Evolution (“accident & luck”) vs. Careful Advanced Planning, according to whom?

A psychiatrist in Toronto, Canada, in defense of swamidass’ fellow secular methodological naturalist and atheist partner in provocation over at PS, Nathan Lents (Human Errors), just said something I find quite curious, in case he is serious in his claim. It had appeared to me that this person who said it promotes ideological evolutionism. Yet this claim establishes at least some kind of important knowledge ‘boundary’ or ‘limit’ that ‘evolutionary’ thinking does not and cannot cross by definition. Perhaps he will come here to try to explain his terms in an effort to help clarify this difficulty.

Dr. Faizal Ali says,

“The truth is that evolution largely proceeds by accident and luck, both good and bad, and rarely if ever arrives at a solution of the sort that would be found by careful advanced planning.” https://betterrightthanhappy.com/nathan-lents-on-our-imperfect-body/

Is Dr. Ali not either aware of or in any way familiar with the sub-fields of evolutionary economics, evolutionary political ‘science’, evolutionary sociology, evolutionary anthropology, and closer to his home field, evolutionary psychology? If not, does he seriously think scholars in those fields believe “evolution” differs substantially from “careful advanced planning”? Haven’t those sub-fields succeeded with subsuming ‘mind’ & ‘agency’ into ‘evolutionary’ approaches by now (much more than 3 generations after Darwin)? At the very least, the questions: “Which evolution?” and “Whose evolution?” should be addressed on the table to minimize misunderstanding, especially regarding this term that is drenched in ideological usage in the Literature.

Which kind of “evolution” largely proceeds by accident/luck, rather than purpose/goal/aim, or carefully advanced planning according to Dr. Ali? Just “evolution” as meant by (mostly) ideological naturalists, using methodological naturalism as a form of anti-supernaturalism in natural-physical sciences. That is the portion of scholarly thought he is referring to, right?

If he just intended that specifically “biological evolution largely proceeds by accident and luck”, then at least the door would be closed on ‘evolution’ being seen as a ‘generalist’ or ‘universalist’ theory acceptable in human-social sciences too. We know that some people exaggerate and misuse the term “evolution” in different ways (e.g. David S. Wilson, Bret Weinstein) outside of natural sciences, that might be best discarded due to the very confusion that Dr. Ali rightfully raises in the quote above, which seems as almost a blip in his otherwise broadly evolutionistic message.

There are indeed limits to usage of ‘evolution’ as a term of ‘knowledge’, obviously yes. Dr. Faizal Ali seems to be pointing to one of the limits here (implication: “careful advanced planning” differs from “evolving”). This could be helpfully clarified further, as part of an ongoing discussion constructively involving agency in science, philosophy, theology/worldview, even if that doesn’t happen here at TSZ.

152 thoughts on “Evolution (“accident & luck”) vs. Careful Advanced Planning, according to whom?

  1. newton: Nope it doesn’t, it is not like you are trying to make a logical argument.

    So, naturalism, even combined with materialism, are open to scientific investigation beyond their philosophical limits?

  2. Flint: It matters if it’s his opinion, but it also matters if he is presenting someone else’s position. To argue effectively against any position, it is first necessary to correctly and faithfully represent the position you disagree with. Otherwise, you are tilting at strawmen.

    Nicely put.

    If one is going to use this quote from Lewontin as evidence for or against the plausibility of a view, intellectual integrity and honesty require assessing the quote as whether it is representing Lewontin’s own view or if it is his characterization of someone else’s view (and if that characterization is fair).

    It is a little bit amusing that everyone here except for J-Mac himself knows what the answer is, since we’ve actually read the source for this quote in its entirety.

    For whatever it may be worth, I do recommend Lewontin’s work, esp. Biology as Ideology, Not in Our Genes, and The Dialectical Biologist.

  3. Entropy,

    When Islam started Christianity was already popular. They had to have heard about it. That Islam added its reinterpretation of those claims would be evidence that they were aware of Christian claims. But evidence that the Christian claims were right? That’s just wishful thinking.

    So your claim is they took a popular religion slightly modified and rebranded it and started their own movement? Do you think Mohammad was a fraud? Would you consider Islam a modified version of Christianity like the Mormon religion?

