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Science and Redemption

The Guardian Weekly (20/11/09) recently published an article on the challenges faced by evolution. It noted that throughout the world increasing numbers of people do not believe in it. The article’s writer, Riazat Butt, blamed the decline on the threat the theory of evolution posed to religious belief. Evolution and religion are characteristically presented as stark choices and in such circumstances, so it seems, people prefer religion. Butt suggests that if creationism comes to be influential with policy-makers “then the public practice of science and research will be hindered.”

Taking umbrage at the tenor of the debate reported in the Guardian Weekly, I sent a letter to the editor, and like all my letters to the editor, it was not published. What influence my views had on the editor I cannot tell. I suspect that they had none. Perhaps I did not make my case well enough. Let me try again.

In my letter I argued that the debate was not simply between evolution and creation, and more importantly it was not simply between science and religion, or between science and rationally-unjustified belief. There is also the question of whether evolution theory is a science, and if it is then there is the question of just what kind of science it is. In support of my argument, I quoted the eminent twentieth century biologist and developer of group theory, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who wrote that:

 “I think the fact that a theory so vague, so insufficiently verifiable and so far from the criteria otherwise applied in ‘hard’ science, has become a dogma, can only be explained on sociological grounds. Society and science have been so steeped in the ideas of mechanism, utilitarianism and the economic concept of free competition, that instead of God, Selection was enthroned as ultimate reality.”

The theory of evolution is to my knowledge unique in that its basic concepts come from economics, and not just from economics but bourgeois economics – capitalist economics, if you like. The natural world is conceived of as a competition in which only the fittest survive. Adam Smith saw human existence in these terms, where a world in which everyone is a competitor paradoxically produces the greatest good for the greatest number, and so should be fostered. The theory of evolution provides an ideological support for this economic theory, naturalising it, making what is actually a product of a specific human culture into an independently existing state of affairs – in other words, making it into a myth.

As Nietzsche pointed out, it is inconceivable that the present mess could have been created by our best and most able. In his view, our society reflected the principle of survival of the weakest, where the mediocre make the important decisions. When I consider the political leaders not just in Australia but throughout the world it is difficult to disagree with him. Our political leaders appear more stupid than they actually are because they no longer have an independent public service to advise them. Their ability is less important than their intention; they are there because they are willing to continue the process of commodification, the process which reduces subjects to objects, each undifferentiated, with an equal value in the market-place.

In the words of the Australian literary critic, Dorothy Green, “Most of us, particularly in the Western world, are as much unconsciously at home in the element of production-consumption for profit as a mole is at home underground, unable to conceive that any other kind of world could exist”. To my mind, the theory of evolution plays a significant role in this process. As Green says, “men and women have acquiesced in their own transformation into objects, without noticing what was happening to them”. In our society, science has played a key role in this transformation – medicine is a paradigmatic example of this process of objectification of human beings.

If a science can be founded on the principles of the free market then perhaps one can be founded on the idea of redemption, most certainly of the environment but not just of the environment; we need a science that makes humans into subjects and not into objects. We need a science that conceives of humans as a community and not as an aggregation of competitors. From this perspective, the theory of evolution is suspect.  Its goal is to enshrine the concept of competition in the natural order.

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ground control...

It seems to me that what's being discussed is Evolution when it represents an escape into defeatism and Hobbesian "anxious" conservatism.

 A bit like as with too much of the tabolid news, folk become "sensitized". They see disasters too often on TV, but often themselves short of the dire experiences of, say Horn of Africa people.

Or more pervasive, the notion of life as a long movie at which we are self appointed observers.

The movie "Syriana" prided an ending which included the destruction of a Mossadeque or Allende, with family, enginered and executed from afar in Washington with extreme prejudice courtesy of a guided missile armed robot.

A bit like Dr Strangelove minus the humour.

The thing is, isn't it so much like playing a computer game or pokie, or watching the six o'clock news?


The communist failure

David Roffey "Most of the post-communist states inherited a functioning economy with close to full employment. The big problem for people particularly in manufacturing industry was that there had been almost no investment in new technology / capacity since at least the early eighties - all of the spare capital having been put into the arms race".

Haiti has a "functioning" economy, it just isn't much good. Functioning can mean to whatever degree you want it to mean.

The arms race didn't help communist states (misallocation of resources). It played a part in the eventually collapse, it wasn't however the major factor.

"The outcomes for the post-communist states are very very different from each other. Those, such as the Czech Republic, who opted for gradual reform and  infrastructure development came through with relatively little trauma".

Nations such as the Czech Republic also started in a better position. The Czech Republics idea of "socialism" certainly was much less ridged than the USSR. Was it a case of the Czech Republic "holding back" or more the case of the Czech Republic starting "forward"?

At the other end, the Russian Federation and other ex-USSR states were misguided enough to go full out for freedom from any controls at all, failing to recognise that the most libertarian regime in the world is Somalia, and with that much freedom the world gets run for the benefit of pirates.

Somalia isn't in any sense of the word, libertarian. Libertarianism doesn't equal lawlessness. Nice try though.

What caused the differences? Many, many things - but the Friedman/Hayek (and Sachs) influences got a lot less traction in the states that had some history of constitutional law than they did in the states that went straight from the Tsar to Stalin, and had no concept that a contract was something you're supposed to deliver on. The latter found the idea of freedom meaning 'without any rules at all' very attractive.

Economic liberalism doesn't advocate lawlessness or corruption. Economic liberalism advocates the opposite in fact. Corruption and lawlessness can only exist when the means for it are in place. The means for corruption and lawlessness are any thing but a "free market".

The former states had a hard time in the nineties and noughties, but are now functioning and mostly thriving states (partly through adopting the aquis communitaire wholesale), whereas those that got captured by libertarianism managed up to 30,000,000% inflation in the nineties and ended up in the hands of robber barons.

I wrote freedom was a natural desire, I never wrote it was easy. I could give you many examples of people not being able to deal with their own freedom, many western examples. That doesn't mean I and others can't, and it certainly doesn't mean I and others shouldn't be allowed the opportunity.

