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The Mythology of Evolution Paperback – 28 Sep 2012
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This readable and insightful work restores sanity and reasonableness to philosophical reflection on evolution. Bateman carefully separates what is illuminating from what is misleading in the various metaphors and myths that have dominated evolutionary discourse... Scientists, philosophers and other intellectually interested readers will profit immensely from reading and reflecting on this thoughtful book. --John F. Haught | Landegger Distinguished Professor of Theology at Georgetown University
This book explores the many ways that extra-scientific metaphors, or myths, both color and constrain our view of evolution. Bateman shows that alternative myths are equally consistent with the data, but present a very different image of the evolutionary process. --John O. Reiss | Professor of Zoology & Department Chair Evolutionary and Developmental Morphology, Humboldt State University
The Mythology of Evolution is a commendable book. It is an accessible read, but with a firm basis in science and philosophy, and a vision of current and future intellectual struggles that seems fair and hopeful. I believe the book will be most appealing to those people (religious or not) who already value freedom and peace above the authority to proclaim truth. --Oscar Strik | Sub Specie
About the Author
Chris Bateman is a game designer, outsider philosopher and author, best known for the games 'Discworld Noir' and 'Ghost Master', and the books 'Game Writing: Narrative Skills for Videogames', '21st Century Game Design' and 'Beyond Game Design'. He has worked on more than thirty digital game projects over the last fifteen years, primarily with his acclaimed consultancy International Hobo. Graduating with a Masters degree in Artificial Intelligence/Cognitive Science, he has since pursued highly-acclaimed independent research into how and why people play games. In 2009, he was invited to sit on the IEEE's Player Satisfaction Modelling task force, in recognition for his role in establishing this research domain. His most recent player model, BrainHex, is based upon neurobiological principles published in his paper 'The Neurobiology of Play', and the BrainHex test has been taken by more than 75,000 people. Chris has also travelled the world studying religious practices and beliefs, and has taken part in everything from Native American sweat lodges to Pagan solstice celebrations, as well as visiting Buddhist and Shinto shrines in Japan, and witnessing traditional tribal religions in Africa whilst visiting the Sahel Reserve near the Sahara desert. His blog 'Only a Game' (http://onlyagame.typepad.com) deals with both philosophy and digital game theory, and contains a prolific array of articles, many of which have been featured elsewhere. He is considered to be one of the major commentators on the videogame industry, an expert on player satisfaction modelling, and a proficient philosopher.
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For me, its greatest strength lies in a relevant set of References at the back of the book which draws about a wide landscape of opinions through the ages, all of which are addressed within the body of the book.
However, whilst Chris Bateman suggests he wishes to offer a balanced view of the debate, I think he fails to be all that impartial; especially in his conclusions at the end of the book, which tend to dissolve into a number of thoughts which are somewhat 'off-topic' ranging from the more important matter of ecological degradation (compared to debates about evolution) to his own son's education in the topic whilst at school.
Bateman suggests it is important to recognise that whilst many of us might recognise the role of myths within the various teachings of multiple religions, it is also important to acknowledge the mythologies present within science. On this point I agree. However, Bateman highlights the fact that there exists a world beyond the scientific which is the metaphysical, wherein science can have no more right to claim insight to the truth than a religious faith. Indeed, neither really can do this outside of a faith statement. This seems perfectly sensible, however, Bateman then appears to want to wrap the theory of evolution into this category and it is here that we part company.
The strong arguments put forward by Dawkins and Dennett of a gene-centric explanation for evolution are battered by Bateman in a somewhat obsessive manner; especially, since Dawkins is less rigid on this issue than often portrayed in the media. Unfortunately, Bateman swamps the reader with such a wide range of both scientific and philosophical material throughout the book that at times it can be hard to really be sure where Bateman pins his own flag in the various arguments. On the plus side, the wide range of materials and supporting references provide a useful platform for further reading. However, my suspicion is that anyone not already familiar with a fair amount of the literature quoted by Bateman would either be completely swamped by the variety of topics or simply cherry pick those parts that appealed to their preconceptions. Whereas somebody already versed in much of the scientific and philosophical literature might find Bateman's views a little suspect in places.
To some extent, I found The Mythology of Evolution a fun read and packed with other people's thoughts around the various topics relating to the topic. At another level, I found the book frustrating because I thought it lacked the logical flow and argument that Bateman no doubt felt he was contributing to the work. At times I felt like I was reading an unedited masters or doctoral thesis that needed some serious cutting, pruning and generally cleaning up in order to present a more cogent and well-reasoned work.
