Biology Darwinism

From the quote mine: The misunderestimated virtues of skepticism

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And look who’s talking, too:

Our theory of evolution has become one . . . which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus `outside of empirical science’ but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training. The cure seems to us not to be a discarding of the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, but more scepticism about many of its tenets.

– L.C. Birch and P. Ehrlich Nature 214 (1967) 349-352

As usual, the abstract makes clear that we must not suppose that the authors mean the plain sense of their words:

While accepting evolutionary theory, should ecologists be more sceptical about hypotheses derived solely from untestable assumptions about the past ? The authors put forward the view that many ecologists underestimate the efficacy of natural selection and fail to distinguish between phylogenetic and ecological questions.

Perhaps the difficulty is this: The Darwinist must defend an increasingly unlikely proposition: That natural selection acting on random mutation can produce the appalling intricacy of life. In order to avoid delusion, he must sometimes admit enough of the problem that he can talk about it briefly in a rational way. So we get these startling admissions tossed off, amid the toasts to the memory of the ol’Brit toff.

But wait: Is this the Paul Ehrlich who predicted the worldwide epidemic of obesity? No, let me check my notes; could be a different one, the one who predicted the 1970s famine in which we all died.

They could all just lay off the Kool-Aid for awhile.

5 Replies to “From the quote mine: The misunderestimated virtues of skepticism

  1. 1
    Peepul says:

    That article was written in 1967. That’s 44 years ago.

    The abstract and the article are completely consistent.

    And wait – you’re criticizing the man who made that quote for being wrong in many of the things he said. So am I supposed to ignore him as someone whose view is likely to be wrong about evolution too? In which case, what’s the point of quoting him?

  2. 2
    O'Leary says:

    peepul, the abstract and the quotation are not in the least consistent.

    You should have protected yourself by saying “the article is generally consistent with the abstract”.

    We know this. Otherwise, it would never have got published.

    Re Ehrlich being wrong abut population, he was wrong about it because he believed Darwin who believed Malthus who believed that people breed like flies.

    That kind of implicit faith, contrary to evidence, is an amazing thing to me. I have never understood or experienced it.

  3. 3
    Peepul says:

    Of course they are.

    From the article :

    The cure seems to us not to be a discarding of the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory…

    From the abstract :

    While accepting evolutionary theory….

    Message from both – don’t throw out evolution.

    From the article :-

    ‘Our theory of evolution has become one . . . which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus `outside of empirical science’ but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training.

    Abstract
    ‘should ecologists be more sceptical about hypotheses derived solely from untestable assumptions about the past ?’

    Message: Evolution as currently formulated is untestable. The abstract sets up the question (with an implied yes), the paper answers it (with an actual yes).

    The decision to publish a paper is not based on its abstract, but on reviews of the whole paper, so any ‘difference’ between them is not relevant in any event.

  4. 4
    Ilion says:

    Peepul,
    Is truth a moving target? Or is truth true regardless of the year?

    Are (assertedly) scientific statements true (definitionally?), or are they “this year’s truth” … or are they, perhaps, either true or not-true but with their truth-value difficult to ascertain?

    And, if the “truth” scientists assert is a moving target, or is “true” because they assert it to be so, or is “this year’s truth” (and next year’s embarrassment, and the next year’s obvious falsehood), then why would or should any sane and rational man pay any attention to the pronouncements of scientists?

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Ilion: excellent.

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