Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion

From: Gregory Arago <>
Date: Fri Sep 11 2009 - 20:24:30 EDT

The problem is not with the dictionaries, George. The problem is with the ideological baggage of 'evolutionism,' which you seem to be totally and consciously unwilling to acknowledge. Why is that? Why are you so silent about evolutionistic ideology (as if it doesn't exist)? Biological entities evolve. Chemicals evolve. Physiological things evolve. Things studied in *all* natural-physical sciences evolve. That's fine, no problem; that's just 'natural history' and 'natural now.' What I've just cited is three types of evolution (biological, chemical and physiological), not one. Therefore, to accuse me of 'single-mindedness' on this topic is absurd. I have studied the philosophy of evolution and speak about how interdisciplinary the term 'evolution' is. This is not something you highlight, George, and neither does Randy or almost anyone else here (nod to a select few who do highlight it). There are probably four or five people on this list who actually 'get it.' Yours is the confused, outdated definition of evolution, George, not mine. Natural-physical scientists do not study 'ideas' per se. They do not study theories, as theories. They do not study ideology. Yet the meaning of "Evolution of Evolution" is change in an idea, a theory, an ideology. Do you disagree that this is what they meant in the title, George or Randy? This is the simple and exact point I am making, which you seem unwilling to acknowledge or to say you were wrong about it. Human-social scientists (my voice representing them, speaking to you as a natural-physical scientist) define 'evolution' as 'natural development' while at the same time insisting that 'theories' do not 'develop naturally' because they are human-made things and *not* something purely 'natural'. Your view, George, seems to be that 'theories are natural' (i.e. because everything 'created' is 'natural')!!! Natural-physical scientists (and theologians) have little or no authority to pronounce on this topic because they are not learned (unless they've done lots of independent research and reading). Yet it is entirely within the realm of anyone who studies HPS or SoS, as I do, to call out the error in the language. Ideas do not 'evolve' like biological entities (humbug to the trickle-up dictionaries). To say they do is about as clever as accepting Dawkins' theory of 'memes' (e.g. like one particular non-scientist, evangelist on this list). Do you also invoke 'memes' in your language, George, as a legitimate 'scientific' concept? To do so is hauntingly similar to those who use 'evolution' to refer to 'idea change.' Well, yes, and I already spoke about the 'context' of "Since Darwin: The Evolution of Evolution" as a Title in my opening post. We do this in human-social sciences regularly, i.e. speak about contexts. Most human-social scientists try to carefully study language and semantics as a means of communication, which is what humans do. Here you are cloaking a type of biologism, a naturalistic reductionism, George, which is unnecessary (and which of course you will deny), instead of willfully improving your 'communicative competence' (as Jurgen Habermas calls it). "Of course it's not a matter of "evolution simply equals change"." - George Murphy This is an important admission.If evolution does not equal change, George, then please do tell what is/are the difference(s) between them. Please don't duck it or dodge it, but address it directly. If evolution is simply a 'kind of change' then what kind of change is it? Once you address this, then we can better consider whether 'ideas evolve' with respect to a given reference. (And then you can try to convince me that "ideas change gradually and are not discontinuous with anything prior," which is the argument you are most likely trying to make.) I certainly do understand what the person(s) who titled the conference meant (speaking to their in-group). It is really quite easy to understand. The fact is that they were simply wrong and speaking outside of their knowledge about 'how ideas change' to suggest that 'evolutionary theory evolves.' They were probably trying to be 'sexy' by using 'evolution' in regard to ideas, but that is a mere guess on my part (as opposed to the above, which is based on reading more about evolutionary philosophy, sociology, anthropology, economics and probably psychology than anyone on this list). It has been a common thing on this list to suggest that I attribute only 'one single meaning' to evolution, which I 'require' that everyone else adopt. There is truth in this in that I am proposing an alternative definition of evolution to what most people on this list currently accept. Indeed, as I have already said, I am interested in massaging your grammars (which is similar to how Cameron has tried to massage your grammar usage about neo-Darwinism and intelligent design, as did Timaeus). However, there is an absence of truth in that the definition of 'evolution' I suggest as legitimate is one that appears *only* in natural-physical sciences and *not* in other areas of the Academy. In other words, my position allows for the free existence of your definition of 'evolution,' whereas your position doesn't allow for what I am proposing in the human-social sciences. So really, it is your definition, George, which is the more inflexible, dogmatic and
