February 4, 2005


Anyone with a scientific and skeptical mind has been dubious of Darwinism all along, but what's notable now is that even the credulous, the Darwinists themselves, are shredding the theory, even if more often than not by accident:
Mothballed Science (Philip E. Johnson, December 2003, Touchstone)

The trouble started in 1998 when a moth expert named Michael Majerus published a book that Oxford University Press had, ironically, commissioned to commemorate Kettlewell’s achievement. Majerus disclosed enough of Kettlewell’s many departures from proper scientific practice to inspire a reviewer to examine the original papers and then to write in Nature that the situation was even worse than Majerus had suggested, so that “for the time being we must discard the peppered moth as a well-understood example of natural selection in action.”

Subsequently, Darwinists, including the reviewer himself, were horrified to learn that “creationists” were publicizing the Nature book review all over the Internet. (The word “creationist” in Darwinist usage has no fixed definition and is mainly an insult that Darwinists apply to anyone who challenges some tenet of Darwinism in an unacceptable or dangerously effective manner.) Even more ominously, shocking newspaper stories began to appear. For example, a headline in the London newspaper The Independent asked bluntly if the moth’s iconic status is based on fraudulent research.

I don’t have space to go into all the scandalous details, but one of the juiciest is that the moths, which are nocturnal, do not rest on tree trunks during the day but prefer to fly up into the branches. The textbook photographs were staged, often by pinning or gluing dead moths in place.

You can read the entire story in Judith Hooper’s wonderful book, Of Moths and Men. It is a bombshell. Dava Sobel, the acclaimed author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, describes the book on the dust jacket as a riotous story of ambition and deceit, about scientists who “arrange the evidence to arrive at the desired result.” Another jacket endorsement is by Ernst Mayr, the dean of living Darwinists. A Mayr endorsement is the nearest thing to a papal imprimatur that biology can provide.

The first reaction of biologists to the moth revelations is usually unconcern, because they assume that Darwinism is by now past all danger of refutation. A delayed panic typically follows, once the biologist realizes the likely consequences if publishers were to take the Nature reviewer’s advice and either drop Kettlewell’s bogus proof from the textbooks or admit all the embarrassing circumstances. For the Darwinists to hand the hated creationists a victory of that magnitude would be unthinkable, and possibly fatal.

For comparison, try to imagine the likely effect on the outcome of the Civil War if the Union Army had been forced at some point to abandon the national capital to the Army of Northern Virginia. The District of Columbia had little military value, and the northern states would still have had much greater resources than the Confederacy, but the symbolic effect, and eventually the tangible effect, of the setback would have been incalculable.

There is a colossal scandal in the peppered moth saga, and it goes far beyond anything that the over-enthusiastic Kettlewell may have done in the 1950s. The real scandal is that the most influential biologists overlooked the defects in the Kettlewell studies when they were first published, because the appearance of “Darwin’s missing evidence” was so convenient for them, and they continue to deny the facts today, to the extent of vilifying the messengers who bring them the bad news.

Even Michael Majerus, who provided the first disclosures that set off the scandal, has become a diehard defender of the official story, now that the delayed panic has set in.

Not black and white: a review of Melanism: Evolution in Action by Michael E. N. Majerus (Jerry A. Coyne, Nature)
Criticisms of this story have circulated in samizdat for several years, but Majerus summarizes them for the first time in print in an absorbing two-chapter critique (coincidentally, a similar analysis [Sargent et al., Evol. Biol. 30, 299-322; 1998] has just appeared). Majerus notes that the most serious problem is that B. betularia probably does not rest on tree trunks — exactly two moths have been seen in such a position in more than 40 years of intensive search. The natural resting spots are, in fact, a mystery. This alone invalidates Kettlewell's release-recapture experiments, as moths were released by placing them directly onto tree trunks, where they are highly visible to bird predators. (Kettlewell also released his moths during the day, while they normally choose resting places at night.) The story is further eroded by noting that the resurgence of typica occurred well before lichens recolonized the polluted trees, and that a parallel increase and decrease of the melanic form also occurred in industrial areas of the United States, where there was no change in the abundance of the lichens that supposedly play such an important role.

Finally, the results of Kettlewell's behavioural experiments were not replicated in later studies: moths have no tendency to choose matching backgrounds. Majerus finds many other flaws in the work, but they are too numerous to list here. I unearthed additional problems when, embarrassed at having taught the standard Biston story for years, I read Kettlewell's papers for the first time.

Majerus concludes, reasonably, that all we can deduce from this story is that it is a case of rapid evolution, probably involving pollution and bird predation. I would, however, replace "probably" with "perhaps". B. betularia shows the footprint of natural selection, but we have not yet seen the feet. Majerus finds some solace in his analysis, claiming that the true story is likely to be more complex and therefore more interesting, but one senses that he is making a virtue of necessity. My own reaction resembles the dismay attending my discovery, at the age of six, that it was my father and not Santa who brought the presents on Christmas Eve.

Peppered Moths - in black and white (Kevin O'Brien, 30 Mar 1999)
****** Response from Majerus regarding use of his book ************

Dear D*****, thank you for your e-mail. I am afraid that I do not have much
time this week, but your interest and points do demand some brief reply.
Below, following each point I give a response. You may use these as you see
fit, but please do not put my e-mail address on any discussion group

>Could you tell me:
>Do you think Coyne's review accurately represents your book and the status
>of pepper moth studies?

No. The review in Nature does not reflect the factual content of the book,
nor my own views. Indeed, Coyne tries to put words in my mouth by saying I
should have used "perhaps" rather than probably, in relation to the
evolution of melanism in Biston involving pollution and bird predation. I
do not even say probably. Indeed, on page 155, I say that my view is that
bird predation is of primary import, possibly to the exclusion of
averything else.

>What do you think of Coyne's claims in the _Telegraph_ that "Dr
>Kettlewell's widely-quoted experiments are essentially useless" and that
>"There is a lot of wishful thinking and design flaws in them, and they
>wouldn't get published today"?

My response to this can be gleaned from reading Chapters 5 and 6. Bernard
[Kettlewell] was a first rate entomologist and scientist. His experiments
were meticulous and generally well designed. In my opinion, many of his
experiments were among the best that have been conducted on melanism and
bird predation. The 'design flaws' in some of the experiments, if you want
to call them that were primarily a result of practical expediency because
Kettlewell wanted to be able to see birds taking moths, and to film them.
The only real flaw may have been his resting site selection experiments,
where he MIGHT (we do not actually know) have used moths from different
populations (see pages 142-143).

The Tyranny of a Concept: The Case of the Peppered Moth (Craig Holdrege, Praxagora)
In the mid 1980s I had a peppered moth epiphany. A peppered moth researcher described in an article that during twenty-five years of research he had found exactly two peppered moths resting on trees. How could that be? How could the moths' color in relation to the tree bark figure so prominently in evolution if the moths almost never rested on trees? Something strange was going on here. What had I been teaching? I began a search of the primary literature and over the next decade the solid and gleaming edifice of the peppered moth story dissolved into a shimmering illusion. What the textbooks were presenting and what all of us teachers were teaching was simply not true. This led me to write an article on the peppered moth (Holdrege, 1999). During the process I discovered that a growing number of scientists were writing about the same problems I'd discovered. The time was ripe for the myth of the peppered moth to be shattered.

A free-lance science writer, Dick Teresi, having read my article in Whole Earth, became interested in the story and interviewed me for an article in the New York Times Magazine. The article was never published. (At the very moment it was to appear, the Kansas School board "outlawed" the teaching of evolution, and an article critical of a central Darwinian example might have given the appearance that the Times supports creationism. Creationists have latched onto the peppered moth in their efforts to discredit evolutionary thought.)

The rise and fall of Piltdown Man, a 20th-century hoax (Guy Gugliotta, November 9, 2003, Washington Post)
As scientific hoaxes go, few have matched it. Sometime early in the 20th century, someone -- it is still unclear who -- "salted" a gravel pit near the town of Piltdown, England, with what were purported to be the 500,000-year-old fossil remains of a human ancestor -- half human, half ape.

The timing couldn't have been better. Darwin's "Origin of Species" was barely 50 years old, the French and Germans had found Neanderthals, and the race was on to discover the storied "missing link" in the evolution from apes to humans.

"In Britain we had some early modern humans, but nothing really old," paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer said in a telephone interview from his office in Britain's Natural History Museum. "There were stone tools, though, so there was almost a national expectation that we should have something."

And suddenly, there it was. Piltdown Man made his appearance in 1912 and held a place of honor in the museum until Nov. 21, 1953, when a new generation of scientists announced that the famous fossil was a fraud. [...]

And why did it take half a century to figure out that Piltdown man was a phony? "The people who believed in it were very powerful," Stringer said, especially Arthur Smith Woodward, the museum's leading geologist at the time of the discovery. "You had to be very cautious about taking after people like this."

