Darwinism Intelligent Design

Backing down on Darwinian fundamentalism?

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Three quarter length studio photo showing Darwin's characteristic large forehead and bushy eyebrows with deep set eyes, pug nose and mouth set in a determined look. He is bald on top, with dark hair and long side whiskers but no beard or moustache. His jacket is dark, with very wide lapels, and his trousers are a light check pattern. His shirt has an upright wing collar, and his cravat is tucked into his waistcoat which is a light fine checked pattern.
Charles Darwin, 1854

A neurologist attempts the hopeless task of distinguishing between skeptics and deniers. (Anyone who believes their lyin’ eyes instead of an approved tale is bound to be a denier in some circles.) Along the way, he takes on evolution (of course). But instead of telling us that all evolutionary biologists approve the Modern Synthesis (updated Darwinism), he says something interesting:

For example, let’s take evolutionary theory. There is almost unanimous consensus (>98%) among experts that evolution happened, that all living things on Earth are related through a nestled hierarchy of common descent. Further, the evidence for that conclusion is overwhelming and cannot be reasonably denied. Further still, there is no alternative scientific hypothesis that can account for that mountain of evidence (note the word “scientific” in that sentence). But the same is not true of all aspects of evolutionary theory. That natural selection is a main driving force of evolutionary change is also well established, but there is still legitimate debate about the role and magnitude of other factors, such as genetic drift. When we drill down to details about which species evolved into which other species and when, drawing a precise tree of evolutionary relationships, then there is considerable debate and much that is unknown.Steven Novella, “Skeptic vs. Denier” at Neurologica Blog

Well, that’s putting it mildly for sure. That is probably as much of the mess as Novella can acknowledge. But he doesn’t even mention Darwinism, much less demand assent.

If we are going to talk about “considerable debate” and “much that is unknown,” let’s consider the way underlying Darwinian fundamentalism skews discussion. We’ve touched on a few such issues recently. To name just two:

A large proportion of the life forms that have ever existed is extinct. Yet, by way of explaining odd discoveries, like cannibalism of nestlings, researchers will tell us that it is somehow “adaptive.” Some have even worked out a mathematical formula for how that is so.

Maybe. The overwhelming presumption of explicitly Darwinian mechanisms prevents us from considering: Maybe it’s not adaptive. Maybe in 50k years, this species will be extirpated from this region and at some point, nest cannibalism will be the tipping point.

Do we know? No, we don’t. But we do know that extinction happens. And seeing every strange behavior as adaptive is a blip in thinking produced by default Darwinian assumptions. Agnosticism on the subject of nest cannibalism would be wiser until more is known.

Then there is the weird habit of attributing impossible thought processes to animals who are supposedly thinking in Darwinian terms about how to ensure the survival of their selfish genes. For example, the mares who supposedly cause an abortion because they perceive that the stallion will not accept another stallion’s offspring. The mare presumably knows all this and can act on it—even though she cannot otherwise perform the simplest reasoning tasks.

And there’s the Darwinbird of pop science who “is optimising the likelihood of her offspring mating and rearing young (so ensuring the continuation of her genes into future generations)” by controlling the sex of her offspring: “There is some evidence she can bias the sex ratio by controlling hormones, particularly progesterone.”

So we are really to believe that a bird who is too stupid to evade a giant wind turbine is planning her offspring’s future? Does “science-based thinking” really require that of us?

Maybe if all the Darwin noise dies down, we will have a clearer idea of how the ecology — in which any evolution must occur — actually works.

See also: Birds Are Found To Plan Like Humans For Their Offsprings’ Future

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6 Replies to “Backing down on Darwinian fundamentalism?

  1. 1
    Eugene says:

    I could never understand the logic behind inferring the Darwinian evolution from the fact that the DNA across different spices had common sections in them. Obviously, whoever first made that conclusion has never been involved with software engineering, where the latest and greatest build of Windows can be shown to have 35+ y. o. bits and pieces from MS-DOS. I guess we can say that MS-DOS has “evolved”, but this was obviously not via the Darwinian way.

  2. 2
    News says:

    The thing is, Eugene, they end up attributing reasoning powers to horses and hens. And fail to ask obvious questions like “What if this behavior is NOT adaptive? What if we are witnessing a step on the road to extinction?” The scary thought is that they actually can’t risk asking obvious questions anymore. Faith in Darwin seems costly.

  3. 3
    Nonlin.org says:

    There is almost unanimous consensus (>98%) among experts that evolution happened

    There’s no “science by consensus”. It’s either proved OR disproved OR doubtful. And Darwinism is disproved.

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Darwinian fundamentalism” other than as a rhetorical counter to religious fundamentalism. The theory of evolution has – dare we say it – evolved since Darwin’s day . I doubt there are any biologists today who adhere inflexibly to his original formulation. Perhaps the nearest are the panadaptationists who think everything that exists does so as a result of positive selection. Most today, however, accept the contributions from genetics and neutral theory, for example. Natural selection plays a role but it is neither the only nor even the most influential one. But “old, Brit toffs” and their wacky theories are a handy strawman to beat up on every now and then.

  5. 5
    bill cole says:

    May 2, 2019 at 5:49 pm
    I’m not sure what you mean by “Darwinian fundamentalism” other than as a rhetorical counter to religious fundamentalism. The theory of evolution has – dare we say it – evolved since Darwin’s day . I doubt there are any biologists today who adhere inflexibly to his original formulation. Perhaps the nearest are the panadaptationists who think everything that exists does so as a result of positive selection. Most today, however, accept the contributions from genetics and neutral theory, for example. Natural selection plays a role but it is neither the only nor even the most influential one. But “old, Brit toffs” and their wacky theories are a handy strawman to beat up on every now and then.

    What is the mechanism that is responsible for the creative evolutionary transitions. At this point the only known mechanism capable of generating these complex sequences is a mind.

  6. 6
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    The theory of evolution has – dare we say it – evolved since Darwin’s day

    And yet there still isn’t any scientific theory of evolution. Why is that? It’s almost as if there isn’t any science to support it.

    . Natural selection plays a role but it is neither the only nor even the most influential one.

    And yet it is still the only one posited to be a designer replacement.

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