Archives For Charles Darwin

Author Information: Jim Butcher, Canterbury Christ Church University, jim.butcher@canterbury.ac.uk.

Butcher, Jim. “Questioning the Epistemology of Decolonise: The Case of Geography.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 7, no. 11 (2018): 12-24.

The pdf of the article gives specific page references. Shortlink: https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-42E

Maori dancers about to perform at the 2017 Turangawaewae Regatta in New Zealand.
Image by Hone Tho via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

This paper was prompted by the prominence of new arguments in favour of ‘decolonising geography. This was taken by the 2017 Royal Geographical Society–Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IGB) annual conference as its theme, with many preparatory papers in Area and Transactions and sessions organised around this. In both, to ‘decolonise’ was presented as an imperative for geography as a field of study, and for all geographers within it, to address urgently (Daigle and Sundberg, 2017; Jazeel, 2017).

In the USA, the annual American Association of Geographers (AAG) conference in New Orleans of 2018 also featured a number of well attended sessions that took the same perspective. The number of journal articles published advocating decolonialism has also increased sharply in the last two years.

The spirit in which this paper is written is supportive of new debates in the academy, and supportive of the equality goals of decolonise. However it takes issue with important assumptions that, it is argued, will not advance the cause of marginalised or of geography as a discipline.

The paper is in three related parts, each written in the spirit of raising debate. First it considers the principal knowledge claim of decolonise: that a distinctly Western epistemology presents itself as a universal way of knowing, and that this is complicit in colonialism of the past and coloniality of the present through its undermining of a pluriverse of ontologies and consequent diversity of epistemologies (Sundberg, 2014; Grosfoguel, 2007; Mignolo, 2007). The paper also illustrates further how this principle of decolonialism is articulated in some key geographical debates. It then highlights a number of contradictions in and questions with this epistemological claim.

Second, decolonialism’s critique of universalist epistemology is effectively, and often explicitly, a critique of the Enlightenment, as Enlightenment humanism established knowledge as a product of universal rationality rather that varied cultures or deities (Pagden, 2015; Malik, 2014). The paper argues that decolonialism marks a retreat from what was positive about the Enlightenment tradition: the capacity of (geographical) knowledge to transcend time and place, and hence act as universal knowledge.

In conclusion I briefly broach the value of decolonising geography in terms of its claim to be challenging injustice. I suggest that a truly humanist and universalist approach to knowledge has more to offer geographers seeking ways to tackle inequality and differential access to the process of producing knowledge than has the epistemic relativism of decolonize.

The Epistemological Claim of Decolonise

One of the claims made prominently at the conference and elsewhere by advocates of decolonisation is that geographical knowledge can be ‘Western’ (Radcliffe, 2017), ‘Eurocentric’ (Jazeel, 2017) ‘colonial’ (Baldwin, 2017; Noxolo, 2017) or ‘imperial’ (Tolia-Kelly, 2017; Connell, 2007 & 2017). This is not just a question of a close link between geographical knowledge and Western interests per se – it is well established that geographical understanding has developed through and been utilised for partial, often brutal, interests. For example, one of the principal figures in the history of UK geography, Halford Mackinder, regarded geography as central to Britain’s colonial mission (Livingstone, 1992).

At issue here is an epistemological one: Do the ideas, theories and techniques that today’s geographers have inherited constitute a universal geographical tradition of human knowledge to be passed on, built upon and critiqued, or; are the ideas, theories and techniques themselves ‘saturated in colonialism’ (Radcliffe, 2017: 329) and hence part of a particular system of knowledge in urgent need of decolonisation.

In his advocacy of decolonialism, Grosfoguel (2007: 212) argues that it is wrong to say that ‘there is one sole epistemic tradition from which to achieve truth and universality’. Rather, he and other decolonial theorists argue for a pluriverse – a variety of ways of knowing corresponding to different historical experience and culture (Sundberg, 2014; Mignolo, 2013).

