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DARWINISM FROM A KANTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Protagoras

2008-09-06 04:09:02

Science & Technology

Here is a Kantian discussion on Darwin. A friend asked about my views on Darwin's theory and here is a summary of my reply, (Please note that my rejection of Darwin’s paradigm is not an argument in favor of any other model; including creationism):

Darwin's approach to evolution appears to me to be non-scientific and therefore a non-Kantian metaphysical construct. A scientific approach is based on statistical verification of hypotheses. Empirically, we use the data from a small sample that we hope would be a representative sample That is to say that when we plot the distribution of the sample it would broadly similar to the distribution of the population or the 'universe' from which the sample is drawn. Thus, if we want to test the hypothesize that "Americans are religious people" from a sample of say 1000 people, we must make sure that the proportion of men and women, black and white people, educated and non-educated, old and young, and so on and so forth are roughly the same as what is observed in total population. In other words our sample should be unbiased. Of course, in science we cannot ever prove any hypothesis. The only possible scientific inference is to conclude that we cannot reject a hypothesis at certain level of confidence.

Thus, if we want to hypothesize that say, "In this universe man is created in an evolutionary process", ideally we would need a number of inhabitable planets (say 60), in which we can see if we have the same basic characteristics in various living organisms. For example, if there are cows in a planet that can talk, and there are men in another planet that have four eyes, and so on and so forth , and yet there are some basic similarities among the planets such as let's say in all of them men are more intelligent than the other creatures or say in all of them dinosaurs are distinct and so on, then we would be able to test our hypothesis about the evolution in the universe. Even then we have to assume that the sample of the 60 planets is basically a representative of billions and billions of planets in our universe.

Now, of course, Darwinism deals only with the planet earth.The scientists gather certain data from dated fossils founded in various sedimentary areas and based on a logic of ad hoc ergo propter hoc or "After that therefore because of that" they claim that they have proved the hypotheses of the evolution.

For example a typical argument reads: "Fossils are the mineralized remnants or impressions of once-living organisms. Many fossils, such as trilobites and dinosaurs, belong to groups that no longer exist on the face of the Earth. Conversely, many modern species appear similar to other fossils, yet fossils of the modern species are absent from rocks of corresponding ages. The age of the Earth is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years, with the earliest bacterial fossils about 3.5 billion years old. Fossils from around 550 million years ago (the Cambrian period) show a diverse assemblage of multicellular animals."

While, I do not want to advocate the hypotheses of intelligent design, I would like to note that TV came after Radio, but we cannot say that radio evolved into TV. Of course, these days evolutionists resort to genetic argument. They argument can be represented under the following headings: </br>
*. Genetic variation. There is tremendous genetic diversity within almost all species, including humans. No two individuals have the same DNA sequence, with the exception of identical twins or clones. This genetic variation contributes to phenotypic variation — that is, diversity in the outward appearance and behavior of individuals of the same species.
</br>
*. Adaptation. Living organisms have morphological, biochemical, and behavioral features that make them well adapted for life in the environments in which they are usually found. For example, consider the hollow bones and feathers of birds that enable them to fly, or the cryptic coloration that allows many organisms to hide from their predators. These features may give the superficial appearance that organisms were designed by a creator (or engineer) to live in a particular environment. Evolutionary biology has demonstrated that adaptations arise through selection acting on genetic variation.
</br>
*. Divergence. All living species differ from one another. In some cases, these differences are subtle, while in other cases the differences are dramatic. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) proposed a classification that is still used today with slight changes. In the modern scheme, similar species are grouped into genera, similar genera into families, and so on. This hierarchical pattern of relationship produces a tree-like pattern, which implies a process of splitting and divergence from a common ancestor.

However, given the number of genetic and environmental variables responsible for polygenic developments and given the inter-dependencies of these variables it is clear that one would require a sophisticated set of experiments in order to generate adequate data. This should allow to specify the rich dynamic behaviour of adaptive gene complexes that are determined by the interactions of the multitude of alleles making up the genotype as well as the interaction of the genotype with the environment, and provide a framework to investigate the time of onset of gene expression. However, the use of statistical methods in biology is still at its infancy, and it appears that even the elementary concepts of probability calculus is not yet well understood by some of the practitioners of this discipline. For example, Ian Musgrave writes (Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and probability of Abiogenesis Calculations, 1998, The Talk.Origins Archive):

Here is a experiment you can do your self, take a coin, flip it 4 times,write down the results, do it again. How many times would you think you had to repeat this procedure (trial) before you get 4 heads in a row? Now the probability of 4 heads in a row is (1/2) **4 or 1 chance in 16, do we have to do 16 trials to get 4 heads (HHHH)? No, in successive experiments I got, 11, 10, 6, 16, 1, 5, and 3 trials before HHHH turned up. The figure 1 in 16 (or 1 in a million or 1 in 10**40) gives the likelihood of an event in a given trial, but doesn’t say where it will occur in a series. You can flip HHHH on your very first trial (I did). Even at 1 chance in 4.29 x 10**40, a self-replicator could have turned up surprisingly early.

