Mike Dunford posted Entry 1382 on August 22, 2005 06:21 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/1379

One of the comments that was inspired by my earlier post on the invasive gall wasps that are threatening some native Hawaiian plants raised a point that is worth responding to in detail, since it comes up fairly often both in arguments with anti-evolutionists and in discussions about the costs and benefits associated with conservation efforts:

“Big Bill” said:
“And further, letting foreign people plants and animals in always increases diversity. Sure, some native peoples, plants, and animals will die out, but it’s not like they have any right to the land. There is no God-given title. If the native peoples, plants and animals cannot compete and survive, that is their fault. It’s Darwin in action.”

Bill’s statement does capture a basic fact about the biological effects of invasive species: if the invasive species outcompetes the natives, resulting in the extinction of the native species, it is simply a case of natural selection. I cannot argue with that. There are some who might claim that situations involving invasives do not count, because the invasive arrived as the result of human intervention rather than “naturally”. I dislike that argument, both because it ignores the fact that the effects would probably have been the same regardless of the mode of arrival and because it implies that humans aren’t really part of nature.

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Comment #44367

Posted by Bayesian Bouffant, FCD on August 22, 2005 6:39 PM (e)

Yes, we must save the Wee Willie Winkie.

Wee Willie Winkie
Runs through the town,
Upstairs and downstairs
In his nightgown.
Rapping at the windows,
Crying through the lock,
“Are the children all in bed?
For it’s now eight o’clock.

Comment #44371

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 22, 2005 7:30 PM (e)

someone named Bill wrote:

“And further, letting foreign people plants and animals in always increases diversity.

Only at the moment of entry, not necessarily in the long run. But in any case, diversity is not a moral value, something intrinsically good.

Sure, some native peoples, plants, and animals will die out, but it’s not like they have any right to the land.

Whether native peoples have a right to the land is a matter of human ethics – I guess this Bill fellow is announcing his.

There is no God-given title. If the native peoples, plants and animals cannot compete and survive, that is their fault.

Fault is a normative judgment, and this guy Bill has offered no basis for his judgment.

It’s Darwin in action.

Which (allowing for the tendentious terminology) is not always desirable, any more than it is desirable to, say, let the Tower of Pisa fall over because that would be gravity in action, or to stand still on the roadway as a Mac truck approaches because that would be inertia and momentum in action. This guy Bill seems not to have thought in much depth about what he has written.

Comment #44375

Posted by Jim Harrison on August 22, 2005 7:42 PM (e)

According to evolutionary theory, natural selection tends to increase the inclusive fitness of organisms. That doesn’t obligate anybody to act to increase their own inclusive fitness, however. The ought does not imply the is, nor conversely.

Comment #44377

Posted by BC on August 22, 2005 7:53 PM (e)

“And further, letting foreign people plants and animals in always increases diversity. Sure, some native peoples, plants, and animals will die out, but it’s not like they have any right to the land. There is no God-given title. If the native peoples, plants and animals cannot compete and survive, that is their fault. It’s Darwin in action.”

If we every meet alien life, I sure hope they don’t believe Bill’s philosophy because it sounds like something an evil alien race might say just before they wipe out human civilization.

Survival of the fittest describes what happened (historically) and what happens in nature - where there are no laws and no morality. To turn “what normally happens in a world that has no rules” into “how things should happen” is equivalent to legitimizing the Mongol horde’s global invasion on the basis that warfare is what happens, therefore it’s morally acceptable; or that people in third-world countries deserve to die from disease because they haven’t yet figured out how to combat disease.

Comment #44379

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 22, 2005 8:02 PM (e)

The ought does not imply the is, nor conversely.

Inferring social “ought” from Darwinian “is” is Social Darwinism, a philosophy that Dembski and many of his fellow travelers appear to subscribe to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Darwinism
Because Social Darwinist theory intertwines so neatly with the Calvinist (also known as “Puritan”) theological concept of predestination, it remains a very important social theory in twenty-first century America - especially among social conservatives and economic libertarians.

Comment #44383

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 22, 2005 8:18 PM (e)

“Only at the moment of entry, not necessarily in the long run. But in any case, diversity is not a moral value, something intrinsically good.”

perhaps, perhaps not. I could easily make an argument for purely material value in maintaining or increasing biodiversity, however.

