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Science writer asks, Would it make any difference if Darwin had never existed?

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Could have done without him, maybe. Part of a long form article on the “great man” theory in science, by Philip Ball at Nautilus:

So I asked historian and philosopher of science James Lennox of the University of Pittsburgh, an expert on the history of Darwinian theory, who might have done the job in place of Darwin and Wallace. His answer was striking: The story might not have gone that way at all.

“When you read through Darwin’s Species Notebooks and see the struggle he went through, and then you compare his first and second attempts to present it coherently (in 1842 and 1844) with the Origin, I think it is equally plausible that some very different theory of evolution might have won the day,” says Lennox. After all, alternatives to Darwinian thought were still debated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when, Lennox says, “a variety of non-Darwinian theories were at least as popular as Darwin’s.” Some prominent geneticists, such as the Dutchman Hugo de Vries, supposed that evolutionary changes happens in jumps (saltation) rather than by Darwin’s gradual change—and as far as the “macroevolution” of whole groups of species goes, that idea never went away: It’s comparable to the “punctuated equilibrium” model of modern-day biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge.

But surely Darwinian natural selection is the “right” theory, so we’d have got there eventually? Well yes—but it’s still debated whether the disturbingly tautological “survival of the fittest” is the best way to think about it. Darwin’s view is now augmented and adapted, for example to include the effects of random genetic drift and to unify a view of evolutionary change with accounts of developmental biology (so called “evo-devo”). Might we have got to the current position, then, without an origin-of-species-type account at all? “I think that is entirely possible,” says Lennox. More.

A striking admission: “Might we have got to the current position, then, without an origin-of-species-type account at all? ‘I think that is entirely possible,’ says Lennox.”

Truth is, Darwinian evolution is and always has been a tautology that supports a metaphysic, naturalism (nature is all there is).

As Lynn Margulis noted, not all the organisms that come into existence can survive and pass on their heritage. But—in an ever-changing world, where the advantage constantly shifts—how does one get a grand view of life out of that mundane fact?*

How about, by packaging and marketing a common-sense fact as a great principle of science? It had legs. Darwinism enabled H.L. Mencken to feel superior to Neanderthal man,” “organizing in these forlorn backwaters of the land, led by a fanatic, rid of sense and devoid of conscience. It enabled Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes to majestically declare “three generations of imbeciles is enough,” when sentencing a girl who had committed no crime and presented no serious problems to compulsory sterilization. Surely, no criminal code in North America at the time listed that as a punishment. Inimitably, “Buck herself did not learn of her sterilization until decades later — she was told at the time that the operation was an appendectomy. According to the USA Today article, more than 65,000 people were sterilized under such laws, which were enacted in more than 30 states.”

Yes, Darwinism has been that powerful in our society. And no, those ghosts do not lie quiet.

Meanwhile, generations of science profs and teachers assured students (and science writers and politicians, of course) that we know a lot about evolution when we, in fact, knew very little.

We know more now. And now Darwinism is just a tautology, on salary with benefits, complete with a sophisticated literary claque.


“Living organisms had existed on earth, without ever knowing why, for over three thousand million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin[Where’s the Sousaphone? – News]

with, as in so many cases today,

A “hilariously complicated” scenario of changes over time, whose rules we are only beginning to intuit. [Relax, PhD., you have a job until at least 2055. – News]

Here’s one interpretation: Darwinism, as a metaphysic, created a funnel. If some find or claim could be squeezed through Darwin’s funnel, then it was evolution. It was Science! Of course a great deal of it was nonsense. But hey, it was sciencey nonsense. That’s what matters. It’s cool and it sells both high-brow articles and elementary textbooks.

A few years ago, due to a number of factors (mostly book-length topics) including genome mapping, Darwin’s tautology started to get replaced by actual knowledge, which obviates it.

And no one can do a thing about that. The Royal Society appeared surprisingly easy to intimidate earlier this year. But they may as well stand their ground hereafter. The first groups to get in on serious discussions of what we all now know, post-Checkpoint Charlie, will gain much.

