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.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Great Debate

"Soapy Sam" Wilberforce vs. T.H. Huxley as pictured by Vanity Fair (source)

The Time: 30 June 1860, seven months after the publication of Origin

The Place: the meeting of the British Association at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

A group of scientists and philosophers had gathered to hear John William Draper of NYU present a long and boring paper called "On the Intellectual Development of Europe, considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others". After which several guests were asked to speak, informally though, which is why no verbatim account of what was said exists.
After several others had spoken, a heated exchange was started by Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford) and Thomas Huxley (biologist and grandfather of Aldous).
Wilberforce outlined the Church's view on species, which was that they are what they are and have always been and that Darwin's theory was not supported by facts. Whereas Huxley (who would become known as Darwin's Bulldog) defended Darwin, by saying that it was the best explanation for where species come from so far.
Wilberforce then asked Huxley if he was descended from an ape through his grandfather's or grandmother's side.
To which Huxley replied that he would rather be related to an ape then a man of ability and position who uses his brains to obscure the truth.
The audience was so effected by the exchange that Lady Brewster fainted.
Everyone who agreed with Huxley though that he had won and everyone who agreed with Wilberforce (especially Wilberforce) thought that he had won. But everyone had enjoyed themselves and they all went out to dinner afterwards.

Although both sides claimed victory, the debate was a key moment in the wider acceptance of evolution, not because of the debate between Church and Science but because it showed that Darwin's theory was able to withstand debate because it was supported by facts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Darwin was not a Social Darwinist

This week we had a special lecture by Dr. Bruce Alexander professor emeritus of psychology at SFU. I found this to be one of the most intriguing lectures I’ve had in a long time. As a Darwinist Dr. Alexander explained some of the views of Darwin in more detail in response to many of the critiques of Darwin that we’ve seen to date in our class. First of all I was surprised to hear that Darwin had written many books on Psychology. Apparently he was also a Geologist. Dr. Alexander went on to break down some of the common misconceptions about Darwin. One of his most important points was that Darwin was not a Social Darwinist in today’s use of the word.

Many of today’s groups use examples of Darwin mainly from the Origin of Species to advocate many of their own agendas involving survival of the fittest etc. Dr. Alexander explains that you have to read Darwin’s other works to fully understand his views relating to humans. In the origin he barely refers to human's saving his thoughts for his later books. In the Decent of Man and his other works Darwin gives many examples of how you should not use his theories about other species and extrapolate them to humans. He explains this is because we as humans have morals that we have evolved through out time. He gives examples of how humans may risk or give their lives for others, a trait that is inherently human. For this reason you can not put all things on earth under the same umbrella. There are exceptions to the rule. In conclusion I was really impressed in the way that Dr. Alexander treated to subject and disproved a lot of the modern day Social Darwinists extremist views by giving examples from Darwin himself.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sterling Prize, Dr. Alexander and Darwin

SFU has an annual award that was created to: “recognize work which provokes, and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy” as noted on the website: This award was established by Ted and Nora Sterling with the first recipient being honored in 1994. I recommend that you have a look at the list of recipients and see some of the remarkable, albeit controversial, research and academic endeavours that have been pursued by the academics at SFU over the last 15 years. One particular quote I found relevant: “…research studies should be judged by methodology, not by one's beliefs” (Mauser).

Dr. Bruce Alexander, our guest lecturer last week, was the recipient of The Sterling Prize in 2007. Quoted from the above website: “Dr. Alexander has devoted the last 25 years to developing and defending his ‘adaptive’ view of human addiction.“ This view is very Darwinian and it would be interesting to know more about Dr. Alexander’s research … of course, there is a book! I plan on looking into this further as I think this concept could be applied more broadly … beyond human addiction.

Dr. Alexander provided his support to Darwin’s thoughts on adaptation and evolution and at the same time confirmed why Darwin is so amazing.

My favourite quote from Dr. Alexander’s lecture: “The evolutionary progression is a process every bit as magnificent as the divine creation it is replacing.”

Lamarck: Close, but no cigar!

