March 15, 2005

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING...:

CHARLES DARWIN TO G. BENTHAM (Down, May 22 [1863])

My dear Bentham,

I am much obliged for your kind and interesting letter. I have no fear of anything that a man like you will say annoying me in the very least degree. On the other hand, any approval from one whose judgment and knowledge I have for many years so sincerely respected, will gratify me much. The objection which you well put, of certain forms remaining unaltered through long time and space, is no doubt formidable in appearance, and to a certain extent in reality according to my judgment. But does not the difficulty rest much on our silently assuming that we know more than we do? I have literally found nothing so difficult as to try and always remember our ignorance. I am never weary, when walking in any new adjoining district or country, of reflecting how absolutely ignorant we are why certain old plants are not there present, and other new ones are, and others in different proportions. If we once fully feel this, then in judging the theory of Natural Selection, which implies that a form will remain unaltered unless some alteration be to its benefit, is it so very wonderful that some forms should change much slower and much less, and some few should have changed not at all under conditions which to us (who really know nothing what are the important conditions) seem very different. Certainly a priori we might have anticipated that all the plants anciently introduced into Australia would have undergone some modification; but the fact that they have not been modified does not seem to me a difficulty of weight enough to shake a belief grounded on other arguments. I have expressed myself miserably, but I am far from well to-day.

I am very glad that you are going to allude to Pasteur; I was struck with infinite admiration at his work. With cordial thanks, believe me, dear Bentham,

Yours very sincerely, CH. DARWIN.

P.S.--In fact, the belief in Natural Selection must at present be grounded entirely on general considerations. (1) On its being a vera causa, from the struggle for existence; and the certain geological fact that species do somehow change. (2) From the analogy of change under domestication by man's selection.


You'd think he'd have noticed that such change never actually resulted in the origination of new species, nevermind that he was analogizing to a process driven by intelligent beings rather than to a natural one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2005 5:21 PM
Comments

[T]he theory of Natural Selection ... implies that a form will remain unaltered unless some alteration be to its benefit.

This is wrong and would, if said by anyone else, be decried by our resident Darwinists as a (perhaps maleficent) oversimplification. But it is a nice example of why, in a world with a more sophisticated (i.e., some) understanding of genetics, Darwinism is trivial.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 15, 2005 7:28 PM

But yank it out and the whole thing goes bung.

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2005 7:40 PM

I've had sufficient of your smug refusal to either seriously argue the theory of natural selection or put up a better hypothesis of your own. (And I don't consider "Look in Genesis" to be a serious argument.) At any rate, despite some good features of your blog I will no longer waste any time on it. You are deleted from my Favorites.

Posted by: Richard Donley at March 16, 2005 12:32 AM

Mr. Donley:

You're aware that's not how science works? Your opponents don't have to offer a "theory of their own" just because yours is wrong.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 12:38 AM

Ouch, that's gotta hurt, Orrin. You've gone extinct from someone's favorite list.

Natural selection in action!

Posted by: Randall Voth at March 16, 2005 10:15 AM

"But it is a nice example of why, in a world with a more sophisticated (i.e., some) understanding of genetics, Darwinism is trivial.

Exactly. This fetishization of Darwin by Creationists is getting old.

"But yank it out and the whole thing goes bung."

Yes, because natural selection is part of the modern synthesis. So of course if you remove it, you will have a gap.

"You'd think he'd have noticed that such change never actually resulted in the origination of new species,"

It was possible to extrapolate from the fact that small changes were possible that over time larger morphological changes would also be possible. A thought on which he was subsequently of course proven right.

"nevermind that he was analogizing to a process driven by intelligent beings rather than to a natural one."

For the obvious reason that it demonstrated aspects of natural selection (variability of traits, offspring inheriting traits from progenitors) in a controlled and accelerated fashion.

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 1:06 PM

Except breeding has never resulted in speciation.

You have the last precisely backwards.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 1:12 PM

"Except breeding has never resulted in speciation."