* Note: On the subject Darwin addressed, better stuff from millennia ago:

The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

There are doubtless underlying principles involved in evolution, but we must do much more serious work than we have so far to find something beyond “not to the swift.”

See also: Suzan Mazur on Royal Society finally agreeing to release evolution documents


What the fossils told us in their own words

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7 Replies to “Science writer asks, Would it make any difference if Darwin had never existed?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Someone referenced this in the comment section of the article:

    “There are five standard tests for a scientific hypothesis. Has anyone observed the phenomenon — in this case, Evolution — as it occurred and recorded it? Could other scientists replicate it? Could any of them come up with a set of facts that, if true, would contradict the theory(Karl Popper’s “falsifiability” tests)? Could scientists make predictions based on it? Did it illuminate hitherto unknown or baffling areas of science? In the case of Evolution… well… no… no… no… no… and no.”
    – Tom Wolfe – The Kingdom of Speech – page 17

  2. 2
    J-Mac says:

    Would it make any difference if Darwin had never existed?

    Atheists, whether informed or not, if Darwn didn’t exist, would have to push for panspermia or more or another nonsense idea to satisfy the need for no (ID/C).
    It would be much harder for them to change the laws in order to enforce their ideology for all the masses to learn about their imaginary theories and make people to learn this kind of nonsense is schools…

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    The title of Ball’s article asked:

    “If Not Darwin, Who?”

    Might I suggest that since, by and large, most all of the preeminent scientists of Darwin’s day rejected his theory,,,

    Sedgwick to Darwin
    “…I have read your book with more pain than pleasure. Parts of it I admired greatly, parts I laughed at till my sides were almost sore; other parts I read with absolute sorrow, because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous. You have deserted—after a start in that tram-road of all solid physical truth—the true method of induction, and started us in machinery as wild, I think, as Bishop Wilkins’s locomotive that was to sail with us to the moon. Many of your wide conclusions are based upon assumptions which can neither be proved nor disproved, why then express them in the language and arrangement of philosophical induction?”
    Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873) – one of the founders of modern geology. – The Spectator, 1860

    “But I may be permitted to remark that a correction of this kind cannot be said to be unimportant in reference to biological speculation. “The limitation of geological periods, imposed by physical science, cannot, of course, disprove the hypothesis of transmutation of species; but it does seem sufficient to disprove the doctrine that transmutation has taken place through “descent with modification by natural selection”
    Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824 – 1907)

    Was Darwin a Scholar or a Pitchman? – Michael Flannery – October 20, 2015
    Excerpt: By and large, the scientists of his day were not much impressed with Darwin’s theory. John Herschel called natural selection “the law of higgledy-piggledy,” and William Whewell thought the theory consisted of “speculations” that were “quite unproved by facts,” so much so that he refused to put the book on the shelves of the Trinity College Library.

    Someone tries telling the truth: Darwin wasn’t that great but he met an elite need – July 29, 2014
    Excerpt: , he (Charles Darwin) devoted almost every bit of his magnum opus (Origin Of Species) to tedious examples of artificial selection in domestic animals. He brushed away the glaring advantage of artificial over natural selection with rhetoric along the lines of “I see no reason why” natural selection might not have fashioned the eye or any other organ or living thing. For such schoolboy ineptitude he was roundly criticized by his contemporaries, all of whom are now consigned to history’s dustbin, regardless of their skills and biological competency.

    “Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin’s natural selection as an instrument of God’s design.”

    Might I suggest that since, by and large, most all of the preeminent scientists of Darwin’s day rejected his theory, then a sufficiently drunken college freshman of Darwin’s day might have sufficed to come up with his theory instead if Darwin had never existed?