Notwithstanding the above criticisms, I should recommend this book to anyone with an open-mind who wants to reflect upon the nature of the scientific endeavour as it relates to the Theory of Evolution. In particular, I think Bateman makes some good points about the enterprise, however, anyone familiar with the History of Science or the Philosophy of Science and has read about the nature of myths in our literary history will find its viewpoints less original than perhaps suggested by the author.
I am always on the lookout for people who are prepared to think out of the box and provide accounts of this philosophical struggle of our times that is fair and even-handed. Enter Chris Bateman and his latest book The Mythology of Evolution.
An independent philosopher and game designer, Bateman has dedicated much of his written work to issues such as fictionality, games and play, ethics, and belief. This includes most of the excellent articles on his blog, Only a Game. His previous book, Imaginary Games, dealt mostly with the first three and investigated the way in which make-believe and fictionality plays a role in many aspects of culture, including art, play, language, metaphor, and science.
In his latest book, Bateman turns his attention wholly to science and religion, and the role of myth in the way worldviews are built and framed. First of all, I should clarify that Bateman uses the word myth not in the pejorative sense of `untrue story', but as stories that can not be directly tested or proven. As such, they "can be understood as metaphors, imaginative fictions, or as metaphysical stories" (p. 14). Myths in this sense of the word are used to clarify statements about understanding the world, for example. In particular, Bateman applies this concept of myth to the theory of evolution:
[...] when I talk about `myths of evolution' I am not necessarily accusing various ideas of being unscientific, I am talking about stories that are spun out of the scientific theories in circulation. [...] When I, for instance, call `the selfish gene` a myth of evolution, I do not mean that what is termed `the gene-centered view' is not a valid scientific perspective, but rather that the idea of a `selfish gene' is an abstract metaphorical embellishment that puts a particular spin onto an otherwise neutral concept. This is what I mean by `myth' in this context: a metaphorical image used to present the facts in a particular way, or (synonymously) a metaphysical story that expresses a particular interpretative bias. These myths can be criticized or replaced but they can never be entirely eliminated, since there is no science without mythology in this sense. (p. 15)
As Bateman explains in his first chapter, mythmaking in this sense of the world is an integral part of doing and explaining science. This does mean, however, that there is no science without some measure of metaphysical conjecture. This in itself is not a bad thing, just something we all have to deal with. In order to do so, however, we need to be aware of it, and that awareness is often ignored by scientists and not present in the general public, because science is often presented by its practitioners as truth.
To this end, Bateman distinguishes and discusses seven myths concerning evolution (with the last applying to science in general), and supplements these with alternative myths or viewpoints. I will not address all of these, but I want to name them anyway, as they are central to the structure of the book: 1) the ladder of progress; 2) survival of the fittest; 3) the selfish gene; 4) kin selection; 5) intelligent design; 6) adaptationism; 7) science as truth.
Over the course of the book, Bateman addresses these myths and the way they relate to empirical fact in a systematic manner that is at the same time quite easy and enjoyable to read. Starting with chapter two, he presents a discussion of some of the basic principles of evolutionary theory, starting with Darwin and his contemporaries, all the way to today's biology. Besides addressing technical issues of biological evolution, Bateman illustrates some of the mythology surrounding evolution as a theory, such as the origin and spreading of the phrase "survival of the fittest" and its social-Darwinist connotations - better called Spencerism, as Bateman indicates, for the phrase does not originate in Darwin's works.
[T]here are many reasons why The Mythology of Evolution is a commendable book. It is an accessible read, but with a firm basis in science and philosophy, and a vision of current and future intellectual struggles that seems fair and hopeful. I believe the book will be most appealing to those people (religious or not) who already value freedom and peace above the authority to proclaim truth. I hope that these people are more numerous than at first appears.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
But this is no anti-evolution book. It is a plea for scientific honesty. It is a well reasoned destruction of the existing logical battlements erected in the 100 year war between Evolutionists and Intelligent Design adherents. It offers new alternative scientific mythologies to replace "Survival of the Fittest", pointing out that "nature red in tooth and claw" is only useful in explaining apex predators, challenging the definition of Success in an evolutionary context. Success may reasonably be defined as being alive--each of our ancestors was undeniably successful. If you measure success by biomass, single celled creatures are the winners! Plus, predators are actually more prone to extinction since they are dependent on the success of the animals on their menu.