  4. Kantian Naturalist: If one is going to use this quote from Lewontin as evidence for or against the plausibility of a view, intellectual integrity and honesty require assessing the quote as whether it is representing Lewontin’s own view or if it is his characterization of someone else’s view (and if that characterization is fair).

    It is a little bit amusing that everyone here except for J-Mac himself knows what the answer is, since we’ve actually read the source for this quote in its entirety.

    So, everyone here, but me, disagrees with Lewontin’s statement (or whoever he quoted) and is open to naturalism and materialism to investigate the universe outside of the philosophy that ONLY natural laws, forces and material interactions operate in the world ?
    Right?

  5. J-Mac: So, everyone here, but me, disagrees with Lewontin’s statement (or whoever he quoted) and is open to naturalism and materialism to investigate the universe outside of the philosophy that ONLY natural laws, forces and material interactions operate in the world ?

    Why not both? Or neither?

    Science can only investigate phenomena that interact with reality so it’s can’t rather than won’t. If you think science is missing something, suggest how anyone could go about investigating an alleged phenomenon that has no measurable effect on reality.

  6. Alan Fox: Science can only investigate phenomena that interact with reality so it’s can’t rather than won’t.

    So, Quantum Mechanics has just been thrown out of the window… So was dark matter and dark energy… That’s 96-99% of the universe…
    You should call naturalism/materialism minimalism or ovoidinism…lol

  7. Alan Fox: If you think science is missing something, suggest how anyone could go about investigating an alleged phenomenon that has no measurable effect on reality.

    Yes.
    The science you support is actually missing something: REAL SCIENCE

    How can it be done, if the very philosophy behind it prohibits it?

  8. J-Mac: The science you support is actually missing something: REAL SCIENCE

    You appear to be using a different definition of “real” from me. Scientists are curious people. Give them some new phenomenon to look at and they will endeavour to come up with explanatory hypotheses and models. But there has to be something there. It can’t be something you have imagined.

  9. J-Mac: So, you agree? Disagree? Or both?

    I hope you are not suggesting another poll. It really doesn’t matter who agrees with whom on what. What matters scientifically is how accurate and how useful are the explanations.

  10. J-Mac: How can it be done, if the very philosophy behind it prohibits it?

    You can do it if you want. Anyone can do science.

  11. J-Mac,

    It’s hard to tell if you’re serious. Do you not know personally any ‘scientist’ who is of the same ‘religion’ or ‘worldview’ as you, whatever that unusual non-Christian, non-Muslim, non-Jewish, apparently some kind of generic theism may be?

    So many people simply don’t actually KNOW any ‘practising scientists’ in their lives. Thus, they say ridiculous things that insult their own intelligence when they bash ‘science’, as if it were ‘scientisim.’ Challenge the ideology, not the ‘good science’, as far as human beings can understand and learn from it.

  12. Alan Fox: You appear to be using a different definition of “real” from me

    What’s your definition of science?
    Do science as long as your inference doesn’t reach beyond naturalism/materialism? Because if you do, this is not going to be real science? It’s going to be ID science, which is bad, bad, bad science…

  13. Alan Fox: I hope you are not suggesting another poll.

    Based on your contradicting answers?

    Alan Fox: It really doesn’t matter who agrees with whom on what.

    Really? To you? Or everyone but me subscribes to this?

    Alan Fox: What matters scientifically is how accurate and how useful are the explanations.

    Try to apply the explanations against the motto:
    ” … we cannot allow the divine foot in the door…”

  14. Alan Fox: You can do it if you want.

    I’m trying…

    Alan Fox: Anyone can do science.

    With the prohibition of the naturalistic/materialistic philosophy?
    I wouldn’t trust that kind of science…

  15. J-Mac: Try to apply the explanations against the motto:
    ” … we cannot allow the divine foot in the door…”

    I don’t understand the obsession with Richard Lewontin. Why should remarks from him be any barrier to anyone investigating any phenomenon they have an interest in?

  16. J-Mac: With the prohibition of the naturalistic/materialistic philosophy?

    There is nothing prohibiting anyone from investigating any subject they choose (well, perhaps looking into Trump’s involvement in withholding aid to Ukraine might be a bit risky). Being laughed at is not being prohibited.

