Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandstrom, Gregory. “No Fuller than Complete: Darwin’s Age Comes to an End.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 12-17.
Image credit: Marc Brüneke, via flickr
The bagpipes are playing the funeral oration for Darwin’s evolutionary theories as they have been chronically misapplied and ill-championed in social sciences and humanities (SSH), the true home of the Darwin wars. The feverish century-long pitch of the drum, drum, drumming of evolutionary war; war in nature, struggle for life, survival of the fittest, man vs. nature, man vs. each other motif, has finally moved past its zenith. No fuller than complete, the Age of Darwinian evolution now comes to an end, with a sign to mark its place at the Royal Society.
The Scottish originator of the phrase “natural process of selection” (1831) might be put out by all the notoriety that C. Darwin has received over the past 158 years since publication of ‘The Origin.’ But the fall from grace that Darwin is set up for once again in London, this time in front of a jury of world-class intellectual peers that will include philosophers and social scientists may be enough that the gracious Scot Patrick Matthew would never wish Darwin’s eventual fate upon him.
At an upcoming meeting at the Royal Society on ‘new trends in evolutionary biology,’ the prospect of finally over-turning ideological Darwinism in biology, with global leading evolutionists in attendance, is on our doorstep. Will Darwin’s Age finally come to an end? Darwin’s theory now comes across to the educated eye as ‘developed but incomplete,’ in stark contrast with how things looked in the mid-19th century.
When Darwin wrote privately to his mentor C. Lyell in 1860 about “a complete but not developed anticipation!” of his theory (of the origin of species by means of) natural selection, he obviously hadn’t yet heard of the so-called ‘Arago Effect’ of scientific priority. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have written it. Darwin’s letter symbolically gives official priority over the discovery of ‘natural selection’ to Matthew; ‘complete’ signals that Darwin didn’t add anything new and that his theory was ‘anticipated.’ A serious argument can thus be made that we are more hanging onto the name ‘Charles Robert Darwin of Down, England,’ etc. than we are any longer confident that the ‘evolutionary’ ideas coming from Darwin’s 19th century ‘canon’ of hand-me-down texts are still fuel for the scientific imagination and research programs today.
As Matthew wrote to the Gardener’s Chronicle in making his claim to having pioneered the idea of “nature’s law of selection,” others were not ready to receive what he wrote at the time and there was a “spirit of resistance to scientific doctrine” in positing nature’s ‘selection,’ “that caused my work to be voted unfit for the public library of the fair city itself. The age was not ripe for such ideas.” This was said in 1860 (less than 2 years after publication of OoS), when Matthew responded in print to a review of Darwin’s ‘Origin’ that suggested Darwin was original and held priority over ‘natural selection.’ Publically, however, Darwin would only suggest that nobody had read Matthew’s work and that he took nothing, even through word-of-mouth from others who had read Matthew, from Matthew’s ideas as a kind of ‘knowledge contamination’ (Sutton 2014).
What would happen if someone found something like an English acronym N.L.O.S. or even the directly stated Matthew phrase “nature’s law of selection” in any of the personal correspondence between Darwin and someone before 1858? If any such thing exists, with it the priority game for Darwin would surely be up with disgrace to his legendary name. But the so-called ‘smoking gun,’ much like those pesky transitional fossils in the historical geological record on Earth sometimes remain, is still yet to be found, if it even does exist.
Shift to 2016 and the ‘culture war’ in the Anglo-American English world surrounding the term ‘evolution’ (leave aside ‘creationism’ for the time being) is about to get a facelift with the upcoming Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting. The scholarly discourse of change-over-time in SSH today has little to nothing to gain from Darwin’s corpus any more, but it may still lose much by not dropping him and his unruly ideological followers now.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems in the Anglo-American discourse is that many people there seemingly “don’t know what they don’t know” regarding evolutionism in SSH. In this case, in not knowing, they continue to abuse evolutionary language, under the spell of Darwinism. This happens both on the side of atheists that try to argue evolution offers a scientific argument to bolster their atheism, and for theists who employ the term ‘evolution’ even in the most absurd of cases in trying to linguistically woo their opponents.
