This post continues the discussion on Tim’s post The Ludicrous Claims of Evolution! Why not ESP?
In comments on Tim’s post, Terry (who is both an Evolutionist and an Objectivist) says
a camera is NOT an eye (nor is an audio recorder an ear, etc). A camera is a piece of equipment used to record images, whereas an eye is an organ of sight. The former mimics the functions of the latter, but apart from that they are worlds apart.
simply because human technology [has] been built so as to mimic certain biological functions does not justify grounds for claiming that the reverse applies and that biology can therefore ‘possibly’ mimic human inventions via the process of evolution. … Evolution is not a creative process – it is an entirely responsive process, which means that new functionality only develops and is maintained in response to the need to survive.
Terry has just committed Objectivism’s “stolen concept” fallacy and violated a fundamental tenet of Evolutionism! Doubleplusungood!
According to Evolutionism, there are no biological functions. The eye, for example, is an organ of sight, but the eye has no purpose. Its function is not to see. It has no function.
According to Evolutionism, there are no biological malfunctions, either. A blind eye, by definition, is not an organ of sight. A blind eye has not malfunctioned, because there is nothing it is supposed to do. An eye has no purpose to be fit for.
If it’s the case that the eye was designed for a purpose, as Creationists claim, then we can say that the function of the eye is to see, and that there is something wrong with an eye that does not see. It ain’t doing what it’s supposed to do, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. But Evolutionism is quite explicit that no biological organ is designed for any purpose. As Dawkins says
Biology is the study of complicated things which give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose
and, as Terry himself puts it, “Evolution is not a creative process – it is an entirely responsive process.”
Evolution according to Evolutionists is a blind, stochastic process. Any appearance of design, purpose or function is just an appearance. The reason that we have eyes that see is simply because having eyes that see helped our ancestors to survive. But eyes do not, in virtue of their evolutionary history, ever acquire a purpose or a proper function.
All talk of biological functions is pre-Darwinian. Consistent Evolutionists should not talk of biological functions. If they do, they must explain that their use of the word ‘function’ is just shorthand for facts about an organism’s evolutionary history. If they don’t, they are guilty of Ayn Rand’s stolen concept fallacy.
The “stolen concept” fallacy, first identified by Ayn Rand, is the fallacy of using a concept while denying the validity of its genetic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept(s) on which it logically depends.
The concepts of ‘function’ and ‘purpose’ logically depend on the concept of a Creator. They are pre-Darwinian. Evolutionists have no right to use them.
27 thoughts on “You’re no fun(ction) any more”
>>”According to Evolutionism, there are no biological functions. ”
Not true, Richard.
I agree with you only that there is no ‘purpose’ in evolutionism and that the word ‘purpose’, which infers an intended design, i.e. consciousness, should not be used in respect of evolutionism (at least not without proper clarifying remarks added). And I did not use that word – you did. So your whole post is a straw man.
It is perfectly legitimate to use the word ‘function’ though.
The dictionary definition of the word function in respect of biology (I.e. in the correct sense of the term – you do remember that context is indispensable in arriving at knowledge, right?) is “The physiological activity of an organ or body part” [The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition ]
>>”Evolution according to Evolutionists is a blind, stochastic process. ”
Not according to this evolutionist. A ‘stochastic process’ involves chance or probability. Here you beg the question that a certain non-Objective interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is accepted as true. I reject the idea that probability is a metaphysical concept, and I reject, like Einstein did, the idea that “God rolls dice”. What shapes the function of things is the Law of Identity, not randomness. The Law of Identity is anything but random!
I didn’t want to mention it in the other thread but “need” is also at odds with the theory of evolution.
What is the function of a blind man’s eyes?
Yes, that’s right. Stochastic just means random, involving chance or probability.
Nothing is ‘random’, except in the sense of our lack of understanding of something’s identity. Metaphysically, ‘random’ is an anti-concept. Nothing acts randomly. ‘Random’ is concept that pertains to epistemology. Everything in reality acts in accordance with it’s identity. That makes evolution and mutation anything but random.
