Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Evolution and Purpose

 
The first issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is available online [Contents]. You can read all 21 articles.

Many of them are very interesting but I'm particulary struck by one with the title The Question of Purpose by David Zeigler. The question of purpose in evolution is very contentious. If we stick to science, it's clear that there is no purpose to evolution. What this means is that science is at odds with every religious belief that requires purpose (e.g., God made us).

Many believers resist this interpretation of science by declaring that conclusions about the absence of purpose cross over into the realm of metaphysics. Therefore, science does not rule out a purposeful universe.

David Zeigler is having none of that kind of excuse ...
My “purpose” (we can create our own temporally and spatially limited purposes) in writing this piece is to point out one of the most important and real issues in the teaching of Darwinian evolution that so often goes unaddressed, or more amazingly—unrecognized, and this issue is really fairly obvious. Darwinian evolution by natural selection results in adaptations which increase the ability of the individuals to survive and reproduce successfully in their respective environments, or as biologists would say—adaptations increase the fitness of individuals. This is the only evolutionary goal or purpose for which science has found objective evidence.

In our science, there is no mention of, or mechanism for achieving, any long-term metaphysical or teological goals of form, complexity, or intelligence—as Gould has argued so eloquently. Most of the other known mechanisms of evolutionary change such as genetic drift, neutral mutation, gene duplications, transposons, horizontal gene transfer by plasmids, and others have no direction or goal at all and are in fact random (which natural selection is not) and therefore could not possibly give a particular direction to evolution. Numerous science writers have made the obvious point that had that asteroid not struck some 65,000,000 years ago and pushed the dinosaurs to extinction, we humans would undoubtedly not be here, for the evolution of mammals would have been constrained and altered drastically from what has come to pass (i.e., we humans were not destined to evolve).

If we teach evolution honestly, we cannot really avoid this point, although many succeed in doing so. Additionally, if we give any credence to some hybrid form of teleological evolution by which humans or any of the so-called “higher” forms were destined to appear, we have gutted Darwinian evolution of its scientific core and replaced it with an unfounded belief—one that too many of our students (and most intelligent design proponents) already hold. I believe it is in part because we tiptoe around the honest interpretation of Darwinism that the USA lags far behind the other developed countries of the world in accepting the modern scientific view of evolution and in taking a realistic view of our precarious place (and responsibilities) on this fragile planet.
I don't like his use of "Darwinism" as an incorrect substitute for "biological evolution" but it's otherwise a fine piece. If this is an indication of the quality of article that will appear in the new journal then I'll be looking forward to each issue.


20 comments :

  1. Larry, you forgot to include the part where the author explains how science rules out purpose, or how imagining a "purpose" in natural history would "gut" science.

    I'm not a "purpose" kind of guy, and I don't point to evolutionary outcomes and claim that they were "necessary." But you guys are just using a lot of fancy words to tell us what we already know: that you don't believe in God. Metaphysics? Of course.

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  2. It is the only way that evolutionary evidence makes any sense at all. Pointing out the complete lack of any kind of purpose (or rational planning) in biology (prior to our attempts) is exactly what gives the lie to the IDiots like Behe.

    There is nothing intelligent at all about accepting the evidence of common descent without recognizing that none of that evidence points to purpose or to any aspect of known intelligence.

    IOW, stick biological data into a data mining operation, and the last thing you'd end up with is the conclusion that design had anything to do with biology. The purposelessness and lack of rational design pervades not only every node found in microevolution, but every node found in macroevolution, and in very similar ways.

    No blinded judgment could ever conclude that a telic force operated in biology (until quite recently). Only very biased judgments conclude that, and unfortunately the biases of very many who accept evolution actually agree with the biases of the IDists.

    Glen Davidson

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  3. Larry, you forgot to include the part where the author explains how science rules out purpose, or how imagining a "purpose" in natural history would "gut" science.

    That's only because science doesn't rule out purpose in natural history at all. Science simply doesn't find any purposes in biology (aside from our selections, etc.), and because you can't abide with this extremely evident fact, you have to come up with a fabrication that claims bias where there is none.

