Zoonomia, by Erasmus Darwin: Review

I have read two texts published only 50 years apart, and experienced passing from the science of our time into the science of the previous age, and it’s been exhilarating. I began with “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation” written by Robert Chambers and published in 1844 (see my review in the "forum"), perhaps the first attempt by a professional science writer to summarize all scientific knowledge for the informed public. Now I have read “Zoonomia” published in 1794, written by Erasmus Darwin, Charles’ grandfather. Between the two, science fell into the order we are familiar with today. Here's a sample from Zoonomia:

Laying the ground for natural selection: “Every individual tree produces innumerable seeds, and every individual fish innumerable spawn, in such inconceivable abundance as would in a short space of time crowds the earth and ocean with inhabitants…. This arguments only shews, that the productions of nature are governed by general laws…” How much more of a clue could young Charles have had!

I heartily recommend reading first “Vestigies of the Natural History of Creation,” edition 11 or later if you can find it, and then “Zoonomia.” A lot of our present mentality got created in the intervening half century. Here's my review of Zoonomia.

What needs to be accounted for

I've concluded that no two anti-darwinists agree about what it is darwinism fails to account for. Come to that, darwinists may not agree with one another either. So I've compiled a list of what I think a theory of evolution should account for. Just such a list, in fact, may best reveal the inadequacies of darwinism. The list...

Why modern synthesis can't work

Writing on a friend's blog I came up with the following very simple account of why the modern synthesis couldn't work. I repeat it here.

Genetic mutation involves damage to genes. Damage to genes, left unrepaired, will impair a species’ performance, and as that damage accumulates generation by generation it will eventually lead to extinction. A species that repairs all damage to its genes will do better than one that doesn’t. And sure enough a very efficient gene-mutation repair process has evolved.

Now suppose someone points out it’s theoretically possible for damage to a gene to very occasionally result in an improvement, and that occasional improvements like that will offset all the harm the rest of the damage has caused, and that’s what drives evolution.

Crazy, right? But that’s exactly the basis of the modern synthesis. It’s what all evolutionists believe. It’s given as the mechanism of evolution in the National Academy of Science 80-page book for teachers, arrived at by a committee of 14 eminent experts. I've clocked 6000 visits to a page on this site making that argument and only this week had a reply--thanks Dan--and he gives me qualified support.

Arguments for free will

I believe I have free will. That is, I believe thought and action can originate in consciousness.  Here are my latest arguments in favor:

If your best judgment is that everything is determined while mine is that we have free will, one of us must be wrong. That means there isn’t a single determined path for arriving at this judgment that everyone is bound to follow. In fact, since the path one of us took was faulty the path the other took could be faulty too, even if by chance one of us arrived at the truth. That means we can’t know whether or not we have free will. But, through the placebo effect, belief in free will is likely to induce us to make greater effort in our favor, leading to more frequent success. Belief in free will is therefore preferable.

I can't separate consciousness and the experience of having free will--of being able to generate conscious thoughts and through them to initiate physical actions. When I wake I often recall having this experience in my dreams. If this is an evolved capability, then the experience of conscious volition must have sufficient impact on the physical world for it to evolve. If this is true of the experience of conscious volition while dreaming, we've no logic for assuming it can't have a similar effect while we're awake.

Darwinism's fallacies should tell against it

Our experience of successive scientific discoveries first appearing counterintuitive has prepared us to take darwinism’s counterintuitiveness as an indication of its truth, when in fact it should perhaps warn us darwinism is false. In this article I take the claims behind darwinism, one by one, and lay out the fallacies I see behind them.

"Patterns of connection"--Gregory Bateson

From Gregory Bateson's "Mind and nature: A Necessary Unity" I picked up the term "patterns of connection." For me, now, patterns of connection are what distinguish life from non-life. Chemical phenomena may exhibit scattered patterns of connection, but they are seldom embedded in other patterns of connection as is typical of life. Patterns of connection are found in both human minds and evolution. Patterns of connection are the very substance of life. Life consists of matter, and patterns of connection. That seems the essence of what life consists of. [Note: this article has the form of a book review but is posted in the section "Modern Outsiders" for its value in guiding non-darwinian thinking about evolution.] More...