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“You Still Walk Amongst Judges, Prophet Darwin!”


“When I looked under the microscope for the first time I saw the absolute need for humility in the face of Nature. I do not know if there is a God but what I do know is that man is no substitute”. These were the words of Professor Challenger in Tony Mulholland’s and Adrian Hodges’s screen adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, as he prepared for an adventure that would take him into the deepest parts of the Brazilian Amazon in search of prehistoric life (Ref 1). Conan Doyle’s The Lost World proved to be a resounding bestseller in its first year.  Re-released on the centennial anniversary of The Origin Of Species, this action packed adventure clearly caught the public’s imagination. Although much has been made of this year’s Darwin bicentennial, it is a lesser-known fact that this year many are also celebrating the 150th anniversary of Conan Doyle’s birth through public readings of his iconic book (Ref 2).

Set in early 20th century Britain, The Lost World tells a story of four men who ventured out on a voyage of discovery in search of a plateau that, as Professor Challenger unswervingly maintained, harbored a multitude of dinosaurs (Ref 3, p.56). Challenger’s claims were initially met with utter disbelief and ridicule as he presented his case to the Zoological Institute in London. He began to set forth his plans for an expedition to the plateau amidst jeering and accusations of scientific misconduct (Ref 3, p.72). Challenger knew that his claims would have to be rigorously tested and that his whole career as a publicly-respected scientist was very much at risk were he to return from such an expedition empty-handed.

So it was that, amidst an air of total distrust not only from the scientific establishment but also from the members of his expedition (Ref 3, p.93, pp.102-103), Challenger set off on the adventure of a lifetime. He was determined to bring back the empirical evidence that in his eyes would win him a position as one of the ‘prophets’ of science alongside the likes of Galileo and Darwin (Ref 3, p. 73). As his fellow travelers reminded him, “he was a man whose veracity was upon trial”, a man who, “walked among his own judges” (Ref 3, p.122). His moment of triumph came as the expedition discovered “the most terrible beasts that have ever walked the earth” (Ref 3, p.214). With the Iguanodons, Megalosaurs, Plesiosaurs and Pterodactyls that Challenger and his judges observed (Ref 3, pp.174-216, p.261), the expedition had amassed the evidence it needed.

If Challenger’s expedition had returned without the slightest shred of observable evidence after having scoured the entire Amazonian jungle for the prehistoric plateau, his claim would have been classified as non-proven. As it was, the intrepid travelers came back triumphant. The expedition was met by an excited crowd of journalists and reporters eager to be the first to see the evidence that the travelers had brought back (Ref 3, p.291). As the Zoological Institute reconvened to hear the full details of the expedition, with the heavyweights of science conspicuously present in the audience, the four men – Professor Challenger, Professor Summerlee, Lord Rockston and Mr Malone – made their entry, accompanied by a standing ovation from the crowd (Ref 3, pp.292-294).

Summerlee began with an apology for his skepticism over Challenger’s claims on the existence of such a mysterious world. He then proceeded to give a detailed account of the incredible diversity of prehistoric wildlife that they had encountered (Ref 3, pp.295-297). Still, the audience made the hard but reasonable demand for solid proof in support of Summerlee’s accounts- science after all needs solid empirical data to test its hypotheses, not just ideas and inferences based on personal desires: “human nature was very complex. Even Professors might be misled by the desire for notoriety” (Ref 3, p.299).

As Challenger brought forward a packing case from amongst his most prized possessions, there appeared a creature so “malicious, horrible, with two small red eyes as bright as points of burning coal”- a prized pterodactyl from the Amazonian plateau (Ref 3, p.295). With panic setting into the crowd, those who had regarded Challenger with contempt could do nothing but stand in awe. The expedition members had not after all fallen prey to the desire for notoriety but had come back with hard evidence in support of their accounts. Challenger’s closing remarks were poignant: “No use to raise hopes and let them down again. But it’s facts, not hopes, with us now” (Ref 3, p. 315).

