Evolution: The Essential Criticisms Answered
By John “Birdman” Bryant
Take any closed system and divide it into two parts. Call one part “organism” and the other “environment”. Such a system displays the essence of life, which is simply the equilibrium-seeking of the “organism” as it responds to inputs from the “environment”. –W Ross Ashby, Introduction to Cybernetics (paraphrase)
My own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” –JBS Haldane, Possible Worlds (1927)
If you understand something, it’s science; if you don’t, it’s magic. –JBR Yant
Some people, including most scientists, believe that evolution is a biological theory which describes factual truths about our world. Others – – mostly religious fundamentalists — believe that evolution is a false theory, usually because they believe that life forms were created by a Deity and are immutable. And yet others — mostly philosophers — believe that evolution is a tautology which maintains the truth of the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” only because, in the final analysis, the term fit is defined as that which survives. In reality, however, all three of these positions are wrong: The fact is that evolution is an organizing principle which cannot be dispensed with because events cannot be sensibly interpreted without it. To explain, it is first useful to note that evolution is much like the Continuity Principle, ie, the belief that the future will be like the past: While all natural law is justified on the basis of the Continuity Principle, it is obvious that the Continuity Principle itself cannot be justified on the basis of the Continuity Principle. Furthermore, if we were to cease to assume the truth of the Continuity Principle, then we would immediately lose the basis of our belief in natural law, and thus the basis of our belief in the regularities of everyday life. In fact, one could say that the belief in the Continuity Principle has been determined by evolution: Those who did not believe in it were eliminated in the struggle for survival, even if there is no “justification” for believing in it.
Now in light of the above discussion, it is not difficult to show that evolution constitutes a principle similar to that of the Continuity Principle. To explain, let us conceptualize evolution in terms of systems theory as follows: Consider an object x which has some finite number of states n which it has a non-zero probability of entering for any time t (Note: This is a general description of every object of the world). If there is some state or set of states S (a subset of n) which is such that, if x enters S, then x will remain in S, then S constitutes an equilibrium (or, more properly, a partial equilibrium) for the “system” of x’s behavior, since x may now move among the states in S, but not to states outside S. We then say that the movement of x to S represents the process of evolution, and that the states of S “survive” and hence are “fit” while the states of the set n-S do not survive and are thus not “fit”.
When evolution is understood in the above manner, we immediately see that it is not a dispensable concept, but rather is imbedded in our thought processes in such a way that thinking would be impossible without it, and thus that denial of evolution would be not merely futile, but absurd. But if evolution is not merely true, but also necessary, it is equally true that many of the notions advanced by evolutionists are as full of holes as a Swiss cheese, and in dire need of revision. One of the most complete critiques of evolutionary ideas I know of is Alexander Mebane’s scholarly work Darwin’s Creation-Myth. Unfortunately, however, it is not entirely clear whether Mebane’s object is to show only that Darwinian theory is flawed, or to make the more general argument that evolution itself is untenable. In the former, he has surely succeeded; tho in the latter he has of course failed. To explain, we note that Darwinian theory holds, very roughly, that organisms have evolved slowly over time by virtue of random mutations which have proved “fitter” than earlier biological constructions, and which have thus succeeded in overcoming the less-fit forms by “natural selection” (environmental pressure) and, to a lesser extent, “sexual selection” (good choice of mates). Here are the major reasons — all cited by Mebane — as to why the Darwinian theory, as just outlined, is inadequate:
(1) While species can change, the change is always limited, and even the most diligent efforts of animal and plant breeders have not succeeded in producing a new species from an old one. Interestingly, this fact was observed by Darwin, who spent much time in conversation with pigeon and other animal breeders; and it was confirmed in the 20th century in breeding experiments with mosquitoes, in which increasing attempts to breed for extreme characteristics were eventually met by a wall of inviability beyond which further attempts to breed could not take place. While there seems to be some difference of opinion on the question of producing new species from old (cf Denton (44), Johnson (27)), if it is true that this is not possible, then it is clear that evolution cannot get far. The point has been made especially forcefully by Milton, who alleges that some cases of apparent evolution are merely expressions of already-existing genetic potential: He cites, for example, the well-known case of the Peppered Moth, which presumably “evolved” its color from grey to black and then back to grey as a result of environmental changes, but which change Milton attributes to two sub-species of moth, the black one of which predominated in times of pollution, and the grey one of which predominated at other times. (Note: According to Mebane (personal communication), this is the “natural selection” explanation given by Haldane in 1932.)
