Rethinking the Language of Evolutionary Discourse

23 Apr

Evolution as a “Contentious Issue”:  Moving beyond the Darwin Debate by rethinking the Terms of Evolutionary Discourse


Evolution shouldn’t be a “contentious issue” but is I think for people’s talking past each other on a number of topics; the big two being (1)  the science behind natural selection and (2) metaphysical problems making philosophers and religionists think the trouble is in the process of evolution itself and/or in evolutionary biology as a means of explaining evolutionary change rather than in other factors.

My own POV is in trying to refocus the conversation on the substance of the science itself and away from sidetracked discussions over meaning; in fact by adjusting the language of evolution to better fit the science and philosophically strengthening that language to avoid misinterpretation and wrong turns in the course of reasoning about evolutionary change and forming ideas about it.  The science of evolution is not in question, absolutely not in question and shouldn’t be. What is in question perhaps is how Darwin’s theory of natural selection is presented and relayed to the public, and the language in which it’s framed as a system of understanding.

There are two parts to this I think.  (a)  The confusion of the presentation itself (concepts and ideas mistakenly couched in language that conveys other interpretations necessarily), the manner with which its presenters unwittingly embed ideological intonations onto their information and ideas, and worse, (b)  the further confusions of audiences and critics in misinterpreting an already confused scientific message on evolution and its mechanisms in Darwinian natural selection.

I agree “evolution is a fact” [with certain reservations of course].  That evolution exists is a fact; that the dynamic of evolution is real is a fact, and that its driven by the mechanism and processes of natural selection in the organismic adaptation of creatures (within nature) is established; that also is a fact.

But how far are we willing to go in this?  Evolution/natural selection/principle-and-processes in nature … all this is scientifically proven fact … and has been demonstrated to be so for nature.  But are we willing to say Darwinian theory and formulation on this material is absolutely factual beyond a doubt, and without any further need of improvement or enhancement as an epistemological system?  … So Darwin got the mechanism(s) in nature for evolution right.  But did he [and do his students today] really get his theory right in any fundamental or axiomatic sense?  In other words, is Darwin’s “theory” truly “theoria” or “scientia” in the classical epistemological sense of the concept? …  That is the question.

If he did get his “theory” right, then evolution-as-theory is also a fact just as evolution-the-natural-mechanism is a fact.  But if even the slightest bit of uncertainty abounds about the conceptual structure of Darwinian evolution and its exposition, then it’s a stretch to refer to evolution [=theory] as a fact. … In that case, then, its mistaken to be calling evolution-the-theory a “fact” since it mixes up what’s actually factual in evolution with what’s no more than a useful intellectual construction and a transitory working model for describing natural systems and phenomena.

Now maybe this isn’t anything important; however it points to the problem of truth value in Darwinian evolutionary theory.  The truth value in evolution is in the dynamic and how accurately it’s characterized, not in a supposed truth quality of its formulation.  To conflate the two only confuses the model and equates its factual character as science with its nomenclature.

In other words, it ends up confounding the Science of Evolution needlessly by saying what’s essential in it is its present language and format (how evolutionary theory is currently communicated to people as a system of knowledge and understanding about the dynamics of life on earth) rather the methods used to uncover that understanding and most importantly the said findings themselves about how evolutionary change works in its systems, processes, and phenomena.

That’s why there’s so much confusion over evolution and controversy about its position; not ignorance (willful or otherwise), not intellectual (and moral) blindness … just good old fashioned befuddlement over its exposition as a body of knowledge and the ensuing debate that comes when misinterpretation meets epistemological ambiguities.

Let me be clear:  I’m not disagreeing with the science or the idea of “evolution.”  I’m disagreeing with the foolishness of the “debate” and the silliness of its rhetoric.  The bad joke which is ID/Creationism is is matched only by the incompetence of evolution’s champions in trying to effectively refute it and ultimately failing to do that, and dispensing with Designer Creationism once and for all. Worse, now the new agers are in on the act (ala Deepak Chopra), further confusing the concept of evolution with screeds about “evolutionary consciousness”, while critics of the theory regularly undermine any sound aspects of the idea that are left (even well-established ones that there shouldn’t be any argument over, and that have been demonstratively proven time and time again & agreed upon through scientific consensus in the facts)(i.e., common descent, common morphologies, non-random selection, fossil evidence, and adaptive mechanisms in evolutionary change).

The media war/PR fight over evolution is being lost … It’s time for evolutionists to fall back and rethink their strategy in taking on the critics.  Evolution shouldn’t be a contentious issue; that it is bespeaks the problem of its development as a theory.  Time to recast it a new mold, one that separates it firmly from the ideology that is “social darwinism” and that defuses its science as an object of controversy. Newtonian mechanics doesn’t have this problem; Einsteinian Relativity doesn’t have this problem.  The question is “why.” … The answer I think:  as scientific fields, with their own unique brand of knowledge and practitioners who practice it, they’ve largely circumvented the fight making a battle over their models meaningless.

Time for evolutionary theory to do the same.


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