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A One Hundred Year-Old Challenge

Alfred Russel Wallace Issues Fighting Words to Materialists in 1910: "Nothing in evolution can account for the soul [or mind] of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable." Steven Pinker to the Rescue?

Wallace made the above declaration in an interview with Harold Begbie of The Daily Chronicle, anticipating the release of his grand evolutionary synthesis, The World of Life: A Manifestation of Creative Power, Directive Mind and Ultimate Purpose, in December of 1910. Much to the chagrin of Charles Darwin, this co-discoverer of natural selection had suggested as much even earlier in the April 1869 issue of The Quarterly Review. Despite maintaining cordial relations, this "heresy" would create a great divide between the two naturalists, and Darwin's disciples have been searching for an answer to Wallace ever since.

Recently Steven Pinker, the darling of evolutionary psychology at Harvard, proposed to rescue Darwinists in his article, "The Cognitive Niche: Coevolution of Intelligence, Sociality, and Language." (PNAS, May 11, 2010) Pinker points out that Alfred Russel Wallace "claimed that abstract intelligence was of no use to ancestral humans and could only be explained by intelligent design." In a singular display of perspicacity, Pinker is right. Wallace felt that certain aspects of the uniquely human mind--love of music, humor, abstract reasoning, mathematics, etc.--were wholly inexplicable by Darwin's own principle of utility, which is the idea that no organ or attribute can exist in a species unless it is or has been useful to the organisms that possess it. Pinker goes on to dismiss Wallace and assure his readers that these higher mental attributes can all be explained by Darwinian principles. Although Pinker attacks Wallace's claim as "notorious," Darwin's disobedient colleague never retreated from his position and he even continued to expand upon the limitations of natural selection. He did this most notably in his book Darwinism (1889) and The World of Life mentioned above.

Now, after more than a century, Pinker pledges to address once and for all the "profound puzzle" Wallace posed with "the cognitive niche." Let's see if Pinker's argument matches his bravado.

The cognitive niche is not new; it was first proposed by Tooby and DeVore in 1987. But Pinker believes it has special significance in explaining the evolvability of the human mind by means of natural selection, precisely what Wallace denied. The cognitive niche rests upon two hypotheses: 1) "a mode of survival characterized by manipulating the environment through causal reasoning and social cooperation"; and 2) "the psychological faculties that evolved to prosper in the cognitive niche can be coopted to abstract domains of processes of metaphorical abstraction and productive combination, both vividly manifested in human language."

It all sounds impressive until Pinker tries to actually make a case for any of this. The narrative quickly degenerates into a trivial recounting of what humans currently do and then into a collection of speculative scenarios about how certain primordial hominids "might have" done this or "perhaps" did that. Festooned with hedges like "may have been," "may serve as," "perhaps," "may connect" -- twenty-one in a seven-page paper! -- Pinker promises to "dissolve" the Wallace paradox. If it were all mere speculation it might simply be chalked up to the desperate wishful thinking so common among evolutionary psychologists. But Pinker goes on to try and explain "how cognitive mechanisms that were selected for physical and social reasoning could have enabled H. sapiens to engage in the highly abstract reasoning required in modern science, philosophy, government, commerce, and law." His answer: most humans don't do that! Only a few humans were able to do what "all are capable of learning." Examples? Instead of Newtonian mechanical physics most human "physics" has consisted of intuitions more akin to "the medieval theory of impetus," most have believed in an "intuitive biology" like "creationism," most have reasoned towards "vitalism" over "mechanistic physiology," and with regard to the mind most people have adhered to mind/body dualism over "neurobiological reductionism." Only "some humans," he insists, were "able to invent the different components of modern knowledge." The mechanism for how the apparent "few" were able to achieve this comes from what Pinker calls the "psycholinguistic phenomenon" called "metaphorical abstraction."

