Confounding Cause and Effect

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Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#1  Postby Rayliikanen » September 9th, 2017, 2:49 pm

Can an effect explain itself as it's own cause?

I have a Socratic dialogue in this September's issue of "Philosophy Now." It's really a critique of Richard Dawkins. It's clear from my reading of "The Selfish Gene," and other books of Dawkins, that he is confusing the explanation of an effect with the explanation of a cause: namely, Natural Selection. Natural Selection is a process that takes place in nature, so my argument is, natural selection is not a cause--it's an effect. As everything else that takes place, all things are effects. Dawkins, in giving Darwinian evolution universal explanatory scope, takes the theory beyond it's intended object, as an explanation for the origin of species. But even this title is problematic on Darwin's part. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call it how species change and adapt to their environments? It is not a theory of origin but an explanation of the changes organisms undergo in adapting to natural environments. Personifying Natural Selection by referring to as a 'she' or otherwise, or by assuming that it's something that oversees nature, or regulates nature, scouring organisms everywhere to make sure they adapt, and survive, and replicate, raised natural selection to the level of a Transcendent Cause. But it is really the explanation of an effect that takes place in nature, therefore labeling it a cause is misleading. A cause is a cause and an effect is an effect. Both Dawkins and Darwin confound the two different explanations.

What do you think?
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Confounding Cause and Effect



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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#2  Postby Spectrum » September 9th, 2017, 10:34 pm

I thought is by default within the empirical world, there has to be a cause to every effect.


It is empirical evident there are variations due to adaption in evolution.
These variations are the effects.
Therefore there must be causes for those observed effects.
The cause is generalized as 'natural selection.'

The processes what is generally lumped as 'natural selection' is usually explained in details to survival, adaption, the circumstances, condition, etc.

As for the leap to any Transcendent or First Cause, this is restraint by Hume's Problem of Induction which is reducible to the psychology of constant conjunctions, customs and habits.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#3  Postby Rayliikanen » September 11th, 2017, 1:20 am

If you read Darwin's explanation of natural selection, it is a Transcendent Cause. He speaks of natural selection as a she, daily scrutinizing and directing changes in the natural world.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#4  Postby Ranvier » September 11th, 2017, 3:32 am

Rayliikanen

Yours is the logical conclusion of the fact. The "Origin of species" reads much better than "Natural Change of Species", it's an intended exaggeration to bring attention and funding for further research. Such unfounded claims sometimes take life of its own in running away from the reality, where Richard Dawkins interpretation of evolution is only one such example.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#5  Postby Steve3007 » September 11th, 2017, 5:05 am

Rayliikanen (OP):
Natural Selection is a process that takes place in nature, so my argument is, natural selection is not a cause--it's an effect. As everything else that takes place, all things are effects.


I disagree. I think that the process of which Natural Selection is a part is a long series of events that are both causes and effects. (chicken, egg, chicken, egg...). More generally, it doesn't really make sense to seperate causes and effects like this, as if there are two categories of events, one of which is a cause and one of which is an effect. The useful mental model which we call causality/causation says that every event is caused by something and causes something else. (And the extension of that mental mode outside of the realm in which it was created leads to the philosophical problem of the "first cause").

Dawkins, in giving Darwinian evolution universal explanatory scope, takes the theory beyond it's intended object, as an explanation for the origin of species. But even this title is problematic on Darwin's part. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call it how species change and adapt to their environments?


On reading "The Selfish Gene" and "The Blind Watchmaker" I see no evidence that Darwinian evolution is given universal explanatory scope. I don't see it being proposed as an explantion for the formation of stars, for example. Those books explain how it is a successful description of the way that living things change as a result of random mutations being acted on by environmental pressure and how that results in the the diversity of which speciation is a part.

If you're saying that Darwinian evolution does not in itself give any description/explanation of the origin of life on Earth then I think you're right. But it does give a proposed description/explanation of the concept of species - groups of organisms that don't interbreed with other groups of organisms (although the definition of the concept "species" is not quite as simple as this). The way in which speciation occurs seems to be described in such a way that calling it a theory of the origin of species (if not of life) doesn't seem too unreasonable.