(2) There is no evidence of change, aging or transformation in species. Some species have survived for hundreds of millions of years, but whether they have survived for short or long times, species give little or no evidence in the fossil record of changing over time. At one time it was believed that the fossil record did contain intermediate evolutionary forms which showed the development of one species from another in the case of horses and reptiles/birds, but these have since been shown inadequate.
(3) Viable DNA can be changed only slightly by random effects. And since DNA carries the information of biological form, the near-immutability of DNA which retains its viability argues against the truth of customary Darwinian evolutionary theory.
(4) The fossil record shows parallel developments of major evolutionary features in many animals, thereby undercutting the power of Darwinian theory to explain evolutionary developments. For example, Darwinian theory would assume that thumbs developed “by chance” and were preserved because of their extreme usefulness to their possessors; but in fact thumb-like appendages (“sesamoid thumbs”) have appeared in both greater and lesser pandas, the former being descended from (thumbless) bears, while the latter were descended from (thumbless) raccoons. And since thumbs and their ilk seem too complicated to have developed by chance more than once, the fact of parallel development suggests “design” or some explanation other than Darwinian “chance”.
(5) Life reappears speedily after its extinction, as the numerous terrestrial catastrophes of the fossil record demonstrate. This contradicts traditional Darwinian theory, which holds that evolution takes place only over great spans of time.
(6) Life is too complex to have been created by random processes of assembly and mutation. That is, as astronomer Fred Hoyle has argued, even in the millions and millions of years which are required for evolution in Darwinian theory, the mathematical probability of the occurrence of life forms from random assembly in the “primordial soup”, and random mutation of genes once such entities have been created, is too remote to account for their existence.
(7) The structures supposedly produced by evolution are too complex to have “evolved”, and furthermore, evidence of their evolution is either sparse or non-existent in the fossil record. Examples of this which are often cited are complex bodily organs such as the eye or kidney, or such complex processes as insect pupation, where the basic argument of anti- evolutionists is that these things could not have evolved because intermediate evolutionary stages are impossible to imagine, since such intermediate stages would be useless to the organism until fully developed (cf Denton, 91).
But besides the above objections cited by Mebane, there are several others deserving of mention:
(8) Except in a small, isolated population, new mutations cannot be effectively passed on to future generations, even if adaptive. (This is known as “Jenkin’s dilution effect”, according to Mebane (personal communication).) This is because the first generation with the mutation has only a 50% chance of passing on the mutation to offspring (since the offspring must mate with an entity not possessing the mutation); the second only a 25% chance; the third only a 12 1/2 % chance; and so on, thus meaning that, in all probability, so to speak, the mutation will rapidly die out.
(9) No species can be considered definitely ancestral to any other (Denton, 139). That is, the supposed progression of “descent” of species from other species based on biological characteristics shows irregularities and discontinuities which could not have occurred had there been descent via Darwinian evolution.
(10) Features of numerous living entities seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with survival, and many seem to actually inhibit survival, thus making it questionable to think that evolution — as a relentless “struggle for survival” — could have produced such features. Frequently cited examples are the prognathous (“jut”) jaw, the cock’s comb and the peacock’s tail, all of which sap the energy of the possessing entity, but none of which seems to contribute to survival ability. Other examples include the vermiform appendix, which is not only useless, but sometimes kills its possessor; artistic talent and aesthetic sensitivity, which have no obvious survival value; and homosexuality, which seems not merely to be useless, but actually to contradict evolution, since this form of behavior does not normally lead to reproduction, and is notorious for spreading deadly disease. Another and especially interesting example is altruism, whose existence is difficult to reconcile with the traditional evolutionary “struggle for survival”, and particularly with the concept of “nature red in tooth and claw”, which the former concept seems to imply.
But if the above arguments demonstrate the inadequacy of conventional Darwinian theory, they do not at the same time put barriers in the way of modifying it so as to accommodate the arguments. Accordingly, let us address the numbered arguments as follows:
(1) Because this point is especially complex, we wait till the end to discuss it.
