Wednesday, February 11, 2009

teleologically challenged


For purpose we yearn,
that’s why people spurn
the concept of natural selection.
The thought we may be
telologically free
leaves us, challenged by Charles, with dejection.

Inspired by an article of Charles Darwin by Nicholas Wade in the Science Times, NYT, February 10, 2009 (“Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential”):

How did Darwin come to be so in advance of his time? Why were biologists so slow to understand that Darwin had provided the correct answer on so many central issues? Historians of science have noted several distinctive features of Darwin’s approach to science that, besides genius, help account for his insights. They also point to several nonscientific criteria that stood as mental blocks in the way of biologists’ accepting Darwin’s ideas….It is somewhat remarkable that a man who died in 1882 should still be influencing discussion among biologists. It is perhaps equally strange that so many biologists failed for so many decades to accept ideas that Darwin expressed in clear and beautiful English. The rejection was in part because a substantial amount of science, including the two new fields of Mendelian genetics and population genetics, needed to be developed before other, more enticing mechanisms of selection could be excluded. But there were also a series of nonscientific considerations that affected biologists’ judgment….Darwin is still far from being fully accepted in sciences outside biology. “People say natural selection is O.K. for human bodies but not for brain or behavior,” Dr. [Helena] Cronin says. “But making an exception for one species is to deny Darwin’s tenet of understanding all living things. This includes almost the whole of social studies — that’s quite an influential body that’s still rejecting Darwinism.” The yearning to see purpose in evolution and the doubt that it really applied to people were two nonscientific criteria that led scientists to reject the essence of Darwin’s theory. A third, in terms of group selection, may be people’s tendency to think of themselves as individuals rather than as units of a group. “More and more I’m beginning to think about individualism as our own cultural bias that more or less explains why group selection was rejected so forcefully and why it is still so controversial,” says David Sloan Wilson, a biologist at Binghamton University.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/10/09

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