Dino Hoax Was Mainly Made of Ancient Bird, Study Says (Hillary Mayell, November 20, 2002, National Geographic News)
The principal part of a famously fabricated dinosaur fossil is an ancient fish-eating bird, scientists report.

The Archaeoraptor fossil was introduced in 1999 and hailed as the missing evolutionary link between carnivorous dinosaurs and modern birds. It was fairly quickly exposed as bogus, a composite containing the head and body of a primitive bird and the tail and hind limbs of a dromaeosaur dinosaur, glued together by a Chinese farmer.

Initial CT scans suggested that the fossil might have been made up of anywhere from two to five specimens of two or more species. Chinese and American scientists now report that the fabricated fossil is made up of two species.

The Archaeoraptor fossil introduced in 1999 as the missing evolutionarylink between carnivorous dinosaurs and modern birds turned out to be a composite of two different species previously unknown to scientists. The tail and hind legs belong to a crow-sized dinosaur, Microraptorzhaoianus; the head and body belong to a fish-eating bird known as Yanornis martini.

THE ACCIDENTAL CREATIONIST: Why Stephen Jay Gould is bad for evolution. (ROBERT WRIGHT, 12/13/99, The New Yorker)
Over the past three decades, in essays, books, and technical papers, Gould has advanced a distinctive view of evolution. He stresses its flukier aspects—freak environmental catastrophes and the like— and downplays natural selection's power to design complex life forms. In fact, if you really pay attention to what he is saying, and accept it, you might start to wonder how evolution could have created anything as intricate as a human being.

As it happens, creationists have been wondering the very same thing, and they're delighted to have a Harvard paleontologist who will nourish their doubts. Gould is a particular godsend to the more intellectual anti-evolutionists, who mount the sustained (and ostensibly secular) critiques that give creationism a veneer of legitimacy. In attacking Darwinian theory, they don't have to build a straw man; Gould has built one for them. When Phillip E. Johnson, the most noted of these writers, begins a sentence, "As Stephen Jay Gould describes it, in his fine book," this is not good cause for Gould to swell with pride.

Gould also performs a more subtle service for creationists. Having bolstered their caricature of Darwinism as implausible, he bolsters their caricature of it as an atheist plot. He depicts evolution as something that can't possibly reflect a higher purpose, and thus can't provide the sort of spiritual consolation most people are after. Even Gould's recent book "Rocks of Ages," which claims to reconcile science and religion, draws this moral from the story of evolution: we live in a universe that is "indifferent to our suffering."

Obviously, if the grounds for this conclusion are as firm as he says, then we have to live with it.

The Origin of Specious: And why reductionists are winning the Darwin wars (Harvey Blume, 9.23.02, American Prospect)
Stephen Jay Gould, who died of cancer at the age of 60 this past May, defined a place in American culture likely to remain vacant now that he is gone. He was, of course, the country's foremost opponent of creationism and champion of Darwinism, with a unique ability to bring the HMS Beagle and baseball batting averages together in a perfect paragraph or two. But what we may come to value most about him is the lonely stance he took in the Darwin wars.

In the heated, often venomous battle over Charles Darwin's legacy, Gould faced a redoubtable crew from the fields of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, genetics and philosophy. What's more, many of these individuals, including E.O. Wilson, Stephen Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Robert Wright, have literary and polemical talents rivaling his own. Science will decide the relative merits of their arguments over topics such as punctuated equilibrium, speciation and the nature of complexity. But the cultural stakes of the dispute are obvious already. Gould's opponents advocate one form or another of a digital Darwinism. Their grand syntheses are unimaginable without the computer revolution. Their reductionist emphasis -- and their hopes for a single, internally coherent theory of everything from mitochondria to the human mind -- draws heavily on the tools, methods and examples of digitalization. Gould's views, on the other hand, owed next to nothing to computers. His Darwinism would have sounded much the same without computer code, artificial intelligence (AI) or the Internet.

Gould was by no means oblivious or opposed to digitalization. He records, for example, that browsing a window display festooned with the "beeping, flashing, almost living and pulsating" offshoots of computer technology forced his "reluctant paleontologist's soul to a recognition that the revolution is already upon us -- the most profound change in human life since everything from trains to television brought us all together." And he did not laugh at the great geek dream that a silicon brain might one day be built that would far surpass the organic model. Gould saw that real AI would signify a break with nature as we thought we knew it, but that didn't bother him. He was a fan of breaks, ruptures and discontinuities; his insistence on their importance to evolution was a chief bone of contention with his opponents. But when it came to digital discontinuity, he lacked any compelling personal need to make it to the other side. The typewriter was his keyboard of choice, when pencil and paper didn't suffice. And he preferred face-to-face encounters to e-mails and the Internet.

Compare this modus operandi with that of, say, Dawkins. His book The Blind Watchmaker was delayed, he confesses with the sly grin of the confirmed hacker, because he felt compelled to first write "Scrivener," his very own word processor. He was "addicted," as he put it, to machine code, the most unevolved (not to say barbaric) and certainly the most demanding of all computer languages, the use of which requires familiarity with the hardware foibles of one's particular machine. It's not a great stretch to see how the author of Scrivener might also be the leading proponent of the notion that the gene -- as opposed to the organism or the species -- is the basic unit and driving force of evolutionary change. Dawkins waxes rhapsodic about the fact that organisms and computers are, beneath it all, code-driven things. "The machine code of the genes," he writes, "is uncannily computer-like. Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular-biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer-engineering journal."

Of course, in science, what inspires an idea has no bearing on its validity. Coding Scrivener might well have helped Dawkins understand the mechanics of the selfish gene. And about the inescapability of cultural influence on scientific work, all sides in the Darwin wars agree. As Gould put it, "The social embeddedness of science is not always a negative. Sometimes it helps you along to an insight you didn't have before." Dennett's complementary formulation is that progress "made in science is greatly abetted by the temporary hampering of the imagination [enforced by culture]." It would seem that on this issue, at least, a sort of Christmas truce prevailed among combatants. The problem, though, is that cultural influences as distinct as Gould's and Dennett's reinforce very different views of science. And when computers are the source of influence, as in Dennett's case, it's never clear where culture ends and science begins.

Dennett draws on the discipline of artificial intelligence not just for metaphors but for literal models of the human mind. AI, in his view, gives philosophers, at long last, a lab. If you want to try out a particular theory of mind, he admonishes them, don't sit around and theorize. Get out the manual, write the code, run the damn thing and see what happens. The philosophers, he might have written, have only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to code it. Like Dawkins, Dennett believes that code is the great unifier. If Dawkins can write Scrivener, then over the eons -- during which time its products are launched, tested and debugged by natural selection -- nature can, and in fact has, coded up such things as monkeys.

God (or Not), Physics and, of Course, Love: Scientists Take a Leap (NY Times, 1/04/05)
"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"
This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to science. The site asks a new question at the end of each year. Here are excerpts from the responses, to be posted Tuesday at www.edge.org. [...]

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist, Oxford University; author, "The Ancestor's Tale"

I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all "design" anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

Intellectuals Who Doubt Darwin: Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing Edited by William A. Dembski (Hunter Baker, 11/24/2004, American Spectator)
At one time, the debate over Darwin's theory existed as a cartoon in the modern imagination. Thanks to popular portrayals of the Scopes Trial, secularists regularly reviewed the happy image of Clarence Darrow goading William Jennings Bryan into agreeing to be examined as an expert witness on the Bible and then taking him apart on the stand. Because of the legal nature of the proceedings that made evolution such a permanent part of the tapestry of American pop culture, it is fitting that this same section of the tapestry began to unravel due to the sharp tugs of another prominent legal mind, Phillip Johnson.

The publication of his book, Darwin on Trial, now appears to have marked a new milestone in the debate over origins. Prior to Johnson's book, the critics of evolution tended to occupy marginalized sectarian positions and focused largely on contrasting Darwin's ideas with literalist readings of the Genesis account. Johnson's work was different. Here we had a doubter of Darwin willing to come out of the closet, even though his credentials were solid gold establishment in nature. He had attended the finest schools, clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, taught law as a professor at highly ranked Berkeley, and authored widely-used texts on criminal law. Just as Darrow cross-examined the Bible and Bryan's understanding of it, Johnson cross-examined Darwin and got noticed in the process. He spent much of the last decade debating the issue with various Darwinian bulldogs and holding up his end pretty well. [...]