    Glen Davidson

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  4. "Most of the other known mechanisms of evolutionary change such as genetic drift, neutral mutation, gene duplications, transposons, horizontal gene transfer by plasmids, and others have no direction or goal at all and are in fact random (which natural selection is not) and therefore could not possibly give a particular direction to evolution"

    I think that is a stupid thing to say. Non-adpative change can hav very importnat consequences on the direction taken by evolution.

    I general, the whole paragraph is the repetition of the old mantra that "selection explains the appeareance of design". This is quite old already and of course, simply assumes that adaptation = natural selection. About the level we can expect from dawkin's fans.

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  5. My only quibble with the quote is when Ziegler says of fitness, "This is the only evolutionary goal or purpose for which science has found objective evidence."

    I have no quarrel with fitness as a result of evolution, but I think describing it as a goal or purpose is potentially confusing because such language IMHO lends itself to interpretation in terms of intent.

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  6. Dr. Larry, could you write a post on how the hypotheses concerning abiogenesis are in no way involved with evolutionary biology or theory of evolution? One person told me that the theory of evolution needs to explain the origins of life for it to explain the origins of species, which makes no sense, but I'd like it if you'd elaborate.

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  7. Non-adpative change can hav very importnat consequences on the direction taken by evolution.

    Yes, but what's that got to do with the paragraph you quoted? There is no goal and no direction, as stated.

    I general, the whole paragraph is the repetition of the old mantra that "selection explains the appeareance of design".

    No it isn't.

    This is quite old already and of course, simply assumes that adaptation = natural selection.

    No it doesn't.

    About the level we can expect from dawkin's fans.

    No it isn't.

    Apart from that, intelligent points well made.

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  8. "there is no goal"

    certainly

    "there is no direction"

    but evolution is not truly "random" either, isn't it. It cannot take just any pathway at any time; it depends on the kind of organism and circumstance. In many lineages certain things come up over and over again. For instance, secondarily flightlessnes in birds.

    From my point of view, evolution is a highly dterministic, mechanistic process; i think notions of randomness duly apply to many situations in biology; for instance, which X chromosme is inactivated, or 50% male/female; or developmentla noise, stichatsic components, etc. But this by no means justifies any general "philosophy of randomness", which in itself is a cartoon of science; science is not some kind of chaos theory. Determinism is not everything, but it certainly has not lost its utility.

    Any connections that either neoatheists or creationists may want to make about randomness and the existence of god belongs in the domain of garbage to me

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  9. Pointing out the complete lack of any kind of purpose (or rational planning) in biology (prior to our attempts) is exactly what gives the lie to the IDiots like Behe.

    How do you rule out purpose or plan by any agent without postulating what that agent's purpose or plan is? But postulating a purpose or plan for a divine agent is theology not science.

    The notion of ruling out design involves the same error that we accuse the IDers of: looking for "disembodied" design. We can only detect human design in nature because we know something of the methods and motives of human beings. When you can give as scientific an account of divine means and methods as you can human means and methods, then science may have something to say on the subject.

    Until then, the most that can be said about "rational planning" in biology is that life was not designed by human beings.

    Well, duh!

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  10. Larry said… “If we stick to science, it's clear that there is no purpose to evolution. What this means is that science is at odds with every religious belief that requires purpose (e.g., God made us).”

    Dragon replies… Any attempt to understand anything about our reality (in or outside of the realm of the natural or material) forms the basis for “religious belief.” Religious belief is not limited to theism. Therefore, naturalism and all its variations are a religion, because it attempts to explain reality. But, the attempt to explain reality, even by naturalists, inevitably requires purpose. Humans can’t escape purpose, because it is logically and intuitively displayed in our everyday lives and activities. It is logically, intuitively and experientially ‘nuts’ to live purposeless lives. Any appearance of such a life is viewed negatively, even by naturalists. Therefore, “science (investigation of the natural) is at odds with” naturalism and its crutch ‘evolution’, because naturalism attempts to explain away the very thing it attempts to explain.

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  11. Dragon makes a point that religion can be defined very loosely, and I hear many christians talk about money as a religion, football as a religion, philosophy as religion.
    It is odd to think that seeking understanding of nature through science can be considered "religion."

    I don't even see that "fitness" can be a goal of evolution. Survival is the goal of individuals and populations, fitness be damned, and evolution provides means of survival at least for a time.

