Naturalism in an evolution article

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Naturalism in an evolution article

Postby hyksos on April 9th, 2017, 8:57 pm

Wanted to share this long article about evolution and its "direction".

It mentions Metaphysical Naturalism and Methodological Naturalism.
Another way to solve the problem is by getting God back to work. Perhaps every now and then He gives the mutations a friendly shove in the right direction, and, lo and behold, here we are. This was the position of Darwin’s good friend, the American botanist Asa Gray, and today a version of this is endorsed by the theologian and scientist Robert John Russell. Most scientists, including believers, don’t much care for this idea. They may not all be metaphysical naturalists, denying God because nothing supernatural can exist, but they are methodological naturalists, keeping God out of science, no matter what they do on Sundays.
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Re: Naturalism in an evolution article

Postby Eclogite on April 11th, 2017, 2:51 am 

I am presently avoiding reading the article, in order to avoid "corruption" of my own, presently unformed suspicions concerning teleology. However, your post has prompted me to try to place these thoughts into some kind of structure, so thank you for that.

That said, I have long felt uncomfortable that the rejection of teleology is more often a consequence of following the herd than of careful consideration of the matter.
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Re: Naturalism in an evolution article

Postby BadgerJelly on May 4th, 2017, 6:40 am 

Hyksos -

I remember elsewhere you ridiculed the view of "we are the universe trying to understand itself". As a stand alone statement I would also question such an airy-fairy sweeping statement.

I have actually said the above though, but perhaps simply never made my opinion clear (my opinion being one taken in light of certain observations and using language in a more "freer" way). The "direction" of evolution, biologically not metaphorically in terms of entropy and such, is one that seems to involve a species utilizing the environment to continue. Given that the environment can differ from place to place and that species can move between different environments to varying degrees, then it is a matter of species being able to adapt to environments they are immediately aware of by venturing into them in order to exploit the resources the environment possesses. If there are no resources to exploit ("benefits" - sustenance of some kind - even as shelter from other competing species) then the species will remain where they are.

With this in mind it seems to me that a species once its population reaches a certain point, that it will either break beyond its current circle of "comfort", make social adaptations in order to distribute resources more effectively (maybe through war or breeding alterations; basically some way to regulate population growth), or it will die out. I do not see "brain power" as integral to any of these, although we can argue that social adaptations require "social interactions"!

It does seem that species survive if they can adapt and survive in numerous environments. Not only this, but they are capable of exploiting hostile environments to fit their personal needs and wants. Bacteria are easily the most successful species on the planet. They are capable of quickly adapting. What this obviously brings to mind is the rate of change. It seems simplistically that the greater the number of life forms for one species the greater the possibility of change and adaptation. This is a faulty view given that a species is likely to change according to environmental changes rather than the number of species. Also, the size of the gene pool plays a large factor!

We see ourselves as a species that is "better" than other species. Maybe some would argue otherwise (not me). I certainly value human life over other forms of life. I am also painfully aware that we are not a self sustaining species and that without the greater biosphere we would instantly cease to exist (I remember a biologist referring to humans as "mostly bags of bacteria", given that what we call our "biomass" is made of mostly bacterial cells rather than animal cells!

It is right here that many religious folk turn to this as a reasonable analogy of God and humans. One can assume that if every individual understood the importance of bacteria in their lives and existence they would look upon these microscopic creatures with a fondness and love they may choose to equate with the idea of God (the difference being we are "better" than the "mere" bacteria in the analogy.)

One can also ask a broader question about science. What is the direction of science? I think this is where people get misled by what science has to offer us. It has literally nothing to "offer" to us. We simply look at stuff and learn about this or that and adapt our views given what we observe compared to what we already know.

In this respect all I have written seems pointless to some degree. For evolution is a branch of science not a political movement to shape our thoughts ... and then we see the whole debate of science and its meaning and use to us rear its head into the political sphere as we are political beings and will always apply our "knowledge" to our political view of the world. Many a fact can be brought to attention in order to fit a personal view. What we need to guard against is viewing the fact as something that has political justification for X or Y.

As to "naturalism". What we have to work with is what we have to work with. That is all we can work with. This includes working with the idea of something "super-natural" in whatever sense you wish to frame that? I would most likely disagree with the term as anything other than a limiting concept rather than (Neri, if your out there?) "a thing in itself".

On an individual scale I don't have a verbally intelligible way of expressing my "world view" of how I see the "direction" of life etc.,. Questioning and expansion seems to be the entropic mainstay of the universe. The "answers" are only set in idealistic models and some of these idealistic models do a great job of helping us understand the world surrounding us. Some choose to put faith in some ideals more than others. The reasonable people put faith in ideals that have more universal applications. The "meaning" behind these universal ideals is far from reaching any conclusion. I would argue such a conclusion on meaning is misuse/confusion of the concept of "meaning".
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Re: Naturalism in an evolution article

Postby hyksos on May 7th, 2017, 11:33 pm 

One can also ask a broader question about science. What is the direction of science? I think this is where people get misled by what science has to offer us. It has literally nothing to "offer" to us.

This is called Instrumentalism, and it is something I have been very fond of lately.

People are people. And being people they want more than just an equation that will tell them how to build a toaster that pops back up after 4 minutes. They want more than a bunch of formulas and procedures to make a tank hit a target from a mile away.

People want to know why things happen. They need a story. A narrative. Narratives are the way our hominid brains makes sense of the world around us. Science does not "order"/"make-sense-of" the world this way. Science produces theories that accurately predict and model a system. Period.

But isn't evolution by natural selection something that tells us "why we're here"? Isn't evolution a narrative of the lesser becoming the greater? Of the simple becoming the complex? IS it not a narrative with drama, and meaning, and excitement and compelling stories of triumph over diversity and good prevailing over ----??


Evolution is yet another scientific theory. It is a predictive formula that models the distribution of differing organisms in an ecosystem. It is not a "story" about something that happened long ago and stopped, leaving behind fossils.

Worse not only does evolution not tell you why this is happening, the model it describes is very formulaic -- also (dare I say it...) "algorithmic" in its pretense.

There is a very straightforward statistical proof that evolution will "trend" towards organisms which are immune to mutation. It's not a mystery -- it's a tautology. Take bit strings and make an analogy if you must. Those bit strings which create almost identical copies of themselves will tend to exist longer in a pool of replicating bit strings. Those which mutate too quickly may persist for very long times, but will eventually succumb to mutation. In 13 million years the mutating bit strings will have "turned into" something quite alien to where they started. Whereas the mutation-immune variants will have stopped and got stuck in a 'rut'.

(Or for you mathematical dilettantes out there: Those species are stuck in a so-called "local optimum" of a fitness landscape).

Okay that's cool and all but do we actually see this in nature? Yes.

Have we documented cases of such non-mutating ("stuck") species? Yes.

Are any of them still around today? Yes.

It takes only a few minutes of your time to browse on over to Google and type in "living fossils" and then read the articles to your heart's delight. Call it an evening.

This view of evolution, where self-copying DNA strands ("bit strings", if you will) will naturally trend towards exact copies over mutated ones (Richard Dawkins calls this "fidelity") : This procedure is all very nihlistic in its scope. I mean, once a species become stuck , its cellular-genetic mechanisms having perfected perfect replication, something could change in the environment, and whamo :: extinction. How sad.

Nevertheless, there may be more forces at work in the world as we know it. Such a force would be a trend towards greater diversity. The species diversity within the rainforest is staggering. This is where Stephen J Gould comes in. There may be a trend in evolution. That trend/direction may be towards more diversity, more creativity, and more variation over time.
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