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!