TOP HONORS, HOWEVER, go to David Berlinski's essay, "The Deniable Darwin," which originally appeared in Commentary. The essay is rhetorically devastating. Berlinski is particularly strong in taking apart Richard Dawkins' celebrated computer simulation of monkeys re-creating a Shakespearean sentence and thereby "proving" the ability of natural selection to generate complex information. The mathematician and logician skillfully points out that Dawkins rigged the game by including the very intelligence in his simulation he disavows as a cause of ordered biological complexity. It's clear that Berlinski hits a sore spot when one reads the letters Commentary received in response to the article. Esteemed Darwinists like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett respond with a mixture of near-hysterical outrage and ridicule. Berlinski's responses are also included. At no point does he seem the slightest bit cowed or overwhelmed by the personalities arrayed against him.

For the reader, the result is simply one of the most rewarding reading experiences available.

The Dawkins's monkeys example is always musing to look at as an instance of an argument for Natural Selection that requires not just teleology but a continually intervening Intelligence:
I don't know who it was first pointed out that, given enough time, a monkey bashing away at random on a typewriter could produce all the works of Shakespeare. The operative phrase is, of course, given enough time. Let us limit the task facing our monkey somewhat. Suppose that he has to produce, not the complete works of Shakespeare but just the short sentence 'Methinks it is like a weasel', and we shall make it relatively easy by giving him a typewriter with a restricted keyboard, one with just the 26 (capital) letters, and a space bar. How long will he take to write this one little sentence?

The sentence has 28 characters in it, so let us assume that the monkey has a series of discrete 'tries', each consisting of 28 bashes at the keyboard. If he types the phrase correctly, that is the end of the experiment. If not, we allow him another 'try' of 28 characters. I don't know any monkeys, but fortunately my 11-month old daughter is an experienced randomizing device, and she proved only too eager to step into the role of monkey typist. Here is what she typed on the computer:


She has other important calls on her time, so I was obliged to program the computer to simulate a randomly typing baby or monkey:


And so on and on. It isn't difficult to calculate how long we should reasonably'expect to wait for the random computer (or baby or
monkey) to type METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL. Think about the total number of possible phrases of the right length that the monkey or baby or random computer could type. It is the same kind of calculation as we did for haemoglobin, and it produces a similarly large result. There are 27 possible letters (counting 'space' as one letter) in the first position. The chance of the monkey happening to get the first letter-M -right is therefore 1 in 27. The chance of it getting the first two letters — ME - right is the chance of it getting the second letter - E - right (1 in 27) given that it has also got the first letter - M - right, therefore 1/27 x 1/27, which equals 1/729. The chance of it getting the first word - METHINKS - right is 1/27 for each of the 8 letters, therefore (1/27) X (1/27) x (1/27) x (1/27). .., etc. 8 times, or (1/27) to the power 8. The chance of it getting the entire phrase of 28 characters right is (1/27) to the power 28, i.e. (1/27) multiplied by itself 28 times. These are very small odds, about 1 in 10,000 million million million million million million. To put it mildly, the phrase we seek would be a long time coming, to say nothing of the complete works of Shakespeare.

So much for single-step selection of random variation. What about cumulative selection; how much more effective should this be? Very very much more effective, perhaps more so than we at first realize, although it is almost obvious when we reflect further. We again use our computer monkey, but with a crucial difference in its program. It again begins by choosing a random sequence of 28 letters, just as before:


It now 'breeds from' this random phrase. It duplicates it repeatedly, but with a certain chance of random error - 'mutation' - in the copying. The computer examines the mutant nonsense phrases, the 'progeny' of the original phrase, and chooses the one which, however slightly, most resembles the target phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL.

Evolutionary Psychology and Its True Believers (Andrew Ferguson, March 19, 2001, Weekly Standard)
It's become commonplace to point out that of modernity's three most influential thinkers—Marx, Freud, and Darwin—only Darwin enters the twenty-first century with his reputation intact. But Darwin has troubles of his own. The troubles come not only from the right, where creationists and other religiously minded conservatives nip around the ankles of evolutionary theory, but also from the left, where social scientists, and even some real scientists, worry about the ends to which Darwin's great idea might be put.

It's a particular kind of Darwinism that has the left-wingers worried. Twenty-five years ago it ran under the name sociobiology; since then it has been slightly modified and rechristened "evolutionary psychology." Under either name it is an ambitious enterprise that claims to explain the patterns of human behavior—everything from child-rearing practices to religion to shopping habits—as a consequence of Darwinian natural selection. Sociobiology (or evolutionary psychology, or neo-Darwinism; we can use the terms interchangeably) has become a favorite of such conservative polemicists as Charles Murray, James Q. Wilson, Tom Wolfe, and Francis Fukuyama. At the same time, polemicists on the left compare it to Nazism (polemicists on the left compare lots of things to Nazism, of course, but now they seem to mean it).

Right-wingers suddenly embracing Darwin, while left-wingers try furiously to contain him—we've come a long way from the Scopes monkey trial. This makes for one of the more unexpected disputes in recent intellectual history, though it's hard to keep the sides straight without a program. Luckily, a spate of recent books helps the layman put the bickering in perspective. And as good a place as any to begin is with Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology, a collection of essays edited by Hilary and Steven Rose and published late last year.

Hilary is a sociologist, Steven a biologist, but both, more pertinently, are grizzled veterans of the 1960s New Left. So are their contributors, among them the postmodern theorist and architect Charles Jencks and the Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Alas, Poor Darwin is merely the latest in a series of essay collections, going back to the late 1970s, that Steven Rose has edited for the purpose of placing sociobiology beyond the bounds of polite society. One of his earlier collections, Not in Our Genes (1984), drew such a blistering review from the sociobiologist Richard Dawkins that Rose threatened to sue for libel. These scientists don't fool around.

Rose sums up the sociobiological view neatly: "It claims to explain all aspects of human behavior, and then culture and society, on the basis of universal features of human nature that found their final evolutionary form during the infancy of our species some 100,000-600,000 years ago." Roaming the African savanna for thousands of centuries, homo sapiens adapted to environmental challenges through the process of natural selection, developing the genetic tendencies that shape our behavior today. The application of this view knows no limit. As Rose points out, sociobiology has got into our "cultural drinking water." It's not at all unusual to switch on, say, the Today show—if you're the sort of person who switches on the Today show—and see one or another pop psychologist tracing, say, the American male's love for golf to the evolutionary development of the species: The golf course's rolling landscape, dotted with water and clumps of trees, appeals to our genetic memories of the long-ago savanna.

"It is the argument of the authors of this book," writes Rose in his introduction, "that the claims of [sociobiology] in the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and philosophy are for the most part not merely mistaken, but culturally pernicious"—not just bad science but bad politics, too: right-wing politics. Roughly half the essays in the book are explicitly political, though the political objections bubble unmistakably through the others. [...]

As several essayists note in Alas, Poor Darwin, the ascendancy of evolutionary psychology in the late 1970s and 1980s coincided with the rise of Reaganism and Thatcherism in our politics. "The political agenda," writes Rose, "is transparently part of a right-wing libertarian attack on collectivity, above all the welfare state."

Some of the essayists have another beef: Far worse than playing politics, sociobiologists are practicing religion . Perhaps the most amusing feature of the debates between sociobiologists and their critics is the ferocity with which each side accuses the other of harboring religious sentiments, as though nothing could be more contemptible. When they get really mad the combatants hurl imprecations like "true believer" and "choirmaster." Stephen Jay Gould calls sociobiologists "Darwinian fundamentalists." His opposite number, Richard Dawkins, says that critics like Gould are "demonological theologians." Dorothy Nelkin, a sociologist from New York University, is on Gould's side. She devotes her essay in Alas, Poor Darwin to arguing that sociobiology is merely religion in disguise and, for that reason (though she doesn't have to say so explicitly), illegitimate as either science or philosophy.

Given that every prominent sociobiologist, from Pinker to Dawkins to Wilson, has ardently declared his atheism, you might think Nelkin has a difficult case to make. Dawkins, who is the most outspoken in this regard, calls religious belief a "virus of the mind" and says that anyone who believes that the existence of the universe implies the existence of a creator is by definition "scientifically illiterate." Wilson is emphatic that religion and science are incompatible, and that the practical achievements of science make religion intellectually untenable. Sociobiology routinely dismisses religious belief as a delusion that long ago may have had some "adaptive function," helping humans to survive and flourish, but which is no longer necessary.

In what sense, then, is evolutionary psychology a religion? "Scientists who call themselves evolutionary psychologists," Nelkin writes, "are addressing questions about meaning, about why things happen, about the ultimate ground of nature. . . . More than a scientific theory, evolutionary psychology is a quasi-religious narrative, providing a simple and compelling answer to complex and enduring questions concerning the case of good and evil, the basis of moral responsibility and age-old questions about the nature of human nature."

