Monday, November 15, 2010

On "natural selection"

Here’s the thing about ‘natural selection.’ It is just a phrase that performs some linguistic sleight of hand. It’s a meaningless phrase that means “Designer” but purports to represent a purely mechanical, that is to say, physical process, i.e. one without a designer. So ‘ns’ means that no designer designed the apparent design in a universe that contains no real design. WTF, over? Excuse my technical Marine Corps acronym. (It means “where’s the fire” or something like that, I forget.)

Of Molecules and Men, Crick, page 67.
“The crucial point is the one at which natural selection could begin to act, since from then on the system could go on improving itself.”

Act?? Improving itself?? The laws of physics do not “act” and I’d be willing to bet (a lot) that they could “care” less about improving anything.

River Out of Eden, page 98. “… The true process that has endowed wings and eyes, beaks, nesting instincts and everything else about life with the strong illusion of purposeful design is now well understood. It is Darwinian natural selection.”

So let me get this straight. In a universe of no purpose and no design, a “natural” process (living things procreate) has somehow managed to produce organisms that have the “strong illusion” of things that do not actually exist (design and purpose), by a process that is blind and purposeless. Oh yeah, I’m buying that.

The God Delusion, page 189. “natural selection has set up the perception of pain as a token of life – threatening bodily damage, and programmed us to avoid it.”

Are you kidding me? Think about what is being said here. The laws of physics “set up the perception of pain as a token of life” – what does that even mean? Somehow the laws of physics “decided” that pain was a good way to inform us that our bodies were being damaged and that it PROGRAMMED us to avoid pain?? They cannot even avoid using the language of purpose and design as they deny the existence of purpose and design.

“Throughout this book, I have emphasized that we must not think of genes as conscious, purposeful agents. Blind natural selection, however, makes them behave rather as if they were purposeful…”The Selfish Gene. p. 196.

The abuse of the law of identity is stunning. Blind ‘ns’ makes them behave ‘as if’ they were purposeful. What is this but a ludicrous assertion that defies reason? Something blind that has no purpose make things behave as if they were imbued with purpose but actually had no purpose?

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” River Out of Eden. p. 132.

OK, so Dawkins knows that ‘ns’ is just another way to say physics. And note the lack of purpose. He says that in a universe of no purpose, what we should expect to see are complex beyond imagination creatures that are obsessed with purpose and meaning who are created by blind forces to only think that real purpose and meaning actually exist. In other words, I’m trying to get this Orwellian lingo down – in a universe of no purpose, only physics, that physics has created human beings (and everything else) that THINK that design really exists in the universe, but it really doesn’t!!! I think I’ve got it now. Where is the March Hare and the Queen of Hearts. And this is what Dawkins would expect a priori???? Pullease.

On physics… Dawkins again… from The God Delusion, page 181. “The physical stance always works in principle, because everything ultimately obeys the laws of physics.”

Did I “obey” physical laws when I chose this particular set of symbols to communicate this message? Or was something else going on? What physical law says that periods end sentences and commas act as pauses? What physical law says capitalize the first letter of a sentence plus names and proper nouns?

The Blind Watchmaker, page 5, Dawkins. “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way.”

Dawkins “gets it.” Natural selection is just another way to say “physics.” But here’s a curious thing. I looked through the four fundamental forces of the universe currently recognized by the best physical theories and here’s what I found. Electromagnetism, gravity, nuclear weak, and nuclear strong. Hmmm. Conspicuously absent is “natural selection” as a “force” in nature. If ‘ns’ has causal power, is actually a FORCE in nature, then the physicists would know about it. But they don’t. ‘ns’ is a meaningless phrase that means that living things live and only living things reproduce. Gee. Who’d a thunk?

If ‘ns’ means that there is some sort of differential reproductive advantage then that should be measurable. But it’s not. It doesn’t mean anything other than what I just said. If something is alive, hello, it must be fit, by definition, or it wouldn’t be alive. So we say that living things are fit and that fit things are living. And we say that only the living things reproduce and somehow that, THAT, accounts for the amazing panoply of life on the planet. Dear God in heaven. How can people be so, so gullible?

It’s as if I say the champions always win the tournament and therefore the tournaments are always won by the champions! And if I say it in a breathess manner and with authority then some people might think I’m on to something. Hardly. But it “explains” the results of every tournament ever won. NO! It’s just a definition. ‘ns’ is a definition, too. It means “being alive.”

