Intelligent Design

Darwin’s legacy

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In an excellent essay in NATURE, Kevin Padian gives his views and concludes (some editing) … 

“Has any single individual made so many lasting contributions to a broad area of science as Darwin did to biology? Darwin moved intellectual thought from a paradigm of untestable wonder at special creation to an ability to examine the workings of that natural world, however ultimately formed, in terms of natural mechanisms and historical patterns. He rooted the classification of species within a single branching tree, and so gave systematics a biological, rather than purely philosophical, rationale. He framed most of the important questions that still define our understanding of evolution, from natural selection to sexual selection, and founded the main principles of the sciences of biogeography and ecology.

It is dismaying, then, to note the rise of anti-evolutionism in recent decades. This is a direct result of the rise of religious fundamentalism, whose proponents feel it necessary to reject modern science on the basis of highly questionable (from mainstream historical and theological viewpoints) readings of sacred texts.

One might well ask how such people can accept the benefits of medical research, inoculations, pharmacology, crop improvement and so much more that depends on an understanding of evolution. Most of them reject the evolutionary basis of these advances, regarding it simply as ‘variation’ that can be selected like features of dog breeds. This is why ‘microevolution’ in populations poses little threat to fundamentalists, and perhaps why even most evolutionary scientists (dominated by population biologists) have not been intensely engaged in the defence of evolution against its detractors.

Darwin felt that the changes in species wrought by natural selection and other processes would eventually lead to new kinds of organisms with new adaptations — a premise violently rejected by fundamentalists and other anti-evolutionists.

Happily, in one non-scientific arena at least, an honest, almost organic understanding and appreciation of Darwin has flourished. Thomas Hardy, a child of the Enlightenment was well aware of more ancient world views, and was humbled by what the new investigations of the cosmos revealed. Humans are animals, one species of many on the planet, bound by common ancestry to all other species, part of an ages-old dance of reproduction, accommodation, survival and alteration.

This vision liberates humans from the conceit of special creation.”

NATURE|Vol 451|7 February 2008 “Darwin’s enduring legacy”

36 Replies to “Darwin’s legacy

  1. 1
    Berceuse says:

    You know, I’d believe the “humans are animals” thing if someone pointed out a single species that does everything we do, even something as simple as laughing.

  2. 2
    Jon Jackson says:

    This vision liberates humans from the conceit of special creation.
    And gives it the conceit of special understanding.

  3. 3
    Gerry Rzeppa says:

    “I’d believe the “humans are animals” thing if someone pointed out a single species that does everything we do, even something as simple as laughing.” – Berceuse

    I think someone once heard Richard Dawkins chuckle. But no one’s ever heard him pray…

  4. 4
    russ says:

    And gives it the conceit of special understanding.

    Well said, thank you. A coceit based on [alleged] achievement is more stubborn than one based on mere good fortune.

  5. 5
    JAB says:

    You know, I’d believe the “humans are animals” thing if someone pointed out a single species that does everything we do, even something as simple as laughing.

    http://www.livescience.com/ani.....cient.html

  6. 6
    GilDodgen says:

    Has any single individual made so many lasting contributions to a broad area of science as Darwin did to biology?

    Sure: Newton, Pasteur, Euler, Einstein — the list is endless. And, these guys actually knew what they were talking about.

    Darwin moved intellectual thought from a paradigm of untestable wonder at special creation…

    …to a paradigm of blind faith that copying errors produced all the wonders of creation.

    He rooted the classification of species within a single branching tree…

    …a branching tree that was upside down during the Cambrian explosion, and that looks more like a lawn than a tree.

    He framed most of the important questions that still define our understanding of evolution, from natural selection to sexual selection…

    Neither of which has demonstrated the power to produce anything other than the utterly trivial.

    This is a direct result of the rise of religious fundamentalism…

    Yeah, like David Berlinski, who is neither religious nor a fundamentalist, and who comments on Darwinism: “1) the theory doesn’t have any substance to it, 2) it’s preposterous, 3) it’s not supported by the evidence.”

