Thanks to Critical Theory, for bringing this chart to my attention.
Having recieved some interest, the Deleuze Online Reading Group looks like it will be happening this June (starting on June 1st, 10:00pm). We will be reading one chapter of Nietzsche and Philosophy per week for five weeks, only about 35 pages a week (Yay, short!). I will be posting link a google+ link here the day of.
Overall Rating: 6/10
I initially became interested in reading Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and The Case for Intelligent Design after listening to a podcast interview with its author, Stephen Meyer. I immediately found myself at philosophical odds with a variety of Meyers theses, but nonetheless reluctant to employ the reactionary Neo-Darwinian critiques of his project. Thus, I decided to take the time to work through his text before offering comments (as interviews and podcasts seldom permit a full account or nuance of a position).
Having now completed my reading, I must admit that the basic philosophical problems that I initially felt (to be explored below) still persist. Yet, the text also revealed itself to be clear, well organized, and in large sections quite compelling. I must partially exempt the final three chapters in which Meyer advocates for Intelligent Design from my praise. Of course, my distaste for these sections is unavoidably influenced by my broader distaste for Intelligent Design theories (for reasons, again that will be clarified below), but I also found the writing itself to deteriorate during these passages; Meyer’s tone became defensive, the considerable citations and references to experimental work disappeared, and the arguments lost the clarity exemplified by the earlier sections of the work. One must not take these criticisms too strongly though, as the first sixteen chapters of the work truly are well written and interesting. Meyer presents considerable evidence that Neo-Darwinian theories (evolution by mutation) are insufficient to account for the speed and variety of evolutionary development, particularly during the infamous “Cambrian explosion.” This argument is strengthened by his use of multiple independent strains of evidence, including: fossils, genetics, and mathematical/computational models (among others). While I am not myself experienced in the field in order to fully judge the accuracy of all of his claims, he does offer considerable reference and citation to fully accredited and peer-reviewed scientific work (avoiding the common ID trap of only citing ones supporters). That being said, I would like here to focus upon the final section of his text, his presentation of ID as a possible answer to the dilemma of the Cambrian explosion, and offer two critiques.
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First, and speaking here of Intelligent Design more broadly, I believe that a Kuhn’esque (see: Thomas Kuhn: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) critique of Meyer’s conception of science may be in order. Specifically, Meyer appears to insufficiently register the “paradigmatic” structure of evolutionary theory. For Meyer, the incapacity of evolutionary theory to account for “everything” constitutes a rebuttal of the very scientific validity of the paradigm as a whole. Yet, as Kuhn rightly recognizes, the value of a paradigm is not its capacity to answer questions (though it certainly must do this with regularity), but more importantly its capacity to open up a space for questioning. A paradigm, while it is correctly functioning, will necessarily include a variety of unanswered questions. But, rather than constituting a failure of the paradigm, it is these gaps that provide the impetus and possibility of growth and discovery. A theory that provided a total picture would be incapable of generating further scientific research.
That being said, it is also worth noting that Kuhn is keenly aware of the importance of the “crisis,” that moment when an unavoidable impasse disorients a paradigm to such an extent that a new paradigm is necessitated. Could Meyer be identifying a crisis in biology, a crisis stimulated by the Cambrian explosion? Perhaps. But, I would also suggest that the answer to this crisis can not be Intelligent Design, again for a Kuhn’ian reason. The fatal flaw of Intelligent Design, I would suggest, rather than a lack of evidence or its factual incorrectness (both of which may very well also be the case), is its incapacity to function as a viable paradigm. Intelligent Design, while it ostensibly provides answers, fails to open up a space of further inquiry. Intelligent Design does not problematize, but rather, stifles problematization. Thus, while I would be wary to unambiguously support the assertion that “Intelligent Design is NOT science” (as this position is largely ideologically driven, and depends upon a clear identification of “science” that is generally either unspoken or insufficient), I would suggest that Intelligent Design is an insufficient paradigm, a scientific dead-end.
