Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wilber doesn't know evolution--or so we are told again

Frank Visser has re-posted an essay by David Lane entitled Wilber and the Misunderstanding of Evolution (here).

It involves the charge that Wilber misrepresents biological evolution/doesn't understand it and therefore his whole theory--a union of evolution in all quadrants, fails. I get really tired of this thread, so I'm posting this long one to finally be done with it.

Lane quotes a now infamous passage from A Brief History of Everything where Wilber writes the following:

Take the standard notion that wings simply evolved from forelegs. It takes perhaps a hundred mutations to produce a functional wing from a leg—a half-wing will not do. A half-wing is no good as a leg and no good as a wing—you can't run and you can't fly. It has no adaptive value whatsoever. In other words, with a half-wing you are dinner. This will work only if these hundred mutations happen all at once in one animal—and also these same mutations must occur simultaneously in another animal of the opposite sex, and then they have somehow find each other, have dinner, a few drinks, mate, and have offspring with real functional wings.

This view is then shown to be wrong via quotations from Dawkins which states that yes in fact there are half-eyes and half-wings in evolution. Lane repeatedly substitutes creationists--who are Dawkins real target--with Wilber. He even calls Wilber "more or less a closet creationist with Buddhist leanings".

Buddhists don't believe in a Creator God so by definition they can not be "creationists". I would have thought a philosophy professfor would know that. But sadly I guess not.

Creationists believe in a literal 6,000 year young earth. Please show me Ken Wilber believes the universe is only 6,000 years old. What Lane means, I think, is something more like intelligent design (ID): the belief that the universe is designed by a Creator.

Intelligent Designers are not held to a 6,000 year old earth; most believe in a standard timeframe for earth (4.5 billion years) and the universe (13-15 billion years). Others have charged Wilber is a ID-er, which is at least better than a creationist. Still wrong, but not that stupid.

The problem is that the two camps are conflated in both the media and the scientific community, where both are seen as anathema. Both creationism and ID use similar criticisms of the partiality of NeoDarwinian explanations as the total causal explanation of all evolution. So in that sense the two groups sometimes line up but their differences are vast.

Wilber however is neither of these. Even "theologically" Wilber is a Buddhist. So no Creator no Intelligent Designer. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. The closest it has to a "creator" is the law of dependent co-orgination and the skandhas.

Wilber does hold given the evidence, of all kinds biological as well as phenomenological and psychological, points to evolution in all domains (quadrants) and that these domains arise simultaneously and that there are emergent qualities in all domains--including the biological--that can not be predicted by the sum total of the preceding parts.

That is what he was getting at with the wing bit--right general idea wrong supporting detail.

So to clear up some confusion. The wing analogy is all wrong and the rhetoric around "simply" and "no one believes this" is no good.

That being said, a couple of points: 1--it's an old work ('96), but to be fair that is the same year Lane wrote this piece. That Visser is re-publishing now leaves questions marks given Wilber has written--albeit not much--in his latest work Integral Spirituality.

footnote on p.241

Proponents of ID [Intelligent Design] have on truth on their side: scientific materialism cannot explain all of evolution (it can explain pretty much everything except major holistic transformational leaps). With that I quite agree. But all that is required to get and keep evolution moving forward is a minimalist Eros (as an involutionary given). This force of creative advance into novelty is one form of Spirit-in-action, and that Eros is all that is then required for evolutionary theory to work just fine. That's why evolution shows so many fits and starts; it's a creative artwork not an intelligent engineering product (because if so the Engineer is an idiot). The proponents of ID parlay their one little truth [i.e. incompleteness of NeoDarwinianism as a total explanation] into the demand that the Jehovah of Genesis be that Eros, and there is not the slightest evidence for that anywhere in heaven or on earth."

That's fairly clear, particulary the Designer is an Idiot. So no more closet creationists, Wilber is an ID-er, etc. He (and I since I strongly agree with this formulation) might be wrong: that is there may not be interiority, inter-interiority, and/or evolution in those domains but let's get the debate right.

I think Wilber has taken the half-wing criticism without maybe admitting as such--although that could just be my reading. I took his saying that Neo-Darwinism explains in material evolution pretty much everything but emergent leaps to be a re-worded view on the matter (if not slightly amended).

NeoDarwinianism is the combination of Darwin's writings on natural and sexual selection working through survival of the fittest with Mendelian genetics (called in the language random mutation).