Comment #44392

Posted by Flint on August 22, 2005 8:50 PM (e)

Isn’t it the case that worldwide diversity is decreasing, mostly but not entirely through (mostly unintentional) human agency? In terms of worldwide impact on species, the human propensity to shuffle species around the world seems even larger than the appearance of the Central American land bridge what, 3 or so million years ago? Maybe all of the land bridges together.

Maybe some of the specialists here have some data suggesting that species from larger land masses tend to outcompete those that evolved on smaller masses, when the two come into contact? Or isn’t that mostly the case?

I personally hate to see what I consider attractive species like bluebirds get stampeded by starlings and English sparrows, but others may prefer different colors.

Comment #44394

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on August 22, 2005 9:03 PM (e)

Obviously, we should not let the wiliwili go extinct willy-nilly.

Comment #44404

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 22, 2005 11:43 PM (e)

“Only at the moment of entry, not necessarily in the long run. But in any case, diversity is not a moral value, something intrinsically good.”

perhaps, perhaps not.

And perhaps consistency, electricity, and visibility are intrinsically good and perhaps not, but I feel safe in saying that they aren’t when their definitions do not entail their goodness.

I could easily make an argument for purely material value in maintaining or increasing biodiversity, however.

By introducing predatory foreign plants and animals? That is the context of the comment. There is of course a general argument in favor of biodiversity; there’s no debate about that, unless you want to go out of your way to create one. But biodiversity is not a universal or unqualified material benefit – the elimination of smallpox and mosquito abatement programs, for example, are also materially good, as is clearing land to build a town – at least, arguably so.

Comment #44406

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 22, 2005 11:54 PM (e)

“And perhaps consistency, electricity, and visibility are intrinsically good and perhaps not”

not comparable. moral judgements are relative, hence why i said “perhaps”

“By introducing predatory foreign plants and animals?”

no, dufus, by NOT introducing foreign organisms. THAT is the context of the comment.

a very simple argument for biodiversity comes from chemical exploration within the biomedical/biotech community.

you wouldn’t bother to argue against that, would you?

Comment #44409

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 12:05 AM (e)

P.S. I probably made a mistake in thinking that “Big Bill” was Bill Dembski or someone channeling him. Mea culpa.

Comment #44410

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 23, 2005 12:14 AM (e)

and i made a mistake calling you a dufus; chalk it up to late night posting…. and i commented on what you wrote, in order to point out that there are material arguments in favor of biodiversity. I did not choose, however, to assume you personally had a postion one way or the other.

is there something else substantive you wish to continue with? otherwise we can start a flame war on the BW once it’s back up.

Comment #44411

Posted by Sir_Toejam on August 23, 2005 12:16 AM (e)

BTW, it’s quite possible that “Big Bill’s” comments were meant mostly tounge-in-cheek, based on the surrounding posts. However, i have run into folks with real philosophies that mirror what BB wrote.

Comment #44412

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 12:30 AM (e)

and i commented on what you wrote, in order to point out that there are material arguments in favor of biodiversity

As I have noted, there was never any debate about that; you could have pointed out numerous other things that had no bearing on what I wrote. But since you did see fit to claim it, I in turn noted that such arguments aren’t absolute. You seem to have found this so offensive that you call me names, make ridiculous counterfactual claims about “every thread”, and play the victim of my “arguments”. You also in essence naysayed my claim that diversity isn’t intrincally good, by saying “perhaps, perhaps not”, i.e., “not necessarily”, without giving any reason to think otherwise. As I noted, the definition doesn’t entail goodness, therefore it isn’t intrincally good. Of course moral judgments are relative, and we make relative and situational moral judgments about consistency, diversity, electricity, and visibilibility – the very fact that we do so shows that they are not good intrinsically, i.e., by their very nature.

As for dufusness, the context of the comments to which you responded was “invasive gall wasps that are threatening some native Hawaiian plants”. I don’t think I’m a dufus for characterizing that context as “introducing predatory foreign plants and animals”.

Comment #44413

Posted by Mike Dunford on August 23, 2005 12:37 AM (e)

Flint wrote:

Maybe some of the specialists here have some data suggesting that species from larger land masses tend to outcompete those that evolved on smaller masses, when the two come into contact? Or isn’t that mostly the case?

