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Neil Thomas on how Darwin’s Origin of Species came to be madly adored

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Really, it wasn’t the science:

One particularly intriguing, not to say perplexing aspect of the ongoing reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species is the way in which a work almost universally vilified by accredited scientific reviewers in the 1860s should over the next century and a half have become promoted to the status of biological gospel. What could possibly account for such a discrepancy in perception on the part of cohorts of persons separated chronologically yet otherwise sharing a remarkably similar intellectual profile in terms of scientific and scholarly distinction? The following observations, in a series at Evolution News, will seek pointers towards an understanding of what on the face of it seems to be an unaccountable disparity.

Neil Thomas, “Origin of Species: From Discussion Document to Nihilist Dogma” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 17, 2022)

Darwinism was never very good at explaining the world of nature as such. It provided a fashionable basis for atheism in a world otherwise dominated by finely tuned laws. Thomas provides a fine tour of the nineteenth century in which that was just the thing many were looking for.

Note: This is the first article in Thomas’s Victorian Crisis of Faith series. Read all the articles to date here.

You may also wish to read:

At Evolution News: Darwin and the ghost of Epicurus. One way of looking at it: Darwinism enabled thinkers to retain the thought of Epicurus and Lucretius when, in general, the thinkers themselves were forgotten.

and

Neil Thomas on Darwinism’s place in the Victorian culture wars. Anyone familiar with popular science writing on evolution will see what Thomas means here. Darwinism is introduced as a hypothesis/theory but then treated as a dogma/article of faith — and (this is emotionally very important) a way of segregating the Smart People from the Yobs and Yayhoos. Appeals to science-based analysis fall on deaf ears because the dogma has become what “science” now means.

15 Replies to “Neil Thomas on how Darwin’s Origin of Species came to be madly adored

  1. 1
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Nihilism was a very exciting idea for some people in those days.
    Some college kids still think it is exciting and daring. But it’s really the most boring idea imaginable.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    It’s unfortunate that we don’t have some kind of copyright protection for ideas. Darwin’s estate would have made billions from 150 years of misuse, and Marx’s estate would have done the same.

  3. 3
    Seversky says:

    One particularly intriguing, not to say perplexing aspect of the ongoing reception of Darwin’s Origin of Species is the way in which a work almost universally vilified by accredited scientific reviewers in the 1860s should over the next century and a half have become promoted to the status of biological gospel.

    I suppose we can allow Thomas a touch of the hyperbole to which new converts to a faith can be prone.

    Was Origins “almost universally vilified by accredited scientific reviewers”? My impression was that it was more of a mixed bag.

    And I suspect you will have a hard time finding any evolutionary biologist today who would claim Darwin’s work was now elevated to the status of “biological gospel”, unless you are pointing out that it now mostly of historical interest.

    What could possibly account for such a discrepancy in perception on the part of cohorts of persons separated chronologically yet otherwise sharing a remarkably similar intellectual profile in terms of scientific and scholarly distinction?

    How about the fact that Darwin’s theory lacked a plausible mechanism of inheritance until Mendel’s work and the later discovery of DNA filled the gap?

    Darwinism was never very good at explaining the world of nature as such. It provided a fashionable basis for atheism in a world otherwise dominated by finely tuned laws.

    Darwin’s theory was better than anything else around in offering a naturalistic account of how life had changed and diversified over time. That is why it had such an impact.

    Thomas provides a fine tour of the nineteenth century in which that was just the thing many were looking for.

    I wouldn’t rely entirely on Thomas just because he is a recent convert to your cause. There are differing perspectives just as there are concerning Weikart’s campaign to depict Darwin’s work as a primary inspiration for Nazism.

  4. 4
    PaV says:

    Seversky:

    Almost everything you’ve said above is wrong.

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    PaV/4

    Almost everything you’ve said above is wrong.

    No, it isn’t.

  6. 6
    chuckdarwin says:

    It isn’t just that Thomas seems to be a recent convert to anti-Darwinism, it’s that he is so overtly hostile towards all things Darwin.
    The Origin was not “almost universally vilified by accredited scientific reviewers.” As Sev points out, reviews were mixed. The public apparently couldn’t get enough. I believe all 6 editions printed during Darwin’s life were sold out within days of release. And so what if the Origins was vilified by “accredited scientific reviewers”? The Big Bang didn’t exactly experience a warm reception out of the gate. Nor did quantum mechanics. If that were the benchmark, the sun would still be revolving around the earth. Thomas needs to take a spin through Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions to get a little perspective…..