Decolonialism holds that systems of knowledge existing in colonised societies were effectively undermined by the false universal claims of the West, claims that were in turn inextricably bound up with colonialism itself. Hence in this formulation the persistence of the ‘sole epistemic tradition’ of ‘the West’ well after formal decolonisation has taken place ensures the continuation of a discriminatory culture of ‘coloniality’ (Grosfoguel, ibid.).

As a result it is not deemed sufficient to oppose colonialism or its legacy within the parameters of contemporary (geographical) thought, as that thought is itself the product of a Western epistemology complicit in colonialism and the denial of other ways of knowing. Jazeel quotes Audre Lorde to accentuate this: ‘the masters tools will never demolish the masters house’ (2017: 335).

This leads decolonial theory to argue that there needs to be a delinking from Western colonial epistemology (Mignolo, 2007). Here they part company with many post-colonial, liberal and Left arguments against colonialism and racism and for national independence and equal rights. These latter perspectives are viewed as unable to demolish the ‘masters house’, as they are using the ‘master’s tools’.

For Grosfoguel, rights – the basis around which almost all liberation struggles have been fought for the last 250 years – are ‘ … articulated to the simultaneous production and reproduction of an international division of labour of core / periphery that overlaps with the global racial / ethnic hierarchy of Europeans / non-Europeans’ (2007: 214). Rights discourse, as with ‘Western’ knowledge, is regarded as part of a Cartesian ‘Western global design’ (ibid.).

The relationship to the Enlightenment, then, is key. Enlightenment ideas are associated with modernity: the mastery of nature by people, as well as notions of rights and the social contract that influenced the development of the modern state. But for decolonial thinkers, modernity itself is inextricably tied to colonialism (Grosfoguel, 2007; Mignolo, 2007). Hence the challenge for decolonisation is to oppose not just colonialism and inequality, but also the Enlightenment universalism that shapes academic disciplines and fields including geography (ibid.).

Decolonial theory proposes in its stead the pluriverse of ways of knowing (Sundberg, 2014). For example (Blaser, 2012: 7) writes of a ‘pluriverse with multiple and distinct ontologies or worlds’ that ‘bring themselves into being and sustain themselves even as they interact, interfere and mingle with each other’ under asymmetrical circumstances (my italics). Effectively this answers philosopher Ernest Gellner’s rhetorical question: ‘Is there but one world or are there many’ (Gellner,1987: 83) with the clear answer ‘many’.

It is important at this point to distinguish between a plurality of ideas, influences and cultures, as opposed to a pluriverse of ontologies; different worlds. The former is uncontentious – openness to ideas from other societies has to be progressive, and this is evident throughout history, if not self evident.

Cities and ports have played an important role in the mixing of cultures and ideas, and often have proved to be the drivers of scientific and social advance. Scientists have learned much from traditional practices, and have been able to systematise and apply that knowledge in other contexts. Equally, reviewing curricula to consider the case for the inclusion of different concepts, theories and techniques is a worthwhile exercise.

A pluriverse of ways of knowing has much greater implications, as it posits diverse systems of knowledge as opposed to a diversity of viewpoints per se.

The Debate in Geography

The RGS-IGB 2017 Annual Conference call for sessions set out the aim of decolonising geographical knowledges as being to ‘to query implicitly universal claims to knowledges associated with the west, and further interrogate how such knowledges continue to marginalise and discount places, people, knowledges across the world’ (RGS-IGB, 2017).

Recent papers advocating decolonise argue in similar vein. Radcliffe argues that: ‘Decolonial writers argue that the modern episteme is always and intrinsically saturated with coloniality’ (2017: 329), hence the need to be alert to ‘multiple, diverse epistemic and ethical projects’ and to ‘delink’ from ‘Euro-American frameworks’ (ibid. 330). She goes on to argue that decoloniality should cover all aspects of geographical education: ‘racism and colonial modern epistemic privileging are often found in students selection and progress; course design, curriculum content; pedagogies; staff recruitment; resource allocation; and research priorities and debates’ (ibid. 331).

