Trans-Evolutionary Change Even Darwin Would Accept, Gregory Sandstrom

SERRC —  November 16, 2016 — 1 Comment

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University,

Sandstrom, Gregory. “Trans-Evolutionary Change Even Darwin Would Accept.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 18-26.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink:

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Image credit: Lasso Tyrifjord, via flickr

“[T]he grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution.” — Betty Smocovitis (1996)

“[E]volutionary change occurs over timeframes that transcend virtually all the interesting contexts that call for sociological explanations. Specifically, genetic change occurs either over too large a temporal expanse to interest professional sociologists or at a level too far below the humanly perceptible to interest the social agents that sociologists usually study.”— Steve Fuller (2005)

The theory of evolution is “one of the most ideological of sciences.”— Eduard Kolchinsky (2015)

The controversy over Darwin’s evolutionary legacy in biology, philosophy and social science, re-examined at the recent Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting reinforces the belief within SSH that Darwin’s contribution to knowledge, whatever it may have been politically (cf. Patrick Matthew and the Arago Effect) or natural scientifically, was incomplete and in many ways destructive when applied to human beings. The danger of Darwinian evolution being applied to society is something that even the arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins admits. Some scholars, however, don’t seem willing to heed such a warning or even to acknowledge it has merit.

Scholarly disagreement surrounding the concept of ‘evolution’ (read: history, change-over-time, development, etc.) isn’t only about biology, but also about social sciences and humanities (SSH). Thankfully, practitioners in SSH have not often felt obliged to prostrate our fields to the promised hand-me-down evolutionistic ‘contribution’ of natural sciences, including biology. Yet there has also been a fruitful mixture of concepts between biology and SSH, that from time to time needs to be untangled or re-catalogued, to return a better proportion during a temporal disharmony.

One can see a modest level of internet buzz surrounding this Royal Society event from a variety of exotic quarters, including mainstream Nature, the British Academy, and philosopher Nancy Cartwright, to fringe journalism, outright philosophistry that is basically neo-creationism, in USAmerican-style, shouted loud and proud by the Intelligent Design Movement, and likewise aggressively resisted by the Darwinistas and members of the humanities Evolutionariat. And of course the ‘orthodox’ of scientistic right-wing conservative Kabala in pop USA culture while it seems to know surprisingly little about the philosophy of science. One almost needs a guide to navigate their way through all of this noise and pretence to defence of territories and ideologies, which oftentimes comes at too high an intellectual cost.

The gap between the ‘two cultures’ in this sense is as fresh as ever, which the Discovery Institute and their ‘new atheist’ opponents both exacerbate; together and taken separately. In our ‘multiversities’ today there are many more than just ‘two cultures’ or a ‘third culture.’ We try with many of these ‘cultures’ to make sense of them, that they may pollinate our understandings and identities both in the digital internet universe and in the actual physical university structures that institutionally support most of the people reading this message. The gap in understanding now evident in the N. American landscape is simply that natural science has come to be seen as the mantle of a ‘culture apart’ from all others. In this view, natural scientists have now run into a wall in trying to dictate their particular discipline’s ‘evolutionary principles’ to all other ‘knowledge cultures,’ including SSH. And now philosophy and social science have been given a platform to fight for their intellectual rights to not be imperialised by a frenzied hoard of Darwinists.

In addition to naturalistic evolution, the ‘humanistic’ SSH discourse surrounding the term ‘evolution’ is rich and varied, with many open disagreements (e.g. R. Lewontin and J. Fracchia vs. W. Runciman 2000s, Fuller 2005-2010s). If one is to respect the cultural diversity of practises that R. Dawkins would attribute to ‘extended phenotypes’ in his gene-centric view of the world, then one needs to include the voices of philosophers and social scientists. The typical biologistic generalisations and mere condescending (pretending) to understand cultural fields have become tired reminders of anti-intellectualism within the Evolutionariat. The Royal Society gathering generally addressed the task of raising awareness about SSH on Day 3 – November 9, though the overall agenda was dominated by a kind of ‘biologism’ of the modern and extended evolutionary syntheses (MEES).

