Structure of an Evolutionary Revolution

Editorial cartoon of Darwin as an ape (1871)

Editorial cartoon of Darwin as an ape (1871)

In the mid 1990s I had the opportunity to attend a local community play in the Rhea County Courthouse located in Dayton Tennessee. This courthouse was where one of the most famous trials of the twentieth century took place, the Scopes Trial. The New York Times described what took place there as “one of the most colorful and briefly riveting of the trials of the century that seemed to be especially abundant in the sensation-loving 1920s.” Every July local residents put on the play in the second floor courtroom, which has been restored to look the way it did during the July 1925 trial. In front of the courthouse is a plaque commemorating the place where John Scopes was convicted of violating a state law by teaching that humans descended from a lower order of animals.

In the basement of the courthouse is a museum, which contains memorabilia like the actual microphone used to broadcast the trial. When the annual play is put on, some of the museum pieces are used as props in the trial. The play’s dialogue is taken primarily from the transcript of the trial itself. The audience sits in chairs facing the judge’s bench. Members of the audience are selected to portray the jury, whose only task was to sit in the jury box and then leave the courtroom several times during the play when the real jury was excused.

Scopes was found guilty and he was fined $100, the minimum penalty. His attorney appealed the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which threw out his conviction on a technicality. He went on to study geology at the University of Chicago (on a scholarship by his supporters) and became a petroleum engineer. But almost 100 years later, his trial still represents one of the seminal times in American history where there was a clash between science and religion. Clarence Darrow, the famous defense lawyer who was one of the lawyers on the defense team for Scopes, said in his closing remarks:

 I think this case will be remembered because it is the first case of this sort since we stopped trying people in America for witchcraft . . . We have done our best to turn the tide . . . of testing every fact in science by a religious doctrine.

That sentiment is still alive today, as is the perceived conflict between the scientific theory of evolution and the religious doctrine of creation. The public portrayal of the so-called evolution-creation “debate” has misconceptions similar to those evident in Darrow’s statement. One example of thie misconception is an article Rachael Gross wrote for Slate a couple of years ago, celebrating how “Evolution is Finally Winning Out Over Creationism.” A key factor in her analysis was pointing to how “a majority of young people endorse the scientific explanation of how humans evolved.” By scientific she means a purely secular evolution—something not directed by any divine power.

Her hope is there will be a continual shrinkage of those who oppose evolution. One way this would occur is through individuals “converting” to evolution, regardless of their political and religious beliefs. “For the movement behind evolution to triumph, younger Americans who have been raised to believe in creationism need to be open to changing their minds.” Another way is by “generational momentum,” meaning that the switch will happen as older adults who believe in creationism die off. This is not really simply a crass hope based on waiting for old people to die or that young people will switch their views with regard to the “doctrine” of evolution.

It also reflects the thought of science philosopher Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In this seminal work on the history and philosophy of science, Kuhn said that normal science referred to research firmly based on one or more past scientific achievements that a particular scientific community “acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.” The process of normal science takes place within a scientific paradigm—where research occurs within the context of a scientific community committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. “That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science.” Kuhn acknowledged that the notion of his term ‘paradigm’ is intrinsically circular: “A paradigm is what the members of a scientific community share, and, conversely, a scientific community consists of men [and women] who share a paradigm.”

Any new interpretation of nature, whether a discovery or a theory, emerges first in the mind of one or a few individuals. It is they who first learn to see science and the world differently, and their ability to make the transition is facilitated by two circumstances that are not common to most other members of their profession. Invariably, their attention has been intensely concentrated upon the crisis-provoking problems; usually, in addition, they are men [or women] so young or so new to the crisis-ridden field that practice has committed them less deeply than most of their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm. How are they able, what must they do, to convert the entire profession or the relevant professional subgroup to their way of seeing science and the world? What causes the group to abandon one tradition of normal research in favor of another?