Butler argument had been that everything that Darwin has written has been said before. He attacked Darwin on many points as I discussed in an earlier post, but I would like to concentrate on his theories of Use and Disuse. Butler made the point that Evolution was not necessarily Darwinism. Darwinism included evolution but not vice versa. The theory of use and disuse was first proposed by Lamarck where he used their example of the giraffe. Lamarck also included in his theory spontaneous variation. Butler argued that there was little difference in the theories of Darwin and Lamarck except for the amount of influence of each part.

Lamarck believed that Use and Disuse was the primary means of evolution with a small part of it being due to spontaneous variation, whereas Darwin said spontaneous variation is the main reason behind Variation with use and disuse being secondary. This is not a small difference in the theory. It actually is a completely different theory and way of thinking compared to Lamarck. Darwin knew that Lamarck's Theory of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics was wrong. We now know this because of experiments. We now know that changes that happened in an animals life aren’t passed on to there offspring. If you were to cut the tail off a dog like a Rottweiler, the offspring of the dog would still have a tail. We also now know that traits can only be passed on through genes, and genes cannot be affected by the environment. These and other examples show that Lamarck's theory does not explain evolution correctly. Lamarck has the pieces of the puzzle but he just couldn’t put it together. Darwin did and for that reason he is credited for his theories of evolution.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Peace and War

Dr. Alexander, the author of The Globalization of Addiction: a Study in Poverty of the Spirit, is a strong believer of Darwin. His insights on Darwin as a psychologist made me admire Darwin even more. There has always been something missing in my understanding of Darwin’s theories: group selection. In explaining this theory, Dr. Alexander answered my questions as to why there is peace and war in human history. Humans are social creatures by nature, as well as animals who fight to survive in the great chain of life. Group selection, a desire to continue a certain selection of people, involves human’s using their intelligence to strengthen social bonds and thus their chance of survival. This explains the peaceful, strong sense of community between some groups; as well as, the conflicts of interest, and thus wars, that arise when these groups seek out new ways of supporting themselves. The constant growth of the human population means that societies must fight for the Earth’s resources to survive. It is a depressing reality; however it is impossible to negate the war ridden history of the human civilization

Friday, October 22, 2010

Butler: an early advocate for copyrights?

All this discussion about Butler and his criticisms of Darwin makes me think of a few policies in today’s world. That is copyrights, patents and intellectual property rights. Butler, with his perfectly legitimate judgments of how Darwin plagiarised naturalists, was essentially advocating copyrights in his day. These policies are what protect people’s ideas from being taken by others for the generation of profits: Darwin probably had profits in mind when he decided to piece together The Origin of Species. It makes perfect sense when one compares books during the 1800’s with music today. It doesn’t matter what material, or medium, is used to represent an idea when it can be delivered to the masses and sold on the market. Everyone dreams of being a rockstar today, just like everyone dreamt of writing a best seller when the book was popular. Darwin was simply acting on capitalist instinct when he decided to create a legendary book.

There are various ‘anti-Butlers’ today that believe copyrights limit the ability of our society to enjoy and improve on ideas. Lawrence Lessig is one of these believers. He advocates ‘creative commons’ and ‘copyleft’ as an alternative. The argument is that copyright policies go too far by privatizing knowledge. The world is increasingly influenced by capitalism and it is impossible not to see the similarity in owning an idea and owning an item. Owning anything means it is property; something of value that can be exchanged for money. To bring this back to Darwin, perhaps it was not right of him to plagiarise others; however, without the freedom to use the theories in the way that he did, we may never have received as influential a book as Origin.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Problem With a Use/Disuse Based View of Evolution

In reading Samuel Butler's Deadlock in Darwinism, we see that one of Butler's arguments is that Mr. Charles Darwin devotes entirely too much attention to random variation in a species and not enough to use and disuse. With regard to the example of the giraffe stretching its neck that Butler presents in his piece, Lamarckians and those who favor use and disuse against random variation would protest that the giraffe acquired its long neck by desiring to reach foliage at a greater height, and by consistently stretching it's neck for the purpose of reaching this foliage, were able to do so.

The key word in this perspective is desire. In lecture we discussed that this characteristic of desire could be passed down from generation to generation, ensuring that the giraffe's who desired to stretch their necks would survive. The problem with this is that while the desire may be passed down in some regard because of observed behavior and imitation of this behavior by the next generation, the gradual stretching of the neck throughout a giraffe's lifetime does not alter their genetic makeup for physical characteristics and thus, the elongated neck never becomes a permanent feature of the next generation of giraffe.

