Darwin impersonator visiting England

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Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby ShaunJohnston » Wed Jan 08, 2014 10:51 pm

I give Darwin impersonations in support of evolution. I am 74, have a long beard and am British, though now living in the mid Hudson Valley in New York State, USA. I plan to visit England April this year and I am looking for opportunities to give presentations there on what it means we evolved.

I address my entertainment to the quite large section of the general public that believes in evolution but is neither Darwinist nor creationist. I believe that, like me, they value consciousness and free will too much to accept Darwinism, for the physicalism implicit in it. I make the case that human possession of consciousness, creativity, and a sense of free will justifies considering other ideas--Lamarckian perhaps but with a new mechanism for acquiring characteristics. I am leader of an atheist organization where I live (Hudson Valley Atheists), I'm no creationist. Consider that a theory of evolution that offers to account for consciousness and free will could be a greater threat to creationists than a purely physicalist theory like the modern synthesis that can't tell people how a conscious self could evolve, and expects them therefore to abandon their belief in free will. I encourage people to expect more from evolutionary theory than they're getting.

I have come across no one else making this case. This could be new and significant.

Here are sound recordings of the two presentations I offer:
http://evolvedself.podbean.com/mf/play/ ... volved.mp3
http://evolvedself.podbean.com/mf/play/ ... olved2.mp3
You can see video of me performing, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvL15jeMjhM

I was born in London, studied biochemistry at University College London, was a medical writer in Manhattan for eight years. I have published five books on evolution, two of them novels, and have recently written a play, a dialogue between Darwin and Galileo. My publishing website: http://www.evolvedself.com. A critique of Darwinism website: http://www.takeondarwin.com.

Is a challenge to both Darwinism and creationism, and proposal of a third way, welcome? If so, please suggest how I might pursue opportunities to give my presentations, and people I might contact. Ideal audiences: humanists, educators, philosophy students, parents etc. Email to -shaun at evolvedself com-
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby Brian Jordan » Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:54 am

Hi, welcome to the forum.
Your visit is topical, if perhaps a bit too late. I discovered this morning that we have a stage performance by Bob Newman (who perhaps I should of heard of but haven't). Apparently he's a comic with a performance called (his own) "New Theory of Evolution" which seems to fall between two stools, being neither funny nor scientific.
It's not at all well reviewed and I heard him this morning, by accident, on BBC Radio 4's "Saturday Live" (Available on iPlayer, near the beginning) and he sounded barely coherent.
Come and show them how to do better, please!
http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/comedy/robert-newman-soho-theatre--comedy-review-9048551.html
http://metro.co.uk/2014/01/10/robert-newmans-new-theory-of-evolution-more-radio-4-passion-project-than-comedy-stand-up-4258141/
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby cathy » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:12 pm

I discovered this morning that we have a stage performance by Bob Newman (who perhaps I should of heard of but haven't).
You probably have heard of him. He was in the Mary Whitehouse Experience in the 90s with David Baddiel and later on went on to do Newman and Baddiel before Baddiel went off to do Fantasy Football with Frank Skinner. They did History Today on the Mary Whitehouse Experience, the two ancient history professors - catchphrase that's you that is.

: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-3vM32kat4

Apparently he's a comic with a performance called (his own) "New Theory of Evolution" which seems to fall between two stools, being neither funny nor scientific.

I suspect he's refined it a bit but I saw him do that show here in Bromsgrove at the Artrix (where lots of comics seem to come to trial material before doing the bigger places). It wasn't rip roaringly funny and it didn't claim to be uber scientific but it did draw on real relevant science and it was a pop at some older, rather outdated evolutionary psychology.

His basic premise was that Dawkins and his selfish gene stuff was wrong and that altruism evolved as a specific trait not for some selfish, inexplicable reasons like recipricol altruism (as per Dawkins) but because it gave a selective advantage in itself. It is advantageous in the longer term to be nice for its own sake, and groups with larger numbers of nice people survive better as groups.

It also took a pop at a lot of evolutionary psychology (which lets face it isn't science at all - unless of course our early ancestors really did live like Dawkins style sexist gents from the 1970s - roaming round searching for food to feed helpless women at home, who of course made no contribution to evolution other than to look attractive - tho how without access to loreal, toothpaste and food is never detailed) by pointing out that a lot of observations of behaviour actually depended on the observor. He cited a study of baboons where male researchers had seen alpha males with harems but females had actually noticed that before any males were accepted into the group by these females they had to prove their worth by doing a stint of child caring of offspring that weren't their own.