Anyone familiar with evolutionary psychology will see her point. One of the first things a layman notices upon wading into the literature is the grandiosity of its claims. The titles of the books, by both popularizers and scientists, are spectacular. Wilson himself has written On Human Nature and Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge; Robert Wright, who used to be a journalist before he moved on to much, much larger things, writes books with such subtitles as Why We Are the Way We Are and The Logic of Human Destiny. Other sociobiology titles: The Web of Life, Evolution and the Meaning of Life, The Origins of Virtue, and The Biology of Morality. The hyperbole is more than a publisher's marketing ploy. This is really the way sociobiologists think.

So of course the immodesty extends beyond the titles. "If the theory of natural selection is correct," Wright wrote, "then essentially everything about the human mind should be intelligible in these [Darwinian] terms. . . . Slowly but unmistakably, a new world view is emerging," he went on. "Once truly grasped . . . it can entirely alter one's perception of social reality." Laura Betzig, editor of a collection of sociobiology essays called, typically enough, Human Nature, introduces the book like so: "It's happened. We have finally figured out where we come from, why we're here, and who we are."

Sociobiology is a theory of simply everything. Darwin's original version of natural selection was already comprehensive, claiming to account for almost all the physical attributes of the planet's animal and vegetable life. But evolutionary psychologists extend Darwin's principle to bear on the mental life and cultural practices of human beings. Like most religions, evolutionary psychology tells a story—a myth, in the sociological sense of the word.

The Ionian Enchantment (Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward O. Wilson)
I remember very well the time I was captured by the dream of unified learning. It was in the early fall of 1947, when at eighteen I came up from Mobile to Tuscaloosa to enter my sophomore year at the University of Alabama. A beginning biologist, fired by adolescent enthusiasm but short on theory and vision, I had schooled myself in natural history with field guides carried in a satchel during solitary excursions into the woodlands and along the freshwater streams of my native state. I saw science, by which I meant (and in my heart I still mean) the study of ants, frogs, and snakes, as a wonderful way to stay outdoors.

My intellectual world was framed by Linnaeus, the eighteenth-century Swedish naturalist who invented modern biological classification. The Linnaean system is deceptively easy. You start by separating specimens of plants and animals into species. Then you sort species resembling one another into groups, the genera. Examples of such groups are all the crows and all the oaks. Next you label each species with a two-part Latinized name, such as Corvus ossifragus for the fish crow, where Corvus stands for the genus--all the species of crows--and ossifragus for the fish crow in particular. Then on to higher classification, where similar genera are grouped into families, families into orders, and so on up to phyla and finally, at the very summit, the six kingdoms--plants, animals, fungi, protists, monerans, and archaea. It is like the army: men (plus women, nowadays) into squads, squads into platoons, platoons into companies, and in the final aggregate, the armed services headed by the joint chiefs of staff. It is, in other words, a conceptual world made for the mind of an eighteen-year-old.

I had reached the level of the Carolus Linnaeus of 1735 or, more accurately (since at that time I knew little of the Swedish master), the Roger Tory Peterson of 1934, when the great naturalist published the first edition of A Field Guide to the Birds. My Linnaean period was nonetheless a good start for a scientific career. The first step to wisdom, as the Chinese say, is getting things by their right names.

Then I discovered evolution. Suddenly--that is not too strong a word--I saw the world in a wholly new way. This epiphany I owed to my mentor Ralph Chermock, an intense, chain-smoking young assistant professor newly arrived in the provinces with a Ph.D. in entomology from Cornell University. After listening to me natter for a while about my lofty goal of classifying all the ants of Alabama, he handed me a copy of Ernst Mayr's 1942 Systematics and the Origin of Species. Read it, he said, if you want to become a real biologist.

The thin volume in the plain blue cover was one of the New Synthesis works, uniting the nineteenth-century Darwinian theory of evolution and modern genetics. By giving a theoretical structure to natural history, it vastly expanded the Linnaean enterprise. A tumbler fell somewhere in my mind, and a door opened to a new world. I was enthralled, couldn't stop thinking about the implications evolution has for classification and for the rest of biology. And for philosophy. And for just about everything. Static pattern slid into fluid process. My thoughts, embryonically those of a modern biologist, traveled along a chain of causal events, from mutations that alter genes to evolution that multiplies species, to species that assemble into faunas and floras. Scale expanded, and turned continuous. By inwardly manipulating time and space, I found I could climb the steps in biological organization from microscopic particles in cells to the forests that clothe mountain slopes. A new enthusiasm surged through me. The animals and plants I loved so dearly reentered the stage as lead players in a grand drama. Natural history was validated as a real science.

I had experienced the Ionian Enchantment. That recently coined expression I borrow from the physicist and historian Gerald Holton. It means a belief in the unity of the sciences--a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws. [...]

Still, I had no desire to purge religious feelings. They were bred in me; they suffused the wellsprings of my creative life. I also retained a small measure of common sense. To wit, people must belong to a tribe; they yearn to have a purpose larger than themselves. We are obliged by the deepest drives of the human spirit to make ourselves more than animated dust, and we must have a story to tell about where we came from, and why we are here. Could Holy Writ be just the first literate attempt to explain the universe and make ourselves significant within it? Perhaps science is a continuation on new and better-tested ground to attain the same end. If so, then in that sense science is religion liberated and writ large.

Such, I believe, is the source of the Ionian Enchantment: Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course--a stoic's creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here.

If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way. The moral imperative of humanism is the endeavor alone, whether successful or not, provided the effort is honorable and failure memorable. The ancient Greeks expressed the idea in a myth of vaulting ambition. Daedalus escapes from Crete with his son Icarus on wings he has fashioned from feathers and wax. Ignoring the warnings of his father, Icarus flies toward the sun, whereupon his wings come apart and he falls into the sea. That is the end of Icarus in the myth. But we are left to wonder: Was he just a foolish boy? Did he pay the price for hubris, for pride in sight of the gods? I like to think that on the contrary his daring represents a saving human grace. And so the great astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar could pay tribute to the spirit of his mentor, Sir Arthur Eddington, by saying: Let us see how high we can fly before the sun melts the wax in our wings.

The Evolution of Ernst: Interview with Ernst Mayr (Scientific American, 7/06/04)
Ernst Mayr: [...] The natural laws apply to biology just as much as they do to the physical sciences. But the people who compare the two, or who, like some philosophers, put in biology with physical sciences, they leave out a lot of things. And the minute you include those, you can see clearly that biology is not the same sort of thing as the physical sciences. And I cannot give a long lecture now on that subject, that's what the book is for.

I'll give you an example. In principle, biology differs from the physical sciences in that in the physical sciences, all theories, I don't know exceptions so I think it's probably a safe statement, all theories are based somehow or other on natural laws. In biology, as several other people have shown, and I totally agree with them, there are no natural laws in biology corresponding to the natural laws of the physical sciences.

Now then you can say, how can you have theories in biology if you don't have laws on which to base them? Well, in biology your theories are based on something else. They're based on concepts. Like the concept of natural selection forms the basis of, practically the most important basis of, evolutionary biology. You go to ecology and you get concepts like competition or resources, ecology is just full of concepts. And those concepts are the basis of all the theories in ecology. Not the physical laws, they're not the basis. They are of course ultimately the basis, but not directly, of ecology. And so on and so forth. And so that's what I do in this book. I show that the theoretical basis, you might call it, or I prefer to call it the philosophy of biology, has a totally different basis than the theories of physics.
Science nudges atheist toward God (Richard N. Ostling, 12/10/04, The Associated Press)

A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than five decades has changed his mind. He now believes in God — more or less — based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released yesterday.

Antony Flew, 81, has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

He argued early in his career that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were correct to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything. [...]

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce [life], that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion in May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

Planet with a Purpose: If Earth is an organism getting ever more complex, doesn't that mean humans might have been made for a reason? (Robert Wright, BeliefNet)
When Charles Darwin unveiled his theory of natural selection, he said there was no inherent contradiction between it and religious belief. Maybe, for example, God had used natural selection as the instrument for creating intelligent life. One Anglican clergyman, in a letter to Darwin, suggested that this was actually a "loftier" conception of God than the old-fashioned idea of God creating humans the easy way, by just molding them out of dust.

Yet today many intellectuals think that if they're going to be true Darwinians, they should give up on any notion of divinity, any hope of higher purpose. Why? In no small part because of the widely read philosopher Daniel Dennett. In his influential 1995 book "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," Dennett insisted that evolution is "purposeless"—and that, indeed, this lack of purpose is part of the "fundamental idea" of Darwinism. More recently, he urged his fellow non-believers to unite and fight for their rights in a New York Times op-ed piece, depicting belief in God as contrary to a "naturalist" worldview.

I have some bad news for Dennett's many atheist devotees. He recently declared that life on earth shows signs of having a higher purpose. Worse still, he did it on videotape, during an interview for my website meaningoflife.tv. (You can watch the relevant clip here, though I recommend reading a bit further first so you'll have enough background to follow the logic.)

