Friday, April 3, 2015

Yes, the Future Is Open, Part #2: “Biological potential” not “biological determinism”

Evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould emphasized, there is a difference between “biological potential versus biological determinism.” Our human nature “permits us to be aggressive or peaceful, dominant or submissive, spiteful or generous..."

"Violence, sexism, and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviors. But peacefulness, equality, and kindness are just as biological—and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish."
Stephen J. Gould, Ever Since Darwin, pp. 251-259

Science Writer John Horgan explains Gould’s opposition to determinism:
“Gould’s famous 1981 work The Mismeasure of Man (W. W. Norton & Co., 1981), in which Gould exposed case after appalling case of scientists in the past two centuries "proving" the biological inferiority of certain races as well as criminals, the poor, "imbeciles" and women...”

“Defenders of slavery embraced Morton’s work. After he died, an editorial in the Charleston Medical Journal and Review declared, ‘We in the South should consider him our benefactor, for aiding most materially in giving to the Negro his true position as an inferior race.’

In Mismeasure, Gould reanalyzed Morton’s skull measurements and concluded that the average sizes of blacks’ and whites’ skulls were roughly equivalent. Gould suggested that Morton’s racial bias had led him, probably unwittingly, to ‘discover’ results consonant with his beliefs.”

“Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology. Biological determinism is thriving today..."

Scientists who claim we have no choice include,
anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University who claims “that the roots of human warfare reach back all the way to our common ancestry with chimpanzees.”

“In the claim of scientists such as Rose McDermott of Brown University that certain people are especially susceptible to violent aggression because they carry a "warrior gene….”

“In the insistence of the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and neuroscientist Sam Harris that free will is an illusion because our "choices" are actually all predetermined…”

“In the contention of James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix, that the problems of sub-Saharan Africa reflect blacks’ innate inferiority.”

According to science writer John Horgan, “Biological determinism is a blight on science.”

Why, since many modern scientists claim we have no choice?

Horgan continues because, “It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do.”

“This position is wrong, both empirically and morally. If you doubt me on this point, read Mismeasure, which, even discounting the chapter on Morton, abounds in evidence of how science can become an instrument of malignant ideologies.”
John Horgan, science writer, teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology
Scientific American, June 24, 2011

On the subject of ethics and purpose, Gould stated, “Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms."

"Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science."

"The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.”
Stephen J. Gould in Natural History, February 1991

Thank God for Gould, that’s good;-)

Wait a minute; Gould is an atheist who thinks humans are a “fluke.”

Well, isn't it better to be a “fluke” than just a “meat puppet,” just a "bag of chemicals" (what some scientists such as Anthony Cashmore call humankind)?

Contrary to Harris, Coyne, Cashmore, etc., Gould and many other modern scientists think we humans do have future possibilities and great potential.

We AREN’T merely “meat puppets,” “bags of chemicals,” or chaff in the cosmic wind. We aren't biologically determined.

I can live with Gould’s view that we humans are a “fluke.”

Gould said, “We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process with no drive to complexity, not the expected results of evolutionary principles that yearn to produce a creature capable of understanding the mode of its own necessary construction.”

I don’t agree, but Gould’s view that humans have an open future, (aren't passive puppets of biological determinism), is refreshing and hopeful.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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