Can Darwinians understand anti-Darwinian facts and arguments?

LA to Leonard D.:

From the thread at the blog Aretai where you were having a discussion with the blogger:

Leonard said …

So you honestly feel that evolution really has no more than an 80% chance of being correct? Come on. Auster might have shaken me down from like 99.9% certainty to, say, 99.5%, but that is all.

My own response is I don’t end up questioning evolution in any serious way. I mean, I entertain “for the sake of argument” doubts but I do not actually doubt. I am interested in trying to understand how Auster believes what he does, and I do not find much progress on this. (Auster and I fence most directly in this post.)

I’ve only reduced your belief in Darwinian evolution from 99.9 percent to 99.5? All right, OK. But here’s the part I don’t understand: “I am interested in trying to understand how Auster believes what he does, and I do not find much progress on this.” Leonard, as I’m sure you’re aware, I have laid out with maximum clarity, over and over and over, my reasons for believing what I believe about Darwinian evolution. Even if you disagree with me on evolution 100 percent, how can you say that you don’t understand why I have the beliefs I have and that you find me a mystery? When it comes to this subject, I am an open book.


Leonard replies:


There are two types of understanding. One is understanding at a surface level, i.e. you can at least report the reasoning of another. I believe I do understand your position in this sense, but that was not what I was getting at.

A deeper level of understanding is when you can inhabit the mindset of the other person, and actually feel the thing as he feels it. It is in this sense that I cannot grasp your anti-Darwinian position. There’s this huge corpus of evidence, expert opinion, etc. on my side of things; against this you pose a handful of what seem to me largely philosophical objections. I can see how, for example, if you feel absolutely that consciousness cannot have evolved then you would reject Darwin; but I cannot feel that same sense of absoluteness, and without that, the weight of evidence crushes the feeble exception.

This is what I was trying to prod Aretae with, although he seems to resist using his feelings to gauge his own mind, which is exactly what I would expect of the hyper-rationalist of his sort. Instead he has backed off into some sort of argument about popularity.

Having grown up in our society without being explicitly raised on the right, I do understand the left in the second sense. This is one reason I read few leftist writers online—there’s no need for it. If the left actually had the truth on their side, I might still be there; but I am one of those sad men found in every age who is unmoved by popularity.


LA replies:

For you, all my arguments against Darwinism, worked out at such length and with such thoroughness, and from such a variety of angles, and with so much repetition to make sure the points are clear (including the fact that the Darwinist proponents themselves keep admitting that evolutionary science has not demonstrated the evolution of species), come down to nothing but “a handful of philosophical objections”?

Further, having said that, how can you say, as you say in your first paragraph, that you are capable of reporting my reasoning? You give the impression of not having taken in my facts and reasoning at all.

Well, that’s OK. I’m not trying to force you into a position here. I’m merely expressing my surprise that an intelligent Darwinian who has been reading my anti-Darwinian writings for so long seems to have so little grasp of them.

- end of initial entry -

James R. writes:

Leonard D. dismisses your “philosophical objections” to “the weight of the evidence,” but I think what this shows is that he’s not able to understand that the philosophical (epistemological) inevitably determines how “the evidence” is interpreted and viewed. Further, that even if a method claims no metaphysical/epistemological grounding, that does not mean it lacks one: it just means this becomes implicit and underargued.

For example, one fact about the background of Darwinism is that stipulated in advance material explanations. Then it looked for, and looks for, only these. It uses this methodological stipulation to explain phenomena. Thus we shouldn’t be surprised that on the basis of presuming in advance a material explanation for every effect, it finds them. Because it invents them in a non-falsifiable way. This is why Darwinian explanations of behavior, including mental behavior, can explain both A and Not-A in Darwinian terms: for example, both selfishness and altruism; both bravery and cowardice (even when displayed by people during the same event).* They then tell us that this is SCIENCE! They then make the shift of turning their methodological stipulation into a “scientific discovery,” but this is circular reasoning.

What Leonard D. and others seem to miss is that it is precisely the “philosophical objections” that matter here.

*The alternative move is to say, “Well, Darwinism does not explain all of human behavior.” Then they subject everything to selection bias, picking those behaviors that fit the theory, discarding the ones that do not, and claim on this basis that the theory is validated.

Gintas writes:

I remember reading a little book called Flatland, which is

an 1884 satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott. Writing pseudonymously as “A Square”, Abbott used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to offer pointed observations on the social hierarchy of Victorian culture. However, the novella’s more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions, for which the novella is still popular amongst mathematics, physics, and computer science students.

Here is the Plot section:

The story is about a two-dimensional world referred to as Flatland which is occupied by geometric figures. Women are simple line-segments, while men are regular polygons with various numbers of sides. The narrator is a humble square, a member of the social caste of gentlemen and professionals in a society of geometric figures, who guides us through some of the implications of life in two dimensions. The square has a dream about a visit to a one-dimensional world (Lineland) which is inhabited by “lustrous points.” He attempts to convince the realm’s ignorant monarch of a second dimension but finds that it is essentially impossible to make him see outside of his eternally straight line. He is then visited by a three-dimensional sphere, which he cannot comprehend until he sees Spaceland for himself. This sphere, who remains nameless, visits Flatland at the turn of each millennium to introduce a new apostle to the idea of a third dimension in the hopes of eventually educating the population of Flatland of the existence of Spaceland. From the safety of Spaceland, they are able to observe the leaders of Flatland secretly acknowledging the existence of the sphere and prescribing the silencing of anyone found preaching the truth of Spaceland and the third dimension. After this proclamation is made, many witnesses are massacred or imprisoned (according to caste).

After the Square’s mind is opened to new dimensions, he tries to convince the Sphere of the theoretical possibility of the existence of a fourth (and fifth, and sixth … ) spatial dimension. Offended by this presumption and incapable of comprehending other dimensions, the Sphere returns his student to Flatland in disgrace.

The Square then has a dream in which the Sphere visits him again, this time to introduce him to Pointland. The point (sole inhabitant, monarch, and universe in one) perceives any attempt at communicating with him as simply being a thought originating in his own mind (cf. Solipsism):

‘You see,’ said my Teacher, ‘how little your words have done. So far as the Monarch understand them at all, he accepts them as his own—for he cannot conceive of any other except himself—and plumes himself upon the variety of Its Thought as an instance of creative Power. Let us leave this God of Pointland to the ignorant fruition of his omnipresence and omniscience: nothing that you or I can do can rescue him from his self-satisfaction.’

—the Sphere

The Square recognizes the connection between the ignorance of the monarchs of Pointland and Lineland with his own (and the Sphere’s) previous ignorance of the existence of other, higher dimensions.

Once returned to Flatland, the Square finds it difficult to convince anyone of Spaceland’s existence, especially after official decrees are announced—anyone preaching the lies of three dimensions will be imprisoned (or executed, depending on caste). Eventually the Square himself is imprisoned for just this reason, where he spends the rest of his days attempting to explain the third dimension to his brother.

I believe materialists live in their own Flatland.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 05, 2011 10:55 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):