This is an abuse of probability logic. Imagine that a physician reports to his colleagues that “the probability that this drug would kill a patient is 80%. However, in successive experiments I got fatality rates of 2, 3, and 4%. In fact, we can get to zero fatality rate in our very first trial (I did)” Even a layman should realize that such a statement is absurd. The probability of 80% implies that in a large number of trials the average fatality rate would get close to 80%. In other words there would be some samples with average fatality rates of 90, 92, and 99%. One may even get 100% in his very first trial, but that would mean nothing. Of course, one may want to revise the 80% probability if successive samples suggest a different asymptotic average but this is not the point here as Musgrave concludes his article by stating that:

However, in the end life’s feasibility depends on chemistry and biochemistry that we are still studying not coin flipping.

Coin flipping is of course a method utilized to produce a stochastic sequence.All measurements in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, economics, etc.are based on the assumption that unknowns are stochastic or random. Perhaps, such a naivete about scientific methods is the underlying reason for evolution theorists’ claim that theirs is both theory and fact. For instance Futuyma, in Evolutionary Biology writes:

The statement that organisms have descended with modifications from common ancestors - the historical reality of evolution - is not a theory. It is a fact, as fully as the fact of the earth’s revolution about the sun.Like the heliocentric solar system, evolution began as a
hypothesis, and achieved “facthood” as the evidence in its favor became so strong that no knowledgeable and unbiased person could deny its reality. No biologist today would think of submitting a paper entitled “New evidence for evolution”; it simply has not been an issue for a century.


Unfortunately, statements like this only shows that the concept of *fact* is not very well understood. In science facts are unorganized information, they are data of our experiments. We use facts to form hypotheses such as evolution. As we argued above, evolution can only be a maintained hypothesis if we could observe a large number of stochastic evolutionary processes in different bio-hospitable planets. Even then, no matter how strong is the evidence we can only claim that “the postulate of evolution cannot be rejected at say x per cent Bayesian degree of subjective confidence level.” Of course, some evolutionists such as Stephen Gould acknowledge the existence of such fundamental Humean uncertainty but this is stated perhaps still in a biased way. For example he writes:

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact....In science “fact” can only mean “confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent.” I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.

Gould’s argument appears to suggest that theories which cannot be rejected at some high level of statistical significance say at 95% ascend to facthood. The problem with this claim is that Aristotle ‘s theory of gravity should also be considered as a fact that is, of course, until Newton’s theory showed that apples could indeed start to rise outside the gravity field of the earth. In an uncertain domain of objective reality all facts are observer imposed, local and contingent upon our pustulated axioms of understanding. Moreover, they are subject to various errors, such as errors in measurement, misspecification errors and structural breaks.

We may postulate that a photon is a particle, gather facts, and then test the validity of a model specified in terms of the characteristics of a particle i.e, its weight, mass, velocity etc. We may use a system of equations representing the dynamics of various photons, and with a high degree of confidence predict certain outcomes. However, the statistical validity of our paradigm cannot provide us with any excuses to claim that “it is a fact that a photon is a particle”. Similarly, we may postulate that a photon is a probability wave, and derive some quantum mechanics implications which would help us to predict various natural processes even with a higher degree of confidence. But again we have not discovered any fact.

Here are some other problems with Darwin's paradigm:

After the discovery of introns (intervening sequences that are not represented in the mRNA) we can no longer even provide an accurate definition for gene (see: Benjamin Lewis, Gene Expression-2, The Eukaryotic Chromosome). The largest amount of DNA found so far has been located in a salamander with 8*10**10 (i.e. 8 times 10 to the power of 10) base pairs per haploid genom that is 2600 times more than human DNA with approximately 3.5*10** 9 base pairs. This is not consistent with a distibution derived from the evolution theory.

Also not consistent is why almost half of the DNA of the eukaryotic cell consists of nucleotide sequences that are repeated sometime millions of times while only twice per diploid eukaryotic cell is needed. Since many genes and protein molecules that exhibit distinct and divergent functions share amino acid homology, as Kantians, we may postulate that they have a common origin, and use evolution as a working assumption, and impose it on the
nature to provide a framework for organization of our facts. However, if all cells have
a common origin then we should be able to explain why introns are absent in almost all prokaryotes. We may stipulate that since these organisms have evolved strategies that minimize expenditure of energy and emphasize rapid rates of reproduction they might have streamlined their genom by eliminating introns. But if so then it would be inconsistent to argue that eukaryotic cells hold to their interons for hundreds of millions of years to have evolutionary advantages.

