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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Darwinism/Darwinist: Now a term of reproach?

Regular readers of this space will note that I have recently been publishing a number of pieces on why I determined about three years ago that Darwinism was failing as a theory and that ID would become a hot controversy in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

If Darwinism is not failing, why would Darwinists now want to evade the name they accepted for nearly 150 years? Yes! Despite a clear history of a century and a half of acceptance, a key Darwinist actually did his best to make it sound like an insult. Read on!

Some wonder why I, a mere journalist, sense that Darwinism is doomed.

Well, I observe and interview people and study how they behave.

One curious fact is that the venerable term Darwinism/Darwinist now makes Darwinists uncomfortable.

This problem hit the top of my intray last year a Canadian church bureaucrat took me to task for using the term "Darwinism/Darwinist" in By Design or by Chance?, because, she insisted, that I was "following the ID lead" when I used the term "Darwinism."

Now, in the early stages of research, I had made a careful study of the terminology used in the debate. I knew that "Darwinism" was commonly used among Darwinian evolutionists - probably only because Darwinism (and Darwinist) is easier and briefer.

So at the time, I dismissed the churchcrat summarily by pointing out the following:

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See, for example, the following examples, where - for your convenience - I have highlighted the relevant words:

Here, for example, is Richard Dawkins:

I'm a Darwinist because I believe the only alternatives are Lamarckism or God ... ,
- Richard Dawkins

The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a minor gloss on Darwinism, one which Darwin himself might well have approved if the issue had been discussed in his time. As a minor gloss, it does not deserve a particularly large measure of publicity. (Dawkins R., "The Blind Watchmaker," [1986], Penguin: London, 1991, reprint, p.250)

The famous evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr said,
The real core of Darwinism is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the `design' of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention. (p. 138 Ernst Mayr (Foreword to M. Ruse, Darwinism Defended, Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley, 1982, pp. xi-xii))

H. Allen Orr, a committed Darwinian biologist and opponent of ID, trashing one of Dawkins's notions (the "meme"), says:
... , it is simply not true that Darwinism works with any substrate, no matter what. Indeed Darwinism can't even explain old-fashioned *biological* evolution if the hereditary substrate doesn't behave just right. Evolution would quickly grind to a halt, for instance, if inheritance were blending, not particulate. With blending inheritance, the genetic material from two parents seamlessly blends together like different colored paints. With particulate Mendelian inheritance, genes from Mom and Dad remain forever distinct in Junior. This substrate problem was so acute that turn-ofthe-century biologists -- all fans of blending inheritance -- concluded that Darwinism just can't work. ...." (Orr H.A., "Dennett's Strange Idea: Natural Selection: Science of Everything, Universal Acid, Cure for the Common Cold ... . Review of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," by Daniel C. Dennett, Simon and Schuster. Boston Review, Vol. 21., No. 3., Summer 1996.)

And here is Lynn Margulis, Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts. Margulis is, I take it, a naturalistic evolutionist, but a fan of the Gaia hypothesis rather than of neo-Darwinism. She calls the latter 'a minor twentieth-century religious sect within the sprawling religious persuasion of Anglo-Saxon biology,' and has said of proponents of the theory, that they,
wallow in their zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin---having mistaken him.... Neo-Darwinism, which insists on (the slow accrual of mutations), is in a complete funk. (Mann, C. (1991) "Lynn Margulis: Science's Unruly Earth Mother," Science, 252, 378-381), Behe, Darwin's Black Box 1, p. 26)

Harold, Franklin, writing about the complexity of cell, says,
We should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity (16); but we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations. There is room for discovery here, and for reflection too; nowhere is the appeal of Gould's "pluralistic Darwinism " more keenly felt than in the study of cell evolution. (The Way of the Cell, p. 204.)

All of these people are/have been pretty mainstream within the naturalistic movement in science over the last hundred years (unless you count Lyn Margulis out because she is a woman and an unruly Earth mother). In fact, for some (perhaps many) prominent Darwinian biologists, the terms Darwinism/Darwinist cover both the specific process of natural selection acting on random mutation and the philosophical view of naturalism that so many of them apparently believe:
I toyed with atheism from the age of about nine, originally because I worked out that, of all the hundreds of religions in the world, it was the sheerest accident that I was brought up Christian. They couldn't all be right, so maybe none of them was. I later reverted to a kind of pantheism when I realised the shattering complexity and beauty of the living world. Then, around the age of 16, I first understood that Darwinism provides an explanation big enough and elegant enough to replace gods. I have been an atheist ever since. (Dawkins R., "You Ask The Questions," Independent, 23 February 2003)

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However, I now think I may have been too hard on that churchcrat (or churchadmin? I don't mind raising her pay grade.)

