Re: [asa] philological notes on randomness (was: Re: What my tiny little brain was thinking...)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Sun Nov 15 2009 - 23:14:52 EST


The examples you just provided are beyond weak. The fact that you yourself
have been condemning Dawkins' treatment of evolution, insisting that there
is a "growing movement who are very much opposed to what Dawkins and company
have done" -- yet Dawkins himself is one of the people you're citing here to
supposedly counter West -- should drive that point home. West claims that
"unguided and without purpose" is not treated as some extra-scientific
metaphysical speculation by evolutionary biologists, but as part of
Darwinism itself. I ask you to provide evidence to counter that (or at least
evidence of that 'growing movement'), and instead you provide evidence that
evolutionary biologists don't describe evolution as a totally random
process. Wonderful. Also utterly irrelevant, in part because "not totally
random" is entirely compatible with "unguided and without purpose" in the
relevant sense. Do you deny this? Because if you don't, your entire response
is beside the point being discussed here.

Here's a sample of evidence West provides to back his view:

"The insistence that evolution acts without plan or purpose has been a
standard refrain by evolutionary biologists over the past century. The view
expressed by famed Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson was
typical: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did
not have him in mind.” [Simpson, *The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the
History of Life and of Its Significance for Man*, revised edition (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 345] Or to cite a more recent
example: In 2006, 38 Nobel laureates sent an open
letter<>to the
Kansas Board of Education insisting that evolution is “the result of
an *unguided, unplanned* process of random variation and natural selection.”
(emphasis mine)

The same insistence that evolution is undirected can be found *ad
nauseum*in biology textbooks over the past several decades. According
to the college
biology text *A View of Life* (1981), evolution is “a natural process
without purpose or inherent direction.” [pp. 586-587] According to
Biology* (1998), “[b]y coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the
blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or
spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.” [p. 5] According
to Life: *The Science of Biology* (2001), accepting “the Darwinian view...
means accepting not only the processes of evolution, but also the view
that... evolutionary change occurs without any ‘goals.’ The idea that
evolutionary change is not directed toward a final goal or state has been
more difficult for many people to accept than the process of evolution
itself.” [p. 3]"

Now, you've maintained throughout this discussion that claiming evolution is
"unguided and unplanned" is extra-scientific - metaphysics that can and
should be stripped from a properly "scientific" theory of evolution. West's
response has been apparently to agree with this, but argue that it's treated
as part and parcel of modern evolutionary theory. That's a sample of
evidence he provides to back up his claim that the inclusion of this
metaphysics in evolutionary theory is done with the spoken and unspoken
consent of most evolutionary biologists. You apparently disagree with this

Well, I'd like to see what evidence you have that West is wrong about
evolutionary biologists with regards to "unguided and unplanned". Not
evidence against a different and unrelated claim.

Keep in mind, you can always agree with West even on this point but argue
that he and the ID movement are still causing net harm. No need for this to
be so black and white.

On Sun, Nov 15, 2009 at 10:16 PM, Rich Blinne <> wrote:

