This is a multi-part post in response to Merlin’s paper, “Evolutionary Chance Mutation: A Defense of the Modern Synthesis’ Consensus View”. See introduction and table of contents.
How Merlin Validates “Teaching the Controversy”
Many people criticize ID for saying that we should “teach the controversy” about Darwinism. There are two sides to the attack:
- Darwinism is a made-up word by ID’ers, and
- There is no controversy
The Merlin paper, on its own, clearly show that both of these ideas are false.
Many people claim that ID’ers have made up the word “Darwinism” as a straw man which we can easily knock down. Nothing could be further from the truth. ID’ers use the word Darwinism, because it identifies, with technical specificity, what we are objecting to. Darwinism specifically means that the mutations which are selected are happenstance – they are not determined by the needs of the organism. This is specifically labelled as the “Darwinian” view by Merlin (see pg 3 of her paper).
This is important because many ID’ers support many parts of evolutionary theory – myself included. However, most ID’ers think that one particular part of evolutionary theory is fundamentally flawed – the Darwinian view of mutations. Many ID’ers are basically neo-Lamarckians, believing that mutations (at least the biologically beneficial ones) tend to be goal-oriented rather than haphazard.
So it is important to note that the controversies spoken of by IDers which are happening in biology are real controversies. Merlin didn’t write this paper as a critique of a scientist to a non-scientist, but rather a controversy among scientists as to whether or not the Darwinian conception of mutations are valid. Therefore, from this we can conclude that (a) there is nothing wrong with Darwinism as a term for a specific type of evolution, (b) ID’ers use the term Darwinism in its correct, technical sense (in contrast to Lamarckianism), and (c) there is a genuine conflict happening among biologists. I have no doubt that Wright, Jablonka, and Lamb are in the minority. That neither invalidates their work nor the significance of the controversy.
As a side note, if anyone is truly interested in what the Discovery Institute means when they say “teach the controversy”, you should read the book they wrote specifically to cover that topic – Explore Evolution. Most people who complain about “teach the controversy” do so completely ignorant of what the Discovery Institute means – they simply assume that it means “teach ID” (which is not the case). Anyone who wants to criticize the Discovery Institute should read this book first, as it contains precisely what they mean by it.
UPDATE – I have removed the section below. I corresponded with Merlin and my interpretation of her comments in the section below was incorrect. In fact she thinks that the papers of Jablonka, Lamb, and others shows that the literature is open to this kind of experimental research. She thinks that her paper liberates them because they don’t have to spend their time in the chance/directed controversy, and can instead focus on their research.
How Merlin Hints at Exclusion of Research Based on Bias This section is a bit more speculative, as I’m reading in-between the lines a little on what Merlin is saying. Here is a really interesting excerpt from Merlin’s paper:
Such a conclusion [that modern genetics does not contradict Darwinism] may be of interest to philosophers because of the conceptual clarification it provides. It is also of concern to praciticing evolutionary biologists insofar as showing that recent findings about genetic mutations are less revolutionary than some claim liberates their research from its purported conflict with the Modern Synthesis consensus view. (emphasis and brackets mine) Excuse me, why does does Merlin (or anyone else) care if an experiment conflicts with the consensus view? Why does this paragraph need to be in the paper at all? Is it possible that Merlin is saying this because people aren’t getting published if they are in conflict with the consensus view, and so Merlin is liberating them by showing potential editors that they are not in conflict with the “consensus”? Why should the consensus matter in the face of an experiment? So, the paper also provides at least indirect evidence that another claim of ID – that researchers are being systematically excluded if their research conflicts with the consensus – might also be true. If it isn’t true, why does Merlin believe this to be liberating for their research?