by Denyse O'Leary
(Australian philosopher David Stove (1927-1994), not a religious man and no defender of any type of creationism, wrote a book Darwinian Fairytales (Avebury Press, 1995), which is part of the Avebury Series in Philosophy, that shows clearly why the principal neo-Darwinian concepts of kin selection and inclusive fitness simply do not conform to the available evidence - certainly not for humans, and probably not for many other life forms. This series of blogs briefly introduces the topics covered in the 11 chapters of the book, with some other links, as available. This is a brief comment on Chapter 10 of 11, "Paley's Revenge or Purpose Regained.")
Essentially, Stove shows, selfish gene theory smuggled purpose back into biology, only now it is a gene, not a god that has a purpose, to replicate itself. He explains how the god-like "selfish gene" entered Darwinian theory in the first place. Why was it so important?
While the major theoretical work on the idea of the gene that selfishly perpetuates itself was done by George C. Williams ( Adaptation and Natural Selection, 1966), the idea was popularized by Richard Dawkins, a far more interesting writer, in The Selfish Gene (1976).
The problem, of course, is that everywhere in biology we see apparent purpose: Caterpillars that look like bird droppings, praying mantises that look like fallen pink petals, plants that trap insects and eat them. The source of the purpose is unlikely to be the plant or animal's own unintelligent ancestors, or the human observer - and for philosophical reasons the Darwinist rejects divine purpose or cosmic law. Speaking of a spider that mimics a bird dropping, Stove remarks,
The intelligence displayed in this case probably exceeds human intelligence, and certainly exceeds the intelligence of spiders or their ancestors; and the engineering ability displayed enormously exceeds human ability, which in turn far exceeds the engineering ability of any other animals. (p. 181)
Most people prior to Darwin (1859) had simply shrugged and attributed the purpose to divine design, whether or not they were religious believers, let alone churchgoers, in any usual sense.
Darwin famously proposed that a long, slow series of adaptations could result in such enormous changes. And he carried the day because he eliminated the element of divine purpose at a time when many people dearly wanted that. But - and this is what you will not hear from the Darwinist - he did not in fact solve the problem.
As many have pointed out, looking only one per cent like a bird dropping will not save a caterpillar from a hungry bird. Probably not even five percent or ten. Some purpose working behind the scenes is required to sustain major projects over the long periods in which they do not appear to pay.
That's where the selfish gene comes in. It attempts to get itself replicated in as many descendants as possible. It will persist through many iterations until it succeeds, and is thus capable of these apparently miraculous transformations.
As Stove remarks, referring to William Paley, a nineteenth-century clergyman who insisted that nature showed divine purpose,
Thus has Paley had his long delayed revenge on Darwinism. For more than a hundred years, the proudest boast of Darwinians had been, that they had at last complied with Bacon's famous injunction, and expelled 'final causes from their science. Paley was remembered, when he was remembered at all, only as the most atrocious of all offenders against that injunction. And yet we find, in the last third of the 20th century, many Darwinians of the highest reputation ascribing adaptation to the purposive activity of beings which possess more than human intelligence and power. This is certainly a sufficiently remarkable historical comeback; een if Paley redivivus has had to settle, (as I said), for plural and immoral divinities. (p. 186)
Stove shows that Darwinians often use language to describe the activity of genes (plural and immoral divinities) that implies that they have a sense of purpose (pp. 184â€“86). Darwinists deny that they "really" mean purpose, of course. Dawkins writes, "Natural selection ... has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all."
But the problem is no one believes that abstractions such as "natural selection" or "artificial selection " or "warfare" have purpose. To deny that abstract entities have purposes is to deny what no one has ever maintained.
Concrete existences do have purpose, however. Are genes such existences or not? Stove reminds us that consciousness is not needed for purpose. Indeed, an ant can intentionally sting you, but we need not suppose that the ant is conscious. A pitcher plant traps bugs for the purpose of eating them, but the plant is certainly not conscious. Genes are not even whole organisms, like plants, they are merely nucleotides strung together inside the nucleus of a cell. So then we must ask, does Dawkins really attribute purpose to genes or doesn't he?
He says no, but Stoves notes,
... for every once that Dawkins says that genes are not purposive, he says a hundred things, (many of which I have quoted), which imply that genes are /em> purposive. And that Williams, likewise, says countless things which imply that genes are purposive, although he doubtless believes (while never actually saying) that they are not. If the writer of a book says a certain thing twice or once or never, but implies the opposite over and over again throughout his book, a rational reader will take it that the writer's real opinion is the one which he constantly implies; not the other one. (p. 187)
The basic problem is that Dawkins and Williams before him never address a central confusion between the language of description of what genes do and the language of purpose, which makes them into plural and immoral gods.
The central question is: Can genes indeed superintend a project that transforms a caterpillar into a living likeness of a bird dropping if they do not have purpose, and if they do have purpose, how do they have it? It is no use protesting that they only appear to have purpose. Stove suggests that the Darwinists owe the world a translation manual (p. 190).
Essentially, Stove puts his finger on the problem: Darwinism has an unpaid teleological debt (a debt regarding purpose), even since Darwin was hailed as banishing purpose, when he didn't really do so.
they never paid this debt: they have in fact become progressively less conscious, with time, of the fact that they owe this debt. This is a natural failing, of course, in people with debts which have remained unpaid for a long time. But it is not the less, on that account, an inexcusable failing. (p. 191)
In other words, in attempting to explain complex adaptations, Darwinism transferred purpose from an unselfish God to selfish genes, without giving any clear account of how or why genes should do all that Darwinists need them to do. Nor have Darwinists ever demonstrated that they actually do.
Stove shows that if Darwinists were prevented from smuggling teleological language into their descriptions of the activity of genes, they would not be able to demonstrate that genes ever even "try" to get themselves replicated at all. How could they? They are rows of molecules, not mail order brides.
Because he is not a religious believer, philosopher Stove does not write with the intention of substituting a more conventional theistic explanation for the Darwinian religion of the selfish gene (he describes it as such). He is content to point out that it is a religion, which transfers the debt of purpose to the gene. Indeed, the religious character of Darwinism has often been remarked on by other sources. Dawkins has famously said that Darwinism made him feel fulfilled fulfilled as an atheist.
That's as may be, but forcing it on the public as the only acceptable explanation for a variety of puzzling life forms is increasingly, and very understandably, controversial.
In Chapter 11 , Stove addresses Darwinism and human nature.
(Note: This is the second of 12 posts, working backward to the Preface. I will later replace this note with links to the other chapters, for reader convenience.)
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain (Harper 2007).
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