The Nature of Nature’s “Darwin 200”

first_imgAs could be expected for yesterday’s Darwin Day February 12, Nature devoted almost its entire 2/12/09 issue to Charles Darwin with at least 20 Darwin-related articles.  The caption for the special edition states,The latest edition of Nature to celebrate Darwin’s life and work looks at the human side of evolution.  We have features on looking for Darwin in the genome, and on what evolution has done to shape human nature, while our editorial and two commentaries look at some of the problems inherent in applying biology to questions about humanity.  We also have an essay on Darwin’s pigeons and poetry by his great great grand-daughter Ruth Padel.  And in a special insight we bring together reviews by a range of experts on current hot topics in evolution.One can safely assume that this issue in the world’s leading science journal, written by scientists for scientists, published in Darwin’s homeland, represents the best defense of evolutionary thought available today on this special occasion of Darwin’s Bicentennial.  Most of these articles are available online at a special page of Nature News.In order to cut to the chase without getting bogged down in analysis of every claim in every article, let’s focus on what really matters: is Darwinism true?  Is it established, beyond reasonable doubt, by evidence, that humans have bacteria ancestors?  Major on majors.  The only Darwinian claim of concern is whether all life descended from one or a few single-celled organisms (and most Darwinists claim also from nonliving chemicals) via chance variation and unguided natural selection.  Even young-earth creationists incorporate a lot of microevolution in their views.  That means all of the following points are mere distractions:Whether Darwin’s beard made him look like Moses.Whether he was a good pigeon breeder and field naturalist.Whether Darwin impacted culture, politics, religion, philosophy, and science.Whether creationist opponents have a religious agenda.Whether Darwin felt God wouldn’t have created life the way we find it.Whether intelligent design proponents lost at Dover.Whether microevolution and “change over time” occurs.Whether some species have gone extinct.Whether Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle makes a nice adventure story.Whether scientists have good imaginations.Whether video libraries are loaded with highly-animated documentaries teaching Darwin’s ideas.Whether Darwinians are good at bluffing that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming.Whether evolutionary biologists are good at promising to deliver their vaporware on back order.Whether it was wrong for U of Leiden to slash their evolutionary biology budget.Whether evolutionists publish in peer-reviewed journals and creationists don’t can’t.Whether Darwin was a proper British gentleman of basically honest character.Whether Darwin disliked slavery.Whether Darwin was buried in a church and has received adulation from religious people.Whether a scientific consensus exists that Darwin was a secular god.None of that matters.  You’ve got to stay focused on the central issue in any debate, and the central issue here is whether Darwinism is true.  If it has been falsified, if it is self-refuting, or has after 150 years failed to deliver on its scientific pretensions, then who cares about these other things?  The interpretation and significance of all those things would change if Darwinism were disqualified as science.  It makes an interesting story, that’s all.    OK, so here is our rapid-fire baloney detection exercise.  Picture an intelligent alien reading these articles.  He (or it) is highly educated, skilled in philosophy and logic, and respectful of observation and experiment, but unfamiliar with Darwin’s hypothesis that humans (and aliens) have bacteria ancestors through a long process of impersonal selection of chance variations.  Our alien friend finds this proposition somewhat dubious at the outset, but being an amiable chap of sound character and discernment, is willing to judge the evidence in support of it.  What Would Alien Do?  Here goes:Editorial:  No evidence here, but lots of morality.  Notable quote: “The history of arguments about humanity based on biology – both Darwin’s biology and that of others who have come after – provides a sorry rehearsal of pretexts and apologias for everything from unthinking prejudice to forced sterilization and genocide.”  Did you hear that, Eugenie?  Richard Weikart could have said that.  There’s an even worse Darwin-damaging quote later (see below).The other strand:  Irrelevant.  History of Wallace, speculation, guesswork, controversy, futureware.  