Nevertheless, the event’s mission was no less than to reposition ‘Darwinism,’ as well as clarify how 21st century evolutionary theories can effectively be(come) post-Darwinian. Thus, we come to a historical moment when the option of discarding much of the ‘crude Darwinism’ of the degenerate late-modern period, infused with biologistic imperialism in SSH, may now be propositioned further. By now, with annual Darwin Day celebrations in the Anglo-American world, this debacle of Darwin-idolisation has turned into the “Lysenko Affair of the ‘West’.” Given the opportunity for evolutionary ideas in SSH to be tried by a jury of representative scholars with the prospect that they be found largely empty of many of their promises, the prospect of trans-evolutionary change would indeed be seen as a direct threat to both the coherence and any claim to significance of the MEES. Darwinian evolution either needs to be significantly repositioned and shrunk in SSH usage or it needs to be thrown out altogether.

To achieve a way forward beyond the constraints and false pathways left over from the old Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a feature particularly of SSH (humanistic) rather than naturalistic fields. This is a trans-evolutionary change even Darwin would accept as it acknowledges humanity ‘in tension,’ but not necessarily always ‘at war’. It was a major contribution that the Russian scientific tradition made even to the ‘western’ canon about ‘evolution’ in the names of Karl F. Kessler and Piotr A. Kropotkin to highlight ‘mutual aid’ (vzaimnopomosh), ‘cooperation’ and later ‘symbiosis’ and ‘symbiogenesis.’ By ‘trans-evolutionary change’ the author thus identifies human tension in contrast with the struggle motif in the growingly discredited Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes school.

This topic has been raised several times already at SERRC, though with less of the flair than what comes from Steve Fuller’s own writings. Student of Fuller, William Lynch’s long paper “Darwinian Social Epistemology” was responded to adequately by Peter Taylor with a short critique. Lynch’s longer reply to Taylor includes this gem: “I accept that simple, biological explanations of complex human behaviors are unlikely to be effective.” O.k., then maybe it’s time he intellectually mature and move beyond 19th century ‘Darwinism’ dressed in pragmatic USAmericano culturological garb and consider dropping the reductionistic evolutionistic ideology in SSH? Taylor replied to Lynch convincingly in April 2016. This message reconnects with that one and takes it a stage further.

Taylor defines ‘artificial selection’ as “deliberate selection based on some explicit criterion”, which he calls “a restrictive form of explanation of evolutionary change” (2016). In both of these notions I agree with Taylor and disagree with Lynch. The larger issue involves the kinds of non-evolutionary change that are legitimately available for considered scholarly discussion, instead of hand-waving and dismissal by a throng of backwards-looking, Darwin-outdated biologists and self-styled ‘public understanding of science’ or STS gurus. While I agree with Taylor that it appears Lynch’s “view of Darwinism is what drives his taking on of Fuller and so it would be difficult for him to satisfy a reader like me,” I disagree that banning any and all talk of design or Design in the Academy, particularly in SSH, e.g. social epistemology, serves a constructive purpose.

It is too obvious for everyone involved that the Discovery Institute winks with little (secret) giggles to each other when speaking about human design, i.e. design by intelligent agents, the effects of intelligent agency, etc. Such talk is all standard fare and nothing spectacular, since it could be seen in any SSH field. Human beings are involved in ‘designing’ processes, just as we do many other processes in addition to ‘designing.’ It is now both sad and tired that the ID people still seem to think they’ve reinvented the wheel while making a major innovation on sliced bread (ReVoluTion!) in the concept duo of ‘intelligent’ + ‘design.’ Perhaps Taylor’s view is simply that Steve Fuller’s representation of ID isn’t one he can personally, confessionally or professionally endorse, as it overlaps necessarily with Fuller’s worldview, which has apparently undergone (if by no more than label alone) a shift in recent years.