In answering these questions, Kuhn went on to observe that the proponents of competing paradigm are always at least slightly at cross-purposes. “Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other needs in order to make its case.” While each may hope to “convert” the other to his or her way of seeing science and its problems, the dispute is not one “that can be resolved by proofs.” Kuhn quoted the theoretical physicist Max Planck who said: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Kuhn went on to say:

The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is more like a conversion experience that cannot be forced. Lifelong resistance, particularly from those whose productive careers have committed them to an older tradition of normal science, is not a violation of scientific standards but an index to the nature of scientific research itself.

Darwin’s theory now exists as a foundational paradigm for a secular understanding of human origins. Within this context, Rachael Gross hopes for a completed paradigm shift within evolution that denies the possibility of any intervention from outside of the natural order. Young adult believers in creation need to convert fully to a belief in secular evolution. There is no room in her sense of evolution for theistic evolution/evolutionary creation. At most, it exists as a way station on the journey to secular evolution.

From this perspective, evolutionary creation unscientifically combines religious belief and evolution. Its needs to be jettisoned within a sincere scientific conversion experience to evolutionary belief. Older adults who are committed to the unscientific tradition of creation need to die off. Gross is carrying the banner once waved by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes Trial: “We have done our best to turn the tide . . . of testing every fact in science by a religious doctrine.” The evolutionary revolution marches on.

Darrow and Bryan

Darrow and Bryan

However, there is an unacknowledged assumption with regard to the philosophy of science when Gross equates secular evolution with “science.” Basic philosophical assumptions necessary for science include that nature is uniform; and that observable patterns in nature provide clues to help us understand the unobservable patterns and processes in nature. Our knowledge of the processes and patterns in nature is limited since we have not yet examined all there is to see in nature, nor have we observed it throughout it entire existence. This uniformity in nature is then necessarily assumed to hold universally. We assume the uniformity of natural causes in creation, in nature, but cannot prove it is true scientifically.

Francis Schaeffer pointed out that while early scientists like Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton believed in the uniformity of natural causes, they did not believe this natural uniformity existed in a closed system. He said this little phrase constituted the difference between natural science and a science rooted in naturalistic philosophy. It was the difference between what he called modern science and modern, modern science. In Escape from Reason, Schaeffer said: “It is important to notice that this is not a failing of science as science; rather the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system has become the dominant philosophy among scientists.”

Secular evolution would then be the product of what Schaeffer called modern, modern science. It rejects the possibility of a god or transcendent power outside of nature utilizing the natural process of evolution to develop life on earth. From this perspective, the Scopes Trial was fundamentally a dispute over two different systems of scientific philosophy with regard to evolution. The ridicule of literalist biblical belief and interpretation, embodied in the exchange between Darrow and Bryan, was collateral damage in the exchange. The underlying structure of the dispute over evolution is over the philosophical basis on which science can be done.

Pitting religion and science against one another as Darrow, Bryan and others have done, not only sets up a false dichotomy between them, it gives a distorted view of what the evolution revolution is all about.

If you are interested in learning more about the Scopes Trial, try this page about the Scopes Trial Museum or the Wikipedia page on the Scopes Trial. You can also read: Summer for the Gods, a Pulitzer Prize winning book about the Scopes Trial and “No Contest; No Victory.” Also, look at: When All the God Trembled, which discusses Darwinism and the Scopes Trial.


Drugs, Violence and Revolution

© loganban | 123rf.com

© loganban | 123rf.com

The recent killings in Oregon at Umpqua Community College by Chris Harper Mercer have again brought the issue of violence and mental health into the news. But there is an element in the narrative that is often missing in media reports of the incidents. Many of the shooters, if not all, were taking psychiatric medications or had recently stopped taking their medications at the time of the shootings. The misdirection of the spin on these incidents has largely been to argue for increased gun control or to press for more screening for mental health problems and to increase forced treatment—meaning increased forced medication.

