Francisco Jose Ayala: Darwin’s Gift: To Science and Religion

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With the publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin established evolution by common descent as the dominant scientific explanation for nature s diversity. This was to be his gift to science and society at last, we had an explanation for how life came to be on Earth.

Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the earth, its revolution around the sun, and the molecular composition of matter. That evolution has occurred, in other words, is a fact.

Yet as we approach the bicentennial celebration of Darwin s birth, the world finds itself divided over the truth of evolutionary theory. Consistently endorsed as good science by experts and overwhelmingly accepted as fact by the scientific community, it is not always accepted by the public and our schools continue to be battlegrounds for this conflict. From the Tennessee trial of a biology teacher who dared to teach Darwin s theory to his students in 1925 to Tammy Kitzmiller s 2005 battle to keep intelligent design out of the Dover district schools in Pennsylvania, it s clear that we need to cut through the propaganda to quell the cacophony of raging debate.

With the publication of Darwin s Gift, a voice at once fresh and familiar brings a rational, measured perspective to the science of evolution. An acclaimed evolutionary biologist with a background in theology, Francisco Ayala offers clear explanations of the science, reviews the history that led us to ratify Darwin s theories, and ultimately provides a clear path for a confused and conflicted public.

Order your copy at The National Academies Press (PDF available!!)

Starred Review. Taking a more pacific tone than Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett in this marvelous little book, Ayala, a UC-Irvine biologist and member of the National Academy of Sciences, offers a way to reconcile religion and science on the issue of evolution. He is uniquely well suited to address this: before becoming an evolutionary biologist, he trained for the Catholic priesthood. According to Ayala, Darwin provides both a clear understanding of the nature of the physical world and an explanation for its flaws that takes the onus for them off of God. Natural selection gives scientists an eminently plausible and verifiable explanation of the shape species and members of those species have taken over millions of years. For religious believers, evolution offers an explanation for the flawed designs such as the too narrow human birth canal and our badly designed jawbone ”that might call into question the work of a benevolent designer. Ayala points out that science and religion perform different roles in human understanding: science offers a way of knowing the material world, but matters of value and meaning ”the core of religion are outside of the scope of scientific investigation. This elegant book provides the single best introduction to Darwin and the development of evolutionary biology now available.

Read more of Ayala

Francisco J. Ayala. 2003. €œIntelligent Design: The Original Version.€ Theology and Science 1:9-32.

Ayala At the MetaLibrary

I advance three propositions. The first is that Darwin’s most significant intellectual contribution is that he brought the origin and diversity of organisms into the realm of science. The Copernican Revolution consisted in a commitment to the postulate that the universe is governed by natural laws that account for natural phenomena. Darwin completed the Copernican Revolution by extending that commitment to the living world.

The second proposition is that natural selection is a creative process that can account for the appearance of genuine novelty. How natural selection creates is shown with a simple example and clarified with two analogies, artistic creation and the “typing monkeys,” with which it shares important similarities and differences. The creative power of natural selection arises from a distinctive interaction between chance and necessity, or between random and deterministic processes.

The third proposition is that teleological explanations are necessary in order to give a full account of the attributes of living organisms, whereas they are neither necessary nor appropriate in the explanation of natural inanimate phenomena. I give a definition of teleology and clarify the matter by distinguishing between internal and external teleology, and between bounded and unbounded teleology. The human eye, so obviously constituted for seeing but resulting from a natural process, is an example of internal (or natural) teleology. A knife has external (or artificial) teleology, because it has been purposefully designed by an external agent. The development of an egg into a chicken is an example of bounded (or necessary) teleology, whereas the evolutionary origin of the mammals is a case of unbounded (or contingent) teleology, because there was nothing in the make up of the first living cells that necessitated the eventual appearance of mammals.

I conclude that Darwin’s theory of evolution and explanation of design does not include or exclude considerations of divine action in the world any more than astronomy, geology, physics, or chemistry do.

Ayala will speak on November 17th at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach CA.

Part 1: Darwin’s Greatest Discovery ”Design without Designer Darwin’s discovery of natural selection provides a scientific explanation of the design of organisms. Natural selection also explains why organisms change over eons of time and diversify as they adapt to environments that are enormously diverse. Ayala will speak about how natural selection is Darwin’s gift to religion, because the imperfections and cruelties of the living world need not be attributed to the Creator, but are the result of natural processes. Dr. Ayala will also discuss the evidence and arguments of Intelligent Design and explore how an understanding of evolution is indispensable for establishing sustainable relationships with the natural environment.