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  12. Populations have no "goal."
    The "goal" of individuals is reproduction.
    Survival is only a means to that end.

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  13. anonymous asks,

    Larry, could you write a post on how the hypotheses concerning abiogenesis are in no way involved with evolutionary biology or theory of evolution? One person told me that the theory of evolution needs to explain the origins of life for it to explain the origins of species, which makes no sense, but I'd like it if you'd elaborate.

    Biological evolution is defined as "... a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations" [What Is Evolution?].

    You can't have biological evolution until you have populations of organisms and genetics. Thus, biological evolution only begins after life has already formed.

    The origin of life is clearly of interest to scientists but it's not evolution. It's a separate one-off event that happened more than three billion years ago.

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  14. but evolution is not truly "random" either, isn't it. It cannot take just any pathway at any time; it depends on the kind of organism and circumstance.

    I don't agree that "random" means "any outcome at all is possible". Of course constraints are important, but the existence of constraints is neutral with respect to whether or not a phenomenon is random.

    For example, I have two six-sided dice, familiar to gamblers everywhere. I can demonstrate that these dice are rather good at being random - each throw of the pair produces a result completely unpredictable from previous results.

    Over a long enough series of dice throws, I find that the mean total of adding up the dots face-up on the dice is 7. Dividing by the number of dice I find the mean per-die score is 3.5. But, there is no possible way for either of my two dice to produce an individual result of 3.5. What corner could these little cubes balance upon to read 0.5? So, are my dice actually deterministic because some outcomes are barred from occuring?

    Natural selection is not random, it's a departure from randomness. Other evolutionary processes, mechanisms currently included in the Theory of Evolutionary Biology, such as drift and transposition, ARE random. This doesn't imply that drift can or cannot result in any particular outcome you happen to be interested in.

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  15. Pointing out the complete lack of any kind of purpose (or rational planning) in biology (prior to our attempts) is exactly what gives the lie to the IDiots like Behe.

    How do you rule out purpose or plan by any agent without postulating what that agent's purpose or plan is? But postulating a purpose or plan for a divine agent is theology not science.

    Oh, you learned the IDiot talking points well, along with the usual mendacious injection of issues that I did not bring up. "Rule out" of purpose or plan was not in anything that I wrote, it's pure dishonesty.

    What you don't understand, of course, is science. We proceed from the known to the unknown in science, which is why we don't begin with either theology or unknown "design".

    Nor is it incumbent upon us to tackle your own prejudices and beliefs, rather we need to actually explain the evidence in ways that make sense to relatively open-minded humans. Thus we need not "rule out design", we need to explain the obvious derivations of organisms.

    The notion of ruling out design involves the same error that we accuse the IDers of: looking for "disembodied" design.

    And it is purely your own fabrication and error.

    We can only detect human design in nature because we know something of the methods and motives of human beings.

    That's right. The only meaning that we have for "design" comes solely from what we observe from humans, and possibly from animals. If we're going to posit any sort of design, it must be based largely upon what humans do.

    When you can give as scientific an account of divine means and methods as you can human means and methods, then science may have something to say on the subject.

    Science doesn't deal with your imaginations, or the made up stuff from theology. We're well aware of the fact that we cannot rule out any number of "possibilities," but we're interested in what can be established. Design, as such, cannot be established by your yammerings and dishonesty.

    Until then, the most that can be said about "rational planning" in biology is that life was not designed by human beings.

    Well, duh!


    "Duh" is about all you know.

    I brought up rational planning because that has to be a crucial aspect of understanding, say, alien design. There have to be commonalities between "human design" and any other posited sort of design for us to identify it (which is what we have to do if "design" is to be a scientific notion), and rationality would have to be one of the marks of any design that we could identify.

    Rationality, along with purpose, are probably the two central marks of the most universal sort of "design" that we could hope to identify. We do not hope to identify made up stuff like you believe in.

    And of course, to someone arguing as loathsomely as you do, the more crucial issue really is that organisms fit the predictions of non-teleological evolution. You have to explain that as "design," as well as to actually come up with some honest (hint, the opposite of your post) criteria for any design that you posit.

