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. keiths: Unfortunately, he fails to notice that the quote does no such thing.

    It doesn’t even use the word incoherent. Just for my own understanding, where did I say that Turner claims evolutionary theory is incoherent?

  2. Mung,

    Don’t bother with the idiot dance. You’ve already established your credentials in that regard.

    Even the cognitively challenged can see that by asserting we lack a coherent evolutionary theory, Turner is claiming that existing evolutionary theory is incoherent.

    Pedant:

    Pitiful fail.

    keiths:

    Here’s the most pitiful part:

    a) not only can’t Mung explain why evolutionary theory is supposedly incoherent, or

    b) explain why Turner thinks it’s incoherent;

    c) he can’t even supply a quote from Turner explaining why it’s incoherent.

    Pitiful fail, indeed.

  3. keiths:

    Again, with such a deflated view of cognition, where’s the magic? Why does Turner believe that it’s out of reach for “mere mechanism”?

    Glen:

    And has he heard of a thermostat?

    He actually addresses thermostats in this quote, taken from earlier in the thread:

    The nexus of strivings and desires in, say, a lizard might be completely alien and inaccessible to the strivings and desires in, say, ourselves, but they are no less strivings and desires all the same. A clockwork vision of homeostasis cannot ever hope to capture this dimension of the problem, because in what way can a thermostat “want” to achieve a particular temperature in the same way, say, a lizard might “want” to do the same?

    There he’s arguing that lizards can “want”, but thermostats can’t. Yet elsewhere he says that every instance of homeostasis involves “actual desire”, and that homeostasis can be found in systems as basic as this:

    A photosynthetic algal cell maps the presence or absence of light onto its encapsulated catalytic milieu, altering the cell’s physiology in accordance with its environment.

    So why does he think that the algal cell is capable of “wanting” if the thermostat isn’t?

    And where in any of this is there a reason to abandon materialism, as Turner urges us to do?

    The lack of rigor in his thinking is appalling. No wonder folks like Mung and Ann Gauger lap it up.

  4. Pedant: My self-driving car wants to take me to the grocery store this morning.

    Does it want to maintain itself in peak running condition? Did it want to stop for gas?

  5. keiths: Poor Turner. Instead of someone who can actually defend his book, he gets Mung.

    You poor misguided soul. I don’t want to defend Turner’s book, I want to get people to think. If you’re averse to thinking, well, so be it.

    But I tell you what I will do. Once you’ve read the book, if you still don’t understand it, I’ll explain it to you. Fair enough?

  6. keiths: Even the cognitively challenged can see that by asserting we lack a coherent evolutionary theory, Turner is claiming that existing evolutionary theory is incoherent.

    Oh good. You do have some basic reasoning skills. So you won’t use the fact that Turner never actually uses the word “incoherent” against me (or him).

  7. Mung: Does it want to maintain itself in peak running condition? Did it want to stop for gas?

    If you have to ask, you can’t afford one.

  8. keiths:

    Poor Turner. Instead of someone who can actually defend his book, he gets Mung.

    Mung:

    You poor misguided soul. I don’t want to defend Turner’s book…

    Right. You just want to declare it “another nail in the coffin”, then run like hell when someone calls your bluff.

  9. keiths:
    keiths:

    Glen:

    He actually addresses thermostats in this quote, taken from earlier in the thread:

    There he’s arguing that lizards can “want”, but thermostats can’t.Yet elsewhere he says that every instance of homeostasis involves “actual desire”, and that homeostasis can be found in systems as basic as this:

    So why does he think that the algal cell is capable of “wanting” if the thermostat isn’t?

    And where in any of this is there a reason to abandon materialism, as Turner urges us to do?

    The lack of rigor in his thinking is appalling.No wonder folks like Mung and Ann Gauger lap it up.

    Yeah, that’s amazing. He just knows that organisms–even single cells–are cognizant in a way that a thermostat is not. And doesn’t explain how that means a damned thing, other than that he’s decided that life is special and thermostats and self-driving cars are not.

