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Evolution and Culture 1 Evolution and religion
The growth of evolutionary theory had provided a fatal injury to the pretension of religion.
Empiricism: the existence of things should be grounded on experience.
An entity that intervenes in space and time (as God should have done when he created the universe and sent his son to earth) provides empirical evidence for its existence.
Yet we have no empirical evidence for the existence of deities. All claims that there exist deities is devoid of evidence.
But we have evidence for evolution (e.g.: physiological, fossils and biogeography). 2 Prior to the development of a convincing theory of evolution there was an argument of sorts for the belief in God and an argument that could be seen to have meet the naturalistic standards. The argument from design
Roughly, the argument goes as: the world or some of the things in it show unmistakable mark of design; therefore there must be a designer (i.e. God).
Even if it succeeds in showing that the world must have a designer, it has little or no power to disclose what the designer is like.
If the existence of an ordered object requires the hypothesis of a designer, it is difficult to see why God himself by being supremely ordered doesn’t require a designer.
The argument from design only specifies the theoretical apparatus so vaguely that it becomes meaningless. All it explains is the presence of some order or structure. It gives not a single detail of the actual structure found in the world.
There is no possible comparison with the richness of explanatory power of evolution theories.
Since it is difficult to separate the question from whether there are any gods from how things are and stand in the world, Darwinism undermines any good reason to believe in God. For if science is the only discipline licensed to say how things stand, although we have no reason to say that God doesn’t exists, we got no evidence that God exists.
Science doesn’t contradict religion, But it makes it increasingly improbable that religious discourse has any subject matter.
4 Big gap
The remaining big gap religion may try to bridge concerns the origins of life.
If the inspection of the world we inhabit give us no reason for believing in a supreme being, it doesn’t make much sense to posit one to explain the beginning of life. The intervention of a divine being to initiate life would be the best explanation only insofar as we already proved its existence.
The deepest implication of evolution is that it should ultimately make clear that we neither have nor need an allpowerful father figure to take on the task that seem presently beyond us. 5 Humans and other species
The distinctiveness of humans are language, thought and culture.
But language is basic, for without it no thought and no culture.
But this shouldn’t be surprising, for each species presents some distinctive feature (e.g. the beaver is the only mammal digesting wood). The limits of a creature’s consciousness are linked to its particular set of capacities (e.g. a dog is conscious of the scent of a rabbit who happened to be there).
Language provides us with an extraordinary enhanced set of capacities and consequently with an enhanced realm of consciousness.
6 Language and evolution
1. Human language, like the giraffe’s neck or the peacock's tail, has evolved to a state that can easily be seen as different in kind from related features of any of its relatives. Nothing, though, suggests that these features didn’t evolve naturalistically.
2. The evolution of human language allowed the possibility of other changes in human life that wouldn’t have been possible without language. These changes profoundly distanced our species from the others. 7 Explaining behavior
Evolutionary biology (Wilson) and subsequently evolutionary psychology attempted to explain human behavior in terms of evolution. This looks is reductionist approach.
But explanation of behavior cannot get off the ground without taking on board both structure and context (e.g the disposition one has to eat some food can derive from the agent’s structural features but without an appropriate context, dining room, fork, etc. the agent would not act).
This reflects the nature/nurture debate. 8 Evolutionary psychology
The underlying idea is that the roots of human behavior in the brain (modules) must be understood as adapted to the conditions of life in the Stone Age and must thus be understood as processes of evolution in the Stone Age.
The brain must have been selected by genes and this took a time much longer than modern humans have existed. The longer period over which modern human evolved from pre
human ancestors and in particular evolved their characteristically large brain is generally identified as the Pleistocene or late Stone Age. Hence, it is this period of history to which the human brain is an adapted structure, i.e. the modules evolved. 9 The genocentric fallacy
A crucial premise in the evolutionary psychology argument is that adaptive features of an organism can only be incorporate into a lineage if they are ‘encoded’ in genes.
The obvious and acknowledged deficiency of this position is the possibility of cultural evolution. Patterns of behavior may be imitated by conspecifics and adaptive changes in patterns of behavior may be selected trough the greater reproductive success of organisms that adopt them. Examples of this changes are birds songs and prey choices. Nongenetic evolution is uncontroversially possible.
The possibility of cultural evolution, though, doesn’t get to the hearth of the difficulties with the genecentered perspective.
