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Friday, September 09, 2005

Must read: National Academy of Sciences member says Darwinism "contributes little" to experimental biology

In a an August 29 article in The Scientist, eminent (now retired) chemist Phil Skell weighs in on the actual importance of Darwinism in modern biology, as opposed to the dramatic claims made — "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," "cornerstone of biology", et cetera.

Skell quotes A.S. Wilkins, editor of the journal BioEssays, "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one." He then comments,

I would tend to agree. Certainly, my own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.
He also notes,
In the peer-reviewed literature, the word "evolution" often occurs as a sort of coda to academic papers in experimental biology. Is the term integral or superfluous to the substance of these papers? To find out, I substituted for "evolution" some other word - "Buddhism," "Aztec cosmology," or even "creationism." I found that the substitution never touched the paper's core. This did not surprise me. From my conversations with leading researchers it had became clear that modern experimental biology gains its strength from the availability of new instruments and methodologies, not from an immersion in historical biology.
He is careful to point out that just because Darwinism is useless does not mean that it is false, but rather that claims about its importance are justly met by skepticism.

I would add that persecutions of scientists like Richard Sternberg, simply for considering viewpoints other than Darwinism in interpreting historical biology, should be met not only with skepticism but disdain.

While Prof. Skell doesn't say so, the apparent reason Darwinism is currently so important in biology has nothing to do with science as such. Darwinism enables an atheistic naturalist to use the publicly funded biology curriculum to promote his or her religious and political views.

For example, on the web site of Florida Citizens for Science, a state Darwin lobby, note the link to "Zealots are determined to create a theocracy". This ignorant and spiteful politico-religious rant is largely unrelated to the issue of Darwinism vs. design. FCS should not link to it as an article "of interest" if it wants to persuade anyone that it represents the public at large. Otherwise, the group should change its name to Florida Citizens for Divisiveness (Not Diversity) in Religion.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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