The complaint against the scientific merit of the Evolutionists' mythology is its poor service in explaining all the verifiable facts. The book offers alternative metaphors to reopen the discussion about the mechanics of Evolution in the hopes of breaking the current stagnation of entrenched positions on both sides of the debate.
Bateman also cautions against playing "How-Why" games--telling "folktales dressed up as Science". Is the polar bear white because white fur confers selective advantage for sneaking up on seals? Or did white bears evolve as a defense against other predators, and as a result find they could more easily sneak up on seals? There is no truly scientific experiment to determine whether the seal diet is a cause or an effect of having white fur!
Attention to attribution gives a more academic feel to this book than you might get a from a Richard Dawkins book. When you successfully challenge the scientific merit of a popular science author's position, you can expect a counter attack on the merits of your argument, so Bateman can be forgiven for focusing on building a logical foundation first and leaving out the literary drama. This is just an early step on the road to recovery: first, admit there is a problem with the scientific integrity of the Evolutionist position! The bibliography is a good starting point for those interested in further research into the philosophical underpinnings of the author's perspectives.
I recommend this book for anyone who has sensed an over-reach of "scientific" conclusions based on discoveries related to Evolution and has been at a loss to articulate their concerns in an honest debate on the subject.
As a student studying astrophysics, Bateman experienced classmates who tweaked their lab findings to meet their professor's expectations for the gravitational constant. Apparently this bad experience left him skeptical about the truth seeking of science and later led him to abandon astrophysics altogether. Ultimately, he seems to find truth nowhere stating, "fact is not the opposite of fiction, but a different kind of fiction". I do not know about you, but when I look outside and see my car in the driveway and remember parking it there, it is a fact that my car is sitting in my driveway. Some facts are facts and truth does exist (at least in my world).
Heavily leaning on the science philosophies of Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper Bateman distorts their work to conform to his own mythology, concluding that science is not truth seeking, which neither philosopher claims. Instead, Kuhn claims that science advances in stages including normal science which conducts experiments against the current prominent paradigm, and paradigm shifting which involves a metaphorical redefinition of a particular scientific space, e.g., the shift from Newtonian theory of gravitation attraction to Einstein's gravitation distortion of space. Kuhn adds that with his incommensurability concept that these theories cannot be directly compared because they exist in different conceptual frameworks. It is possible and general practice, however, to test which theory fits the data better and provides the better predictions for new situations. Popper accepts that the sciences are informative truths but a scientific theory requires necessarily a way to demonstrate it is incorrect by the results of experimentation resulting in its falsification. Instead, Bateman states unequivocally that science in pursuit of the truth is a mythology and is false (even though everything appears false to Bateman).
Bateman proceeds to reject the evolutionary concepts of ladder of progress (which is not accepted by evolutionists), survival of the fittest, the selfish gene (which a minority of evolutionist accept), kin selection, intelligent design (which almost no one believes) and/or natural selection (which most scientists believe) and adaptationism (a concept basically of the gene centric). He offers his alternatives chain of inheritance (no one would argue with that one), refinement of possibilities (what does that mean?), advantages persist (what?), co-operation is an advantage, metaphor of design, and conditions for existence. These are generally poorly defined or already accepted and are undefended with evidence of any kind. He starts first of all with a very dated view of current evolutionary theory but instead is apparently continuing a debate with Dawkins and Dennett extending from his past. His arguments against these are restatements made by others for the most part and probably better studied via the original publications. He rejects intelligent design along with design by natural selection for reasons including that "nature" is not selecting and that natural selection does not meet Popper's requirement for science that a theory be falsifiable. The last argument is false since fossil evidence, molecular genetics evidence and laboratory studies with a range of species have all resulted in confirmatory results and any of these might have falsified the theory.
Bateman's disdain for science is surprising because he claims to be a student of it and a practitioner. Disdain for Dawkins and Dennett is understandable with their publications having definitely overstated the gene centric argument and aggressively defended their approach even as evolution science is moving on without them. They go further to conclude that evolution eliminates the need for God making belief in God no longer necessary. Obviously this is upsetting people and coupling these is totally unnecessary with the former a hypothesis to be tested by science and the latter a theological discussion as Bateman points out. There are similar outlandish scientists that make even wilder claims: e.g., the universe as a quantum computer, cosmological natural selection, multiple universes, etc. None of these metaphors is testable today, nor do we have any path forward to the day when they can be tested. These apparently are less objectionable because they do not cause anyone unpleasant feelings.
