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Author Topic: The impact of evolutionary theory on philosophy  (Read 1174 times)
IDS Judicial Overlord John Dibble
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« on: February 20, 2012, 07:40:41 pm »
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"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." - Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

Historically it was believed that all species in the world were immutable and unchanging, that each was a unique, special kind whose place in the world was well defined. Humans of course often considered themselves to be an extra special existence, oft favored by or at least of special interest to whatever gods or spirits their culture revered. But then a new idea came to the fore, one that shook the very foundations of how we view ourselves. This idea was that the different organisms inhabiting this world were not immutable, but rather changing constantly yet gradually, and that perhaps we shared common ancestry with them. While Charles Darwin was not the first to pose this idea, he was the first to publish a work that gave a credible mechanism by which this might occur, that being natural selection. As time has passed scientists have managed to refine and strengthen evolutionary theory, and the implications are quite great. Just as Galileo moved us away from the center of the universe, Darwin moved us away from the center of life itself.

We know very well that new ideas were spawned for this, or at least in some cases rationalizations for old ones, such as eugenics and social Darwinism. Yet at the same time many who accept evolution do not see it as a call for action, just that it's a fact. Some others might say that because humanity is a social species and has been arguably one of the most successful in the history of our planet that evolution shows that pro-social, ethical, moral behavior is one of the great successes of evolution.

So fellow forumites, what do you think?
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2012, 08:36:27 pm »
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I think you protest too much Dibble. The story of Jacob and Laban in Genesis clearly shows that there was a basic understanding of genetic selection well before Darwin. It wasn't until around 1800 that the theory of spontaneous generation was generally considered discredited for higher organism. There were ancient Greeks who put forth theories of evolution, such as Anaximander and Empedocles who espoused the mutability of the species.

However, Western philosophy decided to follow Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, who held the idea of immutable species and it wasn't until the Renaissance that the west began to unshackle itself from Plato.

It is true that Darwin is generally acknowledged as the first to link the concepts of evolution and natural selection and for that he deserves credit, but I think that even if had never lived, the theory of evolution via natural selection would still have been proposed in the mid 19th-century.
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IDS Judicial Overlord John Dibble
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2012, 08:48:41 pm »
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Wasn't my intention to protest too much - I was speaking broadly so I had to generalize.

It is true that Darwin is generally acknowledged as the first to link the concepts of evolution and natural selection and for that he deserves credit, but I think that even if had never lived, the theory of evolution via natural selection would still have been proposed in the mid 19th-century.

Oh, most certainly. Alfred Russell Wallace was also onto it at the time, he just didn't publish first.
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2012, 07:37:13 am »
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Evolution explains not only where we come from, but why we are; why we socialise, why we love, how we form our understanding human morality. It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2012, 09:36:03 am »
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The answer is 'not much, really', I guess. To the extent that it had an influence, it was only because it was really easy to stick elements of it into discourses that were already extremely fashionable.
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2012, 09:52:55 am »
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Evolution does become a major theme of American pragmatist thought, especially in John Dewey and, to a lesser extent, Richard Rorty.  It also takes up a very considerable position in contemporary philosophy of science.  It has also had an effect on the way that many people think about consciousness in the field of philosophy of mind (Daniel Dennett wrote a whole book called Darwin's Dangerous Idea and has written extensively on how realizing the the brain produces consciousness in both animals and humans forces us to move completely away from medieval and Cartesian conceptions of consciousness).  So, I think the theory of evolution has had a powerful influence on several strands of predominantly American philosophy.  It seems to have had less of an impact on continental thought because they moved very rapidly in the 20th century from schools of idealism to phenomenology to hermeneutics, deconstruction and the philosophy of language, all of which circumscribe scientific thought within other frameworks of understanding how meaning is created before the scientific project gets underway.  But, personally, I'm glad that American theories have taken evolution seriously in their various fashions; the theory surely does have profoundly important implications for how we understand ourselves and our relation to the natural order, so philosophers should take it seriously.
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« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2012, 10:20:49 am »
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Evolution explains not only where we come from, but why we are; why we socialise, why we love, how we form our understanding human morality. It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

It can tell us something about the ultimate causation for those actions ("why are humans capable of love?"; "across time, what do humans tend to want to do?"), but it's rather uninformative about proximate causation ("why does Andrew love this specific man?"; "what is my specific purpose on this earth?").
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« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 10:26:34 am »
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Evolution explains not only where we come from, but why we are; why we socialise, why we love, how we form our understanding human morality. It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

It doesn't. Here's why:

1) When you use 'why' you're IMHO indulging in some serious conceptual confusion. There's a difference between explaining how something came to be (its efficient cause, if you will) and what its ultimate goal or final value is (its 'teleological' cause). The Evolution Theory deals with the first problem, it's largely useless to answer the second, unless we assume that the world is completely free of any meaning and value and that there is nothing beyond facts that are immediately present to hand.