What can alter the genetic makeup of any species is random variation. A random variation means that there has been a slight alteration in the genetic makeup of a being that has produced a slightly altered characteristic, such as an elongated neck in the case of a giraffe. Now that this random variation has entered the gene pool, it has a chance of reoccuring in the next generation. This chance is increased through use and disuse, as favorable variations may help certain animals to succeed in their environment and have a better chance of reproduction. As these animals with favorable variations breed and become more prominent, we see an evolution of that species that has been based on random variation and supplemented by use and disuse, which is exactly how Mr. Charles Darwin explained the process of evolution in the Origin.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Butler on Darwin

“The Deadlock of Darwin” by Samuel Butler takes the approach of the Intellectual critique of Charles Darwin and his work. To understand this critique I believe that you must know a little about the past history between Darwin and Butler. Butler had tried to contact Darwin numerous times to discuss some issues he had with The Origin of Species. Darwin did not reply to his critiques so Butler decides to write extensively about Darwin and his work. Without committing the genetic fallacy I think it’s still important to know a little bit about Butler’s motivation to write about Darwin.

Butler was not a scientist so he took the path of critiquing Darwin from within. He did no counter research to disprove Darwin’s theories nor did he provide a counter theory. It was purely a rebuttal to his book. In today’s world of academics and science you would not be taken seriously in your rebuttal if you were not also a scientist or expert in the field that you are crituiqing. The whole purpose of peer reviewed journal is that your paper is reviewed by experts in the field that you’re writing about. You can’t be someone with no training or expertise in a subject and just criticize them. This may be ok for television or blogs but not in the academic world.

Nevertheless Butler produces a decent argument against Darwin at first glance. He goes on to make the point that Darwin has not come up with any of his own ideas. He states that Evolution and Natural selection were not his ideas and that, in essence he was being false with the claim that he came up with these theories and ideas. It seems a plausible argument until you realize that what Darwin did was more than just repeat what other scientist said. It’s true that a lot of the theories in the origin of species were known before Darwin, but Darwin had taken these theories and put them together in a concise clear manner that had not been done before. These theories were like dots on a blank page, what Darwin did is connect these dots to make the picture. This was the genius of Darwin’s work. Most scientist of his day had read the works of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck and Buffon. Yet nobody at that time had been able to put the full picture together. Darwin did this and for that reason he will be remembered or credited with sharing these theories with the world.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Butler Was Wrong

As I was reading Butler's essay on Darwin, I thought that it was a well-written intellectual argument, Butler's personal feelings aside. I wasn't shocked that Darwin hadn't come up with the theories that Origin of Species put forth weren't his own original work, because I've known about this for years and yet I'm still a member of this advocacy blog. The point that Butler fails to make is why Darwin's book is so important.

Yes, people had known about Evolution and Natural Selection for years, but those people only made up a small number within the general populace as a whole. But what made Mr C. Darwin so brilliant was that he took all of those ideas from multiple sources and combined them into everything you ever wanted to know about the theories of Evolution and Natural Selection in one easy to carry volume.

We must also remember that at this time the evidence to support the theory of Evolution and that it had been happening for much longer then people thought (i.e. millions of years) was being dug up. Anyone who had read the same books that Darwin had could have written an explanation of evolution, but it was Darwin's rhetorical brilliance that got there first.

What Butler misses in his essay is not whether Darwin was original but that he struck upon the right time to explain evolution and as a result, Origin became a best-seller and educated the masses and forever changed the way in which we see ourselves.

And to those of you who called Darwin a fraud after reading Butler, I say who cares? Do you know how hard it is to come upon a completely and utterly original idea which is absolutely devoid of any influence from the ideas of those who came before you? It's damn near impossible. The only thing which Thomas Edison invented completely on his own, without any help, was the context in which we use the word "hello". Does that make him any less of a great inventor? Will you turn off the electric light bulb over your head because you are upset that it was not Edison's uniquely original idea? Would you read a book that said "here is a summary of what these various people think of evolution"? No, you would read the book that said "here is an exciting bit of prose that explains this clever scientific idea that I came up with that will blow your mind". And that is why Butler is wrong. If Darwin had written the book that Butler's essay wanted him to write, Origin would not have been a best-seller, because it would not have been written in the style of a guaranteed best-seller and evolution would not have entered mainstream thought and changed how we see life on Earth.
After all, if Butler had been right, would we be taking a course on Charles Darwin?