Dennett didn't volunteer this opinion enthusiastically, or for that matter volunteer it at all. He conceded it in the course of a dialogue with me—and extracting the concession was a little like pulling teeth. But his initial resistance makes his final judgment all the more important. People who see evidence of some larger purpose in the universe are often accused of arguing with their heart, not their head. That's a credibility problem Dennett doesn't face. When you watch him validate an argument for higher purpose, you're watching that argument pass a severe test. In fact, given that he's one of the best-known philosophers in the world, it may not be too much to say that you're watching a minor intellectual milestone get erected.

Secularists too need a philosophical worldview and Darwinism has provided them with one, but its claim to being scientific is dwindling away so rapidly that its adherents risk being perceived as precisely the kind of credulous faithful they despise. Under such circumstances a paradigm shift seems certain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 4, 2005 8:38 AM

What sort of paradigm shift would you support? How far do you want to go, Orrin, in your distrust of science? Shall we stop worrying about, say, the evolution of antibiotic resistance in microbes like tuberculosis, or the mutations in H.I.V.? How about the genetics of cancer? Maybe cancer is too complex to understand, so let's throw up our hands and merely weep over those with a diagnosis. Let's demolish the N.I.H. and replace it with the National Institutes of Theology (all branches of superstition will be *fully* represented!). I can accurately describe you, Orrin, as a zealot. As a zealot, do you obey to your doctor's advice to take ALL of the antibiotic medicine, or do you swallow 1/2 the pills and pray for the best? Do you understand the scientific explanation as to why antibiotic resistance occurs? That is the essence of evolution by natural selection, and if you take your medicine, I accuse you of rank hypocrisy.

I find this whole I.D. debate to be so silly. Science is about learning how things work, doing experiments, analysis. Science denies that there are phenomena which must be left to the province of Faith, that some things are Sacred. The I.D. mullah says, "there are some things which are too complex for me to understand, ergo, they must have been invented by a God. And I'll shove this faith of mine down everyone's throat until they stop reading, thinking and questioning things for themselves." Interesting that these mullahs have the ability to know that which is divinely created and that which is not.

Sure, Darwinism isn't perfect, but its the best _scientific_ explanation we have for the diversity of life. I challenge anyone to make a testable prediction based on the premises of I.D. If you cannot, then it is not science.

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 9:20 AM

In a world where nature tacks off in perilous directions, killing thousands; where parental instinct fails to the horror of all sane persons; where biology is made to serve the means of its own mortality; in this fallen world, species identity stands virtually alone as immutable and indefectible, promising greater fidelity to its origin than any other natural force except gravity, all plagues of mutation, attrition and environmental shift notwithstanding. You heard it here first.

Posted by: Paula R. Robinson MD at February 4, 2005 9:57 AM

Only problem is, once darwinism is totally debunked, we'll have to listen to oj rant full time about the murder cult of the ragheads taking over europe somehow being a good thing.

Posted by: M. Murcek at February 4, 2005 10:11 AM

I guess a day off is right out of the question... Bradley, I'll take a whack at that one, seeing as how I've defended what oj's doing in the past on political grounds. You asked: Shall we stop worrying about, say, the evolution of antibiotic resistance in microbes like tuberculosis, or the mutations in H.I.V.? How about the genetics of cancer? Of course not. By all means scientists should continue to produce useful gadgetry. And they ought to content themselves with that, since they are, after all, just glorified mechanics. That's a bit of a parody of the popular American attitude towards scientists, but I think that view of scientists is broadly the right one politically. I've no idea whether Mayr was right or not about the philosophy of biology being different from that of physics ( haven't read him, and oj palms more cards than Miss Cleo) but I'm sure that the politics of biology are a whole other ballgame. Physics explains the world around me but can't make any plausible claim to understand me, and certainly not better than I understand myself. Biology already has made that claim, and it's going to get more and more insistent about it as time goes on and its methods improve. But if you claim to understand me better than I do myself, and I buy your bluff, then what choice do I have but to follow you wherever you decide to lead me? I hope America never decides to buy that bluff. If that leaves us with wrong-headed notions about how, say, the dung beetle got here, but with our politics intact, then I'd much rather live with that than the reverse. And that's why some of us make common cause with oj on this, even though he is right out of his mind.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 10:54 AM


"Darwinism isn't perfect, but its the best _scientific_ explanation we have for the diversity of life"

Boy, do I wish I had a dollar for every time I've read that. Nobody in his right mind would convert to Judaism because he was told that "Genecis has its faults, but it's the best theological explanation we have for life." Yet somehow the fact that evolution has no contemporary scientific competitor is supposed to lend it scientific credence in the sense of convincing us that it is objective truth. The theory of the four humours didn't have any competitors in medieval medicine. Are you suggesting its skeptics were stupid, looney or beyond the pale of rational debate?

W.F. Buckley once said something like "The naysayer to Let us go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky should not need to propose a visit to MacDonald's instead in order to be heard." Evolutionists really are a piece of work. They insist natural selection (which is more a historical theory than a scientific one)be taught as incontrovertible fact to each and every citizen with no theological or philosophical demurring, but when anyone points out the gaps, logical implausibilities or wild conjectures, all they can do is sniff: "Have you got a better "scientific" theory. The answer is no. So what, exactly? No one here shills for ID, but we do argue that science doesn't really know what it is talking about and that it's fanatical adherents are prone to cook the books and behave in other very unscientific ways.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 11:39 AM


The next one will be wrong too, but given the remoralization of America it's likely to be I.D.. Science is just a reflection of the prevailing culture and I.D. is indistinguishable from Darwinism except for the supposed cause of change.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 11:59 AM

By the way, drug-resistent microbes are a terrible counter-example. That's breeding and nobody here denies breeding.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 4, 2005 12:06 PM



OJ will carrying on spitting and hissing indefinitely. He hasn't said anything new or interesting on the subject for a year or so.

Religionists will continue to kid themselves that darwinism is just a whacky theory, is on the way out or doesn't have anything to do with actual science on the ground.

Meanwhile, science, informed by darwinism, will continue to improve and understand, and make life better for humans.

Occasionally a mainstream journalist will pick up on something at the speculative fringes of the science that makes for a good oddball story, and hype it up to make it as quirky as possible.

OJ will read it, and hiss and spit at it.

Keeps him happy.

Posted by: Brit at February 4, 2005 12:08 PM

Evolution by natural selection is not a "fact" nor is it "the truth". I never said anything like that, nor would any other self-respecting scientist. It is a theory. As a theory, it can make testable predictions, unlike I.D. That is what distinguishes science from dogma.

And the lack of a scientific competitor does not imply that the theory of evolution is better or worse than any other theory. I would judge the worthiness of a theory by counting the number of predictions derived from it that are supported by evidence.

I think it is Peter B who is being shrill when he writes this: "...be taught as incontrovertible fact to each and every citizen with no theological or philosophical demurring"

I advocate the teaching of theory of evolution in biology class. I.D can be taught in theology class, not biology. I.D. is NOT SCIENCE. Why should a theological "argument" against the theory of evolution be taught in a science class???

"...but when anyone points out the gaps, logical implausibilities or wild conjectures all they can do is sniff: "Have you got a better "scientific" theory. The answer is no. So what, exactly?"

So, come up with a better scientific theory for the evolution of biological diversity and we can have a conversation. But if Believers merely retreat to saying "its too complex to have evolved; it must have been designed by a supernatural entity" than that's not a conversation. Its dogma, pure and simple.

"...No one here shills for ID, but we do argue that science doesn't really know what it is talking about..."

Oh, how is that? I bet you can't explain what the fault with the theory of evolution is without resorting to the dogmatic claim that some things are just too complex to have evolved.

"...and that it's fanatical adherents are prone to cook the books and behave in other very unscientific ways...."

I can't believe a defender of I.D. is accusing scientists of being UNscientific!

As for I.D. being indistinguishable from Darwinism except for the cause of change, I guess OJ is saying that antibiotic resistance, HIV mutation rates, etc. are the direct handiwork of God? How does he know this?

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 12:24 PM

David Cohen's remark,

"By the way, drug-resistent microbes are a terrible counter-example. That's breeding and nobody here denies breeding."

No, its more than breeding. Its EVOLUTION!

Consider: In a Russian prison, an inmate with TB is given a shot of antibiotic. It kills 95% of the bugs. But because there is _genetic variation_ among the bugs, the drug is not wholly effective. Let's say it kills 95% of them at first. Meanwhile, the remaining 5% of the bugs keep - yes - breeding. Their descendants inherit the genes which confer antibiotic resistance. Another shot of antibiotic is belatedly delivered and 50% of the bugs die. The remaining 50% go on breeding. Well, pretty soon the bugs in his lungs will all be expressing the gene which confers resistance to the antibiotic. Another drug could be given and that might wipe them all out. But the bugs in his lungs will have evolved by the process of natural selection upon variation.