Part 2: Adaptation, Natural Selection, and Biodiversity The process of natural selection is grounded on genetic change; depends on spontaneous mutations; is opportunistic, that is, modulated by the past history of organisms and the demands of the environment; and is creative, so that it gives rise to genuine novelty and wondrous diversity, organisms with features designed for specific ways of life. The fauna and flora of the Hawaiian Islands illustrate these dominant features of natural selection.

Dembski is not amused by Ayala mistaking him for a sociologist, can we blame Ayala for this obvious mistake?

But Darwin’s precise gift comes off as a bit more ambiguous. While explaining the science of Darwinism, Ayala repeatedly uses it as a bludgeon to whack around the tenets of intelligent design. “I couldn’t find many saving graces in ID,he assures us by way of understatement, and then goes on to dissect the duplicity of ID proponents such as Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson and the sociologist William Dembski. As an intellectual exercise, the deployment of Darwinism to do away with creationism is akin to showing off a steamroller’™s power by rolling over a doodle bug. But Darwinism is not a steamroller. It’s a humanistic view of life rooted in scientifically verifiable principles. And what’™s really the point of squashing a doodle bug when there are larger beasts with which to do battle ”like God

Ducking the God Question James McWilliams.

25 Comments

The ‘continue reading’ button gives me a Syntax error messsage.

Sorry for the problems in markup but Movable Type does not seem to like me…

the correct URL for: “Francisco J. Ayala. 2003. Intelligent Design: The Original Version. Theology and Science 1:9-32.”

is the following:

http://www.ctnsstars.org/conference[…]reprint1.pdf

Dembski points out what’s wrong with Ayala’s book at the following location:

http://www.designinference.com/docu[…]_Village.pdf

Here’s one snippet, sort of an appetizer:

“(Ayala’s) chief theological argument against ID, that it makes the theodicy problem irresolvable, founders once one sees how his proposed resolution of that problem via Darwinian evolution, encounters exactly the same difficulties that he attributes to ID.”

FL

Ayala makes three leaps that I think are unwarranted.

First, Ayala accepts a dictionary definition of teleology which refers to “design, purpose, or utility” without including a reference to a description of the agent which is designer, purposer or utilizer. This is the IDC mistake, which as we know leads to “the vacuity of ID” as PvM frequently puts it.

Second, the above leap makes it possible for Ayala to leap to the statement that the system that evolution developed on a population has a reference to the “design, purpose, or utility” of the individual organism.

Third, evolution as a process doesn’t select for “design, purpose, or utility”. It selects for non-function, ie it rejects organisms that doesn’t procreate. Rejecting non-function is the reverse of accepting function, and it is decidedly not ‘seeking’ a function. Functional variation, which is selected on, is independent of the needs of the population. Also, we can observe that it isn’t ‘seeking’ as optimum fitness isn’t observed, decidedly so for rapidly developing quasispecies of viruses.

For reason best known to himself, Ayala presents a confusing mishmash between levels of processes and their outcome, and ultimately of the rather simple and naive concept of teleology.

AFAIK philosopher John Wilkins short and powerful description of teleology, teleonomy, teleomatic and adapted systems on Talk Origins is still the best exposition available. (Though I don’t agree with all of it either.)

I often find the Meta-Library (as well as Metanexus Institute) texts exasperating. But then the Counterbalance Foundation is an apologetics organization which accepts texts from various creationists, including IDCers such as Dembski and Behe.

Um, I just realized that I was engaging in the fallacy called “poisoning the well”. My intention was to explain why the site(s) often leaves me exasperated and why some texts are of dubious quality. Also, I vented of course.

The fallacy was, I hope, unintentional.

Larsson Wrote:

First, Ayala accepts a dictionary definition of teleology which refers to “design, purpose, or utility” without including a reference to a description of the agent which is designer, purposer or utilizer. This is the IDC mistake, which as we know leads to “the vacuity of ID” as PvM frequently puts it.

Only if one is unwilling to address who or what is the ‘designer’. Ayala is clear that the teleology or function we see in nature can be very well explained by science and the designer is evolution.

Second, the above leap makes it possible for Ayala to leap to the statement that the system that evolution developed on a population has a reference to the “design, purpose, or utility” of the individual organism.

Nothing new here really, Ruse and others have come to a very similar conclusion. In fact, this is the argument made by Allen MacNeill

Allen Wrote:

Ruse/Darwin and Design (plus papers on teleology in biology by Ayala, Mayr, and Nagel): Both ID supporters and evolution supporters quickly agreed that all of these authors make a convincing case for the legitimacy of inferring teleology (or what Mayr and others call “teleonomy”) in evolutionary adaptations. That is, adaptations can legitimately be said to have “functions,” and that the genomes of organisms constitute “designs” for their actualization, which is accomplished via organisms’ developmental biology interacting with their environments.