  17. Gregory: It’s hard to tell if you’re serious.

    Really?
    Or, is it this a pot calling the kettle black?

    Gregory: Do you not know personally any ‘scientist’ who is of the same ‘religion’ or ‘worldview’ as you, whatever that unusual non-Christian, non-Muslim, non-Jewish, apparently some kind of generic theism may be?

    Even if I didn’t, would it have to stop me from following the evidence?

    Gregory: So many people simply don’t actually KNOW any ‘practising scientists’ in their lives. Thus, they say ridiculous things that insult their own intelligence when they bash ‘science’, as if it were ‘scientisim.’

    Your idea with the capital letter “D”, and lower case “d”, to distinguish designs is a perfect example of you not knowing any practicing scientists supporting it, saying rediculous things that insult your intelligence, and bashing ID science you totally don’t understand…

    Gregory: Challenge the ideology, not the ‘good science’, as far as human beings can understand and learn from it.

    I did yours, but you’ve run away…
    Here is your last chance to prove you are not supporting scientism:

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/does-swamidass-new-genealogical-adams-and-eves-hypothesis-unknowingly-serve-to-make-god-a-monster/comment-page-5/#comment-267085

    Unfortunately, I already know you will not respond to my challenge, because you can’t…
    Therefore, you will continue to believe in your very own world view nobody believes in but you and nobody cares about either because it’s simply dumb…😉

  18. J-Mac: So, everyone here, but me, disagrees with Lewontin’s statement (or whoever he quoted) and is open to naturalism and materialism to investigate the universe outside of the philosophy that ONLY natural laws, forces and material interactions operate in the world ?
    Right?

    I’m not a philosopher of science but I play one on TSZ, so my response is that what really matters in science is measurability: what cannot be measured cannot be used to generate data that could count for or against a hypothesis.

    That said, a great deal of what is most important in human life consists of things that we don’t know how to measure, or things that are would be so difficult to measure that it hardly seems worthwhile.

    So while explanations justified by measurements may be the most reliable kind of knowledge (with regard to the actual universe*), we’re going to have to make do with pragmatically useful but less than ideal knowledge for a lot of problem-solving.

    * The actual universe as distinct from logic and mathematics that hold for all possible universes or a sub-set of them.

  19. “Here is your last chance to prove you are not supporting scientism”

    rotfl. I’ve been in print attacking ideological scientism for years. e.g. reecntly recall: http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/swamidass-genealogical-adam-vs-adams-genealogy-peaceful-scientism-on-display/

    Accusing me of “supporting scientism” reveals serious reading miscomprehension.

    “I already know you will not respond to my challenge”

    Not a challenge. Won’t spend the time. Not a credible authority.

    “you will continue to believe in your very own world view nobody believes in but you and nobody cares about either because it’s simply dumb…”

    Nobody? As an Abrahamic monotheist, there are @4 billion people in the world under that label. Surely, all of us aren’t “simply dumb”, are we?

  20. Gregory: Accusing me of “supporting scientism” reveals serious reading miscomprehension.

    I missed that one! Wow! Yeah, accusing Gregory of supporting scientism suggests a very serious lack of reading comprehension!

  21. Kantian Naturalist: I missed that one! Wow! Yeah, accusing Gregory of supporting scientism suggests a very serious lack of reading comprehension!

    I was referring to his capital letter “D” vs lower case “d” “scientism”…😉

  22. Kantian Naturalist: …my response is that what really matters in science is measurability: what cannot be measured cannot be used to generate data that could count for or against a hypothesis.

    Read my comments to Allan reg QM dark matter/energy…
    I’m not going to repeat it because you did read the thread or you’ve forgotten already …

  23. Gregory: Nobody? As an Abrahamic monotheist, there are @4 billion people in the world under that label. Surely, all of us aren’t “simply dumb”, are we?

    How many of them know about you letter size utopia?
    Let me guess : 2 🤣

  24. Kantian Naturalist: I’m not a philosopher of science but I play one on TSZ,

    Now that you said it, it hit me that you’ve been playing one all along…

    Kantian Naturalist: my response is that what really matters in science is measurability: what cannot be measured cannot be used to generate data that could count for or against a hypothesis.

