Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus
London, UK - 20 February 2007, 15:54 GMT - Recently
quite a few stories have appeared in the media touting new explanations
for such diverse things as altruism, generosity, and music. These complex
matters, we are told, can be traced to the brain, which is dependent upon
genes, and genes in turn dependent upon evolutionary biology. Thus one
reads articles with headlines like "Are You a Giving Person? Your
Brain Tells Why" and "Music on the Brain: Why We Are Hard-Wired
to Rock." There's a great air of confidence in these stories, generated
by new developments in the related sciences being covered. What's left
untold is how atrophied the opposite worldview is becoming. Explaining
why someone is a giving person used to come down to culture, human values,
religion, and philosophy.
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex
global challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive
action to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine
of non-violence, ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from
climate chaos, radical poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced
technologies -- bio, info, nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics
and financial systems. Present membership of ATCA is by invitation only
and has over 5,000 distinguished members from over 100 countries: including
several from the House of Lords, House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress
& Senate, G10's Senior Government officials and over 1,500 CEOs from
financial institutions, scientific corporates and voluntary organisations
as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres of excellence worldwide.
Dear ATCA Colleagues; dear IntentBloggers
[Please note that the views presented by individual contributors
are not necessarily representative of the views of ATCA, which is neutral.
ATCA conducts collective Socratic dialogue on global opportunities and
We are grateful to Dr Deepak Chopra based in California and New York,
USA, for "Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus."
Dr Deepak Chopra, based in California and New York, is the President
of the Alliance for A New Humanity. Dr Chopra also Chairs The Chopra
Center at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, and in New York City
at the Chopra Center and Spa. He has been heralded by Time as one of
the 100 heroes and icons of the century, and they credited him as "the
poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Entertainment Weekly described
Dr Chopra as "Hollywood's man of the moment, one of publishing's
best-selling and most prolific self-help authors." He is the author
of more than 45 books and more than 100 audio, video and CD-Rom titles.
He has been published on every continent, and in dozens of languages
and his worldwide book sales exceed twenty million copies. Over a dozen
of his books have landed on the New York Times Best-seller list. Toastmaster
International recognized him as one of the top five outstanding speakers
in the world. Through his over two decades of work since leaving his
medical practice, Dr Chopra continues to revolutionize common wisdom
about the crucial connection between body, mind, spirit, and healing.
His mission of "bridging the technological miracles of the west
with the wisdom of the east" remains his thrust and provides the
basis for his recognition as one of India's historically greatest ambassadors
to the west. Dr Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic
institutions including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School,
Harvard Divinity School, Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Business
School and Wharton. He is the author of "Peace Is the Way,"
which won the Quill Award in 2005. He is Co-Founder of IntentBlog where
"Open ATCA" is based. He latest books are "Power Freedom
and Grace" and "Life After Death: The Burden of Proof."
Dear DK and Colleagues
Re: Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus
Recently quite a few stories have appeared in the media touting new
explanations for such diverse things as altruism, generosity, and music.
These complex matters, we are told, can be traced to the brain, which
is dependent upon genes, and genes in turn dependent upon evolutionary
biology. Thus one reads articles with headlines like "Are You a
Giving Person? Your Brain Tells Why" and "Music on the Brain:
Why We Are Hard-Wired to Rock." There's a great air of confidence
in these stories, generated by new developments in the related sciences
being covered. What's left untold is how atrophied the opposite worldview
is becoming. Explaining why someone is a giving person used to come
down to culture, human values, religion, and philosophy.
As someone who cherishes that endangered worldview, but who at the same
time wants to see valid scientific progress, let me take one issue,
the claim of evolutionary biology to explain something as complex as
generosity, altruism, or music. Such claims are thoroughly bogus. They
do not invalidate the whole field of evolutionary biology. They simply
step over the boundary of believable explanations.
What evolutionary biology and genetics cannot deal with is the philosophical
order of explanation. You cannot obtain a true answer to any question
unless you know the proper category of explanation. Let's say a stray
cat comes to my door, and my wife asks me what it wants. If I say "world
peace," my order of explanation is skewed. That seems simple enough.
Now let's say that a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants
a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance
of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job. Yet science continues
to offer this kind of wrong explanation all the time. It mistakes agency
for cause. The brain is serving as the agent of the mind, it isn't causing
mind. The primordial soup served as the agent for creating life, it
didn't cause life.
Reductionism - which too many scientists are guilty of, as are their
opponents, the creationists -- tries to smoosh all questions to fit
one explanatory mould, that of physical matter. Creationists, for their
part, try to smoosh all questions into being acts of God. Nietzsche,
an expert at disdain, rejected what he called the doltish assumptions
of materialism. In a kinder vein let me offer an example of how explanations
can be correctly arrived at:
A car driven by a drunk driver swerves off the road in a blizzard. Several
kinds of people show up at the scene, and each one is asked "What
caused this accident?" A car mechanic points to the steering wheel
and the drive train, which turned the car off a straight line. A driving
instructor says that the driver lacked the skill to negotiate a slippery
road. A doctor says the driver's reflexes were impaired by alcohol.
A psychologist says that the driver had a fight with his wife at a party
and therefore drank too much out of anger. The driver himself says that
he must have dozed off for a moment.
