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

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Mon Sep 14 2009 - 14:23:01 EDT

Bernie, what is "natural?"

From: [] On Behalf Of Dehler, Bernie []
Sent: Monday, September 14, 2009 11:39 AM
Subject: RE: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion

Gregory said:
"Biological entities evolve. Chemicals evolve. Physiological things evolve."

Wow- that looks like progress to me. I didn't think you thought that.

Gregory said:
"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'."

This is were you go astray. You are saying that theories do not develop naturally, or do not come from nature. What's left- they develop supernaturally? Do you think every thought comes from God? Do you think humans are supernatural? Both apes and humans think. Because apes think, are they also supernatural? Do their ideas also 'not develop naturally?' Bonobo's think a lot about sex, like trading it for food. Are those thoughts natural, or supernatural from God?

So Gregory, you have to admit that at least some thoughts don't come directly from God (in other words, they are natural). Then you have to figure out which ones are from God, and which ones aren't.

See, your root problem is that you don't comprehend that thoughts are natural. You think because they are intangible, they are supernatural (the only alternative to 'natural'). That is precisely were you go astray. It is all downhill from there.

To put your statements to logic:
1. Theories are not made from nature (therefore, not 'natural' but instead 'supernatural').
2. Darwin has a theory of evolution (and many others)
3. Therefore, Darwin's theories are supernatural

Same for Einstein, etc.

From: [] On Behalf Of Gregory Arago
Sent: Friday, September 11, 2009 5:25 PM
To:;; Randy Isaac
Subject: Re: [asa] Evolution Conference Washington, DC - language confusion

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 d!

 oesn'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.


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 )

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Received on Mon Sep 14 14:26:01 2009

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