    Glen Davidson

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  16. "Rule out" of purpose or plan was not in anything that I wrote, it's pure dishonesty.

    I'm sorry, I can't quite get the semantic difference between "Pointing out the complete lack of any kind of purpose" and "ruling out" purpose but I'm willing to listen.

    Thus we need not "rule out design", we need to explain the obvious derivations of organisms.

    Good. Then you agree that Zeigler is wrong to bring into science education any discussion of whether or not there is "credence to some hybrid form of teleological evolution by which humans or any of the so-called 'higher' forms were destined to appear." All science education needs do is discuss the derivation of the life forms without any mention of notions of teleology (except in history of science classes).

    I brought up rational planning because that has to be a crucial aspect of understanding, say, alien design.

    What you said was that it "is exactly what gives the lie to the IDiots like Behe." Could you explain how recognizing "rational planning" in alien design relates to Behe?

    We do not hope to identify made up stuff like you believe in.

    You have obviously leapt to a most irrational conclusion about my beliefs.

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  17. "Rule out" of purpose or plan was not in anything that I wrote, it's pure dishonesty.

    I'm sorry, I can't quite get the semantic difference between "Pointing out the complete lack of any kind of purpose" and "ruling out" purpose but I'm willing to listen.

    Well, why are you here if you can't read above elementary school level?

    In the first place, this is a discussion regarding science, not philosophy or religion, and anyone coming onto here ought to understand what I wrote according to ordinary methods and understandings of science.

    Then you had to rip what I wrote out of context even to make your equation, since the very next paragraph after the one you quoted was this one:

    There is nothing intelligent at all about accepting the evidence of common descent without recognizing that none of that evidence points to purpose or to any aspect of known intelligence.

    And the very next post, which was responding to sfmatheson was even more explicit, where I wrote:

    That's only because science doesn't rule out purpose in natural history at all. Science simply doesn't find any purposes in biology (aside from our selections, etc.), and because you can't abide with this extremely evident fact, you have to come up with a fabrication that claims bias where there is none.

    You're either grossly incompetent, or deliberately being dishonest, if you missed all of that.

    Thus we need not "rule out design", we need to explain the obvious derivations of organisms.

    Good. Then you agree that Zeigler is wrong to bring into science education any discussion of whether or not there is "credence to some hybrid form of teleological evolution by which humans or any of the so-called 'higher' forms were destined to appear." All science education needs do is discuss the derivation of the life forms without any mention of notions of teleology (except in history of science classes).

    Science education need not bring up teleology as such so long as it makes clear the fact that the evidence accords (as far as we can tell) with the currently-known mechanisms of evolution, which have nothing to do with goals or purposes--assuming that teleology is not an issue with the students. If they ask if evolution has a purpose, for instance, then one would have to say no, not as far as current understanding can say.

    I brought up rational planning because that has to be a crucial aspect of understanding, say, alien design.

    What you said was that it "is exactly what gives the lie to the IDiots like Behe." Could you explain how recognizing "rational planning" in alien design relates to Behe?

    Behe claims that ID is science. Science invokes investigable or known processes in any explanatory model. Since his "design" is not investigable (no, his false dichotomy is not investigation of ID) because it doesn't utilize anything definitive about design, such as rational planning, clearly it gives the lie to such an IDiot. Same for your clumsy attempts to prop up whatever the hell moronic theistic beliefs you hold to.

    Sorry it's so hard for you to understand what most of us have known since ID began to work its ill in America.

    I heard Behe tell us how ID would lead to interesting research, since we'd be quite interested in alien technology if we found it, even without any of the aliens being observed. I was going to ask him how he was going to distinguish between alien machines and the aliens themselves, since he claims that both are designed, but he ended the session before I could ask.

    We do not hope to identify made up stuff like you believe in.

    You have obviously leapt to a most irrational conclusion about my beliefs.

    First off, I don't really know what your beliefs are, but IDiocy is as IDiocy does. When you're aping the dolts from the DI in both argumentation and in your dishonest attacks (like taking quotes out of context), I don't actually care about your protestations that you're 'really on the side of science.' You're arguing against science here, which is what matters.

