Tuesday, September 18, 2007

David Warren's Ignorance

David Warren continues to display that special blend of arrogance and ignorance that could be named after him, if Michael Egnor hadn't already been eponymized.

In this column he writes:

It is because Darwinism has embedded itself so deeply into the assumptions of our age, that it must be attacked frontally. For Darwinian assumptions cloud our view of reality. They subvert our grasp of moral issues. They make it possible for people to be dismissive, not only of art, philosophy, and religion, but of the requirements and limitations of true scientific research. They eviscerate the human spirit, by insisting that, in the last analysis, everything is random and meaningless. Conversely, they justify true fascism (“survival of the fittest”), and all the horrors of eugenics, abortions and euthanasia.

Moral relativism could not stand, except on a Darwinist base, and reason itself is rendered defenceless, by the notion that all nature was randomly contrived.

I don't know why theists like Warren continually trot this nonsense out. Darwinian evolution is a scientific theory about evolution that explains the diversity of life as we see it today. If it has implications that are depressing or repugnant to Warren, then too bad. As paleontologist George Gaylord Simpon wrote, If a sect does officially insist that its structure of belief demands that evolution be false, then no compromise is possible. An honest and competent biology teacher can only conclude that the sect's beliefs are wrong and that its religion is a false one.

Warren claims "Darwinian assumptions ... subvert our grasp of moral issues". He is foolish and mistaken in two ways. First, Darwin's theory is not an assumption, but a conclusion, based on hard research by hundreds of biologists, theist and non-theist alike. Second, Warren apparently knows nothing at all about current work on the evolutionary origins of ethics. I happen to think that Richard Alexander's book, Darwinism and Human Affairs, is one of the deepest and most profound works ever written on morals. If Warren has read it, I'll eat my hat.

Evolution says nothing like "everything is random and meaningless". Randomness plays a part in evolution, but it isn't the whole story. Randomness is represented by mutations and accidents, but selection -- a decidedly non-random process -- is also essential.

Warren confuses the descriptive nature of "survival of the fittest" with a prescription: this is how we ought to behave. But of course, he knows so little about evolution that he doesn't understand that co-operation is not ruled out by evolution, but rather is a result of it; see, for example, The Evolution of Cooperation.

Warren is the perfect blowhard. Supremely confident in his assertions, and demonstrating his supreme ignorance at the same time. Why the Ottawa Citizen continues to employ him is a mystery.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what you think of the arguments given here (on both sides):


Do you believe that silicon-based inner experience is a plausible notion?

Do you have any ideas about when inner experience might occur in general?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

That's be the subject of a future post, when I'm feeling better.

Eamon Knight said...

Why the Ottawa Citizen continues to employ him is a mystery.

I don't know why that would be a mystery -- the Citizen has been a rag for years now.

Anonymous said...

Creationists are not noted for their consistency. If they were, then there would be some problems for them, with regard to the morality issues that they raise:

1. Many of the creationists insist on telling us that they accept what they call "evolution within a kind" ("micro"evolution), as well as genetics and developmental biology. The questions of eugenics and so on have nothing to do with "macro"evolution. "Chance variations" are a feature of genetics, for example. Eugenics is restricted within our "kind".

2. Creationists insist that evolution by natural causes can only lead to "downward evolution" ("de"evolution), and that purposeful, intelligent, intervention is needed to avert deterioration. On this they agree with the eugenicists.

3. Creationists are following an old tradition in pre-scientific nature lore in bringing up supposed moral lessons to be derived from nature. Including the idea that there are "higher" and "lower" types.

These three points together - how do the creationists (if, to repeat myself, if they were concerned about consistency) accept them, and distance themselves from the social/political movements that they complain about?

For example, if the creationists complain about evolution telling our kids that they are "just animals" - what about the belief that our bodies were deliberately designed to be just a typical primate or mammalian body?

For example, if the creationists say that our genetic makeup is dependent on "chance", how much worse is it to say that chance is involved in the bacterial flagellum?

For example, if the creationists say that there must be intelligent intervention to prevent a "downward" "devolution", how do they explain why eugenics is not morally obligated?

Papa Giorgio said...


Can you cite who said natural selection de-volves a species? I have read probably, I don't know... 400 books by special creationists and ID writers and I have always read then stating that natural selection keeps the status quo. Curious.

Papa Giorgio

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that you never came across the concept of "devolution" as used by the anti-evolutionists.

I took a look at the Wikipedia article "Biological devolution", and it seems to be commonplace enough that even "Inherit the Wind" made reference to it:

"The term has been used in the play Inherit the Wind, the character of Matthew Brady (representative of William Jennings Bryan) using the term to argue that "ape devolved from man", mocking evolutionary theory by offering an alternative he considers just as plausible." Recently, I have been re-reading the works of the early young-earth creationist, George McReady Price, where he discusses the idea that apes may be the result of a kind of downward evolution from man. (I don't have the immediate reference to hand, but I can look it up if you would find that helpful.)