2) The Evolution Theory is pretty useless in explaining even the genesis of the core of being-human, that is to say: conciousness. The problem of conciousness is one that , again IMHO, wrecks all overtly simplistic forms of scientism.
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« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2012, 01:33:03 pm »
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The answer is 'not much, really', I guess. To the extent that it had an influence, it was only because it was really easy to stick elements of it into discourses that were already extremely fashionable.

Oddly enough for a thread which touches on evolution and society, I find myself pretty much agreeing with Al here.  One can argue whether any particular question is or is not a scientific question.  For example, I'd see "what is human nature?" as a scientific question, while many others on this forum would not.  When it comes to using science (or not using science, or opposing the use of science) to answer philosophical questions, however, it's essentially a tool that can be used whichever way the debater wishes.  Witness, for example, the fact that my political views fall much closer to the people on this thread who have in the past hated on evolutionary psychology than those who haven't Wink
« Last Edit: February 21, 2012, 01:35:18 pm by ilikeverin »Logged

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« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2012, 01:49:11 pm »
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I'd be perfectly willing to hate on evolutionary psychology in the present for your entertainment if need be.
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« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2012, 02:31:41 pm »
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Evolution explains not only where we come from

actually, Evolution only attempts to broadly explain just a portion of the timeline...it doesn't attempt to explain the whole timeline.  Even cosmology has no model for what it believes is the very first instance of the universe – the Big Bang theory has no model for anything earlier than 10^-37seconds. “Scientists” will always be left with untestable speculations that are, by definition, out of reach of scientific study.

In fact, the Big Bang theory is only a model of the universe AFTER it began, it does NOT attempt to explain the actual origin of the universe, but only its expansion after its origin.

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It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

Huh? How so?  Do you see me lifting a finger to make adjustments to my religion to this supposed threat of Evolution?  Have I adjusted any of my doctrines to deal with this “fear”?

When you believe in an all powerful God who created the whole universe out of nothing, there’s nothing to fear except God, and you ESPECIALLY don’t fear theories that have admittedly reached dead ends.
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2012, 03:02:09 pm »
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It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

Huh? How so?  Do you see me lifting a finger to make adjustments to my religion to this supposed threat of Evolution?  Have I adjusted any of my doctrines to deal with this “fear”?

When you believe in an all powerful God who created the whole universe out of nothing, there’s nothing to fear except God, and you ESPECIALLY don’t fear theories that have admittedly reached dead ends.

For the love of cheese please stop taking such broad statements as being against you personally. I once again need to remind you that you are not the center of the universe, and that when someone is speaking broadly about "the religious", "the superstitious", or "Christians" they are not necessarily saying that every single person falling into that category meets whatever standard they are talking about, and afleitch's statement was not necessarily aimed at you.

If you would like an actual example of what afleitch is talking about, there is discussion about what many consider a rather disturbing trend in British universities - quite often Muslim students will walk out of biology classes when the subject being taught comes to evolutionary theory. Rather than learning what the actual position of science is, which would be the correct thing to do if they desired to refute it, they basically are just running away. Instead of learning what evolution actually is, they would prefer to continue to continue being able to knock down the straw man caricature of evolution that has been presented by certain segments of the religious community. The fear involved here likely has to do with the notion that their entire belief system would collapse if they accepted the notion. (which is absurd, seeing as massive religious organizations like the Catholic Church managed to make the necessary alterations to their theology to accommodate it)
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2012, 03:08:27 pm »
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It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

Huh? How so?  Do you see me lifting a finger to make adjustments to my religion to this supposed threat of Evolution?  Have I adjusted any of my doctrines to deal with this “fear”?

When you believe in an all powerful God who created the whole universe out of nothing, there’s nothing to fear except God, and you ESPECIALLY don’t fear theories that have admittedly reached dead ends.

For the love of cheese please stop taking such broad statements as being against you personally.

then maybe he should have included the word "some" or even "few", then I wouldn't have taken it to be a broad statement
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IDS Judicial Overlord John Dibble
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2012, 03:25:45 pm »
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It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

Huh? How so?  Do you see me lifting a finger to make adjustments to my religion to this supposed threat of Evolution?  Have I adjusted any of my doctrines to deal with this “fear”?

