The Legacy of Darwinism

2.1 The Legacy of Darwinism

At a time when theories of evolution are under renewed controversy, discussion is hampered by the remoteness of the phenomenon of evolution, and the use of indirect inference to speculate about deep time. In the face of much criticism from religious Creationists, now accompanied by the Intelligent Design movement, adherents of Darwinism forever defend a flawed theory that has been challenged from its first appearance. The objections of the first reviewers of Darwin’s book, indeed even of T. H. Huxley, the original champion of the theory, were never quite answered in the tide of paradigm change that swept modern culture. The perennial issue is natural selection as the mechanism of evolution. The assumption that evolution occurs, and must occur, at random is the crux of the dispute, one unreasonably confused by the claims of religion versus science.i

The rise of molecular biology shows a complexity of structure that cannot easily survive statistical challenges to claims of random emergence. The new genetics and the emergence of developmental biology have exposed the limits of Darwin’s original theory, in the remarkable findings of complex biochemical systems and evo-devo. Therefore the critics, whatever the public pronouncements of Darwinists, have essentially won the debate, and retabled the views of many of Darwin’s predecessors at the birth of embryology in the generation before Origin. We might proceed on that basis, beyond the distracting cultural politics of evolutionary theories, which now sees the resurfacing of the design theology of the generation of Paley. Nothing in the methodology of science requires us to accept the claims of natural selection as established.

The Developmental Perspective Although the findings of so-called ‘evo-devo’ have already been grafted onto the mythology of natural selection, they raise the question of developmental interpretations of evolution, thence of natural teleology. As we examine world history in light of the eonic effect a developmental sequence unconnected with genetics emerges with a demonstration of evolutionary directionality visible as macroevolution over five millennia. The representation of teleology as intermittent directionality suddenly gives meaning to the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium’. World history has its own ‘evo-devo’, with no connection to genetics.

The new developmental perspective, although essentially genetic, strengthens once again our suspicion of processes that go beyond the selectionist account. The problem is one of observation. Evolution at close range is very difficult to observe. Darwinism applies a universal generalization to unseen events and claims in advance of demonstration that natural selection is the mechanism, frequently on the basis of no observations at all. As if Newton’s second law were taken forth from physics, Darwinism assumes no differential transformations at short intervals are to be found in the immense interstices of time they take for granted. Was this a theory or the absence of one? ii

The Limits of Observation Claims for natural selection are all too conveniently pressed into service to cover over the absence of close-range empirical data, and drive out considerations of real evolution, which might be difficult to observe. This certainly holds true for human evolution, whatever the case for earlier eras of evolution. If we discover high-speed macro processes in history that can produce totalized cultural transformations at the level of centuries and less, witness the Axial Age, the Darwinian focus on selectionism is up in the air at once. The true record of real evolution may have been lost altogether. The observational standard for the Axial Age, a sub-pattern of the eonic effect, is that of centuries or less.

Secular thought is stuck in theoretical quicksand, harried between archaic religious teleologies, or the argument by design, and misapplied models of physical reductionism. Issues of philosophic history, the ideological tangle of nineteenth century evolutionism, and the struggle for scientific objectivity as value neutrality, move to becloud even further all hopes of resolving the ambiguity of evolutionary theories. The difficulty lies in the confusion over conceptions of physical or natural law, applied to the biological domain, in the search for universally valid generalizations. The entire realm of social theory from historiography to politics and sociology is poorly informed by the scientific literature, and is caught up in a biased discourse filled with subtle confusion, if not outright disinformation.

The presentation of the ‘scientific’ case on evolution is consistently rigged to show what it does not and cannot show, and then applied aggressively as a standard to the reductionist destruction of views the current regime of science wishes to decree out of existence. Darwin’s theory is taken as established far in advance of the evidence offered, and yet one increasingly suspects it is wildly off the mark as to the descent of man. With remarkable overconfidence, the theory of natural selection is claimed as the talisman of universal explanation, to resolve all the mysteries of metaphysics. What is strange is the tenacity of easily challenged assumptions, and that only fundamentalist religious groups seem aware of the issues or able to challenge them.