I'd suggest, as a first pass for further references, you do a web search on the word "devolution". I see that it is used in the web pages of Answers in Genesis.

Papa Giorgio said...

Natural selection is not connected to devolution? Mutations are. In fact almost every mutation I know of is harmful to a species, natural selection weeds out what isn't useful to that species (like almost every single mutation known to man) and keeps the status quo. There are times where through some environmental condition or human effort these mutations stay longer than normal. But nature being what it is acts on these mutations and they are generally weeded out via natural (or blind) selection. In the case of man, well, we are stuck with the Chihuahua I fear… thanks to Paris Hilton.

As per apes evolving from humans, there are many evolutionists who “toy” with this theory, a couple prominent one’s (past to present) are below. That is a battle on your side and has nothing to do either special creation or ID.

(I own the main books on this subject… you should head over to Amazon and read the reviews on Dr. Aaron’s book. It is a fun read to say the least. A new fossil find recently will rewrite the entire chart of hominid evolution/devolution… it is all quite fascinating.)

Dr. Geoffrey Bourne [R.I.P.] is the Director of Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University, England. Dr. Bourne is Oxford educated, and is an American cell biologist/anatomist who is considered by most to be the worlds leading primatologist. He said that apes are descended from man. Why would he believe such a thing? Because science has never seen any information being added to the evolutionary upward “slant” that is required by its theory (Darwinism). So since apes are less than us, Dr. Bourne says that science proves his theory.

Dr, Aaron G. Filler, M.D., Ph.D. studied evolutionary theory under some of the leading biologists and anthropologists of our time: Ernst Mayr, Stephen J. Gould, David Pilbeam (who does the forward in Dr. Aaron’s book), and Irven DeVore. A neurosurgeon at the Institute for Spinal Disorders at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and past associate director of the Comprehensive Spine Center at UCLA, Dr. Filler has been a leading innovator in medical imaging and neuroscience. He is the author of Do You Really Need Back Surgery? (Oxford University Press), as well as numerous scientific articles and patents.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what your objection is to my comments.

The word "devolution" is clearly used by several of the creationists. You seem to accept the idea that natural changes in life occur in a "downward" (so to speak) direction; and, I suppose, that any "upward" change needs intelligent and purposeful directing.

That was my point (2).

If someone accepts (1), (2), and (3), then it is suggestive of the idea that, to avoid deterioration in "mankind", we should intervene against the trend of natural selection.

My reference to George McReady Price is his 1924 work, "The Phantom of Organic Evolution", New York: Fleming H. Revell, reprinted in "Selected Works of George McCready Price", ed. Ronald L. Numbers, New York: Garland Publishing, 1995, volume 7 of the series "Creationism in Twentieth Century America".

From Chapter IX, Section V:

"If we compare the modern elephants, or bears, or elks, or indeed any single type of mammal, with their fossil types of the Pleistocene, we see in every single case a degeneration. Similarly, when we compare the best of the modern races of men physically with the Cro-Magnards of the deposits of Western Europe, we also see a degeneracy, ... Accordingly, by every just rule of comparison and analogy, we may well declare that if there is any blood relationship between man and the anthropoid apes, it is the latter which have degenerated from the latter. I do not say that this is the true solution of this enigma; but I do say that there is far more scientific evidence in favour of this hypothesis than there ever has been in favour of the long popular theory than man is a developed animal."

"But certain it is that all scientific evidence now available points to the fact that man was originally created on a higher plane structurally and anatomically than he is at present."

Pages 210-211 (=446-447 of reprint). Italics in original.

Anonymous said...

My apologies. I made a mistake in quoting Price, skipping some words, which makes it unintelligible. It should read, in part:

"... it is the latter which have degenerated from the former, instead of the former having developed from the latter."

Papa Giorgio said...

After re-reading your comments I think we may be in more agreement than not... you are correct. Natural selection would be the regulating factor to keeping out these mutations... which is what both ID'ers and Special Creationists would say.

But the fossil record shows from the smallest form of life to the most complex there hasn't been a degeneration in information found in the genetic code... but a generating of a more complex code ending in the human form.

Taking the Special Creationist position (which differs dramatically from the ID'er position on this) Man was in a "mutation free" climate both in his environment and his body, and the introduction of sin and the "curse" (which some view as entropy) we have degenerated since then. But not enough to create the ape from man.

We degenerate, but not to the point of being "devolved," natural selection weeds out that possibility. Hitler, however, did use evolutionary thinking as a catalyst to "weed out" down-syndrome for example... is this what you are speaking to?