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My second critique concerns Meyer more specifically, but also has consequences that extend into biology as a whole. Meyer summarizes his Intelligent Design argument as follows:
“Thus, based upon our present experience of the causal powers of various entities and a careful assessment of the efficacy of various evolutionary mechanisms, we can infer intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of the hierarchically organized layers of information needed to build the animal forms that arose in the Cambrian periods.” (366)
Or, arranged as a syllogism, this argument might be restated:
I would like to suggest, perhaps controversially that, given the presuppositions of modern evolutionary theory, that this syllogism may be completely justified. The common critique of Intelligent Design by evolutionary theorists generally involves an attack on the second premise. Natural selection, or some related mechanism, it is argued, permits the arrival of complexity, merely “apparent design.” Thus, it is said, the second premise’s claim that only conscious activity generates information is unjustified. Yet, I believe that Meyer is correct to clearly demarcate between mere complexity and information. Critics, he rightly argues, do not “seem to understand the importance of specified information, as opposed to ‘complicated things,’ as a key indicator of design” (393). Yet, by granting the connection between information and design, one does not therefore have to affirm the consequence of the total syllogism.
Rather, I would like to suggest, the key to dismantling the Intelligent Design argument is to challenge that premise that both Darwinians and ID’ers agree upon, the first premise. As Meyer illustrates throughout the entirety of Darwin’s Doubt, the notion that DNA and epigenetic data are best understood as “information,” is a presumption that saturates the entirety of biology. This appears nowhere more clearly than in computational models, but is also evident across the spectrum of academic biology. Perhaps, it might be suggested, that rather than constituting a radical break with the biological sciences, ID is merely the clearest manifestation of biology’s own flawed axiom.
In the work of Gilles Deleuze, this sort of misstep is understood as overcoding, the process by which the category of one “strata” of reality is extended across other “strata.” The clearest example of overcoding, for Deleuze, is the “linguistic turn” of 20th century philosophy. Here, the fact that language was able to describe or speak about all strata, was misunderstood as evidence that language constitutes all levels of reality. In 20th century philosophy, the linguistic strata overcoded all other strata.
Is it possible that the attribution of the category “information” (a definitively human, intelligent strata) to decidedly non-human, pre-intellectual strata is just such an overcoding? It is worth noting that while Deleuze’s “10,000 B.C.: A Geology of Morals” in A Thousand Plateus speaks at length of genetics, it resists throughout the notion of DNA as a language or as information. “That is why,” Deleuze insists:
“[Francois] Jacob is reluctant to compare the genetic code to a language; in fact, the genetic code has neither emitter, receiver, comprehension, nor translation, only redundancies and surplus values. […] This property of overcoding and superlinearity explains why, in language, not only is expression independent of content, but form of expression is independent of substance: translation is possible because the same form can pass from one substance to another, which is not the case for the genetic code, for example, between RNA and DNA chains.”
Perhaps, then, the moral of Darwin’s Doubt, and the Intelligent Design movement as a whole is the necessity of thinking genetics as such, no longer under the all-too-human categories of information, categories which cannot help but bear the baggage of intelligence and design. But the form that such an alternate conception of genetics might take is beyond this author, or at least beyond this post.
What are your thoughts, should genetics move beyond the language of information?
(Please, if you comment, avoid vitriolic anti-ID or anti-Evolution rants, I couldn’t be less interested in either)
1. The use of “most likely” is intentional, as it is the distinguishing factor of “abduction” (as distinguished from deduction and induction in the work of Charles Pierce, who remains influential not only upon Meyer, but upon the scientific tradition as a whole) and allows its arguments to be distinguished from the fallacy of “affirming the consequent.”