Monday, October 11, 2010

In Continued Support of Darwin

The initial reading of Samuel Butler’s essay "The Deadlock in Darwinism” resulted in an incredulity that was not anticipated. A closer reading in class, coupled with group interpretations of Butler’s claims that the theory of evolution was not Darwin’s idea, only confirmed the concern that came to light during the initial reading. Being unfamiliar with the work of those who preceded Darwin, and their theories surrounding evolution, this essay caught me totally off guard. Butler’s essay is very well written, it is persuasive and his claims are well supported.

How does one continue to advocate for Darwin when Butler has so effectively cast a shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of his theories? Classmates used terms such as “fraud” and “plagiarist” to describe Darwin and “On the Origin of Species.” Those who preceded Darwin with their theories of evolution were unable or did not attempt to get the word out to the world. Regardless of how well Butler tries to tarnish Darwin’s reputation one has to remember that Darwin is the one responsible for packaging everything into: “On the Origin of Species” reaching a more diverse audience than one would think possible.

In our “Advocacy” blog I believe Jen successfully provided evidence of why Darwin should still be considered awesome. It is quite possible, that over time, the theory of evolution would have disappeared had Darwin not demonstrated his true genius by ensuring that this theory received the attention it deserved. Whether his motivation was self-serving, whether his timing was impeccable, whether he intrigued people with his adventures, it does not matter. The end result is that Darwin brought the theory of evolution to the masses, to the general public, in a literary form that could be understood by all!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Darwin's rhetorical style: let others defend his ideas

In this week's lecture by Dr. Stephen Ogden, on 7 Oct 2010, we looked at Samuel Butler's essay The Deadlock in Darwinism which suggested Charles Darwin was a better rhetorician (and possibly an immoral one for allegedly claiming a theory he did not originate) than scientist. Dr. Ogden also detailed background information of how Butler's initial support of Darwin gave way to animosity when Butler failed to receive the positive response he craved from Darwin for his initially well-intended assistance.

In an article by John Angus Campbell entitled The Invisible Rhetorician: Darwin's "Third Party" Strategy, the author makes the point that rather than respond directly, Darwin habitually had his allies, (particularly his "inner guard" of Joseph Dalton Hooker, Charles Lyell, Asa Gray, and Thomas Henry Huxley) publicly defend the ideas he put forward in Origin - even when he philosophically disagreed with these men privately. As Samuel Butler writes it: "a powerful literary backing at once came forward to support him [Darwin]." Campbell describes Darwin as "a rhetorician in a distinct but complementary sense: his skill as the manager of his own campaign."

Campbell documents Darwin's correspondence with his "inner guard" to solicit their support of his doctrine. He wanted to win them over personally because, for example, "Lyell's public stature was so great that his hesitation would slow general acceptance, while his "conversion" would virtually spell victory." In addition to explicitly directing these four colleagues in how to respond to his troublesome critics, Darwin also had copies of their articles (if complimentary to Origin) republished, at his own expense, and sent to journals, critics, scientists, and clerics to bolster belief in his ideas. In this way, Darwin was able to indulge his "desire for action without compromising his appearance of being above the fray."

Darwin's tactics seem to have been to win detractors over by persuasion rather than combat: "While Darwin himself certainly used battle imagery, for every reference to battle in his letters, there are two to "conversion" ... When we consider that Darwin's "enemies" were also his friends [i.e. orthodox colleagues], even those of his own household [his religious wife], his dominant imagery is consistent with his rhetorical aim." Campbell makes the analogy: "Not Huxley's mythical battle between the scientific David and the religious Goliath, but the subtle diplomacy of Jacob versus Essau prepares us to grasp the kind of tactics Darwin used to convert his culture to his theory."