As I written elsewhere there is a lot of philosophy in all this. Darwin got his notion of survival of the fittest and population pressures from British economist Thomas Malthus who was the first of many who predicted that growth would be outpaced by population/consumption leading to periods of breakdown. Malthus on this point has been continually wrong--down to his modern day followers the Club of Rome (1970 report: The Limits to Growth) and more alarmist type environmentalists.

It could happen but hasn't yet. So in that sense we might hold that idea of Darwin's with a bit of salt. Darwin got his sense that evolution worked through uniform processes over long periods of time from the contemporary study of geology.

We now know that this theory (gradual uniformitarianism) is incomplete. It is a product of the tendency towards non-historical, non-dynamic nature of the orange worldspace. Higher order science, like complexity and chaos theories has shown that massive fluctuations, changes, mass extinctions, etc. do take place. This thinking, minus Stephen Jay Gould, Stuart Kauffman and Manfred Eigen & followers, not really sunk in to the biological community. Certainly not in a Dawkins who is still very much a gradualist and is representative of the main tradition in how biology is taught.

Darwin was also a member of the English landed class. His emphasis on individual survival, seen in his British modern day version Dawkins, is not unconnected to the Anglo tradition of individual rights and Lockean atomism as opposed to continental communalism/wholism.

And the big one the metaphysics (the belief system) that natural explanations explain everything. No piece of evidence in the material world discovered through the scientific process proves that all evidence is so found. That such pieces of evidence are the only ones in existence. It is a mind that is telling you that minds aren't real.

So all of these show not Darwin was wrong but limited in many many ways. Philosophical, political, and economic biases are involved and are still to this day. These subjects can not be raised--believe me I have tried--with such people because they threaten their worldview. Not their best insights just their partiality but it is an all-encompassing ideology when it comes from science and natural discovery to a system of belief (scientism).

The strongest evidence of the Eros is something like how the first individual of a new species is never found in the fossil record but rather a whole population just emerges in the record. NeoDarwinian (ND) biology can explain "pretty much everything" except how a population emerges. Wilber's quadrants simply say that they do and says there is creative novelty/Eros, mystery to the process.

Or the more basic fact that if evolution only proceeds by random mutation over long uniform periods of time, the mathetmatics doesn't work out. Statistically the amount of complexity is too fast for the age of the earth and how long we know life has been on this planet. It can not account for the increased speed of evolution.

And lastly of course it can not account, no matter how hard it tries, for consciousness, human invention, choice, etc.

ND isn't wrong--there are "selfish genes" as well as "Global Brains"--it just isn't satisfactory as an explanation for everything. By focusing only on batwing issues, materialists can leave completely untouched the issue about emergence, creative novelty, advance, whatever term is preferred.

Wilber was wrong about the half-wings, therefore all such thinking against ND evolution is crypto-creationist, hence the position is unassailable. That's about the level of sophistication of the analysis. All of which hides the pink elephant in the room: orders of complexity. That emergent properties arise that are not predictable by the sum of their parts.

Which then leads to another incident from June of this year on this same subject through Visser's site. The original article with corrects from Jim Chamberlain here. Chamberlain's main point is that Wilber in a recorded concall that was circulated in response to arguments Ken should get a "F" in evolutionary biology, cited mainstream experts Richard Lewontin and Ernst Mayr to support Wilber's views on evolution. The authors in question, via quotes from Chamberlain, are shown to directly contradict Wilber's position.

Which is true, neither of those men, would support a quadratic-Whiteheadian approach to evolution. However, that was never the point, which Jim missed. Wilber used those authors simply to say whether in biology (materialist or not) there is hierarchy/emergence. The answer is yes. That Wilber has a different view from them was never specifically stated by him but clear (at least to me) from his writings. I mean I read Mayr and I read Wilber and its real obvious if you compare them Mayr does not accept the quadrants/interiority.

Chamberlain then also misquoted Ken which got an acerbic response from Wilber. Chamberlain I think just actually screwed up and was not purposefully out to get Ken. Wilber I think was more targeting Visser's site, which is a source of information as well as disinformation concerning his writing--at least from his point of view, which I happen to agree with. I can see the point. If it were just a site where people wrote whatever they wanted and it was a nerdy exercise that would be one thing, but these ideas do travel through the blogsophere. Everyone remembers the critique and why (in this case) Wilber is wrong, never the critiquer. In Ken's words there is no accountability. Even Mark Edwards, one of the best of his critiques (and admirers) says Wilber shouldn't have to respond to the articles on the site--Edwards being one of the primary contributors btw--because they aren't vetted.