His conclusions must partly be due to his requirement for "proofs" or perfect outcomes and his apparent disregard for statistical or probabilistic arguments. I would offer instead of labeling new scientific theories as mythologies one might call them new theories, theories with some a priori beliefs, e.g., a Bayesian approach. Experimental data is combined with the probabilities of the a priori beliefs to obtain an a posteriori probability. Each theory has one or more alternative theory which might be more probable if the experimental evidence points in that direction. As multiple scientists conduct independent experiments the evidence builds toward one or the other theory as being better at explaining the natural system. A high probability gives the scientist confidence that a theory is true and enables the consumers of these results -- engineers, technologists-- to use the predictability often in a very practical way. This is the way science can work in the absence of absolute proof and is why the scientific realists believe an accepted scientific theory is "true, approximately true, or likely true".
Bateman makes the often stated claim that the existence of God is not a scientific question because this question lies outside the realm that Popper claims is the domain of science. I would dispute this saying if a scientific hypothesis regarding God is made then it is likely testable. An example might be "A God does not exist who can appear in material form or work through a human agent and perform miracles that can be observed by multiple independent objective witnesses". We can test any such claims of miracles with objective evidence supported by multiple and independent witnesses by investigating any and all such occurrences. We can also have Saints, Priests, Pastors or any such practitioners who claim to be able to perform miracles through the power of God to perform in the presence of scientists to test their claim. Any demonstration of such an appearance of God or God acting through a human agent and performing a miracle would falsify the theory that such a God does not exist. You can easily add the argument that the sciences of geology, cosmology, biology, and evolution have theoretical constructs that explain how nature works without the need of God. Adding God violates Occam's Razor because these theories do not require God to work and because adding God solves nothing since someone then needs to explain where God came from.
Probably the most disturbing element of this book is that Bateman argues against evolution being taught in American schools. He argues that scientists have caused the issue by making evolution an argument against God which has offended the religious. Bateman also questions natural selection as the designer of Earth's creatures concluding this to be as false as intelligent design. He totally misses the fact that America was formed as a secular state by design mostly by religious people and deists who wished to have religious freedom from institutionalized religion that was practiced in the most oppressive way in Europe. His equating the teaching of evolution in schools to the historic suppression human religious rights including the burning of infidels in Europe is pathetically ridiculous. He grants that intelligent design is based on religion so that cannot be taught in American schools without violation of the separation of church and state and would limit religious freedom because it would represent an institutionalized religious belief. His belief that evolution is too controversial to be accepted science is an extremely outlying view. Evolution is overwhelming accepted by scientists and the basic components of common ancestry, inheritance with modification and selective inheritance of advantageous traits are also generally accepted. There is still much debate on the specifics of evolutionary details and a new extended evolutionary synthesis maybe emerging that includes multilevel selection along with epigenetic inheritance. That is the way science works and is totally consistent with the ideas of Kuhn. I would argue that instead of scientists being responsible for the recent debate which has been quiet since the period of the Scopes trial, it is the evangelicals that are causing the fight by insisting creationism be taught in schools. Bateman raises the point himself that scientists are often able to draw a line between science and religion but religionists are not able to draw that line.
Bateman also argues that teaching evolution in high school has no benefit to students at that level. What a ridiculous point of view! My granddaughter is being taught about dinosaurs in pre-school. What are we going to tell her is the reason they no longer walk the Earth (they fly around instead) and mammals are the dominant large species? As a biochemist myself and having been a student of biology, zoology, physiology, chemistry and physics in high school I could not imagine teaching these while eliminating one the most important scientific theories of all time. You simply cannot learn zoology, biology or physiology without evolution. Evolution is science end of story. We teach science in our high schools because most students do not go beyond that level of education, those who do go beyond are often require knowledge of science. We do not need the kind of ignorance in the American public that Bateman approach would instill. The world of the future is going to be very much impacted by science, and the public needs to understand it! Granted the teaching of evolution should be careful, be limited to the science and not follow the missteps of Dawkins and Dennett. Sure some student may read something written by them and question their belief. Isn't that what is supposed to happen? Are you recommending suppressing these inconvenient scientific theories so that people can raise their children only according to their own beliefs? Isn't that just another level of oppressive coercion?
I have to rate this book a 1 and would go lower if I could. This book is not only wrong but it is just as misleading as books by the authors that Bateman criticizes.