Critique of TSW Part 16b Univironmental Determinism: The Expansion

Blog 20140730

Bill adheres to his belief that neo-Darwinism (genes + environment) is quite sufficient as the mechanism of biological evolution and that a universal mechanism of evolution is either obvious or unnecessary.

I am ever so grateful to Bill Westmiller, whose comments are marked "BW: ". The quotes marked TSW are from "The Scientific Worldview" and my comments are marked "[GB: ".

Univironmental Determinism: The Expansion (Part 2 of 2)

TSW:  "When food is abundant, the microcosm of the neck grows sleek and fat, its bones and muscles strengthen - the neck expands."

BW: Lamarckian fallacy: offspring do NOT acquire developed traits. The abundance of food has no effect on the genetic material of the animal, even if its own genetic composition is "naturally selected" as beneficial to its reproduction. Nature *selects*, it doesn't *cause* persistent changes. Of course, changes in the genetic code are also "natural", but mutations don't happen because genes "know" the change will be successful.

[GB: The statement is correct as it stands. Actually, all traits are developed, that is, they evolve from previous matter. Part of that development is the effect of the macrocosm on the particular microcosm of interest. For instance, no microcosm on Earth can escape the intrusion of the radioactivity of the rocks of which it is composed, nor of the cosmic bombardment of the Sun. I beg to differ. It is not true that “Nature… doesn't *cause* persistent changes.” “Persistent changes” produced by the macrocosm are what produce the mutations necessary for ND (neo-Darwinism) to work. As an indeterminist, you might think that all mutations are spontaneous, submicrocosmic events, but you would be wrong. You are right about one thing: “mutations don't happen because genes "know" the change will be successful.”]

TSW:  "Its position relative to the tree may be nearly identical on different days, but its space-time position is not."

BW: True, but it's ironic that you use the term "space-time" after rejecting it as a "thing". Position and time are not essential characteristics of any object, including animals.

[GB: Remember that spacetime neither exists nor occurs. Space exists; time occurs. Spacetime is purely imaginary. It is our way of imagining past, present, and future. All microcosms have xyz dimensions and location with respect to other microcosms. Time is motion, and according to the Fourth Assumption of Science, inseparability (Just as there is no motion without matter, so there is no matter without motion). Thus, your claim that “position and time are not essential characteristics of any object, including animals” is false.]

TSW:  "The sensitivity of the microcosm of the neck is total. Its every motion is an evolutionary motion."

BW: Again, confusing generic evolution with biological evolution. Of course, necks change, as does everything, in response to influential forces, including its own motion. But, the only motion that is consequential to biological evolution is herd migration to a more favorable environment, which is one aspect of selection.

[GB: Absolutely untrue. General evolution applies to biological evolution, not the other way around. Also, there is no particular reason to pick out migration as a dominant motion in evolution except in a few cases.]

TSW:  "Well-nourished animals reproduced at faster rates than those poorly nourished ..."

BW: Sure. Standard NeoDarwinism.

TSW:  "Evolution would occur even if genes did not exist."

BW: Again, confusing generic with biologic. A thing cannot be *alive* without genes and a species cannot *change* its essential characteristics without changes in its genes, perpetuated by reproduction.

[GB: The statement is true. You are the one confusing the issue. I note that you previously mentioned that you thought the evolution of all things was obvious. Why bring up ND then? It seems that, like orthodox neo-Darwinists, you still cannot think of evolution in other than biologic terms. BTW: You are correct that “a species cannot change its essential characteristics.” That is a job performed by the univironment.]

TSW:  "When these interactions result in microcosmic changes we call them mutations: physicochemical alterations of the gene."

BW: More Lamarckian malarkey. The incidental changes of an *individual* organism are NOT inherited. If a giraffe breaks its leg, its children will not be born with a broken leg.

[GB: Totally mixed up! The discussion revolves around mutations produced by univironmental interactions (cosmic rays, etc.), not by any broken legs. It seems that your anti-Lamarckism has required you to assume that mutations occur in perfect isolation.]

TSW:  "The most vulgar way of explaining the evolution of the giraffe’s neck would be to hypothesize a 'random' mutation ... Although mutations producing such great changes are perhaps not impossible, they are extremely unlikely."

BW: Although this is a popular misconception, "randomness" isn't required by NeoDarwinism. Genetic mutations can be caused by a wide array of environmental influences, usually chemical. Although it's not considered a "mutation", sexual reproduction is inherently a process that produces novel genetic combinations in every child. The composition of mitochondrial (mother's) DNA is critical to the "expression" of core DNA into proteins and cells, adding even more variability. Obviously, sexual reproduction is naturally beneficial to large animals, simply because it produces diversity in offspring.