We learn many a lesson from Conan Doyle’s thriller perhaps the most important being the absolute need for strong evidence and empirical rigor in science. Ironically such a lesson is entirely relevant to discussions on the apparent solidity of the ‘facts’ of Darwinian evolution. While Darwin’s theory has been famously described as “one of the most illuminating scientific ideas of all time” (Ref 4), there is a growing body of respected scientists who are today skeptical about its macro-evolutionary aspects (Ref 5). Recently lawyer and geologist Casey Luskin summed up two areas of Darwin’s thesis that remain hotly contended (Ref 6). Concerning the fossil record, Luskin wrote:

“Many evolutionists accepted that the fossil record did not contain Darwin’s predicted transitional forms. David S. Woodruff, an evolutionary biologist who studied under Gould, implored his colleagues, “Evolutionary biologists can no longer ignore the fossil record on the grounds that it is imperfect”. Another article explains, “The fossil record in giving a clear account of evolutionary history has been questioned because of its incompleteness”…Rather than finding a record showing the slow evolution of organisms, the fossil record consistently shows a pattern where new fossil forms come into existence abruptly, which many have dubbed “explosions” in the history of life.” (Ref 6, p.96)

On the subject of molecular and morphological phylogeny, Luskin’s attack was equally emphatic:

“”Despite increasing methodological sophistication, phylogenies derived from morphology and those inferred from molecules, are not always converging on a consensus”. As the consensus becomes harder and harder to reach, Darwinian systematists have tried to construct phylogenies in which data from many genes are averaged together to produce a single tree. In this approach evolutionists construct phylogenies only after assuming common descent. They do not follow correct scientific method in trying to falsify the hypothesis by determining if trees based upon separate characteristics match one another. If they were willing to test their hypothesis, their method would be very different. With the advent of the biotechnology revolution and DNA sequencing it is now clear that conflicts exist not only between morphology-based trees and gene-based trees, but also between different types of gene-based trees.” (Ref 6, p.92)

Clearly there is much to be debated. It seems somewhat ironic therefore that the births of both Darwin and Conan Doyle should be brought together in a co-celebration of scientific and literary achievement (Ref 2). After all unlike Conan Doyle’s Challenger, Darwin quite clearly continues to walk amongst his own judges.

Literature Cited

1. The Lost World, A BBC/A&E Home Video Co-production, distributed by New Video, c2002, Producer, Christopher Hall, Adapted by Tony Mulholland & Adrian Hodges