A Kantian imposition of the legislative power of reason is also implicit in formulations of other biological laws, which are usually contingent upon some asymptotic assumptions. For example, one of the puzzles of evolution is that how can both dominant and recessive alleles remain in a population, and why don’t dominants such as brachydactylism simply drive out recessives? The Hardy- Weinberg Law imposes a Kantian set of statistical conditions for steady state equilibrium in a population. It is based on four assumptions about the nature:
1. the population is infinitely large so that sampling noise is negligible,
2. interactions among variables (mating) are stochastic,
3. the probability distribution for all genotypes is uniform i.e. all genotypes are equally viable and fertile
4. the paradigm is well specified, that is there are no excluded variables such as migration,
mutation, or random drift.

We cannot empirically establish this law, but we know that the process of evolution requires conditions leading to change in gene frequencies that provide genetic variation. Thus, by imposing this law on the nature, in a Kantian fashion, we will be able to quantify our subjective degrees of belief in the impact ofconceptual phenomena such as selection, mutation, migration, and genetic drift.

Perhaps we should all be reminded of the six *impossible* things that the Queen in Lewis Carol’s “Through the Looking Glass” believed before her breakfast.This after all was the metaphor used by Richard Goldschmidt in his Presidential Address to 1954 International Congress of Genetics. We observe that there are some serious contradictions arising from the evolution hypothesis and from the pustulate of natural selection. On the one hand the Darwinian classical hypothesis proposes that natural selection favors homozygocity, the fixation of the most favorable alleles at each locus, which is supported by observation that induced mutations almost invariably *lower* fitness. Natural selection is supposed to purge these mutations. On the other hand, the Darwinian balance hypothesis favours heterozygosity,
the maintenance through natural selection of a large number of alleles with distributive degrees of efficiency in populations. Dobzhansky, Lewontin, and Harris have shown that populations displaying genetic polymorphism will have *higher* fitness. In science, such contradictions requires a rethinking about the main hypothesis.

It has been argued by neutralists that if all hetrozygosity within a population represented alleles with even a slight advantage the cost of selection, in terms the genetic death of less efficient organisms, necessary to fix and maintain more efficient alleles in population, would be astronomically high.

Even if we could reject the non-Darwinian neutralist hypothesis at some degree of statistical confidence we still need to explain the implication of the punctuated equilibria for evolution and natural selection. As Gould and Eldredge observe typically, a species would appear abruptly in fossil-bearing strata, last 5 million to 10 million years, and disappear, apparently not much different than when it first appeared. Another species, related but distinctively different - “fully formed”- would take its place, persist with little change, and disappear equally abruptly.

They propose a mechanism of species formation in which evolutionary changes are not gradual and continuos, but occur intermittently and rapidly as events that punctuate or interrupt long periods of evolutionary equilibrium during which little or no change occurs. Now this is more like random selection at the level of macro-organisms!

Thus, unfortunately, given the level of uncertainty about evolution theory the postulate that strings of DNA are the building block of cognitive ability cannot be , realistically, a testable hypothesis, and as such it cannot be substantiated by statistical facts.

This problem is rather similar to Richard Dawkin’s fairy-tale of "Selfish Gene!", for which the following scathing comment by a director of a molecular laboratory and a friend of the late physicist Heinz Pagels the executive director of the New York Academy of Sciences, appears quite fitting “Dawkin had it all wrong. Genes were not selfish; it was in fact a specific chemical bond in the gene that was selfishly trying to perpetuate itself”, or one may go even further and claim that there are various particles in chemical bonds that are selfish, or why not to resort to the Copenhagen interpretation of Heisenberg and Bohr about the nature of the objective reality, and argue that there are observers and theorists who are selfish and want to perpetuate their theories.

I am not, of course, rejecting the postulate that the vertebrate is born with a genetic endowment, which part of it can be transmitted to future generations. I also think that it is probable that exons are modular in the sense that each might encode a functional domain in the structure of a protein, and this protein domain may impart a unique but characteristic function to all molecules containing such a fold. Gould’s hypothesis of Punctuated Equilibria could be maintained at some degree of confidence level. But, to claim that each descendant of the primordial cognitive creature was born with the mechanism of its cognitive ability encoded in DNA appears quite far fetched.


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