It's obvious that all these answers fit the worldview of the person
answering. They each occupy a different order of explanation. Theories
power perceptions. But it's also obvious that the car mechanic is furthest
from giving a cogent answer. By confining himself to the steering wheel
and drive train, he can provide an explanation that is mechanically
correct but totally wrong-headed. In our hyper-technical world today,
we can add some experts at the accident scene who are wrong-headed in
a more impressive way. A neurologist holds up an MRI of the driver's
brain and locates impaired activity in the motor cortex. A cell biologist
detects minute alterations in sugars and enzymes in the liver. A quantum
physicist calculates the amplitude of the probability curve that collapsed
to produce neurotransmitters in the synaptic gaps of the driver's cerebrum.
Does the addition of ultra-specificity on any of these planes offer
an answer better than the driver's "I must have dozed off"?
Actually, no. The key element is intuitive. You must intuit the correct
order of explanation before you can sensibly offer the correct answer.
Otherwise, you aren't finding truth; you are just filling in a conceptual
map that you brought to the scene beforehand. When a devout Christian,
for example, asks God to heal her instead of going to the doctor, rationalists
feel frustrated because in their eyes she is stubbornly relying on the
wrong order of explanation (ie, attributing disease to sin and cures
to God's mercy), but they rarely see the same flaw in themselves.
Evolutionary biology isn't a magic science or a privileged one. It brings
a preconceived model to a problem. It applies that model without looking
to the right or the left. It has a strong bias in favour of material
fact instead of abstract philosophy. As I pointed out earlier, those
very qualities have caused the embrace of bogus explanations and false
truths. The following should seem obvious:
-- Cause and effect, being mechanical, apply to mechanical situations
-- Physical explanations don't automatically hold for all situations
-- Human beings do lots of non-physical things.
These assumptions are either ignored or flouted by many enthusiasts
for evolutionary biology. Recently I touched on the topic of music and
how it might be connected to the brain. Researchers told journalists
that evolutionary biology would eventually explain why the brain developed
its response to music. This is wholly bogus. What will actually happen
is the same thing that happens in evolutionary biology all the time:
1. The investigators will work post hoc from a conclusion that already
That is, we already know music evolved and survived. No condition that
contradicts its survival will be examined, only that data which fits
the model of evolution as presently understood will be acceptable. This
is quite invalid reasoning, because it always winds up proving one's
own preconceptions. By analogy, let's say a model of parenting holds
that criminals are the result of bad child-rearing. Whenever a criminal
appears, he would be blamed on his parents, not because that's true
but because it fits the theory. The conclusion precedes the investigation.
2. Associations will be mistaken for causes.
Many rich people go around in long black limousines. Does this mean
that black is the colour of the rich? That long cars make you wealthy?
That long black cars favour the survival of the people inside? Obviously
not. We intuitively know how to select a cause as opposed to an association.
Evolutionary biology tends to forget intuition. Since all surviving
societies have some form of music, the assumption is made that cause-and-effect
must be at work. This is as bogus as claiming that the colour of a limo
must be at work in the survival of the rich.
3. Only physical evidence will count, but a lot of fudging will go on.
As devised by Darwin, evolution depended upon physical evidence in the
fossil record for its proof. Being a curious person and confident in
his theory, Darwin speculated that non-physical traits might be subject
to evolution. This proves to be the case if it isn't carried too far.
A person who's born with the trait of being totally solitary, unable
to abide the slightest human contact, won't breed and pass on his genes.
But extending this to such behaviours as altruism, love, or music-making
can border on the absurd. We have no possible way of knowing that a
prehistoric person learned to whistle in tune because his genes prompted
that ability, or that this ability ever developed competitively, or
that it attracted more mates, or that once attracted, these mates passed
on the gene to an entire society. The whole explanatory chain is pure
fudging, and it goes on all the time in this science.
4. Competing explanations will find no valid way of choosing a winner.
Like everything else in the evolutionary worldview, explanations must
compete for survival. Galen's medicine couldn't compete with Harvey's
when it came to explaining the circulation of blood, Ptolemaic astronomy
couldn't compete with Copernicus in explaining planetary orbits. So
what if two explanations arise in evolutionary biology? Assume that
the gene for music is isolated. As an evolutionary development, the
cause for this is that one gene pool didn't contain music and died out,
while another gene pool did contain music and survived. If explanation
A holds that prehistoric women were attracted to men who whistled while
explanation B holds that prehistoric men ran away from men who whistled,
there's no valid way to choose. In the absence of physical data, evolution
is a highly dubious model to apply to behaviour.
I realize that this kind of critique frustrates and even infuriates
materialists. But objectively speaking, there are good reasons for being
sceptical that large areas of speculation, such as evolutionary psychology,
have any validity at all. Even biologists show considerable scepticism
in this regard. They can see why genes explain the appearance of haemoglobin
without necessarily being as successful in explaining the appearance
of Bach. In the current climate of belief, however, the model of evolutionary
biology is being painted far and wide across the landscape.
We look forward to your further thoughts, observations and views.
For and on behalf of DK Matai, Chairman, Asymmetric Threats Contingency
ATCA: The Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance
is a philanthropic expert initiative founded in 2001 to resolve complex global
challenges through collective Socratic dialogue and joint executive action
to build a wisdom based global economy. Adhering to the doctrine of non-violence,
ATCA addresses opportunities and threats arising from climate chaos, radical
poverty, organised crime & extremism, advanced technologies -- bio, info,
nano, robo & AI, demographic skews, pandemics and financial systems. Present
membership of ATCA is by invitation only and has over 5,000 distinguished
members from over 100 countries: including several from the House of Lords,
House of Commons, EU Parliament, US Congress & Senate, G10's Senior Government
officials and over 1,500 CEOs from financial institutions, scientific corporates
and voluntary organisations as well as over 750 Professors from academic centres
of excellence worldwide.
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