Purpose and Desire

Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It is the new book by physiologist J. Scott Turner, author of The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself.

The book may make some “skeptics” uncomfortable, but maybe they should read it anyways.

From the book:

I have come to believe that there is something presently wrong with how we scientists think about life, its existence, its origins, and its evolution.

Without a coherent theory of life, whatever we think about life doesn’t hold water. This applies to the major contribution we claim that the modern science of life offers to the popular culture: Darwinism.

… there sits at the heart of modern Darwinism an unresolved tautology that undermines its validity.

… do we have a coherent theory of evolution? The firmly settled answer to this question is supposed to be “yes” …

I intend to argue in this book that the answer to my question might actually be “no.”

Darwinism is an idea of intoxicating beauty, and yet there has been for many years a muddle at the heart of it, at least in its modern form.

… what it cannot explain is coming into stark relief, making it impossible any longer to ignore the muddle.

The problem for modern Darwinism is, I argue, that we lack a coherent theory of the core Darwinian concept of adaptation.

This type of reasoning is known formally as a tautology…

For Darwinism to make sense (and I want deeply for it to make sense), the tautology somehow needs to be resolved.

… the obstacle to resolving the tautology is not that we know too little — far from it — but that we aren’t thinking properly about what we do know. In short, the obstacle is largely philosophical, and the stumbling block is the frank purposefulness that is inherent in the phenomenon of adaptation.

… the uncomfortable question is this: what if phenomena like intentionality, purpose, and design are not illusions, but are quite real — are in fact the central attributes of life? How can we have a coherent theory of life that tries to shunt these phenomena to the side? And if we don’t have a coherent theory of life, how can we have a coherent theory of evolution?

– Turner, J. Scott. Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. HarperCollins. 2017.

Biology, we have a problem. He wants Darwinism to make sense, but the book just doesn’t start out well for the Darwin disciples. Maybe someone else here will actually read it and explain how misguided this poor author is. He’s a Christian. Maybe he’s just lying for Jesus.

Another nail in the coffin.

430 thoughts on “Purpose and Desire

  1. Pardon me, Mung.

    I attributed your barking to the wrong word.

    Barking like a trained seal at the word “coherent” is much more respectable than barking at “incoherent”.

  2. GlenDavidson: So he’s, uh, not coming out in favor of Intelligent Design Theory. What’s that supposed to mean?

    It means that you, in your typical knee-jerk style, were wrong to call him an IDiot. It means that your claims that you are open to having a discussion are not believable. It means I really ought to put you back on Ignore as a waste of time.

  3. colewd,

    True, as long as it has tight consistent definitions that describe it.

    Which evolutionary theory does, so it’s a winner! No-one in evolutionary biology is remotely confused by terms such as ‘selection’, ‘drift’ or ‘homology’ – even ‘species’. Sometimes a word can have more than one meaning, particularly across disciplines, a confusion that can be sorted out in a jiffy by someone whose purpose is to understand rather than sow further confusion.

  4. keiths: Pardon me, Mung.

    I attributed your barking to the wrong word.

    Barking like a trained seal at “coherent” is much more respectable than barking at “incoherent”.

    That’s an incoherent argument. Perhaps I was barking at the presence of some other word. Or at the absence of a word. Perhaps I bark because I miss you. Or to get your attention. Since it’s obvious you weren’t actually paying attention.

    Next time please try not to make something up that’s not there.

    #Incoherent

  5. Allan Miller: No-one in evolutionary biology is remotely confused by terms such as ‘selection’, ‘drift’ or ‘homology’ – even ‘species’.

    We’ll just take your word for it. All those different definitions, and nary a conflict between any of them. Just look at the debate over “macroevolution.” And all the theories within “the theory.” Nary any conflict there either.

    But what about the layperson? Is evolutionary theory like a cult, where you have to learn all the secret words to move up in the nested hierarchy?

    And what about adaptation, since that seems to be a major point of the book?

  6. davemullenix: Every person who wants to cling to that old time religion has to defeat evolution because otherwise God didn’t do it.

    I think that is an arguable point that I have no problem accepting (although there are theistic evolutionists, which I find strange).

    So if evolution is true, God may not be. Now will you accept the inverse, If evolution is false, God exists?

  7. keiths: Did you start barking when you typed that?

    No silly, that’s when I stopped barking. I started barking when I wrote this:

    That’s an incoherent argument.

    If it bothers you when you look silly it should. Perhaps it will encourage you to change your ways.

  8. phoodoo,

    That’s just totally false Allan. I am amazed that you would say something so demonstrably false.

    Demonstrate it false then. Use me as your guinea pig. I am not remotely confused by the term ‘species’. I recognise that there are numerous definitions appropriate for different purposes. None of them confuses me.

