Survival Of The Fittest In The Marketplace, But Not For Life On Earth?

Flat leaves & dew 134x124 0147aa.jpg ‘Survival of the fittest’ is often used to justify harsh business and other practices; but those who adopt this socio-economic position may also subscribe to ‘Creationist’ or ‘Intelligent Design’ notions about how life on earth has come about and diversified. This strange amalgum of beliefs arises from a lack of intellectual rigour which shows very clearly why Creationism should not become part of any serious school science curriculum.
It seems that Creationism is to be a feature of a new GCSE Biology curriculum in England. Whilst we have assurances that Creationism is not to be taught ‘as a subject’ I must admit to serious concerns about either Creationism or its close cousin, ‘Intelligent’ Design’ becoming part of the mainstream science curriculum.
General Studies can be a good place to discuss the ‘nature of science’ issues that arise from looking at Creationism or Intelligent Design, and maybe Religious Studies can offer perspectives on (non-)belief systems, but Science as a subject should probably not include subjects which are, quite simply, not subject to serious scientific scrutiny.
A conundrum of conflicting beliefs
One of the strangest things about the proponents of Intelligent Design and / or Creationism is that, for the most part, they have socio-economic beliefs which fit well within the Evolutionary Theory which they so strongly reject as an explanation of biological difference.
How can ‘survival of the fittest’ be seen to explain, and be acceptable, in terms of socio-political and economic / business affairs, but not biological ones?
Underlying this conundrum is perhaps a sense of preordination, that things are ‘given’ and cannot be changed on the whim of mere human beings; and this sense fits very helpfully into much of right-wing politics. But for those of us who respect the idea of science as a discipline and mode of knowledge, this is if anything completely the wrong way around.
Millennia to ‘change’ biology, but maybe minutes to change our own behaviour?
Living things change naturally over the millennia, ‘responding’ (i.e. surviving or not) to their contexts and inherent make up. This is a very long term and complex business.
On the other hand, human beings’ behaviour can, because we can perceive ourselves and reflect on what we do, change dramatically in the course of a single life time. ‘Intelligent Design’ is something we can all usefully engage in our own behaviour and outlook – not something which we need to dream up to ‘explain’ the amazing way in which the world as we know it has evolved over millions of years.
If survival of the fittest can be called upon by right wing thinkers to account for economic behaviour, they surely don’t have to devise other, quite undemonstrable, ‘explanations’ for the diversity of life on earth…. which leads me to wonder what less obvious reasons there may be for this strange conjunction of beliefs.

Posted on March 16, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Politics, Policies And Process, Science Politics And Policy. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Why this obsession with evolutionary theory on this site? Is it because Darwin wrote so fluently that anyone – even Guardian journalists – think they can understand it?
    As it happens ‘survival of the fittest’ is not a Darwinian concept – it was a concept thought up by one of his interpreters – the text books should tell you which one. Darwin’s point was nore, ‘those who survive are the fittest’, survival of course meaning to have offspring. There is no prediction or pre-ordination here only ‘after the event’ labelling.
    Pre-ordination being a ‘right wing’philosophy? Where did you get that idea from – or is Marxism which was very predictive ‘right wing’? I think Hitler was a bit of a believer in a ‘master race’ and the survival of the fittest idea – he was definitely very Socialist.
    Actually there are also people who are not proponents of Creationism and ID who also have socioeconomic beliefs which fit in with evolutionary theory.
    Funders encouraging ID? If funders have the money – a measure of some success – thay can’t be doing too badly. Maybe students in these universities will pick up some ideas about how to earn a living – more than they bdo in our rubbish universities.
    Certainly Creationism has a place only in Mythology or the History of Ideas – I think my teachers dealt with this in the Junior School. Not so ID – to be fully understood a ceertain amount of biological knowledge would be required – but that would probably be inappropriate for schoolchildren. Schoolchildren learning to discriminate between scientific and other forms of belief – what sort of world does the Bishop live in? Let him try that on a third form set
    Luckily all this evolutionary philosophising is about as uselss as almost any other aspect of philosophy. Otherwise we would be saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

  2. I have to add another note here. Hardly has the virtual ink dried on the virtual paper as above, than we learn that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ronan Williams, also thinks that Creationism should not taught in schools (see much national media comment this week) – though I gather he does accept, quite reasonably, that students must learn to discriminate between scientific and other forms of thought / belief.
    More on this no doubt anon….

  3. Thanks James. Yes, maybe I should have pointed more directly to my earlier piece about the privatisation of US universities, and funders who hold with ID: http://www.hilaryburrage.com/2005/10/us_universities_privatisation.php (or see articles in LHS column here)
    We seem to be agreed, that there is a very fundamental issue here about how people understand science and its processes (or not). Scientific method, and indeed rationality itself, are effectively under attack. Where that ‘attack’ could land us would take a very long time to explore….
    Hilary
    PS ‘Radical’ left??

  4. I think you weaken your case by demanding that since there are some people in this world who can’t string more than 2 thoughts together, and of them some of them are capitalists, and of them, some believe in creationism, therefore creationism shouldn’t be taught in science classes … that’s a stretch and your radical left tendencies may be showing through!
    Simply put, creationism (and ID) ain’t science and has no place in anything but classes on mythology (or religion as some folk would have it).
    But I think you’re right about the nature of opposition to science – based on absolutes of knowledge not humility before a theorem.
    Science has been great at marketing it successes but it now needs to be equally successful at marketing its processes – too many people believe scientific theories equate to truth!

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