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This is a second try on the topic. There were some potential copyright problems the first time around.

I came across an article about Darwin's "theory of evolution" by Ernst Mayr. In it he explains what radical changes Darwin had brought into modern thinking and why he, more than any other modern figure, was a source of controversy in science, politics, philosophy and religion. I thought by offering the article we could expose some 'fault lines' and get a better idea of some of the thinking on this board. I'm not entirely comfortable with everything in this article but I think his principal points have a thoughtful, tested quality.

One of the points you hear made in many circles is that Darwin with his Godless dog-eat-dog view of man's origins has been the incubator of much of the mass murder in the modern world. Hitler and Stalin in particular are mentioned as Darwin's disciples. The right seems to emphasise his God free biology and demotion of man to animal as the problem and the left the Social Darwinism of his Spensorian disciples. This link presents a broad description of Darwin's "evolutionary theory" from an unabashed and well respected disciple of Darwin's. Hopefully it will help clarify these and other issues surrounding the idea of evolution.

Below is a link to a Stockholm speech (1999) that was delivered by Ernst Mayr on the subject of Darwin's views . I follow with a prιcis of the speech for those who would prefer to read a more distilled version.

Many biological ideas proposed during the past 150 years stood in stark conflict with what everybody assumed to be true. The acceptance of these ideas required an ideological revolution. And no biologist has been responsible for more - and for more drastic - modifications of the average person's worldview than Charles Darwin.

Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The FIRST is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The SECOND is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. (3)Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. FINALLY, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

For example, three different scenarios have been proposed for the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous: a devastating epidemic; a catastrophic change of climate; and the impact of an asteroid, known as the Alvarez theory. The first two narratives were ultimately refuted by evidence incompatible with them. All the known facts, however, fit the Alvarez theory, which is now widely accepted.

The discovery of natural selection, by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, must itself be counted as an extraordinary philosophical advance. The principle remained unknown throughout the more than 2,000-year history of philosophy ranging from the Greeks to Hume, Kant and the Victorian era. The concept of natural selection had remarkable power for explaining directional and adaptive changes. Its nature is simplicity itself. It is not a force like the forces described in the laws of physics; its mechanism is simply the elimination of inferior individuals.

The truly outstanding achievement of the principle of natural selection is that it makes unnecessary the invocation of "final causes" - that is, any teleological forces leading to a particular end. In fact, nothing is predetermined. Furthermore, the objective of selection even may change from one generation to the next, as environmental circumstances vary.

By adopting natural selection, Darwin settled the several-thousand-year-old argument among philosophers over chance or necessity. Change on the earth is the result of both, the first step being dominated by randomness, the second by necessity.

Another aspect of the new philosophy of biology concerns the role of laws. Laws give way to concepts in Darwinism. In the physical sciences, as a rule, theories are based on laws; for example, the laws of motion led to the theory of gravitation. In evolutionary biology, however theories are largely based on concepts such as competition, female choice, selection, succession and dominance.

Remember that in 1850 virtually all leading scientists and philosophers were Christian men. The world they inhabited had been created by God, and as the natural theologians claimed, He had instituted wise laws that brought about the perfect adaptation of all organisms to one another and to their environment.

FIRST, Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the adaptedness and diversity of the world solely materialistically. It no longer requires God as creator or designer (although one is certainly still free to believe in God even if one accepts evolution). Darwin pointed out that creation, as described in the Bible and the origin accounts of other cultures, was contradicted by almost any aspect of the natural world.

SECOND, Darwinism refutes typology. From the time of the Pythagoreans and Plato, the general concept of the diversity of the world emphasized its invariance and stability. This viewpoint is called typology, or essentialism. …. Variation, in contrast, is nonessential and accidental. A triangle illustrates essentialism: all triangles have the same fundamental characteristics and are sharply delimited against quadrangles or any other geometric figures. An intermediate between a triangle and a quadrangle is inconceivable. Typological thinking, therefore, is unable to accommodate variation and gives rise to a misleading conception of human races. For the typologist, Caucasians, Africans, Asians or Inuits are types that conspicuously differ from other human ethnic groups. This mode of thinking leads to racism. … No two of the six billion humans are the same. Populations vary not by their essences but only by mean statistical differences.