These groups are now joined by an immense proliferation of New Age movements, correctly suspicious that an entire dimension of man has been amputated from consideration by a technocratic redefinition. Darwinists have too long enjoyed the misleading luxury of debating fundamentalism, which throws everything into confusion. Reductionist radicalism seems bent on the elimination of the entire evolutionary psychology of man known for millennia. In fact, still another set of fallacies is emerging under the category of ‘spiritual evolution’, with highly metaphysical mythologies promoted in the propaganda for guruism. But such traditions remind us the issues are wrongly posed between theists and scientific reductionists. And ‘evolutionary naturalism’ has another history there, which doesn’t fit into the ‘secular-sacred’ rubric emerging from the collision of science with monotheism.

The basic issue is that no one is under a truly scientific obligation, to take Darwin’s theory of natural selection as established, or grounds for the blanket revision of all views of man and culture. Back to square one: an operational hypothesis. Most importantly, this is not the same as denying the ‘fact’ of evolution. But what are the facts pertaining to the descent of man? We have a very weak empirical record here. Darwin’s oversimplification succeeded as a bestseller, but a host of critics realized almost at once a problem with the basic claims. And we now have the Darwin book market where the calculation of dissent on sales causes amusingly undisguised Darwin prostration. This drives out clear exposition of the facts. New findings are disguised behind Darwin eulogies. Contradictory issues are finessed in double talk.

Nearly upstaged by Alfred Wallace, Darwin rushed into print, breaking the long delay in making his views public, all too obviously obsessed, despite his clear doubts, with the need to seize his last chance for priority, and none too sure his theory really held up. Publicity now, doubts later, is the unconscious tactic of the author. Fudging doubts is evident in the later editions of the text. The fact of evolution was already an established claim, one needed that theory, credo-specific and general issue for the troops, to consolidate one’s name, ‘my theory’. Forever after we are beholden to this bizarre moment, and its displacement of Wallace. And Wallace, to the permanent embarrassment of the iconic founder, had the intelligence and honesty to see the limits of selectionist explanation applied to the descent of man.iii

The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis is the second round of these tactics. By the end of the nineteenth century Darwinism was almost in eclipse, until the rise of the Mendelism, followed by the new mathematical population genetics. The models used here are of interest in their own right, but hardly constitute a foundational theory. The appearance of scientific rigor in population genetics tends to confuse the issue all over again in the claims for these useful but limited models the educated public tends to take on faith, reserving judgment to experts. This added complexity, based on random variation and genetic drift, is the new cover for the old universal claims. Sometimes random variation is paired with non-random natural selection to produce directionality, but this is misleading, and not the same as non-random evolution. We are to suppose without proof that this theory explains human consciousness, language, and morality, and much else. The theory is so heavily promoted we forget how implausible its extensions are.iv

In the realm of physics the use of mathematics is a triumph, but in the realm of biology it might be under suspicion at once for a failure to model a qualitative aspect. Bogus models have long since been critiqued in mathematical economics, but Neo-Darwinian theory seems exempt. A population of organisms over time is an immensely complex system, one that can defy intuition. The observation of such a stream is very difficult. To claim that the evolution of such an entity is fully explained by random variation and natural selection without a closely tracked dataset is simply gross extrapolation, leaving one puzzled by the violation of correct procedure in such a simplistic reductionism. Such a theory is of the same order of difficulty as a science of history where these population streams are clearly visible. Here the encounter with historical fact enforces a reality check, and demonstrates at once systems of far greater complexity than anything dreamed of by current science. Is this a foundational science, like Newton’s physics? Is natural selection a ‘force’, or the lack of one, in a foundational theory?

We should note that the realm of population genetics is not of the same character as basic physics. And here manipulations of the formalism of theory are no guarantee of correct foundations. No amount of technical knowledge can easily resolve the ambiguity because it requires a gestalt change with respect to reductionist thinking and a new basic methodology, with an understanding different from that found in the calculations of numerical models. The acumen of many of the most intelligent technical experts has been crippled by wrong education. And the fringes of knowledge do not easily produce the ombudsmen required to sort through the fallacies of expert delusion.