(2) The gaps in the fossil record, ie, the absence of “intermediate forms” connecting related species, are easily explained by assuming that the intermediate species were not as evolutionarily “fit” as the forms which they evolved, thus leading to the rapid extinction of the intermediate forms in the environment of competition with their more fit offspring, thereby making it difficult for them to leave fossils. (Mebane (19) correctly notes that Darwinian theory would not support this argument, but since we acknowledge the inadequacy of Darwinian theory, Mebane’s observation is irrelevant.) The implication here, however, is that evolution occurs suddenly rather than gradually — a rather un-Darwinian idea, but one supported by actual observations of apparent evolution, including the radical adaptations of microorganisms to a hostile chemical environment, and the quick return of a wide variety of life forms after environmental catastrophes. These facts, discussed in more detail below, are embraced by the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ theory of the late Stephen Jay Gould (see Sobol, 1995).
(3) While the mechanism of DNA modification is currently unknown, this is a far cry from saying that evolution does not occur.
(4) The fact that there are parallel developments of significant evolutionary features does not contradict the fact of evolution. It does, however, suggest that similar environmental pressures lead to similar evolutionary developments, irrespective of the living forms which are placed under such pressures. This, then, might explain why extraterrestrials — if they exist as reported — evolved such human features as heads, hands and binocular vision.
(5) Rapid generation/regeneration of life following catastrophes may contradict traditional Darwinian theory, but does not contradict evolution proper.
(6) The view that life forms developed purely by random events of conjunction and mutation — the “‘gigantic lottery’ conception of evolution” as Denton (308) calls it — is obviously wrong, tho some element of randomness is evidently involved in evolution, just as it is involved in almost every physical process. But if evolution is not primarily a product of randomness, then the question becomes, What are the processes or laws upon which it is dependent? If, for example, we consider the “primordial soup” which evolutionists believe gave rise to early life, one answer is that — as demonstrated by the famous experiments of Miller and Urey — the presence of certain simple chemicals under conditions of ordinary lightning produce amino acids (the “building blocks” of protein); and it does not take the imagination of a rocket scientist to conceive of other simple conditions which put constraints on “random” life-nurturing events so as to make them highly probable.
Some recent work in the behavior of “random motion” of colliding particles such as those in sandpiles is illustrative of my point of what might go on in a “primordial soup”. As described by Glanz, when scientists “used a computer to simulate particles [randomly] colliding in two dimensions, they were startled to see structures spontaneously take shape. … Exactly why the structures take shape remains mysterious. But the fingers ‘are extremely reminiscent of the structure astronomers find in sky surveys’ says the university of Chicago’s [Heinrich] Jaeger. He raises the possibility that the giant walls and filaments of galaxies seen in the distant universe might … have emerged from random processes … Linking [random motions in a] sandpile, even a theoretical one, with the early universe requires climbing out on ‘a very thin long limb’ says Jaeger. But if sandpiles can help explain the origin of cosmological structure, it’s a limb that could quickly get crowded.”
But if it is a mistake to conceive of evolution as a random process, it is an even greater mistake to consider it a static one. To explain, consider the effect of the printing press on the evolution of human thought: Without printing, knowledge evolved slowly if at all, and indeed was always in danger of extinction, as the burning of the library of ancient Alexandria so painfully reminds us. But once the press had been invented, knowledge spread widely, and thus the evolution of human thought within a mere 200 years took a gigantic leap from the edge of the Dark Ages to the systeme du monde of Newtonian mechanics. Likewise, in physical evolution, one small change (eg, the development of the thumb, the emergence of sexual reproduction, or the clumping together of cells into a sort of organism of organisms — as found in slime molds, the human body, or social “organisms” such as beehives and human societies) can cause an exponential change in the rate of evolution, thus making evolution dependent not so much on “random processes” as on the discovery of “wormholes” thru which Man, the terrestrial “worm”, emerges from a dark “hole” of ignorance or physical incapacity into a bright new “world” of knowledge or capability rife with evolutionary possibilities, in the same sense, perhaps, as man may traverse time if the cosmological “wormholes” of scientific speculation are ever discovered.
(7) Contrary to anti-evolutionist dogma, it is quite simple to imagine the evolution of complex organs. The eye, for example, may begin as a collection of light-sensitive cells, then develop a recessed hole which protects the cells, then develop a lens which gives further protection, and so forth. Likewise, a pupating insect may first emerge as a mud-boring worm which eventually develops a layer of mucus to protect it from the mud, and eventually learns to spin a thread of mucus which covers it in a cocoon.