  7. 7
    Silver Asiatic says:

    CD

    And so what if the Origins was vilified by “accredited scientific reviewers”?

    He wasn’t making that comment as a critique but as a contrast to how the theory was elevated so such a high status following that.

  8. 8
    chuckdarwin says:

    SA
    The problem is that Thomas overlooks (or perhaps ignores) the obvious reason natural selection gained such prominence–it works.

  9. 9
    Silver Asiatic says:

    CD

    The problem is that Thomas overlooks (or perhaps ignores) the obvious reason natural selection gained such prominence–it works.

    He’s posing the question because he doesn’t accept that reason. As you said, he’s a convert to anti-Darwinism.

  10. 10
    jerry says:

    it works.

    Yes and no.

    It works for trivial things in genetics.

    It has nothing to do with Evolution. So using Darwin’s criteria, it definitely does not work.

    ChuckDarwin is still batting a thousand for being wrong.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Seversky:

    Darwin’s theory was better than anything else around in offering a naturalistic account of how life had changed and diversified over time. That is why it had such an impact.

    Simply your opinion. Thomas speaks out of his own experience of finding out that he’d been had for so long a time: Darwinism is a logically flawed ‘argument’ with facts disputing its truth. Thomas is just filling in some details.

    I find it a bit rich that you accuse Thomas of being a “new convert,” since the only thing that holds Darwinism in place is the radical ‘faith’ of its practitioners. But the ‘gospel’ according to Darwin cannot withstand the science of today. It’s just a matter of time–until the “true believers” are relieved of their faculty positions through death and retirement.

  12. 12
    Scamp says:

    CD:
    The Big Bang didn’t exactly experience a warm reception out of the gate. Nor did quantum mechanics.

    Don’t forget about continental drift, germ theory and heliocentrism.

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    The Darwinian trolls on this thread have, as usual, made a number of patently false claims.

    For prime example ChuckyD claims, “The problem is that Thomas overlooks (or perhaps ignores) the obvious reason natural selection gained such prominence–it works.”

    Yet ChuckyD, nor any other Darwinist, have any empirical evidence whatsoever that natural selection actually ‘works’.

    “The Third Way” – James Shapiro, Denis Noble, and etc.. etc..,,,
    Excerpt: “some Neo-Darwinists have elevated Natural Selection into a unique creative force that solves all the difficult evolutionary problems without a real empirical basis.”
    http://www.thethirdwayofevolution.com/

    “the uncritical acceptance of natural selection as an explanatory force for all aspects of biodiversity (without any direct evidence) is not much different than invoking an intelligent designer”
    – Michael Lynch – The Origins of Genome Architecture, p 368

    Genome-wide analysis of a long-term evolution experiment with Drosophila – 2010
    Excerpt of concluding paragraph: “Despite decades of sustained selection in relatively small, sexually reproducing laboratory populations, selection did not lead to the fixation of newly arising unconditionally advantageous alleles. This is notable because in wild populations we expect the strength of natural selection to be less intense and the environment unlikely to remain constant for ~600 generations. Consequently, the probability of fixation in wild populations should be even lower than its likelihood in these experiments.”
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311852574_Genome-wide_analysis_of_long-term_evolutionary_domestication_in_Drosophila_melanogaster

    Moreover, as the late William Provine himself pointed out, “Natural selection as a natural force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Necker/Stahl phlogiston or Newton’s ‘ether’.”

    “Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for, or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push or adjust. Natural selection does nothing. Natural selection as a natural force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Necker/Stahl phlogiston or Newton’s ‘ether’…Having natural selection select is nifty because it excuses the necessity of talking about the actual causation of natural selection. Such talk was excusable for Charles Darwin, but inexcusable for Darwinists now. Creationists have discovered our empty ‘natural selection’ language, and the ‘actions’ of natural selection make huge vulnerable targets.”
    – William B. Provine, The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 199-200

    In other words, when Darwinists utter the words “Natural Selection” they are not talking about anything that can be physically, and/or scientifically, measured.

