Friday, December 3, 2010

Chesterton on logic and reason

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) is an English writer who used his belief in the Christian orthodoxy to reveal how our world, today, is affected by the work of evolutionists. In Orthodoxy he states how the “Ethics of Elfland” are far more reliable and logical compared to what people have come to expect of the world. Chesterton believes that the “logic” scientists follow are based on false perceptions of cause and effect. To illustrate, just because the sun came up this morning, does not mean that it will return tomorrow. We have come to rely on the fact that the sun revolves around the Earth; but, what is stopping the sun from changing its course? When someone drops something, is the only option that it hits the ground? Chesterton would argue that because we cannot see any physical mechanism at work within the cause and effect relationship, we have no reason to believe that every action will have the same outcome. In stopping to think about this, you may be surprised to find that Chesterton has a valid point. How can we truly understand what we cannot see?

Chesterton instead relies on a logic that is grounded and reliable. He believes the only logic we should follow, the logic learned in Fairyland, is the one we can see: so if Jack is taller than Jill, then Jill is shorter than Jack; if there are four men then there are 4 heads. This is a “true law” he would say. Men such as Newton, on the other hand, believe in a “law of reason” (46). Chesterton understands that “certain transformations do happen” (he is not denying the work of scientists and naturalists); however, “we should regard them in the philosophic manner of fairy tales, not in the unphilosophic manner of…the ‘Laws of Nature’” (47). In essence, Chesterton is saying we should believe in magic.

For someone living in the twenty-first century it is quite bizarre to read these ideas on logic and laws. Most people nowadays do not challenge the laws of science because of the immense amount of detail and knowledge that scientists have about our physical world; but, what if we were to question these laws, like Chesterton does, and believe in magic? How would this change our view of life on Earth and what we take for granted? This is something to ponder but difficult to reason as we take for granted the scientific ‘facts’ that explain world we live in.

Darwin vs. Social Darwinism

A recent critique of Darwin is the use of social Darwinism and its negative effects on society. The basic argument is an application of the theory of natural selection to social, political, and economic issues. Social Darwinism follows the mantra of "survival of the fittest" including human issues. Social Darwinism has been used ever since to justify crimes like the holocaust, colonization, and Eugenics. Charles Darwin has in essence been used as the scapegoat for crimes against humanity. The first problem with this argument is that Charles Darwin did not come up the phrase “survival of the fittest”. This was Herbert Spencer doing some 30 years after the Origin of the Species was written. Furthermore, Darwin intentionally stayed away from writing and or extrapolating his theories to mankind. Darwin was strongly against slavery and "ranking the so-called races of man as distinct species" (Darwin, 1874). He also spoke about the mistreatment of Natives. Those who believe in Social Darwinism are twisting the words of Darwin's theory in order to support their own personal beliefs and views. There exists a large element of choice in representation of a concept. It is guided by political and ethical values. The decision of what information to include or leave out and the language used is all dependent on one's agenda. Social Darwinism completely goes against the principals of Darwin because they believe in the human race being higher or better that everything else on earth. Thus, they attack Darwin's theory and identify it as absurd. Darwin believed that we were all equal and there was no higher” or “lower” animal on earth. The belief in social Darwinism is a direct contradiction to Darwin theory because it takes nature out of the picture and instead forced us to “evolve” into the society that is deemed “fit” by a selected few in power.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shaw and WWI

Shaw argues that Darwin’s theories on evolution brought on WWI through his insights on species, race, and the struggle to survive. This connection seems odd however as Darwin theorised the gradual change of nature. Wars had already been going on for centuries. If anything, Darwin was describing the inevitable. As groups of people around the world bonded together into stronger societies and nations, tensions for resources, land and power grew. An unfortunate next step was that these nations would fight. The reason this war did not take place decades or centuries before was that nations lacked the technology and national organisation to commit such extensive damage around the world. During the 1000’s to 1300’s European men went on Crusades to overtake the East. Although they had religious intentions, they were still human beings who fought and killed in order to take over the other. The human species does not have a peaceful history before Darwin’s theory became well known, and the idea that his theory became a root cause of WWI is a reductionist point of view on an event that is linked to many intricate circumstances.

Friday, November 19, 2010

G. B. Shaw and Natural Selection: His Desire to Improve Human Kind

During last night’s lecture, we looked at G. B. Shaw’s Back to Methuselah and examined how it relates to the very idea of evolution. To better understand Shaw’s plays, Dr. Ogden assigned us the interesting task of acting out certain parts of each play; this allowed us to not only further or knowledge of the text, but to have a little fun on the way. Our Advocacy group was assigned Part V “As Far As Thought Can Reach”, which takes place in the year 31, 920. We decided to focus on the birth scene of a newly born; essentially, it is a dialogue between a youth and an elder, and explores what is to come in the child’s life. The scene is a great representation and example of what Shaw’s human race has achieved over the ages.

