Wednesday, February 09, 2005

In Defense of Darwinism - a Daily Duck Exclusive Series

More than 140 years after the publication of "The Origin of Species" by Charles Darwin initiated arguably the most sweeping revolution in science and knowledge in human history, his detractors continue to tirelessly defend the shrinking salient of philosophical ground which once was the sole domain of Judeo-Christian revealed truth, Creationism. The sheer simplicity of the idea of evolution by random mutation and natural selection, and it's anti-teleological basis continues to confound even those religious thinkers who accept the undeniable premise that species evolve over time.

Orrin Judd of BrothersJudd.Com recently referenced a veritable avalanche of anti-Darwinian articles in his post titled Breaking the Ionian Enchantment, and concluded with characteristic Juddsian bravado and overreach:

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.

Those are fighting words at the Daily Duck! Not content to merely correct Brother Judd and his fallacious cohorts of obscurantists and obfuscators by commenting to his posts in the short few days that his average post sees the light of day before being buried under the sedimentary deluge of his manic blogging obsessions, I have commissioned an exclusive, crack team of Darwinian experts, namely the redoubtable Skipper and a special guest blogger, the unflappable Andrew Nixon, aka "Brit" of BrothersJudd fame , and the proprietor of the most excellent "Think of England" blog, to dissect, eviscerate and dispose of in excruciating detail the accumulated "evidence" put forward by Brother Judd .

Stay tuned to the Daily Duck for this exciting series!


Blogger Brit said...

I look forward to the challenge. But before beginning, I think it's worth making some general remarks about the collection of anti-darwinist tropes that OJ has so painstakingly assembled in his "Ionian" thread.

The purpose of the 'scattergun' approach of the thread seems to be to impress upon his audience the notion that there are now hundreds of leading scientists and experts out there who are turning their backs on darwinism. That there is currently, in science, a shift in the 'zeitgeist', and that darwinism is dying a death from a thousand cuts.

Sadly for Orrin, nothing could be further from the truth. Having surveyed the field, it seems that the ragtag bunch of oddball essays on view, really is about it. And what a mixed bunch they are. As far as I can tell, Berlinksi appears to deny evolution entirely. Dembsky accepts evolution but thinks it's driven by intelligent design, not natural selection. Robert Wright accepts both evolution and natural selection, but has a sort of 'Gaia' approach, thinks darwinism is true, but insists that God started it off with an end in mind.

The idea that there are a whole load of experts out there now denying evolution is a myth creationists like to propagate. They like drawing up lists of 'scientists' who denounce it (these lists often stretch the definition of 'scientist' to breaking point, and contain vanishingly few biologists).

To illustrate just how misleading these 'lists' are, the National Center for Science Eduction decided, by way of parody, to create its own list of scientists who accept evolution.

So far they've got over 500 names, two-thirds of whom are biologists.

Not much, you might think. Except, wait for it, they only allow onto the list established scientists whose first name is Steve.

More on 'Project Steve' here

February 10, 2005 3:47 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck, Andrew:

My initial take on this is not going to deal with the factual bases of either Creationism/ID or the Theory of Evolution.

Rather, I am going to take a look at what is driving the argument: why have religionists of a specific stripe embarked on this jeremiad?

There are, among other things, some memos from one Dr. Behe of the Discovery Institute, an ID front organization, which are very revealing. As I have hinted elsewhere, the IDers are pursuing a dialectical end, but are, for various reasons, forced to use rhetorical means to get there.

But I am going to hold fire for the moment, otherwise this comment will end up being a post.

February 10, 2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

But why would anyone feel the need to put together an "exclusive, crack team of Darwinian experts" to counter a theocratic nutcase and his "fallacious cohorts of obscurantists and obfuscators"? Do I detect a little nervousness among the troops?

February 13, 2005 10:40 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I do have to market the site, and a little hype can't hurt.

Now, I never said that Orrin was a theocratic nutcase. Freudian slip?

February 14, 2005 9:26 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Not at all. On our team, we wear that as a badge of honour.

"The sheer simplicity of the idea of evolution by random mutation and natural selection..."

Nothing simple about it. There may have once been, but evolutionary theory has had to take so many turns, detours and backtracks since then that what once looked like a straight country road now looks like Manhatten in rush hour. You guys are so used to using words like "simple" and "elegant" to describe natural selection that you have come to believe your own you know what and are blind to how inaccessible the theory has become. I suspect that is exactly how many evolutionary scientists want it, which is why they are so quick to use professional ad hominems when challenged.

This month's Commentary has a lengthy exchange between Berlinski and several others on evolutionary psychology. It's a star-studded cast from both sides. After three reads I gave up. So technical and arcane were the arguments and so artifical was the language that it was impossible for a layman to tell what was fact, what was theory and what was philosphy. Completely inscrutable.

You guys tend to bristle when Orrin draws the Marx-Freud-Darwin connection, but it is clear that what happened to marxism and freudianism is happening to darwinism. Having completely convinced yourselves that the theory is comprehensive and self-contained, you force everything into it to make it work, changing the theory as you go, calling it "self-correcting science" rather than dialectical hocus-pocus, until finally even the most ordinary mind rejects it as contrary to experience and common sense. It reminds me of all those "scientific" marxist institutes in Moscow that spewed out ideologically pristine arguments on how everything that happened in the world was consistent with marxism. That's why you are equally comfortable with hard fossil studies of little critters from the past and wild, unsuported conjectures about man's history.

Continue studying those fossils if you must, but please don't pretend Occam is on your side anymore.