To achieve a way forward by dropping the tired chains of the old and new Darwinian corpus, we introduce the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary change’ as a particular feature of SSH, rather than biological or natural scientific fields. Trans-evolutionary change acknowledges humanity in tension and on smaller space-time scales than Big History naturalistic evolutionary theories. As well, it highlights the peculiar interest in the Extended Mind Thesis (Clark and Chalmers 1998), which is pushing envelopes in philosophy of mind, group cognition and dynamic systems theory. This is done to show there are burgeoning fields of study in philosophy and social sciences, e.g. such studies involving the ‘extensions’ of humanity in a non-evolutionary way, that are ready to take off once the proverbial Darwinian monkey is removed from SSH’s back. Focus on these studies may help make more coherent the Royal Society’s “philosophical and social sciences” agenda moving forward.

Trans-Evolutionary Change Can be Observed in Five Things

1) A category of change by human beings (i.e. in the anthropocene period) that occurs across, above, under, <, >, beyond or through the temporal and spatial scales found in biological and other naturalistic evolutionary theories.

What’s the minimum allowable time that it would take for something to ‘evolve?’ If there is no minimum, then there is no quantifiable scientific theory based on time. If you allow a minimum time scale, even across a range of applications, then you open the possibility of studying ‘trans-evolutionary’ change because there must then be ‘actions/processes/origins’ that cross the relevant time scale. In such cases, it must be left open for alternative ways to discover an answer using a non-evolutionary toolkit.

Darwin’s defenders often avoid the importance of exploring and explaining this ‘scale and identity controversy’ in public. Darwin had studied geology with his mentor Charles Lyell, and noted: “if we make the same allowances as before for our ignorance, and remember that some forms of life change most slowly, enormous periods of time being thus granted for their migration, I do not think that the difficulties are insuperable.” The large time scales involved in Darwin’s evolutionary narrative are quite clearly not the same scales involved when decisions are made, artefacts made and actions taken on the level of institutions, communities, groups, etc. that SSH studies.

The question logically then arises: what happens when we are not dealing with ‘enormous periods of time’ but rather with much shorter, non-evolutionary time scales? One way to distinguish the particular focus of interest that SSH has taken as its rightful province from the beginning until now has found a new name, which suits our purpose of signifying trans-evolutionary change. More than simply a new geological period, the epoch of trans-evolutionary change is now called: the Anthropocene.

2) Not only (reducible to) the externalist ‘Darwinian’ version of ‘natural selection’ acting upon an object from ‘outside,’ but rather also invokes the internalist (e.g. extended mind) notion of ‘human selection’ (Wallace 1890) from ‘inside’ a person.

This requires a kind of social epistemology that Fuller acknowledges as “a distinctive counter-biological sense of ‘social selection’: religious, academic, and political.” (2005: 6) Once people see that deterministic Darwinian models of social change are ‘not even wrong,’ the desire for an alternative that focuses on ‘selection’ on the human level will become more tangible.

Perhaps the most heinous result of so-called Darwinian logic has been that it handicapped a whole realm of knowledge with expectations that it could not meet. How was it ever thought possible that a naturalistic externalist view of human society and culture could ever take priority over a humanistic view of society? One ideology explores not only Einstein’s physical notion of “the starry heavens above”, but also the personal notion of a “moral universe within,” which is the anthropic dimension.

3) Investigable on both the individual (person) and population (society) levels (i.e. multiple levels) simultaneously, interactively and proportionally.

There is no avoiding the fact that the single discipline that has put the most of its attention and resources into the study of “individuals and groups” is sociology. When biologists use language borrowed from SSH, weave it into their disciplinary language with variations, adaptations and neologisms (e.g. ‘memetics’) inserted alongside it, they often distort or mangle its key message(s). One example of this is the notion of ‘group selection’ vs. ‘individual selection.’ Sociologists have been studying both, but with a concentration on the ‘agency’ of ‘selection’ that is far more developed than evolutionistic musing. We already have what biologists later decided to call “multi-layer selection,” which is typical language already in SSH where there are often multiple competing (or cooperating) hypotheses.

4) Dedicated to intentional, mindful, wilful, planned and directed changes (i.e. teleological) that are temporally and spatially lived and enacted by human beings within their (read: our) social, cultural, natural and other environments.