10 Main problem for genecentered accounts The role of genes in evolution has been grossly misrepresented insofar as genes are described as carrying blueprint for the organism, recipes for putting together organisms and suchlike.
At a more deeper level some think that information about biological structure flow exclusively and unidirectionally from the genome insofar as it is believed that the genome directly codes the production of proteins.
This is misleading. Although the production of proteins is necessarily for the appearance of many traits is never close to sufficient. Many parts of the DNA don’t code proteins and the ones which regulates the production of proteins don’t do it directly, i.e. they do not specify a specific protein. The genome is best understood as a library of recipes. Which recipe is implemented is often determined by features of the cell quite distinct from the nuclear DNA.
11 There are mechanism by which the cell acts on the genome so as to affect the circumstances under which genes are expressed.
There are thus more to reproduction than the transmission of DNA. Moral:
The conception of the genome as the sole repository of hereditary information about the organism has served to maintain an ultimately disastrous rift between theories of evolution and theories of development.
The genome is merely one developmental resource.
Everything necessary for the reproduction of the developmental cycle is equally necessary for understanding the evolutionary trajectory of 12
the organism. Evolutionary psychology and culture
The evolutionary psychology argument omits to consider the importance of culture in human evolution. It merely consider our species as adapted to life in the stone age and thus as maladapted to present urban life.
It may be that the genome may not have changed sufficiently from the transition from Stone Age until nowadays. But the genome is only one among many of the resources that lead to the development of contemporary humans.
There is a great deal of flexibility in human development. Yet Culture can only shape nature. 13 Analogy vs. Homology
Homology: different species have a similar trait through descendent from a common ancestor with an ancestral version of the trait (e.g. the flipper of the whale and the wing of the bat).
Analogy: some traits, though similar, may have evolved independently reflecting a similar selective pressure without having a common ancestor trait (e.g. the wing of a bird and the wing of the bat).
The parallel with other species offered by evolutionary psychologists are examples of analogy. As such all they can point to is the existence of some evolutionary tendency to acquire those traits. They are silent about the actual evolutionary trajectory of a trait.
Given the differences among the contrasting species, these (analogue) traits are contingent on other factors. 14 Evolution, Evolutionary Psychology, and Culture
The broad sense of evolution includes the king of cultural processes that it is precisely the aim of evolutionary psychology to reject. The main problem/difficulty is to decide between different kinds of evolutionary processes as explanations of particular behavioral traits.
From the evolutionary psychology viewpoint the question resumes to know which behavioral traits can be explained in purely genetic terms or transmission.
Genetic explanation is more appropriate for features that appears in some but not all members of a species, and for which different between its appearance and nonappearance is attrubuable to differences in genes.
15 Evolutionary psychology goes the other way around. It seeks to identify universal features of human psychology and then claim that these features are to be explained genetically.
E.g. rape: Evolutionary psychologists do not explain the fact that most men don’t rape by appeal to some men have mutant genes that cause them to rape, but rather that it is typical or normal for men to have a disposition to rape.
Rape as a genetic abnormality doesn’t work for the theoretical purposes of evolutionary psychology. Being an obligate rapist is very unlikely to be an evolutionary successful strategy.
If the disposition to rape is a developmental failure, whether genetically or environmentally cause, there should be no selective explanation for it and it is outside the scope of evolutionary psychology. 16 Genomes, Chimps and us
Our genomes are almost 99% identical to those of chimpanzees. Do we conclude that we are 99% identical to chimpanzees?
If this means anything it is certainly false.
The correct inference is that neither we nor the chimpanzees are identical to our genomes.
Moral: To the extent that genomes are among the most invariant of features of different organisms, theyshould be the last place we should expect to find explanations of the most specific features of organisms. 17 Antireductionism
Reductionism in science is the view that holds that to understand a thing scientifically we must take its parts and see how they fit together, and how the behavior of the whole derives from the behavior of the parts.
The first limit of this approach is the attempt to atomize organisms into traits and provide distinct explanations for the evolution of the traits.
The second abuse of reductionism is the overemphasis on genetics: genes are ideal entities for the reductionist.
The complexity of the developmental process in the human (which is greater than in any other species). The human mind develops under continuous and interacting influences from within and without. It is thus impossible to specify a one to one relation between elements of the genome and elements of the mind.
Development must somehow be put back into our view of evolution.
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This document was uploaded on 10/26/2011 for the course PHIL 3501 at Carleton CA.
- Fall '07