  9. Mung,

    We’ll just take your word for it. All those different definitions, and nary a conflict between any of them. Just look at the debate over “macroevolution.” And all the theories within “the theory.” Nary any conflict there either.

    Conflict /= confusion. We each argue our corner; each argument has its respective merits and demerits. But no-one is confused by the idea that it is difficult to draw a precise boundary. It is, indeed, what one would expect.

  10. phoodoo,

    And each one is right?

    Each one is appropriate for its purpose. Why must there be a ‘Universal Right’ when it comes to species? Defend that view.

    There, I just proved you wrong.

    No, you proved that you are confused, not that I am.

  11. keiths: I love it when Mung and phoodoo, of all people, accuse others of confusion.

    Me too! I’d accuse you of far more if it wasn’t against the rules.

    Do you know yet whether incoherent simply means confusing?

    Is there a coherent theory of what a species is? Why not just take the mishmash of different definitions from which one gets to pick and choose and call it a coherent theory? What causes all these differing definitions to cohere together other than that they use the word species? If species is a coherent concept, why are so many definitions required? Are there just lots of different ways to be a species?

  12. Mung,

    I agree. If you have conflicting definitions do you have a coherent definition?

    They aren’t conflicting. Or, if you think they are, perhaps you could give an example, rather than just saying stuff.

    They all describe somewhat different collections of organisms, though naturally there is some overlap, which could usefully be represented on a Venn diagram.

    Each of those collections appears to be defined coherently, to me. There is, somewhat inevitably (given that it’s evolution and all) some blurring in all categories. But then, there is no clear point at which a twig becomes a branch either, yet trees seem to remain standing with some success.

  13. keiths,

    What I find utterly bizarre is that people who argue themselves blue over the ‘right’ way to define some word or other become hopelessly giddy when faced with certain biological concepts. They hate, in the main, to appear intellectually wanting – but then, come to evolution, they don’t mind at all appearing unable to grasp concepts that could hardly be simpler. It’s not rocket science.

  14. phoodoo,

    The purpose of masking clarity?

    Most biologists – people who make most use of species concepts – are not evolutionary biologists. So your soreness at this perceived lack of clarity (oh, you poor confused soul!) may be misdirected.

  15. The stock criticism from the Creationist corner appears to be that, if evolution were true, there should just be one, tightly-defined species concept.

    Can people really not see how foolish that is?

  16. phoodoo: So if evolution is true, God may not be. Now will you accept the inverse, If evolution is false, God exists?

    That’s a faulty inference. p –> ~q doesn’t entail that ~p –> q.

    To see how the entailment works more carefully: suppose p –> q. That tells you that if p is the case, then q must also be the case. It doesn’t tell whether q is the case if p is not the case.

    The same point applies regardless of whatever operators and quantifiers you put in front of the variables.

    Rather than distinguish between conditionals, I’d rather emphasize the following four conjunctions:

    1. Evolution is true and God exists.
    2. Evolution is false and God exists.
    3. Evolution is true and God does not exist.
    4. Evolution is false and God does not exist.

    and also notice that “evolution is false” does not entail “intelligent design is true” unless one assumes as a premise “either evolution is true or intelligent design is true”.

    Whether evolution is true or not doesn’t tell you whether God exists, and whether or not God exists doesn’t tell whether evolution is true.

    For that matter, there’s no logical relation between theism and intelligent design. If intelligent design is true, that doesn’t entail that God exists. In fact, I’ll go one step further — if intelligent design is true, that would not even make theism more likely. Even Dembski, bless his heart, realizes that there’s no argument that gets one from intelligent design to theism. He recognizes that it involves a leap of faith.

  17. Allan Miller: Can people really not see how foolish that is?

    Yes. Foolish. Straw-men often appear that way and yours is no exception.

    You can have as many definitions as you like for what a species is. It doesn’t mean that evolution is false. It only means you lack a coherent theory for what a species is. Is that so difficult to understand?

  18. Kantian Naturalist: If intelligent design is true, that doesn’t entail that God exists. In fact, I’ll go one step further — if intelligent design is true, that would not even make theism more likely. Even Dembski, bless his heart, realizes that there’s no argument that gets one from intelligent design to theism.

    God bless you.

    Can we FEATURE this comment?

  19. Mung,

    Yes. Foolish. Straw-men often appear that way and yours is no exception.

    You can have as many definitions as you like for what a species is. It doesn’t mean that evolution is false. It only means you lack a coherent theory for what a species is.

