Justin Cruickshank at the University of Birmingham was kind enough to alert me to Steve Fuller’s talk “Transhumanism and the Future of Capitalism”—held by The Philosophy of Technology Research Group—on 11 January 2017.
Archives For Steve Fuller
Author Information: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk
Editor’s Note: As we near the end of an eventful 2016, the SERRC will publish reflections considering broadly the immediate future of social epistemology as an intellectual and political endeavor.
Please refer to:
- Clarissa Ai Ling Lee, “ArtScientist/ScienceArtist: Finding a Creative-Intellectual Room of One’s Own”.
- Mark D. West, “The Holidays and What is Given”.
- Adam Briggle, “Post-Truth Blues?”
- Alcibiades Malapi-Nelson, “For 2017: Beyond Precaution”.
- Matthew R. X. Dentith, “Distributing the Epistemic Burden”.
- Robert Frodeman, “Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order”.
Image credit: Der Robert, via flickr
The Oxford Dictionary made ‘post-truth’ word of the year for 2016. Here is the definition, including examples of usage:
Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:
‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’
‘some commentators have observed that we are living in a post-truth age’
In STS terms, this definition is clearly ‘asymmetrical’ because it is pejorative, not neutral. It is a post-truth definition of ‘post-truth’. It is how those dominant in the epistemic power game want their opponents to be seen. In my recent symmetrical exposition of ‘post-truth’ for the Guardian, I suggested that the Oxford Dictionary’s definition speaks the lion’s truth, which tries to create as much moral and epistemic distance as possible from whatever facsimile of the truth the fox might be peddling. Thus, the fox—but not the lion—is portrayed as distorting the facts and appealing to emotion. Yet, the lion’s truth appears to the fox as simplistically straightforward and heavy-handed, often delivered in a fit of righteous indignation. Indeed, this classic portrayal of the lion/fox divide may better apply to the history of science than the history of politics.
For better or worse, STS recoiled from the post-truth worldview in 2004, when Bruno Latour famously waved the white flag in the Science Wars, which had been raging for nearly fifteen years—starting with the post-Cold War reassessment of public funding for science. Latour’s terms of surrender were telling. After all, he was the one who extended the symmetry principle from the Edinburgh School’s treatment of all human factors—regardless of whether we now deem them to have been ‘good’ and ‘bad’—to include all non-human factors as well. However, Latour hadn’t anticipated that symmetry applied not only to the range of objects studied but also the range of agents studying them.
Somewhat naively, Latour seemed to think that a universalization of the symmetry principle would make STS the central node in a universal network of those studying ‘technoscience’. Instead, everyone started to apply the symmetry principle for themselves, which led to rather cross-cutting networks and unexpected effects, especially once the principle started to be wielded by creationists, climate sceptics and other candidates for an epistemic ‘basket of deplorables’. And by turning symmetry to their advantages, the deplorables got results, at least insofar as the balance of power has gradually tilted more in their favour—again, for better or worse.
My own view has always been that a post-truth world is the inevitable outcome of greater epistemic democracy. In other words, once the instruments of knowledge production are made generally available—and they have been shown to work—they will end up working for anyone with access to them. This in turn will remove the relatively esoteric and hierarchical basis on which knowledge has traditionally acted as a force for stability and often domination. The locus classicus is the Republic, in which Plato promotes what in the Middle Ages was called a ‘double truth’ doctrine – one for the elites (which allows them to rule) and one for the masses (which allows them to be ruled).
Of course, the cost of making the post-truth character of knowledge so visible is that it also exposes a power dynamics that may become more intense and ultimately destructive of the social order. This was certainly Plato’s take on democracy’s endgame. In the early modern period, this first became apparent with the Wars of Religion that almost immediately broke out in Europe once the Bible was made readily available. (Francis Bacon and others saw in the scientific method a means to contain any such future conflict by establishing a new epistemic mode of domination.) While it is possible to defer democracy by trying to deflect attention from the naked power dynamics, as Latour does, with fancy metaphysical diversions and occasional outbursts in high dudgeon, those are leonine tactics that only serve to repress STS’s foxy roots. In 2017, we should finally embrace our responsibility for the post-truth world and call forth our vulpine spirit to do something unexpectedly creative with it.