    True, you're obviously incompetent even to recognize that I was discussing science, not theology, on a science blog, let alone to couple my first paragraph to my second paragraph, and my first post on this thread to my second. But if you're sounding like an IDist simply because you're unable to read properly, argue properly, or to distinguish between philosophical "possibilities" and science's use of evidence, rather than because of some belief about science and evolution that you have, I really don't care about that "distinction".

    After all, we don't actually benefit from people like you who can't deal competently with what people write, anyhow.

    What you seem to be doing is trying to hold onto some theistic prejudices that you have, and defending the notion that God (or whatever) designed organisms in some manner that cannot be detected, due to your inability to recognize that "purpose" or "rational planning" does not apply to an inscrutable deity. One simply does not ascribe attributes and processes of humans to some unknown God (at least unknown as to His capabilities and purposes). That's the mistake the IDiots make.

    What you might do, if you're intent on being a theist who believes in a God beyond science, is to use "purpose" or "planning" in a way that you make clear does not pertain (or does only slightly) to our meaning of the term. God might then have a "purpose" for the universe, but this sort of "purpose" is unlike our own, and the word is only used to point out that God had "something" in mind (so to speak) when setting off the evolution of the universe and life.

    In other words, I might not be so unhappy with your theism if you were to speak of it as careful theologians (and philosophers) do. There is no excuse to speak of "design," "planning," or "purpose" as the IDiots do, for we necessarily have limitations to those meanings, which you and the IDiots then confuse by using the exact same word to refer to the unknown and unlimited without marking the transition you made (you perhaps through ignorance, they are being deliberate, and almost certainly ignorant as well).

    Glen Davidson

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  18. In the first place, this is a discussion regarding science, not philosophy or religion, and anyone coming onto here ought to understand what I wrote according to ordinary methods and understandings of science.

    [Chuckle] I'm supposed to discuss science with someone who believes in mind reading?

    You have still failed to explain the original comment you made, though I do agree that you are all over the place in a most unfocused manner. That's why you might expect people to ask for clarification.

    Same for your clumsy attempts to prop up whatever the hell moronic theistic beliefs you hold to.

    Since you are incapable of even taking the hint that you are wrong about my being a theist, it is obvious that this is going nowhere. But please feel free to continue the argument with those voices in your head.

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  19. [Chuckle] I'm supposed to discuss science with someone who believes in mind reading?

    How fortunate you are that you can chuckle at your mindless fabrications.

    You have still failed to explain the original comment you made,

    That's the same thing as admitting that you're a halfwit--at best.

    though I do agree that you are all over the place in a most unfocused manner.

    Wow, you agree with your various lies. What a shock!

    That's why you might expect people to ask for clarification.

    Learn to read, dolt.

    Same for your clumsy attempts to prop up whatever the hell moronic theistic beliefs you hold to.

    Since you are incapable of even taking the hint that you are wrong about my being a theist,

    Said I don't care, ahole, only about your IDiotic attacks, fabrications, and inability to read.

    BTW, who is it that expects one to be a mind-reader?

    it is obvious that this is going nowhere.

    I'd need someone sane and competent on the other end for there to be any progress.

    But please feel free to continue the argument with those voices in your head.

    Ooh, how original.

    Just keep up the dishonesty, so that you can end as disreputably as when you first stupidly attacked.

    Glen Davidson

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  20. Mike Haubrich, FCD said... “Dragon makes a point that religion can be defined very loosely, … It is odd to think that seeking understanding of nature through science can be considered ‘religion.’”

    Dragon replies… Mike, I fear that you use the term “science” loosely. You seem to confuse science with naturalism (materialism, atheism, humanism, etc.). Science is the investigation of the natural. Nothing about scientific study requires the elimination of non-material phenomena, unless you’re in the lab. After you finish your lab work, you will however likely choose to interpret the lab results. ‘Interpretation’ is where your religion or anyone else’s a priori views will predictability influence findings.

    Mike said… “Christians talk about money as a religion, football as a religion, philosophy as religion.”

    Dragon replies… That’s because religions result from what people revere. If one reveres science (especially methodological naturalists) that makes it a religion – it becomes the object of their devotion, and atheistic/materialistic naturalism is the religion that’s taught in tax-payer funded science classrooms (via evolution) – ironically, despite the protests of naturalists not to allow religion in science classrooms.

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