Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Why Darwin (probably doesn’t) matter: part 2 more or less


“sophophile”  wonders whether I’ll reconsider my statement that Darwin doesn’t matter if Michael Shermer has to write a book on why he matters – on the basis of sophophile’s research into book titles.

[sophophile: Oh, WHY don’t these people have proper names? Isn’t this “Internet handle” thing becoming a bit childish after all these years?] 

At any rate, sophophile  writes:

Denyse O’Leary insists:

First, I find the title of Shermer’s book interesting. If Darwin really mattered, Shermer wouldn’t be writing a book insisting that he does.

Let’s test that reasoning on a few other book titles taken from Amazon.com:

Why Religion Matters
Class Matters
Why Gender Matters
Science Matters
Why Geography Matters
Race Matters
Why Sinatra Matters
Culture Matters
Why New Orleans Matters
Democracy Matters
Why Love Matters
Children Matter
Character Matters
Your Work Matters to God
Spirit Matters
God is No Laughing Matter
What Matters Most: The Power of Living Your Values
Scripture Matters
Thoughts Matter
Your Mind Matters
Life Matters
Humility Matters
Why Truth Matters
Animals and Why They Matter
Why Freedom Matters

and quite appropriately for this blog:

Design Matters

Denyse, would you care to reconsider your statement?

The answer is certainly not. Indeed, sophophile confirms just what I was trying to say – that when you have to explain why Darwin matters, he doesn’t. (I’m glad someone had time to do the title research.)

With the exception of “Sinatra” and “New Orleans,” every item in his list is merely an abstraction, into which the user can pour whichever part of the spectrum of meaning he wants – and withhold other parts at his leisure. Even “New Orleans” can fall into that category under certain circumstances.

I won’t be surprised if the “New Orleans” entry turns out to be a screed about alleged malfeasance following Hurricane Katrina, in which case the author is using “New Orleans” as a rallying cry. In that case, the city could just as easily have been in Mississippi, but I understand that the local administration there was more competent.

So that leaves Sinatra. Now DOES ol’ Blue Eyes matter?

Well, as I said, if someone has to write a book about why a guy matters, he doesn’t, or not much. That goes for Charlie Darwin as well as Frankie Sinatra.

Notice that the examples *I* gave below of things that matter and require no explanation were efficient personal gas mileage and cures for cancer – not the abstractions listed by sophophile above. I did that for a reason: You will know if you saved money or if a loved one was cured of cancer. I can’t pour into those phrases just any meaning I like and make it work for you.

The reason for the ridiculous adulation of Darwin and the insistence that he matters is that he is the current poster boy for materialism. In other words, he matters to those who want to make converts to materialism. I doubt very much that he and his theory – for which it is so hard to find unambiguous evidence – matter to science as such, despite the frantic adulation.

