Friday, May 2, 2008

Derb and Unnatural Thought

John Derbyshire has been going after Expelled with all guns blazing. Yet in this post, even in his attacks against the anti-Darwinists, he shows how hard it is to say anything at all about evolution without saying something problematic. I would like to focus on this passage:

"The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust."

If scientific objectivity is unnatural, how did it ever arise? Darwin's theory of evolution is universal and deep in scope; every aspect and fiber of our being has its origin in evolution and nothing escapes it. This includes our mind in thinking about evolution and conducting science in general. If evolution is true, then science is an evolutionary product as much as anything else. And it must be, in the end, as natural as anything else. The very act of distinguishing the natural from the unnatural, and pointing out certain acts as falling in the latter category, is an implicit rebuke to Darwinism, for Darwinism does not have the category of the unnatural.

Furthermore, if scientific objectivity is "freakish, unnatural, and unpopular" it is necessarily doomed anyway, isn't it? To be "freakish, unnatural, and unpopular" sounds a lot like being "unfit", and if there is one thing Darwinism assures us about the unfit, it is that it doesn't survive. Remember that Darwinism claims to bring all aspects of life under its purview, including all aspects of human life, and that means all its freakish, unnatural(?), and unpopular manifestations. Daniel Dennett has made a career out of insisting that people recognize the universal scope of Darwinian logic. Derbyshire goes on to say

"There is probably a sizable segment in any population that believes scientists should be rounded up and killed"

without thinking about it in the evolutionary terms he so champions. If a sizeable segment of the population desires such a thing, why don't they just do it? I'm not asking this question to make an ethical point about Darwinism but a scientific one. Isn't that what the competition for life, the struggle for survival is all about, the struggle that Darwin insists is going on all the time, all around us? If any population of organisms has the capability and desire to destroy its rivals, what in Darwinian logic would lead them to refrain from doing so? There is nothing, because the fundamental principle in Darwinism is that every organism acts to win the competition for survival. But it is just Derbyshire's point that a sizeable segment does see its interests in eliminating scientists. Again, I am not making a moral argument here, but an empirical one. The very fact that Derbyshire cites, that a lot of people desire to round up and kill scientists, and that they refrain from doing so, is a counterexample to the principle that organisms always act to win the competition for survival.

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