    But this comment shows why you can’t even pretend to be one…😉

    Kantian Naturalist: That said, a great deal of what is most important in human life consists of things that we don’t know how to measure, or things that are would be so difficult to measure that it hardly seems worthwhile.

    Again, you have no idea what you are talking about…
    If you’ve heard of the so-called measurement problem in QM, or what it means, you wouldn’t be making statements that contradict it…

    Kantian Naturalist: So while explanations justified by measurements may be the most reliable kind of knowledge (with regard to the actual universe*), we’re going to have to make do with pragmatically useful but less than ideal knowledge for a lot of problem-solving.

    What are you talking about?

    Kantian Naturalist: * The actual universe as distinct from logic and mathematics that hold for all possible universes or a sub-set of them.

    You should have stopped at ‘ I’m going to pretend to be one…

  25. colewd:
    So your claim is they took a popular religion slightly modified and rebranded it and started their own movement? Do you think Mohammad was a fraud? Would you consider Islam a modified version of Christianity like the Mormon religion?

    Now that’s funny. All I’m saying is that they heard the Christian claims and put some of them, levelled down, into their texts. That’s it.

  26. Alan Fox: I don’t understand the obsession with Richard Lewontin. Why should remarks from him be any barrier to anyone investigating any phenomenon they have an interest in?

    Yup. I find it a tad idiotic to quote, the way J-Mac quoted Lewontin, as if that was some kind of “command from above” to everybody else. We have no fucking priests. We have our own minds. J-Mac is merely projecting from his religious inclinations.

  27. “J-Mac is merely projecting from his religions inclinations.”

    Which religion? I was under the impression J-Mac labels not as an Abrahamic monotheist, nor believes any ‘religion’ that can be named. Does ‘generic theist’ lead to such “inclinations”, or is there something else afoot here?

  28. Gregory: Which religion? I was under the impression J-Mac labels not as an Abrahamic monotheist, nor believes any ‘religion’ that can be named. Does ‘generic theist’ lead to such “inclinations”, or is there something else afoot here particular?

    How would I know which? What’s obvious is that J-Mac projects from a religious mindset, this one being but one more example.

    Maybe (s)he follows “The Church of the QM Woo.” Maybe (s)he founded it and modelled it after whatever religion (s)he used to practice when (s)he was younger.

  29. Alan Fox: I don’t understand the obsession with Richard Lewontin. Why should remarks from him be any barrier to anyone investigating any phenomenon they have an interest in?

    Every time I have seen a Lewontin reference, it has been by a creationist citing him as an authority. Initially I found this puzzling, because Lewontin is anything but a creationist. But now I’ve figured out that Lewontin has a gift for stating positions he opposes very succinctly. Unfortunately, this gift just begs creationists to extract these out of context and present them as representing “what an actual biologist admits is true”.

  30. J-Mac: What are you talking about?

    Better to say, when you don’t have an explanation for some observation, to say “I don’t know what is going on here” than fool yourself with your own (or others’) imagination.

    The next step is to continue with observations and experiments, measuring, to enable you to develop an explanation, a testable hypothesis.

  31. Flint,
    Excuse schadenfreude, but this problem seems to be much greater across the pond. The inability of some groups to resist the urge to impose their beliefs and standards on others. And how it can be exploited by the amoral for political (and financial) advantage. Judicial appointments, Israel, Ukraine. It infects the wider World so I should be less complacent.

    Did I mention Climate Change?

  32. Alan Fox: Better to say, when you don’t have an explanation for some observation, to say “I don’t know what is going on here” than fool yourself with your own (or others’) imagination.

    Have you tried to apply the same principles to the evolution of the five pound land walking mammal into a fifty ton whale?
    Because that’s exactly how I feel about those who are fooling themselves (or others’) imagination…

  33. J-Mac:
    Have you tried to apply the same principles to the evolution of the five pound land walking mammal into a fifty ton whale?
    Because that’s exactly how I feel about those who are fooling themselves (or others’) imagination…

    It obvious that either you missed this part, or you’re unable to understand it:

    Alan Fox:
    The next step is to continue with observations and experiments, measuring, to enable you to develop an explanation, a testable hypothesis.

  34. Alan Fox: The inability of some groups to resist the urge to impose their beliefs and standards on others. And how it can be exploited by the amoral for political (and financial) advantage.