[...] For those just joining us, pour yourselves a drink. In two  previous posts, I had said that I know Darwin doesn’t really matter if Michael Shermer must write a book claiming he does SO matter. [...] Shrill screeds best evidence for Darwinism?: I guess so … | Uncommon Descent
Darwin matters because he has shown how groupthink can corrupt an entire scientific establishment. mentok
In wandering the web for issues on creation and evolution, I'm astonished to find this blog of well-known evolution critics to be making use of *book titles* to support their arguments. A book should be judged by its contents (and Shermer's entire book is attacked in an embarrassingly brief blog entry). For example, take a book with the title "Faith@Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century." Now, if it's as obvious as it is to Denyse that science needs faith, then such a book wouldn't need to be written! At least, that would be Denyse's argument. People shouldn't make that argument. A book has to be evaluated by its contents, not its title. This particular title "Faith@Science..." can't tell you whether it'll be #1 in Amazon's book sales rank or #2,570,288. racdale
WHY DARWIN DOESN'T MATTER: He doesn't matter, only to a certain extent, of course. If Darwin really matter the origin of life would've been solved already, unless of course you point to the fact that it takes time, let alone, great patience to figure out a solution as to how darwinian evolution can produce life from non-life. Then, you have the problem of the fossil record. And we all know what the fossil record spells for Darwin--NON-EXISTING FORMS! With that said, and only a few minor, and micro evidences for darwinism, it's unlikely the theory will ever recover and muster away to explain all high levels of complexity. Benjii
on a similar theme: http://www.christianbook.com/Christian/Books/product?item_no=100191&event=1052CLO#details Why Jesus Matters: The Eternal Impact of One Extraordinary Man Description: Can one person make a difference in the world? Absolutely! Discover how Jesus transformed culture, science, the arts, ethics, and human relationships during his short time on earth. Find out how he still makes an impact 2,000 years after his death---and how his life can change yours, when you choose to follow him. 256 pages, softcover from Barbour. steveh
For the record, "Why New Orleans Matters" isn't a "screed" about anything. It's a personal and uplifting celebration of the culture, people, and resilience of a city, unique in North America, which has suffered perhaps the worst natural disaster in our country's history. I'd think a reporter would have done a bit of research before making such a remark. takuan
"By the way, Sinatra was a seminal figure in music who, along with Bing Crosby, Dean Martin..." These people are musically irrelevant and will soon be forgotten. The works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, et. al., will be performed a thousand years from now to the delight of, and for the musical edification of all who appreciate great works of musical art. “Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from and where we are going.” — Shermer Shermer is phenomenally foolish. "Science," Darwin and "evolution" have nothing whatsoever to do with who we reallyare, where we came from and where we are going. Shermer's marvelously inspiring "epic saga" offers the following: Where we came from: A mindless, purposeless, undirected, goalless, naturalistic process that did not have us in mind. Who we are: The product of a mindless, purposeless, undirected, goalless, naturalistic process that did not have us in mind. Where we are going: Eternal oblivion, very shortly. GilDodgen
I think this discussion misses an important point: Darwin (or Sinatra, or Jesus, or any other person of potential import) may be important to different people for different reasons. I'll buy that Darwin has very little importance for non-biologists. However, according to the argument made here, the foundations laid by Darwin must be of the utmost importance to working biologists: there has been virtually nothing in the biological literature since the Modern Synthesis that specifically argues for the importance of Darwin. (Of course, you don't need to make this specious argument: evolution is taken for granted by the VAST majority of working biologists, of all theoretical and experimental stripes, working in all branches of the field.) While it's true that the general public may not comprehend the importance either of Darwin's theory, or the developments that have come from it, the same could be said about Newton or Gauss. The fact that journalists or seminarians don't think Darwin is important says more about the quality of technical education than it does about the profound significance of evolutionary theory in modern biology. You might consider also that many of the books arguing for the importance of Darwin are direct responses to the challenges coming from, among others, the contributors to this blog. If there were no Regnery Press or Discovery Institute, it's a certainty that Michael Shermer would be writing fewer books arguing against them. Also, honesty might compel you to consider the hypothetical alternative. If there were NO books arguing for the significance of Darwin, would you be proclaiming that as evidence that Darwin was in fact, significant? brauer
Mark Frank -- Understanding Jesus: Who Jesus Is and Why He Matters Mark, are you making the claim that Jesus is our Redeemer and it is so obvious that it is pointless to write books explaining this? Or are you making the claim that Darwin is not obviously right according to the practical application of scientific reasoning and it is required to resort to apologetics to convince the doubters? tribune7
Would it be absurd to write a book called "Why Quantum Physics Matters" or "Why Geology Matters"? I think not. It would be interesting to understand the implications of both of these for everyday life. It doesn't mean there is any question about their significance. The fact is that Denyse's argument is clearly fallacious as a string of comments above demonstrate. However, I suspect she didn't mean it very seriously in the first place. Mark Frank