Source

Third, evolution as a process doesn’t select for “design, purpose, or utility”. It selects for non-function, ie it rejects organisms that doesn’t procreate. Rejecting non-function is the reverse of accepting function, and it is decidedly not ‘seeking’ a function. Functional variation, which is selected on, is independent of the needs of the population. Also, we can observe that it isn’t ‘seeking’ as optimum fitness isn’t observed, decidedly so for rapidly developing quasispecies of viruses.

It is not seeking a function, it is seeking function. It seems to me that you are misunderstanding Ayala’s arguments here. In fact, Ayala argues that teleology in nature is an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes which include selection, as they appear to be directed towards certain ends. Is it not surprising that Dembski argues that function is a sufficient specification to infer specified complexity? And yet function is an inevitable outcome of evolutionary processes.

I thought Ayala’s book is fantastic, and I must say that I don’t think it is fair (in response to another commenter) to classify Metanexus as an apologetics organization. It clearly is dedicated to theological discussion within a certain framework, and that may leave those who are not interested in theology feeling sidelined. But it certainly is not advocating a particular narrow ideology like YEC or ID, and is fostering genuine discussions between theologians of different viewpoints, as well as between those theologians and scientists.

Since I’ve gone on about this side issue, I won’t say more about Ayala’s book. I have a review of it (and of Behe’s book along side it) at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.[…]-god-do.html

Dembski points out what’s wrong with Ayala’s book at the following location:

You mean Dembski attempts to show what is wrong with Ayala’s book. Interestingly he is using the concept of theodicy nor science to argue against it. Which is of course appropriate when it comes to ID creationism.

Natural selection is Darwin’s gift to religion, because it solves the theodicy problem, why the imperfections and cruelties of the living world need not be attributed to the Creator, but are the result of natural processes. Evolution (more generally, science) is not incompatible with religion. Indeed, science and religion cannot be incompatible, because they concern nonoverlapping domains of knowledge. Science is a very successful way of acquiring knowledge, but it is not the only way. We acquire knowledge about the nature of the world, about values, and about the meaning and purpose of life and the universe from other sources of knowledge, which include literature, art, philosophy, and religion.

Dembski’s complaint is that Ayala’s solution is ‘simplistic’ and ‘inadequate’. I see nothing wrong with ‘simplistic’ and ‘digging holes’. It is ironic how these holes is where ID finds its home… Dembski’s arguments fully miss the point, but it is fascinating to me how he focuses on the theological aspects not the scientific aspects of Ayala’s work.

Dembski is no match for Ayala, for one simple fact, Ayala accepts the science, Dembski has to deny the science. Thanks to FL for pointing us to this review.

“Third, evolution as a process doesn’t select for “design, purpose, or utility”. It selects for non-function, ie it rejects organisms that doesn’t procreate.”

It also ‘accepts’ organisms that do. And, what is more, it ‘accepts’ some organisms more than others, in that some organisms that reproduce produce more offspring than others that also do reproduce. That argues that natural selection can at least as well be seen as ‘accepting’ function as rejecting non-function. Afterall, non-rejection doesn’t come in degrees, while acceptance does.

First, Ayala accepts a dictionary definition of teleology which refers to “design, purpose, or utility” without including a reference to a description of the agent which is designer, purposer or utilizer. This is the IDC mistake, which as we know leads to “the vacuity of ID” as PvM frequently puts it.

Ayala is not saying that evolution is a teleological process, he’s saying that evolution is a process that tends to result in things that have teleology. This is roughly the external vs internal teleology distinction. As Wilkins points out, the more exactly termed teleonomy and teleomatic are “sometimes called” teleology - meaning the legitimate kind, internal teleology.

PvM:

PvM Wrote:

Ayala is clear that the teleology or function we see in nature can be very well explained by science and the designer is evolution.

Are we reading the same text?

PvM Wrote:
Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

Second, the above leap makes it possible for Ayala to leap to the statement that the system that evolution developed on a population has a reference to the “design, purpose, or utility” of the individual organism.

Nothing new here really, Ruse and others have come to a very similar conclusion.

Yes, we are. So you make the same leap as Ayala, and haven’t engaged my argument. Instead you repeat Ayala’s argument.

What is it about the three leaps I identified you don’t understand? Wouldn’t you agree that we must identify “design, purpose, or utility” for a process and a description of the agent which is designer, purposer or utilizer for the process before we claim that we have observed teleology?