Isolation and size are the two important factors when it comes to determining the number of species that inhabit an island at equilibrium. When it comes to determining the fragility of the island ecosystem as compared to mainland ecosystems, however, I suspect that isolation is by far the more important factor. In general, the more isolated an island is, the more uncommon an event the establishment of a new organism becomes, and the more constraint there is on the types of organisms that can reasonably be expected to arrive. (Terrestrial mammals, for example, are in general notoriously inept when it comes to successfully crossing large expanses of open ocean.)

The result is that isolated oceanic islands tend to be populated mostly by organisms that evolved there, and which are found only there (endemic organisms). This, in turn, tends to result in an ecosystem where most of the species have not had to deal with intense competition for resources, and where they have not had to deal with a great deal of predation. The end result is a fragile ecosystem, and one that can easily be distubed by introduced species. This can be true regardless of the size of the island in question - Australian species have been threatened by invasives, as have species unique to Laysan Island in the NW Hawaiian islands. As far as size goes, the two are pretty much at opposite extremes.

David Quammen’s excellent book Song of the Dodo is a really good place to start if you are looking for a non-technical introduction to island biogeography. I simply can’t recommend it highly enough. For something more technical, MacArthur and Wilson’s seminal work Island Biogeography isn’t a bad place to start, as long as you are aware that the field has advanced a good bit since then.

Comment #44427

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on August 23, 2005 7:22 AM (e)

I could easily make an argument for purely material value in maintaining or increasing biodiversity, however.

It used to be that economics was the “subversive science”.

Now, it’s ecology.

Comment #44428

Posted by Rob on August 23, 2005 8:24 AM (e)

In his great layperson’s book Evolution: Triumph of an Idea, Carl Zimmer made the very good point that the introduction of multiple species across continents via human introduction is turning evolution on earth around a “blind corner”; the danger is, we really don’t know what the long-term implications of such a radical and swift change in the biosphere will be.

Once upon a time, animals & plants had to wait for a rare freak storm or an unlikely piece of driftwood to be introduced to a new ecosystem; now it happens every day, at a rate the world has never experienced in the 3.5 billion year history of life on earth.

I think this is definitely a potential cause for concern.

Comment #44430

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on August 23, 2005 8:51 AM (e)

As we mentioned in one of my graduate ecology classes, global warming is only an issue if you (for example) don’t want Minnesota to look like Kansas. The issue of invasive species is similiar.

Comment #44432

Posted by RBH on August 23, 2005 9:17 AM (e)

Reed wrote

As we mentioned in one of my graduate ecology classes, global warming is only an issue if you (for example) don’t want Minnesota to look like Kansas. The issue of invasive species is similiar.

Or if you don’t want Bangladesh to look like the Indian Ocean.

RBH

Comment #44434

Posted by Miah on August 23, 2005 9:54 AM (e)

I tell you what everyone, since I have found this blog I have increased my knowledge of evolution and various other aspects of it quite a bit. I hadn’t realized how far along this theory has become and how it is so intertwined within the natural order of most that is seen around us. Thank you all for excellent participation and a great learning experience.

Reed A. Cartwright wrote:

As we mentioned in one of my graduate ecology classes, global warming is only an issue if you (for example) don’t want Minnesota to look like Kansas. The issue of invasive species is similiar.

Hey..what’s wrong with Kansas??? (Naw…just teasin).

Could you elaborate on how the issue of invasive species is similiar to global warming?

Has there also been documented cases of invasive species becoming extict because they couldn’t adapt to their new environment?

For ts and Sir_Toejam:

Isn’t arguing “goodness” a point of perspective?

Comment #44435

Posted by Shaggy Maniac on August 23, 2005 10:19 AM (e)

Any time you ask a question about what one “should” do, you are asking a question that is ultimately answerable in terms of values. We may well attempt to use science to inform our values - a goal of conservation biology - but the decision to act or not act comes down to interacting/competing values. To argue one way or another that “what is natural” is what “should” happen is an attempt to shirk the responsibility of owning our values and is, I think, an example of employing the naturalistic fallacy.

Comment #44445

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on August 23, 2005 11:57 AM (e)

Miah wrote:

Could you elaborate on how the issue of invasive species is similiar to global warming?

The idea that invasice species are only a problem if you prefer to live with (or work with or profit from) native species.

It’s a simple statement that underlies a more complex idea that nature always is changing but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it.

