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Once upon a time, scientists were allowed to think that Darwin might be wrong

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For example,

Adam Sedgewick, professor of biology and geology at Cambridge University, and a mentor to the young Darwin similarly concluded he had “. . . leaped beyond the evidence.” In an 1859 letter to Darwin, the aging Sedgewick remarked concerning Origin that parts of it made him laugh till his sides were sore, and other parts he read with sorrow, lamenting that his former student abandoned “that tram-road of all solid physical truth – the true method of induction.” Emily Morales, “Not the First Time Darwin Suffered Rebuke by the Hallowed Scientific Order” at Salvo

Morales discusses other examples. But actually, come to think of it, atheist philosopher Jerry Fodor, one of the the Altenberg 16, did get away with writing a book called What Darwin Got Wrong (2010). And then there’s J. Scott Turner, author of Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It.

But it’s not so much the philosophers, actually, as the lecturers who need a thesis that explains everything and saves so much thinking. The decline of Darwinism is a real threat to such.

See also: Natural selection: Could it be the single greatest idea ever invented?

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8 Replies to “Once upon a time, scientists were allowed to think that Darwin might be wrong

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    Since the first three sentences of Morales’s piece read:

    Extra, Extra! Read all about it! Darwin may have gotten the origin of life wrong!” Wow, with this being a first (not)—these headlines this past week sent my world-view reeling! How could an icon like Charles Darwin have gotten the conditions for the origins of life wrong?

    Since Darwin was not attempting to explain the origin of life, we can safely ignore this piece since Morales clearly does not understand what she was writing about.

  2. 2
    ET says:

    The problem is Darwin was not even wrong.

  3. 3
    martin_r says:

    in this regard, i can recall a funny paper where Darwin’s sexual selection theory is challenged.

    The paper starts like follows:

    “May a biologist in these polarized times dare suggest that Darwin is a bit wrong about anything ? Even worse, does a biologist risk insult, ridicule, anger, and intimidation to suggest that Darwin is incorrect on a big issue ? We have a test case before us. Darwin appears completely mistaken in his theory of sex roles, a subject called the ‘theory of sexual selection’.”

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/20028107?seq=1

    p.s.

    and this was 12 years ago!

  4. 4
    BobRyan says:

    Seversky @ 1

    Was Darwin wrong about anything, or do you believe as he did that racism is not a problem and that racial purification should be the standard of sexuality. Darwin’s son was president of the first international Eugenicists conference and Darwin’s cousin coined the term ‘Eugenics.’ Darwin was wrong about racial purity and he was wrong about evolution. There’s never been any evidence to support the claim and nothing has ever been observed to make it so. Without witnessing something in nature and replicating the results, it is not science and never will be.

  5. 5
    goodusername says:

    BobRyan,

    Where do you believe Darwin ever spoke about “racial purity”? With Darwin’s conception of “race” and “species” the very concept of “racial purity” is meaningless.
    It was Darwin’s opponents, and opponents of evolution that commonly spoke of racial purity – the Creationists and proponents of the Great Chain of Being. By being “racially pure” a race improves and stays closer to how they were originally created, and thus closer to what they were meant to be. Many proponents of the Great Chain of Being also believed that it was unnatural or even evil for members of different levels in the Ladder or Chain from inter-crossing.

    But with Darwin, races are in flux and form gradually, and so it will be difficult much of the time to draw any lines between them. That’s particularly the case with humans, which is why he didn’t believe that human races could even be numbered.

    The few times Darwin comes close to talking about “racial purity” he gives the impression that it’s a bad thing. In Origin he writes that there are many “good effects of frequent intercrossing” and “ill effects of close interbreeding.” Darwin believed that close interbreeding reduced “constitutional vigour” and fertility. But race-mixing (or even species-mixing) often had the opposite effect and was healthy for a population: “Abundant evidence has been given that crossing adds to the size, vigour, and fertility of the offspring. This holds good when there has been no previous close interbreeding. It applies to the individuals of the same variety but belonging to different families, to distinct varieties, sub-species, and even to species.” Darwin was also one of the very few of his time to challenge the then mainstream view that race mixing among humans led to infertility and sickly offspring.

  6. 6
    BobRyan says:

    Goodusername @ 5

    I guess you never read ‘The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex’. That’s Darwin’s second book and this is the book he declares 4 races to exist with himself at the top and Africans at the bottom. Sir Francis Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin and he’s the one who came up with ‘Eugenics’ as a direct result of being influenced by Darwin. Major Leonard Darwin was the son of Charles Darwin and heavily influenced by his father’s work. He was the president of the 1st International Eugenics Conference. Charles Darwin’s 2nd book was the primary source the Eugenicists used to defend their theory.

  7. 7
    goodusername says:

    BobRyan,

    Yes, I have read it. You obviously haven’t if you think he indicated anywhere that there were four races (perhaps you’re thinking of Linnaeus?). In fact, a point he makes numerous times is that they can’t be counted because it’s purely subjective and any lines are abitrary:

    Man has been studied more carefully than any other animal, and yet there is the greatest possible diversity amongst capable judges whether he should be classed as a single species or race, or as two (Virey), as three (Jacquinot), as four (Kant), five (Blumenbach), six (Buffon), seven (Hunter), eight (Agassiz), eleven (Pickering), fifteen (Bory de St-Vincent), sixteen (Desmoulins), twenty-two (Morton), sixty (Crawfurd), or as sixty-three, according to Burke.

    Of course, what could it possibly mean to maintain “racial purity” when the number and division races is so arbitrary? Not to mention that he believed race-mixing was a good thing which increased vitality and fertility of a population. If you have a quote where he indicates that there are four races, I’d love to see it.

  8. 8
    BobRyan says:

    Goodusername

    Charles Darwin referred to those whom he believed to be of a lesser human species as savage species and those of higher on the evolutionary chain as civilized species. The Descent of Man lays out 2 distinct savage races that were less evolved than the civilized races. He believed that Australians aborigines were slightly more evolved that the Africans. He did not believe the natural course would allow for anything except for the extinction of the savage races by the civilized races, which is the belief that genocide of all Africans and Australians was inevitable by the civilized races.

    “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state as we may hope, than the Caucasian and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.”
    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man

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