The hidden truth of Aude sapere (Kant’s ‘Dare to know’) is Audet adipiscitur (Thucydides’ ‘Whoever dares, wins’).
Image credit: Mike Licht, via flickr
Even today, more than fifty years after its first edition, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions remains the first port of call to learn about the history, philosophy or sociology of science. This is the book famous for talking about science as governed by ‘paradigms’ until overtaken by ‘revolutions’.
Kuhn argued that the way that both scientists and the general public need to understand the history of science is ‘Orwellian’. He is alluding to 1984, in which the protagonist’s job is to rewrite newspapers from the past to make it seem as though the government’s current policy is where it had been heading all along. In this perpetually airbrushed version of history, the public never sees the U-turns, switches of allegiance and errors of judgement that might cause them to question the state’s progressive narrative. Confidence in the status quo is maintained and new recruits are inspired to follow in its lead. Kuhn claimed that what applies to totalitarian 1984 also applies to science united under the spell of a paradigm.
What makes Kuhn’s account of science ‘post-truth’ is that truth is no longer the arbiter of legitimate power but rather the mask of legitimacy that is worn by everyone in pursuit of power. Truth is just one more – albeit perhaps the most important – resource in a power game without end. In this respect, science differs from politics only in that the masks of its players rarely drop.
The explanation for what happens behind the masks lies in the work of the Italian political economist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), devotee of Machiavelli, admired by Mussolini and one of sociology’s forgotten founders. Kuhn spent his formative years at Harvard in the late 1930s when the local kingmaker, biochemist Lawrence Henderson, not only taught the first history of science courses but also convened an interdisciplinary ‘Pareto Circle’ to get the university’s rising stars acquainted with the person he regarded as Marx’s only true rival.
For Pareto, what passes for social order is the result of the interplay of two sorts of elites, which he called, following Machiavelli, ‘lions’ and ‘foxes’. The lions acquire legitimacy from tradition, which in science is based on expertise rather than lineage or custom. Yet, like these earlier forms of legitimacy, expertise derives its authority from the cumulative weight of intergenerational experience. This is exactly what Kuhn meant by a ‘paradigm’ in science – a set of conventions by which knowledge builds in an orderly fashion to complete a certain world-view established by a founding figure – say, Newton or Darwin. Each new piece of knowledge is anointed by a process of ‘peer review’.
As in 1984, the lions normally dictate the historical narrative. But on the cutting room floor lies the activities of the other set of elites, the foxes. In today’s politics of science, they are known by a variety of names, ranging from ‘mavericks’ to ‘social constructivists’ to ‘pseudoscientists’. Foxes are characterised by dissent and unrest, thriving in a world of openness and opportunity. (Read more …)
Author Information: Eugene Loginov, Moscow State University, http://hisocrates.com/portfolio-view/eugene-loginov-2/
Loginov, Eugene. “Steve Fuller on Proofs for God’s Existence: An Interview.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 12 (2016): 1-3.
Editor’s Note: A philosophy student at Moscow State University, Eugene Loginov, recently interviewed Steve Fuller on his views about arguments concerning the existence of God. The interview will be published in Russian in the philosophy magazine, Date-Palm Compote. Below are Loginov’s questions and Fuller’s responses.
Image credit: Tom Davidson, via flickr
Eugene Loginov (EL): What is your position regarding the general idea of making arguments for the existence of God? Do you think it to be valid at all? Why?
Steve Fuller (SF): I think that arguments for the existence of God are among the most psychologically revealing philosophical projects that one can engage in. This is especially true of ‘God’ in the Abrahamic religions, in whose ‘image and likeness’ humans are supposedly created. The sort of arguments that people find persuasive for the existence of God says something deep about the nature of their own connection with the world. For example, the more secure we feel about our place in the cosmos, the more persuasive the ontological argument will seem, since it is based on faith in the workings of our own minds. I identify this orientation with a broadly ‘Augustinian’ approach to Christianity, which stresses the overlap between human and divine being in terms of access to the logos: God creates by the Word and we can understand through the Word.
(EL): If you tried to prove God’s existence (or to make a claim against its existence), what definition of the notion of “God” would you use? Do you think that the classic definition of “God” as “the all-good, omniscient and omnipotent creator of the world” is still the suitable one?