Comment #44449

Posted by Mike Dunford on August 23, 2005 12:59 PM (e)

COMMENTS DELETED:

Some of you will probably notice that there are now fewer comments for this post than there were. I agree completely with those who want this blog to be as accessable as possible, and who want the language kept at an unobjectionable level. I have therefore gone back and deleted a couple of posts that had inappropriate anatomical references. Since I was deleting posts, I also removed a couple of posts that were only personal attacks on other people leaving comments. Finally, I removed the string of comments suggesting that language use be kept at a moderate level, since they weren’t contributing to the topic of the original post, and had been more or less rendered moot by the other deletions anyway.

Anyone who wishes to complain about these actions should refer to point one of the PT’s Comment Integrity Policy. Anyone who wishes to complain after that should feel free to refer their complaints to the appropriate circular file.

Comment #44452

Posted by Miah on August 23, 2005 1:55 PM (e)

Reed A. Cartwright wrote:

It’s a simple statement that underlies a more complex idea that nature always is changing but that doesn’t mean that we have to like it.

I see.

So within the context of this article, weather or not we want to save the wiliwili is not the real issue. It is more man’s power to quickly alter the natural course of evolution that needs to be in question.

Of course this all hinges on the balance of “goodness”, doesn’t it? I mean, if man introduced an invasive species, weather voluntarily or involutarily and it destroys that ecosystem, would that be considered a good thing or a bad thing. I think in the strictest sense for the darwinian notions of evolution it is neither good or bad.

My reasoning is this. The sense of right and wrong is only credible to humans and their perspectives. Once invasivity takes place and the native species cannot adapt, then this is natural selection at work. What really does it matter how the invasive species got there.

Comment #44463

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on August 23, 2005 5:04 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'i'

Comment #44465

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on August 23, 2005 5:08 PM (e)

Apologies for the above - my KwickXML fluency still seems lacking.

{Ahem} As I was trying to say:

I’ve been reading PT for several months, waiting to see when a topic would finally be devoted to the Sixth Extinction - after all, arguably the most important biological event in the last 65 million years - and am disturbed that this one instance seems the closest that the Thumb has come to it this year.

Human knowledge of the planet’s ecosystem is still so limited that we know neither how many species exist or how many are dying, just that both numbers are large, the former is shrinking and the latter growing. We can see - and without invoking “Gaia”-type theories - that evolution has produced a profoundly intertwined network around the planet which involves everything from climate to mineral distribution, based multiply on genes, organisms, populations and biomes, representing over 3.5 billion years of microscopically detailed adaptation. This represents, among other things, a database about LIFE in every known form, an irreplaceable treasure in pure-scientific terms as well as those of hard necessity (“economic value” being a small subset of this).

Annoying as the creationists are, they represent a pimple on a flea on a stampeding mastodon compared to the on-going loss to biological science (and to ourselves as a species dependent on the entire web) from the current devastation of the only gene pool we got. Countless ecosystems are being decimated by habitat destruction, invasive species transfers, over-extraction, colossal pollution, monocultures, genotoxins, climate change, warfare, and a host of other alarming mechanisms unleashed by human technology, greed & overpopulation - fill in the rest of the obligatory rant for yourself.

In American politics, these concerns have been relegated to a sub-ghetto of “liberal” concerns, and are treated with corresponding disdain & obliviousness by mainstream media and society. The dots aren’t connected, the alarm isn’t sounded - but this time the bridge between knowledge and action does not run only through one dimwit on vacation in Texas. Why is it that (evolutionists & other) biologists - already embattled, and receiving fresh reports on the extent & implications of this destruction from almost every field research project - are in practice acceding to such short-sighted, narrow-minded denial about a clear, present & gigantic danger?

(Yes, that includes you guys debating the abstract philosophical niceties of extinction - are you sure you wouldn’t be more comfortable in a theology forum?)

Comment #44471

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 5:29 PM (e)

Miah wrote:

Could you elaborate on how the issue of invasive species is similiar to global warming?

For ts and Sir_Toejam:

Isn’t arguing “goodness” a point of perspective?

Of course, which was my point, and is also the answer to your first question.

P.S. I find it odd that Mike Dunford left up the original personal attack in which S_T called me a dufus, even after S_T said he shouldn’t have. From the POV of evolution, such editing might be seen as creating a niche for that term.

