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Friday, September 30, 2005

Response to NAS member's critique of the usefulness of Darwinism: Pigeons demand ban on cats

Recently, Phil Skell, a National Academy of Sciences member, published a critique of the usefulness of Darwinism in present-day biology, under the title "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?" in The Scientist.

In Skell's view, "evolution" is invoked in many science papers in much the same way as a bureaucracy hounded by political correctness might invoke Aztec cosmology -relevant to the politics, certainly, but not to the findings.

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.

The huge response prompted a comment, "Let's Talk About This," from the editor of that publication:
Inadvertently, while I was still looking for evidence on the subject, The Scientist tested the quality of scientific discourse. The opinion of Philip Skell which ran in the Aug. 29, 2005, issue generated a staggering volume of comment. We have given over most of the Letters and Opinion pages in this issue to it, and even then we're not doing the reaction justice. The vast majority of the correspondence was negative, but it was also rational, reasonable, and detailed, with only a couple of letter writers resorting to abuse ...

Abuse? Oh my stars. The fact that so much negative opinion would follow Skell's completely obvious point tells us pretty much what we need to know about the cult of Darwinian evolution in biology today.

In both popular and semi-professional literature today, as well as professional literature, all kinds of silly ideas seep into public discourse because they claim to be natural consequences of Darwinian evolution. Just think of all the people who would be stuck for a pat answer to human dilemmas otherwise.

It is one thing to establish a religion when most people believe it, quite another to establish a religion when most people don't.

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