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Rationalist skeptic comments on the manipulative arguments for Darwinism

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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

7 Replies to “Rationalist skeptic comments on the manipulative arguments for Darwinism

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Modern propagandists don’t bother with ‘confidently believe’. They simply treat the outrageously false assertion as an automatic part of nature that doesn’t need emphasis.

    http://polistrasmill.blogspot......rtion.html

    The universal example this year is the automatic assumption that “the virus” naturally required lockdowns and ballgags and riots as curative measures. Every sentence contains this unstated assumption, so we forget that before March 2020 no virus ever caused lockdowns and ballgags and riots. We forget that these “measures” were carefully planned by a crew of psychopathic monsters who took over all governments through 15 years of careful planning and expansion.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Neil Thomas knows propaganda when he sees it. From his bio in the linked article we find that, “He also taught modules on the propagandist use of the German language used both by the Nazis and by the functionaries of the old German Democratic Republic.,,,”

    NEIL THOMAS
    Neil Thomas is a Reader Emeritus in the University of Durham, England and a longtime member of the British Rationalist Association. He studied Classical Studies and European Languages at the universities of Oxford, Munich and Cardiff before taking up his post in the German section of the School of European Languages and Literatures at Durham University in 1976. There his teaching involved a broad spectrum of specialisms including Germanic philology, medieval literature, the literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment and modern German history and literature. He also taught modules on the propagandist use of the German language used both by the Nazis and by the functionaries of the old German Democratic Republic. He published over 40 articles in a number of refereed journals and a half dozen single-authored books, the last of which were Reading the Nibelungenlied (1995), Diu Crone and the Medieval Arthurian Cycle (2002) and Wirnt von Gravenberg’s ‘Wigalois’. Intertextuality and Interpretation (2005). He also edited a number of volumes including Myth and its Legacy in European Literature (1996) and German Studies at the Millennium (1999). He was the British Brach President of the International Arthurian Society (2002-5) and remains a member of a number of learned societies.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2021/08/in-darwin-the-descent-of-a-pr-man/

  3. 3
    chuckdarwin says:

    Actually, evolution of the eye and vision is well understood. See e.g. https://www.nature.com/articles/eye2017226. “Rhetorical legerdemain” aside, it is one of the predictions Darwin got right.

  4. 4
    ET says:

    chuckdarwin is lying. There isn’t even a naturalistic mechanism capable of producing metazoans, let alone vision systems. Typical but still pathetic.

  5. 5
    jerry says:

    chuckdarwin is lying

    Every time someone does this, it is just more support for ID. He is a trained biologist and cannot support anything he claims.

    Like OOL, this is at best futile speculation.

  6. 6
    Silver Asiatic says:

    CD

    Actually, evolution of the eye and vision is well understood.

    I wouldn’t call that a detailed understanding of the evolution of the eye. More like bluffing and guesswork and trusting the magic of evolution to “evolve things”, as if that just happens.

    Just selecting one of many such statements:

    The Pax gene family joined the party although in a primitive form and gradually evolved.

    Just the phrasing tells us that this is not even science. It’s just a classic evolutionary fairy tale. Genes showed up and gradually evolved into eyes. That kind of thing always seems to work for any explanation needed.

    Crystalline lenses were added later on in the eye’s evolutionary history. This explains why different lineages have surprisingly different compounds composing their lenses. Trilobites have calcite, invertebrates have recruited a variety of crystallins and some novel proteins,15 and vertebrates have a wide variety of somewhat similar crystallins, mostly heat-shock proteins.16, 17 Evolution has selected whatever enzyme or heat-shock protein was available, often co-opted from other functions, to design and fashion metazoan lenses.

    This is more of the same. It’s loaded with conjecture and mythology. The author only hints at the problem of explaining the independent origin of nautical eyes (convergently evolved 8 times at least).
    Notice the last sentence. This is back in 2017 before Darwinists realized that they have to expunge teleological language out of their storytelling. “Evolution selected” enzymes “to design and fashion” lenses.

    I accept your expertise as a professional biologist, CD – I wouldn’t question that. But knowing how to do biology does not require an understanding of how eyes supposedly evolved.
    In this case, the lecture provided tells us almost nothing – on an explanatory task that is almost infinite in complexity.

  7. 7
    Kirikagure says:

    @Chuckdarwin There is not a single person in the world that has ever, ever observed an organism or matter altogether being able to generate a single bit of brand new genetic or other type of information, for eyes or anything else to be able to evolve in a darwinian bottom-up process we would have to see incredibly huge amounts of new information being generated with each generation which does not happen at all.

    What we observe is exactly the opposite, everything is running down, it is a top-down process, all of the information was created at the beginning of the physical world and with each generation there is combination of existing information alongside massive amounts of loss of information. If anything, the eyes are devolving as time goes by, and early historians also were recording that people in the ancient world had much more improved and wider range of vision and other capabilities.

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