Now this most surely isn't science; it's rank presentism and wishful thinking. It privileges those things Pinker values as "progressive" and "modern" and relegates all the rest to a self-fulfilling ignorance. In Pinker's world, one must suppose, medieval scholars like Avicenna, Jean Buridan, and Nicole Orisme were incapable "engaging in highly abstract reasoning" since they all argued for an impetus theory. Would Pinker include René Descartes here too? What of William Paley and his creationism or Henri Bergson and his élan vital? Were they incapable of "highly abstract reasoning"? If only "abstract reasoning" that supports the reigning modern scientific paradigms counts, then that is indeed presentism of the worst kind; it reasons backwards and counts only those concepts that privilege the paradigm and assumes all other explanations (abstract and otherwise) are primitive throwbacks. That's known idiomatically as the proverbial "stacked deck." Is Pinker claiming that Avicenna, Buridan, Orisme, Descartes, Paley, and Bergson are evincing an intellect akin to the Neanderthal dead-end?! The ridiculousness of the suggestion is its own refutation.

Pinker's argument is thoroughly untenable; his claim that the key to understanding how the human mind gained its capacity for abstract reasoning through a purported "psycholinguistic phenomenon . . . called metaphorical abstraction" at least begs the question or is at most a tautology. Wallace would have called them "mere verbal suggestions."

Biologists have begun to question the facile assumptions of Darwinists' explanations for the human mind. Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne, for example, in an April 2009 issue of Nature posed the question, "Can Evolution Explain How Minds Work?" Their short answer was, not so far. But not before leveling some heavy criticism at colleagues over the past two decades who purport to answer this question in the affirmative. According to Bolhuis and Wynne, "A closer look at many studies reveals, however, that appropriate control conditions have often been lacking, and simpler explanations overlooked in a flurry of anthropomorphic overinterpretation." (p. 832) Skeptical of claims asserting certain cognitive continuities and behavioral affinities between humans and chimps, monkeys, and apes, the authors suggest, "Such findings have cast doubt on the straightforward application of Darwinism to cognition. Some have even called Darwin's idea of continuity a mistake." (p. 832) While doffing their cap to "Darwin's insights," Bolhuis and Wynne pull no punches in calling for release from the "thickets of arbitrary nomenclature" and "naïve evolutionary presuppositions" that obfuscate rather than illuminate our understanding of cognition. It's hard to see Pinker's "cognitive niche" as anything other can just one more addition to this "thicket of arbitrary nomenclature."

Even after a careful, if somewhat uncritical examination of Darwin's theory of mind, C. U. M. (Chris) Smith's "Darwin's Unsolved Problem: The Place of Consciousness in the Evolutionary World," concludes that "his [Darwin's] initial problem remains unsolved. We may," he adds hopefully, "be closer to an understanding of how the living world originated on the surface of this planet . . . , but of how it includes qualia, that is phenomenal or sensory consciousness, we are no nearer understanding than Darwin was a century and a half ago." (Journal of the History of Neurosciences, 19: 2, 3 May 2010:105-120, 119)

A basic problem with Darwinian mind theory is its attempt to link human and animal emotions as differences of degree rather than of kind. Insisting that "there is no deep demarcation between humans and other animals," (116) Smith, and indeed a great many evolutionary biologists (including Pinker), think Darwin got this right. Darwin came to this conclusion by watching the behavior of "Jenny," an orangutan in the London Zoo. Noting that Jenny would run and hide when doing something her keeper had told her not to do, Darwin concluded evidence of animal "shame" and "self-consciousness." But is this really shame in the sense that humans feel shame? Did Jenny attach guilt, embarrassment, and a sense of unworthiness to her keeper's scolding? There's no reason to think so. More compelling is the fact that Jenny, like all higher animals, was responding to operant conditioning. Jenny hid because she knew in the past similar behavior resulted in punishment and reprimands from her keeper. Self-reflection, guilt, or embarrassment experienced and even anticipated by humans whenever a larger complex set of mores is strained or broken is unknown in the animal world. These are qualitative not quantitative differences. Orangutan "shame" seems to be just another example of the "anthropomorphic overinterpretation" to which Bolhuis and Wynne complain.

