Saturday, June 5, 2010

Language! Comments

The Phantom Blogger made some comments regarding my Language! post, and since I started to run at the mouth (well, the fingers) I figured I'd convert my response into a whole new post. TPB's comments in italics:

When I said mistakes I meant that since evolution doesn't work through a perfect linear process just through the selection of whats good, then all the needless stuff could be referred to as mistakes or as simply useless (if the theory actually holds).

Selection of what's 'good'? 'Needless'? 'Useless'?

I'm not trying to pick on you or split hairs here, so forgive me if I'm coming across like one of those guys who'll flip out at a spelling mistake in an internet discussion. It honestly isn't my intention. But my focus here is how colored language, even relatively common language, has become by value-laden terms and ideas - by the very people who insist that science is supposed to be scrubbed of such things.

When people call a mutation random all they are saying is that it has no end goal or purpose.

Alright. But since when is science capable of determining end goal or purpose? Since when is this even an interest of science?

See, I keep running into this problem: The standard line for coming down on ID is that science cannot rule on such questions of 'purpose' or 'end goal' or 'design'. My response to that is, fair enough. But that means this 'purpose' and 'end goal' talk is off the table - across the board.

If it's only a violation of some imaginary rule for science when ID people do it, but when ID critics do it (Avise being the latest) it's A-OK, I call - forgive my language - bullshit.

If science isn't in the business of final causes, if final causes and purposes and goals are the stuff of philosophy, then let's keep it out. But that also means removing the negative judgments. There's a name for doing this sort of thing half-way: Bias. Corruption. Hypocrisy.

We have not created any philosophical criteria for whats good and bad a-prior, if its even possible to do such a thing.

Various philosophers have ideas on this front. There's always Aquinas and Aristotle. Are their systems perfect? Probably not.

I'm not demanding scientists develop that criteria either. More the opposite: It's outside their field, it opens a can of worms, etc. But I don't think we should accept, say.. "Well, it's hard to do. So you know - whatever the scientists come up with must be good enough."

I'm not necessarily sure that through finding something with no observable function, that science can detect, and then saying that for all intensive purposes its junk, is really that unscientific, in may be bad philosophy though, the reason we attach words like "junk" to these functions is because we are looking at the data through the vale of the Theory of Evolution, and it would suggest that things with no function are just left over junk, from the thousands of random mutations that have taken place throughout the history of our genome.

Well, here again is the problem. Evolution is just one more process like any other, like oxidation, reproduction, etc. But processes can be used by (even created by) intelligent agents. Hell, we demonstrably use 'evolution' in programming at this point. We use it in animal husbandry.

Keep in mind, this isn't really about evolution for me - I'm not criticizing evolution here. I'm criticizing a specific field that's supposed to be stripped of value judgments, philosophy, and metaphysics, where those practicing in the field have thrown around so many value judgments in so casual a way that at this point it's second nature to use those words without thinking. And we're supposed to think Intelligent Design is the big threat?

Now, I realize that this is where a lot of people (Say, Jerry Coyne) will turn around and say: Well, look. Darwin's who we look to here, and Darwin's goal was to remove God from the picture. Darwin was anti-teleological, Darwin didn't think any Designer guided anything.

And my response is: If Darwin mixed metaphysics and philosophy into his theory, so much the worse for Darwin.

7 comments:

The Phantom Blogger said...

"Alright. But since when is science capable of determining end goal or purpose? Since when is this even an interest of science?"

It isn't and it shouldn't be, but that's how some Darwinists describe it.

"Selection of what's 'good'? 'Needless'? 'Useless'?"

The Evolutionary Biologists are using the process of Natural selection to make judgements such as these, if something increases our chances of survival it is "good", it something has no function then it is Vestigial etc "needless" or "useless". There not making value calls based on personal beliefs but based on a abstract concept of fitness that they use to measure the worth of functions and processes.

"We have not created any philosophical criteria for whats good and bad a-prior, if its even possible to do such a thing."

I meant this in the context of the previous paragraph in that comment.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Here's some posts on teleolgy and Evolution at The Maverick Philsophers.

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/05/are-biological-functions-observer-relative.html

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/05/the-concept-of-design.html

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/05/ernst-mayr-on-natural-selection.html

http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/05/ernst-mayr-on-natural-selection.html

You may find this interesting.