    Evolutionary Fitness Is Not Measurable – November 20, 2021
    The central concept of natural selection cannot be measured. This means it has no scientific value.
    Excerpt:,, to measure something, it needs units. How is fitness to be measured? What are the units? Physicists have degrees Kelvin, ergs and Joules of energy and Faradays of electricity, but do 100 Spencers on a Haeckl-o-meter equal 10 Darwins of fitness?
    ,,, The term “fitness” becomes nebulous when you try to pin it down. Five evolutionists attempted to nail this jello to the wall, and wrote up their results in a preprint on bioRxiv by Alif et al. that asked, “What is the best fitness measure in wild populations?” (One might wonder why this question is being asked 162 years after Darwin presented his theory to the world.)
    ,,, The authors admit that their results do not necessarily apply to all living things. (they state),
    “A universal definition of fitness in mathematical terms that applies to all population structures and dynamics is however not agreed on.”
    Remember that this statement comes over 162 years after evolutionists began talking about fitness. If you cannot define something, how can you measure it? And if you can’t measure it, is it really scientific?,,,
    https://crev.info/2021/11/evolutionary-fitness-is-not-measurable/

    As Brian Miller pointed out, “imagine attempting to craft an evolutionary barometer that measures the selection pressure driving one organism to transform into something different (e.g., fish into an amphibian). The fact that no such instrument could be constructed highlights the fictitious nature of such mystical forces.”

    Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection Has Left a Legacy of Confusion over Biological Adaptation
    Brian Miller – September 20, 2021
    Excerpt: Evolutionary biologist Robert Reid stated:
    “Indeed the language of neo-Darwinism is so careless that the words ‘divine plan’ can be substituted for ‘selection pressure’ in any popular work in the biological literature without the slightest disruption in the logical flow of argument.”
    Robert Reid, Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment, PP. 37-38 (2009)
    To fully comprehend the critique, one simply needs to imagine attempting to craft an evolutionary barometer that measures the selection pressure driving one organism to transform into something different (e.g., fish into an amphibian). The fact that no such instrument could be constructed highlights the fictitious nature of such mystical forces.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2021/09/darwins-theory-of-natural-selection-has-left-a-legacy-of-confusion-over-biological-adaptation/

    Thus when Darwinists utter the words ‘natural selection’ they are in fact speaking far more of a fictitious literary device that belongs in the realm of imaginary ‘just-so story telling’ than they are speaking of anything real that can ever be physically measured in the real world.

    As Stephen Jay Gould himself honestly admitted, “When evolutionists study individual adaptations, when they try to explain form and behaviour by reconstructing history and assessing current utility, they also tell just so stories – and the agent is natural selection. Virtuosity in invention replaces testability as the criterion for acceptance.”

    “Rudyard Kipling asked how the leopard got its spots, the rhino its wrinkled skin. He called his answers “Just So stories”. When evolutionists study individual adaptations, when they try to explain form and behaviour by reconstructing history and assessing current utility, they also tell just so stories – and the agent is natural selection.
    Virtuosity in invention replaces testability as the criterion for acceptance.”
    – Stephen Jay Gould – 1978 – New Scientist – Sociobiology: The Art of Story Telling

    Moreover, besides empirical science, the mathematics of population genetics has also now shown that natural selection does not ‘work’.

    For instance, because of the “waiting time problem”, (among other problems in population genetics), Darwinists were forced to cast natural selection, Charles Darwin’s supposed ‘designer substitute’, by the wayside and adopt ‘neutral theory’. A theory where it it is held that the majority of evolutionary change is due to chance instead of natural selection,

    The waiting time problem in a model hominin population – 2015 Sep 17
    John Sanford, Wesley Brewer, Franzine Smith, and John Baumgardner
    Excerpt: The program Mendel’s Accountant realistically simulates the mutation/selection process,,,
    Given optimal settings, what is the longest nucleotide string that can arise within a reasonable waiting time within a hominin population of 10,000? Arguably, the waiting time for the fixation of a “string-of-one” is by itself problematic (Table 2). Waiting a minimum of 1.5 million years (realistically, much longer), for a single point mutation is not timely adaptation in the face of any type of pressing evolutionary challenge. This is especially problematic when we consider that it is estimated that it only took six million years for the chimp and human genomes to diverge by over 5 % [1]. This represents at least 75 million nucleotide changes in the human lineage, many of which must encode new information.
    While fixing one point mutation is problematic, our simulations show that the fixation of two co-dependent mutations is extremely problematic – requiring at least 84 million years (Table 2). This is ten-fold longer than the estimated time required for ape-to-man evolution. In this light, we suggest that a string of two specific mutations is a reasonable upper limit, in terms of the longest string length that is likely to evolve within a hominin population (at least in a way that is either timely or meaningful). Certainly the creation and fixation of a string of three (requiring at least 380 million years) would be extremely untimely (and trivial in effect), in terms of the evolution of modern man.
    It is widely thought that a larger population size can eliminate the waiting time problem. If that were true, then the waiting time problem would only be meaningful within small populations. While our simulations show that larger populations do help reduce waiting time, we see that the benefit of larger population size produces rapidly diminishing returns (Table 4 and Fig. 4). When we increase the hominin population from 10,000 to 1 million (our current upper limit for these types of experiments), the waiting time for creating a string of five is only reduced from two billion to 482 million years.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....MC4573302/