The bridges built over Wallace's unbridgeable animal/human divide collapse upon the first effort to actually drive over them. The problem is intrinsic to Darwinian and neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory and is in strong evidence in all these approaches, including Steven Pinker's. Why? Because, like all good evolutionary psychologists, Pinker sees natural selection as the only thing capable of generating biological complexity.

Some might argue that this is just a gap argument, after all, elusive answers to the human mind via Darwinian mechanisms is no reason to assume they might not be found in the future. Perhaps this would hold up if Darwin's critics had no better solution to the question, but there is an alternative, and moreover, it has an overwhelming body of experiential evidence on its behalf, namely, that specified complexity only arises from intelligent agency. This raises two questions: 1) Is intelligence merely a product of natural selection acting upon random mutation? and 2) Is this an accurate or even appropriate view of intelligence itself? False-positive answers to these questions might explain why Wallace's challenge remains so intractable for Darwinists. Rather than reducing the mind to some materialistic formulae, another approach is possible. "Might not intelligence, instead, be a fundamental feature of the world," write William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells, "a principle that animates the whole of reality, responsible for the marvelous patterns we see throughout the biophysical universe and reflected in the cognitive capacities of animals--and preeminently so in humans? The very fact that the world is intelligible and that our intelligence is capable of understanding the world points to an underlying intelligence that has adapted our intelligence to the world." (The Design of Life, p. 15) Wallace agreed.

In the end Pinker's "cognitive niche" is merely another failed attempt to answer Wallace's challenge. In fact, The World of Life remains unrefuted after a century of Darwinist handwaving. Of course the mind/body problem long predated the co-discoverers of natural selection, but if there is a lesson here it is that modern evolutionary theory never did require Darwin's reductionist constructions. A different approach was offered by natural selection's other founder, Alfred Russel Wallace.

To find out much more about this approach, read my just-released biography, Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life.


23 Comments

Thank-you for that link. A fine post by Egnor.

BTW- anyone complaining of the use of the term 'Darwinist' could read this-
http://www.vqronline.org/articles/2006/spring/eldredge-confessions-darwinist/

Flannery -

Thank you for your response. I'll address your points in turn.

"Pinker is invoking the “cognitive niche” as an explanatory mechanism for the human mind, and as such it is surely reasonable to expect some empirical evidence on its behalf"

I agree. As I stated below, "That response alone does not amount to science (nor is Wallace's claim science), nor does it follow from the argument that events can have happened that they did indeed happen. The science lies in the very hard work of formulating hypotheses regarding human cognitive evolution that are testable."

As I also stated below, some extremely interesting work is being done on these very difficult questions, for example at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and by researchers such as Tomasello, Call, Povinelli, Hare, and many others. Hard won specific, testable hypotheses regarding the nature and evolution of primate theory of mind (a pillar in the foundation of human cognition) are being addressed through thoroughly experimental means (see Brian Hare's elegant work on the distribution among primates of an understanding that one's conspecifics 'see' and act upon what they have seen). The results have unmistakeable importance for the evolution of social-cognitive intelligence and the foundations of many of the human capabilities we both admire. Further, the cross-fertilized work in developmental psychology stimulated by this perspective has yielded significant, unexpected discoveries regarding the unfolding of human cognition in infants, empirical findings that have unmistakable relevance to our understanding of human cognitive evolution. Whether or not you find that work "convincing," a large community of primatologists, developmental psychologists and cognitive scientists find it a fertile, productive and progressive area of empirical research, a framework that guides research in a way that has yielded important discoveries and posed additional researchable questions. I find it wholly inaccurate to characterize this work as "hand waving and hedges."

