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<nettime> Times review of Darwin bio
Nemonemini on Mon, 7 Oct 2002 12:19:03 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Times review of Darwin bio




Below is the review by John Tooby of Janet Browne's bio Vol II of Darwin from 
the NY Times. I take it Tooby is the sociobiologist. This review is both the 
'usual stuff' and at the same time a remarkably biased bit of 'Darwin Promo' 
in action. I am surprised at the sheer brazenness of Darwinists. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/06/books/review/06TOOBYT.html
It should be said at once that this question as to why Darwin was so 
celebrated while his 'theory' ('my theory', as he put it) was rejected is, of 
course, open to rival interpretations, but surely far simpler than Tooby 
would  have us believe. Convinced Darwinists seem to be almost dense on this 
point. Surely the quite simple answer is that Darwin's emphasis on evolution 
struck the public as correct, while the theory to explain evolution was 
obviously limited, still hypothesis unverified in the fossil record, and 
fraught with implications demanding a higher order of demonstration, rather 
than the lesser than has now come into existence after Darwinists have made 
their media comeback from the turn-of-the century 'eclipse' they complain of 
so loudly. Surely Tooby is aware of the history of that eclipse, based as it 
was on sound difficulties, difficulties have and will always remain invariant 
to the question of evolution, even after the genertic revolution, or 
especially thereafter. 
It is simply a confused distortion of the record to consider that not only 
the public but most of Darwin's peers correctly saw problems with his theory. 
It is only comparatively recently that the heavy promotion of Darwinism has 
made this seem some obstinate error of wishful thinking. This current luxury 
of Darwinist domination, so heavily taken for granted by sociobiologists (and 
others!) would do well to recover an intelligent skepticism such as was there 
from the first in those who saw the issues perhaps more clearly than we do 
now. 
Let it be said, amidst this normative promo style of the current regime, 
THERE ARE PROBLEMS with Darwin's theory. Problems or not, verification of the 
record is still insufficient to prove the case. The rise of developmental 
genetics has shown that ongoing critics such as Lovtrup were correct, even as 
the Darwinist camp changes its story, without blinking. 
The endless mistatements of what Darwin proposed versus what Darwin actually 
proved is evident in the review, and we have nothing resembling the talisman 
of metaphysical omniscience claimed in such statements as this, from the 
review::
______quote
He used this new logic to span three seemingly unbridgeable metaphysical 
chasms. He showed how selection united the nonliving and the living, the 
nonhuman and the human, and the physical and the mental into a single fabric 
of intelligible material causation. If one could accept the price, the prize 
was a principled explanation for the history and design of all life. 
Unacceptably, this included the architecture of the human mind, all that now 
remained of the soul: our cherished mental life was a naturally selected 
product of organized matter, just one downstream consequence of the uncaring 
immensities of time and chance. The mind with its moral sense was taken out 
of the authoritative domain of clerics and philosophers. For Darwin, the 
responsibility for its investigation would be in the hands of evolutionary 
psychologists, of which he was the first.
________endquote
Darwin did NOT show how natural selection bridged life and non-life. That 
remains a great conundrum. Darwin did NOT show, via natural selection, how 
evolution bridged the human and non-human. The nature of man is barely known 
to man himself, a theory of his evolution is almost beyond his powers. We 
don't even have a theory of consciousness, let alone a theory of its 
evolution. Nor do we have a fossil sequence that definitively tells us what 
the facts are. How then can we be sure natural selection is the mechanism? 
HOW?  Current sociobiologists simply declare these things to be true without 
demonstration. Darwin did NOT resolve the question of the soul. He was a 
nineteenth century materialist influenced by the postivisim of Comte, and 
much else, and simply declared the problems of soul solved by being reduced 
out of existence. 
The question of the soul is and remains a still unanswered question, beside 
which millennia of men such as the Buddhist declare, without wishful 
thinking, the existence of an intangible 'soul' factor. The declaration by 
fiat that Darwin resolved this is a gross form of scientific ignorance.  
Darwin did NOT resolve the question of the architecture of the human mind. 
Even the barest glance at a standard sutra of yoga would leave one to suspect 
the reductionist account is a tissue of positivistic wishful thinking. It is 
simply baffling that Darwinists should in the name of science be so 
provincial on such questions, and so obsessively so, desperately so as in 
this review. 
Darwin did NOT take the issue of the moral sense out of the hands of clerics 
and philosophers. One might almost wish he had, but he did NOT. The current 
sociobiological attempt to model the evolution of ethics is one of the most 
puzzling pieces of unverified ad hoc speculation, all too obviously designed 
to patch the desperate problem natural selection has with the moral sense! 
Darwinism can't explain it, and it has not verified the actual way in which 
this sense evolved in fact. 
Even a cursory historical analysis, from a secularist viewpoint, can show 
that historical evolution all too clearly  shows something else to be 
involved, as Huxley himself clearly grasped. Huxley is done a disservice 
here. He saw at once both the value and the problem with Darwin's theory. He 
deserves respect for that reason. 