1. How long have we engaged in animal husbandry? Speciation of the level at which you would like to see it takes a very, very long time.

2. When a farmer engages in selective breeding of, say, cows, he is aiming to make a better cow. Not a pig.

"You have the last precisely backwards."

How so?

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 1:20 PM

"Except breeding has never resulted in speciation."

Not that this matters. Breeding shows the viability of some elements of natural selection (variability of traits, offspring inheriting traits from progenitors, without which such breeding would not be possible), while the fossil record shows the effects at a larger scale - longer time spans, bigger morphological changes, speciation.

Once we know that small morphological changes are possibile over a relatively small timespan, what reason do we have to suppose that larger changes are not possible over larger timespans, causing speciation such as the kind illustrated in the above link?

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 1:27 PM

Yes, the analogy he chose was false.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 1:27 PM

Breeding shows the viability of design by an intelligent actor.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 1:33 PM

Breeding shows the viability of design by an intelligent actor

... and was only possible because of variability of traits and offspring inheriting traits from progenitors. That's why he chose that analogy. It's not a perfect analogy by any means, but it demonstrates those parts rather well.

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 1:37 PM

If you have an intelligent actor breeding them tightly enough.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 1:41 PM

"If you have an intelligent actor breeding them tightly enough."

The farmer does not will those facts (variability of traits and offspring inheriting traits from progenitors) into being, nor does he do anything else to artificially bring them about - he merely cleverly takes advantage of the fact that they naturally exist.

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 3:12 PM

And breeds like together.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 3:18 PM

Once variability of traits and offspring inheriting traits from their progenitors are demonstrated, it stands to reason that in a competition for survival in nature, traits more suited for survival will be reproduced with greater frequency.

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 3:18 PM

creeper:

Yes, it was a reasonable guess, just wrong.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 3:22 PM

"Yes, it was a reasonable guess, just wrong."

You say that with apparent certainty. If yours is more than an unreasonable guess, then what in your opinion disproves the argument?

Posted by: creeper at March 16, 2005 4:24 PM

The failure of anything to speciate and the obvious falsehood of survivability and selection as a mechanism upon our observation.

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 4:44 PM

[T]he theory of Natural Selection ... implies that a form will remain unaltered unless some alteration be to its benefit

David:

Please explain your conclusion.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at March 16, 2005 8:50 PM

Jeff:

Mayr explained that one:

"evolutionary change comes about throught the abundant production of genetic variation in every generation. The relatively few individuals who survive, owing to a particularly well-adapted combination of inheritable characters, give rise to the next generation."

Posted by: oj at March 16, 2005 8:55 PM

You aim to show that this:

Once variability of traits and offspring inheriting traits from their progenitors are demonstrated, it stands to reason that in a competition for survival in nature, traits more suited for survival will be reproduced with greater frequency.

is a falsehood, by offering this as disproving it:

The failure of anything to speciate and the obvious falsehood of survivability and selection as a mechanism upon our observation.

The first is patently and obviously not true (living organisms have evolved and speciated in abundance, even by your own admission), and the second is not a response, but merely repeating your claim that the previous statement is false, without offering any proof of such, nor even as much as explaining your reasoning.

So once again, Orrin:

You say that with apparent certainty. If yours is more than an unreasonable guess, then what in your opinion disproves the argument?
Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 3:45 AM

creeper;

You still aren't listening. evolution has occurred, just not Evolution. When we observe Evolution you'll be right. That's how science works.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 7:30 AM

So despite clear requests to do so, you are still not able to show how

Once variability of traits and offspring inheriting traits from their progenitors are demonstrated, it stands to reason that in a competition for survival in nature, traits more suited for survival will be reproduced with greater frequency.

is false.

Duly noted.

"evolution has occurred, just not Evolution."