Socialism is a system that focuses on "the group" rather than the individual. That's why socialism/communism fails and will always fail. Reward with socialism is a group concept (the thing that nice thinking socialist types like to remind one). Unfortunately for socialism this means punishment is also a group concept (the thing nice thinking socialists don't like to remind one).

Without respect for ones self, one cannot respect others. Without love for ones self, one cannot love others. Without priority (self worth) placed in ones self, one cannot place priority in others. The fatal flaw of socialism is that it reduces the individual to nothing, and therefore the group. A whole lot of nothing still equals nothing.

"I contend that the bad days for both were indeed the fault of communism, but the ongoing worse days for the ex-USSR states (and the recent hankering back by some to the view that Stalin might have been less dangerous than Putin) was substantially affected by their over-enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberalism".

Russia has achieved more in twenty years than it did in eighty with communism. Sure, some people still might pine for a free bottle of vodka and a loaf of bread a week - and would like the old system in place - I'm betting most don't though.

Evolution and the market

Evolution is about the survival of the fittest not necessarily the strongest.

It takes place over billions of years humans and their political systems are just new comers on the block of survival. Humans have been around for just over a million years or so. Are chances of survival are very limited if we refuse to reduce our population and continue to disregard the environment.

The planet will not be able to support our greed and we will perish like so many predators who have gone before.

I am not sure we will survive the next 1000 years let alone the next million.

We will really have to evolve into a more caring and sharing species if we are to survive.

Lets hope Darwin was right.

Maybe we are still evolving.

Happy New Year

Hi everyone and Happy New Year.

God and evolution just words. Each of us has a different idea of God and evolution. We debate these ideas constantly.

If God is the creator, whose God did the job? Is it the God of Islam, the God of Christianity or one of the thousands of other lesser Gods?

Why is one persons idea of God any better than others?

God is just a word to describe the unknown.

Therefore God of course is unknowable.

To accept one God is to deny all the other Gods and I believe the choice of one's God is more often than not dictated by the culture we are born into.

Luck not logic.

If we do not believe in evolution which other version of creation are we to believe in?

Should we believe earth and the universe all came into being in the last ten thousand years or so, or do we believe as the scientist tell us that it has been around for about 15 billion years.

For me the 15 billion sounds closer to the truth, when you take into account the amount of time it would take to carve out things such as the grand canyons of the world.

Being just a simple man and one that left school at 15 I think I will leave the science to the scientists and the scientific method.

Overwhelmingly the science comes down in favour of evolution.

Until they change there minds I am happy to go all along with people better trained in these fields than I.

To do otherwise would make me very arrogant.

Crypto talk

Trevor Maddock  "Also, who wishes a 'society forever stasis' (whatever that is)? Could you explain in a little more detail, Paul?

You either wish a society moving (economically or otherwise) forward, backward or standing still. I assumed ( I know what they say) that backward wasn't your preferred option.

I haven't mentioned socialism and neither have any of the other correspondents.

This is true. Again, an assumption was made.

I don't know you. I don't know what you believe in (what you think is "truth") . I can only make assumptions from what I read (that's all I have).

If you don't believe in economic growth, you must believe in something else. If you don't believe in human competition, you must believe in something else.

If you don't state your beliefs, I can (this isn't a Court) only assume. And assume I do.

Is my assumption wrong?

nil degree of seperation

David R: well, I'd say a primary cause of the depth of problem in post-communist nations was the extent to which many of them adopted the idiot ideas of Chicago school economists, and did extraordinary damage to themselves to getting too free too fast. But what would I know, I only worked on the problem in Russia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Milton Friedman (Chicago school) primarily deals with monetary policy and Central Banks. He (they) are (were) economic liberals, yes; however, so are a lot of people. It certainly wasn't a Chicago school invention or intervention. Nor were the Eastern European problems.

Economic liberalism didn't destroy Eastern Europe, Communism did that. Economic liberalism didn't destroy post-communist Eastern Europe, corruption (Government) did that. I think you blame the user far more than the dealer. Find the true source of corruption, and you find your problem.

Is Eastern Europe of the early nineties really any different from the Western World of today? Think about it. I respect your reply in advance.

post communist traumas

Well, Paul, how long have you got?

Most of the post-communist states inherited a functioning economy with close to full employment. The big problem for people particularly in manufacturing industry was that there had been almost no investment in new technology / capacity since at least the early eighties - all of the spare capital having been put into the arms race. Their jobs therefore had little economic value and needed rapid transition to new ones. In practice there are considerable parallels with the USA, which was also at the same time losing ground in consumer technologies (and thus heading for permanent debtor status) because of its parallel concentration on the military-industrial complex.

The outcomes for the post-communist states are very very different from each other. Those, such as the Czech Republic, who opted for gradual reform and  infrastructure development came through with relatively little trauma. Take Latvia, which concentrated on government-mandated rapid investment in ports, banking systems and telecoms and getting commercial law into good order.

At the other end, the Russian Federation and other ex-USSR states were misguided enough to go full out for freedom from any controls at all, failing to recognise that the most libertarian regime in the world is Somalia, and with that much freedom the world gets run for the benefit of pirates. By 1994, you could get 'phone service from any one of 14 companies in Moscow, but you would be lucky to get any service at all in rural areas (just like the USA!). And the pirates were acquiring billions of dollars in assets without any investment except in bodyguards.

What caused the differences? Many, many things - but the Friedman/Hayek (and Sachs) influences got a lot less traction in the states that had some history of constitutional law than they did in the states that went straight from the Tsar to Stalin, and had no concept that a contract was something you're supposed to deliver on. The latter found the idea of freedom meaning 'without any rules at all' very attractive.

The former states had a hard time in the nineties and noughties, but are now functioning and mostly thriving states (partly through adopting the aquis communitaire wholesale), whereas those that got captured by libertarianism managed up to 30,000,000% inflation in the nineties and ended up in the hands of robber barons. I contend that the bad days for both were indeed the fault of communism, but the ongoing worse days for the ex-USSR states (and the recent hankering back by some to the view that Stalin might have been less dangerous than Putin) was substantially affected by their over-enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberalism.

Now, that's the sort of

Now, that's the sort of commentating that has made WD a useful part of life some time now. Thanks David.