As to the non-existence of a fossil record for such evolutionary developments, if — as Milton and others have argued — evolution must have occurred much more rapidly than Darwinists had previously supposed, then such rapidity may be responsible for the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record. This explanation, it may be noted, is complementary to (2) above.
(8) While it may be difficult to pass on advantageous mutations under ordinary circumstances, it may be quite easy in circumstances of catastrophe where the advantageous mutation has permitted the survival of the few possessors of that mutation while destroying most others, a situation which then increases the proportion of the population possessing the mutation to the point where it can survive and prosper. (According to Mebane (personal communication), this is called the “founder effect”.)
(9) If we accept the earlier-discussed theory (in (2) above) which explains the gaps in the evolutionary fossil record, we may elaborate this same theory to suppose that different species traversed species boundaries from time to time, in the process picking up adaptations which they then carried back across the boundary. (That is, if a species can develop into a new one, it can also “develop backward” into being able to breed with an “old” one; and if this happens, this “crossing and re-crossing the species boundary” can explain a lot about discontinuities in the fossil record, since a species which “re-crosses” can carry with it new evolutionary developments.) By this theory it is possible to account for discontinuities in development, and thus to explain why there is no clearly-continuous line of descent from one species to another.
(10) While science may not know the evolutionary purpose of jut jaws, cock’s combs and peacock tails, it is easy to develop credible explanations for their existence, eg, that they are something which demonstrate the equivalent of what Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” as a way of displaying “wealth”, thus showing to potential mates an ample ability to raise a family and support a wife in the style to which she wishes to become accustomed.
The general answer to the question of evolutionary superfluity is the fact that there is no reason to suppose that man or the lower animals have reached the highest possible evolutionary plane, and thus we may well expect to find “transitional forms” which represent incomplete evolutionary processes, or redundant functions, which get thrown into the evolutionary cauldron as either random accidents or unexpected benefits from a complex process, the latter of which could explain artistic talent, and either of which could explain the appendix. As to homosexuality, while it is obviously unadaptive in many circumstances, it is adaptive in others, eg, among men such as warriors and explorers, whose work is vital to the community, but whose lives, of necessity, must be led primarily in the company of other men.
As to altruism, I can do no better than quote from my own writing:
E O Wilson has called altruism “the central theoretical problem of sociobiology” [Sociobiology, p 3]. The problem which altruism poses is that, while the theory of evolution posits a “struggle for survival” among organisms which constitutes an essentially selfish impulse, the existence of widespread altruism among both lower organisms and man — for example, the self-sacrifice of parents in raising their young — seems to pose a contradiction to the selfish Darwinian doctrine. (Another way to put this is to say that, since Darwinian evolution dictates that every organism is by its very nature exploitative, this makes it easy to understand why nature may have created organisms each of which exploits the other, but difficult to understand why nature would have created organisms whose major function was to be exploited.) A recent theoretical attempt to explain this conundrum has been the development of the theory of kin altruism — also known as inclusive fitness — in which cases of altruism are explained as actions which tend to promote survival of the altruist’s genes rather than the altruist itself, a theory which has been popularized in the title of Richard Dawkins’ well-known book The Selfish Gene. That is, by making the gene, rather than the individual, the center of the evolutionary struggle for survival, we presumably can understand why a man will lay down his life for his family, or social insects will lay down their lives for their queen, since these acts tend to promote the survival of the genes which the altruistic-acting being shares with those whom he protects. Unfortunately, however, this theory contains a few gaping holes, since it is weak in explaining why a man will lay down his life for his country rather than move his family to a non-warring state; and it is completely impotent to explain the altruistic acts of hosts which support parasites, as happens in the case of the cuckoo which parasitically lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, the cuckoo baby then kicking out its non-brethren in order to enjoy the complete attention (and food) of its unintentionally altruistic “parents”.
As it happens, however, it is not necessary to invoke inclusive fitness in order to explain the problem of altruism; and in fact, the basis for an explanation was first suggested long ago by Herbert Spencer, the coiner of the phrase “survival of the fittest”. Spencer’s theory was basically that altruism had to be seen as supportive of the struggle for survival of the “superorganism”, eg, the larger society of which the individual was a part. This, then, would account for the unexplained phenomena of the inclusive fitness theory, as by interpreting the willingness of a man to lay down his life for his country as a way of supporting his society, and by interpreting the unintended altruism of the cuckoo “parents” as supporting the biodiversity of the region in which they reside.