You see, I have just discovered a most interesting fact from
Jonathan Wells' The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design . The churchcrat might have been misled by Darwinists themselves on this point. Wells writes,
Harvard sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson recently claimed that the word “Darwinism” was coined by enemies of Darwin to make him look bad. “It’s a rhetorical device to make evolution seem like a kind of faith, like ‘Maoism’,” said Wilson in Newsweek in November 2005. “Scientists,” Wilson added, “don’t call it Darwinism.” (P. 10)

But, as I myself have shown above, they do.

And, as Wells notes, they have done so since 1864, when Darwin's bulldog, T.E. Huxley was first recorded using the term, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (Wells, p. 10).

Wells notes that Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould used the term "extensively" in their writings and a host of biology hopefuls have also applied Darwinism's sacred name in the titles of their articles.

But come to think of it, while I was researching By Design or by Chance? "Christian evolutionists" used to fret when I used the term casually, in the very way that the Darwinists themselves use it.

Christian evolutionists, so far as I can tell, live in a sort of unreal world where one espouses Darwinism while pretending not to know what it means. So Ms. Churchcrat may have been honestly misled after all. She would be foolish to be more angry with me than with those who misled her, but you never know.

But if Darwinism is not failing, why would Darwinists now want to evade the name they accepted for nearly 150 years?

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Many universes: Or many fairies?

Casey Luskin noted a while back at Evolution News that a recent article in Nature noted that many universes theory is not testable:

Since the early 1980s, some cosmologists have argued that multiple universes could have formed during a period of cosmic inflation that preceded the Big Bang. More recently, string theorists have calculated that there could be 10 [to the]500 universes, which is more than the number of atoms in our observable Universe. Under these circumstances, it becomes more reasonable to assume that several would turn out like ours. It’s like getting zillions and zillions of darts to throw at the dart board, Susskind says. “Surely, a large number of them are going to wind up in the target zone.” And of course, we exist in our particular Universe because we couldn’t exist anywhere else. It’s an intriguing idea with just one problem, says Gross: “It’s impossible to disprove.” Because our Universe is, almost by definition, everything we can observe, there are no apparent measurements that would confirm whether we exist within a cosmic landscape of multiple universes, or if ours is the only one. And because we can’t falsify the idea, Gross says, it isn’t science. (Geoff Brumfiel, "Outrageous Fortune," Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006).)

But, Luskin writes, “National Academy of Sciences member and Nobel Laureate Leonard Susskind was given print-space--in fact he had a highlighted box-quote--saying that we should not reject the multi-verse hypothesis on the grounds that it isn’t testable.” Nature reports:

Susskind, too, finds it “deeply, deeply troubling” that there’s no way to test the principle. But he is not yet ready to rule it out completely. “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science,” he says. (Geoff Brumfiel, "Outrageous Fortune," Nature, Vol 439:10-12 (January 5, 2006)

I love it! “It would be very foolish to throw away the right answer on the basis that it doesn’t conform to some criteria for what is or isn’t science ...” Why so foolish? Because, while it doesn’t conform to science, it does conform to materialism.

Similarly, in Max Tegmark’s 2003 Scientific American article on the four levels of multi verses, we are told that
Cosmologists infer the presence of Level II parallel universes by scrutinizing the properties of our universe. These properties, including the strength of the forces of nature and the number of observable space and time dimensions, were established by random processes during the birth of our universe. Yet they have exactly the values that sustain life. That suggests the existence of other universes with other values.

So the only reason for the Level II universes' supposed very existence is to avoid the obvious implications of observable fine-tuning in this one.

Now, of course there is no problem in principle with untestable theories being discussed.

The problem is that the many-universes hypothesis is used as a discussion-stopper - a way to avoid the fine-tuning of the universe.

Here's what it reminds me of: A small child claiming that "the fairies" broke the vase or stole the cookies.

The real problem isn't whether fairies exist or act - only a naif or a fool would try discussing that with the child - but whether "the fairies" are used to avoid addressing difficult sets of facts.

When dealing with such data sets in my own household decades ago, as a child minder and later a young mother, I usually resorted to the following judgement: "Well, if you know so much about the fairies, you must be part of their deplorable gang. You and they can spend the afternoon in your room, and I hope you enjoy each other's company."
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.

Are you looking for one of the following stories?

A summary of tech guru George Gilder's arguments for ID and against Darwinism

A critical look at why March of the Penguins was thought to be an ID film.

A summary of recent opinion columns on the ID controversy

A summary of recent polls of US public opinion on the ID controversy

A summary of the Catholic Church's entry into the controversy, essentially on the side of ID.

O'Leary's intro to non-Darwinian agnostic philosopher David Stove’s critique of Darwinism.

An ID Timeline: The ID folk seem always to win when they lose.

O’Leary’s comments on Francis Beckwith, a Dembski associate, being denied tenure at Baylor.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
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