Censurar Darwin agora é blasfêmia

sábado, março 27, 2010

Friday 26 March 2010

It is now blasphemy to criticise Darwin

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, co-author of What Darwin Got Wrong (reviewed in this issue of the spiked review of books), says Darwinism has become a new secular faith that you transgress at your peril.

Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Some months ago an American philosopher explained to a highly sophisticated audience in Britain what, in his opinion, was wrong, indeed fatally wrong, with the standard neo-Darwinian theory of biological evolution. He made it crystal clear that his criticism was not inspired by creationism, intelligent design or any remotely religious motivation. A senior gentleman in the audience erupted, in indignation: ‘You should not say such things, you should not write such things! The creationists will treasure them and use them against science.’ The lecturer politely asked: ‘Even if they are true?’ To which the instant and vibrant retort was: ‘Especially if they are true!’ with emphasis on the ‘especially’.

This stunning exchange exemplifies the religious fervour with which some scholars and laypersons adhere to the Darwinian doctrine. It’s a secular religion, for sure, an atheistic banner under which the white knights of scientific rationality rally in their fight against the forces of darkness. There are countless manifestations of this unwholesome religious Darwinian fervour, more than can be listed here. It happened more than once to my co-author, Jerry Fodor, and myself, as we put the finishing touches to an essay entitled ‘What Darwin Got Wrong’ (now just published by Profile Books). We were asked if we were completely out of our minds. Some friends and colleagues did this in a protective mood, agreeing with what we say but anticipating (rightly it turns out) a volley of very unpleasant reactions.

Our secular critique of the neo-Darwinian doctrine is to be found in our book, What Darwin Got Wrong. It’s quite detailed, grounded in a host of recent discoveries in biology and on an analysis of what is wrong with some of the most central concepts of the Darwinian theory of evolution. It would be impossible to summarise it here. What I would rather like to examine is why this theory has exerted such an unshakeable grip, for so long, on the hearts and minds of so many scientists, teachers, science writers, museum curators and cultivated readers.

Let’s leave aside here the driving force of militant atheism (Fodor and I are also patented atheists) and examine what, in the very nature of the theory, makes it so irresistible.

First and foremost it combines in an original way (Darwin was indeed a genius) the two main kinds of explanations we appeal to in everyday life. One is a mechanical kind of explanation, covering the natural phenomena, involving masses, forces, chemical bonds, molecules and various other inanimate entities. The other kind, the animistic one, covers human affairs and involves means-and-ends, intentions, plans, beliefs and desires. Children have a tendency to exaggerate the power of the second, attributing desires and intentions even to various inanimate objects, such as toys, gadgets, computers and even clouds and winds.

Why is there rain? We would appeal to water vapour, condensation and temperature, a mechanistic explanation. They would appeal to the benefit of rain to crops in the fields, fruits on the trees and berries in the bushes. This is an explanation that is called teleological or finalistic, because the goodness of the outcome is appealed to as the ultimate cause of the phenomenon.

In the past, biology has not been totally free from the need of such kinds of explanations. The progressive increase of complexity in the evolution of life, from simple unicellular organisms all the way up, in the fullness of time, to frogs and zebras and apes and humans, and the exquisite match between many traits of many species and the requirements of their ecological niche, have prompted teleological explanations. It seemed evident that it cannot be by sheer chance, by the blind action of mechanical processes, that spiders weave intricate webs to catch their prey, that salmons and eels swim thousands of miles to return exactly to the site of their origin to reproduce, that a saguaro cactus swells when it rains, and sheds tens of millions of seed in arid lands where the chance of reproducing would otherwise be dismally slim. And so on and so on, with innumerable wonders displayed by the living world.

The late French molecular geneticist and Nobel laureate Jacques Monod coined a new term, teleonomy, to indicate a semblance of teleology – only a semblance, because the real explanation has to be purely mechanical. It’s notable that there is, even in the minds of the most consummate biologists, a need to acknowledge the force of finalism in biology.

Darwin made a wonderful move in this game: he offered a mechanistic explanation for the apparent finalism of the life forms. The differential reproduction of slight variations in traits, spontaneously produced one generation after the other, followed by the filter of natural selection, did the trick. It was all the teleology we needed, but based on a perfectly mechanistic process. This idea looked unbeatable. Immediately, applications of it were discovered in the diffusion of goods, in the financial markets, in the spread of fashions, songs, tunes, even scientific hypothesis. It was a smashing success.

Read more here/Leia mais aqui: Spiked