Any reader who wishes may begin to judge for themselves by visiting http://www.eva.mpg.de/english/index.htm

"Wallace never argued that humans couldn’t acquire higher mental attributes by means of natural selection, he simply said that such an argument lacked evidence"

At the outset you quote, approvingly I gather, Wallace as characterizing the distance between human beings and other species as "unbridgeable," and that "nothing in evolution can account for the soul of man" (my emphasis). That statement precisely is a claim that human beings can't have acquired higher mental attributes by means of evolutionary mechanisms, and not an assertion regarding the evidence.

"Wallace pointed out that the uniquely human attributes of abstract reasoning, humor, mathematical ability, musical aptitude, artistic talent, etc. are inexplicable in terms of ordinary survival needs."

Of course, this again is a wholly conceptual claim, one that assumes it's conclusion. And, once again, it is a claim that "humans couldn’t acquire higher mental attributes by means of natural selection," a argument you say Wallace never made.

Moreover, these abilities are at bottom elaborations of the powerful human capacity for representation, both as displayed by individuals and as deployed through the shared "distributed cognition" that characterizes our way of making a living. The capacious representational abilities that characterize human cognition have everything to do with the "survival needs" associated with the way human beings have made their living throughout their history. To say otherwise is tantamount to asserting that flight can't have evolved in birds because flight has nothing to do with basic survival needs.

That said, all of these skills have been hugely elaborated by means of cultural rather than biological evolution over the past several tens of thousands of years, and therefore do have many elaborate characteristics that are traceable to processes other than natural selection.

"The observational and experiential power of Wallace’s position is underestimated."

Ultimately, again, the science lies in the very hard work of generating testable hypotheses concerning the origins of these abilities and devising empirical research (both experimental and field) capable of answering the questions posed. It is the experimental power of Wallace's ideas - or rather the lack of same - that should concern its advocates.


“Reciprocating Bill” tries to make a case that Wallace’s and Pinker’s positions are both “conceptual” arguments requiring the same level of evidence. He also writes that Wallace and ID proponents assert that the higher mental attributes of H. sapiens “cannot” have occurred by slowly accumulating “gradations.” Thus, since Wallace’s argument is a conceptual equivalent, Bill believes Pinker’s so-called “conceptual response” is sufficient to negate it—a zero-sum gain. But is this really the case? I believe this argument miscarries on four fronts:

1) Wallace’s argument is misconstrued. Pinker’s and Wallace’s claims aren’t equivalent conceptual arguments. Pinker is invoking the “cognitive niche” as an explanatory mechanism for the human mind, and as such it is surely reasonable to expect some empirical evidence on its behalf instead of assertions peppered with the hedges already described.

2) Wallace’s position is mischaracterized. Wallace never argued that humans couldn’t acquire higher mental attributes by means of natural selection he simply said that such an argument lacked evidence whereas his position was by contrast full of evidence, even commonplace.

3) The observational and experiential power of Wallace’s position is underestimated. Wallace pointed out that the uniquely human attributes of abstract reasoning, humor, mathematical ability, musical aptitude, artistic talent, etc. are inexplicable in terms of ordinary survival needs. The only known sources for these abilities and skills are due to intelligence. A beautiful symphony comes from a composer, art comes from an artist, poetry from a poet, an essay from some author and so on. Even a modern-day example like a computer performs its functions because some programmer gave it instructions to do so. In other words, these things come from some intelligent designer. When Wallace saw that indigenous peoples with no cultural connections to European society could be taught the piano and had a naturally “musical ear” he realized, unlike many of his fellow Victorians, that the higher human abilities are not cumulative (higher in some groups, lower in others) and that they are neither a product of race nor habitat but innate and latent qualities common to all humans. So Wallace merely extrapolated from ordinary experience that an intelligent agent is required to bring about human intelligent activity and action. Under any other circumstances this would appear to be a common and wholly unremarkable conclusion, something within everyone’s experience and observation. Wallace concluded that unless these uniquely human attributes could be demonstrated to have been produced by the “self-acting agencies” of natural selection, “I must believe that some other power (than natural selection) caused the development. It seems to me that the onus probandi will lie with those who maintain that man, body and mind, could have been developed from a quadrumanous animal by ‘natural selection’.” Indeed everyday experience and ordinary examples serve to make Wallace’s prima facie case.