Paul Morella, in his way is getting closer to the Homeric Heraclitan/ Neitzschean idea of flux in (dialectical) opposition to Parmenides (which can reduce Parmenides to absurdity, unless you employ nous in following closer what Parmenides is trying to really say also, re perception, determinism and wiggle room).

Hobbes developes the line but with unfortunate results from De Maistre on, particularly to produce a paradoxical reduction and movement toward stasis  with later reactionary attempts to "impose order" in/on a apparently changing world.

But that was not what Neitzsche was saying. The better person will employ nous to adjust; learn to think laterally and get by without maliciously aiming kicks at different classes, genders of ethnicities.  Slave thinking derives of laziness (or personal defeat and despair), not genetics. This is the thinking that leads to manipulation  and unthinking acceptance of propagated or manipulated myths, involving jingoism and the like.

The above applies in business to become something creative rather than necessarily vicious and exploitative (eg, broadsheet rather than mindless ideological Murdochism in the Media) or in other ways, such as adapting is thru love of literature, nature, arts thinking etc, or even pointing out environmental issues in the real world, say (against in this case Hansonist Zeitgeist),  that Neitszche was really proposing as a response to totalitarian, homogenising homogeneiting tendencies.

 It is a closer approximation to existentialism and allows for a reviewing of the Enlightenment project coming from a fresh trajectory. There is an unconsidered context for reformist politics against a Neitszschean backdrop retreived also.

But there is that uncomfortable reality that in this processive time/ space matrix, discomfort may always have to have a role based on the assumption that "necessity is the mother of invention".

Neither that stasis that Paul mentions, which evokes a sense of consumerism gone mad reminiscint of dystopic  "Brave New World" or "Farenheit 451" deteriorating into mindless Hitlerism as much as Orwell's Stalinist world, or better ideas like social democracy and theoretical liberalism of which socialism is also an offspring, work without "eternal vigilance" and our vivacious participation in a Civil Society, with a Parmendian attempt to "see thru it" to get at underlying truths emerging thru process. We must also be allowed to smell the roses, surely at least least as much as the BS and am happy for a dialectic that can allow for both attacks  both on smug pol correctness when it deteriorates thru consumerist praxism, that forgets the self reflexivity always needed to continue examine itself honestly leading to Cheney /Bush. and finally past the Ciceronian stage, to dictatorship.  The aspects of the failure of the Bush Cheney were welpredicted before hand.  The two elements of the dichotomy come together to produce a less exclusive synthesis that allows for progress, keeps the good and removes anomic detritus.

It's not teleological; it has to be made to work but we are a long way away from any "resolution" (myth?) ; as the PoMos say; in a contingent world "resolution" might not be the main game any way.

The Name Game

The root cause of many arguments is that different people associate different meanings to the same word. People also often associate different emotions (and values) to words. Marketers will often use words (or pictures) to imply a relationship. Though a person may, with logic or deliberation recognise the ruse, there is still a degree of subconscious persuasion (unless a person gets angry about the ruse, and an abhorrence reaction is triggered).

Belief that God created Man is not challenged by Darwinian evolution. After all, God could have created life through evolution. Rather, creation stories are challenged by evidence from paleontology (fossil records) and astronomy. All Darwin's theory does is provide a reasonable explanation for observed facts, a better explanation than any other theory. In the 150 years since the theory was proposed, we know a lot more of the world. The theory of evolution has evolved to fit current knowledge (e.g. it may be more useful to talk of the survival of genes or genomes rather than species) but the principles are fundamentally similar to that proposed by Darwin.

Science is body of knowledge built using specific techniques (e.g. observation and theory). Other bodies of knowledge include music, literature and theology. These bodies of knowledge are not necessarily in conflict, often quite the opposite in that they regularly aid and sponsor each other.

Science is certainly not absolutely accurate nor complete. Individual scientists will have contrasting views. It is not unknown for a matter to be considered settled for centuries, only to be later identified as needing modifications - the best known example probably being Newton's laws of gravity. Furthermore, individual scientists are human and far from perfect. The history of science suggests that it sometimes takes a generation for a new scientific theory to become accepted because the old guard find it difficult to acknowledge that they were wrong.

Nevertheless science is a large and robust body of knowledge. Above all, it has proved extremely beneficial to mankind. No one would want a world without the advances provided by science.

Science itself is amoral - neither moral nor immoral. In fact, any morality hampers science by creating a bias. However, the actions of scientists, or those who use science can be immoral, and society has a right to prevent what it believes is immoral

However, both individuals and institutions are quite capable of living with contradictions and ambiguities. I believe the theory of evolution is the best available explanation for the known facts, but have no trouble singing hymns or taking communion. I think it likely that those who argued for the teaching of intelligent design have no trouble sitting down to a steak produced through selective breeding.

Science appears to be poorly understood by the public, and science is not a popular university discipline. There is public concern that while the public pays for research, the rewards it produces goes to the private sector, often in the US. Despite all this, Science is far too valuable for mankind to suppress.


Ps, Trevor, he (David R) is also a fan of the (dumbed down, at least online?) Guardian, so the pair of you have more in common than you might have previously guessed.


Freedom will set you free

Economic growth won't solve every problem, nothing in this world is perfect, and will solve every problem. Economic growth is however the best hope we have.

One only need look at the devastation of once communist nations. Economic growth wasn't the problem, lack of it was.

In North Korea much of the population believes they are doing well by world standards. Many North Koreans believe the outside world is ravaged by war and starvation. Starvation for your average North Korean probably seems a noble sacrifice - for ones family and nation - in such a context.

My point is that if one wishes a society forever stasis, one is wasting time fighting economic growth, the real fight is against education (information). The nobility and church of yesteryear understood this only too well. And so unfortunately does the leadership of North Korea. And no doubt the authoritarians in amongst us. One need look no further than the intellectually laughable "climate change debate".

The resurgence of socialism (authoritarianism) hidden behind a "noble" agenda is most unfortunate, however it's easily deletable, not with conservatism however, only libertarianism is the authoritarians foe. And demolish new authoritarians it eventually will. Freedom has been a universally understood language throughout history, and it will continue to be.

