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Saturday, April 12, 2014

On being outed as a closet Darwinist, again

I can understand why the Intelligent Design Creationists want to label me as a Darwinist, but John Wilkins? What's his motive?

He writes [Closet Darwinism, and definitions],
Larry’s argument is roughly this: modern evolutionary theory includes a host of ideas that do not rely upon the ubiquity of natural selection. "Darwinism" and cognates is basically a focus upon natural selection (and hence adaptationist views of biology). Ergo, modern evolutionary theory is not “Darwinian” in the main. I would say both of these premises are correct (of course – Larry is a very clever and erudite man), but that the conclusion doesn’t follow.
Well, it follows for me. If the term "Darwinist" has become associated with an adaptationist view of evolution then I don't want to be called a "Darwinist."

There are plenty of other terms that are just as suitable. You could refer to everyone who studies evolution as an "evolutionary biologist." What's wrong with that?
So let’s ask, what counts as "Darwinism"? Sure, a great many philosophically inclined thinkers, like Dawkins, Mayr and others have treated natural selection as the be-all and end-all of "Darwinism", but in fact the field has always been wider than that. In the 1980s, this got recast as a battle between followers of Dawkins (and indirectly, John Maynard Smith) and Gould (and indirectly, Richard Lewontin), or between "adaptationists" (Gould’s term) and "contingency theorists" (my term).
The field of "evolution" has always been wider than that but a few scientists wanted to narrow it and restrict it to "Darwinism." By that, they mean that natural selection is by far the most interesting part of evolution and everything else can be dismissed as noise.

I'm on the side of Gould and the other pluralists who accept the importance of random genetic drift, embrace Neutral Theory, and give serious consideration to species sorting and other mechanisms of evolution. I go even further; I think mutationism is a viable addition to evolutionary theory. Few "Darwinists" would agree.

There are very good reasons why famous evolutionary biologists like King and Jukes wrote about non-Darwinian evolution back in 1969 [Non-Darwinian Evolution in 1969: The Case for Junk DNA]. I'm with them. Darwinism is too restrictive a term for modern evolutionary theory.
Given that Larry is a constant advocate for processes and ideas other than natural selection in evolutionary biology, he might well be seen as not Darwinian in the manner that the adaptationists (whether they think that only natural selection matters, or simply ignore or run roughshod over other processes) are, but historically, he is well within the Darwinian research program, and I suspect he would agree to this. The broad version of "Darwinism", not the simplistic version of popular science. Larry is Darwinian.
I am Darwinian in the sense that I accept and embrace Darwin's fundamental discovery; natural selection. But just because I accept his discovery, does not mean that I accept the way the term has come to describe some evolutionary biologists one hundred years later.

I certainly don't accept the adaptationist research program. I believe that that the null hypothesis is evolution by accident (drift). Is that something you would call a "Darwinian research program"? I hope not.
A large part of the problem lies in the way some (for example, Daniel Dennett) have made natural selection the only thing that matters, in any arena let alone biology. Natural selection certainly does matter, but so too do the other implications of a population genetical approach to biology, drift and neutral evolution. Gavrilets has even shown how populations under strong selection can "drift" in high dimensional fitness landscapes of thousands of genes. All this is coming together in ways nobody had thought possible decades before. "Darwinism" is evolving. I take Larry to be a Darwinist, Darwinian in his ideas, and promoting the broad sense of "Darwinism".
Sorry John. You are dead wrong. I am not Darwinian in my ideas by any stretch of the imagination. The term has NOT evolved to the point where it even comes close to defining my views about evolution.

John, why do you care about this? Why is important for you to label me as a Darwinist when I clearly don't want to be associated with that view of evolution?


  1. Right, Larry. "Survivors survived" is a silly theory. Modern evolutionary theory is now telling us it was just a big... accident!

    Science marches on.

    1. The IDiots, on the other hand, say "Survivors survived" is incorrect. The first ideological movement to reject a tautology as false.