    One might well ask how such people can accept the benefits of medical research, inoculations, pharmacology, crop improvement…

    …to which Darwinian theory has contributed absolutely nothing of any significance.

    Yes indeed, this is Darwin’s grand legacy, his many lasting contributions to science.

  7. 7
    Clarence says:

    GilDodgen (6): wrote

    “”He framed most of the important questions that still define our understanding of evolution, from natural selection to sexual selection…”

    Neither of which has demonstrated the power to produce anything other than the utterly trivial.”

    Does this mean you do not consider that common descent occurred?

  8. 8
    bFast says:

    I find this to be a very comforting piece. It demonstrates the scholarly standards of Nature — its committment to accuracy. As we all know that the religious perspectives of IDers are many, we can clearly conclude that Nature is willing to publish absolute untested drivel. If they publish drivel on this topic, one can reasonably assume that they validate nothing else with more rigor than this.

    I had a discussion with my brother over Christmas. The topic of my motivation came up. While it is true that I find myself in Church on Sunday, I had to conclude that it is my experience as a software developer rather than my religious perspective that challenges darwinism. Hey, too many of us are software developers. Lets all give up programming computers so as not to offend Nature!

  9. 9
    Gerry Rzeppa says:

    JAB –

    It’s utterly ridiculous to liken the “panting” of chimps and the “chirping” of rats to the appreciation of irony and the recognition of conceptual incongruity involved in the human sense of humor.

    There is a radical difference in kind between the two, and not a mere difference in degree. One might as well liken the screeches of birds and the barks of dogs to the propositional language of humans – though I’m sure some fool materialist has secured a grant to do exactly that! Won’t be long before these guys are telling us that a horse and a table are from the same stock because they both have four legs.

    Ask your cat why the chicken crossed the road.

  10. 10
    FtK says:

    Off Topic:

    Simmons comments on his debate with Myers here.

    Sorry for the interuption…carry on.

  11. 11
    Berceuse says:

    JAB-

    I agree with Gerry, I remain thoroughly unconvinced. And laughter is just one of many, many, things, anyway.

  12. 12
    Borne says:

    “the conceit of special creation”
    Amazing blindness. So many Darwinists are immune to logic. Darwinian thinking cripples the mind.
    Not to mention the statements’ unfathomable conceit from the small mind of a being that constitutes a mere mathematical point’s existence in the grand scale of the universal.

    And I must re-quote Hoyle again here,

    “So it came about from 1860 onward that new believers became in a sense mentally ill, or, more precisely, either you became mentally ill or you quitted the subject of biology, as I had done in my early teens. The trouble for young biologists was that, with everyone around them ill, it became impossible for them to think they were well unless they were ill, which again is a situation you can read all about in the columns of Nature.”

    The reference is to Nature magazine.

  13. 13
    JAB says:

    Berceuse:

    I agree with Gerry, I remain thoroughly unconvinced. And laughter is just one of many, many, things, anyway.

    Well, it’s your perogative to remain unconvinced. And you are correct, humans can do many things that animals can’t. But then, animals can do things that humans can’t. Some animals can hold their breath underwater for hours. Others can flap their wings and fly. Some can extract sticky webbing from their anus for all sorts of useful purposes, and then eat the remains when finished.

    I’m not sure what the point of all this is. We all have special abilities, special talents, special niches. Humans are better at appreciating cerebral humor, and monkeys are better at climbing trees. Still, humans can climb trees to some degree, and monkeys enjoy humor to some degree. No, a monkey won’t laugh at a knock-knock joke, but then I won’t be able to swing the highest branches in order to tell the joke to begin with.

    But you originally stated that you wanted to see “a *single* species that does *everything* we do” (emphasis mine).

    This really is unfair. NO single species can do EVERYTHING another species can do–otherwise, they would just be the same species. You seem to be saying, “I won’t accept that humans are animals until someone shows me an animal that’s exactly like a human in every way.” Well, we already know about animals that are like that–they are called ‘humans’.