His premise did seem to make more sense than the older Dawkins style selfish gene stuff as well. Because it took into account the fact that we may have evolved as individuals ,but we evolved as individuals who live in groups and rely on others, so maybe groups with more unselfish individuals survived better even if specific individuals didn't. I thought it made more sense than the old crap the Dawkins fans come out with about evolutionary psychology, Which never really matches any real world observations that I've ever seen.

I noticed that groups made up of altruistic individuals (schools, hospitals etc) tend not to thrive but do tend to survive in adverse conditions - they seem to be sustainable over time. Whereas groups made up of selfish individuals (banks, finance) tend to boom and then bust and tend not to be sustainable over long periods of time, even tho the individuals thrive. Tho only in the short term. He looked at empathy (a real trait), he looked at mirror neurons and various other strands of evidence that are real. And of course he was rude about Richard Dawkins (always a winner in my book).

I guess the very fact he was dealing with evolutionary psychology rather than biology meant it was never going to be scientific anyway. Cos as far as I can see that is just garbage that is made up and Rob Newman is as qualified to make it up as anyone else. I'm with the last chapter of Jerry Coynes why evolution is true book when it comes to evolutionary psychology I'm afraid - we really don't know enough to say anything conclusive at all about it. We aren't even yet in a position to make informed speculations. We are still just at the drunk bore in a pub stage of speculation.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby cathy » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:25 pm

If so, please suggest how I might pursue opportunities to give my presentations, and people I might contact. Ideal audiences: humanists, educators, philosophy students, parents etc. Email to -shaun at evolvedself com-

Hi Shaun, there is an organisation called skeptics in the pub that might be worth starting with.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby psiloiordinary » Sun Jan 12, 2014 8:07 am

Sounds like Bob is ignoring decades of research and debate about group selection and is pretending to his audiences that it is his own idea.

Ho hum - I wonder how many of his audiences will know enough to find him out?
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby cathy » Sun Jan 12, 2014 10:07 am

I'm not sure Rob Newman was ignoring anything about natural selection really. I know nothing about group selection or psychology or behaviour or anything else in that particular area, but I do know that a lot of the stuff he came out with about Dawkins observations of the world rang less true than the stuff he was coming out with. Empathy undoubtedly exists, altruism undoubtedly exists, we do live in groups and have to do so to survive, male and female are not clearly defined different roles and behaviour changes rapidly in line with culture, far too rapidly to be evolved.

The last Alice Roberts programme I saw suggested the obstetric dilemma explanation for helpless babies was outdated and that it could actually have been a long period of learning that was selected for rather than just a spin off of bipedalism and big brain - which would make sense in light of surviving in changing situations using nothing but brain power. That again would favour co operation for co operations sake. And whilst selfish individuals may thrive at the expense of the group, unless the group continues to survive to enable their genes to survive, their genes will go along with the failure of the group. So at the selfish level, if selfishness were the winning trait than the first generation of individuals would thrive at the expense of others, the second would die out for lack of co operation. Scratching each others back doesn't work as far as I can see. Banking and finance for example, only survive today cos they've been propped up. Altruistic individuals existing en masse within organisations like hospitals and schools keep things going through govt cuts and so on. And we've become nicer as we've become more civilised, in too short a time for the behaviour change to have evolved. I'm all for learning as a major factor.

But I am speaking from a standpoint of total ignorance and a major problem with evolutionary psychology which never seems to present the same body of evidence or logic that evolutionary biology has in abundance, along with geology etc. So I'm willing to admit I am very, very likely to be very, very wrong and very ignorant. I'm pretty sure I could just be letting my evolved trait of preferring things that suit to make me like Bob Newman just cos he shares my dislikes of Richard Dawkins and my desire to see everyone as inherently nice unless something has made them otherwise ha ha :lol:
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby Roger Stanyard » Sun Jan 12, 2014 10:25 am

ShaunJohnston wrote:I give Darwin impersonations in support of evolution. I am 74, have a long beard and am British, though now living in the mid Hudson Valley in New York State, USA. I plan to visit England April this year and I am looking for opportunities to give presentations there on what it means we evolved.