I don't care about the peppered moth. If you take ALL of your antibiotic at the advice of your doctor instead of 1/2 the pills, you (tacitly) believe in the theory of evolution.

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 12:48 PM

So, come up with a better scientific theory ... and we can have a conversation

Oh, I think we'll have that conversation right now, Bradley. That sort of nose-in-the-air attitude pretty much guarantees it. Where'd you say you did your post-doc? That's a state school, isn't it? Aaah...pity, that. Look back up at Ferguson's article. What you've got there isn't a scientific dispute, it's a political b**tch-slapping session, and so long as that's how these people spending are their summers we aren't going to defer to them, or their bootlicks, commoners though we be. Go ahead and get used to that.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 12:58 PM

Bradley Cooke-

What testable predictions can be made with the principle of natural selection?

I like the TB example you gave but it doesn't address the most contentious issue from the articles above - how does random genetic mutation and its resulting variation produce the multiplied complexity we observe in life today? Emphasis on random.

You may also have a slight problem in your TB example since ultimately the evolution of your bacteria was directed by an intelligence working toward a desired outcome.

I'm undecided on most of these issues by the way and I like the debate here.

Posted by: Shelton at February 4, 2005 2:09 PM

Bradley Cooke: All breeding is evolution. The question is, is all evolution breeding?

If your point is that the difference between breeding and evolution is one of intent, a question I elided in my comment, then that is an interesting theological question, but not really a scientific question. The factors that cause a change in the genetic equilibrium of a population will always be exogenous, whether it's a volcano, or a meteor, or that odd British desire to hold a small, furry, yappy dogs in their laps.

For what it's worth, no one here doubts evolution. OJ, as I understand his position, argues that there is no support for Darwinism in the fossil record and, in particular, rejects speciation. I think that a weak Darwinism is true, but trivial. I think we've reached consensus, even with our resident Darwinists that the popular understanding of evolution (nature red in tooth and claw; each mutation must make its phenotype more fit; that there is some necessary connection between the environmental pressures that result in evolution and the mutations that result; the impossibility of discussion natural selection without using the language of teleology; etc.) is nonsense.

We have no professed creationists among us (I probably come closest, but mine is a wierd, solipsistic creationism that doesn't interfere with my appreciation of the physical evidence) and a fair amount of skepticism about ID.

I have no objection to being addressed as David.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 4, 2005 2:17 PM

Joe: What are you talking about?
Shelton: Testable predictions from the theory of evolution by natural selection: 1) Genetic drift; 2) genetic variation reflected in phenotypic variation; 3) heritable behavioral & physical traits;

As for the most contentious issue, there is not enough space to explain here the answer your question. But consider the TB example. In a selective environment, such as the body of a patient being given antibiotic, some bacterium will be more fit than others because they express genes which confer resistance to the drug. The existence of those genes is based solely on random mutation, not some higher intelligence, and they provide the organism with a new capability. If that selective environment continues changing, new genes will increase in frequency and others will fall. If the environment remains stable the frequency of the gene will increase, as more and more bacteria inherit the gene from their "parents". Or, the environment may be so hostile to the survival of the organism (e.g., a different antibiotic is given), that they all die.

But what on earth makes you think that the evolution of the bacteria in my scenario was directed by an intelligence? On the contrary, physicians and humanity as a whole would prefer it if bacteria DID NOT evolve-- then, drugs would always be 100% effective. The evolution of anti-bacterial resistance is a random, nondirected process that occurs only because of 1) genetic variation amongst the bacteria 2) a selective pressure that kills bacteria that do not possess the appropriate genes. I'd like the Deists on this thread to explain why a benevolent God would allow bacterium to evolve inside patients, much less why diseases like TB exist at all.

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 2:30 PM


"I bet you can't explain what the fault with the theory of evolution is without resorting to the dogmatic claim that some things are just too complex to have evolved."

How about: The species that is described variously as man or homo sapiens in evolutionary theory is not the species we meet every day. Just about every important "evolutionary" change he is supposed to have undergone is contra-survival, i.e. he evolved in a manner that increased his vulnerability to his habitat and decreased his fitness for it. His supposed history ranges from the implausible to the absurd (but it does supply us with a rich vein of charming "just so" fables). Any theory that says human or even all biological development is a non-teleogical process where all changes just happen in response to other changes without purpose, direction, objective or predictability is not a discrete theory as much as a never-ending tautology that adds up to: "stuff happens".

No ID there, was there?

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 3:05 PM

Well, OJ believes that

1. Science is just a reflection of the prevailing culture


2. Science can makes accurate predictions about physical reality that are counter to the views of the prevailing culture (e.g., relativity, quantum physics)

I'm not clear, however, on how he reconciles these contradictory views.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at February 4, 2005 3:31 PM

Peter: "...is not the species we meet every day."

No? Which species is it?

"increased his vulnerability to his habitat and decreased his fitness for it."

If that really were the case, do you think we'd be here arguing about it? And why would an intelligent designer do such a foolish thing?

I guess you can look at H. sapiens as a mystery that either can be investigated by scientific method or cannot be investigated at all. That seems like saying "its too complex".

Sorry, I reject that postulate.

And besides, you don't seem to understand that evolution is not a just a function of survival, but of reproduction. How many copies of your genome did you make today? Those genes which code for traits that increase the number of those copies relative to our peers will be selected.

Darwin also recognized that a far more powerful force for evolution is not the vicissitudes of the natural environment but the preferences of the opposite sex, the social environment. Sexual selection creates the evolution of traits that enhance attractiveness in the eye of the opposite sex. And I would argue that just because we lack the armor of an armadillo, or the incisors of a baboon, or the stripes of a tiger doesn't make us less capable of dealing with the environment. No, sexual selection has granted us an enormous brain which enables us to think about the environment and scheme ways to deal & prosper within it.

Again, I repeat my assertion that evolution by natural selection is the best scientific theory to explain biological diversity. Many point to speciation as a weakness of the theory, but I don't see why. Zoologists argue constantly over whether a given individual is or is not a member of some species. Its not clear-cut; hybrid creatures, albeit infertile ones, can be produced by extra-specific mating. My point about the evolution of bacteria in the lung of a TB patient is analogous to the processes that could create a new species-- sufficient selective pressures and time will lead to the evolution of heretofore unseen biological entities.

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 3:53 PM

Darwin also recognized that a far more powerful force for evolution is not the vicissitudes of the natural environment but the preferences of the opposite sex, the social environment.

So evolution causes evolution to satisfy evolution? Now that's a real advance over religion.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 4, 2005 4:06 PM

Bradley: I'm talking about politics, because that's my interest and responsibility as a citizen. Let me ask you a question: if the cruxes of evolution by natural selection are the rejection of any notion of "higher intelligence" (and I agree with that rejection as it pertains to how bacteria develop resistance; I'm not an ID'er or a creationist), and an embrace of the notion that a vital order emerges from variety; then why do prominent biologists, such as Richard "religion is a disease" Dawkins, appear to so enjoy playing the sage, and why does every man-jack among them embrace the same top-down, monocultural, New Leftish politics? Does that strike you as faithful to their own method; or is it asking too much of our public men that they show some sign of actually believing in the stuff they preach? And if they don't care to, to what extent should we trust them with the sort of unconstrained authority that scientists have right now? (By the way, I sort of associated you with the word "bootlick". For that I apologize.)

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 4:11 PM

I fail to see how natural selection predicts genetic shift without begging the question. Rather, both genetic shift and natural selection are two distinct concepts (or theories) that both rely upon the shared concept of completely random genetic mutation (among other things). Unless you can show why I should accept the idea of the randomness of natural selection without appealing to either the authority of the idea of random mutation or to a moral objection (such as why would a god be so mean as to make bacteria more resistant) then I cant accept it as a prediction (although I can consider it as a theory).

Same goes for all the examples of testable predictions perhaps I am at a loss of what it is you think you can predict and how it can be tested. In other words if you are arguing that genetic drift and genetic variation as concepts are predicted by natural selection then how would you go about testing that prediction. The only testable evidence is the evidence of change over time (generational), the cause of the change, the mechanism, can not be tested because it is unknown. Naming the cause natural selection + genetic drift wont do in the course of this argument since it is randomness that is being called to question and one must assume randomness to accept those terms.

Since randomness is by definition not predictable we simply can not make a prediction of randomness and then, whatever the outcome, claim to have proved it. That is no different than the theists position of predicting that a god will shape evolution according to his tastes and then, whatever the outcome, claiming that the god likes it. So what we are left with, since we can not test and confirm random vs. controlled evolution, is to try make sense of how life has evolved in the past; and also to apply the concepts of random generation and guided generation to applications other than the difficult medium of biology.