I never said that mutations supply what an organism needs to survive. Mutations result in what life needs to remain in existence. Each and every organism that exists, has every existed, and that will ever exist, is a form and expression of life. The attribute ‘life’, needs certain conditions to exist and to continue to exist, and the law of identity causes all living things to act in a way consistent with their identity so as to perpetuate life. Human beings, with their identity including free will, makes us one of the only species able to override the biological impulses that are inherent in us.
So you deny that mutations are random?
In the metaphysical sense, yes. “Random” is an epistemological concept.
How is this relevant to the post?
“Natural selection by random mutation” is textbook stuff.
It’s relevant because it is a false presumption. The textbooks are wrong, plain and simple. They are wrong because the people who wrote them do not understand the concept ‘random’, or if they do, then they have not made it clear that in using the term the concept it pertains to relates to knowledge about the actions of things, not to the actions things themselves. Like the ‘zero’, ‘random’ should not be reified. To reify either is to commit a logical error.
“What is the function of a blind man’s eyes?”
Oh dear! Are you really saying that occasional defects in a body organ are evidence that the organ in general has no function?
Your jejune semantic quibbles and confusions (e.g. confusing purpose and function) suggest that your knowledge of evolution is from unreliable sources and ignorant of the actual evidence (e.g. the biogeography of species) which led scientists to rapidly accept evolution in Darwin’s lifetime, even though evolutionary theory at that time lacked a satisfactory mechanism explaining the transmission of favorable characteristics.
Evolution occurs because there is genetic variation. Some variants are fitter than others. Natural selection is survival of the fittest. Genetic variation arises because of mutations. These mutations are “random”.
I don’t see a problem here.
What is the function of a blind man’s eyes?
From your FB thread: >>”According to Evolutionism, no bats have malfunctioning eyes. Their eyes have no purpose.”
If ‘function’ is taken to mean “The physiological activity of an organ or body part” per the *biological* sense of the word in the dictionary, and ‘malfunction’ is taken to mean “to fail to function”, one can readily see that there is no incompatibility between evolution and ‘malfunctioning eyes’. A malfunction of any organ or body part is simply that organ or body part not performing the physiological activity *that serves the organism’s life* and that it would otherwise be capable of performing were not malfunctioning. We know that it would otherwise be capable of performing the physiological function because we are able to refer to other organisms with the same ‘functioning’ organs or body parts.
‘Purpose’ should only ever be used as a metonym when referring to evolution.
I’m saying, are you going to answer the question?
What is the function of a blind man’s eyes?
Sounds like a purpose to me. I’ve heard the expression “serves a purpose” but I’ve never heard the expression “serves a life”.
You said before that
Therefore, the function of a blind man’s eyes is not to see, since his eyes do not have that particular physiological activity.
Do you now resile from the above definition?
>>”These mutations are “random”.”
From your non-omniscient perspective they appear random, In reality, they are anything but random. They are the result of the Law of Identity and the Law of Causality. Refer my comment above about the error of reifying ‘random’.
>>”What is the function of a blind man’s eyes?”
What is the function of a dead animal?
Functionality has but one function: to serve life. When any function is lost, like with the loss of any life, it is lost/gone/no longer exists.
>>”Sounds like a purpose to me. I’ve heard the expression “serves a purpose” but I’ve never heard the expression “serves a life”.”
It is ‘purpose’ only by way of metonymy. There is no purpose to the universe. Nor to life itself. The concept ‘purpose’ only has meaning in the context of life.
Clearly, a blind man’s eyes are non-functional, that is, they are failing to perform in this particular case the physiological activities eyes normally perform.
I quite fail to see the relevance of this.
I haven’t confused purpose and function. Function, purpose and design are related teleological notions. Here’s an excerpt from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
I’m arguing that teleological notions are a distinctive and ineliminable feature of biological explanations but that it is NOT possible to provide a naturalistic account of their role that avoids the concerns above.
In particular, the naturalistic account given here fails.
(I had assumed that Dawkins’ account was that “we decide whether an appendage has a function by analysing the process of selection that led to it.” Apparently not. But even this account gives biological organs only “ersatz” or Claytons functions.)