    “You might think that a theory so profound would be laden with intimidating mathematical formulas and at least as difficult to master as Newton’s Mechanics or Einstein’s Relativity. But such is not the case. Darwinism is the most accessible “scientific” theory ever proposed. It needs no math, no mastery of biology, no depth of understanding on any level. The dullest person can understand the basic story line: “Some mistakes are good. When enough good mistakes accumulate you get a new species. If you let the mistakes run long enough, you get every complicated living thing descending from one simple living thing in the beginning. There is no need for God in this process. In fact there is no need for God at all. So the Bible, which claims that God is important, is wrong.” You can be drunk, addled, or stupid and still understand this. And the real beauty of it is that when you first glimpse this revelation with its “aha!” moment, you feel like an Einstein yourself. You feel superior, far superior, to those religious nuts who still believe in God. Without having paid any dues whatsoever, you breathe the same rarified air as the smartest people who have ever lived.”
    – Laszlo Bencze

    Someone might point to Wallace as an example of someone from the scientific community who could have replaced Darwin. Yet I hold that since Wallace, while lying ill with malaria, ‘while in a fit of delirium’, conceived the theory of natural selection, then apparently it supports my theory that you have to be mentally impaired to some degree in order to come up with such a bereft ‘scientific’ theory.

    When Darwin received it, he was devastated. What he had been thinking about and putting off publishing for virtually all his working life, Wallace had done ‘while in a fit of delirium, in the space of a couple of hours between the onset of chills and their subsidence in a pool of sweat.’3

    Then again, since Darwin, whose college degree was in Theology and not in math, (if fact Darwin found math to be ‘repugnant’), since Darwin used bad liberal Theology to make it seem that his theory was scientific, then perhaps another sufficiently bad liberal theologian could have come up with his theory instead if Darwin had never existed:

    Charles Darwin’s use of theology in the Origin of Species – STEPHEN DILLEY
    This essay examines Darwin’s positiva (or positive) use of theology in the first edition of the Origin of Species in three steps. First, the essay analyses the Origin’s theological language about God’s accessibility, honesty, methods of creating, relationship to natural laws and lack of responsibility for natural suffering; the essay contends that Darwin utilized positiva theology in order to help justify (and inform) descent with modification and to attack special creation. Second, the essay offers critical analysis of this theology, drawing in part on Darwin’s mature ruminations to suggest that, from an epistemic point of view, the Origin’s positiva theology manifests several internal tensions. Finally, the essay reflects on the relative epistemic importance of positiva theology in the Origin’s overall case for evolution. The essay concludes that this theology served as a handmaiden and accomplice to Darwin’s science.

    Methodological Naturalism: A Rule That No One Needs or Obeys – Paul Nelson – September 22, 2014
    Excerpt: It is a little-remarked but nonetheless deeply significant irony that evolutionary biology is the most theologically entangled science going. Open a book like Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True (2009) or John Avise’s Inside the Human Genome (2010), and the theology leaps off the page. A wise creator, say Coyne, Avise, and many other evolutionary biologists, would not have made this or that structure; therefore, the structure evolved by undirected processes. Coyne and Avise, like many other evolutionary theorists going back to Darwin himself, make numerous “God-wouldn’t-have-done-it-that-way” arguments, thus predicating their arguments for the creative power of natural selection and random mutation on implicit theological assumptions about the character of God and what such an agent (if He existed) would or would not be likely to do.,,,
    ,,,with respect to one of the most famous texts in 20th-century biology, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s essay “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (1973).
    Although its title is widely cited as an aphorism, the text of Dobzhansky’s essay is rarely read. It is, in fact, a theological treatise. As Dilley (2013, p. 774) observes:
    “Strikingly, all seven of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. In fact, without God-talk, the geneticist’s arguments for evolution are logically invalid. In short, theology is essential to Dobzhansky’s arguments.”,,

    Contrary to popular belief, Charles Darwin was NOT one of the “greatest scientists who has ever lived.” Far from it. Darwin was primarily a bad liberal theologian who practiced bad theology rather than a great scientist who practiced good science. (In fact, with the adoption of neutral theory, population genetics has now cast Natural Selection, which was supposedly Charles Darwin’s greatest contribution to modern science, under the bus as to being a major player in the theory of evolution)

    (With the adoption of the ‘neutral theory’ of evolution by prominent Darwinists, and the casting aside of Natural Selection as a major player in evolution),,,
    “One wonders what would have become of evolution had Darwin originally claimed that it was simply the accumulation of random, neutral variations that generated all of the deeply complex, organized, interdependent structures we find in biology? Would we even know his name today?
    What exactly is Darwin really famous for now? Advancing a really popular, disproven idea (of Natural Selection), along the lines of Luminiferous Aether?
    Without the erroneous but powerful meme of “survival of the fittest” to act as an opiate for the Victorian intelligentsia and as a rationale for 20th century fascism, how might history have proceeded under the influence of the less vitriolic maxim, “Survival of the Happenstance”?”
    – William J Murray

    of supplemental note:

    ALL of science, especially including Darwinian evolution itself, is dependent on basic Theistic presuppositions about the rational intelligibility of the universe and our ability to comprehend that rational intelligibility. ,,, Where Darwinian evolution goes off the rails, theologically speaking, as far as science itself is concerned, is that it uses bad liberal theology to try to establish the legitimacy of its atheistic claims, all the while forgetting that it itself is dependent on basic Theistic presuppositions about the rational intelligibility of the universe and of our mind to comprehend it.


    Romans 1:19-23
    since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

  4. 4
    EvilSnack says:

    If Darwin had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    Hugo De Vries wrote:

    Natural selection is a sieve. It creates nothing, as is so often assumed; it only sifts. It retains only what variability puts into the sieve. Whence the material comes that is put into it, should be kept separate from the theory of its selection. How the struggle for existence sifts is one question; how that which is sifted arose is another.

    This insight should have ended Darwinian illusions about the creative power of natural selection back in 1903.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    Off topic:

    Why Evolutionary “Just So” Stories Fail – September 28, 2016
    Excerpt: it was during this study that I began to understand the concept of a “just-so” story, and it has stuck with me ever since. Essentially, to save the Darwinian paradigm, Darwinists sometimes come up with logically possible, but evidentially unsubstantiated stories to account for some recalcitrant feature in the natural world,,,
    In his excellent book The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart offers a helpful illustration for how naturalist just-so stories fail to explain key features in reality, such as consciousness:
    “If I should visit you at your home and discover that, rather than living in a house, you instead shelter under a large roof that simply hovers above the ground, apparently neither supported by nor suspended from anything else, and should ask you how this is possible, I should not feel at all satisfied if you were to answer, ‘It’s to keep the rain out’—not even if you were then helpfully elaborate upon this by observing that keeping the rain out is evolutionary advantageous.”[i]”
    Hart is exactly right. Offering a positive benefit of why a hovering house protects from rain does not explain how such a feature originated. Similarly, explaining how consciousness benefits mankind does not to explain how consciousness first emerged. An explanation that merely explains why such a feature is beneficial leaves the mystery unexplained.
    All evolutionary “just-so” stories are certainly not equal. Some are much more believable, natural, and evidentially supported than others. But many are simply outlandish. The key point is that, for Darwinism to be considered a successful worldview with explanatory power, it needs to explain some of the big features of reality, such as the origin of morality, consciousness, personhood, and free will. Unless it can successfully explain these features, Darwinism itself is merely a “just-so” story.
    – Sean McDowell, Ph.D.

  7. 7
    polistra says:

    Broader question: What if THEORIES had never existed? The big problem with science is theories. If scientists had restricted themselves to accurately observing nature and inventing devices and techniques to improve life, we’d still have all the good things we have now. Real invention happens without theories.

    We WOULDN’T have genocidal crime syndicates like “climate change” and “economics”. Both of those are based on pure theories and false facts. We WOULDN’T have evolutionists or any kind of ISTS. We WOULDN’T have the Large Hardon Collider trying to obliterate the universe.

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