Personifying Natural Selection by referring to as a 'she' or otherwise, or by assuming that it's something that oversees nature, or regulates nature, scouring organisms everywhere to make sure they adapt, and survive, and replicate, raised natural selection to the level of a Transcendent Cause.


Not really. It's just a very commonly used rhetorical device. We often call ships and trains "she" too, but that doesn't make them people. This kind of anthropomorphism is used elsewhere in science too. For example a physicist might decribe electrons and protons as "wanting" to move together. In some school textbooks they might even draw little pictures of them with love hearts and stuff. It's a metaphor. Nobody seriously thinks they have "will" or love each other.

-- Updated Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:12 am to add the following --

Ranvier:
Yours is the logical conclusion of the fact. The "Origin of species" reads much better than "Natural Change of Species", it's an intended exaggeration to bring attention and funding for further research.


I think the title "Natural Change of Species" would be ok but would be slightly inaccurate because it would give the false impression that the the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is simply about the process of speciation by itself. But it is more than that. It doesn't provide any model for the way in which the first life forms came into being, but it does provide a model of the way in which those first life forms diversified.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#6  Postby Ranvier » September 11th, 2017, 5:57 am

Steve3007 wrote:I think the title "Natural Change of Species" would be ok but would be slightly inaccurate because it would give the false impression that the the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection is simply about the process of speciation by itself. But it is more than that. It doesn't provide any model for the way in which the first life forms came into being, but it does provide a model of the way in which those first life forms diversified.


I would agree with your objection to "The Natural Change in Kingdoms" as misleading but the "Natural Change of Species" is on point. On the contrary, the "Origin of Species" may be misleading, as some children may believe that Homo sapiens just sprung to existence as mammal from the chicken eggs, as some textbooks insist on calling "oocytes" as female eggs.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#7  Postby Steve3007 » September 11th, 2017, 6:06 am

Eanvier:
I would agree with your objection to "The Natural Change in Kingdoms" as misleading but the "Natural Change of Species" is on point. On the contrary, the "Origin of Species" may be misleading, as some children may believe that Homo sapiens just sprung to existence as mammal from the chicken eggs, as some textbooks insist on calling "oocytes" as female eggs.


I don't see how calling it "the origin of species" would make people think that homo sapiens sprang into existence from chicken eggs. If, for some strange reason, they did think that they would be easily corrected.

But I can see how it might make them think that homo sapiens have a common ancestor with chickens (living about 300 million years ago, the evidence suggests) and that the fact that we and chickens both have eggs is one of the many pieces of evidence for that. So I think that would be ok because that is in fact what the theory claims.

-- Updated Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:07 am to add the following --

(Sorry, misspelled your name there. Typo. I should like before I post!)

-- Updated Mon Sep 11, 2017 11:07 am to add the following --

(Sorry I should have said "look" not "like"!)
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#8  Postby Rayliikanen » September 11th, 2017, 11:56 am

I've used Socrates in the essay that will be in this month's issue of "Philosophy Now," to explain the problem with looking at natural selection as a cause--and not an effect that describes what happens in the natural world. Natural selection is a process, hence, an effect. It can work as a cause in higher organisms, like human beings, who can act as causes. But Dawkins goes off the track of science when he argues that the idea of a God/First Cause was done away with in 1949. It's these extreme statements that imply Darwinian evolution is a universal explanation that applies to all of creation. It's a particular explanation of a natural process, therefore it's part of the overall effect-the entire effect being the cosmos itself. Dawkins makes the mistake of taking a particular explanation and making a universally applicable conclusion out of it by insinuating Darwin gives us grounds to remove the possibility of a First Cause.

-- Updated September 11th, 2017, 7:57 am to add the following --

That's 1849, sorry ... the publication of "Origin of Species."
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#9  Postby Ranvier » September 11th, 2017, 12:40 pm

Steve3007 wrote:I don't see how calling it "the origin of species" would make people think that homo sapiens sprang into existence from chicken eggs. If, for some strange reason, they did think that they would be easily corrected.