This challenge to the development of knowledge as a universal human endeavour, across history and culture, is often regarded not only as an issue for geographers, but is posed as a moral and political imperative (Elliot-Cooper, 2017; Jazeel, 2017 ). For Elliott-Cooper:

Geographers sit at a historical crossroads in academia, and there is no middle, benevolent way forward. We can either attempt to ignore, and implicitly reproduce the imperial logics that have influenced the shape of British geography since its inception, or actively rethink and dismantle imperialism’s afterlife by unlearning the unjust global hierarchies of knowledge production on which much of the Empires legitimacy was based. (2017:334)

To see contemporary geography as an expression of ‘imperialism’s afterlife’ serves to dramatically reinforce a sense of geographical knowledge – knowledge itself, not its origin or application – as ‘colonial’ or ‘imperial’. This approach often involves eschewing one’s own, or ‘Western’, knowledge in favour of that of marginalised people. Two academics, reflecting on their teaching, state: ‘Our efforts do not even begin to live up to decolonial land based pedagogies being implemented across indigenous communities‘ (Daigle and Sundberg, 2017: 339).

This deference to ‘land based pedagogies’, speaks to an eschewal modern geographical knowledge and method in favour of a plurality of knowledges, but with authority granted on the basis of indigeneity. Noxolo makes a similar case, arguing that ‘[t]here are material conditions of experience out of which both postcolonial and, crucially decolonial, writings emerge’ (2017: 342). Emphasis is placed on intellectual authority of the lived experience of the marginalised.

We may well want to read something due to the experience of the writer, or to consider how a society gathers information, precisely in order to begin to understand perspectives and conditions of others who’s lives may be very different to our own. But these writings enter into a world of ideas, theories and techniques in which individual geographers can judge their usefulness, veracity and explanatory power. The extent to which they are judged favourably as knowledge may well depend upon how far they transcend the conditions in which they were produced rather than their capacity to represent varied experience.

This is not at all to denigrate accounts based more directly upon lived experience and the diverse techniques and ideas that arise out of that, but simply to recognise the importance of generalisation, systematisation and abstraction in the production of knowledge that can have a universal veracity and capacity to help people in any context to understand and act upon the world we collectively inhabit.

Contradictions: Geography’s History and Darwin

There is a strong case against the epistemic relativism of decolonialism. Geographical thought is premised upon no more and no less that the impulse to understand the world around us in order to act upon it, whether we seek to conserve, harness or transform. Geographical knowledge qua knowledge is not tied to place, person or context in the way decolonise assumes – it is better understood not as the product of a pluriverse of ways of knowing the world, but a diverse universe of experience.

From ancient Greece onwards, and indeed prior to that, human societies have developed the capacity to act upon the world in pursuit of their ends, and to reflect upon their role in doing that. Geography – ‘earth writing’ – a term first used in 3,000 BC by scholars in Alexandria, is part of that humanistic tradition. From Herodotus mapping the Nile and considering its flow in 450 BC, up to today’s sophisticated Geographical Information Systems, knowledge confers the capacity to act.

How elites act is shaped by their societies and what they considered to be their political and economic goals. But the knowledge and techniques developed provide the basis for subsequent developments in knowledge, often in quite different societies. Knowledge and technique cross boundaries – the greater the capacity to travel and trade, the greater too the exchange of ideas on map making, agriculture, navigation and much else.

The 15th century explorer Prince Henry the Navigator acted in the interests of the Portuguese crown and instigated the slave trade, but was also a midwife to modern science. He was intrigued by the myth of Prester John, yet he also helped to see off the myths of seamonsters. His discoveries fueled a questioning of the notion that knowledge came from the external authority of a god, and a growing scientific spirit began to decentre mysticism and religion, a process that was later consolidated in the Enlightenment (Livingstone, 1992). Geographical knowledge – including that you were not going to sail off the end of the world, and that sea monsters are not real – stands as knowledge useful for any society or any individual, irrespective of Portugal’s leading role in the slave trade at this time.

So whilst of course it is important to consider and study the people, the society and interests involved in the production of knowledge, is also important to see knowledge’s universal potential. This is something downplayed by the calls to decolonise – knowledge and even technique seem at times to be tainted by the times in which they were developed and by the individuals who did the developing.

