Evolution is not Darwin, and vice versa,
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This review is from: Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design (Paperback)There are a range of books from both science and from creation(isms) explaining their position and what is really required is a book that tries to speak beyond the converted as it were. In this goal Shermer's is as good as any although Kenneth R. Miller's position as a noted biologist, debunker of intelligent design and a person of faith positions him in prime real intellectual real estate in being able to really get people thinking and re-thinking about the issues of design, meaning and purpose.
I bought the book and it was good value. A criticism I have with Shermer is that along with a lot of evolutionary minded thinkers situational, contingent (and especially regarding humans) cultural factors are underplayed in the assertion that evolution is the process that can provide the dominant narrative for all life, including human life. Since 1859 there has been no accepted theory of culture from the evolutionary presective despite 10+ schools trying to generate such a theory of the social world of humankind. While this remains the case humans (in a very real sense) will be beyond the complete grip of the evolutionary model. Evolutionary theorists Boyd & Richerson have said that a failure for evolutionary theory to account for culture would undermine the entire Darwinian revolution. I think this is a gross over-exaggeration. The theory of evolution is the telling theory of biological and botanical evolution in the nature setting. Darwin noted several times that natural selection was much diminished in civilised societies but evolutionary theorists are quite defensive at the notion that evolutionary theory (strong in the nature setting) is another partial theory of the social world of humankind.
So on the one hand we have evolutionary minded thinkers and theorists like Shermer, Dawkins, Dennett, & Co asserting that Darwin(ism) can explain it all and on the other hand we have this other position of intelligent design stating that evolutionary theory is not the whole story in the state of nature. What we can say for sure at this time is that evolutionary theory is not the whole story when it comes to the social world of humankind. In Shermer's 'The Mind of the Market' he calls consciousness the hard problem, and culture 'the really hard problem' and yet all too often he and others slips into the overly defensive of Darwin mode. Shermer undermines his own argument slightly, and notably when he writes:
"Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from and where we are going."
If Shermer had omitted the first five words then I'd agree, but he didn't and in naming the book the title he does he (like others) over personalises his/other's position to levels it doesn't need to be. When we align and associate a theory so intimately with a person, any person then this can only result in an emotional connection over and above any cognitive connection which is what the debate and argument should be concerned with. There is something noteworthy when you are accusing the other side of being too stubborn in allegiance to the idea of a personal God, when Shermer is (again, like others) often stubborn in allegiance to their personalisation and reification of evolutionary theory as 'Darwinism'.
If we go back in history the effect that the "Newtonian" view had on the understanding of the physical world was a factor in it taking over 300 years to sophisticate further his theory of gravitation by Einstein. Applying this to the present argument over culture and the position of intelligent design, there is surely a position required that can chart the underlying principles of how culture works beyond evolutionary theory without undermining the science position and being accused of intelligent design by the back door. Dawkins and Dennett themselves have in the last few years in interviews and lectures acknowledge that humans are "the first intelligent designers on the tree of life" so 'design' is not the central question in understanding culture, as it was in understanding nature. That question concerns meaning to unlock and deepen our awareness of the social sciences, arts and humanities.
Knowledge matters and what we do with it. Proponents of ID have a right to express their view but this should be done in the religious education class, not the science class. For Shermer & Co there should be an admission that despite considerable attempt(s) evolutionary theory remains short on explaining culture, and therefore what it is to be a human being. All the while this goes on there are millions, even billions of people around the world who find some scientific explanations of humankindness unsatisfying while they receive something more satisfying through their religious faith.
So in terms of knowledge and what we do with it, evolution matters much more than Darwin matters but when it comes to selling books, 'Darwin Matters' grabs an audience more I guess. So read this, and read other books related to this and if you can even a book from the other side(s) of the argument. If we all keep reading and thinking then hopefully we won't have to wait 'the Newtonian period' of 300 years to understand the seeming social gravitation of meaning that evolutionary theory can't explain. Shermer is currently working on a book called 'The Believing Brain'. You can bet it's a book about humans, but keep this in mind. He won't be referring to the accepted evolutionary theory of culture and mind because there is none. There will be a lot of metaphor and evolutionary-like language but the central idea that humans engage with the world not through the prism of biology but belief underlines how different culture is from nature and how we have to understand that emergence from the evolutionary process some (including Shermer) have.
That matters too.