4) The burden of proof here does indeed rest with Pinker. Hand waving and hedges will not suffice. The studies touted by Reciprocal Bill “arising from a ‘triangulation’ between findings in cognitive science, primatology, and human developmental psychology” have been less convincing to others and as already pointed out have only resulted in a “flurry of anthropomorphic overinterpretation.”

Good to see you're back!

You're comment reminds me of an article you did for Salvo, "What Happens When You Write
Positive Blog Posts About ID?" I'm sure it must feel like target practice for the mods right now.

I have a question though about how you define "dualism." You said before that dualism predicts
that "If the brain is damaged, then mental function will not necessarily be damaged,"
as well as, "We will not always be able to correlate brain activity with mental activity -- no matter
how we choose to look at it."

Am I no longer a dualist if I allow the possibility that the mind uses the brain to manifest itself?
For example, if I damage the brain the mind itself is intact but cannot express itself through the
brain as well - and insisting we can only detect mental activity through brain activity?

Is this consistent with dualism when you view the brain as a vehicle but the mind is the
driver - damage the car, inhibit the driver? Or must I call myself a property dualist to make that
distinction?

I ask this because it seems like you've phrased dualism to mean that it won't matter at all if the brain is damaged; the mind will still be able to perform physical functions regardless.

The term "Darwinist" serves an important purpose. Much of the difficulty that most people have in understanding the Darwin-ID debate is a matter of imprecise and dishonest use of terminology. It's important to peel away the spin and get to the real issues.

The real debate boils down to this: is there evidence for teleology in biology? Teleology of course presupposes Mind (Aquina's Fifth Way), and ID is one teleological way of understanding nature.

There are people in this debate who deny teleology. They are almost all atheists, who use biology and evolution to advance their ideological agenda. There needs to be a way of naming this ateleological agenda. What Darwin said that was utterly novel was that apparent 'purpose' in biology was illusory; it was just a matter of undirected variation and differential survival.

Thus Darwinism is a reasonable term for the ateleological view. The fact that some consider it an insult is fine. It is an insult-- it is a reasonably accurate term to describe the atheist view.

I support the use of "Darwinist" to label ateleological atheist views on biological evolution. It is as good a name as any to describe atheist ideology as applied to biology. I think that it has been very effective, and helps to discredit an ideology sorely in need of discreditation.

The fact that atheists complain about the term is evidence that it is effective.

By the way, this comment section is great! I'm sure that it's labor intensive to filter out the inevitable Darwinist venom, but for people interested in civil discussion it's wonderful.

"It all sounds impressive until Pinker tries to actually make a case for any of this. The narrative quickly degenerates into a trivial recounting of what humans currently do and then into a collection of speculative scenarios about how certain primordial hominids "might have" done this or "perhaps" did that."

Wallace's claim too may be characterized as a recounting of what humans currently do coupled with the assertion that these capabilities cannot have arisen by gradations. The argument for this assertion inheres in characterizations of these activities, e.g. their level of abstraction, and the follow-on claim that lesser forms of such capabilities cannot have been useful to our hominid ancestors, and therefore cannot have arisen step-wise. This is a conceptual argument, not an empirical one - which is why it is characterized as a "paradox."

When a conceptual claim is made, a conceptual response may be sufficient to dispute that claim. Wallace - and now ID proponents - argue not that these things did not happen (broadly an empirical claim), but that they cannot have happened - that to assert otherwise is to invoke a paradox (a conceptual claim). To refute an argument of this kind all one need only show that such events can have happened - that the claim is not in fact paradoxical. That is the level of Pinker's argument (as you summarize it here). Qualifiers such as "may have been," "may serve as," "perhaps," "may connect" are appropriate when mounting a conceptual response to a conceptual claim.

