archive: Lamarck, the teleomechanists
July 2nd, 2017 •
Wolfe has raised an obvious point: we have no really convincing picture of the ‘evolution’ of speech, let alone man as a whole. But that problem goes back all the way, and we have no good evolutionary account of the emergence of life, the Cambrian, etc…
The problem lies not in the term ‘evolution’ but in the equation of that with random evolution, natural selection. I think the biological community should rescue the situation from disaster and toss in the towel on Darwinism. Wolfe has no coherent alternative that I can see but his point is well taken: if you play by the rules then you can’t just throw around the term evolution if it doesn’t explain anything.
I think that the mainline Darwinism that came into existence with Wallace/Darwin (I think Wallace was the real source, as Wolfe intimates) has confused everyone and is in reality an interloper: it was long preceded by a soon displace post-Kantian biology that grappled with the real problems, the teleomechanists who attempted to create a methodology for evolutionary biology that wasn’t reductionist. And it was preceded by the work of the real first evolutionary theorist here: Lamarck, who considered a double aspect to evolution, a high-level evolution of forms complexifying, and a lower level of environmental adaptation. Given the evidence of deep time this is the most obvious solution to the overall problem. But Darwinism and organizational science somehow got convinced that one level evolutionism was the only way to do science. It is thus sadly frustrating that the right approach in two cases was displaced by the later dogmas of Darwin, mostly from Wallace, who promptly disavowed his own transitional discovery. His stance was a useful way station because it helped biologists to visualize
‘divergence’ with a place holder ‘mechanism’, in this case natural selection. Once divergence was grasped it was entirely apt to try and replace the ‘mechanism’ with something less simplistic than natural selection.
I think biologists, and the Dawkins group, ought to see the handwriting on the wall, and I would recommend a look at the data/model of WHEE (history and evolution.com) to get a feeling for the kind of two level system that Lamarck intuitively saw from the start. World history is not the same as evolution in deep time, quite obviously, but there must be invariant aspects to the kind of two level system we see in world history. The latter can be especially tricky because it adopts a special version for the model in question attempting to analyze the ‘evolution of freedom’. But the latter must have been
an aspect of human evolution, and we are suspicious this later historical instance is really a later version of what was true of man from the start: his organismic and cultural evolution as one entity from the start.
I think that this approach can bypass the red herring of design arguments used to produce theological conclusions, and ground the discussion in a look at the overall dynamic of evolution without getting mired in speculations over ‘mechanism’.