Deciding what is the best of this, always a worthy pursuit, may involve re-evaluating contributions from a variety of sources. Involvement in these sources, in the production of knowledge, may be shaped by national or racial oppression, poverty and access to resources, but it has little to do with epistemic oppression (Fricker, 1999).

Take for example, Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1998, original 1859). Darwin’s research involved all of the features regarded as ‘imperial’ by Connell (2007) and by other advocates of decolonialism: an association with the military (The Beagle was a military ship) and the use of others’ societies for data gathering without their consent or involvement. The voyage was funded by the British state who were engaged in colonial domination. Geography and scientific voyages were closely linked with imperial ambition (Livingstone, 1992).

Yet Darwin’s theory marked a major breakthrough in the understanding of evolution regardless of this context. As an explorer sponsored by the British imperialist state, and having benefitted from a good education, Darwin as an individual was clearly better placed to make this breakthrough that native inhabitants of Britain’s colonies or the Galapagos Islands – he had ‘privilege’ and he was ‘white’, two terms often used by decolonial activists to qualify or deny the authority of truth claims. Yet the Origin of the Species stands regardless of context as a ground breaking step forward in human understanding.

Darwinism has another link to colonialism. Social Darwinism was to provide the pseudo- scientific justification for the racism that in turn legitimised the imperialist Scramble for Africa and attendant racial extermination (Malik, 1997). Yet the veracity of Darwin’s theory is not diminished by the horrors justified through its bastardisation as Social Darwinism. Contrary to the view key to decolonialism, geographical knowledge can be sound and an advance on previous thinking regardless of the uses and misuses to which it is put. That is in no way to legitimise those uses, but simply to recognise that ideas that have a universal veracity emerge from particular, contradictory and often (especially from the perspective of today) reactionary contexts.

Geographical knowledge can be (mis)understood and (mis)used to further particular politics. Darwin’s ideas received a cool reception amongst those in the American South who believed that God had created wholly separate races with a differential capacity for intellect and reason. In New Zealand the same ideas were welcomed as a basis for an assumed superior group of colonisers taking over from an assumed less evolved, inferior group. This was in the context of struggle between Mauri and land hungry colonialists.

For Marx, Darwinism provided a metaphor for class struggle. For economic liberals social Darwinism buttressed the notion of laisser-faire free trade. Anarchist geographer Kropotkin advocated small scale cooperative societies – survival of those who cooperate, as they are best fitted for survival (Livingstone, 1992). So as well as being produced in contexts of power and inequality, knowledge is also mobilised in such contexts.

However Darwin’s theory as the highest expression of human understanding of its time in its field stands regardless of these interpretations and mobilisations, to be accepted or criticised according to reason and scientific evidence alone. Geographical and scientific theory clearly does have the potential to constitute universal knowledge, and its capacity to do so is not limited by the context within which it emerged, or the interests of those who developed it. We cannot decolonise knowledge that is not, itself, colonial.

Decolonialism’s Critique of Enlightenment Universalism

It is clear that the epistemology of decolonialism is based, often explicitly, upon a critique of the Enlightenment and its orientation towards knowledge and truth. Emejulu states this clearly in a piece titled Another University is Possible (2017). She accepts that the Enlightenment viewed all men as endowed with rationality and logic, and with inalienable rights, that human authority was replacing the church – all the positive, humanist claims that defenders of the Enlightenment would cite.

However, she questions who is included in ‘Man’ – who counts as human in Enlightenment humanism? How universal is Enlightenment universalism? Who can be part of European modernity? She argues that the restriction of the category of those who are to be free was intrinsic to Enlightenment thought – i.e. it was a Western Enlightenment, not only geographically, but in essence. Knowledge, ideas themselves, can be ‘Eurocentric,’ ‘Western’ or even (increasingly) ‘white’ in the eyes of advocates of decoloniality.

