Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Persistence of Neo-Darwinism After Losing Its Explanatory Power

Among those who have witnessed the increasing weakness of the Neo-Darwinian model of origins and development to explain biological life, the question has arisen about why anyone still adheres to this theory, and why, in fact, its supporters use ever shriller voices and even lawsuits to prevent the presentation of opposing ideas. There are actually several answers

1. Neo-Darwinism is an exercise in Procrustean science, where observations and conclusions are forced to fit the theory. In his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn observes that "normal science" is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education." He says that theory directs the construction of experiments and the observations that reinforce and refine the theory. Physicist Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend opines that "the idea to fit something into what is already there drives the great majority of scientists today" (quoted in Paul Feyerabend, The Tyranny of Science).

2. Relatedly, Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, refers to a phenomenon he calls "theory-induced blindness." He says that "once you have accepted a theory and used it as a tool in your thinking, it is extraordinarily difficult to notice its flaws." The good news is that, once you overcome your blindness and reject the theory, it might well seem "not only false but absurd." So I think a second reason that Neo-Darwinism hangs on is that its supporters, under the spell of theory-induced blindness, simply can't see how poorly the evidence matches the claims.

3. Peer pressure. Or, the emperor's new clothes. Prestige, promotions, tenure, grants, and success in the scientific world require conformity of thought about the theory of evolution. If you want a job in any area of science, you'd better give lip service to Darwin. Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel himself is fed up with the demand for conformity. In his book, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False, he writes, "Physico-chemical reductionism in biology is the orthodox view, and any resistance is regarded as not only scientifically but politically incorrect." To Nagel, even though he proposes no alternative explanation for life on earth, "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes." The problem is that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science."

4. Neo-Darwinism is a religion, or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology. As such, a fundamental article of faith in Neo-Darwinism is that the biological world--and in fact, the entire cosmos--is to be explained by mechanisms and phenomena that decidedly exclude anything or Anyone supernatural. This fact explains the hostility of the Neo-Darwinists to the Intelligent Design theoreticians--they suspect that intelligent design theory has implications of the supernatural. And recall that science has been redefined from "the search for truth and knowledge" to "the search for naturalistic explanations." As geneticist Richard Lewontin says, many scientists are committed to naturalistic explanations of the existence of life because "we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism." And, he concludes, "that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door" (New York Review of Books).

5. Following from the previous reason is the problem of what Neo-Darwinist theory can be replaced with if the scientific establishment abandons that sinking ship. Returning to Thomas Kuhn, he notes that "once it has achieved the status of paradigm, a scientific theory is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place." And right now, there is no naturalistic, materialistic alternative explanation for the existence of the biological world. All of the "alternative" theories are just flavors of basically Neo-Darwinist evolution--panspermia, hopeful monster, punctuated equilibria.

Ultimately, then, it's a worldview problem. Neo-Darwinism is the creation myth of those who want to keep God away. No amount of evidence, argument, or common sense is likely to displace the theory because the theory is a fundamental, unfalsifiable assumption impervious to evidence against it. It's an article of faith. For these reasons, Neo-Darwinism is likely to continue to be propped up for the foreseeable future.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

There are thousands of books aimed at saving, repairing, or improving marriage. Thousands of research articles investigate what makes marriages last or break apart. Countless hours and millions of dollars have gone into studying marriage with the idea of determining how they grow and strengthen or how they weaken and fall apart. You can watch videos, read books, listen to audio presentations, go to seminars and weekend retreats. You can visit counselors, pastors, and therapists.

But the answer to What Makes a Happy Marriage? is really simple. Save time and pay attention. What all the research has shown--all the studies and interviews and observations--boils down to a single, simple truth:

Happily married couples are nice to each other.

Yes, it's that simple. Now, it may not be easy, but don't fall for the "simple is easy" myth. The fact is, couples who report being happy--and happily married--are gentle, respectful, loving, kind, affectionate, happy, supportive, and fun with each other. In other words, nice.

If that seems like a Duh! truth, consider then why so many married people are always using verbal daggers and emotional clubs on each other, criticizing, contradicting, condescending, shaming, belittling, showing contempt, rejection, hostility, superiority, and even hatefulness.

Just quit that. Treat  your spouse the way you treat your friends, and then see how much happier you both can be.

Monday, January 05, 2015

American Culture Is Going Downhill

The belief that our culture is getting worse has been attributed to the age of those who think so. Old folks are the ones who talk about the good old days. Sam, one of the people who seems wise in these things, says the following:

Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his  youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.

But those who complain of the worsening of the world are right, you say. I agree, But then, I'm getting old now, too.

So what, you ask? Well, Sam is Samuel Johnson, and the quotation above was written in 1750 (Rambler essay Number 50, published September 8, 1750). If every generation thinks (rightly?) that things are getting worse and the younger generation is spoiled and corrupt, and if we've had about 9 or 10 generations since then, why, we must be living in very confused times, where there is little civility and reverence. Hey, wait. That's right.