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Darwinism in 1954: Inherent improbability

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Sir James Gray stated in a 1954 issue of *Nature *(v. 173; 227) that

No amount of argument, or clever epigram, can disguise the inherent improbability of orthodox [Darwinian] theory; but most biologists feel it is better to think in terms of improbable events than not to think at all; there will always be a few who feel in their bones a sneaking sympathy with Samuel Butler’s skepticism.

And why are those the only options? Essentially, Darwinian evolution is a cultural mood. Evidence isn’t really needed because it functions as a kind of religion for everyone from the biologists to the airheads on TV. From Dawkins:

“My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories.” — p. 287, Blind Watchmaker” (1986)

Darwin’s finches never really mattered anyway:

Yes, we are discussing the icon of Darwinism that you heard about at school. They interbreed so much, it is hard to know how much they are separate species. From the BBC …

Astrology used to do that for people. Still does for some.

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21 Replies to “Darwinism in 1954: Inherent improbability

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  2. 2
    Popperian says:

    This is a concrete example of folk theory of mind in which the degree in which we think we actually use probability, in practice, is greatly overestimated.

    For example, probability is only useful when you know all of the possible outcomes and the process is is truly random. So, how does Gray, or anyone else, know what those options are so he could actually calculate it? How did he calculate the probability of theories we haven’t conceived of yet? Rather, probability is only useful for inter-theory propositions, because the theory constrains the possible outcomes. Such as, the relationship between existing proteins, etc.

    Nor does Darwinism say that human beings, or any other organisms, were an intentional target that evolution had to hit, that only one set of proteins could have formed to solve the same “problem”‘ etc. all of these assumptions are simply not part of the theory. Something just doesn’t add up.

    But, by all means, please explain how is it that we could actually use probability to choose between theories, in practice. How is this not an example of folk philosophy?

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    The Teaching Company has several courses on evolution. None provide a smoking gun for Darwinian evolution but assume it is true. Here is an excerpt from the course handout on Edward J. Larson’s course, “Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy”

    Evidence for the neo-Darwinian synthesis was largely theoretical and mathematical. Using the theory to account for large scale “macroevolution” required extrapolation.

    A. The best field evidence for neo-Darwinian evolution in action came in 1947 from David Lack’s study of finches on the Galapagos Islands, the same birds that inspired Darwin. These birds differ primarily in the size and shape of their beaks.

    1. Before Lack, naturalists were puzzled by the existence of 13 distinct finch species that appeared to freely mix in a similar environment. Selection theory should allow only the fittest species to survive.

    2. Lack propounded that food on various Galapagos Islands differs enough to have favored the evolution of different beaks from the same parental form through a selective process of adaptive radiation.

    3. He also found that although different species now mingle on various islands, they do not readily crossbreed. Where similar species inhabit one island, they differ more than normal, suggesting that interspecies competition drives them further apart.

    But Peter and Rosemary Grant put a nail in the heart of this when they showed that all 13 varieties were in fact one species. And the differences were probably epigenetic and not genetic.

    But of course if you disagree with Darwin and its latest manifestation then you are some kind of whack job. It seems to me the whack jobs are the ones who agree with Darwinian concepts given all the evidence against it.

  4. 4
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: But Peter and Rosemary Grant put a nail in the heart of this when they showed that all 13 varieties were in fact one species.

    There’s no way the Grants (or any other biologist working with Darwin’s finches) think there is only one species.

    There’s some interbreeding, which can cause the loss of a species, or even the *gain* of a species. See Grant & Grant, The secondary contact phase of allopatric speciation in Darwin’s finches, PNAS 2009.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    There’s no way the Grants (or any other biologist working with Darwin’s finches) think there is only one species.

    The Grants said they all can innerbreed. Now most of them don’t but there is no physical or genetic or biological reason why they cannot. The main impairment to breeding is bird song. So what does one mean by a “species?”

  6. 6
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: The Grants said they all can innerbreed.

    That’s doesn’t make them a single species, unless they regularly interbreed. There are reproductive barriers to interbreeding, including behavioral differences. There are many species of duck, for instance, but they can and do interbreed on occasion. Other examples include hybrids of birds, bears, bovines, bees, etc. And that’s just the b’s.

    jerry: So what does one mean by a “species?”

    There’s several interrelated definitions, but a species is usually defined by either limited gene flow (resulting in the persistence of distinguishing characteristics), or by the persistence of distinguishing characteristics (due to limited gene flow).

    There’s no strict dividing line between species, a crucial piece of evidence Darwin cited in Origin of Species.

  7. 7
    jerry says:

    There’s several interrelated definitions, but a species is usually defined by either limited gene flow (resulting in the persistence of distinguishing characteristics), or by the persistence of distinguishing characteristics (due to limited gene flow).

    There’s no strict dividing line between species, a crucial piece of evidence Darwin cited in Origin of Species.

    First of all the Grants don’t agree with this definition. They tend to prefer no ability to innerbreed.

    The YECs can agree with this reasoning. So are neo Darwinists and YECs all birds of a feather? They certainly don’t flock together.

    Also this definition is meaningless in terms of the real evolution debate. If after 3 million years the finches are just not kissing cousins but essentially cousins anyway, then why is this example ever part of the evolution debate and used an example to promote it?

  8. 8
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: First of all the Grants don’t agree with this definition.

    They use the standard definition of species. Per Grant & Grant “their respective members do not breed with each other, or if they interbreed, they do so rarely.” The citation we provided refers many times to multiple species of Darwin’s finches.

    jerry: If after 3 million years the finches are just not kissing cousins but essentially cousins anyway, then why is this example ever part of the evolution debate and used an example to promote it?

    Because they are different species, and show adaptation to their individual habitats. Is there only one species of duck? Are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two?