Emejulu quotes Mills from his book The Racial Contract (1999):

The contemporary interpretation of the Enlightenment obscures its exclusion of women, ‘savages’, slaves and indigenous peoples through the prevailing racial science as inherently irrational beings. Savages – or the colonial other: the Native or Aboriginal peoples, the African, the Indian, the slave – were constructed as subhuman, incapable of logical reasoning and thus not subject to the equality or liberty enjoyed by ‘men’. It is here, in the hierarchies of modernity that we can understand the central role of racism in shaping the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is brought into being by Europe’s colonial entanglements and is wholly dependent on its particular patriarchal relations – which Europe, in turn, imposed on its colonial subjects.

So these authors argue that the Enlightenment did not establish, nor establish the potential for, universal freedoms and rights or knowledge either, but that it stemmed from particular interests and experiences, and played the role of enforcing the domination of those interests. Humanistic notions of the pursuit of knowledge are considered partial, as a false universalist flag raised in the service of Western colonialism.

Matthew Arnold’s 19th century liberal humanist vision of knowledge (in schools) referring to ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits’ (Arnold, 1869: viii) is rejected in favour of a view of knowledge itself as relative to incommensurate diverse human experience. This perspectival view of knowledge is central to the advocacy of decolonialism.

Sundberg (2014: 38), citing Blaser (2009), claims that the concept of the universal is itself ‘inherently colonial’, and can only exist through ‘performances’ that ‘tend to suppress and / or contain the enactment of other possible worlds’. This is a striking rejection of universality. Whilst logically universal claims can undermine different ways to think about the world, assuming that this in inherent in universal thinking questions geographical thought from any source that aspires to transcend diverse experience and be judged as part of a global geographical conversation across time and space.

Whilst this point is made by Sundberg to deny the wider veracity of Western thinking, logically it would apply to others too – it suggests Southern scholars, too, should not aspire to speak too far outside of their assumed ontological and epistemological identities in search of universal truths.

Saigon Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City.
Image by David McKelvey via Flickr / Creative Commons

 

In Defence of the Enlightenment Legacy

The view as set out by Emejulu (2017) and implicit or explicit through much of literature is both one sided and also a misreading of the Enlightenment. Many Enlightenment thinkers articulated ideas that were new and revolutionary in that they posited two things: the centrality of humanity in making the world in which we live (through reason and through scientific understanding replacing religious and mystical views of one’s place and possibilities), and; the possibility and moral desirability of universal freedoms from subjection by others – natural, universal rights applicable to all. Both the study of the world, and the idea that people within the world were equal and free, were central to the Enlightenment (Pagden, 2015; Malik, 2014).

However, these ideas emerged within and through a world of interests, prejudices and limitations. So there is a dialectical relationship: the new ideas that point to the possibility and desirability of human equality and freedom, and the world as it was which, as Emejulu rightly says, was far from free or equal and far from becoming so.

Consider the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 – a document shaped by the new ideas of the Enlightenment, and associated with freedom and rights subsequently. Some of its signatories and drafters, including Thomas Jefferson, were slaveholders or had a stake in the slave trade. Yet the Declaration served as an emblem for opponents of slavery and inequality for the next 200 years.

The most famous clause in the Declaration states: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ (US Congress, 1776). At the time principled abolitionists played on the contradiction between the grand ideas and the practice of men like Jefferson. Some even argued that the clause relating to the ‘right of revolution’ (which was there to justify fighting for independence from the British) could apply to slaves who were not being treated equally.

Martin Luther King referenced the Declaration in his famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech at the Washington for Jobs and Freedom Demonstration of August 28, 1963: ‘When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ (King, 1991: 217). King’s speech, holding society to account by its own highest, universal moral standards, was in a long and noble tradition.

In the same vein the French Revolution’s Declaration on the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1791) also states: ‘All men are born free and with equal rights, and must always remain free and have equal rights.’ The dialectical tension between by the ideas that informed the French Revolution and the reality of the society is well illustrated by CLR James in The Black Jacobins (2001, original 1938). James writes of the Haitian revolution, a revolution in revolutionary France’s colony, in which slaves and their leaders took the ideas of the revolutionaries at their word. They directly confronted the limits of the revolution by insisting that its demand for liberty, fraternity and equality be made truly universal and applied to themselves, the slaves in the colonies.