In general, scientists tend to assume that the spectacular successes of mathematical physics (and the heroic episodes of the Galileo in the drama of secularization) will be repeated in all fields. Yet this expectation has not been born out by the facts, which record a very poor showing for science in the realm of the psychological and the social sciences. Science has not achieved any of its theoretical objectives in any of the human sciences. The rote Darwinization of all domains results over and over in a species of shoddy pseudo-science. In fact, this confusion is nothing new, and we already see the reaction at the end of the eighteenth century. The attempts to define the interaction of the human and natural sciences has a rich tradition, one now almost forgotten in the short memory of resurgent positivistic science. Over and over Darwinism is given as the justification to invade the social sciences, and yet the claims are a promissory note based on a demonstrably inadequate theory.

The stubborn persistence of the Darwin debate is therefore no mystery, and is not the result of Creationist conspiracy. The rise of Darwinism has produced a false view of man, we see the long-predicted limits of the modern scientific worldview. It is easy, in the case of Darwinism, to see this if we explore the limits of theory, for example, in the realm of ethics or aesthetics. Beyond that lies the immense realm of ‘potential man’ clearly recorded in traditions such as those of the classic Buddhist sutras. Hardly a single reference to such discourse occurs, or is allowed, in scientific literature, a clear sign of institutional agenda. Adaptationist scenarios of the Darwinian type must endure a reality check here, yet the illusion induced by the all-explanatory theory is so ingrained none see the discordance as even odd. The claim by narrowly specialized scientists to a methodology that can pass judgment on all questions, sight unseen, in a hierarchy of credentialed expertise has become a strategy of social domination enforcing a worldview that most are forced to disregard in private and assent to in public.

In a nutshell, there is, as yet, no methodologically sound basis for a theory of evolution. That’s a surprising statement, but the point will become obvious as we look at the gray area between history and evolution. We should recall the reservations of Kant, as to the hope ‘that one day there would arise a second Newton who would make intelligible the production of a single blade of grass in accordance with the laws of nature the mutual relations of which were not arranged by some intention’. Darwin’s theory, at least, does not resolve such doubt.v

The Metaphysics of Evolution The philosophy of Kant offers a useful benchmark for the examination of evolutionary theories as these impinge on the intractable issues of metaphysics. Questions, he warns, of god, soul or self, and free will are destined to exhibit antinomies that will haunt any universal generalization. We have the Darwin debate in a nutshell, and can see at once that Darwinian natural selection, used as the universal talisman of metaphysical reduction, presumes judgment on unobserved totalities, and is troubled on each of these questions. Questions of divinity founder in the design debate, of soul in the basic definition of self and organism, and free will in the attempts to reduce moral action to the mechanization of adaptationism. Current biology lacks so much as a basic definition of the organism.

A clue to the problem lies in the failure to produce a science of history, where the facts are visible, even as Darwinists claim a science of evolution, where the facts are not visible. And at what point do we divide history from evolution? This situation is altogether odd, and we left suspicious Darwinism is failing a photo finish test. Not a single hard result has ever been achieved for a science of history. That should make us suspicious of Darwinian claims at the onset. We indulge in far too much idle talk about evolutionary theory in the abstract. These discussions are impoverished, but brilliant sounding speculations about something we never observe. It’s time to take a long, slow motion look at the one good data set that we have, world history. We will soon be cured of Darwinian fantasies. The scale of evolution is tremendous. Even the record of world history, five thousand years over the whole surface of a planet, is nothing compared to deep time. That is a reality check. We see at once the fallacy of throwing generalizations at such a complex system. It is primitive behavior.

Is There a Science of History? The question of a science of history generates a contradiction that the Darwinian framework never addresses. The question is at the core of a Kantian critique of metaphysics and demands a way to reconcile the so-called antinomy of freedom and causality.

Looking at history we can easily show where Darwinian theory is going wrong. The relationship of history and evolution creates a paradox, and placing the two in conjunction allows us to infer something about earlier evolution. The quest for a science of history is now beginning to overflow from Darwinian confusion as a reductionist tactic for the social sciences in the claims of sociobiologists, ambitious to dismiss all other forms of discourse. It seems like a welcome mistake, a foolhardy gesture we can applaud! Just at that point we do have facts, facts that can stop Darwinist thinking in its tracks, and in the process discipline the current confusions.

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