    Isn’t it exactly what materialism-driven Darwinists do?

  35. J-Mac: Have you tried to apply the same principles to the evolution of the five pound land walking mammal into a fifty ton whale?

    Not sure what you are asking. Prior to the depredations of commercial whaling an adult Blue whale could weigh 180 tonnes. I wonder how much a blue whale oocyte weighs – not that much larger than a human apparently. So a blue whale can develop and grow from an oocyte that’s a few microns diameter. At each point in that development path the whale (developing embryo to just born to juvenile to adult) is a viable living organism.

    Notwithstanding the Cube/Square rule it is clear that animals (and plants) can exist at hugely different scales without being hugely different in morphology. All that’s needed for evolution to work is enough time to accommodate the incremental small changes that must accumulate. If you think in creationist timescales you will have a perceptual problem.

  36. Entropy,

    Entropy: How would I know which? What’s obvious is that J-Mac projects from a religious mindset, this one being but one more example.

    Maybe (s)he follows “The Church of the QM Woo.” Maybe (s)he founded it and modelled it after whatever religion (s)he used to practice when (s)he was younger.

    Frankly, it’s rare to see someone posture as ‘religious’ like J-Mac. That he or she simply will not indicate ANYTHING coherent about his/her worldview, that he or she doesn’t/won’t identify with any of the Abrahamic world religions, is a massive strike of mistrust to J-Mac. Indeed, it makes it impossible to take this person seriously as he/she is standing on absolutely nothing but his/her own ego & self-confidence without having a master or PhD in a natural scientific field, i.e. competence in the subject field.

    I have no idea what you mean by “a religious mindset.” Could you please clarify what the content of that means to you? The ‘set’ part is supposed to imply rigidity or fixedness, by definition, right?

    As far as religion being something some do “when we are younger”, it happens that I’ve meet many people who’s lives turned around (pivoted for current lingo) in adulthood, from atheism to theism (various varieties of this). Iow, witnessing people “grow up” & “mature” spiritually in a theologically-oriented community, it is quite obvious these people believe they have put childish and amoral or immoral thoughts away (as much as possible), and grown into the person they were meant to be, rather than remaining merely a shell of themselves (which is part of what makes them question, ask, and maybe even try praying) as before.

    In short, J-Mac does not display an actual heart in this conversation. Sad & unnecessary.

  37. J-Mac: Isn’t it exactly what materialism-driven Darwinists do?

    Maybe. Can you introduce me to a materialism-driven Darwinist?

  38. J-Mac: So, you are telling me you are not interested in the conversation?

    No, I was having a joke at your expense. Your apparent obsession with quantum effects.

  39. Alan Fox: Your apparent obsession with quantum effects.

    You shouldn’t be quick to judge…
    I have shown sympathy for your not being able to accept the existence of God, didn’t I?

  40. Alan Fox: Maybe. Can you introduce me to a materialism-driven Darwinist?

    Here, your own words:

    http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/does-swamidass-new-genealogical-adams-and-eves-hypothesis-unknowingly-serve-to-make-god-a-monster/comment-page-5/#comment-267085

    Try to apply it to the theory of evolution; i.e. to test it by scientific method.
    You can’t and that’s the reason why you, Neil and Jock, decided to censorship my OP on Lenski’s LTEE…
    Pity…

  41. J-Mac: You can’t and that’s the reason why you, Neil and Jock, decided to censorship my OP on Lenski’s LTEE…

    You’ll need to remind me of the details so PM me. Further discusion on admin’s decisions should happen in the “moderation issues” thread.

  42. J-Mac,

    “we already know”

    Frankly, I don’t think you speak on behalf of anyone except yourself. That you won’t speak of your “quasi-religious” worldview is enough. Again, hide totally & you are a fool to everyone. Reveal your Base, or at least acknowledge that Base properly, or you are totally irrelevant & simply a distracting pest here.

  43. Gregory: As far as religion being something some do “when we are younger”, it happens that I’ve meet many people who’s lives turned around (pivoted for current lingo) in adulthood, from atheism to theism (various varieties of this). Iow, witnessing people “grow up” & “mature” spiritually in a theologically-oriented community

    Peer pressure

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