  14. 14
    GilDodgen says:

    Clarence:

    GilDodgen (6): wrote

    He framed most of the important questions that still define our understanding of evolution, from natural selection to sexual selection.

    “Neither of which has demonstrated the power to produce anything other than the utterly trivial.”

    Does this mean you do not consider that common descent occurred?

    I’m having trouble following the logic of your question, which seems like a non-sequitur based on my comment about the creative deficiencies of natural selection. (Of course, natural selection has no creative powers and doesn’t create anything; it just throws stuff out.)

    Common descent seems reasonable to some extent, since we have no examples of life coming from non-life. However, humans appear to be the quintessential example of Uncommon Descent, since the gap between humans and all other forms of life is so huge, qualitatively. The history of life in general is clearly characterized by sudden and profound qualitative changes, which are perfectly unamenable to Darwinian explanation

  15. 15
    Frost122585 says:

    On Darwin’s legacy, I dont really see too much- I mean here is a guy that was suposedly well educated and travled the world- and the best he could do is come up with the simple idea that all living things ( and if big band in physics is right “all things”) were connected at some point “evoling” into various other kinds-

    I hink of this as a minor feat because Darwin himself was a pigeon breeder and therefore understood the concept of biological change over time and that it can be guided by what we know call endogenous factors i.e. the breeder.

    The reason why it seems like such an original and brilliant idea is that human beings in that day and still largely today thought that complexity of live coud not be attributed to simply evolution and moreover that the brillaint complexity of the human being – being the paradigrm of all living life forms could not have assended from apes or share such a common ansester— more over the unattractiveness of the idea made it seem as very unuseful and even if the idea was true there still is no explanation of what guides and causes the changes- what kicked off the big bang- what created the matter- etc-

    Today because of the fast growing bueocracy of public education and its manopoly on the minds of the future due to its artificially low cost– the public is religion and God ridden- now Darwinism while still incomplete as a thought and theory seems more acceptible-

    SO Darin does not get a standing ovation from me more his mediocre idea- he on the contrary should stand and applaud those who have used government to destroy religion and the brillain and enlightening ideas that come along with it.

  16. 16
    idnet.com.au says:

    We should not underestimate the power of Darwin’s great idea.

    Darwin reduced all the miracles of Creation down to tiny naturally driven chance events. When these occur, too occassionally to be observed, they are frozen by the success of the lucky offspring of some “simple” pre historic life form, and feed the upwards spiral of Life leading to us.

    It is a truely magestic idea. A creation myth for our time.

    Richard Dawkins bows in homage to this idea.

    We in ID just think the evidence has not been found that convinces us that his idea accounts for much at all.

  17. 17
    Clarence says:

    GilDodgen, you wrote (14):

    “I’m having trouble following the logic of your question, which seems like a non-sequitur based on my comment about the creative deficiencies of natural selection. (Of course, natural selection has no creative powers and doesn’t create anything; it just throws stuff out.)

    Common descent seems reasonable to some extent, since we have no examples of life coming from non-life. However, humans appear to be the quintessential example of Uncommon Descent, since the gap between humans and all other forms of life is so huge, qualitatively. The history of life in general is clearly characterized by sudden and profound qualitative changes, which are perfectly unamenable to Darwinian explanation”

    I think my problem with your text is right there at the end of your first paragraph and beginning of your second – the former says that natural selection has no creative powers, but at the same time the latter says that Common Descent is reasonable – and hence by definition there can’t have been a “creative” deficit because Common Descent has generated a plethora of life forms (even if you don’t agree that the whole thing is down to common descent).

  18. 18
    Clarence says:

    idnet.com.au, you wrote (16):

    “We in ID just think the evidence has not been found that convinces us that his idea accounts for much at all.”

    Fine, but the fact is that the ID Community has yet to produce any evidence – or for that matter, any mechanism. Now, on another thread, DaveScot promoted the theory of John Davison as one that is wirth looking at. If ID wants to progress then it has to come up with the goods, and Davison’s theory may be one avenue.