(SF): I would go with the idea of God that I find in Duns Scotus, and Leibniz namely, that God is the transcendental optimizer of all the virtues. In other words, God is not merely all good, all powerful, etc. After all, any of one of those qualities taken to the extreme may be incompatible with the others—and may turn out to result in more bad than good. (Think of what might happen to humans if God were a ruthlessly efficient superintelligent computer.) It follows that God contains all the virtues in a way that enables them to cohere together in his person to maximum overall positive effect—a convergence to a ‘divine singularity’, if you will, or what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called the ‘Omega Point’. However, it may not be obvious what such a transcendental optimizer would look like, since such a God would be constituted in a way which appears—at least from a human perspective—to involve trade-offs between the virtues.
(EL): Which of the various arguments for God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) you regard as the most valid and/or the most interesting one?
(SF): My answer to [your second question] (see above) is a version of the ontological argument, which I believe is the most intellectually interesting and challenging argument for God’s existence—because it basically makes our own existence (at least as thinking beings) co-dependent with God’s existence. Philosophers tend to focus on whether the ontological argument is valid, when in fact they should pay attention to the consequences if it turns out to be invalid. More than simply the existence of God is at stake. The constitution of our own minds is also on trial here. Partly influenced by Kant, Darwin believed that humans were unique as a species—due to our overdeveloped cerebral cortex—in taking its own ideas seriously even if they lack any direct relation to empirical reality. He believed that this liability (at least from an evolutionary standpoint) resulted in brutal intra-species wars and might ultimately lead to the extinction of the human species altogether. For Darwin, ‘God’ was clearly one such idea, especially when defended by the ontological argument.
(EL): What are your thoughts regarding significance of demonstrations of God’s existence (or claims against its, or His, existence) in history of philosophy, science, religion and culture in general?
(SF): The best way to answer the question is to consider what happens when arguments for the existence of God are not taken seriously. The first thing that happens is that belief in God goes underground. In other words, God becomes something whose existence is implicitly affirmed or denied but does not make a material difference to other propositions that one might believe or defend. The second thing that happens is that the ‘hole’ in public discourse formerly filled by God talk becomes colonized by, on the one hand, humans-as-gods and, on the other hand, an outright denial of the order and goodness to reality that a rational belief in God was supposed to underwrite. So there are seriously value implications for denying the seriousness of arguments for God’s existence.
(EL): There is a widely held opinion that Kant’s critique of the arguments he was aware of was so devastating, that the very question of making arguments for the existence of God ceased to be philosophically relevant. Do you agree? Why?
(SF): As a matter of historical fact, Kant dealt a serious blow to formal arguments for the existence of God, since he basically diagnosed all of them as pathologies of reason of one sort or another. As I said in answer to [your third question] (see above), this opened the door to Darwin’s diminished view of human cognitive aspirations. However, it is worth pointing out that much of 19th century philosophy of science—I think here especially of William Whewell and Charles Sanders Peirce—stressed the ‘pragmatic’ side of Kant’s position, which accepted the motivational role that God’s existence played in driving science towards a unified worldview and conferring on humans a sense of purpose more generally.
I would also observe that Kant seems to have thought that any attempt to prove the existence of God must start by imagining ourselves to be radically different from God, and so the point of the ‘proof’ would be to gain epistemic access to this ‘other’ being called ‘God. However, the Cartesian tradition (including Malebranche and Leibniz) does not presume that sense of radical difference. In other words, these rationalists took rather literally the idea that we are already equipped to access the ‘Mind of God’. This effectively modernizes Augustine, which later philosophers further secularized as the ‘a priori’ and ‘innate ideas’. However, the challenge—already recognized by Augustine—is how to translate God’s infinite and transcendental status into our necessarily finite and temporal understanding of things.
Perhaps the most concrete expression of this challenge occurs over the ‘problem of evil’, the subject matter of theodicy, which queries God’s apparent tolerance or indifference to the world’s massive harms and imperfections. It was in this context that arguments for God’s existence based on ‘intelligent design’ (i.e. a deeper design than would appear at first glance) were developed in the 18th century, culminating in the work of William Paley, whose natural theology famously drove Darwin away from a belief in God.