Nothing much really needs to be added about this feature of trans-evolutionary change. Enough people know about it and have written about it already. It’s a simple question of conversational proportionality and ideological control over journal publications and ‘associations’ that restricts ideological anti-evolutionism (as if it simply must by definition come from USAmerican fundamentalists and biblical literalists) from gaining a ready audience. Trans-evolutionary change serves to crush the materialistic aspirations of old-guard Darwinists and evolutionists because it shows quite simply, plainly and clearly how varieties of non-evolutionary change can be studied in SSH.

5) Inclusive of theories about sources and formal/final causes of ethics and morality (in addition to efficient and material causes) that transcend adaptationist evolutionary accounts based on naturalist reductionism.

This is a macro-feature of the trans-evolutionary discourse, which by beginning in SSH we forego the dilemma of whether or not to focus solely on efficient and material causes. The alternative, which is required for investigation on the more holistic level of SSH than NPS, allows the proper study of formal and final causes (Aristotelian causality) in ethics and morality. Naturalist reductionism is then seen as an (only efficiency/materialist) ideology with limited purposeful applicability in fields where elevation to mind-also and heart rather than reduction to body-alone is required.

The above is just a brief point-form introduction to trans-evolutionary change, which is one of the main topics of my upcoming book on Human Tension. These 5 indicators provide a basic outline of the new concept of trans-evolutionary change. They are not meant to be exhaustive, but rather indicative that this topic is ripe and ready for exploration and application across a range of scientific and scholarly fields. Particularly for those with a philosophical interest in the communication and sharing of knowledge, the notion that knowledge ‘extends’ and that our minds also can be perceived as ‘extending’ into society, while society also applies ‘intensions’ on our lives, has many opportunities for both scholarly and everyday application beyond the boundaries of evolutionary thinking.

If a person does not wish to acknowledge the notion of ‘trans-evolutionary’ as legitimate, as having a proper semantic meaning or as worthy of conversational inclusion, nothing can stop a person from holding that attitude. One may then need to be very restricted in speaking with them when looking more carefully at their particular meaning of ‘evolutionary’ because it might be tricky or uncelar. With some people, evolutionary theories turn into an evolutionistic worldview, a Darwin-idolising anti-theism apologetics based on aggressive ‘new atheist’ rhetoric rather than simply an arrangement of more or less clear and important scholarly ideas about change, motion, chance, intention, purpose, etc.

Yet with the conundrum of convoluted definitions, evolution is also used by others with sometimes too narrow a range of explanations, e.g. ‘only biology.’ This cohort of unknown size has an over-inflated view of biology as “the science of Life” and therefore as Queen of the Academy following the former Science Queen – physics. The importance therefore of having enabled a flanking move to evolutionary theory with trans-evolutionary change, by accumulating arguments in sovereign, independent, autonomous (but integral), developing SSH fields of knowledge, has many potential consequences. Do biologists really wish to restrict ‘evolution’ to being ‘strictly a biological’ idea and if not, then which new ‘map of knowledge’ would they suggest so that ideological biologism (which they likely won’t openly name) does not continue to plague the academic landscape? I see nothing coherent coming from biologists, even the non-exaggerators, to visualise a more realistic ‘map of knowledge’ than the grossly disproportionate view that many of them currently hold, uneducated in the sociology of science as most of them are.

My appeal then is to people first, not to abstract ‘post-evolutionary’ ideas. I’m not interested in those who feel they categorically must refuse to even consider the notion of trans-evolutionary change. It is those who may be curious to depart from the biological status quo into a post-Darwinian reality, to metaphorically ‘follow the white rabbit’ away from Darwin’s dehumanising determinist hole into a more fulfilling exploration of human society that appeal to me. A trans-evolutionary thinker may and often does know the ‘evolutionary canon’ rather well, but also moves beyond it to embrace a more dynamic, realistic model of choice, change and human development in 21st century SSH. They therefore need no longer embrace the mainstream ‘strictly neo-Darwinian’ or ‘Modern Synthesis’ version of evolutionary theories in natural sciences (or in economics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc.) any longer because we are right now in the midst of significant changes to the ‘paradigm,’ an (over-)extension, amendment, revision or even ‘replacement.’