Books are targeted at specific audiences. Don't know for sure who Shermer targeted but chances are there is at least the perception in that audience that Darwin doesn't matter. Can anyone imagine him targeting Richard Dawkins? Of course not. So whoever Shermer is targeting chances are they don't think Darwin is all that important because if they did he wouldn't writing to them. (Tautological, I know, but bear with me.) So the real question is this: Does Darwin matter? Well, if billions of people are getting by just fine without him then chances are he doesn't. And what about the world that proceeded Darwin? Did the world fail to... work prior to his advent? And will it fail to work if Darwin's ideas are discredited? Will the world end if Darwinism is not accepted whole cloth by the mass of humanity!?! I think not. Jon Jackson
I think most of the people jumping on book titles and the like and insisting that Denyse is wrong are missing the point pretty significantly. If Darwinism really was the lynch-pin of science that it is claimed to be then the book in question would be redundant because it would only be questioned and regarded as irrelevant by the same sort of person who insists that heliocentrism is wrong or those who insist that the world is flat. And inspite of the best efforts of certian propagandists to convince people that this is really the case, books like Shermer's are really good evidence that Darwinism is in decline and that we are witnessing its death throes. Of course, for the religiously motivates who can't consider such a possibility such books will appear as beacons of hope. jwrennie
Denyse O’Leary wrote:
If Darwin really mattered, Shermer wouldn’t be writing a book insisting that he does.
With the exception of “Sinatra” and “New Orleans,” every item in his list is merely an abstraction...
A book called "Children Matter" is in the list. "Children" are not an abstraction. But look what happens when we substitute "children" for "Darwin" in your original statement:
If children really mattered, Beth Posterski wouldn't be writing a book insisting that they do.
The claim doesn't fare any better when applied to an abstraction such as religion:
If religion mattered, Huston Smith wouldn't be writing a book insisting that it does.
A certain Toronto-based journalist wrote a book called Faith@Science: Why Science Needs Faith in the Twenty-First Century. Should that lead us to conclude the following?
If science really needed faith, Denyse O'Leary wouldn't be writing a book insisting that it does.
Bottom line: the reasoning is faulty. Books may be written in support of true propositions. The claim that Darwin matters is not undermined by the existence of a book stating so, any more than the importance of freedom is undermined by the existence of a book entitled Why Freedom Matters. sophophile
To simply brush off that list as a bunch of abstractions with the exception of Sinatra and New Orleans is quite a stretch. How about geography as an abstraction? Let’s look at the five themes of geography and determine is O’Leary is accurate: Theme 1: Location (absolute and relative) Theme 2: Place (physical and human characteristics) Theme 3: Human-Environmental Interactions Theme 4: Movement of People, Goods, Ideas Theme 5: Regions Most of those themes are defiantly not abstractions. hooligans
"Oh, WHY don’t these people have proper names? Isn’t this “Internet handle” thing becoming a bit childish after all these years?" Hey! I take a fence to that! (Here have a fence!) Ok, maybe I am childish. dodgingcars
From Denyse: Interesting stuff but not material. "Jesus" IS, unfortunately, an abstract concept in the sense that people famously make of him whatever they want. (As in "The Jesus *I* know wouldn't .... ", typically shouted from podiums by people advocating policies that, whatever their other merits, do not remotely fall within the Christian tradition). Sinatra is certainly important in the history of popular music, but if someone has to argue for that, his star is fading. And so Darwin. Right now, so far as I can determine, Darwinism thrives principally on the claim that any diminution of enthusiasm signals the end of science. And Darwin seems to be - as a science journalist admitted to me last year - a revered example of an atheist of good character. (I don't think Darwin was actually an atheist, but the person I was talking to assumed he was). SO if someone is arguing for the importance of Darwin or Sinatra, well, both of them are less important than they used to be. O'Leary
Not to mention Democracy Matters (by Cornel West, same author of Race Matters). And I recently began reading How Scientific Practices Matter by Joseph Rouse. I would hope that no one here would argue that scientific practices or democracy clearly don't matter, on the basis that people are writing arguments about why they do. Carlos
Why God Matters Dr. D. James Kennedy Your appeal to abstraction does not apply in this instance. Kennedy is being very specific. Nor does the appeal justify your sweeping dismissal of other such titles. A weak case can be made that when people write these sorts of books, they are attempting to revive something lest it be forgotten; but the book in quesetion is clearly not such a book, but a restatement of various arguments against Intelligent Design, a topic of some current political, though not scientific, interest. Nor does an attempt to revive a subject, such as Sinatra, mean that the subject is not worthy of revival. That would require a response to the actual argument. As Darwin's original theory has been supplanted by a much more developed Theory of Evolution, "Darwin" in the title is merely an abstraction, a point of departure for an extended discussion of the issues surrounding Intelligent Design. And popular opinion has little to do with scientific merit, in any case. These are valid and arguable stances worthy of extended discussion. Religion matters. Science matters. Race matters. ... By the way, Sinatra was a seminal figure in music who, along with Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and others, explored the relationship between sensitive microphones and voice, developing new styles suitable to the new electronic media of the day. Again, a valid subject of extended discussion. "Darwin matters because evolution matters. Evolution matters because science matters. Science matters because it is the preeminent story of our age, an epic saga about who we are, where we came from and where we are going." — Shermer Zachriel
Denyse (you will be relieved to see I use my proper name) - you might also want to consider these two titles: Understanding Jesus: Who Jesus Is and Why He Matters What Jesus Said and Why It Matters Now Or is Jesus also too abstract a concept? Cheers Mark Frank

Leave a Reply