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Re: [philosophy-31] Darwin Misunderstood -Scientific American Magazine

From: Dick P.
Sent on: Sunday, February 22, 2009 9:50 PM
I am so sorry to miss this important session and discussion. I am teaching on Sat's until mid-April. I hope that this one will be so full of questions/opinions/dialogue that it will spill over into subsequent meetings that I can attend..
I spent 5 years working with an American Indian organization. As an Anglo, I found out that the mention of either Columbus or Darwin as a hero/icon sends a real/visible shudder through any Indian Traditional or Elder. Columbus discovered  highly competent, skilled, knowledgeable, cooperative, productive, earth-kindly, spiritual groups of people in the "New World" (only to Europeans crawling out of the depraved hole called the Dark Ages would call it that - the Chinese, Arabs, Pacific Islanders, and early Euros had been here centuries before), but reported to his bosses/funders - that although he didn't find any gold or the way to the Indies - he found legions of sub-human (sub-European) but yet they had souls and could be converted to Christianity - an accomplishment to Spain of the Inquisition greater than discovering gold. It was an early media success - the story sold well in Europe, in spite of the fact that those telling it knew it was false, but it sure was expedient and profitable.
Darwin's theories and Darwin's trumpets and Darwin's subsequent supporters put American Indians in a genetic, social position superior to animals but inferior to European humans. Imperialism, Manifest Destiny, broken treaties, extermination, exploitation.........can and did lead from this attitude. Being down on the evolution totem pole is no fun, ask any minority; "survival of the fittest "- admittedly a media hype -  was confounding/insulting to societies largely founded on and practicing cooperation - with each other and with Nature. No acknowledgement of indigenous knowledge, science, philosophy, spirituality, health, civilzation, vision...was highly insulting/infuriating to the "knowledge keepers" of these societies, including those still in existence today.
The major insight that I received from living with/near these opinions over 5 years was the problem with theory/data on evolution of the species. There is none to my mind, and I have searched hard for it, for any evidence of mutation - random or not - that results in another species. Evidence abounds - from the fruit fly to the Polar Bear - that species mutate/change to adapt to geographic and climactic and compettive changes. Those that do not adapt, die out. Dinosaurs probably would be so heavy in our thinner atmosphere that they could not lift a foot or claw. Polar Bears are genetically bears, I believe, greater in size and insulation to allow them to survive colder temperatures and swim/dive for marine life - white in pigment to blend in with surroundings and as pigment was less necessary in northern latitudes. Birds lost their ability to fly - after arrival on Pacific Islands - when it was no longer necessary for defense, travel, and food gathering. There is not only a missing link between Monkey and Man (evolution of a species from another species), we are missing a whole chain of links - there is no evidence of a fruit fly becoming a mosquito, and big debates on dinosaurs becoming birds.
The other major shift was for me to allow "catastrophism" into my world-view. In the last 10 years, this view of major/periodic, local and world-wide catastrophes has gained some acceptance - weather, volcanism/earthquakes, swift plate tectonics, or close encounters with planet-sized space objects - as having major effects on extinction, survival, isolation ( and thus adaption) on the Earth's species. The reigning paradigm before Darwin/Lyell's day was catastrophism - but, evolution requires long periods of uniform conditions to work. With periodic catastrophes - like the now-witnessed Shoemaker-Levy comet impact on Jupiter, and the now-acknowledged comet/meteor impacts on the Moon, the Yucatan, Russia, etc - catastrophism is now somewhat acknowledged in the 1990's - 2000's. However, it is far from being considered - let alone thouroughly processed through the various disciplines of modern science. Noteable among these disciplines is evolution or origins/evolution of species. Catastrophism gives ample theory for isolation so species can adapt differently; it gives ample room for different species to prosper in the niche vacated by a catastropy-linked extinction; it gives time and credibility to indigenous stories (we call myths/fairy tales); and, throws most scientific time lines into a cocked hat. Without Uniformitarianism, Darwin Evolution has a hard time, in my opinion.
Common sense takes on another assumption of [Darwin] evolution and most backward-looking science disciplines - that there was lots of steady, monotonous time and steady-state conditions much the same as exist on earth today for evolution to happen. That is that the climate, weather, atmosphere, temperature, water, CO2/O2/N2 of the air, continent/ocean/current configuration, the length of day, month, and year, the seasons, etc., etc. were the same millennia ago and for all millennia. This is clearly, to me, not true - the Moon is slowing the rotation of the Earth (day length), the Earth is slowing the Moon (the month), and the year length is also changing; the poles change and flip; tropics in Greenland/Forests in Antarctica; high/high CO2 concentrations in the Carboniferous and higher O2 concentrations in modern times, etc. I believe that modern science must assume, and cling to, these steady-state notions because without them the problems become way too complicated and mind-boggling. However, science seems to just assume them away and use steady-state as the foundation of many, many current theories knowing full well that the foundation is flawed, but hoping that no one discovers or talks about it, until they can retire or publish, or until the whole house they have built comes crashing down.
I hope that some of you all resonate with some of the above (I know that none of you will buy all of it; that's ok/expected) and that maybe this note could be in some small ways present at your Saturday discussion. You can see that I wish I was there - I'm still listening and learning on this, but my doubts keep growing, and my thoughts keep stretching from finite/concrete science toward the more fluid/dynamics of philosophy and spirituality, intuition/vision, and respect of indigenous knowledge as a venue for the discussions. I am delighted that this topic is coming up in non-scientific circles, and I wish you a wonderful meeting.
If ever there were interest, and about 3 months lead-time, I would love to put the ideas above into a PowerPoint presentation, with data/examples/graphics followed by discussion for groups such as yours.
Dick Pierce
On Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 10:05 PM, Heidi P. <[address removed]> wrote:
The next lecture will be on "Darwin and Responses to Evolution" on February twenty eighth and I found this article, actually it's in the opinion section by Michael Shermer on Darwin. I found it interesting so I thought I would share it with you.

