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Dawkins and Evolution, a discussion (moved to new thread)

hereandnow

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Books

Here are a few books I'm reading and some that await my attention:

The Blank Slate By Pinker

The God Delusion By Dawkins

A Mind of It's Own By Fine

The Feynman Lectures on Physics by...Feynman
 
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The God Delusion By Dawkins

ugh.

here's a quote by a critic in the London Review of Books that sums up my view of this man nicely

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster…critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.
 

Geoff

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ugh.

here's a quote by a critic in the London Review of Books that sums up my view of this man nicely

What do you think of his writings when he doesnt get involved in Theology? I quite enjoyed the scientific work in the Selfish Gene...

-Geoff
 

hereandnow

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What do you think of his writings when he doesnt get involved in Theology? I quite enjoyed the scientific work in the Selfish Gene...

-Geoff


He's a brilliant man though in the God Delusion he comes off strong, much like an evangelist. His scientific work is impressive.
 

Langrenus

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ugh.

here's a quote by a critic in the London Review of Books that sums up my view of this man nicely

I find some of what's said in that quote grossly unfair - Dawkins does at least attempt to rationalise why people have a tendency to follow religion, even if labeling it a 'virus' might have been a poor move. The fundamental difficulty is that you can't challenge 'faith' since it's not rational. All you can challenge are the so-called rational bases for faith - and since these tend to be ludicrous any arguments against them come across as inflammatory and churlish. With that said, Dawkins does come across as unnecessarily dismissive and inconsiderate in certain sections of the book (and unfortunately, given the strength of the Selfish Gene, I found the gene/meme-based section of The God Delusion to be one of its weakest chapters). I wonder how much of this was down to his editor driving the book for the money spinner he knew it could be...which is no excuse, since Dawkins is well aware of the publishing system.

Bleh, it's late and I want to go to bed. And I won't spoil the book for hereandnow.
 
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What do you think of his writings when he doesnt get involved in Theology? I quite enjoyed the scientific work in the Selfish Gene...

-Geoff

I find it ironic that he thinks the idea of punctuated equilibrium is so oversold in the media, when the only time he's mentioned is within the context of his ignorant views on religion or memetic theory. He's a joke.


edit:I shouldn't say anymore on it. This is a blog not a thread about Dawkins.
 

Geoff

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I find it ironic that he thinks the idea of punctuated equilibrium is so oversold in the media, when the only time he's mentioned is within the context of his ignorant views on religion or memetic theory. He's a joke.


edit:I shouldn't say anymore on it. This is a blog not a thread about Dawkins.

I can always carve it out into a new one :)

I just read Punctuated equilibrium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

and got someone lost in the criticism section about Dawkins and Punctuated Equilibrium. I feel like a bear with a very small evolved brain trying to understand the mass of concepts introduced.

-Geoff
 

HilbertSpace

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Dawkins and Gould have never really gotten along - in part, it was due to a legitimate difference of opinion on some biological matters. In my opinion, it was also due to the fact that the most visible proponents in a field inevitably develop followers and schools of thought surrounding them, and wind up being identified with a simplified version of what are in fact a fairly complex suite of ideas.

For example, Dawkins used the phrase "lumbering robots" in Selfish Gene to poetically describe people (and all life) as being vehicles for propagation of genes. This phrase, because it is so visceral and even appalling to some models of humanity, was lifted from the wider context of the book and used to create a caricature Dawkins as a strict genetic determinist. Although he elaborated his position in The Extended Phenotype (a book he vastly preferred over Selfish Gene) and other writings, he became associated by his critics with a straw-man version of adaptationism. At the same time, his attacks on Gould's ideas for things like punctuated equilibrium were also mostly directed against a cartoon version of the concept, rather than against Gould's model particularly.

Punctuated equilibrium is a complex idea that is less simple, and less easily dismissed, than it might seem at first glance. The support is not only in the fossil record (which is the first bit that tipped of Gould, as a paleontologist), but also in some information-theoretic models of the genome and the organism. Specifically, the now well established models of neutral mutation combine with an information-theoretic and somewhat structuralist model of evolution to support the idea that punctuated equilibrium is highly probable.

Picture a geographical map of the US, and locate yourself within some state. If you were to move by taking steps in random directions, a lot of your movement would end with you not leaving your state. If you were close to a state border, especially in a corner, you might certainly transition into a new state, and more random steps might carry you further into that new state, with each step towards the center making it less likely that subsequent steps would take you back out quickly. This is one way of picturing the distinction between genotype (the DNA component of an organism) and phenotype (what the organism looks like, along with its physiology and behavior). Another supporting piece of evidence, in my mind, is that complex systems, being hierarchical, behave in a way that is non-linear. Incremental steps at a lower level (in this case the genes) accrue until they are sufficient to bring about a phase transition at a higher level of organization.

So, Dawkins' model of the selfish gene can be almost entirely correct, but needs to be seen alongside the larger picture of Gould's structuralism, including components of punctuated equilibrium and spandrels.
 

Tayshaun

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So, Dawkins' model of the selfish gene can be almost entirely correct, but needs to be seen alongside the larger picture of Gould's structuralism, including components of punctuated equilibrium and spandrels.

Excellent!

In science as in philosophy (and perhaps most theoretical subjects with a bit of applied theory), there is very often a trend to adhere completely to a theory or vision to:

1) become the advocate of a single cause. This makes it more likely for the scientist to be recognized as "an expert" in that specialty. This involves becoming an authority called upon for conferences, having work published in large audience press; and eventually becoming a pubic figure.