I address my entertainment to the quite large section of the general public that believes in evolution but is neither Darwinist nor creationist. I believe that, like me, they value consciousness and free will too much to accept Darwinism, for the physicalism implicit in it. I make the case that human possession of consciousness, creativity, and a sense of free will justifies considering other ideas--Lamarckian perhaps but with a new mechanism for acquiring characteristics. I am leader of an atheist organization where I live (Hudson Valley Atheists), I'm no creationist. Consider that a theory of evolution that offers to account for consciousness and free will could be a greater threat to creationists than a purely physicalist theory like the modern synthesis that can't tell people how a conscious self could evolve, and expects them therefore to abandon their belief in free will. I encourage people to expect more from evolutionary theory than they're getting.

I have come across no one else making this case. This could be new and significant.

Here are sound recordings of the two presentations I offer:
http://evolvedself.podbean.com/mf/play/ ... volved.mp3
http://evolvedself.podbean.com/mf/play/ ... olved2.mp3
You can see video of me performing, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvL15jeMjhM

I was born in London, studied biochemistry at University College London, was a medical writer in Manhattan for eight years. I have published five books on evolution, two of them novels, and have recently written a play, a dialogue between Darwin and Galileo. My publishing website: http://www.evolvedself.com. A critique of Darwinism website: http://www.takeondarwin.com.

Is a challenge to both Darwinism and creationism, and proposal of a third way, welcome? If so, please suggest how I might pursue opportunities to give my presentations, and people I might contact. Ideal audiences: humanists, educators, philosophy students, parents etc. Email to -shaun at evolvedself com-


I have some problems wiith your position. Nobody in science uses the term Darwinism or Darwinist. Lamackism has been well considered but is largely rejected because it doesn't fit the evidence. Preicisely what is this mechanism for acquiring new characteristics you suggest?
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby ShaunJohnston » Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:24 pm

Oh, dear! I like to hide behind my performance. But your question is too specific to ignore.

Background: In my thirties I was a physicalist (epiphenomonalist). Then I realized that couldn't be true. Since then I have been a passionate dualist, hostile to physicalism. Physicalism by itself would have little impact outside philosophy of science if Darwin hadn't become a Positivist just when he was looking for a mechanism for evolution in the late 1830's. Positivism (a review of Comte's Chemistry and Biology) inspired him to come up with natural selection, and others later to add to it genetic mutation, both purely physical processes. By implication, purely physical processes can generate only purely physical objects, it cannot therefore generate consciousness, creativity or free will. This tied in neatly with physicalism's claim that only physical processes can cause physical effects such as behavior. The effect has been for evolutionists to conclude that consciousness is an epiphenomenon and free will an illusion, and for these assumptions to color how evolution is accounted for in school biology texts.

My response: I see teaching the modern synthesis in schools as propagating physicalism and inclining children to see themselves as machines, particularly threatening when digital communications act as a Procrustean bed to shrink the self down to fit within the sensibilities of brief text messages. I am concerned with the influence of material monism and physical determinism on the selves of today's schoolchildren. And of my peers!

I have learned the hard way that one cannot counter the modern synthesis without offering an alternative theory. I have come up with an alternative theory, but it is so outlandish that I cannot deliver it except cloaked in comedy. Delivered thus, though, it does allow for comparison of the respective implications of a dualist theory and the modern synthesis, and encourage calls for a theory supporting dualism.

You may not subscribe to dualism but I believe dualists are entitled to have a dualist theory of evolution taught alongside the modern synthesis as a possible mechanism for evolution. There is no proof for the modern synthesis, it rules for being unchallenged. Note: creationism lies outside this debate, in fact, a dualist theory of evolution would be a much greater threat to creationism than the monist modern synthesis.

My theory: it's the genome, primarily, that evolves. In defiance to some extent of the laws of physics it evolved mental capabilities, including mechanisms for being genuinely creative. Eventually it became able to embed some of its own mental powers into its creatures, into us for instance it built some of its own machinery for being creative. Aspects of this machinery we experience as consciousness and free will. Like the modern synthesis, this theory is not disprovable, it is merely new.

Of course there are enormous improbabilities with this theory. But put into the mouth of Galileo in my presentation, protested against by Darwin in the name of common sense, the idea can be slid past the critical faculties and allow, for a moment or so, the implications of a dualist theory to be compared to those of a monist theory.

The case for dualism was made against natural selection in the 19th century but got drowned out by the case for special creation by God. Today, I call for those two cases to be distinguished, and the case for dualism reintroduced and taken seriously alongside the modern synthesis. That's my mission.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby Roger Stanyard » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:23 pm

ShaunJohnston wrote:Oh, dear! I like to hide behind my performance. But your question is too specific to ignore.