David R: well, I'd say a primary cause of the depth of problem in post-communist nations was the extent to which many of them adopted the idiot ideas of Chicago school economists, and did extraordinary damage to themselves to getting too free too fast. But what would I know, I only worked on the problem in Russia, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

onya dave.

Ha, ha, David R.

Well spoken, re Chicago racketeers.

I understand in places like Queensland they are having to confront the thing (ecorationalist ideology) and the problems bought down upon a society re this sort of poleconomics, post Anna Bligh broken election promises re privatisation and firesale prices for the crown jools.

In Adelaide we have the sorry follow up to the Saint Clair parks development fiasco with the announcement that the AG wants to sue the people fighting the so-called development.

In Melbourne we have Brumby sooling the police onto those opposed to their forestry and other so called "developments" rackets, which so much resemble the Tasmanian atrocity and as for NSW- the less said the better.

 And what is offered as an alternative?

Hard core conservatism only distinguished from the Labor brand by its utter lack of aesthetic grace and manners.

Slimy Blairism wins the day on nothing more substantial than a neat suit and dimpled smile, in the wakeof the neocon neolib bankruptcy.


I am a bit confused by some of the recent comments on Science and Redemption. Firstly, someone called Justin Obodie submitted a piece on how to use HTML. It wasn't addressed to anyone and I wasn't aware that it was aimed at me until Paul Walter got stuck into soemone called David H over it. Who is David H? Why is he to blame for Justin's comments? Or am I missing something?

 Paul Morrella also submitted comments which I assume relate to my article but I am not sure how. To what does the 'resurgence of socialism' refer? I haven't mentioned socialism and neither have any of the other correspondents. Also, who wishes a 'society forever stasis' (whatever that is)? Could you explain in a little more detail, Paul?

the Parson's nose.

Relax, Trevor.

David R (H?) is responsible for everyone's comments, not just Justin's.

 And not just because (like Tonkin) he is a moderator.

He is also single handedly responsible for the debacles of post Soviet Eastern Europe and the Baltic, as he has just freely confessed, more or less, to Paul Morella.

Paul Morella is WD's resident American style libertarian. We have to listen to him, for a dialectic in the meaningless ( whoops, -ful ) sense.

We did used to have a full-blown house neolib in the form of Eliot Ramsay, as well as a few tame neo cons, but Ramsay, at least,  appears grown wary of trying to convert the heathen and retreated into the aethers (some suggest possibly Kirribilli ), under the alias of Parsons.

not happy, David

It might have been more worthwhile had David H discussed privately with Trevor any technical problems independant of thread content emerging in presentation, than to call him out on irrelevant to topic technical esoterica. Maybe interesting  to techno buffs but not those of us interested in actual content and David might have done better in adding thread time to diiscussion on Trevor's propositions, etc than griping about the aesthetics.

 Am not interested in the colour of the bus, but whether it gets me from point a to b.

If people want to discuss technicalities with the driver, then do it personally , not in front of the passengers, eh?

Lest we speculate on a covert agenda amongst moderators...

We are short enough of talent here at the moment, without attempting to alienate someone who finally  might actually have something to add, for the rest of us.

David R: If Trevor had been the only one with the problem, a 1-1 might have sufficed - but, since the problem is fairly widespread, worth notifying to all and sundry IMHO  

Trevor, thanks for further comments you have stirred to me a read of intro of HG Alexanders book on Clarke and Leibniz, which led to Mach, and from there to a tome entitled "Materialism versus Empirio Criticism" ; from one VI Lenin, 1908.

Is it really possible for people to really  study this stuff, short of a brain transplant, in under several millions of years?

Sorry David, not feeling

Sorry David, not feeling brilliant when I wrote and knew it was unfair the moment I posted it. 

per favour?

Trevor, I notice you speak of "cause" and its incomplete salvaging by Kant, later critiqued or elaborated upon by Hegel and Schopenhauer.

I remember trying to figure out the Liebniz/ ClarkeNewton debate from the early eighteenth century and coming to a grinding halt with it, because of the underlying metaphysics. It seemed a bit parallel to the old presocratic conversation between Heraclitus and Parmenides on "creation out of nothing"and it was during that era post 1648, when philosphy was trying to absorb the ideas of Galileo, Bacon, Descartes and Spinoza, to name a few.

Where do you reckon I might thave gone wrong with it and can I ask your opinion as to what you thinbk it was about and what came of it, if I may be allowed to ask?

Second try

Let me try again, Trevor. I agree that the dominant world-view sells competition as the ideal approach. Evolution identifies competition as one of several means of survival, and those selling an ideology may emphasise this and ignore other means of evolutionary survival. However, the biological theory of evolution clearly identifies alternatives to competition as a means of survival: 

  1.  Collaboration  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_Evolution#Co-operation).  There are many examples. Within species, all social animals collaborate – hunting food, watching for danger, caring for young…. Between species we have bees spreading pollen, animals eating fruits and spreading seeds, farm creatures providing food….
  2. Huge birth-rates. This could be called appeasement, the idea is to produce enough young etc. so that predators do not threaten survival.
  3.  Niche habitation. This could be called avoidance, for example, the Kiwi survives because it lives in a predator free environment. Leaving the rat-race (tree-change) is a human example.

 The following paragraph later on in the article is also relevant: “Another idea associated with evolutionary theory in the past was Social Darwinism, a now-discredited movement which tried to find broad applications for the "survival of the fittest" and Malthusian ideas in commerce and human societies.This movement was started by the 19th century Whig politician Herbert Spencer and was developed by others into claims that social inequality, sexism, racism, and imperialism were justified. However, these ideas contradict Darwin's own views, and contemporary scientists and philosophers consider these ideas to be neither mandated by evolutionary theory nor supported by data. “  

 Jay   PS My own opinion is that men tend to be more competitive and women more collaborative (and this is partly nature and partly nurture). One major reason that competition is a dominant world-view is that we are a male-dominated society.