And the most obvious abuse of logic in the whole ridiculous idea of ‘ns’ is the notion that there is a “struggle for survival” in nature. Wait a minute. I thought the universe was blind and indifferent and PURPOSELESS? Why would “physics” or the “universe” care if anything survived or not? And why would anything that was accidentally animated have any intent to “survive?” Much less “care” or “struggle” to do the same??? This is just irrational on the face of it but they have gotten away with this nonsense for so long that even people who know better think that ‘natural selection’ is some kind of real force in nature.

Let me offer a counter proposal as to what is going on. There is indeed differential reproduction and there is indeed adaptation to environment but what we are witnessing when we see this is not ‘natural selection’ at work but we are seeing the intricate interplay of exquisitely designed creatures with their environment. The information already exists in the genome so the weasel changes color in the winter, for example, when environmental cues are detected and somehow responded to by the weasel. Presumably without his knowledge. I doubt that there are weasels running around Canada right now fretting about when their fur is going to change color. There is no mysterious or magical or mythical ‘ns’ going on. Here’s the ‘ns’ story: somehow a weasel had a mutation and it turned his fur white one November, just before the first snow fell, and this weasel therefore had an “advantage” and his offspring… well, this is just too ridiculous for words. Gould had a phrase for this kind of thing, borrowed from Kipling, “just so stories.”

p.s. Here’s one of my all time favorite Dawkins explanations of how birds got wings. Don’t be drinking anything while you read this as you will risk exhaling it through your sinus cavities.

The Blind Watchmaker, p.89-90.

“What use is half a wing? How did wings get their start? Many animals leap from bough to bough, and sometimes fall to the ground. Especially in a small animal, the whole body surface catches the air and assists the leap, or breaks the fall, by acting as a crude aerofoil. Any tendency to increase the ratio of surface area to weight would help, for example flaps of skin growing out in the angles of joints. From here, there is a continuous series of gradations to gliding wings, and hence to flapping wings. Obviously there are distances that could not have been jumped by the earliest animals with proto-wings (or as he earlier called them, flaps of skin, my editorial comment). Equally obviously, for any degree of smallness or crudeness of ancestral air-catching surfaces, there must be some distance, however short, which can be jumped with the flap and which cannot be jumped without the flap.

Or, if prototype wingflaps worked to break the animal’s fall, you cannot say ‘Below a certain size the flaps would have been of no use at all.’ Once again, it doesn’t matter how small and un-winglike the first wingflaps were. There must be some height, call it h, such that an animal would just break its neck if it fell from that height, but would just survive if it fell from a slightly lower height. In this critical zone, any improvement in the body surface’s ability to catch the air and break the fall, however slight that improvement, can make the difference between life and death. Natural selection will then favour slight, prototype wingflaps. When these small wingflaps have become the norm, the critical height h will become slightly greater. Now a slight further increase in the wingflaps will make the difference between life and death. And so on until we have proper wings.”


TruthWillBeTold said...

In my mind, your entire discussion dovetails with my criticism of public education, albeit with science teachers, rather than coaches/history teachers. I have never spoken with even one who has actually read Darwin’s work. When asked how it is possible that apes still exist when any species that failed to adapt MUST die off, at least according to the theory of natural selection, they either become glassy eyed or get mad, or both.

Yet, they dutifully go to church every Sunday, professing their faith in a Supreme Being. On Monday, however, they must studiously avoid even a hint of intelligent design. To do otherwise, would bring ridicule from their colleagues.

I guess it’s too much to ask that those who TEACH a subject actually KNOW the subject.

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Tom said...

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CBD said...

This is a brilliant post - one of the best I've ever read on the absurdity of the claims for ns. I only wish you could expound more on Dawkins' quote at the end. It seems laughable on face-value with this notion that semi-birds tried jumping from various heights, first dying in droves by starting too high, but then using proto-wings making softer landings until the wings improved (nothing here at all about the mutation-paths needed for any of this).
But with your delightfully cutting humor, this could even be better than it already is. I am a big fan of the absurdity that can be revealed in evolutionary claims -- so I'd love to hear your comments on the last part also.

Tom said...

CBD, thanks. I just replied without being able to locate your comment but I see it now. Someday they'll make this easy enough for me...