    I know it’s been claimed elsewhere that ID doesn’t have the funds for such work. But the fact is that the Discovery Institute has its Biologic Institute, specifically set up to do such research. I don’t see any alternative for ID – either it gets its scientific evidence (through bodies such as the Biologic Institute) or it gets nowhere. I’m not convinced by the “lack of funds” plea – there are plenty of wealthy ID supporters who can be approached. I dare say some ID authors could even channel some of their royalties into the research.

  19. 19
    Clarence says:

    Further to my (18), it seems that Ann Gauger from the Biologic Institute has been presenting on real, experimental work she has carried out – see extract below from this website:

    http://pandasthumb.org/archive.....igent.html.

    Well done Ann!

    “She [Gauger] was then prompted by one of her colleagues to regale us with some new experimental finds. She gave what amounted to a second presentation, during which she discussed “leaky growth,” in microbial colonies at high densities, leading to horizontal transfer of genetic information, and announced that under such conditions she had actually found a novel variant that seemed to lead to enhanced colony growth. Gunther Wagner said, “So, a beneficial mutation happened right in your lab?” at which point the moderator halted questioning. We shuffled off for a coffee break with the admission hanging in the air that natural processes could not only produce new information, they could produce beneficial new information.”

  20. 20
    SteveB says:

    Hi JAB,

    Thanks for the article, which gave me a hearty chuckle (although perhaps not in the way you expected). I’m sorry to say though that my dog Maggie didn’t appreciate it much. My own view that while we share many physical characteristics in common, the gap between her and me is IMMENSE, and is woefully out of synch with claims of darwinist gradualism.

    But while I actually think that my view of human uniqueness is supported by common sense and experience (As far as I know, Maggie hasn’t blogged on this topic recently; the squirrels she chases haven’t filed a violence in the workplace claim), of course my anecdotal response doesn’t really mean much. And who knows? Maybe Dr Panskepp’s rats–the ones with “a marvelous sense of fun”–are able to appreciate Letterman more than Maggie does. I dunno.

    So I’m willing to be persuaded. What would be most convincing of course are the facts behind the article’s conclusions. Namely, which “ancestral forms of play” existed eons before us? In which animals have such forms of play been documented? What tools exist by which scientists can reach back across eons to measure something as ephemeral as laughter? What facts could either support or falsify a claim of behavior (not fossils or artifacts) said to have happened millions of years ago?

    In the end, I’m skeptical and strongly suspect the article’s “science” is patina and its conclusions mostly fluff. And, as is always the case with such articles, all the standard disclaimers support this: “could be that…” “more study is needed…” “the results (of hypothetical not-yet-done studies) could explain…” and finally, “Panskepp speculates….”

    He does indeed. The sad thing is that so few people recognize speculation, even when it is explicitly identified.

    -sb

  21. 21
    StephenB says:

    —–JAB: “I’m not sure what the point of all this is. We all have special abilities, special talents, special niches. Humans are better at appreciating cerebral humor, and monkeys are better at climbing trees. Still, humans can climb trees to some degree, and monkeys enjoy humor to some degree. No, a monkey won’t laugh at a knock-knock joke, but then I won’t be able to swing the highest branches in order to tell the joke to begin with.”

    I really do think that you are missing the point here. Human laughter is a response to irony. Unless, one can appreciate the natural order of things and marvel at the anamolies that seem to defy it, there will be no real laughter. Humans have the unique ability to reflect on themselves and the ways they flit in and out of their various roles. They can understand the difference between the way things are and the way they ought to be. That is why a punch line can pull the rug out from us and make us laugh. Without the set up, there is no punch line. You can’t mislead a dogs or monkeys and then turn the tables on them.

    Of course, animals don’t understand the language, but that is the whole point. The ability to conceive meaning in language is the same abiity that allows one to find oddities to laugh about. The next time you are playing with your dog, try the old Henny Youngman line, “take my wife, please!” If he starts panting, it means that he wants to play. He is not laughing at the joke.