And why is Wilkins description of adaptive systems and their relation to teleology unsatisfying?

James McGrath:

James McGrath Wrote:

I must say that I don’t think it is fair (in response to another commenter) to classify Metanexus as an apologetics organization

I didn’t explicitly do so. But yes, it is engaged in trying to reconcile two irreconcilable world views, to “promote transdisciplinary research into profound questions of human meaning and purpose”. I don’t see “human meaning and purpose” on the scientific agenda.

But of course I’m mostly exasperated by individual texts.

Mike from Ottawa:

Mike from Ottawa Wrote:

it ‘accepts’ some organisms more than others, in that some organisms that reproduce produce more offspring than others that also do reproduce.

Hmm. I was thinking in terms of fixation of alleles. Randomness in fixation is part of the process. (And makes both death and reproduction be about “more” or less.)

But perhaps there is also the question of how breeding capacity is affected by the interplay of alleles and how that ends up affecting selection.

If we start to think of such contingencies I think we will find that non-acceptance also comes in degrees, not all individuals that ‘should’ die with a less fit allele will die because of allele interactions. (And randomness in fixation.)

But really, I was trying to point out that the interpretation is symmetric. But it turns out that ‘design’ is symmetric with respect to function as well. hoary puccon on another thread just reminded me that creativeness could as well be elimination. (His analogy: “Michelangelo created his David just by removing some rock that was already there”.) Alleles can both add and block function. So my minor point is void and null, I’m afraid.

windy:

Ayala quite clearly claims that biology demands teleology:

Ayala Wrote:

The third proposition is that teleological explanations are necessary in order to give a full account of the attributes of living organisms,

While Wilkins makes an effort to separate out teleological systems from the larger set of teleonomic systems and larger yet of teleomatic systems. (And how adapted systems overlap.) See his figure.

I know that his description of end-seeking and end-direction (which I don’t agree with, as processes or functions don’t seek goals, they progress to them) is the same as Ayala’s. But he doesn’t use them as Ayala do in his examples. In fact, Wilkins notes:

Wilkins Wrote:

What’s more, the view called teleology has been dropped by biologists: explanations of what something is for don’t say that they are there in order to achieve an end result. It is enough that they are the result of selection.

Wilkins Wrote:

In evolution, the question ‘why do organisms exhibit adaptation?’ is not answered teleologically with ‘in order to survive’, but historically - ‘because those that were less adaptive didn’t survive’. However, some forms of teleology are still used, on the understanding that they reduce to historical explanations.

Further, the description where Wilkins attribute teleonomy is not on an individual level, but on a population level (“genetic programs”).

Maybe I’m overly critical because of Ayala’s resulting use of terminology. But I see these jumps in Ayala’s logic and the problems with his description that I don’t see in Wilkins. And he is quite clear that these are convenience (historical) descriptions.

Are we reading the same text?

I assume so.

Yes, we are. So you make the same leap as Ayala, and haven’t engaged my argument. Instead you repeat Ayala’s argument.

Are you sure you read the text?

What is it about the three leaps I identified you don’t understand? Wouldn’t you agree that we must identify “design, purpose, or utility” for a process and a description of the agent which is designer, purposer or utilizer for the process before we claim that we have observed teleology?

It’s called function and the appearance of teleology. Ayala’s argument is hardly that unique here.

And why is Wilkins description of adaptive systems and their relation to teleology unsatisfying?

Not my argument, I am trying to figure out how you reached you conclusions about what ayala wrote.

Instead of quote mining Ayala, why not read what he wrote and understand how he interprets teleology. Internal teleology versus external teleology (purposefully designed by an external agent).

The third proposition is that teleological explanations are necessary in order to give a full account of the attributes of living organisms, whereas they are neither necessary nor appropriate in the explanation of natural inanimate phenomena. I give a definition of teleology and clarify the matter by distinguishing between internal and external teleology, and between bounded and unbounded teleology. The human eye, so obviously constituted for seeing but resulting from a natural process, is an example of internal (or natural) teleology. A knife has external (or artificial) teleology, because it has been purposefully designed by an external agent. The development of an egg into a chicken is an example of bounded (or necessary) teleology, whereas the evolutionary origin of the mammals is a case of unbounded (or contingent) teleology, because there was nothing in the make up of the first living cells that necessitated the eventual appearance of mammals.