When you believe in an all powerful God who created the whole universe out of nothing, there’s nothing to fear except God, and you ESPECIALLY don’t fear theories that have admittedly reached dead ends.

For the love of cheese please stop taking such broad statements as being against you personally.

then maybe he should have included the word "some" or even "few", then I wouldn't have taken it to be a broad statement

I didn't say it wasn't a broad statement, in fact I said it was one. I'm telling you not to take every broad statements as being universal - he didn't use the word "all", and I would think it obvious that afleitch knows that not all religious people are anti-evolution.
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« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2012, 03:31:59 pm »
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It's why it continues to be feared by people who are superstitious.

Huh? How so?  Do you see me lifting a finger to make adjustments to my religion to this supposed threat of Evolution?  Have I adjusted any of my doctrines to deal with this “fear”?

When you believe in an all powerful God who created the whole universe out of nothing, there’s nothing to fear except God, and you ESPECIALLY don’t fear theories that have admittedly reached dead ends.

For the love of cheese please stop taking such broad statements as being against you personally.

then maybe he should have included the word "some" or even "few", then I wouldn't have taken it to be a broad statement

I didn't say it wasn't a broad statement, in fact I said it was one. I'm telling you not to take every broad statements as being universal - he didn't use the word "all", and I would think it obvious that afleitch knows that not all religious people are anti-evolution.

Indeed. I chose 'superstitious' deliberately as it also applies to people who are not religious
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« Reply #15 on: February 21, 2012, 10:08:32 pm »
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I'd be perfectly willing to hate on evolutionary psychology in the present for your entertainment if need be.

Oh, rest assured, I think just about every argument about the subject has been rehashed endlessly at some point or another here.  I'm taking a history of sexuality class right now (taught by a dyed-in-the-wool complete social constructivist who is wonderful as a person), which has really helped me realize how utterly intractable the divide between social constructivists and behavioral scientists is.
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« Reply #16 on: February 21, 2012, 10:12:52 pm »
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I'd be perfectly willing to hate on evolutionary psychology in the present for your entertainment if need be.

Oh, rest assured, I think just about every argument about the subject has been rehashed endlessly at some point or another here.  I'm taking a history of sexuality class right now (taught by a dyed-in-the-wool complete social constructivist who is wonderful as a person), which has really helped me realize how utterly intractable the divide between social constructivists and behavioral scientists is.

I'm a social constructivist, so yeah. That divide is very...there.
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« Reply #17 on: February 23, 2012, 10:16:48 am »
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I'm gonna be the one.

Social Darwinism.
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IDS Judicial Overlord John Dibble
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« Reply #18 on: February 23, 2012, 10:49:33 am »
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I'm gonna be the one.

Social Darwinism.

Mentioned it in the opening.
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« Reply #19 on: February 23, 2012, 10:58:25 am »
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I'm gonna be the one.

Social Darwinism.

Mentioned it in the opening.

And as a concept it pre-existed Darwinism Cheesy
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« Reply #20 on: February 23, 2012, 01:14:31 pm »
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Ok, now how valid are the fundament claims that evolution was the inspiration for the National Socalist German Workers Union Party? (Did I get it right?)
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« Reply #21 on: February 23, 2012, 01:43:42 pm »
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(Did I get it right?)

No.
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"I have become entangled in my own data, and my conclusion stands in direct contradiction to the initial idea from which I started. Proceeding from unlimited freedom, I end with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that there can be no solution of the social formula except mine."
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« Reply #22 on: February 23, 2012, 02:06:12 pm »
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Ok, now how valid are the fundament claims that evolution was the inspiration for the National Socalist German Workers Union Party?

The Nazis were founded on a number of different ideas and principles, and was also a product of the situation that Germany was in post WWI. In regards to evolution, Adolf Hitler did seem to believe in some version of evolutionary theory, but his understanding seems to have been flawed and he also believed it to be directed by God. How important that was in determining his views is a matter of speculation, as his other views may have also colored his understanding of the theory.

The important thing in my view is that evolutionary theory is not a call to action. It's just knowledge we have derived from observing nature. We should not be any more compelled to put evolution inspired programs into effect than we should be compelled to not build spacecraft because gravity pulls us down towards Earth.
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« Reply #23 on: February 24, 2012, 06:38:47 pm »
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but his understanding seems to have been flawed

Ya think? Tongue
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« Reply #24 on: February 27, 2012, 09:53:44 am »

Hume's law and all that, I guess.

One could of course argue something like evolution defining our goals. It tells us that we exist to pass on genes. I don't think most people would find that to be a very convincing moral theory though.
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