    2. "Survivors survived" = evolutionary theory?

      Yes, in the same sense that "Money makers make money" is all of the science of economics.

      Or "Magic makers make magic" is all of Intelligent Design.

      Or, since Smegnor is a doctor, "Disease causers cause diseases" is all of medicine.

    3. Ah yes, Argumentum ad Caricature -- one of the 'sharpest' blades in the ID-Medievalist arsenal.

      Take something important-but-complicated (which describes quite a lot of science), offer a fatuously-simplistic and silly description of it, and pretend that this description proves anything beyond your complete vacuity.

      As an added bonus, it gets easier to do, the less you actually know about a topic -- which makes it one of the few tactics that rewards ID's pervasive ignorance of science.

    4. "Modern evolutionary theory is now telling us it was just a big... accident!"

      Whereas Catholicism says that God did it, but deliberately and made it look like an accident, and while that looks like something shady a mobster would do, we can trust God because a Church with such strong Mafia ties that the EU classifies the Vatican Bank as a money laundering scam, not a bank, vouch for him.

    5. Isn't "Magic Man done it" a *far* more satisfying explanation?

    6. Actually, strider, magic man done it is a faaaaaaaaar more satisfying starting point for science. At least I can take the next step by asking "How did He do it"?

      With you folk its evolution done it. But you can't ask how evolution done it! It didn't DO squat, remember? Its 'genetic variation is random with respect to need" all the way down.

      So when things 'happen' its all just coincidence. You necessarily tie yourselves in knots explaining 'problem solving' without reference to teleology.

      Admit it. Life is smart. It didnt get that way by coincidence.

      Magic Man done it!

    7. At least I can take the next step by asking "How did He do it"?

      The hell you can. Every time the question is asked, the IDiots' standard reply is "We are discussing the Design, not the Designer". So, while we are at it, how did he/she/it/they do it?

      With you folk its evolution done it. But you can't ask how evolution done it!

      Evolution is a natural process, not an agent who plans, works towards a goal, and "solves problems". We more or less understand its mechanism: the role of mutations, selection, drift, etc. There is no agent involved, as simple as that. Things in the Universe happen by themselves. Stones fall, atoms combine to form molecules, living things survive and reproduce differentially. No invisible finger is needed to push them about.

    8. Or, since Smegnor is a doctor, "Disease causers cause diseases" is all of medicine.

      Dr. Egnor actually has said something very like that on his way to declaring evolutionary theory is unimportant in understanding disease resistance in pathogens.

      As at least one commentator has pointed out, in formal logic every true statement can be reduced to a tautology. Anyone who's ever solved a grade school math equation has experienced this, as you eventually reduce the two sides of an equation to the point where the resulting equation is a simple expression of identity. Since natural selection is true, the best Dr. Egnor can do is put it in a tautological form he hopes will look ridiculous.

    9. Sorry, s/b antibiotic resistance in pathogens, not "disease resistance."

  2. The semantic problem is that if Charles Darwin were still alive I very much doubt he'd be a Darwinist in any of the common uses of the word. It seems that Wilkins is using the "Darwin's still alive and working" sense if the word. But Darwin's dead, so that's not a sensible usage.

    1. "The semantic problem is that if Charles Darwin were still alive I very much doubt he'd be a Darwinist"

      And this is precisely why people should be wary of calling themselves 'Darwinists'. It leads us down that bizarre path the US right wing religious seem obsessed with of textual purity, WWJD? and running everything by the Founding Fathers before deciding if it's legal.

      Things move on, and science is big enough to admit it. The religious believe that their values are eternal, but if you look at, say, Catholic doctrine of Darwin's era, it says papal infallibility is a Protestant smear and that life doesn't begin at conception.

      Labeling evolutionary biologists as 'Darwinists' is just a way for creationists to ignore what current science says so they can quibble lines from Darwin. It's an attempt to make the whole discipline of biology a personality cult. Larry is right to resist it.