    Austin Hughes and Neutral Theory – Laurence A. Moran – June 19, 2017
    Excerpt: Originally proposed by Motoo Kimura, Jack King, and Thomas Jukes, the neutral theory of molecular evolution is inherently non-Darwinian. Darwinism asserts that natural selection is the driving force of evolutionary change. It is the claim of the neutral theory, on the other hand, that the majority of evolutionary change is due to chance.
    https://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2017/06/austin-hughes-and-neutral-theory.html

    Thus in conclusion, it is simply a patently false claim on ChuckyD’s part for him to try to claim that natural selection ‘works’. If anything, time and time again, empirical science and mathematics have shown us that, most definitely, natural selection does NOT ‘work’ as the supposed ‘designer substitute’ that Darwin falsely imagined it to be.

    “Darwinism provided an explanation for the appearance of design, and argued that there is no Designer — or, if you will, the designer is natural selection. If that’s out of the way — if that (natural selection) just does not explain the evidence — then the flip side of that is, well, things appear designed because they are designed.”
    Richard Sternberg – Living Waters documentary
    Whale Evolution vs. Population Genetics – Richard Sternberg and Paul Nelson – (excerpt from Living Waters video)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0csd3M4bc0Q

    Top Ten Questions and Objections to ‘Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics’ – Robert J. Marks II – June 12, 2017
    Excerpt: “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. Hard sciences are built on foundations of mathematics or definitive simulations. Examples include electromagnetics, Newtonian mechanics, geophysics, relativity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, optics, and many areas in biology. Those hoping to establish Darwinian evolution as a hard science with a model have either failed or inadvertently cheated. These models contain guidance mechanisms to land the airplane squarely on the target runway despite stochastic wind gusts. Not only can the guiding assistance be specifically identified in each proposed evolution model, its contribution to the success can be measured, in bits, as active information.,,,”,,, “there exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution. According to our current understanding, there never will be.,,,”
    https://evolutionnews.org/2017/06/top-ten-questions-and-objections-to-introduction-to-evolutionary-informatics/
    Robert Jackson Marks II is an American electrical engineer. His contributions include the Zhao-Atlas-Marks (ZAM) time-frequency distribution in the field of signal processing,[1] the Cheung–Marks theorem[2] in Shannon sampling theory and the Papoulis-Marks-Cheung (PMC) approach in multidimensional sampling.[3] He was instrumental in the defining of the field of computational intelligence and co-edited the first book using computational intelligence in the title.[4][5]
    – per wikipedia

    Verse:

    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.

  14. 14
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Pav

    Darwinism is a logically flawed ‘argument’ with facts disputing its truth.

    Every once in a while we see mainstream scientists stumble into that awareness. They seem surprised and then defensive. But there are far too many problems for science to ignore.

    It’s just a matter of time–until the “true believers” are relieved of their faculty positions through death and retirement.

    Guys who are already retired like Dennett, Coyne, and Dawkins seem to be the last of the big-name entities (all three born in the 1940s). Being an atheist evolutionary spokesman doesn’t have the prestige it once did.
    I was checking out a local library book sale recently and the entire section of evolution books was being discarded. This wasn’t a religious-right conspiracy. I asked the librarians and they just matter-of-factly said that “circulation on those has dropped”.
    Nobody is excited about reading convoluted speculations like that and more people are realizing how useless evolutionary theory really is. It’s like reading about astrology, but not as interesting.
    All one has to do is add the phrase “the organism evolved over time to …” and you’ve eliminated the need for any evolutionary research whatsoever. People will read it, nod and move on. A follow up is unnecessary and nobody cares about it.

  15. 15
    jerry says:

    Darwinism is a logically flawed ‘argument’ with facts disputing its truth.

    Yes and no.

    Darwinism is

    1) Variation in genome – 100% true

    2) heritability – 100% true

    3) natural selection – 100% true

    So where is the issue?

    First, DNA has nothing to do with Evolution but everything to do with genetics. So one of the issues is there. Darwinism is great for genetics.

    Second, even if DNA was the source for Evolution, it would fail not because of natural selection but because the variation can not lead to even major changes in the genome let alone Evolution.

    The ID people are right that Darwinism is flawed but often for the wrong reasons.

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