Thursday, March 16, 2006


Darwinism Design and Purpose: A European Perspective

Paper Title: Darwinism Design and Purpose: A European Perspective
Author: Jean Staune
Institutional Affiliation: General Secretary, Université Interdiciplinare de Paris
(This paper was prepared for "Science and Religion: Global Perspectives" June 4-8,
2005, in Philedelphia, PA, USA , a program of the Metanexus Institute


In the USA 'Issues in Biology and Religion' usually implies a debate between neo- Darwinians and Creationists or, more recently, the Intelligent Design movement. In Europe, however, the situation is somewhat different since no one really believes in creationism anymore and Intelligent Design is unheard of. Consequently the debate is completely different. It is a debate between evolutionists. The first debate is between 'Classical Darwinians' and scientists like Christian de Duve (Belgian Nobel Laureate for Medicine) or Simon Conway Morris (UK Paleontologist based at Cambridge) and is about the reproducibility of evolution. Presenting an alternative view from Gould for whom contingence rules supreme in the processes of evolution, de Duve and Conway Morris postulate that if you 'run' evolution again on a planet with more-or-less the same conditions as you find on Earth the result will be more-or-less the same. More specifically it will lead to intelligent beings that resemble us. They accept that there are no other forces that act on evolution than Darwinian mechanisms (random mutations and natural selection) but they show evidence that chance is channeled by the laws of nature. If you play dice for a very long time you can be sure that a very special result will certainly occur.

The second debate is between classical neo-Darwinians and non-Darwinians i.e. scientists that claim that Darwinian mechanisms are not the main forces driving evolution. There are in France, Italy and England two main schools of thinking in this area. One believes that there is a goal in the process of evolution and so randomness is just apparent, not real, in the mechanism of evolution. At a much deeper level evolution is more or less predictable because it has a purpose. The other supports the idea of self-organization, autopoeisis and emergence. For them these concepts are just as important, if not more important than Darwinian concepts in our understanding of evolution. In our first part we will describe these debates and the main scientists whose positions differ from the classical non-Darwinian one, but who are, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, evolutionists. It is of special interest for an American audience because it will show how the debate is much wider in this field than the narrow controversies between Darwinians on one hand and 'crazy creationists' or the proponents of Intelligent Design on the other.

It could be very surprising and interesting for an American audience to discover that there are non-Darwinian scientists who claim they support evolution more strongly than Darwinians! The reason is epistemological: Teilhard supporters who form the majority of non-Darwinian scientists in Europe, claim that the existence of purpose and directionality is better evidence for the reality of evolution than any demonstration using Darwinian concepts.

To conclude we will ask a question of a scientific and epistemological nature, namely: is there a way of applying, in evolutionary biology, the concepts that have appeared in other areas or research and which show the limitations of our capacity to understand reality e.g. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle or Godel's theorem of incompleteness? If so then what concept of evolution can this lead us to?

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