One hypothetical is that the Iron Age had a significant influence on the evolution of human intelligence, simply because all of those eating food from an iron skillet increased their metabolic iron, increasing the energy-carrying capacity of their blood, facilitating a marginal benefit to brain functions. You might call that a "macrocosmic" influence on evolution, but it's purely a chemical change in one component of the environment (which happened to have been created by humans themselves, for other reasons: cooking made food easier to chew and digest). The same probably applies to your example of increased calcium consumption, probably as a consequence of domesticating lactating mammals.

TSW:  "On the other hand, the effect of a particular gene on the development of the offspring is by no means total, as is sometimes implied by neo-Darwinists."

BW: Strawman. Because one person - who calls himself a NeoDarwinist - says something stupid, does not mean that his assertion becomes part of ND theory. Any geneticist will readily grant that random genetic mutations may have *no effect whatever* on offspring. It is true, as noted, that there are many popular misconceptions.

TSW:  "Gradually, through thousands of generations, the necks of Samotherium interacted with the macrocosm in ways in which the macrocosm changed them and they changed the macrocosm."

BW: This is just a poor restatement of NeoDarwinism, with different jargon. Through thousands of generations, *nature* selected those individual variations that were to survive, even if each generation of a species migrated to different environments. Each animal either survived to reproduce or it didn't.

It is true that *animals* have a distinct advantage over plants, in that they can "naturally select" a new environment by herd migration. For millennia, humans survived only because they migrated to more favorable environments. But, you don't need micro and macro jargon to make that observation.

TSW:  "Not only is neo-Darwinism of no help in explaining inorganic evolution ..."

BW: LOL. This is not a problem of NeoDarwinism, but a failure to distinguish between generic and biologic evolution. The ND inquiry just doesn't care about the dissolution of rocks or fission in stars.

[GB: You are correct that ND has no general applicability to evolution, just like the book says.]

TSW:  "Chardin was not one to shirk tough questions. Getting right to the point of it all, he once asked, 'How can life respect determinism on the without and yet act in freedom within?"

BW: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wasn't a NeoDarwinist of any sort. He was a Jesuit theologian, for heaven's sake! He even opposed Darwinism, with his proposed human motivation of a "vital impetus" bestowed by God. I don't think you want to cite him as a proponent of the "without/within" of your cosims.

[GB: One does not have to be an authority on anything to ask the right questions. Chardin, like other indeterminists, was partial to free will, using that assumption as a foil against determinism. His famous book, “The Phenomenon of Man,” was one of the triggers for my own philosophical explorations. I disagreed with almost all of it, using many of its pronouncements as indicative of the opposing view. On the good side, he is known for proposing that evolution proceeds toward complexity, eventually producing a sort of collective consciousness for humanity. In practical terms, this would be produced by the growth of international trade and the transmission of ideas. Although he did not shirk from the woo-woo idea of a universal consciousness, a version of immatialism promoted today by the likes of Deepak Chopra, globalization and the advent of the internet have shown that he was not entirely off-base.]

TSW:  "... said by philosopher Whitehead to produce instability within the microcosm ..."

BW: Another mystic, Alfred North Whitehead, propounding a theory of "process theology", guided by God. I don't know why you have this affinity for theologians.

[GB: Bill, remember that I was very religious for over 20 years and grew up in an extremely religious environment. There is a neat story that goes with Whitehead. In college I was assigned his “Science and the Modern World” as extra reading by my Quaker professor of pedology. I tried to read it, but could not make sense of it. I concluded that I was not smart enough, and breathed a sigh of relief when none of the exams included anything about it. This was my only brush with formal philosophy. About 15 years later, I read it as part of my research on why cosmologists thought the universe exploded out of nothing. I breezed right through it, recognizing that it was mostly nonsense.]

TSW:  Velikovsky: "...some organisms, like foraminifera survived all geological ages without participating in evolution, a point of perplexity in the theory of natural selection."

BW: Another mystic: Immanuel Velikovsky was a foolish biblical literalist, who was clearly wrong about foraminifera and everything else he said about biological evolution. I don't know why you would quote him. Stephen J. Gould tears him to shreds:


The problem here is that you're grossly misrepresenting NeoDarwinism, at least by implication, while citing the most ridiculous mystics' views about biological evolution. You don't even define what ND says, then cast it in the light of some kind of crazy theological or solipsistic indeterminism.