February 17, 2005 3:24 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I readily admit that ToE may be contrary to experience and "common sense", but that was never a requirement for a successful scientific theory. How many theories from the past, theories that we readily accept today, contradicted "common sense"? For example, the theory that the Earth is round. Or that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Or, more recently, that Time is not uniform, but varies according to relative speed?

As to simplicity, the basic theory is still very simple. However, it is still unproven, and is very contentious.

The proponents and opponents have taken the battle into very abstruse realms, employing a veritable arms race of language and concepts. Many of these, such as "irreducible complexity" are the responsibility of the opponents. The ID proponents also deal with a very simple idea, that complex organisms require an intelligent designer. To support their theory, they also require the construction of complex, inaccessible scientific jargon to support their theory.

The complexity is not a function of the theory per-se, but of the underlying subject matter, biology. ToE is a simple theory that is meant to explain a very complex subject.

It reminds me of all those "scientific" marxist institutes in Moscow that spewed out ideologically pristine arguments on how everything that happened in the world was consistent with marxism. That's why you are equally comfortable with hard fossil studies of little critters from the past and wild, unsuported conjectures about man's history.Now, this wouldn't constitute an Ad Hominem attack, would it? Your side doesn't do that, right?

I could draw the same analogy with Christian theology. Just try to pin you guys down on an inconsistency between different passages in the Bible, or on past ex-Cathedra pronouncements that have proven to be bogus, or on the shifting positions taken by proponents of Absolute Objective Truth (AOT) over the centuries, and we are treated with such an amazing display of logical gymnastics and semantic tap-dancing (I'm reminded of Richard Gere's performance in "Chicago") as to put any Marxist to shame.

Occam's Razor, contrary to popular understanding, is not a scientific law. There is no law stating that the simpler of two explanations must be true. And, of course, simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. Believers see God as the ultimate razor, the principle that explains all things. If He would just open his mind to examination, then ID could be a science. Until then, we have to study the fossils.

February 20, 2005 8:06 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Yes, I agree about Occam. I only raised it because many evolutionists (Skipper comes to mind) use it a lot--generally at the micro level to argue what logical deductions should flow from a particular piece of evidence. At that level, it can often appear that a natural explanation is the simpler one, but at the macro level the opposite is the case. Anyway, it is a much overrated rule and doesn't really help either side.

As to "common sense", well-played, but I wasn't thinking so much of any particular objective fact as of the destruction of the subjective that darwinism, at least in its more pristine forms, implies. That is what finally undermined freudianism and marxism, despite some quite interesting original insights. Tough subject, and I'll have to think some more on it.

Your point about theological complexity and inconsistency is also true, but I'm not sure how telling that is in this debate. It seems to bother most those scientists who insist that Scripture be judged by scientific rules, which is hardly the point. It may appear to be cheating to say one believes in the truth of two apparently contradictory assertions, but of course what the religious mean by truth is not the same as what scientists mean. You guys made those rules, not us. I suppose the equivalent would be someone who accepts Dawkins over Gould because he thinks the former writes in more inspiring language that touches the soul and resonates with tradition and experience. I am absolutely convinced there is mind-blowing, profound truth in Ecclesiates 1: 17-18. Do you disagree on the basis that I can't produce a statistical analysis? Must I therefore also hold that education is a bad thing or we should abjure intellectual inquiry?

As to the inaccessibility of both natural evolution and ID, it makes me wonder what the heck either side thinks it is doing by insisting on exposing schoolchildren before, say, late high school at the earliest. Unfortunately, both sides are stuck with the fact that we are talking about an historical account that can't be tested or demonstrated--it is all logical deduction from complex evidence. When Mayr says that the fossil record is rich and conclusive and Johnson replies that there are huge gaps, both their fans are really left choosing whichever conclusion they prefer, and that seems to apply more and more even to trained experts. This is why I try--not always successfully--to stay away from debates on DNA and fossils and stick with poking fun at ToE's rather absurd and unsubstantiated description of man's natural history. But there are lots of historical examples of insightful theories collapsing under the weight of their own complexities and internal inconsistencies. There are more things in Heaven and earth...

February 21, 2005 3:06 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Occam's Razor does not state that the simplest explanation is always true.

It just forbids the unnecessary proliferation of theories.

So if you have an explanation for something which is sufficient, you do not believe anything else unless or until it can be shown that that something else is necessary, and that the original explanation was therefore insufficient.

For example, suppose the pavement is wet. What's the explanation?

if it was raining ten minutes ago, your explanation would be: "the pavement is wet because it was raining".

As that is sufficient to explain the wetness, then you do not need to countenance any other theories unless you have to. For example, you do not need to believe a competing explanation that "the pavement is wet because it was raining ten minutes ago and an passing elephant squirted a trunkful of water onto it."

Since the raining explanation is sufficient, Occam's Razor forbids the rain-plus-elephant explanation.

But if you then find out that it was just a brief shower, and also see a CCTV recording of the elephant squirting five minutes ago, you'll have to revise your explanation.

Occam's Razor then forbids any other explanation than "the pavement is wet because of the rain and the elephant" until such time as more evidence comes to light showing that the current explanation is insufficient.

In the case of evolution, if natural processes are sufficient to explain evolution, then Occam;s Razor forbids the explanation "evolution is the result of natural processes and also God", until such time as it is shown that that the natural processes are insufficient and God is necessary.

Scientists apply Occam's Razor at all times and as a matter of course.

February 22, 2005 2:54 AM  
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October 25, 2005 4:23 AM  

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