Unfortunately, however, Spencer’s theory, as least as it is described by Christopher R Badcock (The Problem of Altruism: Freudian-Darwinian Solutions, Basil Blackwell, 1986: 15-22), is deficient because it cannot quite seem to make up its mind between seeing evolution as survival of the fittest individual and seeing it as survival of the fittest superorganism. In fact, however, this discrepancy is quite simply resolved when one realizes that everything whatsoever is undergoing evolution, and this includes not only individuals, societies, planets and any other biological collocations one wishes to consider, but also such nonbiological physical things as rocks, stars and molecules, and even such nonphysical objects as human relationships, restaurant recipes, commercial and governmental organizations, and ideas. What this means for Spencer’s idea, then, is that individuals, superorganisms, and everything in between are subjected to evolutionary change simultaneously, so that some given change may survive by helping any or all of the entities of which it is a part. For example, humans may have a tendency to grow more intelligent not merely in order to promote survival of themselves or their genes, but also the countries where they live and the social organizations to which they belong. But just as change may be useful for evolution with respect to one entity, so it may be counterproductive with respect to another — high intelligence, for example, may promote the individual’s survival, but may be bad for society which needs the low-intelligence help of garbagemen and professors — so that change may be evolutionarily adaptive at one level and evolutionarily maladaptive at another.
That evolution is not purely concerned with biological survival in either the case of the individual or the superorganism is made plain by considering the case of myself. I have never had children, and in fact have never even given it serious thought; so the idea put forth by the inclusive fitness mavens finds yet another gaping hole in consideration of this particular case. Instead, what drives my own life are my ideas, and specifically a desire to convey those ideas to every Jack with the intelligence to understand them. In the terminology of Richard Dawkins, I seek not to reproduce my genes, but my memes, which is Dawkins’ name for the offspring of what might be called mental Platonic Forms. In this sense, then, my ideas are a garden of fungi whose collective mycelia have spread their tentacles cancer-like thruout my brain, placing me under their power, and condemning me to a life of typing, hyping and griping, and leaving me just one step shy of being a streetcorner preacher and a carnival barker. Far then from having selfish genes, I instead have selfish memes; for it is they which drive me forward every moment of every day, in hopes that I might infect yet another unsuspecting victim with my mental spores. Reproduction? Absolutely! But far safer than sex, unless of course you consider the fact that my ideas are for the most part extremely dangerous since they are so upsetting to their ordinary counterparts and the miserables who hold them, this being the reason why they have received near-universal rejection by the hoi-polloi and live only in the minds of a few highly-intelligent men who have the capacity to wrestle with them.
And now I’ve infected you!
(1) The fact — if it is a fact — that species cannot evolve into other species, even with the most diligent of human help (artificial selection), would clearly foreclose the possibility of developing new species by natural means, and is thus the strongest challenge to evolutionary theory which has so far been raised. There are, however, two possible responses to this objection: First, the clear empirical demonstration of evolution, and second, the proposal of a reasonable mechanism by which evolution might take place.
Besides the fossil record, there are several cases which seem to show that evolution actually occurs. The best-known of these examples is the work of John Cairns and Barry Hall, who have proved independently that bacteria can do what amounts to directing their own genetic mutations in order to adapt to a hostile environment (Rennie, 1989; Culotta, 1994), a discovery which breathes new life into the presumably-discredited theory of Lamarckism (but see Koestler, 1971), tho as Mebane (personal correspondence) has correctly noted, there is some work to be done before one species is transmuted into another by the Cairns-Hall method. But as it happens, Lamarckism has “come a long way, baby” since the days when it was presumably discredited; for as described by Milton, not only is there a mechanism which can transmit genetic information from somatic DNA to reproductive DNA, but there are known conditions which may conceivably bring this about. The former is, in Milton’s words, the “working hypothesis in Ted Steele’s proposal that viruses are able to replicate mutations in somatic cells and transfer them to sexual cells, where they become inheritable.” (202) As to the conditions that could bring this about, Milton describes the theory of CH Waddington:
“In a crude and simplified form it is this. It has been established that important parts of the DNA molecule are repeated many times in the chromosomes — rather like back-up tapes [for computer data]. Just like back-up tapes, these replicate versions may vary slightly. There is also another set of tapes in the form of mitochondrial genes, which are further structures in the cell. All these genes are closely involved with the important metabolic processes that go on within the cell. It is thus not inconceivable that the rates of multiplication of slightly differing genes would be influenced by the particular metabolic circumstances reigning in the cell in question. And it is not inconceivable that the imposition of certain metabolic conditions on an organism might change the proportion of variant forms of gene within the population (of all the back-up copies) to be passed on to the next generation. The effect of this would quite simply be the direct inheritance of an acquired character.