A Third Reply

Jay: Let me try to answer you again. The Wikipediaarticle deals with evolution in a general sense. Darwin’s theory of evolution,or the evolution of species through natural selection, is one part of thatstory. A Darwinian would most likely respond to your problem by suggesting that in as much ascollaboration, for example, might result in species development, it only doesso in the sense that those members of the species who collaborate may find theyhave a competitive advantage over those who don’t. Let us say that in a specificspecies, the tall individuals don’t collaborate but the short ones do, and as aresult all the tall individuals die out. From a Darwinian perspective, this isevolution by natural selection. The same argument can be advanced for highbirth-rates and niche habitation. For better or for worse, the theory I amtalking about is the Darwinian theory of natural selection. In schools, theremay be a general discussion of evolution – it would make sense from apedagogical perspective – but the central focus is on the Darwinian theory.

I agreethat Darwinians need not advocate social Darwinism, eugenics, socialinequality, racism, etc. Many of these movements, as they developed in thetwentieth century, need however to be seen in the context of Darwinian thought.

I am afraidI must disagree with you that “men tend to be more competitive and women morecollaborative (and this is partly nature and partly nurture). One major reasonthat competition is a dominant world-view is that we are a male-dominatedsociety”. I think this view is sexist. I agree with Karl Marx when he wrotethat in order to continue to exist individuals enter into definite relationswith other individuals independently of their wills, and these relationsdetermine how they see the world. We’re social animals. How we relate to one-anotheris purely a social question. In being sexist, in blaming the present mess onmale domination, we slip into abstraction and are blinded to the actual,concrete causes of the current situation. Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton,Sarah Palin, Julia Gillard, etc, are not honorary males. They are the agentsand supporters of the corporate sector. And they are interchangeable; they canbe male or female, it doesn’t matter as long as corporate objectives areachieved. Until we see our current malaise in this context we are not going toget anywhere.

Ivan: you are completely correct. How we perceive and conceive in the presentage of reason has been reduced to scientific ways of understanding. This is whyL. Ron Hubbard felt the need to call his ideas ‘scientology’ and Mary BakerEddie to call hers ‘Christian science’. Those whose ideas have little to dowith science nevertheless feel the need to legitimate their views by describingthem as scientific. In the Cold War period and after, there was a big debateabout whether or not Marxism was scientific. The anti-communists who arguedthat Marxism is a pseudo-science similarly maintained that psychoanalysis ispseudo-scientific. This latter debate, which continues to the present, worriessome analysts. They fear that if their practice is not seen as scientific itwill dissuade people from coming to them for therapy.

I personallyknow of a one-time practitioner of psychoanalysis abandoning it for precisely thisreason. I had the opportunity to discuss his reasons with him and I immediatelyfound that they were based on very flimsy evidence, indeed. They turned onnaive falsificationist ideas that had long been discredited in thephilosophical literature. When I pointed this out, it didn’t turn him from hiscourse by even a fraction of one degree. A psychoanalyst would see such actionsas having other than rational causes. The scientific monopolisation of ourcultural machinery is similarly non-rational in motivation.

What yousay about the pedagogical role of Darwinism I couldn’t agree with more. You putit better than I could. We do need a more substantial reason that is not limitedby a puerile obsession with self preservation. We need to see through theseimmature myths.

P.S. Ithink I’m correct in saying that this is not your first contribution toWebdiary; that you previously contributed six months or so ago. If so, don’tleave it so long before you write again. Your input is really valuable.


Trevor, I'd value knowing why you think my opinion regarding male/female differences in competition/collaboration was sexist:

  1. Exactly which of my statements is discriminatory? 
  2. Who am I discriminating against - men or women?
  3. If I said that men tend to be taller than women, would you consider it discriminatory?

I wasn't implying any value judgements. I used the word opinion because though there is a vast amount of literature on gender differences similar to collaboration/competition, I couldn't recall any that was quite so specific. A quick Google threw up this study :

Men compete, women collaborate A study on collaborative vs. competitive communication styles in mixed-sex conversation

Metaphysics, sex and gender

Paul: I didn’t mean to imply thatHegel and Schopenhauer are known specifically for criticised Kant’s theory ofcause, although both do this. Hegel was unhappy with Kant’s separation of the thing-in-itselfand the thing-for-us because it limited thinking to being about the latter. Heaimed to show that thinking was about the thing-in-itself, about the realworld. Although all attempts had so far resulted in failure, the progressiveattempt of thinking was the capture this actual world. Schopenhauer, on theother hand, explained the separation of the thing-in-itself and thething-for-us in terms of will, this latter being an infinite and blind strivingthat can never be satisfied. That is reality for Schopenhauer.

I’m no expert on the history of physics but I suspect that you are rightthat the Leibniz/Clarke correspondence is about the metaphysics necessary for mechanicsto advance as a science. As I understand it, for Leibniz, space only existed aswhatever it was that separated two or more objects; it is known as therelational theory of space. Clarke, a Newtonian, maintained that space existedwhether or not it was occupied; he argued for absolute space. I’m not sure howany of this relates to the question of the mythical functions of Darwinism.Perhaps you could say more.

Jay: it was careless and arrogant ofme to write in such a way as to suggest that you are sexist. I apologise. Thatwas not my intention. Your remarks indicate that you value an attitude worthvaluing, which you find more often in women than men. I couldn’t agree with youmore. The German philosopher, Theodor Adorno once wrote:

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised inface of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things from the standpoint ofredemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption:all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned thatdisplace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices,as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light.<

I wouldsee such properties as collaboration, which you detect in women, in this light.They function to show a failing in the world and suggest one way of redeemingthe situation. We need that kind of thinking more than ever.

For mine,the danger lies in naturalising these traits. If men are in some way naturallycompetitive then there is not much we can do about it. Such thinking is sexistnot because it leads to favouring one sex over another, although this is often itsoutcome. It is sexist in the sense that it reduces the problem of competitionto one of sex: men are naturally competitive while women are naturallycollaborative. It is unfortunate that the word ‘sexist’ has such pejorativeconnotations. I was trying to use it as a non-evaluative term to describe thoseapproaches which reduce social explanations to explanations in terms of sex. Iwould see any female properties like collaboration as gendered properties.Gender is a social construct, sex a natural one. You seem to be suggesting thatfemale properties are both gendered and sexual. It was to this idea that I wasobjecting. I think female and male properties are solely gendered properties;there is nothing natural about our behaviour.