  9. 9
    Joe says:

    The different races of humans are a different species by Zachriel’s “logic”, as we show adaptations to our various habitats.

  10. 10
    jerry says:

    Is there only one species of duck? Are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two?

    No one in the evolution debate gives a rat’s rear end about this except those who get paid to study these varieties. So why use them as examples. Examples of what? Different varieties?

    by Zachriel’s “logic”

    There is thus no debate. The Origin of Species was a joke publication because it deals with the trivial. So Zachriel and the ID community agree.

    Let’s close down the site.

  11. 11
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: No one in the evolution debate gives a rat’s rear end about this except those who get paid to study these varieties.

    Um, you are the one who was making claims about species. If you can’t even tell us whether polar bears and grizzly bears are the same species, then why do you think you are right about Darwin’s finches, especially when the people with the most intimate knowledge of Darwin’s finches recognize more than a dozen species?

    Are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two? Here’s a clue: Ursus maritimus, Ursus arctos horribilis.

  12. 12
    bpragmatic says:

    “My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life.”

    To accept this statement as “true” isnt that a hugely gratuitous admission of something no one can empirically support either in a legitimate philosophical sense or certainly not in a legitimate empirical scientically viable method? I mean Dawkins could have been a reasonably good science fiction writer at least potentially. But it seems to me he fit the agenda of the NDE lobby as some sort of public liaison that had the appearance of “scientific” integrity, but is nothing of the sort. Apparently to promote a nonscientific agenda of some sort.

  13. 13
    jerry says:

    Are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two? Here’s a clue: Ursus maritimus, Ursus arctos horribilis.

    The most interesting thing about this is why would anyone pursue the point you are making. I have known about Grizzly and Polar bears for about 10 years and tigers and lions for longer than that. I am sure most of the million species of beetles can interbreed but I doubt anyone has tested that.

    Elizabeth Liddle announced one time that tigers and lions could interbreed like it was some amazing fact we didn’t know. It showed how shallow her argument was.

    The Grants address the species crisis and come down on interbreeding as the criteria. I am sure many others will disagree but so what.

    If Darwin knew his finches all could interbreed like humans from far flong places on the planet, he would probably not have pursued his book. He would have looked foolish just as are those who make a big deal out of grizzly and polar bears.

    But thank you for pointing out something I have known for a long time. It makes my point that those who espouse naturalistic evolution have no argument. Because why resort to this?

  14. 14
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: I am sure most of the million species of beetles can interbreed but I doubt anyone has tested that.

    Actually, many beetle taxa have strong reproductive barriers. Their genitalia form a lock-and-key system. When they evolve, they are no longer reproductively compatible with sister species.

    jerry: The Grants address the species crisis and come down on interbreeding as the criteria.

    Per Grant & Grant “their respective members do not breed with each other, or if they interbreed, they do so rarely.” In other words, they can interbreed, just not as often. They use the standard definition of species defined by limited gene flow (resulting in the persistence of distinguishing characteristics).

    jerry: If Darwin knew his finches all could interbreed like humans from far flong places on the planet, he would probably not have pursued his book.

    Charles Darwin discusses hybridization extensively in Origin of Species. It’s crucial evidence for his theory.

    By the way, are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two?

  15. 15
    Zachriel says:

    jerry: jerry: I am sure most of the million species of beetles can interbreed but I doubt anyone has tested that.

    The last part of your sentence is particularly revealing. In fact, there’s extensive research on insect genitalia. Some scientists spend their entire lives dedicated to insect porn.

    “for about the last 100 years, entomologists have been hunched over insect nether parts… The study of insect genitalia is so important, all sorts of devices have been invented and devised for just that purpose.”
    https://membracid.wordpress.com/2009/01/29/insect-genitalia-an-entomological-obsession/

  16. 16
    Joe says:

    Zachriel:

    By the way, are polar bears and grizzly bears one species or two?

    Are impoverished people from China and impoverished people from Mississippi one species or two? No gene flow between the two populations and both are adapted to their respective environments (resulting in the persistence of distinguishing characteristics).

  17. 17
    Joe says:

    Charles Darwin discusses hybridization extensively in Origin of Species. It’s crucial evidence for his theory.

    He had whales evolving from bears. How did that work out? Natural selection has proven to be impotent and that was Darwin’s big contribution.

  18. 18
    stenosemella says:

    Joe: “He had whales evolving from bears.”

    No, he had whales evolving from a bear like ancestor.

  19. 19
    Joe says:

    Please explain the difference between a bear and a bear-like ancestor. Show your work and then show how Darwin knew the difference too.

    “I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale,” – Charles Darwin

    So “a race of bears” has evolved into “a bear-like ancestor”- interesting…

  20. 20
    Don Pedro says:

    So Copernicus was a fool because he had no idea that there were planets beyond Saturn or that most planets had moons, and he didn’t know the law of universal gravitation? Ptolemy was an idiot because he didn’t know of Australia, Antarctica, the New World, or even Japan?

    Today we know that the terrestrial ancestors of whales were neither bear-like nor “a race of bears”. So what? They were land mammals, “rendered, by natural selection, more aquatic in their structure and habits” (etc.), as correctly predicted by Darwin. Until very recently nobody was in a position to identify them, and primitive artiodactyls were hardly the most obvious choice (whales have no hoofs and don’t eat plants, for example). Darwin could not carry out molecular studies, and the crucial fossils remained undiscovered or unrecognised till some 35 years ago. Can you blame 19th-century scholars for not having 21st-century knowledge?

  21. 21
    Joe says:

    There isn’t any evidence that today’s whales evolved from anything but whales and natural selection has proven to be impotent.

    If Darwin was able to carry out molecular studies he wouldn’t have proposed his “theory”.

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