Throughout the plays, Shaw focuses much of his attention on the human will and how it can affect and influence the process of evolution. According to him, the answer to human suffering is greater intelligence which can be achieved by living longer and mastering the inner will. This will allow the human race to dominant the world around them, and influence the way evolution proceeds. Essentially, Shaw believes that humans have a choice that will help shape and influence future generations to come. In this sense, Shaw’s beliefs are similar to that of Darwin’s; species that have a greater ability to adapt and control the environment around them are able to live longer. In many ways Darwin influenced and shaped Shaw’s theories on human kind. His main concern was that of selective reproduction and how the improvement of the human race could be achieved through it. Essentially, Darwin’s theory of natural selection helped shaped Shaw’s desire to improve the human existence. Even though Shaw's beliefs differed greatly from that of Darwins, he still appeared to be influenced by him, and this in a sense, is amazing on Darwin's behalf.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Darwin and the Victorian Novel

Since we will soon begin our study of Our Friend the Charlatan, I though it would be interesting to make a list of some other late-Victorian novels which were influenced by Mr. Darwin for us to enjoy over the winter break while our minds are digesting all that we have learned about Darwin. Origin did greatly influence novelists of the period and their subsequent writings reflect their concern that the cause and effect that Darwin's theories will have on humanity in the present and the future. This is only a small list of novels that I have found, but each novel is widely available. As to whether or not the author is for or against Darwin or somewhere in the middle is entirely dependent on your own personal reading and interpretation of the text, but each novel does support one of the main points of our blog: that Darwin is awesome because he introduced the theory of evolution to the mainstream at the right point in time and got people talking about it and what better reflection of why Darwin is awesome then to see how his writings influenced the writings of the popular novelists of his time.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (this is several decades earlier but she does talk about and reflect on Erasmus Darwin's theories)
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Tess of the D'Urbervilles or The Return of the Native or really anything by Thomas Hardy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Competition over new Eco-space

Last week we looked at the paper: Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land, by Sandra Sahney et al. In the paper Sahneys team look at different molecular and fossil records and determine that the increase in tetrapod biodiversity was not due to competition but more because of the expansion into unoccupied ecospace. They decided to group these tetrapods based on their ranges and ecomorphs like size and diet. They compared this to what niches they actually occupy and saw that the actual rate was lower than the expected. With this information they thought it was enough evidence to prove that competition must not have been the determining factor in their expansion.

The conclusion reached from this paper is a huge overreach. The methods used by the researches are very subjective because a lot of tetrapods live in overlapping areas and diets. Therefore one scientist might look at the data and group these tetrapods in to far more or less than the methods used by Dr. Sahney and her team. The researchers also used fossil records to see if tetrapods lived in various areas. This seems to be a very unreliable method because the fossil record is famously incomplete. There may have been many tetrapods in an area but because the conditions were not right millions of years ago no fossils were formed. Furthermore the fossil record rarely tells us anything about the diet of the tetrapods which was one of the criteria that was sorted. I believe that this paper can be heavily criticized based on its subjectivness on the materials and methods section. This in no way refutes competition the means for diversification. Competition may have still been happening on a smaller scale and some of the radiations that took place may have been influenced by the new use of territory, but nevertheless competition was always taking place and was the major factor in almost all species radiations. The paper is only about tetrapods and cannot be extrapolated to the other 90% of all animals on earth. This paper seems to make a conclusion which is a far reach from the truth and in no way is a contradiction to Darwins theory of competition.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Darwin's Influence on Psychology

During last week’s lecture, guest speaker Dr. Bruce Alexander, spoke of Darwin's achievements in varying fields of study; essentially, he introduced the class to a side of Darwin we had never seen before. Like Ava, Jacquie and other advocacy bloggers, I felt a greater sense of admiration for the late Darwin. His accomplishments in the scientific world were far greater than I ever expected.

According to Dr. Alexander, Darwin was a man that not only influenced the world of biology, but of other disciplines as well, such as geology and psychology. The wide range of work he did has greatly influenced the way we study these subjects in today’s world. For example, his revolutionary ideas of mental evolution, led to the introduction of functional and genetic psychology. At this time, most psychologists had focused their attention on the analytical problems of the mind. With the help of Darwin and his theories, the subject of psychology grew to encompass a variety of factors. The influence of growth, development and the social and physical environment, were now being examined in order to gain a better understanding of the psyche. Essentially, Darwin’s ideas and methods encouraged the development of psychology, and has given us a better understanding of who we are as human beings.