(EL): What text (or texts) is in your opinion the most important one (or ones) for understanding the problematic in question?
(SF): Interestingly, I don’t think there is a single book that really discusses classic arguments for the existence in God in all their historical, philosophical and sociological richness. However, I recommend the works of Peter Harrison, as one contemporary historian and philosopher of science who shows repeatedly how key doctrines relating to a belief in the existence of God—such as the need for a personal encounter with the Bible and the doctrine of Original Sin—operated as what Imre Lakatos would have called as ‘positive heuristic’ in facilitating the inquiring mind during the 17th century Scientific Revolution.
Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, email@example.com
Sandstrom, Gregory. “Trans-Evolutionary Change Even Darwin Would Accept.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 18-26.
Please refer to:
- Sandstrom, Gregory. “No Fuller than Complete: Darwin’s Age Comes to an End.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 12-17.
Image credit: 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: Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, S.W.Fuller@warwick.ac.uk
- “The 2016 US Presidential Election Was Less about Populism than a Vote against Democracy” was reposted from The Sociological Imagination.
Image credit: Lorraine Murphy, via flickr
Three facts are striking about the US presidential election:
1. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, though she lost the Electoral College, which decides the presidency.
2. Voter turnout was much lower than initially expected, and this meant that especially Black voters—who overwhelmingly backed Clinton—came out in smaller numbers.
3. The pollsters got it wrong, and they especially got it wrong in places where the people who live there are most unlike themselves. And those people overwhelmingly voted for Trump. They’ve been called ‘silent voters’ in this election. Richard Nixon, following a rather similarly surprising victory in 1968, famously called them the ‘silent majority’.
This doesn’t look to me like populism but a loss of faith in democracy. And here perhaps the most brilliant move of the Trump campaign was to declare that the vote was rigged before most of the votes had even been cast. This effectively discouraged the people who had most relied on the ballot box as their means to salvation from casting their vote. It also added to the cynical ‘politics as usual’ attitude that Trump had sown by portraying Clinton as standing for everything that’s wrong with the federal government. However, the people who supported Trump weren’t necessarily great believers in democracy, given their high tolerance for Trump’s anti-democratic statements (even if eventually modified or reversed). What Trump’s supporters liked about their man was his resolve—and his seeming ability—to get things done, by whatever means it takes.
The moral of the 2016 election then is that democracy itself—especially in the complex representational form that it takes in the United States—is the big loser. Like Brexit, the Trump phenomenon was made possible by a rage that doesn’t add up to a positive plan of action. But much more explicitly than Brexit, which actually was brought about by an opening up of democratic processes (through the use of referendum), the 2016 US presidential election was a vote against the democratic system itself—both in terms of who voted and who didn’t vote.
The pollsters got all this wrong perhaps because they mistakenly presumed that the voters shared their own and the political class’s belief that their problems can in principle be solved at the ballot box. It will be interesting to see just how much Trump is tempted to fiddle with the US Constitution. Watch out especially for his Supreme Court nominees, who are capable of doing the most long-term damage to the system. In any case, it should give pause to those of us who still believe in democratic processes about whether much is to be gained by staging mass protests saying ‘Trump is not my president!’ and promising endless resistance to whatever Trump does. It seems to me that this will only reinforce the view of Trump supporters that democracy is a broken system and requires still more radical remedies. But it is not at all clear how true believers in democracy go from there.
Author Information: Gregory Sandstrom, European Humanities University and Mykolas Romeris University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandstrom, Gregory. “No Fuller than Complete: Darwin’s Age Comes to an End.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 11 (2016): 12-17.
Image credit: Marc Brüneke, via flickr
The bagpipes are playing the funeral oration for Darwin’s evolutionary theories as they have been chronically misapplied and ill-championed in social sciences and humanities (SSH), the true home of the Darwin wars. The feverish century-long pitch of the drum, drum, drumming of evolutionary war; war in nature, struggle for life, survival of the fittest, man vs. nature, man vs. each other motif, has finally moved past its zenith. No fuller than complete, the Age of Darwinian evolution now comes to an end, with a sign to mark its place at the Royal Society.