Comment #44475

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 5:47 PM (e)

Of course this all hinges on the balance of “goodness”, doesn’t it? I mean, if man introduced an invasive species, weather voluntarily or involutarily and it destroys that ecosystem, would that be considered a good thing or a bad thing.

Well, do you consider it a good thing, or a bad thing? Mostly we consider it a bad thing – “materially bad”, as Sir Toejam would put it.

I think in the strictest sense for the darwinian notions of evolution it is neither good or bad.

Science isn’t a normative system – i.e., it doesn’t make judgments. There is nothing that is either good or bad from the perspective of science, only good or bad from our perspective, in light of our interests. There are fairly clear reasons why destruction of ecosystems is generally (but not universally – there are exceptions) against our interests.

My reasoning is this. The sense of right and wrong is only credible to humans and their perspectives. Once invasivity takes place and the native species cannot adapt, then this is natural selection at work.

First, that’s a bit of a stretch – it’s human-induced selection at work. Of course human behavior is part of the natural world, so our activities are, strictly, speaking, natural, but it’s useful to make distinctions, as between artificial and non-artificial, the latter being loosely called “natural”.
Second – so what? As I noted previously, we don’t let the Tower of Pisa fall just because that is gravity at work, or stand still on a highway as a Mac truck approaches just because that is inertia and momentum at work. There is nothing about natural selection that requires that we allow any particular instance of it to proceed.

What really does it matter how the invasive species got there.

Because it factors into how we might mitigate undesirable effects, just as the causes of global warming are relevant to how we might mitigate undesirable effects.

Comment #44479

Posted by Mike Dunford on August 23, 2005 5:52 PM (e)

Dufus is not an obscene term, and it is not likely to trigger a net-nanny.

For the record, my main concern was keeping the language within the bounds of what is generally considered to be socially acceptable. It would be nice if the tone of posts was kept calm and respectful, but I’ve been involved in the c-e debate for far too long to expect that. The bulk of the reply was more or less on topic, and the language was childish, but not out of acceptable bounds. So the reply stayed.

Comment #44487

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 6:02 PM (e)

Then I guess I should have responded “Don’t call me dufus, dufus”, instead of “Don’t call me dufus, [euphemism for a piece of toilet paper]”.

Comment #44489

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 23, 2005 6:07 PM (e)

Oops, my apologies for my vocabulary error. The correct term is “dysphemism”.

Comment #44594

Posted by Miah on August 24, 2005 9:27 AM (e)

ts wrote:

Well, do you consider it a good thing, or a bad thing?

Well, since I am a firm believer in taking responibility for one’s actions, weather intentional or unintentional, then I would have to concur that it is a “bad” thing.

ts wrote:

There is nothing about natural selection that requires that we allow any particular instance of it to proceed.

And conversly there is nothing about natural selection that requires us to do anything at all.

You make very good and valid points, and it seems that we agree on the case of human perspective and the notion that science, in its strictest sense makes no judgements.

ts wrote:

Because it factors into how we might mitigate undesirable effects, just as the causes of global warming are relevant to how we might mitigate undesirable effects.

Absolutely. Also to note that this also relates to our survival as well, wouldn’t you agree? Our self-preservation instincts (would that be the right word here?) as a species enhance our sense of perspective to do that which is perceived as “right” (in some cases).

The thing that I have a huge problem with is that those perspectives dimenish dramatically when there is nothing to gain in monetary compensation. Or our perspectives change to a more negative tone when the “profit margin” will not benefit.

I realize that may be a hasty generalization and I apologize.

Evolution has been doing it’s thing for billions of years, as a point made earlier I believe, how are we to know that we are doing anything good at all when we’ve only been around for a “blink of an eye” in terms of the evolutionary timeline.

Comment #44717

Posted by ts (not Tim) on August 24, 2005 9:10 PM (e)

how are we to know that we are doing anything good at all when we’ve only been around for a “blink of an eye” in terms of the evolutionary timeline

There are no guarantees, except that all things perish, including you, me, our species, our planet, everything. So do what seems best to you and don’t paralyze yourself by fear that it might not be best in some absolute sense; in the long run it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Comment #44763

Posted by Miah on August 25, 2005 8:01 AM (e)

Wow ts…That’s the best way I’ve seen it put in a long time.