That response alone does not amount to science (nor is Wallace's claim science), nor does it follow from the argument that events can have happened that they did indeed happen. The science lies in the very hard work of formulating hypotheses regarding human cognitive evolution that are testable - a difficult proposition given that the hypothesized cognitive attainments occurred tens of thousands to millions of years in the past, and by their very nature can have left no physical traces other than cultural artifacts. The most interesting work in this field, which is far from new, draws not just upon characterizations of the skills in question but also upon predictions arising from a "triangulation" between findings in cognitive science, primatology, and human developmental psychology (ie. the unfolding of cognitive abilities in individual children). Perhaps we can never attain a high level of confidence regarding particular hypotheses. But a conceptual response alone can refute the bare conceptual claim that such hypotheses cannot be correct.

What is the role of Indiana Jones in all this? Did he find evidence supporting ID and has he been another prominent opponent of evolution theory?

I wonder what this means for reductionism as more people in physics are forced to come to terms with Heisenberg's words of wisdom. Things no longer seem to be getting much simpler as we work our way down to constituents (ten-dimensional universe anyone?).

It's already pretty easy to see what implications it might have for neuroscience...

I sure miss those back and forth discussions that used to happen between Egnor and Steve Novella. This one remains one of the better posts by Mike.

"The tacit assumption that relative enlargement and differentiation of brains reflect a progressive evolutionary trend toward greater intelligence is a major impediment to the study of brain evolution. Theories that purport to establish a linear scale for this presumed correlation between brain size and intelligence are undermined by the absence of an unbiased allometric baseline for estimating differences in encephalization, by the incompatibility of allometric analyses at different taxonomic levels, by the nonlinearity of the criterion of subtraction used to partition the somatic and cognitive components of encephalization, and by the failure to independently demonstrate any cognitive basis for the regularity of brain/body allometry. Analyzing deviations from brain/body allometric trends in terms of encephalization obfuscates the complementarity between brain and body size and ignores selection on body size, which probably determines most deviations. By failing to analyze the effects of allometry at many levels of structure, comparative anatomists have mistaken methodological artifacts for progressive evolutionary trends. Many structural changes, which are assumed to demonstrate progression of brain structure from primitive to advanced forms, are the results of allometric processes. Increased brain size turns out to have some previously unappreciated functional disadvantages." (Terrence W. Deacon, "Fallacies of progression in theories of brain-size evolution," International Journal of Primatology, Volume 11, Number 3, 193-236, DOI: 10.1007/BF02192869 (1990).)

It seems that Werner Heisenberg agreed with Dembski and Wells--

"I think that modern physics has definitely decided in favor of Plato. In fact the smallest units of matter are not physical objects in the ordinary sense; they are forms, ideas which can be expressed unambiguously only in mathematical language."
? As quoted in The New York Times Book Review (8 March 1992)

Dear Jim,

Nice to see you here. You stated regarding the term "Darwinist" that: "The only people that use that term use it pejoratively."

In recent years I personally have tried to avoid using the term "Darwinist" for 2 reasons:

(1) It plays into the hands of those who find it convenient to feign offense when the term is used and pretend that it's only used pejoratively, to offend people.
(2) There may be some rare people who might be genuinely offended by the term, and I don't want to offend people.

Nonetheless, it's a myth promoted by, well, people who call themselves the D-word that the term is only used by those who use the D-word pejoratively. If you don't believe me, here a couple notable examples of anti-ID sources using the D-word in much the same way that ID-proponents sometimes use use it:

“[Eugenie] Scott, who is perhaps the nation’s most highprofile Darwinist, is frustrated by the scientific community’s inability to grapple with the issue.” (“Who has designs on your students’ minds?,” by Geoff Brumfiel, Nature, Vol. 434:1062, 4/28/2005.)

“[T]he debate about evolution continues to assume the quality of an abstract and philosophical 'dialogue of the deaf' between Creationists and Darwinists.” (James Shapiro, “A Third Way,” Boston Review, (1997).)