“Put more simply, the metabolic stresses placed by an individual on his cellular structure might determine which tape is selected from the library for duplication. …
“Waddington called his idea an ‘outrageous speculation’. What he may not have known when he dreamt it up in 1974 is that he had only to account for differential multiplication of the DNA replicates in ordinary body cells: for Steele’s viruses could replicate the chosen DNAs to the sexual cells through ‘reverse transcription’. This could make his suggestion hundreds if not thousands of times less outrageous and more probable.” (202-3)
But if the above is considered speculation, it is notable that work has continued apace on “adaptive mutation” — as this “new Lamarckism” has come to be called — and has in several instances found its way into the pages of the nation’s most prestigious scientific journal, Science. In the words of Corliss, “Biochemist JA Shapiro, in a commentary accompanying … two Science papers, highlights a significant feature of adaptive mutation in bacteria: The genetic changes involved are multi-cellular. In other words, DNA rearrangements in one cell are actually transferred to other cells. But most profound of all for the whole science of biology is his sentence: ‘The discovery that cells use biochemical systems to change their DNA in response to physiological inputs moves mutation beyond the realm of “blind” stochastic events and provides a mechanistic basis for understanding how biological requirements can feed back onto genome structures.'”
While we are in the process of shattering icons, we might speculate that the reason for the failure of scientific tests of the Lamarckian theory, such as those carried out by Lysenko, may perhaps have been that the plants and animals involved were not sufficiently stressed to cause them to pass on acquired characteristics to their offspring. And while we are speculating, we might also suggest that Lamarckism, if it is real, might be explained in part by invoking a parapsychological function such as telekinesis — an explanation which might also apply to Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphic resonance” (the rapid evolution of certain forms of behavior in lower animals which cannot seem to be explained by learning or other conventional means) — tho the mechanisms of psi are not themselves understood, nor is the existence of psi generally accepted by establishment science.
In response to objection (8) we suggested that natural catastrophe, terrain or other circumstances might serve to isolate breeding populations which might then develop into unique species (According to Mebane (personal correspondence), such processes have been dubbed “allopatric speciation”, probably by Mayr (cf Eldredge, Macroevolutionary Dynamics (110)). But if the isolation of breeding populations is indeed a factor in the creation of new species, there is one mechanism of isolation, discussed by McGregor, which has special importance in these days of political correctness:
“… we find that all higher, more mobile animals living under feral (natural) conditions not only evolve a sense of territoriality, whereby they become isolated or at least semi-isolated genetically on a geographical basis in what are known as demes, but that they also develop what zoologists call “feral restraints”, that is, a marked unwillingness — amounting often to a positive refusal — to interbreed with members of other sub-species. …
“These feral restraints serve a vital evolutionary process. Zoologists have identified two types of such constraints, the first of which are called ‘built-in’ constraints, based upon the form of distinctive shape, color, smell, or even patterns of movement, common to animals of the same sub-species, but serve as a warning to members of related but disparate subspecies not to attempt sexual relationships. They are like a sign that reads ‘Danger! a new biological experiment is in progress. Do not approach!’ But in addition to these built-in constraints, the distinguished zoologist, Peter Klopfer (1970) has shown that acquired constraints exist among feral animals due to behavioral imprinting. These may be equated with the culturally-reinforced prejudices associated with ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ behavior among human beings. …
“The sociobiological significance of prejudice becomes even more apparent when we realize that evolution arises not solely from individual competition. Team spirit and group cohesiveness have a high survival value for those mammals and primates which have adopted a pattern of group life. Furthermore, the concept of survival of the fittest among social animals such as man refers less to individuals than it does to breeding populations and entire sub-species. …
“… Evolution could not continue its work amongst the higher animals if each new experimental sub-species were to lose its identity before it had time to evolve into a species.”
In McGregor’s view, then, it is the horrible, dreadful and immoral attitude of racial or group prejudice which is a vital source of evolution, and we can only wait with bated breath to see what kind of contortions the Academy will go into over this theory, since most academicians support both evolution and political correctness simultaneously. Who knows? Perhaps their thoughts will undergo some needed evolution.