2. See The Lost World Read 2009 at http://www.lostworldread.com/

3. Arthur Conan Doyle (1959), The Lost World, Published by Looking Glass Publishers, Distributed by Random House

4. See Darwin 200 at http://www.lostworldread.com/darwin_200.htm

5. See Darwin Skeptics at http://www.rae.org/darwinskeptics.html

6. Michael Behe, Eddie N. Colanter, Logan Paul Gage, Phillip Johnson, Casey Luskin, J.P. Moreland, Jay W. Richards (2008), Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain The Key Issues, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Nakashima & Adel DiBagno, You've both made me have a good laugh this morning. May our jousting continue some other time ... wearing t-shirts of your own choice. :o) AussieID
Mr AussieID, Mr DiBagno, I admit to typing those words with great trepidation, almost certain to be refuted! But I went ahead anyway, believing that any such was a matter of parody and satire. Live by the search, die by the search, I suppose. Nakashima
I think your last point may be your undoing … Google image “What Would Darwin Do?” t-shirt and there are a few from which to choose.
Mr Nakashima, I thought Google was your friend! Adel DiBagno
Nakashima, Honoured? Yes. Revered? Yes. I think you miss the point. Darwin is celebrated for not only the science behind evolutionary theory, but also the baggage that has been ejected or the societal 'freedom' that has come with what evolutionary theory entails. I seem to see it more than you. Two divergent views of the same scene may be at play here. You may not have a bust of Darwin on a stand in your own home, but Darwin as an icon of something more than finches and barnacles is obvious to me and others. I think your last point may be your undoing ... Google image “What Would Darwin Do?” t-shirt and there are a few from which to choose. You may wish to purchase one! :o? AussieID
Mr AussieID, Honored yes, revered no. To realize that we are OTSOG to Darwin does not diminish the recognition of his humanity or his limitations. I would be very surprised if even in this year of Darwin celbration you will find a scientific argument being supported by "because Darwin said so". No one wears a t-shirt that asks "What Would Darwin Do?". Nakashima
Darwin is on a pedestal.
No more than Galileo, Newton, and Einstein. When they have their anniversaries, they will be similarly honored. Don't you think? Adel DiBagno
Nakashima, If Darwin is superannuated, then he is getting well-paid for his long-done services. From a pop-cultural perspective I doubt that anyone can think of movies, documentaries or books that are written from an evolutionist's perspective that travel down that road of the Darwin was wrong. Anyone from, I'll say again, the pop-cultural perspective ... ie. for most of the world ... would not realise the points to which you refer. In this year of Darwin he is being oh so mightily revered. Of that alone you must concur! TO GBS, he is warning of the delusions of prophet seeking, but doesn't that make you think that, in one way or another, that even back then people HAD made Darwin a prophet that allowed them to believe in a way that gave them certainty? Darwin is on a pedestal. AussieID
Clive, Look no further than post no. 12 for an example of evolution being recast as religion by the pro-ID lobby. It really is only anti-evolution people who continue to refer to Darwin in religious terms. I know of no scientist who reveres him anymore than they revere anyone who comes up with a great idea or makes a great discovery. zeroseven
Mr AussieID, I wouldn't agree with you. If you wander over to that other site, the antipodes of this one, which dare not speak its name, and ask how many commited evolutionists hold that Darwin should be revered, or his doctrine treated as sounder than any since, you will hear cricket chirping in response. Darwin is superannuated. He is recognised for being wrong on many things. The only time his words are closely parsed for meaning is in response to charges of racism. Read your longer quote of GBS more closely. He is warning of the dangers of making Darwin a false idol. He is saying you are deluded if you think Darwin was a prophet. Nakashima
An ironic quote, indeed, given that all the facts on the table at present have come from evolutionary science.
Given that there is only one conclusion allowed, this is hardly a ground shaking observation. I am sure the ideologues get a warm feeling all the same.
Intelligent Design has promised much but it has yet to provide one example of incontrovertible, non-human intelligent design
What exactly is the quality of an observation that makes it incontrovertible? And since “incontrovertibleness” is the straw you’ve chosen for today, let’s just perform a test to see if the concept of incontrovertible really exist to begin with: please make a claim that is incontrovertible. In fact, just to keep pace with the topic of the conversation, make an incontrovertible claim that Life is the result of a purely material event. Now to be sure, for the claim you make to be incontrovertible, all you need to accomplish is to have your claim pass by all critics without a single objection. Yes, the whole idea is just as silly as it was when Seversky proposed it. If one would like to come off the grand strawman routine and talk about rational inferences, then that’s a different animal altogether. In that arena, ID is far and away the strongest explanation based upon the observable evidence. This fact is made obvious by ID's opponents, who’ve grown fat and make comments about incontrovertible proofs. Upright BiPed
