Thursday, February 3, 2011

Wallace Vs. Darwin

Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-discoverer, with Charles Darwin, of the principle of natural selection, but unlike Darwin, Wallace was not a materialist. He did not believe that everything could in principle be completely explained in terms of natural forces and processes. One of the qualities of human beings that he refused to reduce to material causes was human intelligence. Michael Flannery, author of a recent biography of Wallace, writes about his views and modern attempts, specifically a recent attempt by Steven Pinker, to refute Wallace.

In a piece at Evolution News and Views Flannery writes:
Alfred Russel Wallace Issues Fighting Words to Materialists in 1910: "Nothing in evolution can account for the soul [or mind] of man. The difference between man and the other animals is unbridgeable." Steven Pinker to the Rescue?

Wallace made the above declaration in an interview .... in December of 1910. Much to the chagrin of Charles Darwin, this co-discoverer of natural selection had suggested as much even earlier in the April 1869 issue of The Quarterly Review. Despite maintaining cordial relations, this "heresy" would create a great divide between the two naturalists, and Darwin's disciples have been searching for an answer to Wallace ever since.

Recently Steven Pinker, the darling of evolutionary psychology at Harvard, proposed to rescue Darwinists .... Pinker points out that Alfred Russel Wallace "claimed that abstract intelligence was of no use to ancestral humans and could only be explained by intelligent design." In a singular display of perspicacity, Pinker is right. Wallace felt that certain aspects of the uniquely human mind--love of music, humor, abstract reasoning, mathematics, etc.--were wholly inexplicable by Darwin's own principle of utility, which is the idea that no organ or attribute can exist in a species unless it is or has been useful to the organisms that possess it....
In other words, the problem Wallace puts his finger on is how nature could have selected for such things as a love of music and the ability to develop mathematics when these things offered their possessor no survival value. Evolution only conserves those traits that confer fitness upon the organism, but what fitness did an ability to solve difficult equations or appreciate music have before there were such equations to solve or music to enjoy?

The matter Wallace, and many others since, found to be so vexing is similar to the problem posed by the existence of human consciousness which has been a philosophical thorn in materialism's side ever since Darwin. Steven Pinker tries to grapple with Wallace's argument, but Flannery doesn't think his response is very persuasive. You can read Flannery's assessment of Pinker's argument at the link.

Poverty in America - Another Perspective

We recently featured a reader's response to an earlier Viewpoint post titled Poverty in America. There was a lot of reaction to the reader's opinions, most of which agreed with her critique of the welfare system. One, though, took a different view and I'd like to post it because it offers another side to the issues raised by the first piece.

Here it is:
I would like to start by saying that the response I read was an entertaining, and interesting perspective on welfare, however it was also, in my opinion, not very carefully thought about, or even investigated. Not that I disagree with the response entirely, I would just like to add some points that I believe were neglected to be considered.

For instance, "People have become dependent on the government to support them, and have lost all desire to achieve anything on their own." This statement can be looked at from so many different angles. Let's start with the obvious one, what timeline are you talking about here? Is it welfare at the present? or welfare in the past? The reason I ask such questions is because, back when I was growing up, in the eighties, the welfare system gave much more assistance, when it came to rental assistance, food stamps, and medical assistance.

Back in those days, it could have been looked at as easy to become dependent on the support welfare gave, there was no such thing as working for the assistance, it was just given to you based on financial status, and almost everyone I knew was on welfare.

However if you look at it from the present time frame, there is a more in depth screening process, and not everyone you know can get welfare assistance. There are income brackets you must fall into, and you must work, or go to school for your benefits, with small exceptions, that I believe should be put there for those who really fall into them.

There is no real way you can prevent all people from abusing the welfare system, however what is there really to abuse? The average person gets a total of $250.00 a month for cash assistance, a total of $186.00 in food stamps, and the medical has its restrictions when it comes to covering things like glasses, and many other things that I have not researched enough to feel comfortable opinionating on.

Now picture this, you get a total of $250.00 a month in cash assistance, but your average rental expense is just about $600.00 a month, not to mention utilities and cost of living expenses, such as toiletries, transportation, and child care. How can you become dependent on something that doesn't cover even the roof you sleep under?

"I feel that the welfare system should be completely modified, if not eliminated altogether!" Modified? hasn't it been modified enough? I suffer with hypertension, and worked in a clinic for an entire year, as a single mother, paying a total of $515.00 a month in rent, $520.00 a month in childcare, not to mention car insurance, gas, electric, and food, and was denied medical assistance to help cover the cost of my medication, because I had an income of over $300.00 dollars a month.

So which one should I eliminate? The rent and be homeless, the childcare, and be jobless, maybe insurance, which was only $50.00 dollars a month because the average cost of hypertension medicine is probably a few hundred dollars. Or maybe I could just live in the cold without gas and bundle my daughter in several blankets and feed her bread since I can't afford to keep my electric on. So you see which one of these is the viable option?

Now picture if they eliminated it [welfare] all together, with the ever increasing number of jobs being lost, and the hole in our economy so big it could cover the moon. Or maybe you were wondering where the father of my daughter was in all this, well let's just say he abandoned us, ran to another state and was pending child support, and still continues to do so till today. Or maybe you were wondering where the rest of my family was in helping me with child care, but what if like my case there is no family support? What if you moved out to PA to try and start a better life for you and your family, because you couldn't afford to live in NY?

So you see I believe, that people can sometimes become victims to our economy, specifically when you were already impoverished to begin with, it's not like we can choose what financial class to be born into.

We can however, choose to try and change what we were already giving. It is for this very reason welfare was created, so that the underprivileged people can stand a chance in a world that is built on financial class, and competition. Don't we as the people believe in the "American Dream" and the "Land of opportunity".

In conclusion, to assume that someone can become dependent on welfare, to the point where they no longer have a desire to achieve for themselves, varies from person to person, and situation to situation. If a person no longer wishes to thrive in this world, it could be for a number of reasons, depression, pure sloth, health, and sometimes even carelessness. To assume that welfare is the main reason is biased, because we can't speak for everyone.

After all, if we lived in a society where people practiced Social Solidarity, would people still continue to frown upon welfare? Just one of those very things I wonder.
Anyone else care to weigh in on this topic?