Darwin Misunderstood
On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday two myths persist about evolution and natural selection -by Michael Shermer

On July2, 1866, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection, wrote to Charles Darwin to lament how he had been "so repeatedly struck by the utter inability of numbers of intelligent persons to see clearly or at all, the self acting & necessary effects of Nat Selection, that I am led to conclude that the term itself & your mode of illustrating it, however clear & beautiful to many of us are yet not the best adapted to impress it on the general naturalist public." The source of the misunderstanding, Wallace continued, was the name itself, in that it implies "the constant watching of an intelligent "chooser' like man's selection to which you so often compare it," and that "thought and direction are essential to the action of "Natural Selection." Wallace suggested redacting the term and adopting Herbert Spencer's phrase "survival of the fittest."

Unfortunately, that is what happened, and it led to two myths about evolution that persist today: that there is a prescient directionality to evolution and that survival depends entirely on cutthroat competitive fitness.

Contrary to the first myth, natural selection is a description of a process, not a force. No one is "selecting" organisms for survival in the benign sense of pigeon breeders or for extinction in the malignant sense of Nazis selecting prisoners at death camps. Natural selection is nonprescient-it cannot look forward to anticipate what changes are going to be needed for survival. When my daughter was young, I tried explaining evolution to her by using polar bears as an example of a "transitional species" between land mammals and marine mammals, but that was wrong. Polar bears are not "on their way" to becoming marine mammals. They are well adapted for their arctic environment.

Natural selection simply means that those individuals with variations better suited to their environment leave behind more offspring than individuals that are less well adapted. This out come is known as "differential reproductive success." It may be, as the second myth holds, that organisms that are bigger, stronger, faster and brutishly competitive will reproduce more successfully, but it is just as likely that organisms that are smaller, weaker, slower and socially cooperative will do so as well.

This second notion in particular makes evolution unpalatable for many people, because it covers the theory with a darkened patina reminiscent of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "nature, red in tooth and claw." Thomas Henry Hxley, Darwin's "bulldog" defender, promoted this "gladiatorial" view of life in a series of popular essays on nature "whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day." The myth persists.
In his recent documentary film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, Ben Stein linked Darwinism to Communism, Fascism and the Holocaust. Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling misread biologist Richard Dawkin's book The Selfish Gene to mean that evolution is driven solely by ruthless competition, both between corporations and within Enron, leading to his infamous "rank and yank" employee evaluation system, which resulted in massive layoffs and competitive resentment.

This view of life need not have become the dominant one. In 1902 the Russian anarchist Petr Kropotkin published a rebuttal to Huxley and Spencer in his book Mutual Aid. Calling out Spencer by phrase, Kropotkin observed: "If we...ask Nature:'who are the fittest:those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?' we at once see that those animals which acquirehabits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest." Since that time science has revealed that species practice both mutual struggle and mutual aid. Darwinism, properly understood, gives us a dual disposition of selfishness and selflessness, competitive and cooperativeness.

Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln, who struggled to reconcile our binary natures in his first inaugural address on the eve of the Civil War: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

~hope you enjoyed the read-Heidi P.

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