Writing for The New American in March of 2013, Rebecca Terrell (“Psychiatric Drugs: Prescription for Murder?”) noted ten examples of young people who were the perpetrators of mass school shootings and who had a history of taking psychotherapeutic drugs. Terrell described an incident in 2001 where a 16 year old held a high school class hostage at gunpoint in Washington State. No one was killed or hurt physically. But he has no memory of the incident. “In the morning I didn’t feel like going to school. I felt sick; didn’t feel like I could get up very well. So I went back to bed. And the next thing I remember I’m in juvie in the detention center where I used to live.” He received a reduced sentence because expert psychiatric testimony convinced the jury his crime was the result of adverse effects from Effexor and Paxil.

We can add Mercer to Terrell’s list. C. Mitchell Shaw and Peter Breggin noted that Mercer was taking several medications, including antidepressants. Shaw reported that Mercer’s mother had him admitted to a psych unit because he quit taking his medications. Breggin posted a screen shot of Mercer’s Facebook page where he said: “I have a pill bottle with like five types of pills mixed in.  I don’t know which ones are the sleep aids, so I just took four of each.”  Breggin said that the major news media surely had access to the information on Mercer’s website, “but universally has chosen to withhold it.”

Shaw acknowledged that anecdotes are not proof and most people who take antidepressants do not become violent. “The fact remains, though that young people are particularly at risk of developing violent tendencies, suicidal tendencies, or both while taking these drugs.”

Dr Breggin has been a medical expert in the case surrounding Eric Harris (one of the Columbine shooters) and James Holmes (the Aurora movie theatre shooter). He said that Harris was taking Luvox (fluvoxamine) for a year before the incident. This was before and during the period of his “growing manic-like violent state.” He also had a therapeutic level of Luvox in his system on autopsy. Holmes was prescribed Zoloft by his psychiatrist, whom he told he was having very violent feelings, but did not want to fully describe them to her.

Over 120 days, he became more violent on Zoloft and began elaborately planning the assault on the movie theater. He stopped taking the drug 20 days prior to the shootings, but by then he was grossly psychotic, again in a manic-like state.

Breggin, Shaw and Philip Hickey all noted a newly published study indicating a link between SSRIs and violence, “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Violent Crime.” Hickey and Breggin also mentioned a study from 2010, “Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence towards Others.” The 2010 study looked at all the reports of violence reported to the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS). The other study, which was just published in September of 2015, is a retrospective study of 18 to 25-year-olds on SSRIs. Breggin said the implications of these two studies are enormous.

“Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence towards Others” showed that “serious acts of violence were regularly reported as an adverse drug event.” Chantix (varenicline), a smoking cessation medication, had the strongest association with violence. Antidepressants showed a consistently elevated risk of violence. See Table 1 in the study for data on drugs associated with violence. See Table 3 for data on the reported incidents of violence and adverse events for psychotropic drugs. The authors concluded:

These data provide new evidence that acts of violence towards others are a genuine and serious adverse drug event that is associated with a relatively small group of drugs. Varenicline, which increases the availability of dopamine, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors were the most strongly and consistently implicated drugs. Prospective studies to evaluate systematically this side effect are needed to establish the incidence, confirm differences among drugs and identify additional common features.

“Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Violent Crime” extracted information on SSRIs prescribed in Sweden between 2006 and 2009 from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register and information’s on convictions for violent crimes for the same time period from the Swedish national crime register. Their findings showed an association between SSRIs and violent crime that varied by age group. This did not prove a causative relationship between SSRIs and violent crime among young people. Nevertheless, “the association between violent crimes and SSRIs among individuals younger than 25 years is worrying.”

There are two principal clinical implications arising from this study. First, no association between SSRIs and violent crime convictions was found for the majority of people who were prescribed these medications, including individuals aged 25 y and older. Second, the risk increase we report in young people is not insignificant, and hence warrants further examination. If our findings related to young people are validated in other designs, samples, and settings, warnings about an increased risk of violent behaviours while being treated with SSRIs may be needed.

