species are two infertile females. Where they "unfit" to survive nature, red in tooth and claw? Or were they unfit to survive humanity, destroying the rhino's habitat and ability to thrive?

    "Fit" seems to simply mean still alive for our observation. Is the Roman Empire no longer "fit"? The Greek city-state? The kingdoms of Israel and Judea? In one sense, yes, but that hardly implies some kind of improvement in models of human governance, since monarchies still exist and democracies are seen increasingly as fragile things. "Fitness" is not an inherent quality in a species; it is simply the fact those species are present for our observation. They are "fit" because we can see them. Dinosaurs were around for roughly 180 million years; mammals have been around roughly 1/3rd of that time. By what standard are mammals more "fit" except we are here, and they are not? If that's a scientific standard, it doesn't tell us much.

    It's rather like the question of life, of animate objects. What's the difference between a sleeping body and a corpse, except one of them can be expected to be animate again. What is this thing "life" that animates bodies, and then ceases to? Where does that energy come from, where does it go? Why does it leave at all, except we have observed that it always does? Because we are no longer individually "fit" to contain it?

    What kind of answer is that?

    1. My question to Sober and Rosenberg would be why wouldn't the "variable realizability" of fitness mean that any conclusion you drew from any "law" that includes fitness as one of its component variables wouldn't require you to label your conclusion based on which variety of "fitness" you were talking about, which would quickly render any generalized statements under such law as muddled as the situation before you drew your conclusion. Or why any "law" that was drawn from "fitness" shouldn't be required to specify whether it's "fitness A" or "fitness Q" or whatever other species of "fitness" you were claiming was a component of it.

      It's clear from reading Darwin and his earliest disciples that when they talked about "fitness" or "superiority" or whatever was expected to lead to survival and propagation into biological dominance in human beings, they meant Europeans - excepting such groups as the "Celts" (which for Darwin didn't include the Scots or, apparently, the Welsh) - were going to dominate and eventually colonize the entire Earth. As can be seen in Darwin's adoption of his follower W. R. Greg's claims about the Irish, "fitness" in the human species was suspiciously congruent with the economic and political and national aspirations of Victorian Brits. And the proposed applications of Darwinian fitness by the next generation of Darwinists, H. G. Wells, for example, differed only from that of the Nazis insofar as the accident of history made it possible for the Nazis to carry out the mass murder such Darwinists proposed.

      It is ironic in Alex Rosenberg's debate performance with W.L. Craig that he played the Holocaust as a card to sway the audience in that his championing of Darwinism was championing the one thing which the Holocaust and all of the other Nazi genocides were based on. Intrinsic to that was the moral nihilism that Rosenberg also champions as part of his scientistic-materialistic atheism. The extent to which such efforts rely on a general ignorance of the actual history of Nazism and its intellectual bases - atheist propaganda of the 1940s-today replacing that knowledge - is one of the greatest lapses in Western intellectuals in the post-war period. There should be no room for that kind of dishonesty today, I think the revival of Nazism, with the patronage of the KGB trained Putin is not that surprising when you consider the ultimate ancestry of all of it in scientistic materialism and the moral nihilism that is an inescapable result of that.

    2. I should have noted that the strictly Darwinian citation of "fitness" in the human species was congruent with the aspirations and benefit of upper-class Brits, even the British poor and destitute being targeted for elimination.

      I have to confess that I get a lot of pleasure out of the fact that Charles and Leonard Darwin, among others, were "anti-vaxxers" only they were opposed to smallpox vaccinations for poor people BECAUSE IT WORKED TO THEIR WELL BEING AND SURVIVAL. They were far more depraved than today's anti-vaxxers who are against vaccination because they believe it is harmful. Darwin and son were entirely more depraved than Jenny McCarthy. And they were hardly alone among Darwinists who opposed medical care BECAUSE IT WORKED.

  2. Yes, the roots of "fitness" are "fit according to a pre-determined standard which we have identified." And then we call it a "law" (or even make it into law) until it offends our sensibilities sufficiently that it embarrasses us (which only happened in the case of Darwinian standards in the Holocaust, an event predicated on American law and Darwinian standards of "fitness"). So erase, erase, erase!, and rewrite those standards to clean them up from their logical conclusions

    Funny how much of these "scientific standards" and "laws" are moving targets as adjustable as any theological standard identified to "prove" the superiority of science over religion.

    1. As can be seen in Huxley's Emancipation-Black and White and Haeckel's Naturlischeshopfungsgeschicte, the assertions and even proposals for the extermination of entire racial groups based on The Origin of Species began almost immediately, as Galton's formal exposition of eugenics.

      I've looked at a lot of what was claimed about the origins of the Holocaust - the wider program of Nazi extermination based on identity is seldom presented as being part of the same thing - and have concluded a lot of it originated among Marxists and other atheists in the 1950s and 60s. To attack the real and demonstrable origins of the Nazi's murders, everything from the academic, scientific to popular promotion of it in biology, natural selection, would be to attack one of the most commonly used tools of atheists to promote atheism. And to identify Nazism, as anti-Christian an ideology as it was anti-Jewish, and for the same reasons, with Christianity served the same purpose. As the idiots of Eschaton demonstrate, that a-historical bit of the lore of the college educated English speakers was largely successful. That all you have to do to refute it is to read the primary sources is especially interesting when you look at the origins of Marxism in an allegedly scientific elucidation of history.

      I've come to the conclusion that pretty much the entire modernist ideological line is a. poisonous to genuine liberalism, b. genocidal due to its moral nihilism and biological determinism. If I find something useful or even right about it it's not due to the intellectual basis of it, it's, rather, similar to why I can find things that people like William Lane Craig or Edward Feser have to say worth while, in spite of their intellectual bases and not because of them.