Background: In my thirties I was a physicalist (epiphenomonalist). Then I realized that couldn't be true. Since then I have been a passionate dualist, hostile to physicalism. Physicalism by itself would have little impact outside philosophy of science if Darwin hadn't become a Positivist just when he was looking for a mechanism for evolution in the late 1830's. Positivism (a review of Comte's Chemistry and Biology) inspired him to come up with natural selection, and others later to add to it genetic mutation, both purely physical processes. By implication, purely physical processes can generate only purely physical objects, it cannot therefore generate consciousness, creativity or free will. This tied in neatly with physicalism's claim that only physical processes can cause physical effects such as behavior. The effect has been for evolutionists to conclude that consciousness is an epiphenomenon and free will an illusion, and for these assumptions to color how evolution is accounted for in school biology texts.

My response: I see teaching the modern synthesis in schools as propagating physicalism and inclining children to see themselves as machines, particularly threatening when digital communications act as a Procrustean bed to shrink the self down to fit within the sensibilities of brief text messages. I am concerned with the influence of material monism and physical determinism on the selves of today's schoolchildren. And of my peers!

I have learned the hard way that one cannot counter the modern synthesis without offering an alternative theory. I have come up with an alternative theory, but it is so outlandish that I cannot deliver it except cloaked in comedy. Delivered thus, though, it does allow for comparison of the respective implications of a dualist theory and the modern synthesis, and encourage calls for a theory supporting dualism.

You may not subscribe to dualism but I believe dualists are entitled to have a dualist theory of evolution taught alongside the modern synthesis as a possible mechanism for evolution. There is no proof for the modern synthesis, it rules for being unchallenged. Note: creationism lies outside this debate, in fact, a dualist theory of evolution would be a much greater threat to creationism than the monist modern synthesis.

My theory: it's the genome, primarily, that evolves. In defiance to some extent of the laws of physics it evolved mental capabilities, including mechanisms for being genuinely creative. Eventually it became able to embed some of its own mental powers into its creatures, into us for instance it built some of its own machinery for being creative. Aspects of this machinery we experience as consciousness and free will. Like the modern synthesis, this theory is not disprovable, it is merely new.

Of course there are enormous improbabilities with this theory. But put into the mouth of Galileo in my presentation, protested against by Darwin in the name of common sense, the idea can be slid past the critical faculties and allow, for a moment or so, the implications of a dualist theory to be compared to those of a monist theory.

The case for dualism was made against natural selection in the 19th century but got drowned out by the case for special creation by God. Today, I call for those two cases to be distinguished, and the case for dualism reintroduced and taken seriously alongside the modern synthesis. That's my mission.


Your position all sounds a bit bonkers to me.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby ShaunJohnston » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:50 pm

I expected parts of what I said would seem very bonkers, but I hoped other parts wouldn't seem bonkers at all, so I'm glum that to you it all sounds a bit bonkers. Please help me with your snap judgments about the following questions.

Is it OK to see nature as genuinely creative, free to stray to some extent beyond the envelope of physical regularities the non-living world confines itself to that we call today's physics? Only living creatures seem to evolve.

Is it OK, particularly for someone who has experience of physicalism and can choose between them, to choose to be a dualist?

Is it OK for a dualist to believe he can be genuinely creative, like nature, similarly a little exempt from those physical regularities? In all my careers I got paid for being a "creative"--writer, designer etc, being able to be creative is important to me.

Is it OK to believe the modern synthesis can't account for living creatures being so exempt, conscious and genuinely creative, since the synthesis consists of only processes compliant with today's physics?

I understand my mechanism may be beyond the pale, I've no need of your judgment on that, only on the above.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby jon_12091 » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:51 am

Rob was on one of R4's weekend magazine programs talking about about his new routine - his pop's at Dawkins's and his selfish gene seemed entirely justified even on a very simplistic understanding of evolution and his comments about natural selection, or rather the somewhat trite phase 'survival of the fittest', also seemed to make sense in that its populations at the margins under environmental pressure that are likely to be major drivers of evolutionary change in a species.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby Roger Stanyard » Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:00 am

ShaunJohnston wrote:I expected parts of what I said would seem very bonkers, but I hoped other parts wouldn't seem bonkers at all, so I'm glum that to you it all sounds a bit bonkers. Please help me with your snap judgments about the following questions.

