University of Durham humanities prof Neil Thomas, a skeptic and member of a rationalist society, came to see Darwinism as more ideology than biology. Many have tumbled to that but his story stands out because he went on to write Taking Leave of Darwin (2021). Here’s part of an excerpt (more at the original post (OP):
When Darwin makes the attempt to explain the crucial point of The Descent of Man, humankind’s supposed descent from ape-like ancestors, he speculates somewhat vaguely on the question of whence we as a species got our superior brains: “The mental powers of some earlier progenitor of man must have been more highly developed than in any existing ape, before even the most imperfect form of speech could have come into use; but we may confidently believe that the continued use and advancement of this power would have reacted on the mind itself, by enabling and encouraging it to carry on long trains of thought.”
A Just-So Story
The passage has the disconcerting tone of a just-so story. How, one might legitimately ask, did one ape “happen” to get its superior cognitive capacities? What was the vera causa of its braininess? And how did this cognitive superiority trigger correlated changes in the brain? In the light of present-day scientific advances, these seem like shallow assertions, inadequate to account for what we know about those labyrinthine co-adaptive changes necessary for the process he describes to function effectively.
On another point, this passage and many others like it would be a gift to linguistic specialists in discourse analysis or to those whose specialty is in the deconstruction of advertising propaganda. Darwin’s reiteration here and elsewhere of the phrase “we may confidently believe” veils the tenuous truth-value of what he proposes, which is finally little better than a guess. This mode of assertion is uncomfortably reminiscent of the wearisomely repeated phrase of the ex-PR-man turned Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron: “Let us be clear” — which you just knew was going to be the rhetorical prelude to his making a partisan point vulnerable to all those objections he was trying to head off.
Nothing New for Darwin
Such rhetorical legerdemain was nothing new for Darwin. He had recourse to it more than a few times in the Origin. We find it in evidence, for example, where he seeks to persuade us that the eye was not designed but somehow fell into place as the result of a myriad of chance selections over time:Neil Thomas, “In Darwin, the Descent of a PR Man” at Evolution News and Science Today (August 19, 2021)
Science historian Michael Flannery, among others, has often noted this style of Darwinian argument.
One might say that it relies on the public’s willingness to be persuaded of the proposition far more on the innate intellectual value of the proposition.
You may also wish to read: One day, a longtime agnostic suddenly realized that Darwinism couldn’t be true