Nakashima, I'll restate for clarity. 'Darwin as prophet' as a term I see comes probably much more from Darwinian doubters as from his supporters. 'Darwin as prophet' as a sentiment, or an assent or even an expectation is much more assured by evolutionists. He is the doctrinaire of the theory and has an almighty place in their worldview. As to George Bernard Shaw: Quote:"Thus Marx and Darwin between them toppled over two closely related idols and became the prophets of two new creeds." GBS saw the prophesying ability of Darwin. And ... "If Darwin had really led the world at one bound from the book of Genesis to Heredity, to Modification of Species by Selection, and to Evolution, he would have been a philosopher and a prophet as well as an eminent professional naturalist, with geology as a hobby. The delusion that he had actually achieved this feat did no harm at first, because if people's views are sound, about evolution or anything else, it does not make two straws difference whether they call the revealer of their views Tom or Dick. But later on such apparently negligible errors have awkward consequences. Darwin was given an imposing reputation as not only an Evolutionist, but as _the_ Evolutionist, with the immense majority who never read his books." An interesting perspective, eh? Darwin may thus be perceived as maybe MORE than a prophet. Possibly the Deliverer? AussieID
Seversky, The only "tactic" being employed is in the anti-ID crowd deeming ID religious when it isn't. Clive Hayden
----seversky: "Intelligent Design was unable to show in court that it is without religious purpose and should be taught in school as part of the science curriculum." Intelligent Design methodology does not have a religious "purpose." If you disagree, show me how the concepts of "irreducible complexity" and "complex specified information" depend on religion in any way. Judge Jones could not make that connection and neither can you. He was reduced to doing the same thing you are doing---motive mongering. StephenB
Mr Deyes, I assume these are words spoken or thought by Professor Challenger, a fictional character. It is not always safe to impute the thoughts of a character to the author. However, in this instance I agree with you that Conan Doyle may have thought in the same terms - see my reference to GBS earlier. These are literary uses. The idea that anyone does or should treat the man as a religious figure is perpetuated only by critics, most of whom I take to be religious themselves. Nakashima
An Intelligent Design Thought Experiment Let's say that we go to another planet and find something that looks like it was constructed by an alien intelligence. How do we then proceed? Do we try and figure out how the artifact occurred naturally? Or, do we trust our intuitive recognition of an intelligently designed artifact and proceed with our investigation from that perspective? Is there a way to scientifically verify that the artifact in question was likely the product of alien intelligent design? If not, as many ID critics insist (that ID detection is not real science), then we are left with intuitive recognition. If we are left with intuitive recognition of design, then how does one justify the admonishment in science to ignore the apparent design that we intuitively recognize in many aspects the natural world? In biology, we are told to set aside our intuitve recognition of design and proceed as if there was no design; would this admonishment continue if we land on another planet and observe things that we intuitively recognize to be artifacts of intelligent design? Unless there is a rigorous, scientific methodology for discerning a quantifiable distinction between what is best explained as generated-by-ID and generated-by-natural-forces, then we can only be left with nothing other than a priori biases as to what intuitively-discerned artifacts of ID we can scientifically investigate from that perspective, or research and publish using such terminology and inferences, and what we cannot. Without ID theory as a rigorous methodology for finding which is the "best explanation" for a suspect phenomena, science only has intuitive recognition as a guide, and can only be applying an a priori bias when it excludes biological artifacts from ID interpretation (as they have been intuitively recognized as such for hundreds of years and in modern times only more so) because it has no formal methodology (read: reason) for excluding biological artifacts from such interpretation. The only methodology science currently allows for discerning ID artifacts is intuitive recognition, but disallows it in the case of biological artifacts for no reason other than an a priori bias against it in that particular arena, and simultaneously disallows (even ridicules) that there can be a rigorous science for making this detrmination based on evidence and logic. How then do we proceed on the alien planet? William J. Murray