Finally , we are told the 'responsibility for the investigation of this moral 
sense is to be in the hands of evolutionary psychologists. 

Aha, now I have got it. The sociobiologists are morally indignant at the 
klutzes who don't buy their ideological usurpation of the 'theory'. Tooby 
seems to suggest we are aberrant if we won't knuckle under here. 
In fact, this review is genuinely ignorant, or simply brazen. It is a puzzle 
partly explained by the mass media that make this kind of thinking so 
dominant, even in newsprint like that of the Times whose research resources 
should have long since produced something more helpful for the public than 
this kind of grandstanding. 

As to Janet Browne's book, which I have not yet read, it sounds like a most 
fascinating work in any case, but one can only regret that a lifetime of work 
will forever stand marred by the false education and domineering dogmatism so 
obviously being promoted in this review. 

The public needs to recall the moment of the appearance of Darwin's book and 
theory, recall the clear sense of the rightness of evolution and the problem 
with the theory that many had, and note the way this simple fact sticks in 
the craw of current Darwinists to this day, because they are beset the 
reality of their weak position, in the context of their very strong claims. 
This type of browbeating is or should be transparent. 
The results are by no means the science that is claimed, and the public must 
at this point fend for itself. 

'Charles Darwin': The Scientist Was Celebrated, His Work Dismissed
By JOHN TOOBY
Charles Darwin's ''Origin of Species'' landed among the other new books of 
1859 -- ''A Tale of Two Cities,'' ''Adam Bede,'' ''Idylls of the King'' and 
Samuel Smiles's ''Self-Help'' -- as an unlikely best seller, agreeably 
scandalous because its full meaning was only hinted at by its cautious 
author. Most readers were less interested in its science than in its air of 
emancipation. Although Lord Palmerston claimed that ''every class of society 
accepts with cheerfulness the lot which Providence has assigned to it,'' a 
restless, upwardly mobile reading public was willing to consider rival 
Providences that were less enamored of a static social hierarchy.Even 
scientists debating Darwinism appeared less driven by the scientific issues 
than by broader commitments. Thomas Henry Huxley exulted that ''The Origin'' 
was a ''veritable Whitworth gun in the armory of liberalism,'' and though 
unconvinced about natural selection, proceeded to position himself as 
''Darwin's bulldog.'' Huxley was no aberration. Darwin succeeded in 
persuading only one of his close scientific allies, the botanist Joseph 
Hooker, that selection was the chief engine of evolution.Indeed, a central 
mystery surrounding Darwin is how his reputation floated free of the 
rejection of his core ideas. For many years before his death, he was seen as 
Britain's foremost scientist, and he became his era's premier example of the 
scientist as celebrity. When he died in 1882, he was buried in Westminster 
Abbey, close to Newton. He was viewed, The Pall Mall Gazette said, as the 
''greatest Englishman since Newton,'' the Times adding that no one had 
''wielded a power over men and their intelligences more complete.'' But while 
Darwin levitated, Darwinism fell into scientific disrepute, eclipsed, 
incredibly, by feeble rivals, from a resuscitated Lamarckianism to 
teleological doctrines of predetermined progress. Even Alfred Russel Wallace, 
the co-discoverer of natural selection, retreated into spiritualism, 
declaring that natural selection could not account for humanity's 
intellectual and moral abilities.In the concluding volume of her magisterial 
biography, Janet Browne tells the story of these paradoxical decades, from 
1858, when Darwin was preparing ''The Origin'' for publication, through the 
furious public debates to his death 24 years later. No scientist's life was 
more exhaustively documented than Darwin's: there were the family journals, 
research notebooks, account books in which Darwin compulsively entered every 
expenditure, and countless observations by his contemporaries -- the 
discharge of a belletristic age. Most of all, there were letters. Browne, an 
editor of Darwin's correspondence, estimates that he wrote as many as 1,500 
letters a year.A noted historian of science, Browne fashions these materials 
into a consuming portrait not only of Darwin but of Victorian civilization. 
This biography is matchless in detail and compass, and one feels an abiding 
gratitude that Browne was willing to sacrifice so many years of her life to 
reconstruct Darwin's. A democracy of days, her book is weighted more by 
private moments and daily occupations than by rare dramatic turning points -- 
a biography nearer in structure to how we experience our lives than to how we 
tell them.Along the way, Browne provides memorable glimpses of scores of 
figures and institutions, including the postal system (''the pre-eminent 
collective enterprise of the Victorian period''), a publishing scene 
dominated by subscription-based lending libraries, the world of water cures 
and fashionable maladies, and the fad of cartes de visite at the dawn of 
celebrity photography. Eminences like Ruskin, Carlyle, Tennyson, Disraeli, 