2) have fun pushing a theory as far as the imagination allows. Going beyond limits to manipulate it, turn it in all directions, pummeling it. For the scientist, seeing the world through a single lens brings up many fascinating philosophical questions and prevents spending too much energy on the over-ambitious plan to build a coherent, but by definition clumsy, representation juggling with different models. However, that's what is as close to truth as we can get today: a complex witch's brew with a little bit of this at that scale a little bit of that for this part. An ugly network of interactions full of knots.

3) Beckon the siren's call which is the Universal. One theory to rule them all. The key to all secrets. There is a secret motivation for most scientists to come up with a simple, elegant answer to all questions. Many hope their preferred model is the path to the answer. The ugly network of interactions full of knots mentioned in the previous point is not very attractive...
 

reason

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I find it ironic that he thinks the idea of punctuated equilibrium is so oversold in the media, when the only time he's mentioned is within the context of his ignorant views on religion or memetic theory. He's a joke.
But the theory of punctuated equilibrium is oversold by the media, or at least it was. The mere fact that a disagreement existed within evolutionary biology, led some mistaken pundits to portray punctuated equilibrium as a new contender to natural selection. If they avoided this error, then they invariably portray puncuated equilibrium as a radical reworking of standard evolutionary theory. In fact, punctuated equilibrium is neither.

Basically, the theory of punctuated equilibrium is that species evolve in stops and starts, short bursts punctuating long periods of equilibrium. First, evolution still occurs by natural selection; the varying rate of evolutionary change is the matter of contention, not the process of natural selection itself. Second, the short bursts of evolution are to be interpreted by evolutionary time, where short might mean 100,000 years or more. Third, punctuated equilibrium sets itself up against a straw man, and can only offer insight to those who hold onto the naive theory that evolutionary change is constant.

The notion that evolutionary change is not constant is already implicit in the standard model; any evolutionary biologist worth his salt should be aware of evolutionary strategies, which in mathematical models can arrive at an equilibrium i.e. evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). A true ESS may never occur outside of idealised world of mathematics, but ecosystems will sometimes reach a close approximation, thus preserving the species who form it from much evolutionary change.

If such an approximised ESS did exist, we would expect any successful mutation, newly introduced species, climate change etc. to have a consequences on the whole ecosystem, spurring the rapid evolution of new characteristics to solve the adaptive problems posed by changing circumstances. Then, after some of rapid evolutionary change, in response to fluctuating selection pressures, a new ESS will eventually be arrived at, and will remain approximately stable until the next time.

This is only scratching the surface if we wish to explain how evolution occurs at varying rates, and none of it is inconsistent with punctuated equilibrium. Gould's theory seems altogether redundant, good only for rebutting a straw man. That would be entirely consistent with other straw men Gould liked to criticise, while dressing such criticism in impressive verbiage. I think Dawkins' recognised this, and has little time for punctuated equilibrium, or its popular portrayal.
 

wyrdsister

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Dawkins is interesting, but appears to be the antithesis of a religious person, as if he is religious in his atheism, if that makes sense. But I do respect him and I've seen quite a few of his documentaries.
 

Jasz

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But the theory of punctuated equilibrium is oversold by the media, or at least it was. The mere fact that a disagreement existed within evolutionary biology, led some mistaken pundits to portray punctuated equilibrium as a new contender to natural selection. If they avoided this error, then they invariably portray puncuated equilibrium as a radical reworking of standard evolutionary theory. In fact, punctuated equilibrium is neither.

Basically, the theory of punctuated equilibrium is that species evolve in stops and starts, short bursts punctuating long periods of equilibrium. First, evolution still occurs by natural selection; the varying rate of evolutionary change is the matter of contention, not the process of natural selection itself. Second, the short bursts of evolution are to be interpreted by evolutionary time, where short might mean 100,000 years or more. Third, punctuated equilibrium sets itself up against a straw man, and can only offer insight to those who hold onto the naive theory that evolutionary change is constant.

The notion that evolutionary change is not constant is already implicit in the standard model; any evolutionary biologist worth his salt should be aware of evolutionary strategies, which in mathematical models can arrive at an equilibrium i.e. evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). A true ESS may never occur outside of idealised world of mathematics, but ecosystems will sometimes reach a close approximation, thus preserving the species who form it from much evolutionary change.

If such an approximised ESS did exist, we would expect any successful mutation, newly introduced species, climate change etc. to have a consequences on the whole ecosystem, spurring the rapid evolution of new characteristics to solve the adaptive problems posed by changing circumstances. Then, after some of rapid evolutionary change, in response to fluctuating selection pressures, a new ESS will eventually be arrived at, and will remain approximately stable until the next time.

This is only scratching the surface if we wish to explain how evolution occurs at varying rates, and none of it is inconsistent with punctuated equilibrium. Gould's theory seems altogether redundant, good only for rebutting a straw man. That would be entirely consistent with other straw men Gould liked to criticise, while dressing such criticism in impressive verbiage. I think Dawkins' recognised this, and has little time for punctuated equilibrium, or its popular portrayal.

this was probably the first post longer than a couple of sentences that i read entirely since a long discussion between helios and macguffin on preferences some time ago on intpcentral. thanks nocturne.
 

MacGuffin

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this was probably the first post longer than a couple of sentences that i read entirely since a long discussion between helios and macguffin on preferences some time ago on intpcentral. thanks nocturne.

I wrote a long post once?
 
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