[GB: Bill, you seem a bit credulous about all this. After getting through The Ten Assumptions of Science you should be familiar with my dialectical method. I use quotes from indeterminists (mystics, as you call those other than yourself) to illustrate opposing assumptions and the incorrect interpretations derived from them. Velikovsky is one of the worst of the worst. His statement about forams is one of my favorites. Foram evolution is slow because its macrocosm (deep-sea sediments) changes very slowly. The theme of “nonparticipation in evolution” can be found among orthodox representatives of ND. Again, according to these folks, unless genes are involved, no evolution occurs. That is the jist of ND. It is not my purpose here to delve into the intricacies, other than point out that ND cannot be the universal mechanism of evolution. As you say, Bill, “no sane person could think otherwise.”]

TSW:  For neo-Darwinists, the direction remains unclear even though they have a law for it.

I don't know any NDs who believe in teleology: that nature has some kind of conscious "goal" that it seeks. All ND does is say that survivors who reproduce will perpetuate their species.

Presumably, all humans seek to survive, but ND has nothing to say about ethics or the "proper" means of achieving survival or reproduction. It's science, not ethics or politics ... though I realize that many ethicists and politicians want to twist it to their own ideals.

Marx and Engel thought Darwinism reflected their view of the "progress of human society by class struggle." Hitler thought Darwinism demanded the "pursuit of racial purity", so that humanity could achieve its highest potential. Many religions (e.g.: Catholics) endorse bioevolution as "God's Means" of achieving His goal of developing willing and intelligent friends.

TSW:  "... Dollo’s Law: Evolution is irreversible."

BW: Yes and no. Logically, devolution would require that nature reward failure: the least capable of survival are the ones that survive. That's nonsense. However, bioevolution doesn't necessarily preclude devolution in "lower" life forms, if the environment changes radically to a prior state that punishes adaptations to the recent state of the environment. That *could* happen to non-transient plants and "ignorant" organisms, but it's not likely.

[GB: Dollo’s Law is the same as the Seventh Assumption of Science, irreversibility   (All processes are irreversible), so obviously I am not a friend of your word “devolution.” Nonetheless, I think you are right “if the environment changes radically to a prior state that punishes adaptations to the recent state of the environment.”]

TSW:  "Hardin insisted that 'Darwinian adaptation is not in its essence a progressive change, but merely a dynamic way of preserving the status quo.' Like other conservatives, Hardin seems ever hopeful that the status quo is a real possibility."

BW: Well, if you aren't quoting mystics, it's fools. Hardin was neither a conservative nor a NeoDarwinist. He was essentially a Fascist (or "Social" Darwinist), advocating coerced abortion, eugenics by forced sterilization, and strict limits on the "mixing of races" by immigration:

[GB: Quite a lot of labels flying around… His statement is merely a denial of progress, which is the mark of a true conservative, as indicated by his words: “dynamic way of preserving the status quo.” Hardin was quite influential, no matter what you call him.]

TSW:  "Miller and Miller, for example, suggest that 'Perhaps the most effective present-day evolution of man is being caused by a lack of genetically selective deaths, so that genetic defects are being perpetuated in the gene pool.'"

BW: Found another mystic to quote! Assuming you're referring to Kenneth R. Miller, he also believes that "Saint Thomas Aquinas was one of the great Christian writers, his great insight was that God, if he exists, is the cause of causes."

[GB: I gave quite an extensive answer to that oft-proclaimed complaint of indeterminists. Your quote comes right to the crux of the determinism-indeterminism struggle: either there is a first cause or there is not. Infinite Universe Theory, of course, says there is not.]

TSW:  "... the struggle between Univironmental Determinism and neo-Darwinism ... Evolution is not merely the property of every living thing; it is the property of every single thing."

BW: There is no conflict, once you distinguish between generic evolution and biological evolution. You haven't even stated the propositions that define NeoDarwinism, much less refuted them. You've quoted a lot of confused mystics, fascists, and philosophical fools, but you've offered no argument against the ND theory. Moreover, you've failed to show any benefit, scientifically or philosophically, from abandoning the simple rules of bioevolution.

[GB: I imagine that, after all this, that you will continue to believe that 1) ND is just fine as genes + environment (ignoring other important submicrocosms within the microcosm) and 2) a universal mechanism of evolution is unnecessary.

Next: Univironmental Analysis

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