In “Psychiatric Drugs and Violence,” Hickey observed that while both studies indicate a link between SSRIs and violence, they have limitations that make it difficult to draw firm conclusions. So further research is needed into the association. There is a petition on We the People asking to launch a federal investigation into the relationship between school shootings and psychiatric drugs. Hickey said that one of psychiatry’s most obvious vulnerabilities is how various antidepressants induce homicidal and suicidal feelings and actions in some individuals, especially late adolescents and young adults. “This fact is not in dispute, but psychiatry routinely downplays the risk, and insists that the benefits of these drugs outweigh any risks of actual violence that might exist.”

Amazingly, psychiatry has consistently failed to conduct a comprehensive, prospective, formal research study on this matter, even though the need for such a study has been glaringly evident for almost 20 years.  It is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that psychiatry’s refusal to engage this question is motivated by a desire to suppress information, and to avoid the anti-psychiatry publicity that such a study will almost surely entail.

Perhaps psychiatry avoids research into the connection between violence and psychiatric medications to avoid the catastrophe of thousands or millions of individuals going off their psychiatric medications. The adverse effects of this could include an epidemic of self-harm or violence to others by mentally unstable individuals off their meds. So the paradox here is self-harm and violence is avoided by failing to investigate the connection between medication and violence. If this is the rationale of psychiatry, I think Thomas Kuhn’s idea of a paradigm shift in psychiatry applies.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn sees science as alternating between normal and revolutionary phases. Within periods of normal science, a paradigm provides the framework within which scientific work was conducted and evaluated. This view of science sees it as largely consensus-based around a reigning paradigm. Psychiatry fits this view of science to a “t.” Its heart is a consensus-based diagnostic system.

According to Kuhn, a paradigm is “the universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a [scientific] community of practitioners.” (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, viii) Normal science is largely “puzzle-solving” activity—figuring out how to apply the paradigm to new phenomena. “During periods of normal science the shared paradigm serves to define the relevant discipline, … to define what are legitimate scientific problems, to define what are acceptable solutions to problems, and to guide research into new lines of research.”

Occasionally, a result that is contrary to what the paradigm expects—an anomaly—occurs. Since biological psychiatry sees itself as scientific, evidence that medications contribute to violence and self-harm when they are supposed to lessen violence and self-harm is seen as an anomaly. Anomalies are either ignored or explained away if at all possible, according to Kuhn. When there are enough anomalies that defy resolution by the paradigm or when the anomaly involves something so central to the paradigm that it cannot be ignored, a crisis state develops. This is what I see happening to psychiatry. It is in this crisis stage.

If there is an acceptable alternative paradigm available, the new paradigm replaces the old one (a revolution occurs) and a new period of normal science begins with the new paradigm. Kuhn did not presume that a new paradigm would triumph over an older one because of its improved explanatory power. Rather like religion, “The transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm is a conversion experience that cannot be forced.”

Kuhn’s thought it still helpful for anyone opposed to seeing psychiatry as scientific. In an essay he wrote in the early 1960s, “The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science,” Kuhn observed that the social sciences were largely in a pre–scientific stage. He said this was because most of the social sciences were still “characterized by fundamental disagreements about the definition of the field, its paradigm achievements, and its problems.” (The Essential Tension, 222) This lack of consensus still largely applies to psychiatry and indicates it is still within a pre-scientific stage. To name but a few of the disagreements, there are disputes over conceptualizing and defining “mental illness,” whether electro convulsive therapy is treatment or torture, and whether the wide-spread use of psychiatric medication been an achievement in treatment or has it caused an epidemic of mental illness.

The effort made by psychiatry to present a united front and to ignore its anomalies like the connection between violence and psychiatric medications indicates it has an entrenched view of what it does as scientific. So be it. Let’s not waste time trying to convince its thought leaders of their error. But let’s continue to present information to the consumers of psychiatry on its anomalies and bankrupt theories. If people no longer believe in psychiatry and its views of how to handle problems in living, it will either have to radically change or be toppled from its position of authority. Let’s work for both options. Long live the revolution.