The Intelligent Design Movement has turned into such a circus that even one of its ringleaders William Dembski recently had to publically ‘retire’ from it. He simply cannot be defended as a ‘revolutionary’ IDist anymore. One of the mainstays of the Discovery Institute for over a decade, Casey Luskin, also recently left the DI to pursue ‘further studies.’ Yet the so-called Darwinists display radical tendencies just as do their IDist ‘debate and publish’ partner foes. In one of the most absurd dead-ends in late-modern intellectual life, D.S. Wilson’s biologistic ideologising at the Evolution Institute, with Evolution for Everyone, most recently misguided Robin Hoodism at ‘Evonomics’, has led him now even into the promotion of ‘social Darwinism’. While the scientific ethos to reject hubris with humility generally holds, there do seem to be cases within the party-atmosphere of the Evolutionariat in some psychology of science sense where scholars belief they have achieved a kind of ‘god’s eye view’ and conceptual monopoly over change. However, in this case by returning to a 19th century naturalist icon in Darwin, Wilson isn’t exactly blazing new territory. He is rather waving a smudged, outdated flag of Evolutionary Naturalism towards SSH as he rides off towards a detoured naturalised/under-humanised destination for humanity. And already he has attracted a small mob to his journey of fuzzy evolutionistic logic.

Yet when leaders of the Evolutionariat, people like D.S. Wilson, are caught actually saying things like, “The biggest victim of the stigmatized view of Social Darwinism has been all of us,” most sane people, most normal people, basically just most people realise that something has gone very wrong. Can this type of ideologically evolutionistic mess be avoided or perhaps just somehow cleaned up and fixed following this recent Royal Society meeting? While the option of ‘replace,’ ‘amend’ or ‘extend’ was on the table, speakers of course could easily escape facing the ‘over-extension’ of the modern evolutionary synthesis by huddling into the safe status quo backwardness of Darwinian thinking. Or, perhaps the good ole’ English paddle is what Darwin’s theory of ‘evolution by natural selection in the struggle for life’ needs.

It is a unique moment in the landscape of history, philosophy and sociology of science that there is now forged such a strong post-Darwinian evolutionary biology position (L. Margulis and the Third Way), which is what led to this important and timely Royal Society meeting. Steve Fuller has raised this issue in multiple venues and on many occasions at least since 2005 and it seems to be a question of time when the public conversation finally catches up to his unique cybernetic design intelligence contribution. This may be yet another timely opportunity to re-explore his views on this topic as it seems several people at SERRC have recently found air to voice their concerns and criticisms of Fuller’s evolutionism, creationism and IDism, science and religion work. And well, if Peter Thiel can promote (lowercase) ‘intelligent design’ (not to be confused with the theistic ‘design argument,’ right?), then why can’t most other people in the 21st century at least acknowledge it exists and isn’t really that big a deal?

The most meaningful aspects of this conversation in my view are very little about the actual person or ideas of Charles Darwin. What an amazing convenient distraction the recluse from Downe, England has become! It’s time to close that chapter and read on further than Darwin in the Book of Nature. The key factors of interest here in SSH have been more about the ideological movement of the so-called ‘Darwinists’ and the illogical inversion of processes for origins (cf. Whitehead) from the start. And now with the Royal Society, the rest of society has also caught up with the ‘Darwinists’ who can be largely now rejected in society, just as R. Dawkins has now been publically unveiled as highly un-liked and disapproved by scientists (even when his name is not mentioned in the survey question!) for his aggressive agnosticism/atheism and distortions of scientific knowledge. This is something that social epistemology can help us uncover and better understand … in case any SERRC members are interested in proactivating studies of trans-evolutionary change across a range of SSH fields, to which when broadly and specifically applied leaves Dawkins’ ‘memetics’ far behind.