The force of these Enlightenment influenced universalist conceptions of humanity, central to both Declarations, feature throughout the history of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism. For example, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese Declaration of Independence in 1945 cites both the famous ‘all men are created equal’ clause from the American Declaration, and its equivalent in the French Declaration, to accuse both of these imperialist countries of denying these ‘undeniable truths’ (Ho Chi Minh, 1945). In the Vietnamese Declaration it was assumed that the denial of Enlightenment ideals, not their assertion, characterised colonialism and imperialism. This is reversed in decolonial theory.

Equally, colonialism involved the denial of the fruits of modern geographical knowledge and technique, not an imposition of ‘colonial’ ideas. Just as geographic technique and knowledge developed in the imperialist West no doubt played a dark role in the war in Vietnam – not least cartography in charting bombing missions – so those same tools (or more advanced versions) in mapping, agriculture and much else are utilised today to enable a sovereign Vietnam look to a better future.

Enlightenment ideas, expressed in the American Declaration of Independence and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, were drafted by people complicit in slavery and formed a rational and moral basis for equality. The former does not contradict the latter. In similar vein geographical knowledge was harnessed to oppress, and provided the basis for post- colonial governments to progress. The Declarations were both of their time and transcendent of their time, as is good geographical knowledge. It is in the latter sense that we judge their worth as knowledge to help us understand and act upon the world today.

There is much else to be said about the Enlightenment of course. There were great diversity and contradictions within it. What Enlightenment scholar Jonathan Israel (2009) terms the Radical Enlightenment consisted of thinkers who pushed at the contradiction between the potential in Enlightenment thought and some of the backward beliefs prevalent amongst their contemporaries. They went well beyond the limiting assumption of humanity characteristic of their time: that some were capable of citizenship rights, and others were not.

Thomas Paine argued against slavery on the grounds that it infringed the universal (natural) right to human freedom. He did not restrict his category of ‘Man’ to western Man. He criticised colonialism too. He argued that Africans were productive, peaceful citizens in their own countries, until the English enslaved them (Paine, 1774). Diderot, Raynal, d’Holbach and others contributed to a 1770 volume titled Histoire Philosophique des Deux Indes (The Philosophical History of the Two Indies). The book asserts that ‘natural liberty is the right which nature has given to everyone to dispose of himself according to his will’. It prophesied and defended the revolutionary overthrow of slavery: ‘The negroes only want a chief, sufficiently courageous to lead them to vengeance and slaughter… Where is the new Spartacus?’ (cited in Malik, 2017).

So Emejulu’s account, and the assumption of decolonialism, are wrong. The issue is not that the Enlightenment is racist and partial, and the intellectual traditions that draw upon its legacy comprise ‘imperial’ or ‘colonial’ knowledge. Rather, the Enlightenment put reason and rationality, scientific method and the potential for liberty and equality at the centre of intellectual and political life. It provided a basis for common, human pursuit of knowledge.

The growth of scientific method associated with the Enlightenment, as an orientation towards knowledge, was not linked to any particular culture or deity, but to universal reason (Malik, 2014). The implication of this is that theories should be judged for their capacity to explain and predict, concepts for their capacity to illuminate and techniques for their efficacy. That they should be judged with consideration for (or even deference towards) the identity, political or social, of their originator, or with regard to context or contemporary use – all key to decolonialism – undermines the pursuit of truth as a universal, human project.

Knowledge, theories and techniques are better seen as having the capacity to transcend place and power. The veracity of a theory, the usefulness of a concept or the efficacy of a technique are remarkably unaffected by their origin and their context. Audre Lorde’s idiom, ‘The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house’, invoked by Jazeel (2017: 335) to argue that the traditions of knowledge and rights associated with the West cannot be the basis for the liberation of the non-West, is simply untrue in this context. The anti-colonial and anti-racist movements of the past achieved a massive amount through struggles that explicitly drew upon iconic assertions of the ‘Western’ Enlightenment. There is clearly some way to go.