David R: Hi, Trevor. When you copy your posts from whatever word processing program you are using it adds in about 4 pages of html definitions etc that not only make the post itself very large, they also tend to affect the formatting of other things on the page. Please find a way to copy the text in without all the added crap: thanks.

Hakuna Matata

No worries Trevor, I took your comments as simply robust debate, in an environment where participants feel safe enough to explore ideas without concerns about limiting ideas because of worries over politically correct phrasing. 

HTML - getting rid of the crap

Hi David

Re copying and pasting.

As you mentioned pasting text into the comments box causes problems and does result in a overdose of HTML tags in the source.

I am preparing this comment in Word.

I am going to copy it.

I will then go to WD comments box and click on the “HTML” box on the tool bar (“Edit HTML Source” – appears when you place your cursor on it).

Paste your Word doc directly into the HTML box – it will appear as prepared with paragraph breaks etc. - no HTML crap (until you update it).

To retain the paragraphs (before hitting the “update” button in the HTML box) you can simply place the HTML paragraph tag - <p> - at the end (or beginning) of each paragraph – this will keep the general format.

Then hit the “update” button in the HTML box to return to the comments box.

The remainder of the formatting can be done in the comments box, such as bold, indentation etc. but it is best to do the paragraphing in the HTML box – especially for a long comment, for if you don't, when you hit “update” all the text will appear as one long paragraph in the comments box.

Try it and you will get the drift.

I do this when I write longer posts as you can save your work as you go. Unfortunately writing longer posts directly into the comments box can be risky and lots of time can be wasted through carelessness and technical glitches.

Regards JO

PS. I just followed my own instructions and it took less than a minute to copy from Word, paste into the HTML box and add the P tags.

PPS. in the earlier days of the net I used to write flat HTML in notepad - half a page of my code would equal about 5 pages of HTML editor code - back in the days of dial up (and little bandwidth) this was an advantage - now with broadband it doesn't matter at all. 

Richard:  A quick copy/paste from Word into Wordpad then a copy of that into the comments box still does the trick quite nicely  too.. 


Based on your last para anecdote, Roger, I'd say you are not far wide of the mark.

Which reminds me, has a lovely conversation with a dear friend, relevent to "objectivisation", just a little while ago. This individual  was elaborating on the landlord's attempts to have her thrown out of her long time lodgings.

I'd have found it stunning that someone could put someone else to this sort of cost, stress and inconvenience, particularly when they are already wealthy, for the sakeof nothing better than jacking up the rent for the next victim.

I guess am moving away into an isolated aspect of Trevor's discussion on the  false opposition or dichotomy of science and religion touched on in response by Rogers and my examples of humanity in action: "othering" or us 'n them that have been typified this week by the Japanese attitude to whales (species-ism) for example, or Tony Abbot; that great "Christian" , in his disgraceful comments concerning the boat people holed up in limbo on board, on that larger vessel at the same time as "Oceanic Viking". Conditions so shameful that, under pressure from Indonesia, Rudd was forced to consider bringing them here to prevent more dying in the life threatening conditions under which they've had to live , presumably as scapegoats and examples to others. 

Abbot is a man greatly exercised by the hideous fate and alleged shreiks of dying embryos employed for stem cell research, but like the Levite in the Good Samaritan story crosses quickly across the road so as not to be involved when something concerning actual people and real action  turns up.

 Unless it's for the vicarious thrill of  kicking  f....rs  when they're down, like  Abbot and  asylum seekers when he knows as a Christian and secular politician, this individual lot at least,  are in deep  physical jeopardy.

No, he'd rather cut any hope of another option, to create difficulties for that other great Christian lion of aussie politics; Rudd. For then Rudd would be tempted to bypass his own natural timidty and employ his wits in joining with Indonesia to help some of theboat people who are no real threat to anyone, so that things become a bit more win -win for all concerned, including the elusive "Christian" side to Abbot himself.

Now, am still wuzzled from flu wog, so you can all go way till I feel better and feel like talking to you all again.

Our Father, Who art a monkey, Hallowed by Thy name.

While it is true that science is influenced by ideologies and vice versa, to be fair to pure evolutionary theory, it doesn't say that competition is the only way to survive. Many living things survive through collaboration, either between members of the same species or between species. Others survive by creating huge populations, and others by finding a niche.

Nor does evolution confer some moral superiority to Man. Some would argue that ants, bacteria and cockroaches are evolutionarily superior to Man.

The Chance of an Imperial Pint

Roger: Yes, I agree - humanism, the idea that we are something special, is an empty conceit but a powerful one that underlies the Judaic religions. They turn on the idea that we are something special.Then again, there is something special about humans - we're the gods of death and leave a wasteland in our wake. At the same time, I don't want to blame everyone for this mess because most people haven't got anything to do with what is happening.

Richard: I also agree with you that, when it comes to individual existences, chance is the dominant cause. Perhaps a whole species could have the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know you through Chris and Chris through Jane and Jane through Dylan and I got to know Dylan because my companion just happened to be in the politics tutorial as him at university. Darwin isn't opposed to the idea of chance. His idea is that something happens and as a consequence some survive and some don't due to their makeup as individuals - survival of the fittest, natural selection. As Roger notes, it makes the survivor into something special. 

My main point is that both creationism and evolution are myths. A myth is something that we take as immanent, as the way things are, to which we have no choice but submit. They are what is known as a reification: treating ideas as if they are independently-existing things. The ancient Athenians submitted to the gods, who had all the earthly attributes of the ruling class. We see through all the ancient gods but the god of science, well, that's another matter. If you look up the theory of evolution in Wikipedia, the writer claims that it isboth a theory and a  fact. He has no touble with the notion that we culd have an idea about the world that is exactly like the world actually is. Such confidence is not born out in the critical literature.

I think you are not quite right in equating Drawinism with liberalism. Let me explain: liberalism is the idea that the state should keep right out of the marketplace, which is best regulated by naked self-interest. It is acquisitive egoism. 