The article also provides some insight into Darwin's scientific philosophy:

Darwin's empiricism was narratological; that is, he believed that the testable unit in science was less the isolated fact than the unified narrative. In Darwin's view, natural selection should be accepted, not because it could be proven experimentally but because it could bring greater coherence to larger bodies of facts than any other theory then available.

Campbell quotes Darwin writing to Huxley (who "'accepted' Darwin's theory on the caveat that natural selection had not yet been confirmed experimentally") on the topic:

You speak of finding a flaw in my hypothesis, and this shows you do not understand its nature. It is a mere rag of an hypothesis with as many flaws and holes as sound parts. My question is whether the rag is worth anything? I think by careful treatment I can carry in it my fruit to market for a short distance over a gentle road; but I fear you will give the poor rag such a devil of a shake that it will fall all to atoms: and a poor rag is better than nothing.

But even according to his personal & intellectual critic, Samuel Butler, the effect of Darwin's "poor rag" is influential and lasting. He writes that, unlike Darwin's evolutionary theory predecessors, who "did not bring people round to their opinion ... Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace did, and the public cannot be expected to look beyond this broad and indisputable fact."

Campbell's article shows Darwin's savvy ability not only to successfully write rhetorically in Origin, but also to draw attention and support for his ideas by persuading others to defend them on his behalf - though perhaps this tactic backfired with Samuel Butler, who might have been content to be Darwin's ardent fan, had he early on been offered the personal touch.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Richard Dawkins on Rapid Evolution

I just finished watching Real Time with Bill Maher this evening, on which evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins was a guest. While Real Time is a show primarily revolving around politics, Dawkins answered some questions regarding evolution and cited an interesting example of rapid evolution from his new book The Greatest Show on Earth.

In his book, Dawkins talks about the rapid evolution of a species of lizard called the Podarcis Sicula that was observed over a few short decades. I did a little bit more research on this on my own, and the results were quite interesting. 5 male and 5 female lizards from the island of Pod Kopiste were relocated to an island 4.2km away called Pod Mrcaru. Over a period of approximately 4 decades, these lizards and their offspring were observed. The results of the experimental relocation showed changes in head morphology, bite strength, and digestive tract structure during this period of time.

Researchers also noted that the abundance of food on Pod Mrcaru also caused decreases in hind limb length as a result of a passive, grazing food gathering style that they were able to adopt versus the more aggressive, hunter-gatherer style required in Pod Kopiste.

For those that are interested, there is a longer article on this study at Dawkins appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher on October 8, 2010, if anyone wants to check that out as well. There is also a related article on some lizards in New South Wales, Australia that are currently making the transition from eggs to live births. Read it at

Samuel Butler's Critique of Darwinism

During yesterday’s class, we discussed Samuel Butler’s essay "The Deadlock in Darwinism", which is simply a critique of Darwin himself and the work that he did. Throughout the essay, Butler repeatedly comments on Darwin’s inability to reference past evolutionists and the theories that they formed. According to Butler, Darwin did not create his own theory of evolution; in a sense he only borrowed and altered past theories, and simply patented it as his own. Essentially, Butler is accusing Darwin as being a fraud.

When reading this article I could not help myself siding with Butler. Darwin, as I knew him growing up, was the father of evolution; he was the man who created the idea of natural selection and essentially evolution itself…Or so I thought. Butler’s essay painted this image of Darwin as being a self-righteous man that only wanted fame and fortune for the theory he published. I started to believe in Butler’s accusations, and I myself began to question Darwin and his voyage around the world. Was it only for show and his desire to boost his famous status?

Butler’s essay was well written and persuasive by all means. His bias attitude towards Darwin clearly shows, and in a sense makes one wonder what the purpose of the essay is. Is Butler simply trying to recognize the true creators of the evolution theory, or is he using this work to make a personal attack on Darwin himself? Either way, Darwin’s reputation as an evolutionist is being slandered.