Seversky says: "Intelligent Design has promised much but it has yet to provide one example of incontrovertible, non-human intelligent design, ID doesn't claim to be able to provide any such "incontrovertible" assessments. This is a straw man. Seversky continues: " ... it has not even subjected its proposed methodology for detecting such to rigorous testing." I'm not sure exactly how the specific ID mathematic probability claims, and their correlations to proposed candidate FSCI phenomena, as evaluated by already-established information theory and extrapolations thereof, constitutes anything less than "subjecting their methodology" to rigorous testing. Let me ask yo8u a question; would there be any scientific way of establishing that an ipod or a box of legos was "best explained" by Intelligent Design, if (1) we had never seen either, and (2) we found them on another planet? Or, in your mind, are such conclusions always regulated to instinctual recognition? IOW, if alien technology was sufficiently foreign to us, we would necessarily have to proceed in our examination of it as if it has been produced without ID? Or, if you think that instinctual recognition of design is enough to find it a "best explanation", and continue from there, then exactly how do you account for our instinctual recognition of design in many of the phenomena of nature, against which scientists are instructed to constantly be on guard? You can't have it both ways. If an artifact can be scientifically asserted as being best explained by ID, then ID researchers are simply trying to craft that scientific model. If an artifact cannot be scientifically "proven" (as best explanation) as a product of ID, then we must rely on intuitive recognition of ID, which Materialists insist we must set aside when it comes to biology. Why is that? Do they know it was not designed? William J. Murray
Nakashima, Actually if you read the third paragraph of my piece you will see that Conan Doyle himself referred to Darwin as a 'prophet of science' Robert Deyes
Mr AussieID, Errr, no. Google "Prophet Darwin". You'll see the first entry is this OP, there's a blog entry from someone explaining why it is a bad idea to attach names to ideas in science, some false hits, a whole bunch of people using the phrase sarcastically, and finally George Bernard Shaw. It is pretty clear to me that the "Darwin as prophet" meme is the construction of those who would criticise Darwin, not those who would praise him. Nakashima
Challenger’s closing remarks were poignant: “No use to raise hopes and let them down again. But it’s facts, not hopes, with us now” (Ref 3, p. 315).
An ironic quote, indeed, given that all the facts on the table at present have come from evolutionary science. Intelligent Design has promised much but it has yet to provide one example of incontrovertible, non-human intelligent design, it has not even subjected its proposed methodology for detecting such to rigorous testing. Having read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I believe Holmes would have held Darwin in the highest regard. Although the latter lacked Holmes's mercurial brilliance, Holmes would have approved of the fact that his inferences were based on careful, detailed and extensive observation. Intelligent Design was unable to show in court that it is without religious purpose and should be taught in school as part of the science curriculum. Having failed to establish itself as science, it appears now to be pursuing the only strategy left to it which is to have evolutionary biology reclassified as a religion. Labelling Darwin as a "prophet" is consistent with that strategy. This brings to mind another quote, from Holmes this time:
Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius.
Nakashima, The appellative to which you draw attention I doubt Darwin ever applied to himself, but has been bestowed -if not in name but obviously reverentially by his supporters - to lift him higher than (nearly?) all of those in science. I do not believe that apportioning this title by Darwin-doubters to demonstrate the seer-like homage this man has held for a century and a half is too wide of the mark. AussieID
Mr Deyes, Conan Doyle’s The Lost World proved to be a resounding bestseller in its first year. Published by Random House on the centennial anniversary of The Origin Of Species, this action packed adventure clearly caught the public’s imagination. The wording above may give the impression that the book was originally published in 1959. It was originally published in 1912. In that sense it is like Michael Chrichton's Congo, a novel of the near future, when it was first published. I think that if you want to create a Conan Doyle/Darwin connection through the year 1859 and the Professor Challenger character, the appelation of 'prophet' is ill suited to Darwin. His insights did not spring from revelation or pure reason, but were impressed on him by observation of the natural world. Nakashima
I read with passion the Lost World when I was a teenager. I love the cold blooded rationality of Conan Doyle (more famous in Sherlock Holmes). Him and Edgard Alan Poe were my favourite authors. They were very clever and outstanding writers. They did fictional work but somehow, I find their approach toward scientific matters much more rational than Darwin's one. Darwin's books (Origin or Descent) are like fictions books. You wouldn't read Mendel's paper on heredity or Newton Principia like you would read Origin: with a glass of wine in one hand, in a quiet afternoon. What I mean is that Darwin's writing are not rigorous and certainly not "intellectually challenging". One day, Darwin's book are going to belong to the "history" category. You will need to read them to understand the 20th century and a bit of the 21st one. But nothing more. Kyrilluk

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