Only one society ever really practised this idea and that was the UK between the civil war and the Napoleanic wars. Intellectually, the idea achieved its greatest expression in Germany, which at the time was a collection of Feudal states. With aristocratic patronage they produced the idea of enlightenment as liberation from one's self-imposed bonds of immaturity.

Napolean put a new state administrative structure in place throughout Europe. This new state intervened directly in the economy in numerous direct and indirect ways. The British by and large kept the ideology of liberalism but not the practice.  The wide array of new ideologies flourished under yje auspices of this new administration: liberalism, Marxism, Darwinism, relativity physics and quantum mechanics, in art impressionism and post-impressionism, in music, romanticism, neo-romanticism and atonalism. Corporatism, as an adminstrative procedure, came into its own at this time.

So, I see Darwinism as, like Marxism, a product of a new imperialist society driven by an interventionist state that aimed to make everywhere uniform. It is still the aim. The enemies of America - and by extension, our enemies - are all those people whose administrative structure differs from ours.

The myth of Darwinism is natural selection; the myth of Marxism is class struggle. There has only ever been one revolutionary class in the history of European society and that is the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class. The boureoisie always presented its class-specific interests as universal interests. Similarly, Marx presented its mode of conduct as the universal motor of history.

I'm going on and on and I must stop. I think I'm saying something very similar to you, Richard. 


Paul: What rotten luck, getting the flu in summer. I recommend Saturday afernoon in the Gov as the best way of getting back on your feet.


tea and sympathy

Trevor, it is indeed true that the Gov on a Saturday is a great place, but from some of my observations as an onlooker it is not a place where all folk who attend do so to "get back on their feet".

You can't get back on your feet when you are "legless", as some of Richard's more bucolic patrons will enthusiastically demonstrate, from time to time.

But yes, the Gov  is a revelation compared to huge numbers of Australian hotels, the culture is consciously a little different and behaviours do change there compared to some of the old suburban bearpits.

Trevor, need evolution theory only be a myth?

Since so much of our science derives from is it not possible to see it as a theory, at least it thehands of the better motivated.

You are exponentially more educated on the theories of Enlightenment.

To me, you are are a little Kantian influenced in your excellent corollary to the debates you focus on your essay, In the sense that Kant follows Hume a little in suggesting most theories are just that, no matter how many times an experiment confirms a theory (sunrise, eg),  there always the possibility of something different happening in the future perhaps, as part of processes not  we can't understand through lackof wherewithal. Ok, so that theory has an effect of creating an acquiescent secular modernist, rather than feudal religious society.

Today it  requires the inculcation of opinions on all manner of subjects that not even a polymath could master, which can set up a reward /punishment system for inductees. But the underlying "immutables" , much touted and rarely understood, are as present in the current system as in medieval times

However, just rereading your reply above, while  it seems that "teleology" relative to possible wider processes we just lack the wherewithal to grasp, as a form of reification when the system incorporates it from theory to ideology to myth, like the Creationist theories of the bible belt in America, which replicate the Aristotelian ideas of the middle ages both as to ideology and then as part of the resulting reification commodification processes. 

The idea that we can't know everything and ought to humble up a bit in that knowledge, should not necessarily lead to a retreat into docility?

Ok above is wobbly, still a bit wonky personally and well in need of helpful indulgence of and guidance from the brighter and better educated, so willwait hopefully for further illumination.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Jay: I completely agree with you about how we actually do survive and even flourish – through co-operation, through the formation of organic wholes that are trans-individual and yet the ultimate individual expression of all those concerned. Anybody who has ever played in a remotely decent band will know the experience of something emerging that is bigger than the sum total of the individuals involved. Sometimes certain overtones can be created and yet no individual is making them. That is what I mean by an organic whole, and I think it is through such aggregations of individuals that we actually survive and flourish.

But that is not what is argued in the Theory of Evolution; I use capitals to emphasise that it is a specific theory. According to the Theory of Evolution, existence is fragile and continues only through struggle, through competition. The competing individuals are not equal, however.Some have certain properties or qualities which allow them to prevail over others – this is what is meant by ‘survival of the fittest’. Eugenics needs to be understood in relation to this idea: a perfect society is one which only has fit people. The key idea of liberalism is that society flourishes when individuals pursue their naked self-interests against all others without any concern for the good of others. It is the favourite liturgy of our society, although the state actually intervenes directly in order to create a market where only the large corporations will survive. Just as eugenics needs to be seen in the context of Darwinism, so the Theory of Evolution needs to be seen in the context of liberalism as an empty ideology.

Paul: You question whether the Theory of Evolution is only a myth. I would say that, no, it isn’t only a myth; it is also a theory and a theory of a specific kind. As you say, it might be good thing in the hands of properly motivated scientists – I assume you mean that they are motivated only by the pursuit of truth and are disinterested in every other respect. Yes, this is true, but it is a feature of myths that they can be objectified – this is what reification consists in. What I mean by saying that some idea may be objectified is that we may use objective procedures in studying or pursuing it. For instance, the Feudal philosophers in their monasteries had objective – i.e., rule-governed – ways of determining how many angels could fit on the head of a pin; they could critically evaluate claims of this kind.

One of Kant’s great contributions was to save the idea of cause, which is essential to science, from Hume’s apparently devastating critique – that the idea of cause was no more rationally justified than were the ideas of religion. Kant saved the idea of cause, however, by reducing it to metaphysics, to a kind of necessary metaphysics that made science and all knowledge possible. He argued that in order to have any experience at all we must organise it spatio-temporally and causally. It meant that we could never know the world as it actually exists but only the world-for-us, the world we’d organised according to our spatio-temporal-causal matrix. Einstein’s contribution was to show that we could have different spatio-temporal-causal matrices. To my mind, the two most important immediately post-Kantian philosophers are Hegel and Schopenhauer because they both, in their own very different ways, tried to reconnect thinking with the real world. Hegel maintained that the world was rational, Schopenhauer that it was fundamentally irrational, or, rather, that reason had nothing to do with it.