Sociobiology was tried and failed. Memetics failed. Evolutionary psychology is trying and failing miserably because its governing principles are self-contradictory and it has ideological self-blinders on. Why do they keep desperately looking back to Darwin for answers? It is time to change the music program from the dissonant Darwinist hymn sheets that some scientists have been using to experiment their humanistic fantasies upon the world. As the times change, we are now no longer willing to accept the characterisation of ‘species egalitarian’ when speaking above the mere biological, physiological or zoological levels. Uplift from homo to human is a vertical cultural process, in which we’re best either to forget completely or if necessary simply put ‘in its proper limited place’ the horizontal naturalism of the Beagle Enlightenment story in SSH.

Trans-evolutionary change helps to overcome Darwin’s cultural regret with a less scientistic, naturalistic and generally pessimistic approach to human existence on Earth. Trans-evolutionary change ushers in potentiality for global-social reconciliation for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse through magnetism by rotation. Let us see those post-Darwinian ideas that are being blocked en-masse by defensive biologists and naturalists. It does no good whatsoever to first call a people, community or society ‘under-evolved’ or even ‘un-evolved’ and then to claim that some ambiguous cultural evolutionary theory of human development ‘scientifically’ proves this on a scale of your choosing. That is simply civilisational racism.

In contrast, with trans-evolutionary change, multiple levels of selection mean multiple interpretations of development are possible and even encouraged, based on the resources available to the community rather than demanding internal compliance to some external evolutionary civilisational Standard. The User instead has to supply the content for the magnetism, which takes discussions of human-social change away from Darwin’s outdated evolutionary framework towards more contemporary advanced discussions about emergence, agency, design, planning, and indeed, human extension, though this latter language is still not widely familiar in SSH.

The way forward is to begin applying trans-evolutionary thinking in SSH as a way to cleanse many humanistic fields from the naturalistic plague that was part of the 20th century and early 21st century science wars. It will become obvious immediately regarding those who actually wish to ‘try’ and use TEC and those who clearly do not. Those who do not wish to try trans-evolutionary thinking will become the laggards in 21st century science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse, stuck perhaps by a fear of the future as much as a love of the past.

It’s time to send Darwin down the scholarly river into history, away from SSH land where he is no longer welcome. And it’s not only about treating women as 2nd class citizens and marrying his cousin. Yes, it means there will be a cohort of angry evacuees from Darwin; those who wish to remain Darwinists to the end, astonishingly even in SSH, who ultimately must demand rescue from the absurdity of the intellectual territorial flooding that they now occupy; turned out into a land of SSH giants that pushed their heroic scientist idol away.

Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence and the selectivity connected with it has by many people been cited as authorization of the encouragement of the spirit of competition. Some people also in such a way have tried to prove pseudo-scientifically the necessity of the destructive economic struggle of competition between individuals. But this is wrong, because man owes his strength in the struggle for existence to the fact that he is a socially living animal. – Albert Einstein (1931)

This is so much closer to an ‘eastern’ worldview than a ‘western’ one. A neutral onlooker might wonder if there is more going on with Darwin-Malthus-Hobbes western ‘struggle’ proponents and practitioners than meets the eye on global humanity scales.

To close, a peroration: It would do many, but not all of us (that’s a non-scientific principle of ‘democracy’ in action, to which I’m confident that a significant ‘WE’ in global societies are ready to say together: ‘cheerio Charles!’), the honour, if England would please take Darwin’s pigeons, barnacles and worms back to Downe, U.K. and provide Darwin with a proper civilisational retirement from public attention. Patrick Matthew and the Arágo Effect send a preferable diversion courtesy of the trans-evolutionary stream.

Smocovitis writes of “the grandest narrative of western culture, the modern story of evolution” (1996), perhaps only up to the limits of her natural(istic )science. A more inspiring humanistic ‘narrative’ of SSH than the one constructed in Victorian England is made possible once a person passes beyond naturalist ideology in the name of ‘evolution.’ Indeed, the grandest narrative of global human culture may eventually come to be seen as that of ‘human extension’ (services) and thus with it also our lives in human tension beyond biology alone.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Evolution’s Puzzle & Trans-Evolutionary Change | The Skeptical Zone - November 20, 2016

    […] including several members of The Third Way of Evolution, this was one of a few trans-evolutionary change preparations aimed at liberating the social sciences and humanities from positivist, reductionist, […]

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