My top 13 favorite reads of 2013…
13.) Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
12.) David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
11.) Slavoj Žižek, Parallax View
10.) Richard Bauckaum, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses
09.) Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being
08.) Christina Gschwandtner, Postmodern Apologetics
07.) Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity
06.) Emmanuel Falque, The Metamorphosis of Finitute
05.) Slavoj Žižek, God in Pain
04.) Jacques Derrida, Given Time
03.) Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition
02.) Edmund Husserl, Ideas I
And the grand finale…
01.) Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption
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Already in much of the New Testament, the conception of the Church as a hierarchical dogmatic institution is apparent. In the development of the Pauline tradition within the Pastoral epistles, for example, one finds the elevation of dogmatic rigor (one must “hold firmly to the sure word as it was taught” Titus 1.9) and dissonance or difference must be eradicated from the community; dissenters “must be silenced, for they are disrupting the whole households by teaching for dishonest profit what they have no right to preach” (Titus 1.11). This “deposit of faith” (II Timothy 1.14) is conceived in absolute terms; it is Truth, it is the foundation upon which the community is constructed. In order to maintain control over this deposit, the church structure of the Pastorals is rigid. If I might quote a longer passage, II Timothy 3.1-9 reads:
You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them! For among them are those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth. But they will not make much progress, because, as in the case of those two men, their folly will become plain to everyone.
The vitriol of this overly drawn image is palpable. Having centered their conception of the church upon the maintenance of dogmatic content, it is not only alternate content which must be feared and hated, but the purveyors of such content. Simply, in order to maintain the credibility of its own presbyter-bishops, the author(s) of the Pastorals must posit a category of corrupt teachers, whose “counterfeit faith” directs them to poison the faith of the truly faithful remnant. Their dogmatic rigidity necessitates the creation of an absolutely corrupt “other.”
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In distinction to this rigorous dogmatism, the Johannine church represents a charismatic alternative. Where the pastorals posit a “deposit of faith,” John posits a living Word—not only in the form of the incarnated logos (Christ), but also in the Christian community itself. The static dogmatism of true teaching is overturned by the mobile generative power of the “living water,” and here emerges the possibility of a truly radical egalitarianism. For, “out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7.38). Where the pastorals ground their community within the content of a dogmatic truth, a determinable fact, whose clear center makes variance easily identifiable, the Johannine community founds itself in a Spirit. This Spirit is certainly felt, it is present, it speaks, but it does not speak in the univocal voice of rigid dogmatism. Rather, this Paraclete-Spirit nudges and suggests, it is a weak force (as John Caputo might call it), it is not itself a determined fact or set of facts, but rather an event which creates without precedence, an unexpected voice which calls for a response, in no way predetermining the form or content of that response. In the language of Gilles Deleuze, the Paraclete-Spirit is an Idea. But not an Idea in the naïve platonic sense—an original which must be merely copied—but an Idea which inaugurates a creative space, which determines a problem for which there is no clear solution.
This centering of the Johannine community upon the mobility and plasticity of Spirit, rather than the rigidity of static doctrine can be immediately felt in the non-hierarchical egalitarian character of the fourth gospel. To once again borrow a phrase from Deleuze, the Johannine community offers a “crowned anarchy” where the pastorals offer a hierarchical rigidity. This non- (if not anti-) hierarchical perspective can be highlighted in a few different repects. First, as Raymond Brown emphasizes, one finds the language of the kingdom or rule (basileia) of God significantly diminished in the fourth gospel, “if Jesus and the Father are one, the rule of God is most perfectly made a reality in Jesus. Instead of entering the kingdom of God as a place, one needs to inhere in Jesus to be part of the community” (Brown, 87). Second, the fourth gospel tends to downplay the institution of the sacraments. In the last supper, for instance, there is no institution of the Eucharist, rather, there the washing of the disciples feet is instead emphasized. Third, the role or prominence of the twelve is severely downplayed, in their place, John leaves the “beloved disciple,” who reclines on Jesus’ breast during the last supper, and who is given Jesus’ mother to watch at the cross (see: Jn 13.23-25, 19.26-27, 20.1-10, 21.20-25). This ambiguous character appears, on the one hand, to describe an actual historical figure (likely John), and on the other, a model of authentic discipleship. The beloved disciple is a Johannine “every(wo)man.” Forth, and this is quite remarkable, the Johannine community appears radically egalitarian regarding gender roles. Contrary to above, where women are portrayed as “silly” and gullible, John portrays women in pivotal roles throughout Jesus’ ministry and the early church. Again citing Brown, “The Samaritan woman, Martha, and Mary are characters absolutely equal in importance to the blind man and Lazarus. In the portrayal of major male and female believers there is no difference of intelligence, vividness, or response” (Brown, 94). More radically, it is Martha who offers the first full affirmation of Jesus’ identity (“You are the Christ, the Son of God,” John 11.27), following the incomplete titles of the other disciples, (e.g. “prophet”). It is also worth noting that this affirmation is attributed to Peter in the synoptics.