How do you know that the evolution/speciation we have observed in the fossil record can not be due to the various theories proposed in the modern evolutionary synthesis?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 9:34 AM

creeper:

No, I can't show it's "false" just as you can't show it's "true'--it isn't a scientific proposition. I can show that it never happens. You can't show that it ever does.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 10:53 AM

How can you show that it never happens?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 11:11 AM

Loook around you.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 11:35 AM

You said you can show that it never happens. How can you show that it never happens?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:11 PM

Look around you. It never happens.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 12:14 PM

Me looking out the window and not seeing evolution or natural selection happening before my eyes that very instant is not proof of much of anything.

If that is all you've got, I have to conclude that you can not actually show that it never happens, contrary to your prior claim.

Not very surprising. I've noticed that you're not capable of backing up a number of your claims. Makes me wonder why you don't just change your mind about certain things.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:19 PM

How do you know that the evolution/speciation we have observed in the fossil record can not be due to the various theories proposed in the modern evolutionary synthesis?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:20 PM

Because it wouldn't have suddenly stopped.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 12:25 PM

When did it suddenly stop?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:32 PM

Prior to recorded history at least. For humans it's about 4 million years ago.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 12:39 PM

Humans stopped evolving about 4 million years ago?

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:43 PM

yes.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 12:47 PM

That would make us an Australopithecus.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:49 PM

And yet I can look around me, find a mirror, and observe that I am not an Australopithecus.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 12:52 PM

Maybe there is some taxonomic issue regarding 'species' or 'variation within species', but I spot a distinct evolution between the Australopithecus Amarensis on the left of the diagram to the Homo sapiens on the right. And look at that, Professor Hennenberg also says so in the article.

So there, human beings did not stop evolving 4 million years ago.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:02 PM

No origin of species, no Evolution.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 1:06 PM

I'm still puzzling over the logic that made you respond to:

How do you know that the evolution/speciation we have observed in the fossil record can not be due to the various theories proposed in the modern evolutionary synthesis?

with

Because it wouldn't have suddenly stopped.

Given the time scales involved in evolution, there is nothing to make us suppose that the process has come to a screeching halt.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:07 PM

"No origin of species, no Evolution."

Since you've already agreed that the fossil record shows evidence of speciation, this doesn't really go anywhere.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:09 PM

Speciation isn't in doubt, just the mechanism.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 1:19 PM

If humans are no longer evolving (which incidentally is included in point 4 of Darwin's original positing of natural selection - we don't really compete for physical survival anymore), that has next to nothing to do with this question:

How do you know that the evolution/speciation we have observed in the fossil record can not be due to the various theories proposed in the modern evolutionary synthesis?

Pointing out that today man's technology and civilization is so advanced as to no longer make physical survival a factor in our reproduction does not mean that evolution as a whole has stopped for all living beings or that the modern evolutionary synthesis can from one moment to the next no longer offer explanations for the history of our planet as we know it from the fossil record.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:28 PM

So you do think human evolution has stopped. Priceless.

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 1:31 PM

See here:

1. IF there are organisms that reproduce, and

2. IF offspring inherit traits from their progenitor(s), and

3. IF there is variability of traits, and

4. IF the environment cannot support all members of a growing population,

5. THEN those members of the population with less-adaptive traits (determined by the environment) will die out, and

6. THEN those members with more-adaptive traits (determined by the environment) will thrive

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:32 PM

I think natural selection has a lot less impact on us in our present state; we, at least in the Western world, have it pretty cushy overall.

It's still just a snapshot in time. We're hardly the first creatures to find ourselves in a comfortable niche, evolution-wise, and I certainly don't think human beings will not evolve from our current state at some point in the future.

None of this has anything to do with examining the mechanisms of evolution vis a vis the evidence of the fossil record, a question which you're still not answering. It's been an interesting deflection, but it's still just a deflection.

Posted by: creeper at March 17, 2005 1:45 PM

Hardly a deflection, it demonstrates a key ingredient of Darwinism as religion, that adherents embrace it because it elevates mankind, as well as showing the incoherence of the theory, that a supposedly natural process is so easily controlled by intelligent beings..

Posted by: oj at March 17, 2005 1:50 PM
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