THIRD, Darwin's theory of natural selection made any invocation of teleology unnecessary. From the Greeks onward, there existed a universal belief in the existence of a teleological force in the world that led to ever greater perfection. This "final cause" was one of the causes specified by Aristotle. … Processes in living organisms owe their apparent goal-directedness to the operation of an inborn genetic or acquired program. Adapted systems, such as the heart or kidneys, may engage in activities that can be considered goal seeking, but the systems themselves were acquired during evolution and are contiruously fine-tuned by natural selection.

FOURTH, Darwin does away with determinism. Laplace notoriously boasted that a complete knowledge of the current world and all its processes would enable him to predict the future to infinity. Darwin, by comparison, accepted the universality of randomness and chance throughout the process of natural selection. … Of course, as previously mentioned, only the first step in natural selection, the production of variation, is a matter of chance. The character of the second step, the actual selection, is to be directional.
Despite the initial resistance by physicists and philosophers, the role of contingency and chance in natural processes is now almost universally acknowledged.

FIFTH, Darwin developed a new view of humanity and, in turn, a new anthropocentrism. Of all of Danwin's proposals, the one his contemporaries found most difficult to accept was that the theory of common descent applied to Man. … Ironically, though, these events did not lead to an end to anthropocentrism. The study of man showed that, in spite of his descent, he is indeed unique among all organisms. Human intelligence is unmatched by that of any other creature. Humans are the only animals with true language, including grammar and syntax. Only humanity, as Darwin emphasized, has developed genuine ethical systems. (My note: I believe there are primatologists who would emphasize the language and ethical capabilities of some of our ape cousins).

SIXTH, Darwin provided a scientiflc foundation for ethics. The question is frequently raised - and usually rebuffed - as to whether evolution adequately explains healthy human ethics. Many wonder how, if selection rewards the individual only for behavior that enhances bis own survival and reproductive success, such pure selfishness can lead to any sound ethics. … We now know, however, that in a social species not only the individual must be considered - an entire social group can be the target of selection. … The survival and prosperity of a social group depends to a large extent on the harmonious cooperation of the members of the group, and this behavior must be based on altruism.

… most of Darwin's particular theses have been fully confirmed, such as that of common descent, the gradualism of evolution, and his explanatory theory of natural selection.

I thought that last part discussing altruism was particularly interesting in light of the common belief that Darwin encourages a more predatory view of social relations.
Just a note here: It was Herbert Spencer who coined the term "survival of the fittest". Spencer was speaking about people, not animals.Darwin was influenced greatly by Spencer and Malthus. Social darwinism actually preceded darwinism.
Actually I prefer "Survival of the fit enough under the circumstances." It seems more accurate and less ruthless; like wow, I just made it under the bar. smile.gif
Gray Seal
Understanding evolution and its implications is indeed intellectually stimulating. Such is the basis of some mighty fine science fiction. As we learn more about the changes that have occurred in the past, will this knowledge we useful for predicting the future ? That is a large blue sky. However, I do apply the principles of evolution when I think of the grand scale of social engineering via federal policies. I always ask the question, "Does this push humanity in the direction I would like to see us go in the long run ? "

Anything we do in our lives is so trivial in the long run. I have to laugh at myself when I think I am trying to affect this. Yet, a lot of little things can amount to something big.

Maybe so.

( Trivia question: In what book was this a name of a character ? )
QUOTE(Gray Seal @ Dec 29 2002, 03:51 PM)
I do apply the principles of evolution when I think of the grand scale of social engineering via federal policies.  

How about the principles of evolution when applied to the grand scale of religion? Here is an interview with somebody who tried it. I supply the link and a couple of excerpts:

I like this interesting take on Christianity.

Q. Give me an example of looking at the natural history of a religion.
A. The coolest example can be seen in what the religious scholar Elaine Pagels wrote about the evolution of early Christianity. When you compare the gospels that eventually made it into the New Testament with the many competing gospels that were rejected, what you find is that those that made it in were the ones that were best as blueprints for various early Christian communities. The narrative differences in the four Gospels — of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and the fact that Jesus is shown as being well received in one but practically thrown off a cliff in another, were not the result of the passage of time, or of memories fading. These Gospels were serving the needs of different Christian communities in different social environments. They're fossils of local adaptations.

And finally he concludes with the ambivalent role religion and other social organizations have played in history.