    2. To quote Uncommon Descent:

      Are times changing? Do people no longer need to make ritual obeisance before Darwin, just to record some fact or make some point or other?

      Yeah, mainstream biologists spend their time making semi-religious obeisance to Charles Darwin.

  3. Maybe I should've elaborated. Darwin seems to been a very thorough, thoughtful guy. I'd be astonished if he didn't fully embrace the new info that has come to light since he worked. He'd virtually certainly accept drift etc.

  4. I guess my motive is historical rather than definitional. I think that scientific tradition and schools evolve themselves, and every time that something (like Jukes) has been proposed as "non-darwinian", it has been happily folded into the Darwinian tradition.

    And contrary to what anthrosciguy thinks, I certainly do not think Darwin would accept all this, anymore than Newton would accept post-Newton physics. Did he even read my piece and argument?

    As I say in the piece, Darwin's ideas were immediately revised or dropped in the Darwinian tradition. And yet the inherent Weismannism of the Mendelian synthesis was called "Darwinian". In fact it is that synthesis Larry rejects as sufficient. So if we can call the synthesis "Darwinian" we can also call the modern post-synthesis synthesis Darwinian.

    In fact it doesn't matter to me at all what we call it. Evolutionary biology is whatever it is, no matter what the name.

    1. In fact it doesn't matter to me at all what we call it. Evolutionary biology is whatever it is, no matter what the name.

      *I* think it does matter, but if you think it doesn't then why are YOU objecting so much? Just call it evolutionary biology and everyone will be happy, right?

    2. Well, it seems to me that almost everyone in biology (anyway) DOES call it evolutionary biology!

    3. Is a "historical" label often misleading? Yes. Calling an oak tree an acorn would confuse most people. The question is whether evolutionary biology has developed sufficiently far since Darwin's time that the historical label is no longer a particularly informative one.

      Does it matter? Yes. Among other reasons, because creationists very frequently attempt to portray evolutionary biology as a mere enshrinement of Darwin's ideas and writings. It is surprising just how frequently quotes from him are offered by them as authoritative 'proof texts'.

    4. It also matters because evolutionary biologists will often report findings the refute "Darwinism" in the strict sense. Creationists then use their deliberate confusion of the terms to create the impression that this is evidence against evolution.

    5. Re John Wilkins

      I don't know about Darwin, although I suspect that, being the very fine scientist that he was, he would probably acknowledge the role of drift in evolution, based on the evidence. He might not go as far as Prof. Moran does but he wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.

      As for Newton, I would remind Wilkins that, according to one of his biographers, he actually contemplated the possibility that light had both particulate and wave like properties after receiving a copy of Huygens' treatise on his secondary wavelet theory of diffraction. This more then 200 years before Einstein's paper on the photoelectric effect. However, he did not pursue this proposed hypothesis, probably because he thought that diffraction could still be explained by a particulate theory involving scattering off the edges of the slit.

    6. Although who knows for sure, but given how much thought, and doubt, Darwin put into his theorizing, I do think he'd accept the improvements to his ideas, especially since he was aware even then that he didn't have all the answers.

  5. I think another issue is that the overemphasis on natural selection may have arisen as a reaction to the "Eclipse of Darwinism" (to use Bowler's term) from 1900-1930 where most biologists didn't think natural selection was a significant force in evolution, as pre-synthesis they didn't see how it would work in a Mendelian framework at all.

  6. Larry you may not be a "closet Darwinist" but you are a "closest Darwinist" (look at the post title.)

  7. Run away from it, guys. You don't want to be too close to Darwinism. You hear the flush, you feel the vortex, time to get out of the bowl.

    1. mrengor, what do you make of the newsflash in the previous posts here, that your fellow IDiots have finally admitted that naturalistic genomic processes are fully able to explain the differences between humans and chimpanzees? Does this mean that you all are "Darwinists" as well? LOL!