“The stronger must dominate and not mate with the weaker, which would signify the sacrifice of its own higher nature. Only the born weakling can look upon this principle as cruel, and if he does so it is merely because he is of a feebler nature and narrower mind; for if such a law [natural selection] did not direct the process of evolution then the higher development of organic life would not be conceivable at all…. If Nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.”

(Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, translator/annotator, James Murphy [New York: Hurst and Blackett, 1942], pp. 161-162.)

At any rate, I may have misapplied your main point. I am sure we will carry on elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

I suggest that these various movements mentioned by Warren, insofar as they claim any tie to evolution, share a similar misunderstanding of evolution with the creationists. I must make it clear, however, that I am not accusing the creationists with any sympathy or blame for these movements. But the creationists do look at evolution through these misunderstandings. Because they look at evolution that way, they, of course, then think that evolution does, when it is only their misunderstanding.

For example, with regard to item number (2), they all believe that natural processes, left on their own, will only lead to deterioration. Somewhat akin to this is the idea that the only mechanism of evolution is death and violence.

As long as the creationists believe (1) evolution does actually occur within "mankind", that (2) direction is needed to escape deterioration, and that (3) nature gives us moral lessons, then they are in a bind. The creationists are not moral monsters, and they do not follow through with the supposed lessons. But they think that those are the lessons of evolution.

Papa Giorgio said...

I still think this barrier you speak of is still in this conversation, even now. Evolution, as a word you mean and we understand are not the same.

Do you mean that evolution is merely "change?" Because when I say evolution I mean that some people believe man came from the rocks... ultimately. But I may be misapplying categories here. I will post a little definitions list at my blog site for clarity.

Creationists believe that direction is needed to escape deterioration? Please explain more for clarity.


Papa Giorgio

Anonymous said...

I am simply stunned by the idea that I am being asked to demonstrate that creationists believe that design is necessary in the world of life.

Papa Giorgio said...

Deign is necessary toms, we have genetic code that has the most logical explanation in design – or so I think. However, you keep applying things to creationist that are misrepresentations, or so it seems. I am just asking you to clarify your explanations so I can better understand your assessment.

Creationists’ do believe that if evolution happens it is never in an upward (an adding of new information... not a duplicating of information already found [like the four wings on the fruit fly... which pulls the available energy from other areas of it's development... so not only is it weaker in its survivability but cannot fly either -- for example]) motion, but neither does it happen in a drastically downward motion... natural selection weeds out these mutations and weaker copies of the parent population.

We do not need eugenics to keep us on track; we do not need man-guided power to keep us "humans" or dogs "dogs." They will always survive unaided merely closer to the original parent population - dingo or wolf for instance. Eugenics is - in my thinking - a Margaret Sanger intervention of building abortion clinics in the poorest of neighborhoods to "weed out.... [the] dysgenic stocks" that she believed were a "dead weight of human waste" and a "menace to the race" which has precipitated a wholesale slaughter in those same neighborhoods (abortions outstripping births 4-to-1 in some cases). And it is this legacy of eugenics that has Margret Sanger (a virulently anti-Christian spokeswoman) inviting Nazi doctors/eugenicists to write op-eds in her "news-letter" (Fabian Socialist clap-trap) on exterminating the Black and Hispanic races in America. How does design and a belief in the "status quo" qualities of natural selection infer creationists would want eugenics implemented in some way? This seems unreasonable to me which is why I am asking for clarification.

If you feel you have explained yourself well enough than just say so and move on. Or, as I asked you before, you are mentioning "micro-evolution" as a position, but then mention a downward spiral? A creationist ID'er or Special Creationist looks at change within a species as a layer of fat over the eyes of one person (an Asian) and sees change within a species, or another person with melanin producing cells turned off in parts (Irish w/freckles), this is micro-evolution. What do you have in mind for it and how do we creationists need to eugenicize the problem of fatty eye tissue?

You are encapsulating an argument (a straw man) wrongly and then attacking it or applying it to others wrongly. So I am merely asking for some clarification on what you consider evolution, micro or macro, what you feel eugenics really is, so your points can be viewed in more clarity by the only person who would differ (I believe) with your almost syllogistic definitions of what creationists believe.

William Spearshake said...

Evolution is simply change over time. Sometimes the change results in increased complexity and other times it results in decreased complexity. There is no need for direction.

Mutations and transfers of genetic material (sex and other means) are the source of variation. Natural selection selectively removes some of this variation resulting in a population (or sub-population) becoming less variable and less like the average population. Over time, this results in reproductive isolation from the original population. Both the original form and the modified form may continue to co-exist, but natural selection now acts on each population separately.

None of this requires direction.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Papa Giorgio is so confused that he is simply not worth responding to.