Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Response

Oh, do you really think I'd have said it if I couldn't locate the quote?

"Darwin, whom I have looked up again, amuses me when he says he is applying the ‘Malthusian’ theory also to plants and animals, as if with Mr. Malthus the whole point were not that he does not apply the theory to plants and animals but only to human beings—and with geometrical progression—as opposed to plants and animals."

Karl Marx, letter to Friedrich Engels, June 18, 1862

Much as I think Marx was a disaster as a constructive thinker (though nowhere near as disastrous as his followers) he was a brilliant critic, one of the most brilliant Europe ever produced.  That he saw that basic problem with natural selection before any of the scientists I've read did is pretty impressive.  You'd think that most of them didn't bother to read Darwin's citations and what he claimed to base his theory in, which turns out to be rather typical of the scientific practice in so far as Darwinism is concerned.  It's as if they're afraid to subject him to the normal level of scientific skepticism and testing, which they could be because as soon as you look hard at it, the less plausible it seems.

I look at, especially, the early literature supporting natural selection and it is obvious from the start that its adoption had three motives:

a. It was a theory which was entirely congenial with the existing economic caste structure in places like England and Germany, it was the good news for the ruling economic elite that nature put them where they were as opposed to the dross they kept in poverty for their use.  It was, as well, a theory that was more than merely congenial with racism and other forms of bigotry on the basis of identity.  It even proved useful, though in a more irrational usage, with the subjugation of women.

b. It allowed biology to claim to have theories as potent and universal as contemporary physics had and which chemistry was obtaining with a high degree of reliability and reputability and through an actual application of scientific methodology.   I think there was an enormous professional motive which had nothing to do with science that made the adoption of natural selection highly desirable, especially in the context of academic science.  And it was based on the creation of scenarios that were hardly testable in the way that physics was.  The quote about there being physics and there being stamp collecting might be apocryphal but that attitude is real* and biologists even today complain about the repute in which physics, even the most attenuated speculations that can't be tested, have more reputability than even very vitally important and far more reliable biology.  I wouldn't put large swaths of claims about the lost past in that category.  Since starting my study of Darwinism I have come to wonder if Darwin's "bulldog" Thomas Huxley didn't understand that as I've read he hardly taught his students anything about evolution, focusing on the far more evidenced biological topic of physiology.

c.  From the earliest days, among scientists such as Huxley, Ernst Haeckel, and many others, natural selection, "Darwinism" was openly used as an attack on religion in favor of materialist-atheism.  Even within books which were published and accepted as science, that was done and it was done with the complete knowledge of Darwin in books he endorsed, even if he felt it politic to not endorse those specific claims about his theory.  I think that use of Darwinism, both outside of and within science, is one of the reasons that people who demonstrably know nothing about natural selection or the fact that IT is the very definition of "Darwinism" and who know nothing about evolutionary biology maintain such a deep sense of moral outrage when someone questions it.  They don't know what it is, they have no knowledge about its claims but they know it's part of their team's arsenal of weapons in a totally non-scientific ideological war.  And a lot of the biggest boosters of that ideological use of it are professional scientists, I would guess many if not most of them not biologists at all.  When I recalled having read Sean Carroll make that claim for natural selection, it was in a review that he, a physicist, did of Thomas Nagel's book "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False"

He advocates overthrowing things that are precisely defined, extremely robust, and impressively well-tested (the known laws of physics, natural selection)

I read the book, though as it was from the library, I don't have it and I didn't bother taking notes on it but I strongly suspect that Thomas Nagel, who bends over backwards, side-wards and every which way to avoid anything that would endanger or disadvantage the atheism he shares with Carroll, studied Darwinism far more rigorously than Carroll did.  I suspect he probably knows more about it than some ardent Darwinists within biology.  Or, rather, neo-Darwinism, actual Darwinism as Darwin understood it having died a long time before now.   Nagel's critique of it is, if anything, overly charitable to neo-Darwinism.  I don't remember much of anything in Nagel's book that would "overthrow" "well-tested" "known laws of physics".  Sean Carroll is a very smart guy but his current primary interest is ideological and polemical, not scientific.

As Marx saw in 1862 Darwinism's intellectual foundations were an absurd misreading of Malthus's claims and applying those in a way that contradicted Malthus.   And those claims as a "law of nature" were, as well highly problematic.  As the British radical William Cobbett pointed out before Darwin wrote anything, if, as Malthus and, later, Darwinists wanted,  to allow the poor to be protected only by the laws of nature, it wouldn't have the outcome they anticipated.  Those laws would have allowed the poor to engage in a struggle for the means of life  with the class that Malthus, later Darwin, belonged to without their recourse to the entirely artificial police power that maintained their position and the result would have been that there would be no upper class.

Or at least not the one the men of science of Darwin's time belonged to.  It was for Nietzsche to elucidate the further consequences of taking Darwinism as an amoral universe to its ultimate conclusion in his proto-Nazism as the most cruel and ruthless of the most resourceful would rule as Supermen over the rest of them.  Science doesn't come out ahead in such a struggle except in so far as it serves the purposes of those Nietzschean Supermen.  Scientists would either be among the ruling thugs or they'd merely be their henchmen.  Ironically, that was explicit policy under Soviet Communism as science was declared to be a mere tool of the Five Year Plan.  I think Marx would have torn up his manuscripts if he'd known what they were going to turn into when applied.   I think if he'd read more Torah he might have had a better and more realistic understanding of that happening.

*  Eddington commented that there was a hierarchy in rigor in science that put physics far above biology and psychology - though Eddington didn't know how out of control theoretical physics would get in the post-war period.  He pointed out, however, that mathematics, the only science which can actually come up with definitive proof could look askance at physics.  When I read that one of the things that occurred to me was that as the subject matter of pure mathematics were mathematical objects only knowable through the imagination, it was amusing that absolute certainly would seem to only be obtainable through the imagination and not through empirical observation of the natural world.  Which, when I said it, wasn't something atheists wanted to hear.

**  As could be expected Jerry Coyne was about the biggest dick of the bunch. "Nagel is a teleologist, and although not an explicit creationist, his views are pretty much anti-science and not worth highlighting. However, that's The Chronicle's decision: If they want an article on astrology (which is the equivalent of what Nagel is saying), well, fine and good."

Considering Nagel is one of Coyne's fellow atheists and what I read of him does some pretty fast tap dancing to get away from any suspicion that what he's talking about does, actually support a belief in God, the accusation he's an in-explicit creationist was stupid, even for Jerry.

No comments:

Post a Comment