But anyway, Wilber's response to Chamberlain is here. I'm not so much interested in Wilber's views on how the site should be run and how the reader should approach it, but his response to the actual issue: the quoting of Mayr-Lewontin. Wilber writes (emphasis mine):

I will briefly touch on one point that has also been raised elsewhere, and that is whether I have claimed that mainstream biology supports my views. The answer is, what part of my views? Do I think Mayr or Dawkins or Lewontin or Kaufman believe in telos or Eros that is Spiritual in any way? Absolutely not. Virtually all mainstream theorists embrace scientific materialism. So when I say that there are leading-edge problems acknowledged by these theorists, I certainly do not mean that they believe those problems need a spiritual Eros to solve them, nor a transcendental Eros embedded in evolution, nor even a self-organizing drive. Again, virtually all of them believe the problems can also be fully (or certainly mostly) solved by more scientific materialism and physicalism. Whatever I might have said in conversations in hyperbolic style, I would never soberly claim that mainstream biology is anything but physicalist. In fact, next to physics, molecular biology is the great example of reductionism in the last two centuries.

I am simply saying that most mainstream biologists accept that there are problems and issues at the leading edge of their science, and I am saying that I recognize the same leading-edge problems that they do, but at that point we quickly part ways—virtually all of them believe those issues can be fully solved using scientific materialism, and I of course do not accept that quadrant absolutism and gross reductionism, but rather introduce a transcendent-immanent principle that is quite similar to Erich Jantsch’s idea, which he states as “evolution is self-organization through self-transcendence.” Of course, you find some daring scientists who go in that non-reductionistic direction, such as Erich Jantsch and, more recently, James Gardner’s Biocosm and Michael Ruse’s The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debate, with a foreword by Edward O. Wilson. But not mainstream biology. I am claiming agreement in that one specific way, but I am certainly not claiming that we both accept the same solutions—they go reductionistic and I clearly do not. (I was confused for a while here as to what the real criticism was, because I didn’t imagine somebody would think I actually thought that mainstream biology agreed that Spirit was involved in the show….)

So for God's sakes, could from now one I would really like people to deal with the primary issues--not bat wings--is consciousness explainable by physical processes only or not? if not, can consciousness forms be reconstructed through investigation? If so, does it show development/patterns of evolution (as well as non-evolutionary patterns).

What piece of evidence in the material world shows that only material things are real? What piece of evidence in the material world shows that material relations/interactions are the cause of everything?

Scientific materialists have a vested interest in keeping the debate be only between them and creationists/intelligent designers. And usually even reducing ID to creationism. It creates a false duality between the obviously enlightened scientists and the ignorant flat-earther types. Then open-minded non-scientists are forced to admit that the materialists must be right.

But it is a false duality and they are promoting it in order to serve their function of evangelizing a naturalist-atheistic point of view. It is a religious argument. Recall that in James Fowler's research of the Stages of Faith development, atheism is a modernist (orange altitude) faith system.

It is higher than mythic blue faith but on the same plane as orange level agnosticism and theism/deism. As well as transcended by still higher levels. [Although to be fair there is green atheism, yellow atheism, etc. in the case of a Harris or Dawkins it is almost entirely orange].

So it is incumbent for them to reduce all religious discourse to the level lower than them--although they would not formulate it in the way I am speaking.

Hence with this crowd it is all or nothing--the true sign of first-tier mentality--either it is a naturalistic position or supernatural mythic beliefs. Developed (post-blue) Christianity is not supernaturalistic. It moves to seeing God as Tillich said, as the Ground of Being. Or as Aquinas put it as Being, Per Se Being. The Possibility of all things to be and become. Not an old man in the sky launching lightning bolts at the unbelievers.

The way I put it, the reason the materialist scientist community must do this is obvious: they unconsciously realize their weakness. They know if someone in public spoke in a more Whiteheadian/Teilhardian fashion it would gain serious play. Such people could not be labeled irrational supernaturalists.

I hold that such a holarchic view--for the moment not mattering whether it is quadrants, sextants, single-scale, whatever--overcomes this false duality between mythic religion and materialist science. I use those adjectives very purposefully--so the issue is not construed as religion and science but those versions of each.

Holarchy, interior and exterior however conceived, is better science and better religion.


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