“In the ongoing controversy between Darwinists and Creationists, Darwinians usually maintain that their theory obeys the following principle…” (Elliott Sober, “Why Methodological Naturalism?,” 2009).)

“I’m a Darwinist because I believe the only alternatives are Lamarckism or God neither of which does the job as an explanatory principle.” (Richard Dawkins, in The Third Culture, J. Brockman, Ed. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1995), pp. 75–95.)

"The cultural polarization of America has been aggravated by attacks on religion from the 'new atheists,' writers such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who are die-hard Darwinists." (Jerry Coyne, "Seeing and Believing," The New Republic, February 4, 2009)

“When biologists talk of the ‘evolution wars’, they usually mean the ongoing battle for supremacy in American schoolrooms between Darwinists and their creationist opponents.” (Trisha Gura, "Bones, molecules. or Both?," Nature, Vol. 406:230-233 (July 20, 2000).)

“In his book The Language of God (Free Press, 2006), Collins discusses the ideas of Theodosius Dobzhansky, a darwinist and the main architect of the modern synthetic theory of biological evolution.” (U. Kutschera, "Dogma, not faith, is the barrier to scientific enquiry," Nature, Vol. 443:26 (Sept. 7, 2006).)

I could go on but you get the point. In my personal opinion, we all need to move past the distraction of the term "Darwinist." That includes those who feign offense when the term is used, and those who use it to offend. In my experience, there are far more of the former than the latter.

By the way, are you aware that you misquoted me quite badly over at BioLogos last month?

Sincerely,

Casey

I know others on here might disagree, but I don't see how the term "Darwinist" is really useful for anything. For instance, is Michael Behe a "Darwinist" for affirming common ancestry between apes and humans?

And besides that, those that are critical or supportive of Intelligent Design come from a wide variety of fields and backgrounds besides just biology (physics for instance). I think discussions like this would be more fruitful if we simply abandoned that term and said design critics instead.

I'm not condoning the fact that people offended by the term fail to realize they were the ones who came up with it in the first place. Wells gave some pretty good coverage of this in his PIG guide.


Some questions about commenting:

Does it matter if we decide to use proxies, VPN or Tor browsers to hide our real IP address or do the moderators need that to confirm we are the same person that originally posted under a given name?

Or are they not even visible to you guys - making my use of someone else's computer unnecessary?

I ask because I'd like to be able to comment on here without there being any trace of which University it comes from...

"Darwinists" = people who have faith in the neo-darwinian theory.

It's ironic that Pinker, who would agree with Darwin's "differences of degree rather than of kind. Insisting that 'there is no deep demarcation between humans and other animals,' Smith", would then proceed to place an even greater demarcation between humans who can reason abstractly and those who (supposedly) cannot.

Abstract reasoning (of the congitive niche kind) can be considered as an evolutionary trait, one that is not extant in a large number of humans, according to Pinker. Assuming that Pinker's abstract reasoners are descended from the same ancestor as the non-abstract reasoners (all are homo-sapiens, right?), and applying evolutionary principles, one would inevitably be lead to one of the following conclusions:
1) non-abstract reasoners lost the capability that existed at one time in the animals, and therefore have not evolved upward as predicted by the theory of evolution (since there must have been a preponderance of them since humans diverged from other animals), or
2) non-abstract reasoners gained a capability that goes beyond abstract reasoning, and are therefore more evolved than a few individuals that are still mired in the animalistic abstract reasoning.

Either way, Pinker's elite "abstract reasoners" have lost the argument--by retaining their animal-likeness in a society that has progressed beyond them or by suggesting an evolution that is regressive rather than progressive.

Jimpithecus, Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis agreed in calling themselves Darwinists*. Michael Ruse calls himself a Darwinist. I could, of course, go on.

They don't consider it a term of abuse, and neither should you.

A while back, some of their supporters, in an effort to help, decided to announce that "only creationists use the term", at which point they were inundated by original sources that made perfectly clear it is a normal usage in evolutionary biology.