At the USA’s evangelical Christian-based BioLogos, where ‘science and faith’ are supposed to co-exist peacefully (D. Falk), except when they don’t (e.g. cloning, contraception, pharmaceuticals, nano-technology, neural-linguistic programming, etc.), or be ‘integrated’ into each other (J. Swamidass), except when they aren’t (welcome to 21st century fracked philosophy!), and evolutionary biology is not considered as problematic to religious belief, except when it comes to the mystical genomics of Adam & Eve, there is a glaring problem of equivocation by the Management regarding the meaning of ‘evolution.’ Yes, folks, all good intentions aside, they really don’t know what they don’t know and furthermore don’t want to know. They want to be stubborn ‘creationists’ at their local churches instead.
The reason for this is that BioLogos holds an ideologically ‘scientistic’ epistemology, where scientisation runs rampant over knowledge with implications for secular human nature, character and theology (cf. A. McGrath’s ‘scientific theology’). Thus, BioLogos has demonstrated that it actively supports the over-extension of ‘evolution’ into evolutionism and uses metaphor transfer from natural to artificial ‘designs.’ We also see this in the over-extension of ‘creation’ into ‘creationism,’ which BioLogos not subtly endorses. Sadly, they offer no excuse or explanation for their simple and obvious grammatical error in displaying their confused ideologies.
Here’s one example. A commenter named Rafael Galvão wrote on their site:
I have a degree in economics and my object of study is the history of economic thought. Biological evolution and economic evolution are always used interchangeably, like the models of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis are drawn from the evolutionary theory. I think it’s interesting that there are lots of discussions in the history of economic thought about Malthus and in the history of theology he’s basically forgotten.
We can therefore conclude, aside from not recognising a simple falsehood in economics – evolution is not “always used interchangeably” – that BioLogos thus even promotes interchangeable usage of ‘evolution’ in biology and economics. This is significant by itself because they “don’t know what they don’t know” on this topic. They display no public recognition regarding ideological evolutionism and its underside, even welcoming a Christian evolutionary psychology project (which was not well received) into their Templeton-funded grants program.
Yet BioLogos is, unfortunately, not alone here and their conflation of NPS with SSH joins a considerably large group of economists who if they don’t call themselves ‘evolutionists’ then at least openly applies what they consider as loosely (because there isn’t much more than that) ‘evolutionary principles’ in their economics work. Whether the so-called principles themselves are worthless and of minimal theoretical contribution doesn’t seem to matter to them, as long as it is labelled ‘evolutionary’ and thanks be given to Darwin in the genre of scientific origins mythology.
Many fields in play, you might be wondering where this is going and why it’s important. Economics is a clear and blatant example of a field in confusion as a result of evolutionism in SSH. When the notion of what exactly does and what doesn’t evolve is not even raised and a discussion not had to clarify borders or boundaries, or at least evolutionary ‘aspirations,’ then little can be done to stop what Dennett called “Darwin’s universal acid.” Darwin is upheld by some as one of the greatest developers of SSH fields; he has been called the founder of psychology, of sociology and of modern political economy, etc. The notion that Darwin’s ‘principles’ may apply equally to human beings as to other creatures and even plants, rocks, the solar system and universe, etc. symbolizes a existential threat to human freedom and sovereignty, while some also see it as some kind of liberation.
One need only bring up one example among hundreds to throw a cold bucket of water on the notion that BioLogos actually supports ‘evolutionary economics’ or even knows much about what it means. They seem unaware of the potentially deadly social consequences that a misunderstanding of economic development might cause. With a law of competition based on “survival of the fittest in every department” between people, “[w]e accept and welcome great inequality (and) the concentration of business,” said Andrew Carnegie, “in the hands of a few.” Is this the kind of Darwinian economics BioLogos supports? It sadly remains a problem that BioLogos “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know” and therefore thinks that evolutionism everywhere without limits. Perhaps someday we will receive some clarity from BioLogos regarding abuses, and also under-sights, like why they never discuss cutting-edge biology and genetics involved with the Third Way. BioLogos shows ‘No Results’ regarding this “New Trends” meeting on its website although it has many biologists among its commentators. The USAmerican discourse surrounding ‘evolution,’ from this global village Canadian’s perspective is, given such intentional avoidance of crucial issues as at BioLogos, indeed largely a side-note to more interesting and important things.