Darwinists have been doing this for decades and have come up with some very convincing evidence. Now some evidence gathered through the same methods that Darwinists have been using shows some weakness in the idea of the random mutation leading to complex life. Yet evolutionists refuse to even consider this evidence. That is why I found the Dembski article so interesting why is it that randomness, when applied to all systems except biology, leads to nonfunctionality rather than complex functionality? What makes random mutation work toward complexity and functionality only in the realm of biology, but not in physics, mathematics, engineering, linguistics, etc. This cant be answered without appealing to some form of teleology, theology, or blind faith, which even Dawkins was forced to do in The Blind Watchmaker.

As for your TB example: it was controlled by an intelligence. The selective pressure was introduced to the TBs environment by an intelligent entity on purpose (not at random). The resulting evolutionary state of the bacteria was a direct result of that intelligence beings actions the intelligent beings motives are a separate issue.

Posted by: Shelton at February 4, 2005 4:16 PM

above is in response to Bradley ---

Posted by: Shelton at February 4, 2005 4:17 PM


"The species that is described variously as man or homo sapiens in evolutionary theory is not the species we meet every day. "

On the contrary. He's the starting point. Your knowledge - or rather, lack thereof - of anthropology is based on a few items of mainstream journalism that OJ has selected especially for you to scoff at.

Anthropology is a young science, but it's not as infantile as you think.

If you went and read, say, "Mapping Human History" by Steve Olson, then you could engage in the debate in an informed manner.

Or, you could just decide that it's safer and more fun to just do what OJ does - carry on hissing at snippets knocked up by hacks in the Guardian.

(Talking of guardians, it has belatedly occured to me that some of you anti-darwinists entertain some notion that you're the last bastions of common sense and scepticism, protecting the world with your erudite minds from the excesses of over-enthusiatic darwinists with their Piltdown men and peppered moths.

Laughable. Risible.

The hoaxes and holes in scientific theory are always discovered by other scientists. Darwinism, like all science, is self-correcting. The gaps are never found by religionists - they're always two or three steps behind, yelling about thermodynamics, or the age of the earth, or irreducible complexity, or whatever else is just a little bit too late.

The reason the resident Darwinists here spend their time defending their own position - and doing so with at least a semblance of intellectual honesty, always pointing out when they are talking fact, and when theory - rather than devoting comparable hours poking and scoffing at religionist views of life's origins, is that shooting fish in a barrel gets boring.)

"Any theory that says human or even all biological development is a non-teleogical process where all changes just happen in response to other changes without purpose, direction, objective or predictability is not a discrete theory as much as a never-ending tautology that adds up to: "stuff happens".

Yes, 'stuff happens' is the very essence of darwinism. You see that as a weakness when it's actually its great strength.

'Stuff happens' is where darwinism starts from. The science is about how it happens. Nothing tautologous about explaining how stuff happens.

Posted by: Brit at February 4, 2005 4:22 PM

"No, sexual selection has granted us an enormous brain which enables us to think about the environment and scheme ways to deal & prosper within it."

Surely that is a statement of faith. How do you know it was sexual selection? What is there about big brains that attracted the opposite sex? And why did the brain stop growing when our intelligence obviously didn't? Mayr claimed human evolution ended when homo sapiens arrived.

I'll try not to be flippant, but what caused man to A) lose his hair covering and become the only species that needs protection from the elements; b)wander all over the world from a dream environment in East Africa to the most hostile imaginable; C) lose the ability to survive on leaves, bark, etc. like the rest of the primates; d)evolve offspring that needed more care and were dependent much longer? Did sexual selection do all that too, or is it only responsible for the cool stuff?

The big brain argument strikes me as a kind of deus ex machina evolutionists use as a catch-all answer when they are faced with contra-survival evolutionary change that seems to make no sense.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 4:27 PM



Posted by: Brit at February 4, 2005 4:41 PM

Brit:Darwinism, like all science, is self-correcting. No, science is bloody well not self-correcting, except in the trivial matter of what its theories propose. In the important matter, that is, how much of what sort of authority scientists should wield, scientists are as blindly enthusiastic as any other interest group, certainly as convinced as priests ever were. How should the world be run? Scientifically! Don't believe me? Ask a scientist. Still don't believe me? Well, if you would only just read this, by big name swollen-headed toff, then you might be able to participate in the debate.... Knock that off. Right now. Brit, Bernard, anybody else that wants to try it. Right. Now.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 4:47 PM

Bradley. Excuse me.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 4:51 PM


Relativity was inevitable after morality became relative. Now that the pendulum is swinging back relativity is toast.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 5:09 PM

I'll believe science is self-correcting when scientists start a debate over whether they have too much influence, and end it with a consensus that they do.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 5:19 PM


Trade-offs? Ah, another statement of faith. Brit, I commend Berlinski's The Deniable Darwin, linked by OJ in the post. Seriously, I'd love to see your take.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 5:27 PM


New? The truth isn't new.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 5:28 PM


So what species is the microbe after it develops some resistance? And what species are various human ethnic groups that are more resistant to one disease or another?

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 5:32 PM

Shelton & Joe,

Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. I admit, Shelton's pointed out a weakness in what I said. Genetic drift is not evidence of evolution without begging the question. That said, I still adamantly refuse to accept this statement, which I found on the Amazon.com Publisher's review of Dembski's book:

The contributors invoke mathematics and statistics to support their theory that an "intelligent cause is necessary to explain at least some of the diversity of life." In other words, the degree of diversity and complexity in life forms implies the need for an intelligent designer.

Now, I cannot prove I.D. is not true, but to me, this position marks off a potentially huge aspect of the natural world as sacrosanct and innappropriate for scientific analysis. Who's to say the next edict out of the theologian's mouth will be that cellular / molecular biology or neuroscience is too complex?


I think the answer to your question is that the scientific beliefs held by people can co-exist with inconsistent views on politics. Political views are, IMHO, the result of one's personality and not a rational process of deciding what is best for the body politic.


You wrote,

Surely that is a statement of faith. How do you know it was sexual selection?

Answer: I don't know. I believe it.

What is there about big brains that attracted the opposite sex?

Our capacity to entertain.

And why did the brain stop growing when our intelligence obviously didn't?

I don't believe this is the case. There is a strong correlation between brain size and IQ.

Mayr claimed human evolution ended when homo sapiens arrived.

I don't care who he is, but that is ridiculous. Was Mayr so isolated in whatever university that he could not see the tremendous diversity of races on this planet? Do you not think that the black skin & malarial resistance of Africans, or the heavy eyebrows of Asians, or the short stature & barrel chests of the Inca are not the product of evolution?

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 5:55 PM


"Was Mayr so isolated in whatever university that he could not see the tremendous diversity of races on this planet? Do you not think that the black skin & malarial resistance of Africans, or the heavy eyebrows of Asians, or the short stature & barrel chests of the Inca are not the product of evolution? "

Good points, but they have nothing to do with speciation, do they? One thing I've noticed about debates here is how proponents of small "e" evolution ( genetic mutations within species) slip so casually into big "E" evolution (natural selection and speciation) without addressing the differenece.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 6:39 PM


Well, I don't see much difference between the big e and little Es. Speciation, as I tried to say earlier, is a quantitative phenomenon (frequencies of genes) that our categorizing brains turn into a qualitative one. Sure, a zebra and horse can't produce viable offspring, but the commonality in their genomes must be extremely high.

Ultimately, the debate must boil down to the question of how did Life first begin. I cannot answer that, of course, but I am reflexively opposed to a supernatural explanation since Occam's razor has served me and others in my field so fruitfully in the past. Imagining an unimaginably complex and sophisticated entity (God) as the prime mover in biology is deeply unsatisfying and simply unavailable for test. Its a nice idea, but try getting funding to evaluate it.

Posted by: Bradley Cooke at February 4, 2005 7:14 PM


That's a misapplicationm of Occam's Razor--nothing's simpler than the idea of a single Creator driving everything to His ends.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 7:16 PM

Indeed, mere drift disproves Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 7:18 PM


How life began is very interesting, but I am more interested in how the vulnerable, alienated and conscious species known as man appeared, and I see nothing in the theory of evolution that helps me.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 7:19 PM


Except that all Darwinism offers is the hoaxes.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 7:20 PM


Your philosophy is perhaps best summed up by yourself: "Again, I repeat my assertion." You're like a Buddhist monk.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 7:21 PM


"No, science is bloody well not self-correcting, except in the trivial matter of what its theories propose."

But that's the matter I'm interested in. I must be trivial.

Olson isn't especially big-headed or boffinish. It's basic introductory stuff designed to bring boffinish stuff to a popluar audience. I'm always amused by the number of people who feel they can pontificate on any subject they like without even having read the basic introductory stuff.

Peter asks his questions as if they are devastating insights into flaws of anthropology, rather than exactly the questions anthropologists start with.