If you need a pro-Darwin cause, don't let this be it.

*Dawkins would, of course, prefer "neo-Darwinist", but there is no reason to split hairs about that here; all neo-Darwinists look to Darwin as the founder of "design for free" biology.

All of this tends to gloss over the fact that, as we move forward in hominin evolution over the last four million years, the brain has gotten bigger and cognitive abilities have increased concomitantly to include, in the last forty or so thousand years, abstract ideas. Yes, there are things that neuroscience might never be able to explain but there is definitely a link between cognitive ability and the ability to recognize that which is outside ourselves.

Please define the word “Darwinists.” The only people that use that term use it pejoratively.

I'm a troll,

Holy Roll!

I'm here to impede discussion with drive-by Darwineering, replete with exploding profanities, making you people wish you hadn't opened the floor for comments.

Seriously, I've read both Wallace's World of Life (Flannery's edition with Erasmus Press) and an advance copy of his biography of Wallace.

It seems to me that Wallace had the advantage over Darwin of knowing what life was really like on the other side of the tracks, and in a way that affected his thinking about science.

Unlike Darwin, he knew that technologically simple peoples were NOT closer to gorillas than his British contemporaries were.

Doubtless, he would find Pinker's arguments about the human mind unimpressive because they are not evidence-based, just storytelling.

Incidentally, I learned from the biography that Wallace's ideas about land ownership stemmed from the fact that he had been a surveyor, when people were losing their land to enclosure, and he saw the results. In the same way, some doctors became socialists from what they saw in their practices.

Whether a good or bad idea, one needs sometimes to see how a belief gets started in a context, not in isolation.

Like all macro evolutionists Pinker relies on assumption, interpretation and extrapolation. To believe him you have to agree with his assumption that only natural causes exist, therefore any data he collects or investigates will be interpreted only in this framework. Then on top of all this he extrapolates again only in this framework. In the end it all becomes a subjective wish fulfilling pseudo science.

"I can remember a short passage in a biology book that caught my attention in light of this uncommon knowledge."

And this speaks volumes about the "education" channels of society... that A.R.Wallace and his work have been relatively "uncommon knowledge" (when it comes to the layperson), but could have *always* been presented to the public as a natural (implied ID) parallel to (no hablo ID) Darwinian Evolution.


Matthew in Santa Cruz (not on Tenure track)

This is interesting, but only in the context of history of science. Whether Darwin or Wallace were nice persons or not, whether they were wrong or not, whether they were immoral or not: what does this have to do with whether the science of evolution in 2011 is correct? Nothing.

If this book gives an interesting twist on the history of a fundamental branch of science, that's great. But let's not imagine that it says anything about whether evolution is correct or not.

Perhaps the cosmos itself is a living organism, and the “Big Bang” was actually a “Big Seed”; perhaps the Creator (intelligent mind/designer) caused the Big Bang, as Pope Benedict recently seemed to suggest, and perhaps the Creator worked his will teleologically, by “planting” an autotelic cosmic seed, from which sprouted the entire visible universe – in all its self-organizational splendor: a hierarchy of ordered dimensions through which evolution operates and without which evolution can not unfold.

Perhaps parrhesia is a human right.

The above seems to make a great deal more sense and seems to be much more compelling than the spectacle of the untestable, question-begging hypothesis of a multiverse – in all its theoretical permutations – guarding the flanks of the Darwinian just-so story.

Atheist metaphysics: evolutionism and mechanism; a multiverse – yeah, that’s the ticket.

I can remember a short passage in a biology book that caught my attention in light of this uncommon knowledge. In short, it said that though he had a major role formulating evolutionary thinking, he is seldom recognized for his contributions.

It would appear that Wallace did for ID in biology what Hoyle did in physics. He definitely deserves recognition, but he probably won't get his fair share until after ID goes mainstream.

Until that time comes, anyone wanting to show support for ID, and is also on a tenure track should use a pseudonym.