Notable quote: “No real silver bullet has emerged to say, ‘This is the human uniqueness gene’.” Human nature: the remix.  The blind leading the blind; with some leaving the pack and stumbling around elsewhere.  Controversy, things that are “poorly understood,” speculation, disagreement over definitions; confusion of observations with causes.  Nothing solid.A flight of fancy:  Asks whether history would have been written differently “had Charles Darwin given in to pressure from his publisher to rewrite Origin of Species into a popular book about pigeons.”  Disqualified; irrelevant speculation.  Notable quote: “At every page, I was tantalized by the absence of the proofs” – Whitwell Elwin, on examining a pre-publication draft of The Origin.Dutch U slashes evolution staff.  Who cares?  Lots of people are getting laid off these days.  Go get a real job.Debate over IQ and rebuttal.  Only a scientism-ist would think this question belongs in science.  Irrelevant to Darwin.Darwin’s Sacred Cause book review:  Dud.  Darwin’s personal morality is irrelevant to his hypothesis.Poetry by Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter:  Move this to English Lit.Jerry Coyne’s book review on freaks of nature:  Freaky, but no help to Charlie; just an intramural squabble over evo-devo vs “orthodoxy.”  Move this to Comparative Religion.  Notable quote: “In the end, the problem with these explanations is not so much that they are wrong, or of no potential importance in evolution.  Rather, it is that Blumberg gives the impression that they are established truths rather than hypotheses that have remained unconfirmed for three decades.”  Speak for yourself, Jerry.Segmental duplications research:  A live one?  Similarities in primate genes would only convince the converted.  Circular reasoning.  Appeals to convergent evolution, and other Darwin-incestuous assumptions.Mammoth genome:  Nothing about Darwin; more circular reasoning and futureware.Unnatural selection:  Whether humans are causing unnatural evolutionary changes by hunting.  Aren’t humans claimed to be products of natural selection, too?  Technical foul; borrows Christian morality.Henry Gee:  Just a Gee-whiz hymn of praise to Darwin over the simplicity of his theory.  Simple, or simplistic?  The Stuff Happens Law is simple and explains a lot, too (09/15/2008 commentary).Natural selection 150 years on:  Mark Pagels’ history of the tweaks to Darwin’s theory to keep it in sync with observations.  The Gumby defense doesn’t cut it in science (01/23/2009).  This article is full of Tinker Bell, Stuff Happens, paradox, controversy, Happy happy Darwin, the power of suggestion and “a theory moving with the times.”  Honk if you found anything substantive here.Origin of arthropods:  Cambrian explosion, imaginary emergence, futureware.  Notable quote: “Arthropods emerged near the base of the Cambrian.”  No plausible transitions in the Precambrian.  Instant complexity.  Game over!  OK, Darwinism disqualified; time to celebrate across town at the other Bicentennial. Shubin, Tabin, Carroll on “Deep homology and the origins of evolutionary novelty.”  Why are we still playing this game when Darwinism has already fouled out?  For the overkill perhaps.  This is all homology arguments, Darwin praise, Tiktaalik (Shubin pushes his fish-a-pod everywhere he goes), beetle horns (microevolution), co-option, tree-thinking, parallel evolution, and the whole Darwinian toolkit of circular explanatory gimmicks, using evolution to prove evolution (05/25/2005 commentary).Beagle in a bottle:  Experimental evolution – this should be good, some real, experimental science!  But it’s all microevolution, artificial selection, controversial kin selection and other model-dependent traps like co-evolution, the Stuff Happens Law and weird science like the evolvability of evolution.  Nice try.  Give them a courtesy clap for at least considering five serious caveats and criticisms.Adaptive radiation:  Island diversity, finch beaks, the role of contingency (Stephen Jay Gould vs Simon Conway Morris), controversy over sympatry and allopatry, extinction, circular reasoning, exceptions to every rule.  Fails to deliver on this empty promise: “A particularly powerful approach is to combine studies of ongoing natural selection and microevolutionary change with phylogenetic analyses of evolutionary patterns in deeper, macroevolutionary, time, an approach that in some cases can even be experimental.”  (Notice that the macroevolutionary time was assumed, not demonstrated.)  Macroevolution not demonstrable in any non-question-begging way.  For Science Magazine’s problem with adaptive radiation, see 02/10/2009, bullet 4.Darwin’s bridge between microevolution and macroevolution by Reznick and Ricklefs:  The hyped title fails to deliver.  