 pseudo-universalistic one. The problem here (which is an uncomfortable one) is that almost *all* TEs and CEs simply cannot accept my definition of 'evolution' because their theologies overlap with their 'sciences' to stretch the meaning of 'evolution' into improper areas, just like the neo-atheists do. So, in a way, George, you are acting 'just like them' in refusing to accept the definition of 'evolution' that I propose. And I presume, having studied (to a degree and as an 'outsider') American philosophy and having read about the place of philosophy in your nation-state today, that yes, indeed, it is a lack of philosophical competence that restricts you from hearing what I am saying about evolution. Otherwise your continual refusal to change your views is hard to explain. But how could you actualy speak to the philosophy of evolution and the ideology of evolutionism with good effect? If Randy answers the question I put to him with a 'Yes' - i.e. saying that he actually believes 'ideas evolve' (which I highly doubt he will do) - then we can more easily recognize how backward Americans are (with due respect to those Americans who do understand) on the topic of 'evolution.' After all, what would he have to back up his view of 'evolution evolves' other than with generalising dictionaries? And the statistics back this up crystal clear and are undeniable, George. Why do so many Americans today reject Darwin's theory of evolution? My way of speaking about this topic is well ahead of yours and is more clear in offering a legitimate answer (but it requires that natural-physical scientists let go of and then once again grab ahold of 'evolution' instead of continuing to promote it as a 'theory of everything' - Dobzhansky and Teilhard de Chardin are both guilty of this). All your position has to offer on this, George, is 1) that 'warfare between science and religion is not necessary' (a position I agree with, though not as a 'theistic evolutionist') and 2) tha 'we have to accommodate religion to science' because scientific truths are valuable. Well, so are artistic 'truths' and musical 'truths' and political 'truths' and many other kinds of 'truths.' Science is one type of knowledge among others - with this surely you will agree. But the
 position you are advocating doesn't integrate or synthesize those 'other' truths mentioned in a balanced way with scientific truths, even if they are balanced or integrated or synthesized in your mind and heart. The problem is thus with your outward words regarding evolution; my view of evolution gets us beyond many of the problem areas. As a big shot at ASA, George, and as a guy interested in science and religion dialogue (who gives lip service to human-social thought), once again you are demonstrating unwillingness to move forward and to embrace a 'better way' instead of falling back on the safety of a status quo. I don't feel compelled to do fall back on evolutionism; I'd rather innovate and be misunderstood for some time in doing it. What is somewhat funny this time, of course, is that you are appealing to dictionaries to argue that 'evolution changes'. It would be easier to say those people at the Smithsonian are confused about their languistic usage of a 'scientific' term. Gregory p.s. just now I read Randy's recent post in this thread. Please excuse, it was 'Executive Director' how I should have addressed you. And I am quite sure that your usage of evolution is 'primitive' in the sense of being 'behind the times.' Neo-evolutionary anthropology has gone well beyond your linguistic usage of 'evolution.' They have 'proved' you wrong already decades ago. So have other disciplines. The fact that you (and almost everyone you know) don't hear or know this marks nothing against the way I am using the term 'evolution.' Can ideas 'develop' (this is a preferred term to 'evolution' in the human-social sciences) non-gradually (e.g. in a punctuated or rapid manner)? If so, Randy, would you then allow that an idea that develops 'non-gradualistically' is a counter-example to 'evolution' as you see it? There are countless cases of this in the history of ideas, where 'gradualism' dies (again and again) a simple and easy death. If 'gradualism' were overturned, then would you change your grammar wrt 'idea change' as a non-evolutionary phenomenon? Sorry, Randy, but no, 'social structures' are today best not said to 'evolve,' though they surely do change. But don't trust me on this. Perhaps you'd better trust the words of one of America's celebrated evolutionary thinkers (yet another non-theist-evolutionist), Talcott Parsons, who wrote the following as a definition of 'evolution' in sociology: It is “a summary generalization standing for a type of process of change.” (Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, Foundations of Modern Sociology Series, Prentice-Hall, New Jersey, 1964) Who reads Talcott Parsons anymore?! :o ) ________________________________ From: "" <> To:; Randy Isaac <>; Gregory Arago <> Sent: Friday, September 11, 2009 3:41:48 PM Subject: Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion OK, you don't like the Free Online Dictionary.  How about the Compact OED?  evolve   • verb 1 develop gradually. 2 (of an organism or biological feature) develop over successive generations by evolution. 3 Chemistry give off (gas or heat).   — ORIGIN Latin evolvere, from volvere ‘to roll’. Of course it's not a matter of "evolution simply equals change."  It's a matter of paying attention to context & trying to understand what a person is saying.  