In conclusion, it should be noted that science does not require its theories to be perfect — only useful; and thus the theory which makes the best predictions and/or most conveniently organizes the data in question is the preferred one. Clearly, the theory of evolution has a ways to evolve, but its imperfections are certainly no reason for abandoning it, not only because — as explained earlier — it is a necessary principle of thought, but also because there is no theory of the data of living entities which makes better predictions or affords better organization of data than evolution. Thus if we do not yet know all the answers which explain how evolution can occur, at least we know that there are answers.
Appendix: William Paley’s Watch Argument
One of the oldest and most popular arguments against evolution and in favor of ‘design’ (and, by implication, God the Designer) has been the ‘watch’ argument put forth by the 19th century writer William Paley. Paley contended that if someone otherwise unacquainted with civilization were to come upon a watch, he would conclude that the watch was manufactured or ‘designed’, rather than a product of nature. But since watches are actually less complicated than, say, the human eye, it follows, according to Paley, that the human eye, and hence humans, must also be the product of a ‘designer’.
I think that Paley’s argument is interesting, but also wrong. To explain, let us first note that Paley could have made a simpler argument, and one which had undoubtedly been made many times before, namely, that the eye, and indeed all life forms or their parts, had to be the product of design because of their complexity. That is, nonliving natural objects such as rocks and ponds and glaciers might well have come into existence without a designer, but because life forms are so complex, a designer — and in fact a Designer — was required.
From the above, we can see that Paley’s argument was more like a verbal trick than anything. That is, Paley first directs our attention to an object (the watch) which we know is designed and points out that we would intuitively know that it is designed; and then points to the eye, saying that, because the eye is even more complex, it follows that it, too, is designed. But the argument is a non-sequitur: At most, all Paley is doing is making the old argument that a complex object must be one that is designed; but he could make this argument without reference to a watch.
Actually, what Paley was doing was a little more complex than simply repeating the ‘complexity argument’ for design. To explain, let us ask why Paley contends that the watch is obviously designed. One answer, I think, is that everyone KNOWS it is; and Paley was probably unconsciously relying on this to make his audience go along with his argument. But a more fundamental reason why Paley contends that the watch is designed is that the watch is a complex object which is ‘dry’, ie, which does not — like all ‘living beings’ — possess blood or other ‘vital bodily fluids’; and it is this fact of dryness when coupled with the watch’s complexity which, subconsciously, makes Paley’s audience consent to his argument that the watch is ‘designed’. However, the ostensible logic which Paley uses to leap from the obvious design of the watch to the conclusion that the even-more-complex eye is also designed is either a non-sequitur, since the eye is not ‘dry’, or else it is simply the old complexity argument, in which the watch is irrelevant.
But even if Paley’s argument did not contain the holes which we have identified, it would still not support the existence of a Designer; for if we say a Designer exists, then we have to ask who or what designed the Designer — surely he could not have designed him/her/itself. And if the designer of the Designer is yet a Greater Designer, then we can ask the same question of this latter entity, and so create an inifite regress which explains nothing even if we were to agree with the notion that humans were ‘designed’.
RIP watch argument; RIP design argument; RIP Designer; RIP Paley.
Anonymous, “Rabbit Riddle”, Fortean Times 60 (Dec-Jan 1992: 18): A modern “tail” of rapid evolution: A Shetland Islands bounty on rabbits, paid when tails are presented, has apparently given rise to “Manx” rabbits.
Antonoff, Michael, “Software By Natural Selection: Computer programs that borrow from Mother Nature to modify themselves are tackling problems once thought too complex to solve”, Popular Science, Oct 1991: 70ff. On John R Koza’s patent 4,935,877 re a computer simulation of evolutionary processes.
Bowler, Peter J, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
Bryant, John, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Religion, Science and Superstition But Were Afraid to Ask Because You Thought You’d Be Excommunicated, Cursed and Denied Your Research Grant, Socratic Press, 1995
Corliss, William, Science Frontiers #100 (July-August 1995): 2
Culotta, Elizabeth, “A Boost for ‘Adaptive’ Mutation”, Science 265: 318, 1994: Update on Cairns’ work
Denton, Michael, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Adler & Adler, 1985
Diamond, Jared M, “Daisy Gives an Evolutionary Answer”, Nature 380: 103-4, 14 Mar 96: Report on a “remarkable paper” (Journal of Ecology 84: 53-72) reporting on the direct detection of evolutionary change and a phenomenon of wild plants becoming instantly distinct as a species from the parent population.