Though Butler’s arguments are persuading, one has to remind themselves that Darwin took the initiative to publicise the theory of evolution. This in itself is what transformed the theory into actual reality. Even though he took past theories and ideas that were not his own, he broadcasted them to the world around him through his book "The Origin of Species". Essentially, he made them known to the general public. His ability of rhetoric and persuasion is what got the theory attention. Darwin’s desire to sail the world may have been a ploy to enhance his social status, but in the end it resulted in the acceptance of the theory of evolution. Darwin did the research that the public demanded; he showed them evidence that the theory held credibility. In a sense, he marketed and promoted the theory very well. Who knows, without Darwin the theory of evolution may have become obsolete over time. This is something that one has to remind themselves while reading Butler’s critique. Darwin may not have created the theory of evolution by himself, but without him, the theory may not have received the attention that it did.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Variation under Domestication

Here is a video clip that speaks to Darwin's understanding of man's power over his surrounding species. "The Super Cow" perfectly illustrates what can happen when we decide to domesticate animals and practise selective breeding.

The Super Cow

(National Geographic)

Baconianism today

To put Baconianism in today's world, one can look at how various groups lobby against certain scientific advancements. Scienctific research is influenced by the moral jugdments of various political, social and religious groups who represent different communities within society. One most recent example is cloning. The first sheep to be cloned from a human cell was Dolly. She caused a host of countries to ban cloning for some time due to ethical reasons. In the states, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission makes sure scientific 'elites' stay within a certain moral boundary. In Canada, there is a governmental "Research Ethics Board" that monitors scientific advancements. Scientists may discover and offer to us much of what we know about the natural world, but overseeing bodies within society also keep them from taking steps that many consider "wrong" on an ethical basis.

Bacon's argument against science.

In Sir Francis Bacons “The New Atlantis” he goes a bout critiquing the scientific community and the ways Science was used in his time. He believed that scientists were elitist who thought that they were better than the common man. He describes them as coming down from the “order of society sometimes called Salomon’s House and sometimes called the College of the Six Days of Work” every 12 years to bless the people with the new scientific facts that they believed were ok to be released to the public. He believed that the scientists of his time were more closely related to the powerful clergy of the time as opposed to the common man, and he backs this up by describing there lavish clothes and lifestyles of the scientist at that time.

Bacon criticizes the scientists by saying that there should be a moral limit on scientific endeavors. He belived that there was a limited amount of space in society for science, and if too much was given to the people than they would end up losing a lot of the cultural and moral values that had been passed on to them. Bacon believed in a “balance” between to two and he argued to have science brought back down to a normal level. In Salomon's House, where the elite of Bacon's scientific community would decide which inventions to publish and which to hide. This was a way to protect people and society from the overuse of science.

The difference in the approach to his critique of science was different than the Augustans and even modern day attacks on science. Bacon took the path of not criticizing the actual science that was taking place but he attacked the use of science and the effects it was having on society. This view was in contrast to the Augustans like Pope, who believed that science was “worst than the beast”, and with his fellow Augustans he went after the fundamental cores of science and the negative effects on man.

The majority of arguments of the time would not stand up after the post Darwinian era. Over time the Baconians put to rest the Augustans school of thought on science, and I believe that if Sir Francis Bacon were alive any time after the mid 19th century, would most likely believe in Natural Selection, because he essentially created the inductive reasoning methods used to develop Darwin’s theory. This method of inductive reasoning used to be known as the “Baconian Method” but is now known as the “Scientific Method.” Bacon later went on to form the British Royal Society is known as one of the Fathers of modern day science ironically.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Darwin and the Chain of Being

I re-examined the readings that we addressed in class last week looking for something Darwinian that could be further, yet briefly, brought to the attention of our blog followers. The hope is to inspire some further postings and/or discussion that will continue to advocate for Darwin.

It is my understanding that the concept of the Chain of Being, as referred to in "An Essay of Man" by Alexander Pope, has existed for centuries. This hierarchical ladder is described in Pope’s work: “Vast chain of being! which from God began” and moves downwards through angels, men, other living beings concluding with: “insect, what no eye can see.” During our group discussion in class, we touched on the fragility of this Chain and supported Pope’s assessment: “Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed.” Although I could not find any direct reference to this Chain in the Origin of Species (please bring this to my attention if it has been overlooked) it would seem that this concept might not be too contrary to Darwin’s thinking except for possibly one not so insignificant matter: God!