The Scottish originator of the phrase “natural process of selection” (1831) might be put out by all the notoriety that C. Darwin has received over the past 158 years since publication of ‘The Origin.’ But the fall from grace that Darwin is set up for once again in London, this time in front of a jury of world-class intellectual peers that will include philosophers and social scientists may be enough that the gracious Scot Patrick Matthew would never wish Darwin’s eventual fate upon him.
At an upcoming meeting at the Royal Society on ‘new trends in evolutionary biology,’ the prospect of finally over-turning ideological Darwinism in biology, with global leading evolutionists in attendance, is on our doorstep. Will Darwin’s Age finally come to an end? Darwin’s theory now comes across to the educated eye as ‘developed but incomplete,’ in stark contrast with how things looked in the mid-19th century.
When Darwin wrote privately to his mentor C. Lyell in 1860 about “a complete but not developed anticipation!” of his theory (of the origin of species by means of) natural selection, he obviously hadn’t yet heard of the so-called ‘Arago Effect’ of scientific priority. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have written it. Darwin’s letter symbolically gives official priority over the discovery of ‘natural selection’ to Matthew; ‘complete’ signals that Darwin didn’t add anything new and that his theory was ‘anticipated.’ A serious argument can thus be made that we are more hanging onto the name ‘Charles Robert Darwin of Down, England,’ etc. than we are any longer confident that the ‘evolutionary’ ideas coming from Darwin’s 19th century ‘canon’ of hand-me-down texts are still fuel for the scientific imagination and research programs today.
As Matthew wrote to the Gardener’s Chronicle in making his claim to having pioneered the idea of “nature’s law of selection,” others were not ready to receive what he wrote at the time and there was a “spirit of resistance to scientific doctrine” in positing nature’s ‘selection,’ “that caused my work to be voted unfit for the public library of the fair city itself. The age was not ripe for such ideas.” This was said in 1860 (less than 2 years after publication of OoS), when Matthew responded in print to a review of Darwin’s ‘Origin’ that suggested Darwin was original and held priority over ‘natural selection.’ Publically, however, Darwin would only suggest that nobody had read Matthew’s work and that he took nothing, even through word-of-mouth from others who had read Matthew, from Matthew’s ideas as a kind of ‘knowledge contamination’ (Sutton 2014).
What would happen if someone found something like an English acronym N.L.O.S. or even the directly stated Matthew phrase “nature’s law of selection” in any of the personal correspondence between Darwin and someone before 1858? If any such thing exists, with it the priority game for Darwin would surely be up with disgrace to his legendary name. But the so-called ‘smoking gun,’ much like those pesky transitional fossils in the historical geological record on Earth sometimes remain, is still yet to be found, if it even does exist.
Shift to 2016 and the ‘culture war’ in the Anglo-American English world surrounding the term ‘evolution’ (leave aside ‘creationism’ for the time being) is about to get a facelift with the upcoming Royal Society ‘new trends’ meeting. The scholarly discourse of change-over-time in SSH today has little to nothing to gain from Darwin’s corpus any more, but it may still lose much by not dropping him and his unruly ideological followers now.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems in the Anglo-American discourse is that many people there seemingly “don’t know what they don’t know” regarding evolutionism in SSH. In this case, in not knowing, they continue to abuse evolutionary language, under the spell of Darwinism. This happens both on the side of atheists that try to argue evolution offers a scientific argument to bolster their atheism, and for theists who employ the term ‘evolution’ even in the most absurd of cases in trying to linguistically woo their opponents.
At the USA’s evangelical Christian-based BioLogos, where ‘science and faith’ are supposed to co-exist peacefully (D. Falk), except when they don’t (e.g. cloning, contraception, pharmaceuticals, nano-technology, neural-linguistic programming, etc.), or be ‘integrated’ into each other (J. Swamidass), except when they aren’t (welcome to 21st century fracked philosophy!), and evolutionary biology is not considered as problematic to religious belief, except when it comes to the mystical genomics of Adam & Eve, there is a glaring problem of equivocation by the Management regarding the meaning of ‘evolution.’ Yes, folks, all good intentions aside, they really don’t know what they don’t know and furthermore don’t want to know. They want to be stubborn ‘creationists’ at their local churches instead.