Concluding Thoughts: Decolonialism and Liberation

To decolonise has been presented as a moral imperative connected to liberation (Jazeel, 2017; Elliot-Cooper, 2017). I think it is better regarded as one approach, premised upon particular political views and assumptions such as critical race theory and the intersectional politics of identity. In its advocacy of an ontological pluriverse and of diverse systems of knowledge, there is one knowledge claim that cannot be allowed – the claim that knowledge, from any source, ultimately, can aspire to be universal. In addition, presenting decolonialism as a moral and political imperative leaves little room for alternatives which become, a priori, immoral.

By contrast, Brenda Wingfield, Vice President of the Academy of Science of South Africa, argues that: ‘What’s really important is that South African teachers, lecturers and professors must develop curricula that build on the best knowledge skills, values, beliefs and habits from around the world’ (2017) (my italics). She fears that the rhetoric of decolonialism will effectively delink South Africa from science’s cutting edge. She points out that this in turn reduces the opportunity for young black South African scholars to be involved with the most advanced knowledge whatever its source, and also the opportunity to adapt and utilise that knowledge to address local issues and conditions. In other words, decolonialism could damage the potential for material liberation from poverty, and for promoting a more equal involvement in the global production of knowledge about our shared world.

In the spirit of the Radical Enlightenment, I would argue that the best of geographical knowledge and technique be made available for the benefit of all, on the terms of the beneficiaries. In judging ’the best’, origin and context, whilst important and enlightening areas of study in themselves, are secondary.

Academics and universities could certainly more effectively challenge the marginalisation of parts of the world in academic life and the production of geographical knowledge. Suggestions would include: Truly reciprocal academic exchanges, funded by Western universities who can better afford it, where budding academics from the South can choose freely from the curriculum around their own priorities; greater joint projects to understand and find solutions to problems as they are defined by Southern governments; increased funding for twinning with under resourced universities in the South, with a “no strings attached” undertaking to share knowledge, training and resources as they are demanded from academics based in the South.

In other words, we should prioritise a relationship between knowledge and resources from the best universities in the world (wherever they are located), and the sovereignty of the South.

None of this necessitates the decolonisation of geographical knowledge. Rather, it requires us to think afresh at how the promissory note of the Enlightenment – the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality (and I would add of the potential to understand the word in order to change it) – can be cashed.

Contact details: jim.butcher@canterbury.ac.uk

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Paine, T. (1774). Essay on slavery, 1774. In Foot. M and Kramnick I. (eds) (1987). Thomas Paine Reader: London:Penguin: 52-56

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Sundberg, J. (2014). Decolonising posthumanist geographies. Cultural Geographies, 2, 1, 33-47. DOI:10.1177/1474474013486067

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Wingfield, B. (2017) What “decolonised education” should and shouldn’t mean. The Conversation. February 14. Retrieved from: http://theconversation.com/what-decolonised-education-should-and-shouldnt-mean-72597 .

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, gregory.sandstrom@ehu.lt

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: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3ji

Please refer to:

origin_of_species

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.

Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, gregory.sandstrom@ehu.lt

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.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3iK

evolution

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.

This comment was ‘liked’ by BioLogos Managing Editor Brad Kramer, Joshua Swamidass & @Caspar_Hesp (Forum Moderator).

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.

Author Information: William T. Lynch, Wayne State University, William.Lynch@wayne.edu

Lynch, William T. “Darwinian Social Epistemology: Science and Religion as Evolutionary Byproducts Subject to Cultural Evolution.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 2 (2016): 26-68.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-2Ci

Dawn

Image credit: Susanne Nilsson, via flickr

Abstract

Key to Steve Fuller’s recent defense of intelligent design is the claim that it alone can explain why science is even possible. By contrast, Fuller argues that Darwinian evolutionary theory posits a purposeless universe which leaves humans with no motivation to study science and no basis for modifying an underlying reality. I argue that this view represents a retreat from insights about knowledge within Fuller’s own program of social epistemology. I show that a Darwinian picture of science, as also of religion, can be constructed that explains how these complex social institutions emerged out of a process of biological and cultural evolution. Science and religion repurpose aspects of our evolutionary inheritance to the new circumstances of more complex societies that have emerged since the Neolithic revolution.  Continue Reading…