Thursday, October 07, 2004

God, Genes and Conservatives


There is something I touched on before (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/safires-reptilian-brain.html) that I just found a piece of supporting evidence for, namely, that conservativism involves a strongly hierarchical view of the world. This hierarchy can be top-down, as in "God-control", or bottom-up (although I have argued that it is really top-down except for the conventions of iconic imagery) as in "gene-control".

If you read my post I linked above you can see more details, but suffice to say, genetic determinism is completely consistent with conservative worldview. Liberals, on the other hand, are drawn to interactionist, non-hierarchical models of society, economics, theology, biology and everything else.

Look at this blog, for instance:
Gene Expression
http://www.gnxp.com/
There, you can see how those things all nicely meld together into a logical whole.

First, from this post (The Greatest? http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002819.html?entry=2819), as well as the blogroll (with a list of "great men") we see that the blog owner, as well as most commenters, choose William D.Hamilton, Ronald A. Fischer, John B.S. Haldane, John Maynard Smith, John Trivers, Richard Dawkins, Edwards O.Wilson, Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker and Francis Crick as great heroes of biology, while denigrating V.Wynn-Edwards, placing Sewall Wright in a second tier, naming Richard Lewontin as "enemy" and not mentioning Steven Jay Gould at all. This is a list composed of mathematical, geno-centric theorists, a list I would expect a conservative to like.

There is nothing wrong with that list. All these people have made great contributions to evolutionary theory. Yet, they were content to make their mathematical models (or play with molecules) without feeling a great urge to test their applicability to the real world. The computer simulations they like so much work perfectly in the cyberworld, and have taught us a lot about general principles of evolution. However, real biological organisms do not function or evolve the same way that cyberorganisms do. Development and behavior are left out of the equations for their simulations.

Daniell Dennett, the Jerry Falwell of extreme genocentrism and determinism, the philosophical guru of the gene-centered biology, gave an interview here:
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/153/story_15340.html
Decide for yourself.

To the post's question who the greatest (evolutionary) biologists were in the first half and the second half of the 20th century were, I would choose Sewall Wright and C.H.Waddington for the first half, and Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and David Sloan Wilson for the second half. These guys moved away from "gene-control" hierarchical paradigm and designed interactionists multi-level models that much better describe how evolution really operates.

The essence of the new way of evolutionary thinking is in coupling evolution to development. The super-popular new discipline, evo-devo (evolutionary developmental biology) was inspired by Gould's 1977 book "Ontogeny and Philogeny", arguably one of the most influential books in the history of evolutionary biology.

The first, as well as current, models of multi-level, multi-unit selection, were made not by biologists, but by philosophers of biology, people like Bob Brandon, Elliot Sober, Bill Whimsatt, Evelyn Fox Keller, Elizabeth Lloyd, Susan Oyama, Peter Godfrey-Smith, Andre Ariew, Leigh Van Valen and the like, resulting in what is now called Developmental Systems Theory. However, these people are not content with admiration of their mathematical models - they want to see empirical evidence that their models actually apply to nature. Paleontological work of Gould, ethology of David Sloan Wilson and developmental genetics of H.Frederick Nijhout, to name just a few, have started to test the models in real life, and the results so far are very encouraging.

I am sitting on a mountain of (yet unpublished - in preparation) data demonstrating a non-genetic mode of inheritance of a whole host of developmental, anatomical, physiological, neuroendocrine, reproductive, chronobiological and behavioral traits, evolution of which cannot be explained by selection at either genic or organismal level, but group-level selection fits perfectly well. Thus I have seen the validity of the new way of thinking with my own eyes in my own research. And I have not started out looking for it. My work was originally pure physiology, yet data forced me to look at unconventional evolutionary explanations.

Stephen Jay Gould's magnum opus "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" is the Bible (or Das Kapital) of evolutionary biology for my generation, for the 21st century, the way Darwin's "Origin of Species" was in the 19th century, and works of Dobzhansky, Wright and Mayr were in the 20th century. I wish someone also wrote a "Manifesto", as "The Structure" is more than 1500 pages long and is tedious reading. Once current crop of professors retire and die, Gould's paradigm will be dominant and it should be as it provides hypotheses for a vigorous new research programs.


Now back to the "Gene Expression" blog. Are these bloggers conservative? Sure, just check this post and the comments:
The Neo-con moment
http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002822.html?entry=2822

Do these two things mesh together as I predicted? Oh, sure they do. Check this post and its comments:

Debates, what are they good for?
http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002823.html?entry=2823

These guys actually believe that one's political orientation is genetically determined!!!! This is most definitely the sociobiological reactionary "Bell Curve" crowd...and they loved Cheney's paternalistic scowl last night!

I described my views on the origin of political worldview in very developmental terms, as interaction between biological (including genetic) and environmental (including childrearing) factors in my previous posts ( scroll down to "Moral Order", "Political Brain" and "Nurturant is not cuddly").

It is no surprise that Departments of Biology (organismal and evolutionary) are full of liberals, while Departments of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Genetics are full of conservatives. It is possible to go through college, and grad school, and get a PhD in one of the molecular fields without ever taking courses in evolution, ecology, behavior, anatomy, physiology or embryology. It is genes, all genes, and nothing but the genes. It is stunning how many Creationists I know who got their PhD's in Genetics. "God-control", operating through "Gene-control", is just another way of projecting one's hierarchical view of the world on biology.

Conservatives should align themselves with the "nurture" side of the great artificial divide of "nature" vs. "nurture", as their whole worldview depends on folk-behaviorist (stick and carrot) approach to childrearing (and punishment of criminals, foreigners etc.). Yet, if they did subscribe to "nurture", they would also support public schools and outlaw inheritance, which they most defintiely do not.

Conseratives are determinists. While biology was "soft" from 1860s till 1960s, they hated science and pushed God's top-down determinism. Once DNA was discovered, they hopped on that train with gusto and embraced Gene's bottom-up determinism. Now that the tide is turning again away from genetic determinism, they are starting to dislike science and push God once again (go check Chris Mooney's blog on a daily basis for evidence of this), yet theye are stuck with being biologists at the same time that biology is running away from them. Like BushCo, emotional attachment (belief) to their own views (mathematical models) of nature is more important than empirical information how the world really works. The Faith trumps The Truth.

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