  22. 22
    bFast says:

    Clarence, my dear child

    Have you not heard that ID is not falsifiable? If so, how could you possibly believe that falsification has happened so easily?

    What part of ID is falsified by this report? Is there really any more information in the world? Now two organisms instead of one use a particular piece of information. This is no increase. How about Irreduceable Complexity? Has it been challenged? Nope, not that either.

    Has anything been challenged? Yes, the overstated claim that all mutations are neutral or destructive. Someone forgot to tell you the “virtually” part.

    What does this case prove? That after all of the work that the millions of scientists have been doing over the last hundered years, that after all of the mutations that have been induced by x-rays in fruit flies, etc., that finally a scientist has found a (hopefully) positive mutation. Wow! It is true! It is possible to get a positive mutation! (actually, there have been other positive mutations. It is easy enough to get a positive point mutation when a single mutation produces a clear benefit. Its just when you need a pair of mutations where either alone is negative that you get trouble.)

    It still holds that virtually all mutations ever examined in a laboratory context are neutral or destructive.

    BTW, your link doesn’t work.

  23. 23
    Patrick says:

    Clarence,

    Your link is dead. Here is one that works:

    http://pandasthumb.org/archive.....igent.html

    First of all, it’s the lateral gene transfer of pre-existing information. Darwinists always gloss over the fact that the origination of the information is still at issue, not merely the transfer and reuse. Some ID hypotheses call for such mechanisms to be designed in order for creatures to respond to an ever-changing environment. Also, Dembski has long said that existing CSI can be modified to produce lesser CSI. Second, the article does not give enough information to determine whether this “new” information qualifies as CSI or whether it’s fully within the limited scope of Darwinian processes. Behe’s latest book is all about such “beneficial new information” so for Brooks to make a big deal about this is incredibly disingenuous. Lastly, was this a destructive modification in the sense of “trench warfare”; as in, beneficial in a limited sense. Or was it constructive? Without details it is hard to analyze this.

    Just reading the summary, Brooks must be sorely misinformed about ID…a severe giveaway was his misunderstanding of a segment which apparently involved a disagreement over front-loading. I especially could not believe it when he rejected “Conscious intelligent agents exist in the world” as “fatally flawed” but still asserted that “that only humans are such agents” thus ID proponents must assume “humans produced the worlds’ biodiversity”. One funny line is where he denigrates the work of Marks yet the exact same criticism could be applied to AVIDA which he mentions elsewhere. He says “IDers espouse a program…in which the effects of the Designer on biological diversity have left no discernible trace that can be detected scientifically”. Hello? The Designed objects are themselves the empirical marks. If he misses that then misunderstands ID in total. But from other comments elsewhere my guess is that he considers that invalid unless we also have detected the Designer(s) using other methods which is a typical stance among Darwinists. When reading this summary of the conference I was with a friend who literally laughed at some of these statements. Yet the people at PT love it…

  24. 24
    IDist says:

    I think it’ll be interesting if Dr. Ann Gauger can clarify what really happened, since as far as I know she’s actually an IDist or at least critical of Darwinism.

  25. 25
    Daniel King says:

    StephenB #21:

    Human laughter is a response to irony.

    Always?

    Unless, one can appreciate the natural order of things and marvel at the anamolies that seem to defy it, there will be no real laughter.

    If an alpha chimp drops his banana in the mud will the beta chimps fail to appreciate the humor?

  26. 26
    bFast says:

    Hmmm, I did a little snooping about Gauger. She seems to be employed at the Biologic Institute — the research arm of the Discover Institute.

    This makes this tale very much more interesting. I would love to get some richer details about what happened at this event.

  27. 27
    jerry says:

    The odd thing about the supposed incident with Ann Gauger is that ID’s official response to what happened should be “there is nothing in ID that is against a beneficial mutation or the building of complexity through horizontal gene transfer.”

    So the mystery is that with all this brain power, why something similar to my suggested response did not take place. My guess is that there is another explanation which we have not yet heard.