Perhaps you need to first understand how these two people, Ayala vs Wilkins use the terminology. In fact, Ayala, historically seems to be proceeding where others have gone before him to argue much of the same. Perhaps dropping the term teleology helps avoid the confusion witnessed here and it would make it easier to avoid the conflation of terminology used by the ID movement but understanding the history of these arguments is what is important to understand the arguments. Check out Mayr for instance

“No other ancient philosopher has been as badly misunderstood and mishandled by posterity as Aristotle. His interests were primarily those of a biologist and his philosophy is bound to be misunderstood if this fact is ignored. Neither Aristotle nor most of the other ancient philosophers made a sharp distinction between the living world and the inanimate. They saw something like life or soul even in the inorganic world. If one can discern purposiveness and goal direction in the world of organisms, why not regard the order of the Kosmos as a whole as also due to final causes, that is, as due to a built-in teleology? As Ayala (1970) said quite rightly, Aristotle’s ‘error was not that he used teleological explanations in biology, but that he extended them to the non-living world.’ Unfortunately, it was this latter teleology that was first encountered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and at that in the badly distorted interpretations of the scholastics). This is one of the reasons for the violent rejection of Aristotle by Bacon, Descartes, and their followers.

I also like Ruse who argues that teleology is an inevitable outcome of the processes of evolution and its constraints.

See also Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA Review

“Third, evolution as a process doesn’t select for “design, purpose, or utility”. It selects for non-function, ie it rejects organisms that doesn’t procreate.”

It also ‘accepts’ organisms that do. And, what is more, it ‘accepts’ some organisms more than others, in that some organisms that reproduce produce more offspring than others that also do reproduce. That argues that natural selection can at least as well be seen as ‘accepting’ function as rejecting non-function. Afterall, non-rejection doesn’t come in degrees, while acceptance does.

TL: Ayala quite clearly claims that biology demands teleology

Yep, the internal kind. Wilkins points out that the whole area covered by his more accurate tele-concepts is often referred to as teleology. Mayr’s classification may not be universally used.

PvM: I also like Ruse who argues that teleology is an inevitable outcome of the processes of evolution and its constraints.

Interesting, one can disagree with Ruse of course, but it sounds very similar to the case of IC. An analogy would be if Ayala had been talking about how evolution explains IC in the Mullerian sense (interlocking complexity): you can legitimately disagree and suggest that perhaps we should use some other term, but it’s not the vacuous type of IC argument that we’ve all grown so familiar with recently.

Has anyone ever connected “neoteny” with the fact that human beings are born too soon and must be taught by their mother/father about their world. What happens to the offspring when the parents are not adeuqate both emotionally and psychologically in raising them? I believe psychology tells us the offspring inherits or is imprinted with this “introject” or flawed perspectives on the world, with less than adequate love and caring and the offspring carries that eternal need within it. The offspring is never quite itself, and goes through life with depressed or call it what you will, “evil” parts imposed upon it always struggling to recover its own true self.……

Has anyone ever connected “neoteny” with the fact that human beings are born too soon

Too soon?? As I understand it newborns barely fit through the opening when being born as it is (and sometimes they don’t fit), and you think they should be bigger at birth?

Henry

Returning to an old thread:

PvM:

It’s called function and the appearance of teleology. Ayala’s argument is hardly that unique here.

You still doesn’t answer my criticism. But you seem to suggest that Ayala is a Paleyist/ID creationist.

For the remainder of your comment: No, I don’t think the history of the argument is important for understanding it. I think the content is.

Mike from Ottawa:

As I said, my point is already void as both interpretation of selection and ‘design’ are symmetric.

windy:

Wilkins points out that the whole area covered by his more accurate tele-concepts is often referred to as teleology.

And then he shows that adaption is independent of them, as it is an historical description.

Has anyone ever connected “neoteny” with the fact that human beings are born too soon and must be taught by their mother/father about their world.

Ashley Montagu, in his book “Neoteny”, says that human gestation is 18 months long, 9 in the womb and 9 outside.

Too soon?? As I understand it newborns barely fit through the opening when being born as it is (and sometimes they don’t fit), and you think they should be bigger at birth?

Uh, pat baker didn’t indicate any such thought. Humans are born “too soon” in the sense that they are very immature when born. Most mammals can move on their own shortly after birth, but it takes human infants many months.

Oh, then he was really referring to born with some abilities already developed, rather than to the amount of time involved? Still, I’m not sure how humans would have additional abilities at birth without it involving additional growth in the womb - which goes back to getting it to fit through the opening.

Also I wonder if having abilities at birth like some animals do might be incompatible with having the ability to learn a lot of other stuff after birth, the way humans do?

Henry

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by PvM published on September 26, 2007 10:50 PM.

Impact killed the pleistocene megafauna? was the previous entry in this blog.

In the Light of Evolution I: Adaptation and Complex Design is the next entry in this blog.

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