English, like many other languages, has a lot of words with a variety of different, though related, meanings.  For crying out loud, "evolution" used to be used in math for the process of raising a number to some power.  As the OED notes above, chemists will talk about a reaction "evolving" a gas.  Your habit of insisting on one single meaning of a word & then berating people who use it in a different, although quite acceptable, sense ("nature" is another example) is why most people on this list don't pay any attention to you.  The problem is not our supposed lack of philosophical sophistication but your single-mindedness.  No one would respect you any less - in fact, quite the contrary - if you were able sometimes just to say "I was wrong." Shalom, George   ---- Gregory Arago <> wrote: > Hi George, Let me go then a step further than a basic on-line dictionary to quote a 'scientific/scholarly' dictionary: "Social evolution refers to change in the size, complexity of organization, and institutional features of a society; social progress implies that change is for the better.” – Wolfgang J. Koschnick (Standard Dictionary of the Social Sciences, vol. 2, part 1, London: Saur, 1992: 1498)  Why don't many, many people (in America or elsewhere) want to consider themselves as 'evolutionists' or as '(neo-)Darwinists'? Ridiculous, confusing use of language such as that demonstrated by the title of this conference is one legitimate reason. Evolution simply equals change, right George? Not a problem or challenge for human identity at all... “I am not a thing, a noun. // I seem to be a verb, // an evolutionary process— // an integral function of the universe.” – R. Buckminster Fuller (1972) “Evolution is at present more than a biological theory. Evolutionism has influenced the physical as well as the social sciences, and has become an integral part of the intellectual equipment of modern mankind.” - T. Dobzhansky (1956) The Free On-Line Dictionary will eventually change its definition. It would be great if Randy could eventually change his definition too! Gregory ________________________________ From: "" <> To:; Randy Isaac <>; Gregory Arago <> Sent: Friday, September 11, 2009 2:15:45 PM Subject: Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion Gregory - The following is the entry for "evolve" from The Free Online Dictionary.  (I realize that this isn't the most scholarly or complete reference but it is quite adequate for showing normal American usage). e·volve (-vlv) v. e·volved, e·volv·ing, e·volves 1. a. To develop or achieve gradually: evolve a style of one's own. b. To work (something) out; devise: "the schemes he evolved to line his purse" (S.J. Perelman). 2. Biology To develop (a characteristic) by evolutionary processes. 3. To give off; emit. v.intr. 1. To undergo gradual change; develop: an amateur acting group that evolved into a theatrical company. 2. Biology To develop or arise through evolutionary processes. The 2d meaning for "evolve" as an intransitive verb fits Randy's meaning precisely - ideas "undergo gradual change" as you yourself agreed (though without the qualification "gradual"). Shalom, George ---- Gregory Arago <> wrote: > Hi Randy, > > Please explain or describe to me the 'mechanism' or 'method' by which 'ideas evolve.' If you'd like, pick an example or just to speak abstractly or theoretically. Otherwise, it is rather easy to dismiss you as having wax in your ears; you listen, but hear nothing I say. > > Ideas do not 'evolve'.  Sure, they change. But 'change' and 'evolution' are not the same thing. > > There has been zero willingness on your part to confront this reality, unfortunately, and now the only option left is to assume it is a willful denial of knowledge on your part. Every single person I've spoken with on this issue 'gets it.' Perhaps the problem is the medium of communication? > > I write directly like this, since you were recently the President of ASA and if you are going to say something like "The title...seem[s] appropriate" as if that has authority, when I made a clear argument against it, then you should be able to explain your view. I don't think you can and I submit that you are displaying a lack of 'proper tools' to evaluate the topic. But I say this, of course, with due respect and humility for other aspects of your participation and contribution to 'science(, philosophy) and religion' discourse. The conference could be a great one for what it is, but this doesn't excuse the misworded title. > > Do you think 'ideas evolve,' Randy Isaac: yes or no? If yes, what gives you such confidence to say apples (biological entities) are oranges (ideas) or vice versa? Evolutionary theory 'evolves' you say, Randy? > > Yours disappointed (again and again) by American evolutionistic dogma, > Gregory > > >      __________________________________________________________________ > Looking for the perfect gift? Give the gift of Flickr! > > > > To unsubscribe, send a message to with > "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.       __________________________________________________________________ Yahoo! Canada Toolbar: Search from anywhere on the web, and bookmark your favourite sites. Download it now __________________________________________________________________ The new Internet Explorer® 8 - Faster, safer, easier. Optimized for Yahoo! Get it Now for Free! at

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Received on Fri Sep 11 20:25:23 2009

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