Non-science factors influence scientific and popular thinking about aging. This is probably more true of the science of aging and underlying evolutionary mechanics theory than any other fields of science. These factors are especially important to the programmed vs. non-programmed controversy because it particularly depends on an evolutionary mechanics argument. While science (evidence-based logical argument) favors programmed aging, the non-science factors favor non-programmed aging.
Webster's defines fundamentalism as "a strict adherence to or interpretation of a doctrine." We can define scientific fundamentalism as a belief in a particular "scientific" doctrine that is rigidly retained despite any amount of contrary evidence.
As an example, Olshansky, Hayflick and Carnes say in a Scientific American article:
"The way evolution works makes it impossible for us to possess genes that are specifically designed to cause physiological decline with age or to control how long we live." No Truth to the Fountain of Youth, Scientific American, 2004
"Impossible" trumps any amount of evidence. This statement was made following discovery of "aging genes" and publication of multiple programmed aging theories. The statement also post-dates publication of no less than four scientific evolutionary mechanics theories that support programmed (adaptive) aging and therefore allow gene-controlled aging (evolvability, group selection, kin selection, and gene-oriented theories). These theories were in turn developed in efforts to explain observed discrepancies (other than aging) between experimental evidence and traditional evolutionary mechanics theory.
The sort of scientific fundamentalism described here, in which scientists pretend that contrary evidence and contrary theories do not exist, is rare in other areas of modern science because of a long series of embarrassing reversals. Newtonian physics, Earth-is-the-center-of-the-universe astronomy, and many accepted scientific doctrines have fallen or have been adjusted to fit new evidence.
Scientific fundamentalism in evolutionary mechanics theory may well be a reaction to the existence of religious opposition (see Intelligent Design).
Religious Opposition to Evolution Theory
Unlike any other field of science, evolution theory has been continuously opposed by religious groups for 150 years. Well funded and promoted pseudo-scientific alternatives to the species-descendency theory (creationism) and to evolutionary mechanics theory (intelligent design) have had substantial public impact. A Harris poll in 2005 indicated that 54 percent of Americans do not believe in species-descendency much less any scientific evolutionary mechanics theory. Scientific reaction to this situation leads toward fundamentalist and equally rigid support of traditional evolutionary mechanics theory as described above. Respected "legitimate" scientists are motivated to pretend that no legitimate scientific dissent exists in order to present a unified scientific position in the face of a pseudo-science onslaught. For a more comprehensive treatment of this subject see: Evolution Controversies and the Theory of Aging.
The "evolutionary" non-programmed theories of aging were developed following Medawar's 1952 publication of the idea that the evolutionary value of life declined after the age at which reproductive capability was achieved. At the time there were no scientific alternatives to traditional evolutionary mechanics so the theorists task was to produce the least implausible theory that fit traditional mechanics. Had alternative mechanics theories existed in 1952 an entirely different situation might exist now.
Public Ignorance of Evolution Science Issues
Every educated person has heard of Darwin, the traditional evolutionary mechanics theory (survival of the fittest), and the religious opposition to evolution theory. However, very few people are aware of the multiple scientific observations that appear to conflict with traditional evolutionary mechanics theory or the multiple alternative evolutionary mechanics theories that have consequently been developed. This situation aids those who deny that traditional mechanics has any scientific issues or contrary theories. Most people assume that any opposition to traditional theory is religiously motivated.
Good, Evil, and Theories of Aging
Most of us have been trained to think of growth, development, life, structure, and order as "good." We think of deterioration, decay, disease, aging, disorder, entropy, and death as "evil." There is therefore a strong pre-disposition to think of aging as being in a different and opposing category from growth and development. This produces a natural pre-disposition to think of our bodies as being designed to grow, reproduce, and fight disease, aging, and other evil factors. It is indeed difficult and counterintuitive to think of aging as serving a useful evolutionary purpose and therefore having been purposely incorporated into our design.
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