Sure, humans and chicken share the Animalia Kingdom and Chordata Phylum but belong to a different Order, which is a long way from "Origin of Species". With that logic, we can trace the common ancestry to a rock or light for that matter :)

Except that, what Rayliikanen is trying to point out, the theory of evolution can't make that claim!
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#10  Postby SimpleGuy » September 11th, 2017, 3:09 pm

Well the beryllium barrier explains itself as an effect as well as derivatives of turings-stopping time theorem.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#11  Postby Steve3007 » September 11th, 2017, 5:01 pm

Ranvier:
Sure, humans and chicken share the Animalia Kingdom and Chordata Phylum but belong to a different Order, which is a long way from "Origin of Species". With that logic, we can trace the common ancestry to a rock or light for that matter :)


Yes, we and chickens are animals with backbones. That is true.

We can state that we have a common ancestor with chickens because there is evidence for it in our DNA (apparently we share 75% of our DNA with chickens) and in fossil records. Rocks and light don't have DNA so there's no evidence that we have a common ancestor with them.

Are you sceptical of the evidence that we share common ancestors with any other species at all? Or just species that appear very different from us? For example, would you find it even harder to believe that we share a common ancestor with, say, pineapples?

Except that, what Rayliikanen is trying to point out, the theory of evolution can't make that claim!


What claim? The claim that we have a common ancestor with rocks? Are you talking now about the idea that living things emerged from a non-living world? I think that's a related subject but it's being discussed on a different thread.

---

Interesting article about chicken and human genomes:

sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/04120 ... 230523.htm

I thought it was interesting that the chicken gene that codes for proteins found in eggshells have counterparts in mammals that play a role in bone calcification.

-- Updated Mon Sep 11, 2017 10:33 pm to add the following --

---

Rayliikanen:
Natural selection is a process, hence, an effect.


I still don't agree with this part. Natural selection is a process containing events which are the effects of prior events and the causes of subsequent events.

But...

But Dawkins goes off the track of science when he argues that the idea of a God/First Cause was done away with in 1849. It's these extreme statements that imply Darwinian evolution is a universal explanation that applies to all of creation. It's a particular explanation of a natural process, therefore it's part of the overall effect-the entire effect being the cosmos itself. Dawkins makes the mistake of taking a particular explanation and making a universally applicable conclusion out of it by insinuating Darwin gives us grounds to remove the possibility of a First Cause.


...I agree that claiming God as a first cause was done away with by the act of writing The Origin of Species is too much. To me, questions about the origins of the universe are pretty much separate from theories about the evolution of life on Earth. I'm not especially interested in Dawkins' brand of atheism but I do think he is still quite a good elucidater of the way that Evolution works and I enjoyed his books on the subject. I found "The God Delusion" a bit dull.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#12  Postby Spectrum » September 11th, 2017, 9:58 pm

Rayliikanen wrote:I've used Socrates in the essay that will be in this month's issue of "Philosophy Now," to explain the problem with looking at natural selection as a cause--and not an effect that describes what happens in the natural world. Natural selection is a process, hence, an effect. It can work as a cause in higher organisms, like human beings, who can act as causes. But Dawkins goes off the track of science when he argues that the idea of a God/First Cause was done away with in 1949. It's these extreme statements that imply Darwinian evolution is a universal explanation that applies to all of creation. It's a particular explanation of a natural process, therefore it's part of the overall effect-the entire effect being the cosmos itself. Dawkins makes the mistake of taking a particular explanation and making a universally applicable conclusion out of it by insinuating Darwin gives us grounds to remove the possibility of a First Cause.

-- Updated September 11th, 2017, 7:57 am to add the following --

That's 1849, sorry ... the publication of "Origin of Species."

As far as I have read, Dawkins argued there cannot be a simplistic First Cause called God that created human beings and all things just like that.

Dawkins wrote:.. my theologian friends returned to the point that
there had to be a reason why there is something rather than
nothing. There must have been a first cause of everything, and we
might as well give it the name God.




Dawkins wrote:To suggest that the first cause, the great
unknown which is responsible for something existing rather than
nothing, is a being capable of designing the universe and of talking
to a million people simultaneously, is a total abdication of the
responsibility to find an explanation. It is a dreadful exhibition of
self-indulgent, thought-denying skyhookery.