    2. Smegnor, don't you IDiots say that we tolerate no criticism or questioning of Darwinism?

      IDiot double-think: Evolutionists never criticize Darwinism because they want to be on the winning side. Also, evolutionists always criticize Darwinism because... they want to be on the winning side.


    3. Re schmucknor

      I have a better idea, you might consider running away from the Raping Children Church, least you be tarred with that brush by association.l

  8. The darwinist word is used because the word evolutionist would be very confusing.

    Evolution can mean lots of things but the most important is change over time. Now all creationists believe in some form of evolution, many of them believe in common descent, so using the word evolutionist wouldn't mean much.

    Darwinist is used to differentiate between undirected random evolution and other kinds of evolution.

    If scientists use the word why creationists are not allowed? Darwinian evolution means (this is taught in schools) random mutations plus natural selection. Now if RM + NS can't do it adding random drift (another level of incoherence) doesn't help much.

  9. So we should call physicists who study quantum physics Planckists to avoid confusion with those who study other types of physics, or biologists who study germs Pasteurists to differentiate them from biologists who study other types of biology like evolution?

  10. What's in a name?!
    Since even creationists can accept micro evolution selectionism then some of these could be called Darwinian biblical creationists!!
    Darwin never proved his hypothesis by biological scientific investigation. He though he did but he didn't.
    It was all lines of reasoning from raw data the exclusion of other lines.
    Darwin exists still as a legitimate thinker ib biology because one can not test his hypothesis. So can't disprove it when nothing there to disprove accept reasoning interpretations of data.
    Thats how creationists should strike at evolution. On the whole matter of science.
    Evolution is not the result of the scientific method. Thats the thing to aim at.
    Case in point is a NOva show called our Inner fish of late.
    Bingo with the methodology problem.

  11. The focus of the word 'darwinism' is neither about NS or drift as the core 'creator' of variation. The focus is on avoiding intelligence as the core causal factor in organisms' development and maintenance.

    So Moran is definetely a darwinist. We can contrast the Darwinist Moran to the non-darwinist scientists like say James Shapiro. He is clearly not darwinian as he readily accepts the observation of intelligence as being central to understanding changes in biological processes.

    The contrast is not natural vs. supernatural as many would suppose but a non-intelligent vs. intelligent approach.

    Larry, slice is any way you like, you are still in the Darwinian pizza parlor. Yeah, so you are not a pepperoni and cheese Darwinist, but perhaps an anchovie one.

    We'll leave that to you to pen a darwinian flavor of the month clarification post.

    1. You understand that the definition you use was made up by IDiots, right? Nobody else uses it. That's OK; we have a term for you too.

  12. Steve said: The contrast is not natural vs. supernatural as many would suppose but a non-intelligent vs. intelligent approach.

    Just what our ancestors said. All things that happen in nature have a cause, and that cause is a god. The sun's diurnal movement across the sky, rains, winds, earthquakes - you name it. a god for this, a god for that.

    That's how they solved the problem before they began to figure out how nature actaully works. Nature is not subejcted to the (good) will of god's, the built-in properties of nature are the ultimate cause of events. That observation has taken us far and for the time being is the only viable approach to how we study what yet may not be known of nature.

    What is the most likely; that we suddenly discover that indeed, there is a God lurking here, without making himself known or detectable by us?

    How long will mankind have to live with the suggestion that contrary to the lesson learned from scientific investigation - that nothing is explained by saying goddidit whereas natural forces have been revealed to account for the observations made. What makes it different this time? Is life something apart from nature, or is it like all else we find just another part of nature? Shall we capitulate and say , All right, you win, let there be a god (or gods). What kind of solution is that? Doesn’t the fact that at least since the 19th century, life has been going and and still is going on all around the planet without intervention from gods? How come we don’t see intervention by divine powers anywhere in the universe – in contrast to old times when people attribute averything to the gods? God’s will is no longer an option, it is superstition.

    Wouldn't it be better for creationists to be prudent and wait for the resolvement of what they want to belive are yet outstanding questions in biology?