The reason for this is that BioLogos holds an ideologically ‘scientistic’ epistemology, where scientisation runs rampant over knowledge with implications for secular human nature, character and theology (cf. A. McGrath’s ‘scientific theology’). Thus, BioLogos has demonstrated that it actively supports the over-extension of ‘evolution’ into evolutionism and uses metaphor transfer from natural to artificial ‘designs.’ We also see this in the over-extension of ‘creation’ into ‘creationism,’ which BioLogos not subtly endorses. Sadly, they offer no excuse or explanation for their simple and obvious grammatical error in displaying their confused ideologies.
Here’s one example. A commenter named Rafael Galvão wrote on their site:
I have a degree in economics and my object of study is the history of economic thought. Biological evolution and economic evolution are always used interchangeably, like the models of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis are drawn from the evolutionary theory. I think it’s interesting that there are lots of discussions in the history of economic thought about Malthus and in the history of theology he’s basically forgotten.
We can therefore conclude, aside from not recognising a simple falsehood in economics – evolution is not “always used interchangeably” – that BioLogos thus even promotes interchangeable usage of ‘evolution’ in biology and economics. This is significant by itself because they “don’t know what they don’t know” on this topic. They display no public recognition regarding ideological evolutionism and its underside, even welcoming a Christian evolutionary psychology project (which was not well received) into their Templeton-funded grants program.
Yet BioLogos is, unfortunately, not alone here and their conflation of NPS with SSH joins a considerably large group of economists who if they don’t call themselves ‘evolutionists’ then at least openly applies what they consider as loosely (because there isn’t much more than that) ‘evolutionary principles’ in their economics work. Whether the so-called principles themselves are worthless and of minimal theoretical contribution doesn’t seem to matter to them, as long as it is labelled ‘evolutionary’ and thanks be given to Darwin in the genre of scientific origins mythology.
Many fields in play, you might be wondering where this is going and why it’s important. Economics is a clear and blatant example of a field in confusion as a result of evolutionism in SSH. When the notion of what exactly does and what doesn’t evolve is not even raised and a discussion not had to clarify borders or boundaries, or at least evolutionary ‘aspirations,’ then little can be done to stop what Dennett called “Darwin’s universal acid.” Darwin is upheld by some as one of the greatest developers of SSH fields; he has been called the founder of psychology, of sociology and of modern political economy, etc. The notion that Darwin’s ‘principles’ may apply equally to human beings as to other creatures and even plants, rocks, the solar system and universe, etc. symbolizes a existential threat to human freedom and sovereignty, while some also see it as some kind of liberation.
One need only bring up one example among hundreds to throw a cold bucket of water on the notion that BioLogos actually supports ‘evolutionary economics’ or even knows much about what it means. They seem unaware of the potentially deadly social consequences that a misunderstanding of economic development might cause. With a law of competition based on “survival of the fittest in every department” between people, “[w]e accept and welcome great inequality (and) the concentration of business,” said Andrew Carnegie, “in the hands of a few.” Is this the kind of Darwinian economics BioLogos supports? It sadly remains a problem that BioLogos “doesn’t know what it doesn’t know” and therefore thinks that evolutionism everywhere without limits. Perhaps someday we will receive some clarity from BioLogos regarding abuses, and also under-sights, like why they never discuss cutting-edge biology and genetics involved with the Third Way. BioLogos shows ‘No Results’ regarding this “New Trends” meeting on its website although it has many biologists among its commentators. The USAmerican discourse surrounding ‘evolution,’ from this global village Canadian’s perspective is, given such intentional avoidance of crucial issues as at BioLogos, indeed largely a side-note to more interesting and important things.
Of key import at the Royal Society meeting is the notion of an ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ and also the meaning of evolutionary ‘over-extension,’ since the notion of ‘replacement’ or major correction (amendment) for (neo-)Darwinian evolutionary theory is now realistically in play. R. Dawkins had already warned us in 2004 about getting “not too extended,” regarding the so-called ‘extended phenotype.’ In the McLuhan tongue, there is a distinction to make between a ‘speed-up’ and being ‘flipped.’ Thus, if evolutionary theory is ‘extended’ too far, sooner or later it ‘flips’ and becomes something other than itself at the core.
One of the most difficult puzzles nowadays seems to be finding opportunities for non-evolutionary thinking. Are there any replacement-like ‘non-evolutionary’ options for studying human character ready and available to consider that Darwin could never have imagined? If so, let us see some of them presented publically at the Royal Society.