Yes, clearly a blind man’s eyes are non-functional, but why? It is not because “they are failing to perform in this particular case the physiological activities eyes normally perform.” There are two obvious objections to this definition.
One, because the eyes perform a large number of different physiological activities. Some reason must be given for singling out just one of these activities, viz., vision, as the eyes’ function.
Two, because “the physiological activities eyes normally perform” is that of not seeing very well. Myopia (short-sightedness) is alarmingly common. In some parts of the world, more than half the population is short-sighted. Therefore, because the average person is somewhat short-sighted, someone with 20/20 vision has a sight defect according to your definition. Therefore, your definition is wrong.
The problem is that ‘function’ is a normative notion. More than that, it is a teleological notion. But there is no teleology in Evolutionism. Evolutionary biology can tell us what eyes do, but evolutionary biology cannot tell us what eyes are supposed to do.
Terry, you say
So what you’re saying is that the function of the eye is to see, in virtue of the fact that, by seeing, the eye serves something that has no purpose.
Now it’s clear where we disagree.
Eyes aren’t “supposed to do” anything. They are USEFUL in their normal condition for detecting the external environment using light. Since we get a huge amount of information from our vision and this information contributes to our survival, it is scarcely surprising that we should identify this as an important function of eyes – I don’t know what other physiological activities you have in mind.
Obviously, the better our sight, the more able we are to acquire information, but even imperfect vision is useful (I’ve been told by people working with the blind that even 1% vision is useful), and different environments and different survival strategies require different types of vision.
“…it is not possible to say that anything that simply winks into existence without going through a process of selection has functions…” But eyes didn’t wink into existence; rather, they have gone through a long process of selection and this has happened independently multiple times – I understand currently estimates are 30 – 40 times, and we can see in different species a whole range of light detecting organs.
Once again, rather than than looking at the empirical evidence for evolution (such as biogeography), you are raising evidence-free philosophical objections.
Guilty as charged. However, I hope I signalled that this post was about semantics, e.g., when I said, “All talk of biological functions is pre-Darwinian.” For emphasis, I’ve added the category tag ‘Semantics’ to this post.
Anyway, I think you agree with me when you say
I don’t deny that eyes come in handy for seeing
but my point is that mere usefulness does not constitute a biological function.
How’s this for an analogy? Suppose I have a broken can-opener that I use to wedge open a door. There is something that a can-opener is “supposed to do,”, viz., open cans. This one doesn’t. But it comes in handy on this particular occasion for wedging open a door. Clearly, there is one sense in which the function of the broken can-opener is to open cans, and another quite different sense in which the function of the can-opener is to wedge open a door.
Let’s be clear that when we speak of the function of the eye, we are using the term in the latter sense. I find this problematic. YMMV.
I’m going to quote you in my next post on this topic. Watch this space. 🙂
“Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use.” —Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
Hmmm. I entered this discussion under the impression that you thought evolution was untrue because various parts of the body had to be designed rather than evolved without intentional design. It now seems that this is a semantic dispute over the meaning of ‘function’ when applied to body parts. My mistake.
Your analogy is useful for distinguishing between the intended and ad hoc uses of an implement, but in both cases we are talking about the conscious choices of the designer and user. Many body parts operate automatically without conscious intention and they perform non-interchangeable specialised roles. I can use a screwdriver to drive screws or open a can of paint, but I can’t use my heart to see where I’m going or my eyes to pump blood. I can consciously slow or accelerate my heart rate to some extent, or stop it completely by shooting myself in the heart, in which case it is non-functional.
It seems quite sensible then to say that hearts function as pumps (and they may have other functions for all I know) but this does not imply they were designed by a designer.
I wrote my previous comment in some haste (while getting tea ready) and might not have been as clear as I could have been. We have evolved eyes as a response to the selective pressures of our environment on genetic variation. Terry in his/her 11.43 comment, courtesy of Lucretius, put my view very succinctly.
The word ‘function’ has a rather broad range of established use.
“Let’s be clear that when we speak of the function of the eye, we are using the term in the latter sense.”
I might not be.