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Re: <nettime> Times review of Darwin bio
Dan Wang on Tue, 8 Oct 2002 02:30:35 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Times review of Darwin bio

> 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.

Let it also be said that this term "Darwinist," as you are using it, does
not describe the thousands of working biologists who take the evolutionary
model as the standard working model upon which most biological and nearly
all ecological research rests. I'm not sure you meant to, but you speak of
evolutionary theory as an ideology all the way around. At times it is, but
only when used by those who apply it to explain historically specific
human social behaviors and patterns. For the vast majority of biologists,
evolution is no more ideological or value laden than quantum theory is for
present day physicists. It's just a way to frame the questions they're
trying to answer.

> 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. 

Any intelligent biologist (and most biologists are) will tell you that the
theory of evolution makes no moral or value judgement, and that it is next
to hopeless to apply evolutionary workings to any specific aspect or
instance of human behavior, given the amazing and still increasing
complexity of human socialization. One would think that latter point is so
obvious that it would render the ideological motives behind the work of
those who espouse a kind of social Darwinism clear for all to see. The
assertion that there *is* an evolutionary aspect to human socialization
seems pretty easily agreed with--for the simple and obvious fact that
human social forms themselves reproduce and mutate. The activity in all
the social sciences and some of the humanities seems to be made possible
by this fact of human existence. But judgment about the worth of any
particular social form again instantly reveals an ideological position.
For this reason it seems that sociobiologists willing to speculate about
the links between human social forms and human succession have been
rendered comparatively marginal as public intellectuals, or at least draw
their share of controversy and criticism. (And rightly so.)

The appropriation of evolutionary terms by the Social Darwinist--who are
usually quite a bit cruder than the sociobiologists, like the right wing's
inverted creationist (might these be the "Darwinists" of which you
speak?)--is a hijacking of an intellectual discourse more egregious than
Methodism's late 18th and early 19th century commandeering of the notion
of Christian good works, not to mention a terrible distortion of
evolutionary theory as a functional model which has helped in the gaining
of much useful twentieth century knowledge.

This matter of having to "prove" the "theory" as a requirement for the
theory's sustainability and usefulness to science is a distortion of how
models are used by science. For this reason, dismissing the contentions or
rhetoric of social Darwinists on the basis of a political analysis would
seem to be more effective than to dismiss their views because of an
absence of a smoothly transitional fossil record. The fossil record will
never be totally complete, and if anything the apparent huge jumps between
descendent biological forms reinforce the power of selection in the eyes
of those who work with evolutionary models, way more than they discredit
the theory.

Dan w.

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