Ediger, Vernita L, “Scientists Mimic Evolution in a Test Tube”, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 Aug 1992: A7
Flam, Fay, “Ecologist Plans to Let Cyberlife Run Wild in Internet Reserve”, Science, 20 May 1994. On Thomas Ray’s work.
Glanz, James, “Grown-Up Physicists Play Serious Games in the Sandbox”, Science, 2 June 95: 1277
Hamilton, David P, “Enzymes Get a Dose of Darwin’s Theory”, Wall Street Journal, 6 Dec 1994: B8. Practical use of evolution.
Hull, David L, “The Myth of Darwinism”, Science, 23 Dec 1988: 1710. A review of Bowler, the main theme of which, according to Hull, is that “if Darwin inaugurated anything, it was a non-Darwinian revolution”.
Johnson, Phillip E, Darwin on Trial, Regnery Gateway, 1991
Kiely, Tom, “Rethinking Darwin”, Technology Review, May/June 1990: 19. On Cairns and Hall
Koestler, Arthur, The Case of the Midwife Toad, Hutchinson, London, 1971. An exhaustive investigation — and striking vindication — of Austrian biologist Kammerer’s Lamarckian experiments with the midwife toad. Highly recommended.
Lee, Robin, “Arguing with Apes”, Chronicles, June 1994: 39. A review of Milton’s book
Mebane, Alexander, Darwin’s Creation-Myth, Sourcebook Project, 1994
McGregor, Alan, “The Evolutionary Function of Prejudice”, reprint from Mankind Quarterly, c 1995.
Milton, Richard, The Facts of Life: Shattering the Myth of Darwinism, London: Fourth Estate, 1992
Naik, Gautam, “In Sunlight and Cells, Science Seeks Answers To High-Tech Puzzles”, Wall Street Journal 16 Jan 96: 1. This article is important for the examples it gives of evolutionary processes in non-biological systems, which are highly suggestive of what processes biological evolution may follow.
Olinger, David, “Evolution in a bird beak”, St Petersburg Times 25 Sep 94: 7D
Petit, Charles, “Scientists Say Origin of Life May Be Surprisingly Simple”, San Francisco Chronicle, 30 May 1983. Reports on the work of Sidney W Fox of the University of Miami: An interesting variation of the primordial soup hypothesis
Rennie, John, “Hungry to Evolve?”, Scientific American, Nov 1989: 20. On Cairns and Hall
Rennie, John, “Proofreading Genes: A molecular editor makes sensible additions to RNA”, Scientific American, May 1991: On “RNA editing”, a possible explanation for Lamarckian-like changes in genes.
Ridley, Matt, “Swallows and Scorpionflies Find Symmetry is Beautiful”, Science, 17 July 1992: 327. Mebane argues against Darwinian theory that it is inconceivable that the beauty possessed by most life forms could have evolved from a random process. This article gives a credible explanation of why beauty has evolved.
Shapiro, James A, “Adaptive Mutation: Who’s Really in the Garden”, Science, 268: 373, 1985: Quoted in Corliss
Sheldrake, Rupert, A New Science of Life, London: Blond and Briggs, 1981
Sobol, Bruce J, “Who Really Discovered Punctuated Equilibrium?: A Skeptical Critique of Stephen Jay Gould”, Skeptic, v3#2, 1995: 20ff. Ernst Mayr did.
Valentine, Tom, “An In-Depth Look At: Fossils and Evolution”, The Spotlight, 26 Sep 1988: 13ff: More failure of the Darwinian theory.
Veblen, Thorstein, Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), New American Library, 1954
Waldrop, M Mitchell, “Artificial Life’s Rich Harvest”, Science, 21 Aug 1992: 1040ff. Discusses the work of Thomas Ray and others.
Weiner, Jonathan, The Beak of the Finch, Knopf, c 1994. Described in Olinger. The suggestion here is that the finches of the Galapagos, whose differences were instrumental in inspiring Darwin to put forth his theory, can be seen to rapidly evolve in response to evolutionary conditions; but this does not exclude the possibility of the pre-existing genetic potential for such evolution.