Darwinism Evolution Intelligent Design

Gertrude Himmelfarb on ID

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HOW THE DEBATE OVER DARWIN HASN’T EVOLVED
by Gertrude Himmelfarb

The New Republic Online
Post date: 12.03.05, Issue date: 12.12.05

. . . Many Victorian clerics found it possible to reconcile not only evolution but natural selection as well with religion, while many secularists had reservations not about evolution but about natural selection. John Stuart Mill, for example, was impressed by the “knowledge and ingenuity” that Darwin brought to bear upon his thesis, but finally decided (as late as 1870) that it “is still and will probably long remain problematical.” Moreover, he added, even if it were proved, it would not be inconsistent with creation. He himself, he said, on the state of the evidence, believed in “creation by intelligence.”

“Creation by intelligence”–this by Mill, hardly a religious dogmatist. Today one may hear echoes of those words in the theory of “intelligent design,” which is derided by most scientists (including the editors of the present volumes) as a euphemism for creationism and thus a denial of evolution. And so it is, for some of its proponents. Yet others, themselves scientists, insist that their quarrel is not with evolution itself but rather with natural selection conceived as a purely mechanistic and entirely sufficient explanation for evolution. For them, intelligent design is nothing more or less than teleology, the recognition of a purposiveness or direction in nature, with or without a Creator in the orthodox sense of God. . . .

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4 Replies to “Gertrude Himmelfarb on ID

  1. 1
    keiths says:

    Himmelfarb is clearly ill-informed about both sides of the debate.

    Here she describes ID proponents:
    “Yet others, themselves scientists, insist that their quarrel is not with evolution itself but rather with natural selection conceived as a purely mechanistic and entirely sufficient explanation for evolution. For them, intelligent design is nothing more or less than teleology…”

    This is like saying that al Qaeda has no quarrel with the US. There are only two parts of evolution that all of the leading IDers accept, as far as I can tell:
    1) the bare fact of change over time, and
    2) the fact that microevolution can produce “small” changes such as pesticide resistance.

    Bill Dembski and (as far as I know) Mike Behe do not rule out common descent, though Jonathan Wells does.

    Even Darwin himself did not believe, as Himmelfarb puts it, that natural selection was an “entirely sufficient explanation for evolution”.

  2. 2
    PaV says:

    keiths: Himmelfarb wrote a book in the late fifties, early sixties called Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. So I think it wise to pay attention to her comments.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have access to her comments unless I subscribe to NRO.

  3. 3
    keiths says:

    PaV writes:
    “Himmelfarb wrote a book in the late fifties, early sixties called Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. So I think it wise to pay attention to her comments.”

    If Himmelfarb wrote a book on Darwin, she has even less of an excuse for misrepresenting his position. Neither Darwin nor most modern evolutionary biologists claim that natural selection is, in Himmelfarb’s words, “an entirely sufficient explanation for evolution.”

    In The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:
    “Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification.”

    In The Descent of Man, he wrote:
    “I had two distinct objects in view; firstly, to show that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change…if I have erred in giving to natural selection great power, which I am very far from admitting, or in having exaggerated its power, which is in itself probable, I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.”

    Both quotes show that Darwin did not consider natural selection to be “entirely sufficient” to account for the evolutionary change seen in nature.

    When Himmelfarb, in a single sentence, garbles the positions on both sides of the debate, she betrays a lack of preparation unbecoming of a serious scholar. If she wants to comment on the ID/evolution controversy, she should do her homework first.

  4. 4
    PaV says:

    keiths: You write: “…natural selection is, in Himmelfarb’s words, “an entirely sufficient explanation for evolution.” And, then, immediately after, “In The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:
    ‘Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification.'”

    I don’t think it’s unfair to make the following distinction: to say something is an “entirely sufficient explanation” is to say that, in your mind, you find the explanation of enough power as to believe it is the principal, but not unique, cause of what is to be explained; while to say that something is not the “exclusive means of modification” simply denotes that other, lesser, mechanisms are in play.

    I don’t think it’s fair, threfore, to say that Himmelfarb was saying that Darwin thought NS was the exclusive cause; it strikes me that she is simply saying that Darwin–et al–considered NS a credible/sufficient mechanism.

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