    There is a coherent reason why ‘species’ is not a simple question of ‘bucketing’ organisms according to a simple rule – something one would expect to be able to do if, for example, every species were created separately. With a process of gradual change and divergence, one would expect to find categorisation less susceptible to a single, universally applicable hard-and-fast rule. Guess what we find?

    The criticism still appears to be that evolution does not lead to the neat species concept that would be the case if evolution weren’t true …

    To echo a recent poster:

    Is that so difficult to understand?

  20. Mind you, I’m not sure what a “a coherent theory for what a species is” would look like in any paradigm. I’m not sure categories are things one can have theories about.

  21. The thing, is, we get our idea of ‘species’ from a rather cursory, dilettante view of nature. Things are sufficiently different for us to want to name them. But when we look at fine scale, or go back in time, we find our dilettante view is inadequate. Creationists appear to insist that our ‘dilettante’ view is the one we should preserve, at all costs.

  22. Allan Miller: Creationists appear to insist that our ‘dilettante’ view is the one we should preserve, at all costs.

    Evolutionary theory is just one epicycle after another. 🙂

  23. Kantian Naturalist: That’s a faulty inference. p –> ~q doesn’t entail that ~p –> q.
    To see how the entailment works more carefully: suppose p –> q. That tells you that if p is the case, then q must also be the case. It doesn’t tell whether q is the case if p is not the case.
    The same point applies regardless of whatever operators and quantifiers you put in front of the variables.

    Rather than distinguish between conditionals, I’d rather emphasize the following four conjunctions:

    1. Evolution is true and God exists.
    2. Evolution is false and God exists.
    3. Evolution is true and God does not exist.
    4. Evolution is false and God does not exist.

    and also notice that “evolution is false” does not entail “intelligent design is true” unless one assumes as a premise “either evolution is true or intelligent design is true”.

    Whether evolution is true or not doesn’t tell you whether God exists, and whether or not God exists doesn’t tell whether evolution is true.

    For that matter, there’s no logical relation between theism and intelligent design. If intelligent design is true, that doesn’t entail that God exists. In fact, I’ll go one step further — if intelligent design is true, that would not even make theism more likely.Even Dembski, bless his heart, realizes that there’s no argument that gets one from intelligent design to theism. He recognizes that it involves a leap of faith.

    It has always seemed more to the point to ask whether the Bible is true and historically accurate. I see no information in the statement that god exists. Or that god does not exist. Affirming either statement does not increase our knowledge.

  24. phoodoo: (although there are theistic evolutionists, which I find strange).

    I don’t find that at all strange. I was close to being one, except that I gave up on religion before I finally went with evolution. I never saw a problem with evolution and Christianity (as I understood it). And my later embrace of evolution had nothing to do with my rejection of religion.

  25. Mung:

    I was trying to lose keiths. Is he still following me?

    Mung tends to forget that I’m holding the other end of his leash in my hand.

  26. keiths,

    Mung tends to forget that I’m holding the other end of his leash in my hand.

    Arf! Arf!

    (I laughed at Mung’s joke too. I’m not totally partisan).

  27. It happened, perhaps unfortunately for the inquirers into the knowledge of diseases, that other sciences had received improvement previous to their own; whence, instead of comparing the properties belonging to animated nature with each other, they, idly ingenious, busied themselves in attempting to explain the laws of life by those of mechanism and chemistry; … forgetting that animation was [life’s] essential characteristic.

    – Erasmus Darwin

  28. keiths: Mung tends to forget that I’m holding the other end of his leash in my hand.

    That jerking motion you keep making with your hand? I really wish you’d stop that.

  29. …the two core ideas of Darwin’s own theory bear the unmistakable stamp of nineteenth-century vitalist thought. Success in the “struggle for existence” boils down to apt function (physiological adaptation), which draws inspiration, albeit flawed, from Lamarck’s “adaptive force” applied to lineages. Homology, cited by Darwin as strong evidence that lineages could evolve through gradual modification of existing parts, drank deeply from Cuvier’s notion of the correlation of parts and the mutual accommodation of the organism’s “many little lives.”

    – Turner, J. Scott. Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It

  30. keiths:

    Mung tends to forget that I’m holding the other end of his leash in my hand.

    Mung:

    That jerking motion you keep making with your hand? I really wish you’d stop that.

    That isn’t me, Mung. That happens when you hear one of your “trigger words” and pull the leash taut. Arf!

  31. More Turner quotes from Mung, but still nothing to support the claim that evolutionary theory is incoherent.

    Mung, it might help if you read for comprehension instead of searching for “trigger words.”

    ETA: Oops. I said “searching”, and now Mung is barking again. Would somebody shut that damn dog up?

