Archive for February 12th, 2010

Monad to Man – Forum Summary

Michael Ruse, author of Monad to Man, was the guest speaker at the second Chance, Purpose and Progress Forum on Monday Feb 8. Here are a few key points and questions raised during the discussion:

Ruse began by stating that he is a ‘committed evolutionist’, his book is not intended as a critique of evolutionary biology but a deconstruction of the complex history of evolutionary biology to better understand the nature biology and science

When asked about the relationship between scientists and philosophers of science, Ruse complained that philosophers of science are often looked down upon by scientists, and accused scientists (present company excluded) of having no interest in philosophy. A consensus was reached that evolutionary biologists are generally more involved in theory/philosophy behind their science because of the nature of their research.

Then came the ‘Molecular vs Evolutionary Biology Issue’: Ruse discussed why molecular biology is much more prominent and well-known while evolutionary biology is often in the shadows. Molecular biology is perceived as much more of a hard science, it is able to attract many more grants and much more attention. In the 1920’s, evolutionary biology was not a university science, it was considered a ‘museum science.’ What must evolution do to gain some Respect?

A brief digression on Social reality and Brute reality led to discussions of science as a social construct. Is science telling us about brute reality, or social reality?

Ruse uses evolutionary biology as model organism to study the concept of Progress. Evolutionary biology has moved from being very Progressive to completely unprogressive. Why?

Hypothesis: because of natural selection and Mendelian genetics. Genetic mutations are ‘random’, directionless, and therefore unprogressive. Under natural selection, what wins wins, there is no ‘better’.

But do evolutionary biologists still secretly believe in Progress? Ruse proposed that part of the removal of Progressive thinking in evolution was part of a concerted effort by specific scientists to gain respect from evolution as a science.

What about biological progress? In the book, Ruse felt it was vital to not reveal his own opinions on progress but rather to focus exclusively on how biologists feel about progress. In evolution, increasing complexity does not imply ‘progress’. In science in general, complexity does not necessarily imply value, instead it is generally held that simplicity is valuable.

And so began the talk of Values.
Social reality has values but brute reality can not have values. How is fact related to value?
Religion holds to the idea that there are genuine values waiting to be discovered. Is science, evolutionary science in particular, a value yielding phenomenon? Are humans more valuable than other life forms? Why?

Key Points

    Brute reality: what would exist if observers (us) were not here to observe

    Natural Category: exists in the brute universe and is given a name in the perceived universe (ex. Atom is a natural category)

    There can be no progress without a ‘value’ statement
    Progress moves towards or away from an end goal
    Progress that depends on circumstance = relative progress
    Evolutionary Biology only defines relative progress
    3 categories:
    Category of things, brute universe, everything
    Category of things we can perceive, perceived universe
    Category of things in our head, ‘social’ universe

Questions to think about:

    Are we the only ones who have ‘values’? (Do dolphins have values?)

    Is it a contradiction not to believe in biological progress but to believe in social progress?

    Is there a brute reality?

    If we were not here (ie. no science, no math, etc.) would there be less to reality?

    If there exists intelligence elsewhere, would they come up with the same mathematics?

    Is math a description or is it inherent to reality?

    Are species a Natural Category? Are social groups a Natural Category?

    Is biology better than it was 100 years ago?

    Can we say science is progressing?

    Is progress/Progress inevitable?

Summary contributed by J.U.


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