Custom Search

Monday, May 07, 2007

Publicly financed Darwin industry:Is the Darwin Carnival coming your way?

Just today, I received a most interesting note from a retired Australian poli sci professor Hiram Caton, late of Griffiths University, noting that the Darwin exhibition, developed at the American Museum of Natural History, is hitting the road, and may stop at a museum near you.

Caton explains,
You are well aware of my former colleague Dave Stove's critique of Darwinism. We are alike in that we have no religious affiliation; also in that we do not believe that Darwinism can provide a basis for ethics or for 'conservative' politics, in the manner of Larry Arnhart.

At his site, Caton offers a most useful anti-docent, "Getting Our History Right: Six Errors about Darwin and His Influence," documenting the following six errors:

1. The publication of the Origin was not a sudden (“revolutionary”) interruption of Victorian society’s confident belief in the traditional theological world-view. Instead, it was another step, albeit a big one, toward a popularly understandable scientific naturalism, including the idea of our primate origins, that was well in place by 1850.

Caton notes, among other things,
The implication of [the Exhibition's] ill-wrought claim is denial that evolutionary theory was extensively developed before Darwin embarked on his Beagle voyage (1831). Not so. Notable contributors were Louis-Constant Prévost, Louis-Melchior Patrin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Julien-Joseph Virey, Jean-Baptiste-Julien d’Omalius d’Halloy, Bory de Saint-Vincent, Ducrotoy de Blainville, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (Corsi, 1988b). Most of these scientists argued for the key “Darwinian” theses of common descent from an initial few organisms, gradual modification and extinction over great ages driven in part by the struggle for existence, geological uniformitarianism, and the primate origin of the human species. Some, notably the physicist Patrin, argued that life originated abiotically. Darwin’s library aboard the Beagle included Bory de Saint-Vincent’s influential seventeen volume Dictionnaire classique d’historie naturelle (1822-1831).

2. The Origin did not “revolutionize” the biological sciences by removing the creationist premise or introducing new principles. On the contrary, Origin had little effect on the hard biological sciences because they were already mechanistic and experimental. Darwin’s naturalist investigations did not contribute significantly to the experimental biology of his day.

Darwin discovered a stunning profusion of adaptations, and made many suggestions about phylogenetic relations (Leach and Mayo, 2005), but he did not prove a single phylogeny or prove a single case of speciation by natural selection. Indeed, by 1900 the only fossil-based phylogeny generally accepted was the evolution of the horse (Gayon, 1998). These facts are ignored. The Exhibition also ignores the Pangenesis theory and its influence on Darwin’s shift to substantial Lamarckian explanation in the 5th and 6th editions of Origin. Indeed, it implicitly denies Darwin’s Lamarckism by baldly stating that “Charles Darwin offered the world a single, simple scientific explanation for the diversity of life on Earth : evolution by natural selection” [bold face in original].

3. The Origin did not “revolutionize” Victorian public opinion. Public perception considered Darwin’s message to be about the same as Herbert Spencer’s, known today as “Social Darwinism”, which, though fashionable, never achieved dominance.

4. Many leading naturalists and biologists made significant criticisms of Darwin’s work. This includes Gregor Mendel, who believed that his discoveries refuted Darwin’s premises about the heritability of traits, and Thomas Huxley, who rejected natural selection.

(By contrast, Caton notes, the Exhibition promotes "an extreme version of the triumphalist legend".)

5. Darwin made little or no contribution to the renovation of theology. His public statements on Providence were inconsistent and the liberal reform of theology, including rejection of the divinity of Christ, was well advanced by 1850.

Caton offers,
Although the corrosive influence of Darwinism on conventional religious belief is widely claimed to be its most novel and potent cultural influence, the facts speak overwhelmingly against it.

[ ... ]

However, "The Exhibition triumphantly proclaims that Darwin’s “revolutionary theory changed the course of science and society”. Which society? What changes? Rather than attending to Darwin’s contribution to secularization, as I have done, the Exhibition offers a video of half dozen biologists who simply assert the compatibility of religion with Darwinian evolution. Not all religion, however: Intelligent Design is firmly, if politely, dismissed. My response to this gambit was surprise verging on astonishment. If contemporary opinion is relevant, how can today’s atheist crescendo be ignored? Is it to avoid shocking the religious among the visitors? "

6. The Darwinian Revolution was, at the public opinion level, the fashion of free trade economics backed by the perception that Darwin and Spencer had extended that paradigm to all of living nature. This fashion enjoyed prominence in much of Europe and the United States, but began to fade around 1900. It was in no sense analogous to the Copernican revolution, with which it is often compared.

Caton begins his reply,
A soothing aphorism circulates today declaring that “the only thing Darwinism has in common with Social Darwinism is the name”. The Exhibition expresses this view, maintaining that Social Darwinism is a misuse of a “purely scientific theory for a completely unscientific purpose” and that Darwin was “passionately opposed to social injustice and oppression”. This is a drastic distortion of historical fact.

Caton's article apparently appeared in Evolutionary Psychology, – 2007. 5(1): 52-69. It must be a kind of unusual article for them to publish. Glad they did.

Read the whole thing. Print it out and take it with you. Try not to disturb people by snorting and laughing in the middle of the Exhibition when a local hagiographer starts retelling the Darwin legend. Remember, when you are at the Darwin exhibition, you are in a house of worship!

By the way, yes, Caton is the prof who documented a good deal of the ridiculous Darwin hagiography. But there's more here.
My other blog is the Mindful Hack, which keeps tabs on neuroscience and the mind.

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?

Animations of life inside the cell, indexed, for your convenience.

My review of sci-fi great Rob Sawyer’s novel, The Calculating God , which addresses the concept of intelligent design. My reviews of movies relevant to the intelligent deisgn controversy.

My recent series on the spate of anti-God books, teen blasphemy challenge, et cetera, and the mounting anxiety of materialist atheists that lies behind it.

My review of Francis Collins’ book The Language of God , my backgrounder about peer review issues, or the evolutionary biologist’s opinion that all students friendly to intelligent design should be flunked.

Lists of theoretical and applied scientists who doubt Darwin and of academic ID publications.

My U of Toronto talk on why there is an intelligent design controversy, or my talk on media coverage of the controversy at the University of Minnesota.

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.

Why origin of life is such a difficult problem.
Blog policy note:Comments are permitted on this blog, but they are moderated. Fully anonymous posts and URLs posted without comment will be accepted if I think they contribute to a discussion. For best results, give your name or some idea who you are and why we should care. To Mr. Anonymous: I'm not psychic, so if you won't tell me who you are, I can't guess and don't care. To Mr. Nude World (URL): If you can't be bothered telling site visitors why they should go on to your fave site next, why should I post your comment? They're all busy people, like you. To Mr. Rudesby International and Mr. Pottymouth: I also have a tendency to delete comments that are merely offensive. Go be offensive to someone who can smack you a good one upside the head. That may provide you with a needed incentive to stop and think about what you are trying to accomplish. To Mr. Righteous but Wrong: I don't publish comments that contain known or probable factual errors. There's already enough widely repeated misinformation out there, and if you don't have the time to do your homework, I don't either. To those who write to announce that at death I will either 1) disintegrate into nothingness or 2) go to Hell by a fast post, please pester someone else. I am a Catholic in communion with the Church and haven't the time for either village atheism or aimless Jesus-hollering.

Who links to me?