  28. 28
    bFast says:

    My guess is that the conference was disappointed that Ann Gauger did not produce any result of the class they were hoping for. A report that is inconsistent with neo-Darwinism seems to be what they were hoping for.

  29. 29
    Patrick says:

    My guess is that the conference was disappointed that Ann Gauger did not produce any result of the class they were hoping for. A report that is inconsistent with neo-Darwinism seems to be what they were hoping for.

    The first part of her presentation was apparently along those lines:

    She suggested that when similar proteins are “arranged by hierarchy,” the evidence suggests they arose from a common ancestor that predates the eukaryote/prokaryote split and perhaps even the Archaea. Gauger thus, like Behe, accepted not only a phylogeny of life but an ancient singular origin of life. Then she embarked on a series of experiments designed to emulate 2 billion years of microbial evolution in Petri dishes over a few bacterial generations. Specifically, she wanted to see if either of two forms of a protein would mutate directly into the other under those experimental conditions. They did not.

    Gunther Wagner congratulated Dr. Gauger on doing some great experimental work, but noted some logical inconsistencies in inference. The first is a phylogenetic comparative issue; it is necessary to know the ancestral state of the two proteins. If you are dealing with two proteins each derived separately from a common ancestor, then the experiment involves a minimum of two steps, backwards to the ancestral condition and then forwards to the alternative derived condition. It seems unlikely that you would be able to do that experimentally, especially if you have no idea of the environmental conditions under which the evolutionary diversification took place, and no idea if there were any intermediate forms that no longer survive. In response, Gauger admitted that the two proteins she studied are quite old and that studies of enzymes that are more recently diverged from each other report a lot of functional co-option, but only on a small scale.

  30. 30
    bFast says:

    Patrick, thanks for the post. Were you at this meeting? Where did you get the information? How on earth did this get translated into the hubub on Panda’s Thumb?

  31. 31
    idnet.com.au says:

    Clarence

    “Common Descent is reasonable – and hence by definition there can’t have been a “creative” deficit because Common Descent has generated a plethora of life forms”

    Common descent refers to organisms being joined through common ancestors. It is not the explanation for the differences between the ancestors and the offspring.

    In human development, all cells are the product of common descent from the fertilised ovum. Common descent explains nothing about why a nerve cell differs so markedly from a skin cell, why a hand is not an eye. These changes require pre-programmed specialisation.

    Unless pre-loaded variety is present, common descent has no more creative power to change or improve the offspring than natural selection has to create novelty.

  32. 32
    Patrick says:

    bfast and everyone,

    Patrick, thanks for the post. Were you at this meeting? Where did you get the information? How on earth did this get translated into the hubub on Panda’s Thumb?

    Ann Gauger gave me permission to quote her on this:

    Brooks is no geneticist. I never said anything about lateral gene transfer-that could not explain my results since all the bacteria lacked the same gene- there was nowhere to transfer it from. And there was no new information generated, the “new mutation” was probably just the up-regulation of an existing gene, based on evidence I presented that he conveniently failed to mention.

  33. 33
    bFast says:

    Thanks, Patrick, for the post. I almost missed it.

    This shows the integrity of the reporting over on Panda’s Thumb, doesn’t it?

  34. 34
    Clarence says:

    Patrick (32), if Ann Gauger says:

    “And there was no new information generated, the “new mutation” was probably just the up-regulation of an existing gene, based on evidence I presented that he conveniently failed to mention.”

    then the onus is now on her and the Biologic Institute to publish what they actually have done. If she or the Institute doesn’t publish then the Brooks version will – in the absence of any other available evidence – be taken to be the correct one.

    In other words, “publish or be damned!”

  35. 35
    Patrick says:

    It’s being written up for publication now, and as such Ann requested that I offer no comments beyond the paragraph I quoted.

    everyone,

    Also, I’m assuming that goes for everyone. So if you were at the conference and/or know anything about the paper please honor her request.

  36. 36
    Clarence says:

    Patrick (35), I’m sure we’ll all be looking forward to it. Does Ann have any feeling about when it will be published and in what journal?

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