Is it OK to see nature as genuinely creative, free to stray to some extent beyond the envelope of physical regularities the non-living world confines itself to that we call today's physics? Only living creatures seem to evolve.

Is it OK, particularly for someone who has experience of physicalism and can choose between them, to choose to be a dualist?

Is it OK for a dualist to believe he can be genuinely creative, like nature, similarly a little exempt from those physical regularities? In all my careers I got paid for being a "creative"--writer, designer etc, being able to be creative is important to me.

Is it OK to believe the modern synthesis can't account for living creatures being so exempt, conscious and genuinely creative, since the synthesis consists of only processes compliant with today's physics?

I understand my mechanism may be beyond the pale, I've no need of your judgment on that, only on the above.


Sorry, but I can't see for what the heck you are on about.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby cathy » Wed Jan 15, 2014 4:04 pm

His pop's at Dawkins and his selfish gene seemed entirely justified even on a very simplified understanding of evolution
Having seen Rob Newman's actual new theory of evolution show I'd agree Jon. He cited lots of up to date stuff like mirror neurons. He was living in the real world in that he acknowledged emotions like empathy and sympathy. Sometimes I can't help feeling Dawkins is a sacred cow even to those who like him, and one that tends to try to shoehorn his own cultural background and ways of thinking into a general way of thinking and then claim it is because it's evolved. Problem is lots of us differ from him in how we think. His explanations just seemed far more logical than the selfish gene ones and Rob Newman is not an idiot or a zealot of any description.

That said he was billed as a comedian and from the Mary Whitehouse days I was expecting more comedy. It wasn't a laugh a minute, barely a laugh an hour.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby cathy » Wed Jan 15, 2014 4:06 pm

Shaun sorry, you've gone into the realms of philosophy which is beyond me. I've never studied it or come across terms like dualism etc. Can you dumb down your explanations for me? Simplify a little.
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Re: Darwin impersonator visiting England

Postby ShaunJohnston » Wed Jan 15, 2014 5:59 pm

Cathy, thank you for inquiring further.

I have several concerns. One is that modern evolutionary theory is just bad science. Let's put that aside.

Another concern is with what we assume about ourselves, how what we assume about ourselves could affect what we do and think. For example, we could believe we have "free will" or we could assume we are determined because we've purely physical. Believing we have free will is referred to by scholars as "folk psychology," something to be embarrassed about, believing we've determined is an aspect of "physicalism," today's most respected philosophy.

Belief in free will encourages people to try things and be creative. If you think you're determined, why would you try something, you'd assume it will either happen or it won't, whatever you think. And if you're determined, how can you be creative? That seems contradictory.

Generally, scientists accept they're determined, creative people like artists and writers think they have free will.

Everything else being equal it seems good sense to teach children they have free will. But there's a problem.

Today's evolutionary theory is the combination of two purely physical processes, natural selection and genetic mutation, expressed in mathematical form as population statistics. Usually referred to as "Darwinism", this is taught to schoolchildren as their origin story, how they're made. By implication it can create only things that are purely physical. That is, that are determined. And since that's what most people who write biology textbooks believe, it's also implicit in those textbooks. Schoolchildren are, in effect, being taught to believe they're determined.

On the other hand, there's a belief hidden in thinking you have free will--mind. "Mind" is a hypothetical realm free to some extent of the laws of physics. Belief that mind exists as well as the physical world is called dualism. Really, conscious experience alone is proof of dualism since physics can't account for consciousness, but physicalists make an exception of that, else we'd all be dualists, since we all experience consciousness. They say we can be conscious, but conscious thoughts can't have any effect on what we think or do: because consciousness isn't physical it can't affect anything that is physical, like our brains or bodies.

Suppose you do believe in mind, that we can come to decisions within consciousness, that we can be genuinely creative, and you want children to have the choice to believe that too, what alternative origin story would you offer them alongside "Darwinism"? It would have to account for us coming into the world with minds. Darwinism can't do that. In fact, that would contradict darwinism, because creatures could use mind to drive their own evolution. If darwinism had to allow for mind,then maybe you wouldn't need darwinism at all, maybe all of evolution could be driven by mind.

I'm a dualist, I believe l have free will, and I've taken on the mission of getting people to question darwinism and come up with alternatives involving mind. It's hard, because belief in darwinism is so ingrained people can't conceive of any reason for opposing it except belief in religion. Many scientists see consciousness and mind, and dualism in general, as supernatural, something to be suppressed.

Now my other posts should make more sense.
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