  32. Just as Bernard has had his Romantic roots cut out from under him as physiology cast its lot solely with mechanism, so too has Darwin seen the vitalist and Romantic core of his theory reamed out by his successors. The intellectual legacies of both men have been impoverished by our ministrations.

    – Purpose and Desire:

  33. keiths: More Turner quotes from Mung, but still nothing to support the claim that evolutionary theory is incoherent.

    It’s there, for you to discover, in your perusing. If you just look.

    I have the Kindle version. If I wanted to I could do a simple search. I’d rather read the book in order. That way I’ll be able to better understand it. Unlike your feeble cherry-picking quote-mining efforts. 🙂

  34. Darwin was driven to propose pangenesis because he recognized, again more than we do today, the essential tension that sits at the heart of the evolutionary idea: between adaptation, which implies the ability to change according to conditions, and heredity, which is the opposite of change, that is, the legacy of the past imposing itself on the future. We should take a moment to let that sink in. Lamarck, for example, was all about change—about forces that push organisms and their lineages in grand arcs of greater complexity and ever-improving fit to environments. Cuvier, for his part, was all about resistance to change, lineages and species held in place by the glue of the conditions for existence that bind all of an organism’s many parts to one another—the unchanging legacy of one generation to the next. Today, we conflate evolutionism with Darwinism rather than Lamarckism or Cuvierism because Darwin was able to see, in ways that neither Lamarck nor Cuvier did, that a coherent theory of evolution must reconcile these contradictory ideas, that the tension between adaptation and heredity had to be resolved somehow.

    As it turns out, Darwin was unable to resolve it either, so the essential dilemma remains and has shaped much of the subsequent history of evolutionary thought. Its practitioners would argue that we resolved the dilemma in about the mid-twentieth century, as Michael Ghiselin did in the thumbnail history with which we began this chapter. The implication is that we now have in hand the coherent theory of evolution that Darwin started but failed to complete, and that theory is thoroughly mechanist, materialist, and purposeless. But the story, as we shall see in the next few chapters, is more complicated than that, mixing in roughly equal measures of brilliant insight, unresolved contradiction, and bedazzling sleight of hand. In the end, the task of reconciling the tension between adaptation and heredity remains incomplete.

    – Turner, J. Scott. Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It (Kindle Locations 1698-1703). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    arf! arf! You see, keiths, all you have to do is read the book.

  35. keiths:
    More Turner quotes from Mung, but still nothing to support the claim that evolutionary theory is incoherent.

    I’m waiting, too.

    I’ll check back weekly or monthly.

  36. Finally, after two days of stalling, Mung at least tries to provide a quote from the book that demonstrates the incoherence of evolutionary theory.

    Unfortunately, he fails to notice that the quote does no such thing. It merely promises an answer later in the book:

    Today, we conflate evolutionism with Darwinism rather than Lamarckism or Cuvierism because Darwin was able to see, in ways that neither Lamarck nor Cuvier did, that a coherent theory of evolution must reconcile these contradictory ideas, that the tension between adaptation and heredity had to be resolved somehow…

    But the story, as we shall see in the next few chapters, is more complicated than that, mixing in roughly equal measures of brilliant insight, unresolved contradiction, and bedazzling sleight of hand. In the end, the task of reconciling the tension between adaptation and heredity remains incomplete.

    Keep searching, Fido.

    Oops, I said “searching”, and the damn dog is barking again. Would somebody put a muzzle on that mangy cur?

  37. Mung:

    Without a coherent theory of life…

    … do we have a coherent theory of evolution?

    The problem for modern Darwinism is, I argue, that we lack a coherent theory of the core Darwinian concept of adaptation.

    How can we have a coherent theory of life that tries to shunt these phenomena to the side? And if we don’t have a coherent theory of life, how can we have a coherent theory of evolution?

    …but there are, in fact, dozens of “biologies” out there, with new ones coming along annually. Faced with this proliferation, it is reasonable to ask: is there such a thing as a coherent science of life anymore?

    Without adaptation, natural selection cannot work. Darwinian evolution therefore relies upon a coherent theory of adaptation.

    …we do not presently have a coherent theory of adaptation, nor a coherent theory of life, nor a coherent theory of evolution.

    The path to a coherent theory of life, and hence a coherent theory of evolution, therefore depends upon there being a coherent theory of adaptation.

    What do you mean by “coherent” ?

  38. keiths: So stop stalling and provide a quote.

    I provided plenty of quotes. Some of them I provided more than once. Do you just not understand them?

  39. keiths: Finally, after two days of stalling, Mung at least tries to provide a quote from the book that demonstrates the incoherence of evolutionary theory.

    Why do you keep making things up? I thought I demonstrated your mistake and at least hoped you’d be able to correct yourself. But no. The word you’re looking for is coherent.

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