Of key import at the Royal Society meeting is the notion of an ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ and also the meaning of evolutionary ‘over-extension,’ since the notion of ‘replacement’ or major correction (amendment) for (neo-)Darwinian evolutionary theory is now realistically in play. R. Dawkins had already warned us in 2004 about getting “not too extended,” regarding the so-called ‘extended phenotype.’ In the McLuhan tongue, there is a distinction to make between a ‘speed-up’ and being ‘flipped.’ Thus, if evolutionary theory is ‘extended’ too far, sooner or later it ‘flips’ and becomes something other than itself at the core.
One of the most difficult puzzles nowadays seems to be finding opportunities for non-evolutionary thinking. Are there any replacement-like ‘non-evolutionary’ options for studying human character ready and available to consider that Darwin could never have imagined? If so, let us see some of them presented publically at the Royal Society.
In the present Wikipedia example, Objections to evolution is “part of a series on Evolutionary Biology.” This may seem unimportant, but it is a simple example that is repeated rampantly wherein objecting to evolution can only happen ‘legitimately’ in biology, yet at the same time the concept is widely used outside of biology, even in SSH. It begs the question if objections to evolution outside of biology can be legitimated and on what grounds would one decide if they are legitimate? If one listens only to the status quo of ‘normal evolutionary science’ voices in the Academy nowadays they could quite easily block this questioning out. Yet this Royal Society meeting makes the ‘universal Darwinism’ (Dawkins 1983) position very difficult to defend anymore and indeed much easier to leave aside for more progressive models.
Evolutionary ideas borrowed from biology are caught in the natural-physical scientific methodology of requiring that the ‘interpreter’ of nature (scientist) be entirely ‘un-reflexive’ in their scientific practise. Such an approach takes aim at a kind of ‘positive’ science or ‘objective’ knowledge which is thought to liberate the individual researcher from his or her typical human reflexivity into ‘objective scientific neutrality.’ But this is not the kind of ‘knowledge’ that is produced and shared in SSH, no matter how much easier it would make things if we could find ‘natural science-like’ looking data collection techniques.
Just as SSH scholars cannot escape their (our) reflexivity in our various research topics, neither can we impose our own worldview upon others as if the scientific theories and methods we use and advocate supposedly requires that. As Dawkins once cautioned, however, there are ‘Neville Chamberlain evolutionists,’ i.e. atheist-appeasers who argue that science and religion are somehow mutually compatible. The compatibility argument for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse runs contrary to what Dawkins and many of the ‘new atheists’ believe, which is that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible.
Theistic evolutionists (TEs) or evolutionary creationists (ECs), on the other hand, believe that science and religion are compatible, even while there are oftentimes disagreements and even open ideological conflicts. TEs consist of the majority and current default position among Abrahamic theists. Yet the protestant evangelicals who swarm to this topic of conversation turning it into a large in-market often come across as simply confused and under-educated, whether they self-identify as ‘creationist’ (against Darwin’s view that “it becomes highly improbable that they [species] have been separately created by individual acts of the will of a Creator”) or not.
One problematic feature of this recent development only in the past 5-10 years is that ideological TEs (which means all of them, by definition of the term ‘evolutionists’) often won’t stand alongside of their fellow theists who haven’t given up Orthodox teachings for evolutionistic ideology. Yet for TEs who are otherwise orthodox and mainstream even without carrying the label, the continual embrace of evolutionism may come to be seen as an unnecessary linguistic act that can be corrected simply by will of words and nothing else.