George Eliot and Annie Besant make appearances. Prince Albert reveals a taste 
for mischief, appointing Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (opponents in a 
famous debate on Darwin's theory) joint vice presidents of the Zoological 
Society.But as Browne's high-resolution resurrection of Darwin's world 
proceeds, the enigmas of his life become more baffling, not less: why did his 
scientific peers and countrymen reject Darwinism while honoring Darwin as 
their greatest scientist? What allowed him to produce a series of scientific 
syntheses so far ahead of their time, and so at odds with the rest of his 
culture, that for almost a century the scientific community proved incapable 
of following the road map he left?To understand this response, it is 
necessary to appreciate the dislocating sweep of Darwin's achievement. The 
discovery of natural selection, the austere logic of reproducing systems, was 
only Darwin's first step. He used this new logic to span three seemingly 
unbridgeable metaphysical chasms. He showed how selection united the 
nonliving and the living, the nonhuman and the human, and the physical and 
the mental into a single fabric of intelligible material causation. If one 
could accept the price, the prize was a principled explanation for the 
history and design of all life. Unacceptably, this included the architecture 
of the human mind, all that now remained of the soul: our cherished mental 
life was a naturally selected product of organized matter, just one 
downstream consequence of the uncaring immensities of time and chance. The 
mind with its moral sense was taken out of the authoritative domain of 
clerics and philosophers. For Darwin, the responsibility for its 
investigation would be in the hands of evolutionary psychologists, of which 
he was the first. As readers could see from his books ''The Descent of Man'' 
and ''The Expression of the Emotions,'' there would be no prior guarantee 
that their findings would respect what society held sacrosanct.Although many 
Victorians welcomed the discrediting of a static Genesis creation, they still 
demanded a universe in which their values, ideologies and identities were 
ratified by some cosmic sanction. For Marxists and capitalists, anarchists 
and imperialists, Christians and freethinkers alike, humans were to be the 
summit, the goal around which the world is organized and toward which life 
and history progress. Despite many attempts, no compromise was possible 
between this need for ideological affirmation and the logic of Darwin's 
worldview. As he explained, in a world governed by physics and selection, 
humans are a ''chance,'' like other life forms ''a mechanical invention''; 
there is no ''necessary progression,'' so it ''is absurd to talk of one 
animal being higher than another.'' Most disturbing was his recognition that 
because natural selection gave a contingent, materialist explanation for the 
existence of the moral capacity, it removed any divine or cosmic endorsement 
of its products. In a darkly funny passage in ''The Descent of Man,'' Darwin 
wrote that if humans had the same reproductive biology as bees, ''there can 
hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker bees, 
think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to 
kill their fertile daughters.''As Browne shows, Darwin had unshakable moral 
commitments -- he was fiercely antislavery, furious that Lincoln's war aims 
did not center on abolition, enraged by cruelty to animals, politically 
liberal and radical. But virtually alone in his time, he did not seek to 
validate his commitments by appeal to nature, God or science. Darwinism was 
not a doctrine of the strong celebrating the rightness of their power over 
the weak. Chronically ill, anguished by the deaths of three dearly loved 
children, haunted by the possibility that he might have transmitted some 
hereditary vulnerability to his remaining children, Darwin was achingly aware 
of ''the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of 
nature.'' ''My God,'' he wrote to his friend Hooker, ''how I long for my 
stomach's sake to wash my hands of it.''Emerging out of the fertile detail in 
Browne's book, it is this aspect of Darwin's character that suggests answers. 
Darwin went farther than his contemporaries because he was less bound by the 
compulsion to make the universe conform to his predilections. While others 
rapidly turned aside, his stoicism in the face of bitter imaginative vistas 
allowed him to persevere along logical paths to some of the coldest places 
human thought has ever reached. In a eulogy, Huxley identified the ''intense 
and almost passionate honesty by which all his thoughts . . . were 
irradiated.'' It was this quality that won the admiration, but not the 
agreement, of his colleagues and of his nation. The will to know must have 
been singularly unbending in a man for whom even God's banishment or death 
was incidental to finding the truth about finch beaks, barnacle mating and 
primate laughter.John Tooby's book ''Universal Minds'' (with Leda Cosmides) 
is due out this winter. He is co-director of the Center for Evolutionary 
Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


John Landon
Website on the eonic effect
http://eonix.8m.com
nemonemini {AT} eonix.8m.com



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