I am not advocating some sort of narrowly scientistic way of
thinking. But the very least that any honest quest for truth must
have in setting out to explain such monstrosities of improbability as
a rainforest, a coral reef, or a universe is a crane and not a skyhook.
The crane doesn't have to be natural selection. Admittedly, nobody
has ever thought of a better one. -The God Delusion pg 157


Note Dawkins never claimed 'Natural Selection' is THE ultimate answer, rather it is "the most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered."

Dawkins wrote:The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is
Darwinian evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his
successors have shown how living creatures, with their
spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of design,
have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings.
We can now safely say that the illusion of design in living
creatures is just that - an illusion. - The God Delusion pg 158
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#13  Postby Atreyu » September 11th, 2017, 10:08 pm

OP, I completely agree with you. I've always said that Darwin's theory should be called the "Theory for How Life Changes Over Time" or something along that line. It in no way explains why life exists in the first place, or how it came into existence in the first place (although it can shed light on that). In other words, it cannot explain ultimate cause.

Cause is a question of why. The cause is why it happened. The cause of the ball going in the hoop is because the player shot it in. Why did the ball go into the hoop? Because the player shot it in.

Science cannot say why life exists, therefore in explaining causation they are bound to encounter a brick wall. Why did this species arise? (i.e. what is the cause of this species existing?) Because over time certain genetic mutations accumulated over time, and those that had a selective advantage were much more likely to persist and become permanent. But....

Why do genes mutate in the first place? And why does nature favor certain traits over others? (i.e. why does natural selection go in the particular directions it does?) Be... cause... uh...

Science has no clue, often forcing them to sweep the issue under the rug by saying something like "it's random" or "no reason we can tell" or "that's just how the world works", etc. But the truth is that the true causes behind the change of life on Earth can only be found by answering the two above questions, and if it is said that they have no answers, then it can also be said that "there really is no cause".

And this answer is never acceptable to any true philosopher....
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#14  Postby Steve3007 » September 12th, 2017, 3:07 am

OP, I completely agree with you. I've always said that Darwin's theory should be called the "Theory for How Life Changes Over Time" or something along that line. It in no way explains why life exists in the first place, or how it came into existence in the first place (although it can shed light on that). In other words, it cannot explain ultimate cause.


So it sounds like we can all agree that "The Origin of Life" would not have been a good title for the work of Darwin and it is fortunate that he didn't call it that. Since it, and the subsequent developments in Evolutionary theory, propose a mechanism by which life diverged into numerous different species, "The Origin of Species" seems reasonable. Yes? We may disagree with it. We may decide that the evidence put forward to support it does not adequately do so to our satisfaction, but I don't see how we can dispute the fact that the Theory of Evolution proposes a possible origin for the concept that we call "species". Even if, on considering that proposal, we reject it.
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Re: Confounding Cause and Effect

Post Number:#15  Postby Londoner » September 12th, 2017, 3:35 am

Rayliikanen wrote:Can an effect explain itself as it's own cause?

...he is confusing the explanation of an effect with the explanation of a cause... it is really the explanation of an effect that takes place in nature, therefore labeling it a cause is misleading. A cause is a cause and an effect is an effect.


If we describe something as a cause and another as an effect we are drawing attention to a particular relationship. 'The moon causes the tides'. But we are not saying the tides are only caused by the moon; it is also necessary that the moon continues to orbit and the seas are liquid etc. - these things in turn depend on general rules of chemistry and physics. If we listed all the things that cause the tide we would have to describe the workings of everything in the universe...and the same things would also cause the moon. So I do not agree that we can separate causes from effects.

I would say that if we explain the 'cause' of speciation we placing it within the workings of the universe as already understood, i.e. we are saying that it can be explained without our needing to bring in something exceptional, like aliens or God.

(There is also a certain ambiguity about 'cause' in that the word still retains the idea of purpose, intention. 'He fights for a cause'. I understand this is not an entirely separate meaning, since it came into Scholastic discussions about 'change' in a general sense, but I do not think we should assume it is meant this way when people like scientists use it.)
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