From the third link:

Natural selection is not teleological:

Selection is not teleological (goal-directed). Indeed, how could an elimination process be teleological? [It can't be, my man!] Selection does not have a long-term goal. [Or a short-term one either!] It is a process repeated anew in every generation. The frequency of extinction of evolutionary lineages, as well as their frequent changes in direction, is inconsistent with the mistaken claim that selection is a teleological process. Also there is no known genetic mechanism that could produce goal-directed evolutionary processes. . . . To say it in other words, evolution is not deterministic. (121)

This makes excellent sense, except for the last sentence, which is a product of confusion. Mayr appears to be saying that evolution is not deterministic because it is not teleological; but that is not the reason why it is not deterministic: it is not deterministic because the first step is dominated by chance or randomness.

5. In sum, natural selection, the mechanism that drives evolution, is not goal-oriented. It has no purpose or purposes whether conscious or unconscious. It intends nothing, and so cannot be said to design anything. The products of evolutionary processes, therefore, exhibit no design. How then can Dawkins suggest that natural selection "builds up" "efficiency of design"? ((BW 169). There is no design!

Crude said...

TPB,

It isn't and it shouldn't be, but that's how some Darwinists describe it.

I agree. But, that's where my complaint comes in - and why I have so much sympathy for ID, while at the same time having sympathy for the non-mechanistic view of the world.

To clarify, my complaint isn't about 'evolution'. It's about the sort of language used, language that's supposed to be 'scientific' (and therefore, devoid of these sorts of values and judgments) when in reality it's not.

There not making value calls based on personal beliefs but based on a abstract concept of fitness that they use to measure the worth of functions and processes.

And my response is that no value calls whatsoever are necessary, and the language many are using comes with serious philosophical and metaphysical baggage. To call a mutation an "error" strongly implies mistakes being made. To call certain non-coding DNA "junk" is to make a value judgment.

Also, I deny that 'personal belief' is not a major factor. You only need to go as far as that recent op-ed in Nature discussing John Avise claiming that science shows how "poorly designed" the genome is and how no designer would do it this way, etc.

I want to stress: I have zero problem with a scientist saying, "Well, this non-coding DNA seems to play no role in the organism's fitness" and such. It's when we start talking about how it's "junk", how it's (objectively) "useless", how it was made by "mistakes", etc, that the problem comes in.

Re: Bill Valicella, I have some disagreements with him on that subject. But even in those links, his focus is squarely on the idea that evolution has "design without a designer" - he's arguing that, no, if there really is a design, then there is a designer. No designer, no design.

Also note that Mayr is making claims that torpedo his version of evolution as scientific. When he says ". . . it is indeed the animal or plant breeder who selects certain superior individuals to serve as the breeding stock of the next generation. But, strictly speaking, there is no such agent involved in natural selection.", my response is: "That's nice. Prove it." I'll go further: Mayr can't prove this, nor can anyone else. It's a metaphysical claim, and one utterly superfluous to the science. So why accept it as science?

And I think the answer is simple: Because science is being abused, just as it has been practically since inception.

The Phantom Blogger said...

"And my response is that no value calls whatsoever are necessary, and the language many are using comes with serious philosophical and metaphysical baggage. To call a mutation an "error" strongly implies mistakes being made."

I agree they Shouldn't.

"To call certain non-coding DNA "junk" is to make a value judgment."
But they would say that they are not the ones making the judgement, it was evolution that made this judgement (through not selecting it) and they are just describing the results (albeit using unscientific language to do so). The language problem as I said before seems to stem from the use of negative teleological language to describe these functions, that is inappropriate in this context.

Some Auster quotes:

"As I've shown before, the Darwinists, being human, cannot accept a non-teleological description of the world, because a non-teleological description of the world is radically untrue and fails to account for reality as we experience it, and so they add teleology onto their non-teleological scheme."

"I have repeatedly argued that the Darwinians' constant injection of ideas of intent and purpose into their evolutionary scenarios reveals their unacknowledged discomfort with the Darwinian theory, which of course absolutely excludes any element of intent or purpose from the evolution of life."

"In answer to my argument, Darwinians frequently reply that the teleological images and "stories" are not necessary, but are just added as an aid to understanding. But this only supports my point that the theory, when stated accurately, in its true, radical reductiveness,--as a picture of living beings as automata controlled by accidential mutations and of evolution as a process lacking the slightest element of direction and purpose--is implausible to the human reason and will be rejected."


"Also, I deny that 'personal belief' is not a major factor."

I should not have said it in the absolute manner that I did.


But I think this also goes back to what we were talking about in the Physical law post were naturalism is the only adequate worldview according to there people.

"it is indeed the animal or plant breeder who selects certain superior individuals to serve as the breeding stock of the next generation. But, strictly speaking, there is no such agent involved in natural selection."

I agree, he can't prove this but his claim would be that there's so much of the genome that has no use, so this would suggest that it wasn't designed. But this is a metaphysical claim that he's making.


Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True says: "Materialism is the idea that the only reality is the physical matter of the universe ... The message of evolution, and all of science, is one of naturalistic materialism."

Now again this is a Philosophical claim that he's making and I think your correct, we should stop these supposedly objective scientists from deriving philosophical conclusions from there Science. Anti-Iders say we should keep religion out of the classrooms, in return we should say Darwinists should keep there philosophical worldviews out of there science.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Another large piece by Auster that you may find Interesting:

In Wikipedia's article on sociobiology I find the following:


[N]ewcoming dominant male lions often will kill cubs in the pride that do not belong to them. This behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring and causes the nursing females to come into heat faster, thus allowing more of his genes to enter into the population. Sociobiologists would view this instinctual cub-killing behavior as being "passed down" through the genes of successfully reproducing male lions, whereas non-killing behavior may have "died out" as those lions were not as successful in reproducing.
A genetic basis for instinctive behavioral traits among non-human species, such as in the above example, is commonly accepted among many biologists; however, attempting to use a genetic basis to explain complex behaviors in human societies has remained extremely controversial.


Consider the sentence: "This behavior is successful in evolutionary terms because killing the cubs eliminates competition with his own offspring ... thus allowing more of his genes to enter into the population." What is wrong here? The author is making it sound as though the individual male lion (or the male lion's "selfish genes," to use Richard Dawkins's famous phrase) has the purpose of spreading his genes in the population. But according to Darwinism the individual lion has no such purpose and can have no such purpose. According to Darwinism, the individual lion only has that trait--or, to be more precise, the individual lion who possesses that trait only exists--because in a previous generation there was a random genetic mutation resulting in a male lion who had the trait of killing other male lions' offspring, and the lion possessing this randomly appearing trait accordingly had more offspring than lions not possessing that trait, and so the genetically determined trait of killing other lions' offspring spread and eventually became dominant in the lion population. Thus the present individual lion (or his genes) has absolutely no purpose to "spread his genes" by killing other lions' babies. His own behavior is nothing but the deterministic effect of the previous natural selection of his lion forebears who had that behavior.
Yet the article speaks of the lion's behavior as being "successful"! What does "successful" mean in this context? It means the lion is successful in spreading his genes, which in turn suggests that the lion (or the laws of evolution of which the lion is the instrument and the, uh, creature) had the purpose of spreading the lion's genes. The very concept of success implies a prior purpose. But there is no prior purpose--whether in the individual lion, or in the lion's genes, or in evolution as a whole--that the lion's genes should be spread. There were random accidental variations within a population, and some variations spread more than others because the individuals carrying those variations produced more offspring. Thus in Darwinism there can be no such thing as success, in the sense of a fulfilled purpose. There is only the more numerous appearance of individuals with a certain trait who become more numerous because their progenitors had that trait and that trait enabled the progenitors to have more offspring. The putatively successful trait had no purpose in coming into existence; its appearance was accidental. Yet the the author of the article speaks in language redolent of purpose.

Pick up almost any Darwinian writing and you will see the same thing over and over. Nicholas Wade in his very worthwhile book Before the Dawn engages in this trope constantly (and, I believe, in complete unconsciousness that he is doing so), using language that attributes intelligence and purpose to the process of biological evolution which according to Darwinism is devoid of intelligence and purpose.

The Phantom Blogger said...

Did Darwin say that selection was teleological?

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/009738.html

One last article by Lawrence Auster.

Crude said...

I think we're on the same page here, largely.

I understand -why- they do it, of course. I understand that someone committed to philosophy (X) is going to naturally, possibly subconsciously, import these views into their work. My problem is that it's flatly illicit, and scientifically unjustified.

But the problem is no one's really talking about this. The closest anyone comes to it are the ID proponents, but they inevitably spin off (or allow themselves to be spun off) as opposing evolution flatly, so there's never enough focus on this particular question. Or otherwise, they're all too happy to accept teleological language in science (The comparisons of genomic/cellular things to technology and computer language is something they adore, with good reason.)

Again, I've never seen someone make the simple point that calling mutations 'errors' is a value judgment pure science has not right to engage in. Auster is coming close by talking about the teleological language, and that particular subject does get some focus.

The whole field seems rotten to me. As I say, those beholden to 'scientism' are not beholden to science at all. They simply want to mangle science in the service of their cause.

(As for Coyne saying that philosophical materialism is what Darwinism is all about, it's unfortunate that the only materialism Darwin could have had in mind is demonstrably dead. 'Materialism' has changed radically since those years ago - that'll be the subject of another post.)