Everything is Narrative

From Darwin’s Pious Idea:

“Not only does an organism cause emergent features in the world (just as it too is an emergent entity), there can be no a priori limitation to what in fact emerges. We know that natural selection is derivative—a product of evolution itself—otherwise Paley’s god would be back to haunt us.”

Cunningham’s point is that what nature may select might lead to types of evolution beyond the control of simple selection and that leads to this point:

“Natural selection has given birth to a selection process that has floated free…Cultural selection can be more powerful than biological selection…[T]houghts spread faster than human beings reproduce.” (Elliot Sober)

Cunningham notes that we must then see culture to be an “emergent” phenomenon with causative powers of its own. This does not mean we create another dualism or an either/or between nature and culture; rather, we need to understand each as unstable terms. He writes:

“There is no pure nature (as Henri de Lubac notes) just as there is no pure culture (as Hegel rightly argues). Consequently, it is probably less surprising that narrative plays such an important in biology, as Lewontin says, ‘ a great deal of the body of biological research and knowledge consists of narrative statements.’”

Some further quotes:

“Narrativism in biology is one way of acknowledging the ineliminable complexity.” (Depew and Weber)

“Darwinian evolution is neutral with respect to the –possibly indefinitely many—physical bases that might support reproduction with heritable variation and hence evolution by natural selection. The possibility that evolution might run on multiple ‘platforms’ undercuts the claim that explanatory arrows from physics are necessary and sufficient for explaining biological phenomena. To say everything that can physically said about a biological process still leaves it less than fully explained. Darwinian adaptive evolution is agnostic with respect to the precise physical mechanisms of reproduction and heritable variation such that natural selection can act to yield evolution…[T]his fact means that Darwinian selection is not reducible to—and hence cannot be explained by—any specific set of lower-levels explanations.” (Kauffman and Clayton)

“If reductionists cannot find some way of accommodating the theory of natural selection to physical science, then, ironically, it appears they face a dilemma of surrendering physicalism, or embracing eliminativism (or surrendering reductionism). For natural selection certainly appears to be a biological process and the failure to show how it could even in principle be fixed by physical facts leads to the surrender of physicalism.” (Rosenberg and McShea)

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