In the present Wikipedia example, Objections to evolution is “part of a series on Evolutionary Biology.” This may seem unimportant, but it is a simple example that is repeated rampantly wherein objecting to evolution can only happen ‘legitimately’ in biology, yet at the same time the concept is widely used outside of biology, even in SSH. It begs the question if objections to evolution outside of biology can be legitimated and on what grounds would one decide if they are legitimate? If one listens only to the status quo of ‘normal evolutionary science’ voices in the Academy nowadays they could quite easily block this questioning out. Yet this Royal Society meeting makes the ‘universal Darwinism’ (Dawkins 1983) position very difficult to defend anymore and indeed much easier to leave aside for more progressive models.
Evolutionary ideas borrowed from biology are caught in the natural-physical scientific methodology of requiring that the ‘interpreter’ of nature (scientist) be entirely ‘un-reflexive’ in their scientific practise. Such an approach takes aim at a kind of ‘positive’ science or ‘objective’ knowledge which is thought to liberate the individual researcher from his or her typical human reflexivity into ‘objective scientific neutrality.’ But this is not the kind of ‘knowledge’ that is produced and shared in SSH, no matter how much easier it would make things if we could find ‘natural science-like’ looking data collection techniques.
Just as SSH scholars cannot escape their (our) reflexivity in our various research topics, neither can we impose our own worldview upon others as if the scientific theories and methods we use and advocate supposedly requires that. As Dawkins once cautioned, however, there are ‘Neville Chamberlain evolutionists,’ i.e. atheist-appeasers who argue that science and religion are somehow mutually compatible. The compatibility argument for science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse runs contrary to what Dawkins and many of the ‘new atheists’ believe, which is that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible.
Theistic evolutionists (TEs) or evolutionary creationists (ECs), on the other hand, believe that science and religion are compatible, even while there are oftentimes disagreements and even open ideological conflicts. TEs consist of the majority and current default position among Abrahamic theists. Yet the protestant evangelicals who swarm to this topic of conversation turning it into a large in-market often come across as simply confused and under-educated, whether they self-identify as ‘creationist’ (against Darwin’s view that “it becomes highly improbable that they [species] have been separately created by individual acts of the will of a Creator”) or not.
One problematic feature of this recent development only in the past 5-10 years is that ideological TEs (which means all of them, by definition of the term ‘evolutionists’) often won’t stand alongside of their fellow theists who haven’t given up Orthodox teachings for evolutionistic ideology. Yet for TEs who are otherwise orthodox and mainstream even without carrying the label, the continual embrace of evolutionism may come to be seen as an unnecessary linguistic act that can be corrected simply by will of words and nothing else.
In short, there certainly are people who need to hear the message: “Please stop trying to ‘evolutionise’ everything. We see through this ruse with trans-evolutionary change.” The spirit of the difference between ‘evolving’ and other types of change and the discernment of evolution’s limitations is something that TEs still seem unable to experience or perceive. This condition may change with the inclusion of trans-evolutionary change into SSH discourse.
One problem in the sub-field of social epistemology (i.e. not just individualistic analytic ‘western’ epistemology, or even Goldmanian social epistemology) is that Fuller himself seems to draw no clear distinction between what ‘evolves’ and what doesn’t. I can find nothing in my Fuller notes where he defines or even acknowledges ‘non-evolutionary’ in any meaningful way. On the one hand, Fuller is putting risk and reward mechanisms in front of people in public the way he contends that “we are now entering a new era in the understanding of minds and machines.” It may sound somehow empowering when Fuller uses such language, that of enhancement, uplift and higher projection than homo sapiens sapiens. This is provocative ‘social epistemology’ that engages many people and in my opinion could do so in a more effective way, were Fuller to clarify himself about what specifically does and doesn’t evolve.
Fuller recently displayed surprisingly backwards in his language by a least a century and was uncharacteristically ‘precautionary’ on the topic of ‘social evolution.’ He still actually seems to believe in that old myth! Fuller says that “military and police drones may evolve” (into ‘android companions’). Yet this is a primarily externalistic notion of ‘evolve’ with no internal ‘human guidance’ involved. Obviously that scenario is quite contrary to actual social reality. If Fuller wishes to conceptually disavow ‘social evolution,’ the academic world will no more vilify him for this than they have already for his endorsement of ‘intelligent design.’
