An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Dr. Alexander W. Astin (born May 30, 1932, Washington, D.C.) is the Allan M. Carter Professor Emeritus of Higher Education and Organizational Change, at the University of California, Los Angeles.He is Founding Director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. He has served as Director of Research for both the American Council on Education and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. He is also the Founding Director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, an ongoing national study of some twelve million students, 250,000 faculty and staff, and 1,800 higher education institutions.

Reply to
Frank Visser

Alexander Astin

Brief context: Alexander Astin contacted Ken Wilber in 2007 about Integral World postings related to Wilber's misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. He stated that the concept of "random mutation" did not have explanatory value and only served to cover our ignorance of what causes mutations. See: Frank Visser, The 'Spirit of Evolution' Reconsidered, and note 12. In the below reply, received January 18th, 2011, he states that science is a belief as well.

Frank Visser wrote,

You must have talked to or read the wrong guys. "Every other evolutionist"? Equating the theory of evolution with a theory of chance misses the point. "Random" in evolutionary theory also has a specific meaning: it means that favorable variations are not guided in the direction of some pre-conceived goal, whatever else might determine them. So the point is not that we may still not know what exactly causes mutations/variations, the point is that these are not goal-directed.

There's not even the beginning of a critique here. If you want to critique Darwinism, you need to criticize Dawkins, Mayr et al. head on. A hand full of quotes from books I have at hand here tell it all -- the misconception about evolution equals chance, the statistical "argument" that chance can't produce an organ or organism, etc.


Thanks for having taken the trouble to respond.


You are thus operating on faith, a faith in the notion that all physical events must have physical causes

You and Dawkins et al are stating a metaphysical position masquerading as "science." It's metaphysical because it assumes knowledge of the origins of extraordinarily complicated events (mutations) about which nobody has any direct knowledge.

There's plenty of evidence for selection, so this particular part of Darwin's thought has a solid scientific basis. But that's not the case for mutations. They're definitely not "random;" that's just a convenient pseudo-scientific dodge for "I haven't a clue as to how they happened."

None of us knows whether this planet has been around long enough for a trial and error process to to produce all these organisms. Evolutionists would argue, circularly, that "there must have been enough time because the organisms are here!"

I'm not at all sure whether some kind of intelligence is guiding the mutations that make organisms the way they are. You are sure that there is not, because that metaphysical position is incompatible with your metaphysical position. I simply don't know how they got to be the way the are. And neither do you or Dawkins.

You are thus operating on faith, a faith in the the notion that all physical events must have physical causes. Your metaphysics is a possible explanation for the existence of organisms that relies on countless highly improbable events happening in a highly improbable way.

We haven't a clue as to what these probabilities are, in part because we don't have any idea what the base (sample size) of possible mutations is that we're operating from, and in part because we don't have any idea what the possible alternatives to the mutations that actually occur(ed) are (or were).

Moreover, we know virtually nothing about the dead-end mutations that didn't enhance survival. Has this planet had enough time to experience all the "random" (trial and error) mutations that would be needed to produce all these complex organisms? Maybe, but maybe not.

That you and Dawkins would answer an unqualified "yes" is pure metaphysics, since you maintain a strong belief in the truth of something for which you really have no evidence. Can we find enough monkeys and enough typewriters, and enough time and enough people to read what they type, to get Hamlet? Maybe, but i doubt it.

I prefer to believe that Hamlet has only one possible origin: Shakespeare intended to write that play and shaped it through an act of will into its present form.

I realize that diehard evolutionists are uncomfortable with supernatural explanations of origins. But think for a minute about the notion of a "random" mutation. Which is more "scientific"?

To say

  1. I don't know why a particular mutation occurred, or how this organism came to have the genetic structure that it has, or
  2. "Well, it must have been caused by physical events about which i have no direct knowledge, which I will choose to call "random," because it surely was NOT caused by some force that I don't yet understand"?

Thanks for engaging me on this issue.

Alexander W. Astin
Allan M. Cartter Professor Emeritus &
Founding Director
Higher Education Research Institute
University of California, Los Angeles

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