Sunday, December 26, 2004

Evolution/Creation Discussions on DailyKos


Here is an interesting thread on the Evolution/Creation debate on dKos:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/12/26/01621/658

As a recommended diary, it already has more than 100 comments.

The discussion now continues here:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/12/26/23257/916

DailyKos gets about 300,000 hits a day. It is the biggest watering hole for the most politically active, and presumably most educated, liberals and progressives on the whole Internet. Level of thought, argument, and erudition of some members is absolutely amazing.

On the other hand, as seen from these (and other) threads, there is a small but substantial proportion of people who just don't "get it" in the sense they do not understand the basic idea what science is and how it works, not to mention not knowing anything about evolution. This is quite depressing. These are supposed to be liberal educated elites, creme de la creme. This is just a testament to the criminal state of science education in this country.

If the educated liberals don't get it, how can we even start educating the Red State conservatives? Not to mention that those are additionally handicapped by their upbringing. The Strict Father childrearing method arrests the mental development at a Piagetian stage beyond nebulous (making connections betwen two events that co-occur) and hierarchical (understanding the simple cause/effect relations), but before entering the realm of having capacity to understand complex causal systems. And evolution is a complex causal system. Is this going to be a Sysiphus' task?

Some of those on dKos who know something about evolution have, as expected, learned it on their own from sources like Dawkins and Dennett. Genes-eye view is seductive and comforting for many people who have rejected God (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/wwdd-iv-power-of-darwinian-method.html), yet it is an essentially conservative position (
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/god-genes-and-conservatives.html and
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/genocentrism-aids-anti-abortion.html). Why do they adhere, often ferociously, to the view of nature that gives comfort to types like Steve Sailer and the GNXP folks, the conservative racists? I have no idea.

Since I wrote the WWDD essay in 1999 (
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/12/wwdd-what-would-darwin-do-or_02.html), there have been some developments. Geneticists have bumped into their walls (as I predicted) and adopted physiology as their new genetics. If you look at recent issues of genetics journals (hat tip to Will for this) you will not see reports of discoveries of "gene for X" any more. Instead, you will see a lot of quantitative genetics, polygenic traits, epistasis, complex genetic cascades fusing into even more complex gene networks, etc. The science of genetics has moved away from genocentrism. This makes the GNXP folks left exposed for what they are - they alone stick to the "gene for X" paradigm because they need it for their racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia etc.

Much of philosophy of biology in recent years has focused on the validity of gene-centered biology, specifically on Dawkins-style selfish gene theory. While Dawkins has responded to criticisms and has become more and more sophisticated with each new book (compared to the atrocity of "The Selfish Gene"), he is unwilling to make the last logical step his system demands, and for an obvious reason. If he makes that step, his whole construct ceases to be his construct - it becomes the same thing as the modern evolutionary theory. He has to admit that Gould, Lewontin, Rose and Co., were correct all along. He has too much invested in his theory to ever make such a move. We should just leave him behind in the 20th century where he belongs and move on, into the 21st century and the modern evolutionary thinking as exemplified by Gould's "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory".


Another Dawkins influence that holds sway in the blogosphere, including on dKos, is the love of memes. Now, I have no problem with the word "meme" per se - everybody knows what it means. The problem is with memetics. Memetics is attempting to explain the spreading of ideas by using models from evolutionary theory. Cultural evolution, including the evolution of language, has been the focus of much thinking lately. The best and the brightest philosophers of science concentrated on it because they wanted, oh so much wanted this to work. They were salivating over the prospect of cultural evolution and memetics being valid and useful tools. Bill Whimsatt (U. Chicago) and Bob Brandon (Duke), two of the most brilliant (and rightfully revered) philosophers of science alive today especially wanted this project to work and have spent much time dissecting Boyd and Richerson and Cavalli-Sforza and other works published on the topic. And, in the end, those two guys published the most forceful and conclusive refutations of the field. What they realized was that the differences betwen biological and cultural evolution were so great that the theory did not work. It was not predictive, i.e., the theory had to be tweaked for every new piece of data and never predicted any piece of new data. The best description for cultural evolution is something similar to viral epidemiology - and that model has been used by classical linguistics and philology since at least the time of Brothers Grimm. So, memetics is dead, except for those few people who have staked their careers on it. They will keep pushing it, just like Dawkins will keep pushing selfish genes. Just let them rot. You have smarter things to do.


posted by coturnix @ 5:07 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink