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A knowledgeable reader looks into a book on “denying evolution”

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Readers will remember Massimo Pigliucci. Recently, the philosopher of science went to a conference on denialism, with predictable results. Headful of steam against “denialism.” Before that, he was into stoicism. Before that, he was defending falsifiability as a science standard, against a multiverser who wants to discard it. He should have stuck to that one. Seems like a much more useful project. Well, a friend, Robert F. Shedinger, Professor of Religion at Luther College (Iowa), got around to reading Pigliucci’s 2002 book Denying Evolution, and kindly writes to say,

I have just finished reading Massimo Pigliucci’s “Denying Evolution.” Can someone as well trained in evolutionary biology as he really be as ignorant of the history of the discipline as he appears to be? For example, on page 237 he writes, “One of the major contributors to the synthesis was paleontologist George Ledyard Stebbins, who proposed the concept of ‘quantum evolution’ to explain the sudden (in geological terms) appearance of certain groups of animals in the fossil record.” Huh?!

Stebbins was a botantist, not a paleontologist. It was George Gaylord Simpson who introduced the idea of quantum evolution in his “Tempo and Mode in Evolution.”

Pigliucci then continues, “But Stebbins, partly under pressure from his more ‘orthodox’ (i.e. gradualistically Darwinian) colleagues, such as systematists Ernst Mayr, eventually dropped the idea of quantum evolution from later editions of his book, a process that Carl Schlichting and I have referred to as the ‘hardening’ of the synthesis.”

Again, this was Simpson, not Stebbins. And the idea that the former moved away from the idea of quantum evolution because of the hardening of the synthesis was articulated by Stephen J. Gould as early as 1980, this was not a new idea of Schlichting and Pigliucci in 1998!

How did a gross error like this get past the copy editor, let alone flow from the pen of an evolutionary biologist? It is mind boggling.

Pigliucci also tells us that before the end of the 19th century, the theory of evolution by natural selection was widely accepted not only in England but also in the U.S., Russia, and most of Europe. Really?! Evolution may have been accepted but natural selection was not–not even by Darwin’s closest friends like Huxley, Hooker, Lyell, and Gray.

Is this amazing ignorance on Pigliucci’s part or is there some other explanation?

Ah. Now and then, a News desk can help by explaining something. Pigliucci didn’t need to be conversant with the history of the discipline. He just needed to front the consensus at the time, flirt with change later (2008), and settle on opposing new thinking (denialism) in 2014, when the only hope for change may be retirements and funerals. It’s not a new story. Cast changes but script is copyright. See also: Answering Massimo Pigliucci’s Critique of Icons of Evolution Robert Shedinger is the author of Radically Open: Transcending Religious Identity in an Age of Anxiety and Was Jesus a Muslim? Questioning categories in the Study of Religion Follow UD News at Twitter!

4 Replies to “A knowledgeable reader looks into a book on “denying evolution”

  1. 1
    Robert Byers says:

    Someone should write the book “Denying Pigli”!!
    This whole jazz about denying is just a pompous aggresice attempt to say if one intellectually disagrees with evolution one is denying something without intellectual moral right. unlike every other issue in mankind.
    its also a aggressive attack on historic Christian doctrines.
    Yet it shows the power of the fear of the iD movement and YEC grass roots movement in the circles that presume to rule our civilization.
    So I hope Pigli writes another book. And just get it peer reviewed or rather get someone smart to read over it.

  2. 2
    awstar says:

    From snippit of referenced “denialism” post

    Finally, a note on housekeeping: discussions of denialism, be they about evolution, climate change or genocide, involve a delicate balance between academic freedom and academic integrity

    When can we get around to academic discussions of denialism about the existence of the human soul?

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Pigliucci didn’t need to be conversant with the history of the discipline.

    That seems right. A step further: Even its most vocal and public defenders do not take the discipline seriously enough to know the facts about it — because those historical facts don’t matter for them at all.

  4. 4
    Moose Dr says:

    I have been over at the sandbox. Check out the following thread:
    bFastWednesday, January 14, 2015 12:28:00 AM
    Ok, fine, lets not deal with whether DNA is like a computer program. Lets deal with Gates’ second assertion: “but far, far more advanced than any software ever created.” Is this assertion true — not for the simplest form of life, but for the most advanced. Is it realistic to assert that the human organism is far, far more advanced than any software Microsoft has ever created?”

    Ed Wednesday, January 14, 2015 2:08:00 AM
    So it’s down to complexity? More DNA = organism is more complex? Like more software code = more complex computerprogram?

    Furthermore, you lightly skip over the fact, basically ignore actually, that +/- 90% of the human software prodcues nothing, broken output, wrong output. Do tell, would you hire a programmer with such crappy skills?
    And while windows 3.1 won’t be winning the ‘all time best computer program ever’ award, it didn’t contain 90% garbage.

    Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen Wednesday, January 14, 2015 9:24:00 AM
    “Is it realistic to assert that the human organism is far, far more advanced than any software Microsoft has ever created?”

    Define “advanced”. Give me a way to measure “advancedness”.

    bFast Wednesday, January 14, 2015 10:39:00 AM
    Ed, Mikkel Rumraket Rasmussen, well said.

    Notice the intense denialism from the “evolutionist” crowd. They are unable to admit to the complexity of the human function. They must deny it to maintain their simplistic evolutionary picture.

    Oh, btw, this is in a thread where Dr. Moran, in his title claims: “The problem of the origin of life has been sovled [sic] and creationists are terrified” The 1 hour video attached makes no attempt to claim a solution to the origin of life problem. It merely claims a possible pathway for OOL researchers to explore — because after all, all other pathways have come to naught.

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