Mere gradualism and step-by-step thinking likewise shouldn’t be defended by Fuller here as ‘evolutionary’ based on loosely defined views of change-over-time in society. Proactionary thinking, in contrast with evolutionistic SSH, is much more (if not entirely) internalistic in character; with the individual (or group) choosing to intentionally act based on inner reasons, instincts or principles. Fuller thus seems to be stuck on the right side, yet still the downside of Darwin’s legacy, not yet having moved past evolutionism in his linguistic strategy and offering little clarity through his linguistic embrace of social evolution. In this confusing message regarding evolution and evolutionism, Fuller thus seems to want to have things as many ways as possible at the same time and all at once in his unity-oriented social epistemology.
“‘Wouldn’t ‘Nature,’ understood in its totality,” Fuller a self-described ‘naturalist’ asks, “suffice as the name of God?’ The authors of this book [Fuller and Lipinska], on the other hand, stand with those who locate the ‘best explanation’ for nature in the workings of the sort of anthropocentric yet transcendent deity favoured by the Abrahamic religions.” This was the public(ation) moment of Fuller’s conversion from secular humanism to Unitarian (proto-Christian) science, philosophy & theology discourse. Without this piece to the puzzle, without reference to a “transcendent deity,” Fuller’s defence of neo-creationist Intelligent Design would make no sense. So, with this understanding, Fuller’s social epistemology now no longer looks as ‘naturalistic’ as it once may have.
At least we note that Fuller has come around (2014) to reluctantly acknowledging the new geological Anthropocene period of human impact on Earth, what one might call ‘little history’ in contrast to ‘big history’ or ‘macrohistory’ (Christian 2005). With Bill Gates’ educational missionary help, ‘big history’ is effectively knocking young earth creationism out of textbooks and public school classrooms as simply undereducated USAmerican provincialism. A proper ‘anthropic’ (not necessarily anthropocentric) scale thus seems required to beat back the imperialist manoeuvres of misanthropic biologism (& economism). With that we can explore specifically human activities including origins and processes, design and manufacture, etc.
At the end of the day we can still hope for improved proportionality in the SSH–NPS relationship as the voices of SSH against evolutionism and Darwinism are heard, respected and listened to in terms of what escaping from the ideological evolutionistic prison might entail. What we don’t want on the way out is to turn human extensions into a kind of technological self-manipulation that echoes what McLuhan predicted with electric (psycho-somatic) engineering of more and more social environments.
Author Information: Adam Riggio, Independent Scholar and Writer, email@example.com
Riggio, Adam. “The Pragmatic Radicalism of the Multitude’s Power: A Critical Eye on Fuller’s Return to Pareto.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 7 (2016): 54-62.
Please refer to:
- “The Larger Lessons of Intergenerational Conflict from the Brexit Vote”, Steve Fuller
- “The Emerging Lessons of Brexit for Aspiring Democracies”, Steve Fuller
- “Prolegomena to the Deep Sociology of Brexit: The Long Road Back to Pareto”, Steve Fuller
- What is Brexit? | Prof. Steve Fuller (YouTube)
- Are Politicians Liars? Taking a Step Back from Brexit, Steve Fuller
- ”Max Weber’s Triad —Status, Class and Party—in Light of Brexit: A Call to Party Harder, Steve Fuller
- Markova, Lyudmila A. “A Reply to Fuller’s Prolegomena.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 5, no. 7 (2016): 52-53.
Image credit: Ben Chapman, via flickr
You cannot understand Brexit with a single narrative, which means you cannot understand it with a single essay. Brexit as a social-political phenomenon includes too much for a single narrative and overall theme to comprehend. A list does the job better, even though the event rapidly makes all summaries obsolete.
There is a tendency to think of the event as an instant, a decisive moment where what is not converts to what has happened. Brexit demonstrates that events have duration—they are long and enormously complex. The event of Brexit is unfolding as we speak—this essay is part of it, as are Steve Fuller’s many essays and videos on the subject, to which my essay replies. Continue Reading…