Question-begging generalities, the Gumby defense (evolutionary theory keeps getting modified to fit the observations), gaps galore, and futureware everywhere.  Quote-miners can find some good ones here to embarrass Charlie worshipers!  Like, “Macroevolution posed a problem to Darwin because his principle of descent with modification predicts gradual transitions between small-scale adaptive changes in populations and these larger-scale phenomena, yet there is little evidence for such transitions in nature.  Instead, the natural world is often characterized by gaps, or discontinuities.”  By the end of the article, you realize that nothing Darwin suggested 150 years ago about the origin of species has been confirmed!  It’s still vaporware on back order.Plant domestication:  Artificial selection is intelligent design.  Irrelevant.  Appeals to co-evolution, parallel evolution and futureware would not convince a young-earth creationist who accepts microevolution and variation anyway.What we find are endless exercises in imagineering brought about by Charlie’s research program that provided job security for storytellers.  The few appeals to empirical support require willing suspension of disbelief and heavy imports of Judeo-Christian values.  The Editorial ended, surprisingly, with more praise for Lincoln than for Darwin.  Listen carefully:The scientific enterprise as a whole has to pay particular heed to the risk that preconceptions will creep in whenever what is being said about human nature has political or social implications.    This is particularly the case when science begins to look, as moral psychology is doing, at the mechanisms by which people make decisions about right or wrong.  Here it becomes peculiarly hard – and at the same time especially important – to resist the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ of inferring what ought to be from what is.  Science may be able to tell us why some values are more easily held than others.  But it cannot tell us whether taking the easy path in terms of which values we espouse is the right thing to do.    In fact, it provides us with a worked example to the contrary.  The scientific endeavour itself is founded on values which natural selection would have seemed unlikely to foist on a bunch of violent, gregarious upright apes.  Science tries to place no trust in authority; to some extent, society has to.  Science tries to define its membership on the basis of inclusion, rather than exclusion; work on altruism suggests, worryingly, that communities more normally need an outgroup to form against.  Science insists on the value of truth even when it is inconvenient or harmful; most people’s beliefs tend to reinforce their self-interest.     In this unnaturalness lies the great strength of science.  It is from this it derives its power as a way of understanding the world.  And this is also what allows it, at its best, to resist, not reinforce, mores and prejudices that pose as truths of nature.  This demanding, artificial code is what gives engaged, passionate and all-too-fallible human beings the collective power to produce results that are dispassionate, objective and reliable.  And if science stays true to that code, it can act as a stern restraint on anyone seeking to go from the study of how people evolved to conclusions about how they should be treated now – to go, that is, against the values that both Darwin and Lincoln espoused.    Science can never prove humans alike in dignity, or equally deserving under the law; that is a truth that cannot be discovered.  Like the ideals of malice towards none and charity towards all, it is something that must be made real through communal will.Wow!  Science is unnatural.  Does that mean it is supernatural?  Where did it cross the line, if nature is all there is?  Pray tell, Mr. Darwin, how you get truth, right, moral codes, equality, charity and values from screeching apes or mutations in a primitive cell.  Morality cannot emerge from mechanism.  The editors of Nature are apparently oblivious to the fact that, by espousing eternal truths and values, they have just falsified evolutionary naturalism.  Thanks for saving us a lot of work.  It would be nice to call in them for support in the altruistic fights against genocide, eugenics, communism and abortion.    Whew, what a disaster.  OK, now that the Darwin-Party-sponsored Darwin Party is over, help clean up the mess as we move Charlie’s cubicle from the Science Department to the History Department.(Visited 8 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img

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