Finally, Joe: stop watching so many 50's monster movies. Stop. Now. Knock it off. Now. Right. Now. They're giving you a seriously warped view of scientists.


I'll check it out.

Posted by: Brit at February 4, 2005 7:22 PM

Bradley -

I'm not sure that I either agree or disagree with the statement on Dembski's book - which is entirely the point I am arguing here. There can be no classical scientific proof of the essential randomness of natural selection (or genetic drift) because it is impossible to make any predictions concerning random events, and thus it is impossible to test how valid those predictions are.

So we have to step outside of the realm of science in leaping to the conclusion that mutation at the genetic level is random rather than controlled by some other means. It can't be proven either way by science. So the proper position for evolutionists to take would be to say "we don't know if it is random or not - that is beyond the realm of scientific inquiry - it is a philosophical question."

But scientists insist that when they hold a scientifically untenable belief it is valid, but when an opposing view that is scientifically untestable is put forward it is somehow invalid. Not to mention that when objections are raised to the scientific credibility of the randomness of evolution these scientists are the first to raise moral, ontological, and teleological arguments. It doesn't give much credence to the thought processes that some of these "Darwinian Fundamentalists" have.

I am not, by the way, arguing for ID by any means at this point. Looking at the evidence I am not convinced that the complexity and variation of life on Earth could have developed from a process that is entirely based on randomness. Yet I am not prepared to say that lack of randomness = some form of intelligent intervention. There could be a yet unthought-of of, undiscovered, natural (or materialistic) process that governs evolution, although my ontological prejudices tend to make me think otherwise. But if Dawkins and ilk continue to mold personal dogma into the misshapen forms of science, we may never discover those processes.

Posted by: Shelton at February 4, 2005 7:23 PM


They may have been the questions anthropologists started out with, but somewhere along the line they decided to stop thinking and instead just mock whoever questioned them.

Posted by: Peter B at February 4, 2005 7:40 PM


Keep in mind that it can't be truly random under Darwinism--selection has to occur. The problem is that Darwinists have to pretend that what are obviously just random developments have instead been selected for--thus their Just-So Stories.

Posted by: oj at February 4, 2005 8:41 PM

Brit: fair enough. I'll check Olson out (in my defense I'll say that I have read a bit of "introductory stuff", if Descent of Man counts.) Don't ask me to give up Godzilla reruns or my annual pilgrimage to The Thing. That's a sacrifice for science I just won't make.

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 4, 2005 9:30 PM

Well, we darwinists have driven Orrin around the bend, as his objections have become less and less coherent as they have (cough, cough) evolved here.

No point beating that horse any more.

But it's amusing to imagine him at a conference of Derridian social relativists and being welcomed with open arms.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 4, 2005 10:40 PM


Atta boy! When you're surrounded on all sides, just declare victory and move on. Good strategy.

Posted by: Peter B at February 5, 2005 6:20 AM


They've been getting away with it for a century now.

Posted by: oj at February 5, 2005 7:57 AM


Derrida was right, he just didn't understand what it meant. Faith is superior to reason, not vice versa.

Posted by: oj at February 5, 2005 8:04 AM

Harry: do you mean to say you knew oj back when he wasn't around the bend?

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 5, 2005 11:41 AM

From the Berlinski article:
Evolutionary thought is suffused in general with an unwholesome glow. "The belief that an organ so perfect as the eye," Darwin wrote, "could have been formed by natural selection is enough to stagger anyone." It is. The problem is obvious. "What good," Stephen Jay Gould asked dramatically, "is 5 percent of an eye?" He termed this question "excellent."
The question, retorted the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, the most prominent representative of ultra-Darwinians, "is not excellent at all":
"Vision that is 5 percent as good as yours or mine is very much worth having in comparison with no vision at all. And 6 percent is better than 5, 7 percent better than 6, and so on up the gradual, continuous series."
But Dawkins, replied Phillip Johnson in turn, had carelessly assumed that 5 percent of an eye would see 5 percent as well as an eye, and that is an assumption for which there is little evidence. (A professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, Johnson has a gift for appealing to the evidence when his opponents invoke theory, and vice versa.)

Gould's and Johnson's questions are, of course, off the mark. Evolution doesn't work by forming parts of things over time, but by evolving whole things from very simple to very complex things over time. The first eye wasn't 5% of a modern eye, it was 100% of a very primitive eye that worked maybe 5% as god as a modern eye. Dawkins explains the evolution of the eye quite convincingly in "Climbing Mount Improbable". The first eye may have been no more than a nerve cell near the surface of the skin that developed photo sensitivity, so that it could distinguish the presence or absence of light. This could benefit a creature swimming in the water by letting it know of the presence of a predator nearby by the sudden darkening of the water. From that initial, crude but useful eye, small, incremental changes could occur that would add successively greater complexity and fitness value to the point where modern eyes resulted.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 6, 2005 12:05 PM


That's absurd. The idea that the first mutation is so advantageous that it is automatically preserved is one of the things that makes Darwinism a faith, not a science. But it is your faith and God knows you guys need one.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2005 12:11 PM

From the Berlinski article:
Evolutionary thought is suffused in general with an unwholesome glow. "The belief that an organ so perfect as the eye," Darwin wrote, "could have been formed by natural selection is enough to stagger anyone." It is. The problem is obvious. "What good," Stephen Jay Gould asked dramatically, "is 5 percent of an eye?" He termed this question "excellent."
The question, retorted the Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, the most prominent representative of ultra-Darwinians, "is not excellent at all":
"Vision that is 5 percent as good as yours or mine is very much worth having in comparison with no vision at all. And 6 percent is better than 5, 7 percent better than 6, and so on up the gradual, continuous series."
But Dawkins, replied Phillip Johnson in turn, had carelessly assumed that 5 percent of an eye would see 5 percent as well as an eye, and that is an assumption for which there is little evidence. (A professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, Johnson has a gift for appealing to the evidence when his opponents invoke theory, and vice versa.)

Gould's and Johnson's questions are, of course, off the mark. Evolution doesn't work by forming parts of things over time, but by evolving whole things from very simple to very complex things over time. The first eye wasn't 5% of a modern eye, it was 100% of a very primitive eye that worked maybe 5% as god as a modern eye. Dawkins explains the evolution of the eye quite convincingly in "Climbing Mount Improbable". The first eye may have been no more than a nerve cell near the surface of the skin that developed photo sensitivity, so that it could distinguish the presence or absence of light. This could benefit a creature swimming in the water by letting it know of the presence of a predator nearby by the sudden darkening of the water. From that initial, crude but useful eye, small, incremental changes could occur that would add successively greater complexity and fitness value to the point where modern eyes resulted.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 6, 2005 12:29 PM


Just so.

Posted by: Peter B at February 6, 2005 2:02 PM

OJ, why is it absurd? Besides, it doesn't have to be the first mutation. The mutation can happen may times before it "takes". There is evidence that eyes have evolved separately more than once in different species, there is no law against re-inventing the wheel.

Peter - just so what?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at February 6, 2005 2:31 PM

Robert is right. Berlinski/Johnson/whoever blunder horribly by using the old chestnut of the eye to counter darwinism.

Light-sensitive eyes, along with flight and sex, are prime examples of convergent evolution. They've evolved independently many times. Far from evidence against darwinism, they're strong evidence for it.

Orrin and Peter keep insisting that Darwinism is just our Faith, just like Christianity is their Faith.

But they don't really think that. If they really thought that, they might not be so openly mocking for fear of causing deep personal offence. (At least, Peter might not.)

There's a reason you can confidently mock (or clumsily and ignorantly attempt to ridicule) darwinism, without fear of facing bombs from violent darwin-fundamentalists.

The nature of belief among its proponents is not in the same category as religious Belief. Darwinism does not inform moral or political beliefs, it has no great emotional hook and it doesn't promise an afterlife. It's just a good, simple explanation for stuff happening.

You tacitly aknowlege this category-difference by being far more rude about it, and dismissive of its credibility, than you ever would be about Islam or Judaism if you were debating with a Muslim or a Jew.

Posted by: Brit at February 6, 2005 5:45 PM

Scallops have eyes that are about 5% (roughly) as good as our eyes, and that seems to benefit the scallop.

One point I have not made strongly enough, though I've made it many times, is that in order to even begin arguing about darwinism as either a theory or a way of approaching a theory, you have to have extensive knowledge of natural history.

You cannot say anything about biology by induction, though Orrin tries to.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at February 6, 2005 7:44 PM


We mock it in the same way and for the same reasons we do every other ism--they're all of a piece.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2005 8:52 PM


You needn't know much about Gemini to dismiss Astrology. Hard to decide which is more amusing, your seeming argument that the initial stage of the evolution of the eye was the 5% or the notion that 5% was perfection for them.

Posted by: oj at February 6, 2005 8:54 PM