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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

British historian Paul Johnson predicts Darwinism’s fall

In an article in the London Spectator (August 27, 2005), British historian Paul Johnson brands British Darwinist Richard Dawkins the "ayatollah of atheism". Johnson writes,

The likelihood that Darwin’s eventual debacle will be sensational and brutal is increased by the arrogance of his acolytes, by their insistence on the unchallengeable truth or the theory of natural selection – which to them is not a hypothesis but a demonstrated fact, and its critics mere flat-earthers – and by their success in occupying the commanding heights in the university science departments and the scientific journals, denying a hearing to anyone who disagrees with them. I detect a groundswell of discontent at this intellectual totalitarianism, so unscientific by its very nature. It is wrong that any debate, especially one on so momentous a subject as the origin of species, and the human race above all, should be arbitrarily declared to be closed, and the current orthodoxy set in granite for all time. Such a position is not tenable, and the evidence that it is crumbling is growing.

This is one of the best articles I have read for capturing the mood of the intelligent design community, the sense that bloviating boffins may convince people new to the controvers - but the more you know, the less you believe, and that disbelief will only grow.

In particular, Johnson mentions a current critique by Rutgers University philosopher Jerry Fodor of the least believable of all the efforts to prop up Darwinism, "evolutionary psychology" — the belief that current events can be best understood by a trip back to the Old Stone Age.

I am a post-Darwinist rather than a Darwinist, but if I were advising Darwinists, I would tell them: CUT that rotting branch pronto, before your whole tree is condemned by City Forestry! But of course, they won’t listen, so they are probably doomed. (Shrug. Yawn. I wonder what the history of life really looks like, after the fog clears.)

Fodor says, among other things,
The canonical Evolutionary Psychology literature contains a number of ideas about how a creature’s behaviour might be explained by attributions of motives that it doesn't have. I confess that they seem to me to be simply bizarre. Daniel C. Dennett suggests that, if Jones's behaviour is an adaptation, then it's (not Jones but) "Mother Nature" who is concerned about his contribution to the gene pool. But you might as well blame the Easter Bunny. There isn't any Mother Nature; and if unattached motives can't explain behaviour, neither can the concerns of fictitious persons. Richard Dawkins suggests that, if Jones's behaviour is an adaptation, then it must be (not Jones but) Jones's "selfish genes" that wish to maximize reproductive success. Steven Pinker seems to have swallowed Dawkins whole.

"Dawkins explained the theory . . . . People don't selfishly spread their genes, genes selfishly spread themselves. They do it by the way they build our brains . . . . Our goals are subgoals of the ultimate goal of the genes, replicating themselves . . . . The confusion between our goals and our genes' goals has spawned one muddle after another."

It has indeed.

It could be worse. To give you some idea of the kind of rot that infests evolutionary psychology, last Sunday I sent up a completely ridiculous evo psycho puff piece in National Geographic News in which some worthy loon chose to hold forth on the relationship between Canada and the United States, in terms of evolutionary psychology.

It seemed to have eluded the quotable southern loon that Canada and the United States are both nation states, not tribes. As the eminent political philosopher, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) would point out, had she lived so long, there is nothing for genetics to do in understanding the current relationship between two nation states because they are specifically defined by territory and style of government, and not by inherited characteristics of their populations. So evo psycho is completely irrelevant, and any educated person should realize that.

Yes, yes, sweetie hoo, we all descend from the Old Stone Age, but they didn't have nation states back then. So it is unlikely that anyone from back then could advise or influence the ways in which Canada and the United States manage their relationship. I humbly suggest that you would even have difficulty explaining it to them.

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