Category Archives: History of science

People just will not quit with the “March of Progress”

I am now reading the article by or about Deepak Chopra and consciousness in the Hufington Gazette-News (whose name I may have put down incorrectly on purpose out of spite and bitterness) because I have now invested more than enough time in it, the product of which is this blog posting, and I am sure that whatever the article has to say is not anywhere near redeeming enough to compensate for the scientifically incorrect, openly racist image used to call attention to it, sometimes called the “March of Progress” image.

"Monkey" image

Ordinarily when talking about something I feel strongly about, I might say something like, “I don’t want to go into histrionics about …” the idea being that people will pick up on the sarcasm, and realize that the topic is something I really would go into histrionics about if I didn’t mind looking like an idiot not fit for civil society.

Here we see it in an abolitionist medallion IN A CLEARLY RACIAL SENSE.

In a previous post to the EE&O blog and a follow-up, in which I explain the significance of the two images above as well as others, I have already addressed this issue in what I think is a non-histrionic manner.

I can’t take it anymore, and I am afraid that I am going to embarrass myself. I don’t care. If I check the date and time on my Mac, which is set automatically by a query to the NIST official time in Colorado or somewhere similar, I find that it is indeed 2011. Moreover, whatever one may think of whether he is not liberal enough, radical enough, or is too liberal, or too radical, the President of the United States is a black man. This does represent at least a symbolic victory for the progress of Civil Rights and for healing the collective wounds caused by the Civil War. I think I that it’s reasonable to say that explicitly racist images and statements are at least frowned upon. I do not feel much hesitation over making  the assertions of this paragraph.

At the same time, even at this late date in human history, say, several hundred years after Newton published his “Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy” in which he sketched out empirical, experimental methods for use in science, and more than 150 years after many of Darwin’s hypotheses in the Origin of Species have been shown to be credible beyond the shadow of any reasonable doubt whatever, almost everyone everywhere, including professional scientists, makes the mistake of thinking that evolution is progressive, that species improve on one another according to some general, secular trend, and that human beings are in some way special, and represent the furthest advance made in the organic world, and that this is best represented by our most recent conquest, over “monkeys.” But this is precisely what is represented in the frequently observed “March of Progress” image showing some apparently more primitive human primate ancestor hunched over at the far left, and an upright, “fully evolved” human being at the right, with other primates in between, becoming more and more upright, their brows receding more and more, each “more evolved” than the primate to its left.

To be brief: the March of Progress image is SCIENTIFICALLY INDEFENSIBLE and OPENLY RACIST. If you want to use it, go ahead, but don’t then go claim that you are not engaging directly in racial hate speech, or that your thinking is in line with scientifically credible opinion today.

My final comment by way of a question is, What the $#%!! is wrong with you people!

Chance and Explanation in Evolutionary Biology

The page on this site at Philosophy > Chance and Explanation has been updated with the following:

  1. A brief essay describing my work in history and philosophy of science concerning chance and explanation in evolutionary biology.
  2. My PhD thesis. The abstract: The central claim for which I argue in this dissertation is that there are important phenomena that occur by random drift that evolutionary biologists explain using a strategy I term “process explanation.” This claim puts me at odds with an influential view about the nature of explanation that I term “Hempelianism.” Hempelianism is the view that the scientific explanation of a particular event E requires (a) showing that E was to be expected, or indicating the degree to which it would have been rational to expect E’s occurrence; and (b) laws of nature. My central claim entails that both (a) and (b) are false. A process explanation consists of a narrative describing events causally relevant to the event to be explained. These narratives need not contain laws, show that the event to explained ought to have been expected, or indicate the degree to which it would have been rational to expect the event. My position about random drift also puts me at odds with evolutionists who, influenced by Hempelianism, claim that only natural selection can explain evolution. In my argument, I articulate the strategy of process explanation and defend it against Hempelian critics; describe a mechanism of random drift known as “indiscriminate sampling;” and describe process explanations of phenomena of drift that occur by indiscriminate sampling.