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The political ramifications of this alternative construal of a radically egalitarian community are essential to the construction of a democratic society. What the comparison of the Pastoral and the Johannine communities show us, is that the ideological center of a community and its functional structure cannot be isolate from each other. Where a society is grounded upon rigid affirmation of dogmatic truths, be those religious, philosophical, or political, the social structure will necessarily take on a repressive form. Difference, creativity, and exploration are all facets of a community which threaten the stability of a hierarchical-dogmatic structure, and must therefore be branded as “counterfeit” and eradicated. Simply, where ideological conformity is demanded, repression will be necessitated. Against this dogmatism, the Johannine community offers the model of a community which forgoes concrete dogmatisms for the fluidity of the Spirit and emphasis upon the plasticity of relation. This movement from a concrete to a fluid center is mirrored by a parallel reduction in repression. Egalitarianism presupposes fluidity. Where emphasis is taken off of abstract dogmatism and placed on the living community, the structural hierarchy withers (the kingdom language wanes, the twelve are de-emphasized and replaced with an “every(wo)man”), priority is granted to ethics over ritual (the washing of feet, over Eucharist), and oppressive social structures (e.g. gender norms) are set aside. It is these factors which constitutes the truly radical egalitarian political potential of the Johannine community.
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*Raymond Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).
(Notes and disclaimers: First, I am relying upon Raymond Brown’s reconstruction of early church communities. I recognize that these are highly hypothetical and often suspect. But, that being said, even a hypothetical community is a ripe source for imaginative examination. Second, I do not hate the pastorals, I am simply using them as an example in this instance. Please do not barrage me with “why do you hate the Bible” messages. Third, to argue, for instance, that the Johannine community rightly emphasizes ethics of sacrament, is not to belittle sacrament. I think that the Eucharist is an invaluable core of Christian practice. But, it cannot be allowed to overshadow concern for the oppressed or needy.)
Influenced by the recent surge of interest in the political ramifications of Paul’s thought (see: Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism; Zizek, Milbank, & Davis, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology; etc.) as well as the work of Raymond E. Brown I have decided to put together a short series of posts examining an alternate biblical source of political thought, imagining the possible shape of a Johannine politics.
In The Churches the Apostles Left Us, Brown writes, “Johannine ecclesiology is the most attractive and exciting in the NT. Alas, it is also the least stable” (pg. 123). In the vein of this thought, and following the Paul-enthusiasts tendency to adapt ecclesiological insights as political ideas, these investigations will begin with a consideration of some of the enticing and powerful characteristics of a Johannine politics, before moving into some of the instabilities and risks inherent to such a philosophy. Although by no means firm, the tentative outline of the subjects of these posts will be as follows:
As always, some deep resonances between this philosophy and the work of prominent continental philosophers can be expected. So far, I anticipate engagement with my standard cast-of-characters–Derrida, Caputo, Henry, Marx, Zizek–as well as some Deleuzian insights as I have recently begun my foray into Difference and Repetition in conjunction with some of Caputo’s lectures on Deleuze.
Deleuze Difference and Repetition reading group #2 in a little less than two hours! See you there! [Link]
(FYI, Location has changed since last week due to problems with tinychat)
We will be kicking off the Deleuze Difference and Repetition reading group in just over an hour! Beginning tonight with the introduction to this difficult text. See you there! [Link]