Re: BIO: Help wanted explaining evolution to students

Mark Crosby (
Wed, 17 Sep 1997 07:50:25 -0700 (PDT)

Max, dump all my previous suggestions for the evolution lecture in
your philosophy of religion class into ‘suggested readings’ (1).

The following passages from George B. Dyson’s new book, _Darwin Among
the Machines: the Evolution of Global Intelligence_ would make for an
excellent lecture. (IMO, much more relevant to a philosophy of
religion class than anything about the structural evolution of some
particular animal component.) These passages are about some early
Western extropians and evolutionary thinkers who surreptitiously
challenged the religious dogmas of their day.

BTW, Dyson’s chapter on Artificial Life pioneer Nils Barricelli is
available online, along with comments from ‘the digerati’ (2). First,
from chapter 1:

""Nature (the Art whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by
the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated,
that it can make an Artificial Animal’, wrote Thomas Hobbes
(1588-1679) on the first page of his _Leviathan; or, The matter,
Forme, and Power of a Common-wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill_,
published to great disturbance in 1651....

"Hobbes’s blasphemy was his vision of a diffuse intelligence that was
neither the supreme intelligence of God nor the individual
intelligence of the human mind. Leviathan was a collective organism,
transcending the individual beings and institutional organs of which
it was composed....

"Hobbes had prepared for a protracted battle, leveling his own
broadsides at his opponents, epitomized by his _Condiderations upon
the Repputation, Loyalty, manners, & Religion, of Thomas Hobbes of
Malmsberry, written by himself, by way of a Letter to a Learned
Person_, in which he asked: "What kind of Attribute I pray you is
immaterial, or incorporeal substance? Where do you find it in the
Scripture? Whence came it hither, but from Plato and Aristotle,
Heathens, who mistook those thin Inhabitants of the Brain they see in
sleep, for so many incorporeal men; and yet allow them motion, which
is proper only to things corporeal? Do you think it an honor to God to
be one of these?’

"Hobbes advocated neither the pantheism of the ancients nor the
atheism of which he was accused. He believed life and mind to be
natural consequences of matter when suitably arranged; God to be a
corporeal being, of perhaps infinitiely higher mental order but
composed of substance nonetheless; and damnation, to those so
afflicted, a temporary state."

And from Dyson’s second chapter:

"’. . . would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals
have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE
endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended
with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions,
and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to
improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those
improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!’ This
was not Charles Darwin in his _Origin of the Species_ of 1859, but
Erasmus Darwin in his _Zoonomia_ of 1794....

"’The world itself might have been generated, rather than created;
that is, it might have been gradually produced from very small
beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles,
rather than by a sudden evolution of the whole by Almighty fiat’, he
wrote in 1794. ‘What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of THE
For if we may compare infinities, it would seem to require a greater
infinity of power to cause the causes of effects, than to cause the
effects themselves’....

"Erasmus Darwin was a ringleader of the Industrial revolution..."

Mark Crosby

(1) a. Calvin, W.H., 1997; "The Six Essentials? Minimal Requirements
for the Darwinian Bootstrapping of Quality",
b. Pallbo, Robert, 1997, "Mind as Evolution and Evolution as Such",
c. Dennett, Daniel C., 1994, "Self-Portrait"
d. Rocha, Luis, 1995,"Evolutionary Systems and Artificial Life"

(2) Dyson, George, 1997, "Darwin Among The Machines; Or, The Origins
Of [Artificial] Life?"

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