Providence & Spandrel (was Re: meditation on St. Augustine)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at SPAMosu.edu
Fri Dec 22 22:35:13 MST 2000


George asks:

>i know why God gave us free will, but why a runny nose?
>
>my point is how to make sense of theological rationality. does
>everything have a purpose? what about teleology?

George's questions bring us to the subject of religion & science.  As
long as science does not relinquish the idea that "everything has a
purpose," science is no better than religion, for teleology smuggles
in Providence under the cover of the rhetoric of science.  Remember
Gould & Lewontin's spandrel?

*****   The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm:
A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme

Stephen Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin

Republished from the original with the kind permission of the Royal
Society of London: Gould, S. J. and Lewontin, R. C., "The Spandrels
of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the
Adaptationist Programme," Proceedings of the Royal Society of London,
Series B, Vol. 205, NO. 1161 (1979), PP. 581-598.

An adaptationist programme has dominated evolutionary thought in
England and the United States during the past forty years.  It is
based on faith in the power of natural selection as an optimizing
agent.  It proceeds by breaking an organism into unitary "traits" and
proposing an adaptive story for each considered separately.
Trade-offs among competing selective demands exert the only brake
upon perfection; nonoptimality is thereby rendered as a result of
adaptation as well.  We criticize this approach and attempt to
reassert a competing notion (long popular in continental Europe) that
organisms must be analyzed as integrated wholes, with Baupläne so
constrained by phyletic heritage, pathways of development, and
general architecture that the constraints themselves become more
interesting and more important in delimiting pathways of change than
the selective force that may mediate change when it occurs.  We fault
the adaptationist programme for its failure to distinguish current
utility from reasons for origin (male tyrannosaurs may have used
their diminutive front legs to titillate female partners, but this
will not explain why they got so small); for its unwillingness to
consider alternatives to adaptive stories; for its reliance upon
plausibility alone as a criterion for accepting speculative tales;
and for its failure to consider adequately such competing themes as
random fixation of alleles, production of nonadaptive structures by
developmental correlation with selected features (allometry,
pleiotropy, material compensation, mechanically forced correlation),
the separability of adaptation and selection, multiple adaptive
peaks, and current utility as an epiphenomenon of nonadaptive
structures.  We support Darwin's own pluralistic approach to
identifying the agents of evolutionary change.....

[The entire article is available at
<http://www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/dbsr/EVOLUT/SPANDREL.htm>.]   *****

Yoshie





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