We can determine which links on the Chain have the power and how each link is stronger the further up the ladder one progresses. Would Darwin consider the Chain ending with Man as the most powerful; the strongest; the one who would live while the weakest die? Would Darwin respect the intent of the Chain that considers God the most powerful? Where would the Angels and God fit into a Darwinian perspective ... or would they? As Maziar noted in his contribution to this Blog dated September 24: " Its fair to say that most atheist today consider Darwin's theories to be the main argument against god and/or religion.“

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Freud & Nietzsche: Great thinkers influenced by Darwin...

As mentioned in the Hum 321 outline and in lecture, both Freud & Nietzsche responded to Darwin's ideas. For example:

From an entry in the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis about Darwin's impact on Freud's writing, an insightful paragraph:

In 1859, when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, Sigmond Freud was three years old. As a young student and later, during his early years as a dedicated scientific researcher, Freud greatly admired Darwin, who had gained considerable popularity throughout Europe. In his Autobiographical Study, Freud would recall that "Darwin's doctrine, then in vogue, was a powerful attraction, since it promised to provide an extraordinary thrust to understanding the universe" (1925d). From then on Darwin joined Hannibal in Freud's personal pantheon and he dreamed of becoming his equal. In "A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis," he described the three wounds inflicted on humanity's pride: when Copernicus established that the earth was not the center of the universe, when Darwin proved that mankind developed in an unbroken line from other animal species, and when he, Freud, showed that man did not have control over the most important aspects of his own mental processes(1917a).

Friedrich Nietzsche, while having a very different view of social evolution, nonetheless finds Darwin's ideas worthy of direct engagement, for example in this quotation from Twilight of the Gods:

Anti-Darwin. — As for the famous “struggle for existence,” so far it seems to me to be asserted rather than proved. It occurs, but as an exception; the total appearance of life is not the extremity, not starvation, but rather riches, profusion, even absurd squandering — and where there is struggle, it is a
struggle for power. One should not mistake Malthus for nature. Assuming, however, that there is such a struggle for existence — and, indeed, it occurs — its result is unfortunately the opposite of what Darwin’s school desires, and of what one might perhaps desire with them — namely, in favor of the strong, the privileged, the fortunate exceptions.

The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent. Darwin forgot the spirit (that is English!); the weak have more spirit. One must need spirit to acquire spirit; one loses it when one no longer needs it. Whoever has strength dispenses with the spirit (“Let it go!” they think in Germany today; “the Reich must still remain to us”). It will be noted that by “spirit” I mean care, patience, cunning, simulation, great self-control, and everything that is mimicry (the latter includes a great deal of so-called virtue).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finding a balance: Humankind's struggle for survival

As mentioned in last weeks blogs, Darwin describes the forces of nature as a constant battle between the strong vs. the weak. The ways that we, as the human species, have come to manipulate the world around us seems to illustrate why we are ‘stronger’, in a broad sense meaning physically and mentally, than many other species. An example of this would be advancements in technology through our understanding of science and the empirical world. Over centuries of deconstructing the mechanics of planet Earth we have learned to control it within the laws of nature. It is important to highlight the limitations that human kind must work within because as we go beyond these boundaries, nature shows its true strength.

Technological advancements are not all considered positive when one looks at the way that we use it. If species struggle to multiply and survive, as Darwin believes, then we have only figured this out too well. The planet is under stress due to overpopulation and different populations are under stress due to the very technologies that once gave them their terms of survival. To illustrate, medical technologies have allowed people to live longer on average and survive more diseases and sicknesses. This has led to an increase in the population that puts higher demands on the Earth’s resources. At the same time, we use technology to produce more food, and deliver it, often using damaging technology, around the world in order to sustain our large population. Unfortunately, this constant increase in demand for Earth's resources must stop somewhere because there is only so much that the Earth has to offer. The question that dotes on people’s minds today is how will we use technology to save us from the problem we have created; because, technology does not act on its own, we are the ones controlling it.

A large amount of strain placed on the Earth is due to the use of unsustainable, industrial technology. In recent years, scientists have come up with several alternatives to industrial technology, and the replacement of them has proven to be a long, hard process. Our species may not be perfect, nonetheless, we are working hard to find ways of maintaining ourselves as a whole. This balance that our species strives to keep within the laws of nature is in my mind our struggle for survival.