> *
> *
> On Nov 15, 2009, at 7:35 PM, Schwarzwald wrote:
> Rich,
> No, I'm not asking about strawmen here. You've spent a great part of this
> discussion insisting that the problem with ID people is that they believe
> evolution as a rule must be unguided and purposeless as a scientific theory.
> Quoting you, "When ID tells scientists that evolution is random they laugh
> because it is when you see non-randomness is when evolution via positive
> selection is occurring."
> Again, John West, ID proponent and member of the DI, on "random": "Barr
> first claims that Joe Carter and I “are trapped in a false dilemma” because
> we wrongly think that random processes cannot be directed by God. Barr
> points out that even random events, properly defined, are part of God’s
> sovereign plan. *Just because something is random from our point of view,
> doesn’t mean that it is outside of God’s providence. Barr may be surprised
> to learn that I agree with him. Indeed, most, if not all, of the scholars
> who believe that nature provides evidence of intelligent design would agree
> with him.*" --- Well, Rich, is John correct about randomness here?
> Now, John West on what the "problem is", again: "The problem with Barr’s
> argument is not with his understanding of the proper meaning of random, but
> with his seeming blindness to the fact that* the vast majority of
> evolutionary biologists do not share his view*. Barr’s ultimate
> disagreement here is not with me or Joe Carter, but with* the discipline
> of evolutionary biology itself.*" --- Rich, do you see here that West's
> problem is not that he thinks any evolution must be "unguided and without
> purpose", but specifically that this is what evolution means to Dawkins,
> Simpson, and many other biologists, and is taught by them? You apparently
> agree with as much, since you claim that Dawkins specifically is guilty of
> this, and that there is a "growing movement who are very much opposed to
> what Dawkins and company have done." Though frankly, I have serious
> questions about the size of this "movement" and what, if anything, they're
> doing in this regard (they've certainly taken their time, since Dawkins has
> been at this crap for decades.) Last I checked, the main movement banging
> this drum is, to be dead honest, primarily the ID movement (for all their
> faults).
> Rich, you are making the argument that "first commitment is not being
> pro-intelligent design or even being anti-unguided -- read atheistic --
> evolution. Rather, they agree with Dawkins claiming his extra-scientific
> conclusions are the warp and woof of evolutionary theory because their first
> commitment is anti-evolution." But here we have John West explicitly saying
> that his problem is *NOT* with evolution, that he understands and agrees
> that the "seemingly random" can still be guided, that the proper view of
> "random" is the one Stephen Barr gives, etc. Instead he argues that the view
> of evolution that Barr regards as incorrect and unscientific happens to be
> the view most evolutionary biologists are committed to, and the view
> presented in the mainstream.
> Frankly, West seems to be echoing you here in large part: He explicitly
> defends the compatibility of design with evolution. He points out the
> problem of evolution being warped to include unscientific claims (that it is
> "unguided" and "purposeless"), which again you acknowledge in the case of
> "Dawkins and company". About the only thing you two seem to disagree with
> here is just how much of the scientific mainstream accepts this warping -
> and I think, between Darwin's own writings and the writings of many
> well-known evolution boosters since his time (Mayr, Simpson, etc), the claim
> that "unguided and purposeless" as being part of the orthodox theory is not
> a popular association made by scientists is a very hard argument to defend.
> Here's the strawman
> the vast majority of evolutionary biologists do not share his view
> *
> *
> And the argument against this strawman is very easy to defend.
> *
> *
> Here's the NAS on this:
> Contrary to a widespread public impression, biological evolution is not
> random, even though the biological changes that provide the raw material for
> evolution are not directed toward predetermined, specific goals.
> Steven J. Gould said the following in Wonderful Life (showing why Miller
> said Levine made an error in the H.S. biology text book):
> "In ordinary English, a random event is one without order, predicatability
> or pattern. The word connotes disaggregation, falling apart, formless
> anarchy, and fear. Yet, ironically, the scientific sense of *random* conveys
> a precisely opposite set of associations. A phenomenon governed by chance
> yields maximal simplicity, order and predictability--at least in the long
> run. ... Thus, if you wish to understand patterns of long historical
> sequences, pray for randomness."
> And even Richard Dawkins (when he isn't playing atheistic apologist)
> doesn't really disagree with Barr either. Note this from The Blind
> Watchmaker
> It is grindingly, creakingly, obvious that, if Darwinism were really a
> theory of chance, it couldn't work.
> ...
> Darwinism is widely misunderstood as a theory of pure chance. Mustn't it
> have done something to provoke this canard? Well, yes, there is something
> behind the misunderstood rumour, a feeble basis to the distortion. one stage
> in the Darwinian process is indeed a chance process -- mutation. Mutation is
> the process by which fresh genetic variation is offered up for selection and
> it is usually described as random. But Darwinians make the fuss they do
> about the 'randomness' of mutation only in order to *contrast* it to the
> non-randomness of selection. It is not *necessary* that mutation should be
> random for natural selection to work. Selection can still do its work
> whether mutation is directed or not. Emphasizing that mutation *can* be
> random is our way of calling attention to the crucial fact that, by
> contrast, selection is sublimely and quintessentially *non*-random. It is
> ironic that this emphasis on the contrast between mutation and the
> non-randomness of selection has led people to think that the whole theory is
> a theory of chance.
> Even mutations are, as a matter of fact, non-random in various senses,
> although these senses aren't relevant to our discussion because they don't
> contribute constructively to the improbable perfection of organisms. For
> example, mutations have well-understood physical causes, and to this extent
> they are non-random. ... the great majority of mutations, however caused,
> are random with respect to quality, and that means they are usually bad
> because there are more ways of getting worse than of getting better
> This all goes back a long, long time. GG Simpson who was a key player in
> the modern evolutionary synthesis in 1953 wrote this.
> This sort of limitation and the fact that different mutations may have
> widely and characteristically different rates of incidence show that
> mutations are not random in the full and usual sense of the word or in the
> way that some early Darwinists considered as fully random the variation
> available for natural selection. I believe that the, in this sense,
> nonrandom nature of mutation has had a profound influence on the diversity
> of life and on the extent and character of adaptations. This influence is
> sometimes overlooked, probably because almost everyone speaks of mutations
> as random, which they are in other senses of the word.
> Rich Blinne
> Member ASA

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Sun Nov 15 23:15:39 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Nov 15 2009 - 23:15:40 EST