The problem of evolution versus creation in schools is that few are convinced by attempts to insert creationist ideas into the science curriculum while no-one has any problem with evolution being included. It is the view we have of science that is causing the problem rather than the teaching of these two theories. As many so-called ‘Christians’ know, to teach evolution as part of science and creation as part of religious studies is to confer a higher epistemological status to evolution. The common view of science is not Kant’s, for whom science can never tell us how the world actually is but only how to manipulate it. Goodness me, no! For the vast mass of people, science has been mythologised. Stephen Hawking provides a good example of the power of the science myth with his claim that we getting closer and closer to knowing the mind of God, that is, of knowing everything. As I watch the environmental destruction and the social dislocation of the contemporary world, his words sound like most empty hubris to me.

For mine, Karen Blixen was right in Out Of Africa when she wrote that the Africans knew the world much better than we did. When they left a certain spot in which they had been living, there was not the slightest trace of anyone having ever lived there. For all our scientific and technological achievements, we can no longer do this. It’s a case of social amnesia. Picasso also recognised that, aesthetically, we are not more advanced than the Africans but less advanced. Anyone who has ever played the blues will know that it is not a lesser kind of music but a greater kind, so great in fact that we might never know how to play it properly. At one point in his life, in exasperation, Peter Green suggested that perhaps Europeans should stick to church music and military marches because that is the only music they have ever really known. Beethoven was one of the first to recognise the myth of harmony, that a harmonious piece of music was a lie in an inharmonious world, and yet most of us can conceive of music in no other way than as a part of a system of dominant relations over tones. We are most embedded in myth precisely when we think we are most free of it.

Homer’s Odyssey can be seen as an account of the human struggle for self-assertion against myth. I love my computer on which I am writing these words. I love the air-conditioner that is cooling me as I write. I love the mobility that my car gives me. I love being able to purchase books from anywhere in the world. I could go on and on. None of this would be available without the advances of science and no doubt without the capitalist economy that underpinned the various and many scientific endeavours. The song of the sirens is the sweetest sound of all. That is why Ulysses had to fill his men’s ears with wax and strap himself to the mast. As the sirens sang in the Coen brother’s film, ‘Go to sleep you little baby.’ Myths reduce us to a state of infantile dependence. And they vanish as soon as we take no notice of them.

A million thanks

  A million thanks, Trevor, and so much to chew over.

And yes, it is blues of the quality played by some of Richard's Weekend Warriors mates, often at the gratis open mike events, that is a factor that draws me back there, again and again.

Talk about pearls before swine.

There have been times when the music has brought tears to my eyes for both right and wrong reasons, but the magic moments have been exquisite.

It's Contrived

Our conceit is that we think we are relevant; to nature, to each other, to "God".

What ever side of the debate one wants to take, it is specious. Perhaps if we lived for thousands of years, there may come an "ah hah" moment when cause and effect achieved a confluence and we might know something worth knowing. Alas, 70+ years is a piss-poor time base to sally forth with philosophical gudgels a-slashing and bashing.

In fact, which ever is the best-fit theory is not a debate worth winning, seeing that the knowledge is basically useless to beings that survive only for an eonic eye blink.

We are currently host to some young house guests from the UK. Their conceit is that the world only came into existence after 1985. Prior to that is an unknown epoch which they have no wish to visit. "Day of the Triffids", never heard of it. The Great War, what was that?  This from undergrads who are moving onto Masters in genetic manipulation and biological research. I rest my case.

Must read it more

Must read it more closely when I get over flu bug.

How can a person lie under full bedclothes in 34 " to sweat out a nasty?

At least it wasnt all existential angst...

Survival of the flukiest bastards

The kid of the girl who swore that Billings was foolproof, the Galapogos Turtoise that didn't end up as a wall trophy, the bloke who went out for a joint five minutes before the pub exploded: these too are the survivors of species.

I think that what you're saying, Trevor, is that Darwinism *in construct) is akin to liberalism (?)  At any rate, his theory negates the possible effects of the blind luck that  merry rips predetermined probabilities asunder on a daily basis.

Getting the Message

After reading a number of responses I felt the main issues Trevor raised in the article were largely ignored or dismissed by most commentators. For me, Trevor’s article is disturbing because our sense of perception in the age of science or more formally, the age of Enlightenment, is inherently unified and defined in terms of scientific understanding. Our rationality our very own way of modern thinking, our way of making judgements, is guided and closely conforms to the principles of order defined by science.

Let no-one dare question the sincerity, the truthfulness of scientific reason. One can only manage such criticism at the cost of being labelled pernicious, false, uneducated, irrational and deluded.

I agree with Trevor that as an ongoing myth Evolution serves the bourgeois significantly. It helps to define a universal relationship between nature and the governance of the capitalist system. The myth of evolution smoothly conforms to the survival of the ‘fittest’ capitalist business existing within a ‘competitive’ market place. Survival means staying ‘fit’ and ‘competitive’. Through Darwinism we are provided with an instructional hierarchy, an order of worth, usefulness and efficiency that derives directly and seamlessly with capitalist principles. The order of efficient and profitable business melds into the order of nature. This creates a harmony between business and nature when none exists.

This so-called harmony is pure fiction. And notice how difficult it becomes to criticise capitalist business when it supposedly conforms to nature. To criticise capitalist business is then tantamount to violating the laws of nature. What evolution does then is maintain and sustain perceptual conformity in our every day consciousness. The order of critique is stymied as our senses struggle to engage with a predetermined conceptual apparatus, namely that capitalist business is evidently nature at work. 

We really must get beyond notions of survival, scientific reification and the standards of scientific understanding in order to reach a place not obsessed with self preservation but rather self discovery, difference and a genuine sense of Kantian maturity.  Ivan Krisjansen        

Richard:  Welcome to Webdiary, Ivan! 

their loss; our gain

Nice to see that Ivan Krisjansen has been "brought to Battaille", so to speak, involving Dr Maddock's thoughts on Darwinism and culture.

Sadly,  of course many of us of this dwindling readership will require having to be "walked thru" subjects like this, not least this writer himself.

You of all people, apparently,  would be aware of the intensity and breadth of the neolib/con assault on critical/cultural thinking/theory, history philosphy and education over the last generation.

Bear with us.

 We did not ask to be in this state and a little remedying will be accepted with relief when offered.

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