    It’s all a priori, like the typical genius who has recognized the “problems of Darwinism..”

    Glen Davidson

  10. keiths: Right. You just want to declare it “another nail in the coffin”, then run like hell when someone calls your bluff.

    I prefer for people to make up their own mind. Of course, if your mind is already made up … but being close-minded doesn’t sound very skeptical. This is supposed to be The Skeptical Zone, are you sure you belong here?

  11. Mung,

    I prefer for people to make up their own mind.

    As if defending the book would prevent others from making up their their own minds.

    We know why you’re not defending it, Mung.

  12. Mung,

    At the beginning of the thread you were defending the book and declaring it “another nail in the coffin”. Now you’re telling us that you don’t want to defend the book because you “prefer for people to make up their own minds.”

    Who do you think you’re fooling?

  13. Mung:

    The reason ID sympathizers think that evolutionary theory doesn’t make any sense is because it’s incoherent.

    That was four days ago, and you’re still dodging our question. What, specifically is incoherent about it?

  14. Nor is the division of germ line from soma always clear-cut: sometimes the segregation occurs very early in embryonic life, sometimes later, sometimes not at all. Why make segregation of the germ line so important? Germ lines are also a peculiarity of animals, leaving vast swathes of the Earth’s biota uncovered by Weismann’s doctrine of the segregation of germ lines: you can’t segregate something that doesn’t exist.

    – Turner, J. Scott

  15. It was on this flimsy foundation that the wedge was driven that would cleave modern biology to the present day—the wedge between soft and hard inheritance, between physiological and evolutionary adaptation, between living body and the crystalline purity of gametes, between vital life and its clockwork imitation. The irony, of course, is that the Weismann barrier was erected not upon the foundation of a trivial experiment with mutilated mice, but on August Weismann’s deep knowledge of embryology, his subtle thoughts on the relationship between embryology and evolution, and his formidable logic. That logic turns out to have been wrong, and this means that the Weismann barrier—that scourge of Lamarckism, that foundation of modern evolution—is the barrier that wasn’t.

    – Purpose and Desire

  16. There’s a growing body of literature on epigenetic inheritance, isn’t there? I’m not sure. It certainly seems interesting.

    I suspect this is a case in which the people who insist on a very strict reading of “Darwinism” will think that anything that’s nor the orthodox modern synthesis is a challenge to it, whereas those who are more willing to enlarge the scope of the theory will look at epigenetic inheritance and say, “cool, another mechanism for natural selection to work on!”

  17. Kantian Naturalist:
    There’s a growing body of literature on epigenetic inheritance, isn’t there? I’m not sure. It certainly seems interesting.

    I suspect this is a case in which the people who insist on a very strict reading of “Darwinism” will think that anything that’s nor the orthodox modern synthesis is a challenge to it, whereas those who are more willing to enlarge the scope of the theory will look at epigenetic inheritance and say, “cool, another mechanism for natural selection to work on!”

    Environment can lead to epigenetic modifications of DNA that could possibly be heritable…It’s too early to tell with certainty…

    One thing though should be said with certainty: epigenetic modifications of DNA created by the environment have lasting effects on health…

  18. Kantian Naturalist,

    My reading is that those who know much about both evolution and epigenetic inheritance don’t see them as being significantly connected. Epigenetic inheritance can’t result in evolution unless it lasts for a long time in order for selection to work on it, and it doesn’t last a long time. On the other hand, genetic inheritance can produce evolved, selected epigenetic responses to environment.

  19. Kantian Naturalist,

    There is very little convincing evidence of the existence of a target for selection that passes through something other than genetic inheritance.

    The big problem in sexual species seems the integration of the effect over multiple generations when you have multiple ancestors vying for representation. How does your great-grandfather’s ‘experiences’ trump those of the other 7 individuals represented at that remove, or all those above and below for that matter?

    The simple answer for genetic inheritance is the continual discard of all but 2 genomes in each individual in each generation – no ancestor gains priority; genomes are just winnowed (largely) at random. I don’t know what an equivalent answer would be for ‘epigenetic evolution’.

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