In short, there certainly are people who need to hear the message: “Please stop trying to ‘evolutionise’ everything. We see through this ruse with trans-evolutionary change.” The spirit of the difference between ‘evolving’ and other types of change and the discernment of evolution’s limitations is something that TEs still seem unable to experience or perceive. This condition may change with the inclusion of trans-evolutionary change into SSH discourse.
One problem in the sub-field of social epistemology (i.e. not just individualistic analytic ‘western’ epistemology, or even Goldmanian social epistemology) is that Fuller himself seems to draw no clear distinction between what ‘evolves’ and what doesn’t. I can find nothing in my Fuller notes where he defines or even acknowledges ‘non-evolutionary’ in any meaningful way. On the one hand, Fuller is putting risk and reward mechanisms in front of people in public the way he contends that “we are now entering a new era in the understanding of minds and machines.” It may sound somehow empowering when Fuller uses such language, that of enhancement, uplift and higher projection than homo sapiens sapiens. This is provocative ‘social epistemology’ that engages many people and in my opinion could do so in a more effective way, were Fuller to clarify himself about what specifically does and doesn’t evolve.
Fuller recently displayed surprisingly backwards in his language by a least a century and was uncharacteristically ‘precautionary’ on the topic of ‘social evolution.’ He still actually seems to believe in that old myth! Fuller says that “military and police drones may evolve” (into ‘android companions’). Yet this is a primarily externalistic notion of ‘evolve’ with no internal ‘human guidance’ involved. Obviously that scenario is quite contrary to actual social reality. If Fuller wishes to conceptually disavow ‘social evolution,’ the academic world will no more vilify him for this than they have already for his endorsement of ‘intelligent design.’
Mere gradualism and step-by-step thinking likewise shouldn’t be defended by Fuller here as ‘evolutionary’ based on loosely defined views of change-over-time in society. Proactionary thinking, in contrast with evolutionistic SSH, is much more (if not entirely) internalistic in character; with the individual (or group) choosing to intentionally act based on inner reasons, instincts or principles. Fuller thus seems to be stuck on the right side, yet still the downside of Darwin’s legacy, not yet having moved past evolutionism in his linguistic strategy and offering little clarity through his linguistic embrace of social evolution. In this confusing message regarding evolution and evolutionism, Fuller thus seems to want to have things as many ways as possible at the same time and all at once in his unity-oriented social epistemology.
“‘Wouldn’t ‘Nature,’ understood in its totality,” Fuller a self-described ‘naturalist’ asks, “suffice as the name of God?’ The authors of this book [Fuller and Lipinska], on the other hand, stand with those who locate the ‘best explanation’ for nature in the workings of the sort of anthropocentric yet transcendent deity favoured by the Abrahamic religions.” This was the public(ation) moment of Fuller’s conversion from secular humanism to Unitarian (proto-Christian) science, philosophy & theology discourse. Without this piece to the puzzle, without reference to a “transcendent deity,” Fuller’s defence of neo-creationist Intelligent Design would make no sense. So, with this understanding, Fuller’s social epistemology now no longer looks as ‘naturalistic’ as it once may have.
At least we note that Fuller has come around (2014) to reluctantly acknowledging the new geological Anthropocene period of human impact on Earth, what one might call ‘little history’ in contrast to ‘big history’ or ‘macrohistory’ (Christian 2005). With Bill Gates’ educational missionary help, ‘big history’ is effectively knocking young earth creationism out of textbooks and public school classrooms as simply undereducated USAmerican provincialism. A proper ‘anthropic’ (not necessarily anthropocentric) scale thus seems required to beat back the imperialist manoeuvres of misanthropic biologism (& economism). With that we can explore specifically human activities including origins and processes, design and manufacture, etc.
At the end of the day we can still hope for improved proportionality in the SSH–NPS relationship as the voices of SSH against evolutionism and Darwinism are heard, respected and listened to in terms of what escaping from the ideological evolutionistic prison might entail. What we don’t want on the way out is to turn human extensions into a kind of technological self-manipulation that echoes what McLuhan predicted with electric (psycho-somatic) engineering of more and more social environments.