Q. So if the egalitarian impulse is strong within us, can we assume that institutions like slavery were unnatural blips in human history?
A. Unfortunately not. Religions and other social organizations may preach kindness and cooperation within the group, but they often say nothing about those outside the group, and may even promote brutality toward those beyond the brotherhood of the hive.

( Trivia question:  In what book was this a name of a character ? )

What name are you referring to?
Gray Seal
A good example of evolution for sure, Dingo. Definitely having a belief system has been very successful part of humans. Those who have a religion seemed to have an advantage. I have interpreted this fact to be due to the the cohesiveness in a community based on a religion. There is power in numbers and certainly religion has been a way to keep all persons thinking on the same page and acting in unison.

Successful religions also have the ability to change over time, to evolve. To pick on one religion, the Roman Catholic Church has changed laws with the times to retain their followers. Things such as eating fish on Friday and gender bias have changed. Religion clearly are not laws passed on by God but a collective set of rules to band people together. The ability to evolve those rules is a mark of a successful religion. Of course, to me, it is a reason to speculate on the "passed-on-by-God" aspects but I digress.


The trivia question was about a character in a novel whose name is "Maybe So". Can you name the book?
Alan Wood
Quote as many learned people as you like, each one will have differing and subjective opinions.
Choose one.

The only thing that is 'rock solid' fact is we are here.

How did we get here?.

The only things I know for sure is..
1. We were NOT created within 7days and in Gods image.
2. We are here.

After 600million years things change, evolve for better or worse.
The worse happened.........Human beings.
Other life forms on this Planet live together and find empathy, we dont.
Humans are no longer evolving they are manipulating.

We are the only entity that kills 'en masse.
We are the only entity that kills for other than food.
We are dangerous.

If there was a God I would ask him to rub us out and get it right.

QUOTE(Gray Seal @ Dec 31 2002, 01:40 PM)

Successful religions also have the ability to change over time, to evolve.  To pick on one religion, the Roman Catholic Church has changed laws with the times to retain their followers.  

A Jesuit told a friend of mine that you could be an athiest and still be a Catholic in good standing. That's pretty wild.

It seems to me faith comes in four different forms.

1. Belief in the institution and its rituals.
2. Belief in a holy scripture.
3. Belief in an anointed leader.
4. Direct encounter with God itself or perhaps an angel of God.

The first 3 seem to be consistent with the evolutionary preference for group solidarity. I think the second is particularly interesting in so far as it addresses a shared tradition as part of that cohesiveness and since the Hebrews were always being taken into captivity this would have messed with their oral tradition and necessitated a written down form.

The fourth seems to suggest a more individualize approach to religion. I would guess that in an evolving world a successful tribe would have to bring in new sources of inspiration to encourage variation and new adaptations in thinking. In a lot of Indian tribes a young male would go up into the mountains alone for say 3 days and at the end would be given an animal sign that would be his future guide. I think shaman were often loners, perhaps acting as independent middlemen between the tribe and the threatening outer world.

Christ with his 40 days alone in the wilderness might have been a shaman in that sense. He went away and brought back a new adaptive reality.
QUOTE(Alan Wood @ Jan 1 2003, 02:49 AM)
Other life forms on this Planet live together and find empathy, we dont.


Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't - just like animals.

Humans are no longer evolving they are manipulating.

That does not make sense. We simply influence the environment which then influences our evolution. We are not unique in this. Insects are masters at this as are spiders, all sorts of nest and dwelling builders, including birds and beavers.

We are the only entity that kills 'en masse.

Apparently you haven't heard about Killer Whales who go on feeding frenzies, decimating large seal populations. Need I mention army ants or locust swarms?

We are the only entity that kills for other than food.

Killing for territory and in sexual competition is common in the animal kingdom.

We are dangerous.

The most dangerous and to ourselves. That we can agree on.

If there was a God I would ask him to rub us out and get it right.

As far as the first part we are fast approaching your wish.
I think we are currently going through a turbulent period in our social evolution. Over the past few centuries, the notion of human rights has become increasingly integral to our ideas about life and society. However, in the longer term, our recognizing the importance of human rights is still in its infancy, and is still struggling against the older, feudal ideas of society as a strict hierarchy of inflexible castes.

Physically, who knows where we may end up, given the time... big heads and weak bodies?
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