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Sunday, July 24, 2005

Popular opponents of ID backing away from terminology?

Reviewer Gail Turner of Burlington, Ontario (Canada), takes me to task for using (in my book By Design or by Chance?) the words Darwinism/Darwinist to describe the views of evolutionary biologists who think that the development of all life forms occurred through Darwinian evolution and a couple of other natural processes, without any design or purpose. She writes,

Although, in the body of the text, she does make some effort to discriminate between the scientific theory of evolution and a philosophy which she, following the ID lead, calls Darwinism, this is so muted that the average reader must be forgiven if they equate the diatribes against Darwinism as an attack on the science of evolution. (from Gail Turner's Amazon review)

Turner is mistaken. I am not "following the ID lead" when I use the term Darwinism.

Darwinian evolutionists used the terms Darwinist/Darwinism, or sometimes neo-Darwinist/neo-Darwinism, comfortably among themselves for many years. (The "neo-" prefix simply means that modern Darwinism depends on Mendelian genetics, a science unknown in Darwin's day.)

(Note: If this is not the story you were looking for, see the Blog service note below or the stories listed in the sidebar. )

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 link1 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)

Only after Darwinists came under pressure from the intelligent design community - principally from constitutional law professor Phillip E, Johnson -
If the Darwinists had a good case to make, they would *welcome* the critics to an academic forum for open debate, and they would want to confront the *best* critical arguments rather than to caricature them as straw men. Instead they have chosen to rely on the dishonorable methods of power politics." (Johnson P.E., "The Wedge of Truth," 2000, p.141.

did protestors like Turner arise to proclaim that Darwinists don’t really use the terms "Darwinist/Darwinism" to describe themselves and their views.

That shows, indirectly, that the intelligent design community is making an impact in its assault on Darwinist orthodoxy. As a general rule, you know people are making an impact when zealous but ill-informed supporters, like Turner, start backing away from the standard terminology.

I would like to see Darwin's specific theory of natural selection separated from the naturalism that so often underlies it. Then the theory could be evaluated for its true explanatory value in science, apart from the educational agendas that it currently props up and the Darwin lobbies that dine out on those agendas.

But I don't expect that any time soon. Too much is at stake. So I'll continue to use the term Darwinist for convenience, as the Darwinists always have among themselves, unless they begin to - consensually - call themselves by another specific name. I do not know why they should. Darwinist/Darwinism seems as suitable as ever, despite the zealous but ill-informed supporters.

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.

Blog service note: Did you come here looking for any of the following stories?

- The op-ed by Catholic Cardinal Schonborn in the New York Times? Note also the Times's story on the subject, some interesting quotes from major Darwinists to compare with the Catholic Church's view, as expressed by the Cardinal, and an example of the kind of problem with Darwinian philosophy that the Cardinal is talking about.

- the Privileged Planet film shown at the Smithsonian, go here for an extended review. Please do not raise cain about an "anti-evolution" film without seeing it. If your doctor forbids you to see the film, in case you get too excited, at least read my detailed log of the actual subjects of the film. If you were one of the people who raised cain, ask yourself why you should continue to believe the people who so misled you about the film's actual content ...

- the showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one and this one will bring you up to date.
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