Sunday, November 08, 2015

Answering Barry Arrington's challenge: Darwinism

I posted something yesterday about Barry Arrington and irony [You should know the basics of a theory before you attack it]. This got Barry Arringon's attention so he put up his own blog post [Larry Moran’s Irony Meter] where he issues a challenge ....
OK, Larry. I assume you mean to say that I do not understand the basics of Darwinism. I challenge you, therefore, to demonstrate your claim.
Today I'm feeling optimistic—life is good and this evening we're going to a nice restaurant for dinner with our favorite nephew.1 Let's try, once again, to convert this into a teaching moment. Hopefully, at least one or two ID proponents will learn something.2

What do they mean by "Darwinism"?

We have to start with the meaning of "Darwinism." What does Barry Arrington mean when he uses that term? Let's recall what he said yesterday [You Should Know the Basics of a Theory Before You Attack It] in his post on Uncommon Descent ...
Having studied Darwinism for over 20 years, I can tell you what it posits. Therefore, when I attack it, I am attacking the actual thing, not some distortion of the thing that exists nowhere but my own mind.
In order to answer Barry Arrington's challenge we have to try and figure out what he means here. Fortunately, we have a record of a previous discussion about the meaning of Darwinism. It's a discussion initiated by Barry Arrington on Uncommon Descent back in November 2010 ["Darwinism"]. He said ...
I am not satisfied with our definition of “Darwinism” in the glossary over to the right of our home page. The definition is, I think, accurate as far as it goes, but it is incomplete and somewhat vague. In this thread I invite friend and foe alike to provide a brief definition of “Darwinism.” The best entry or a synthesis of the best entries will obtain pride of place as permanent fixture in the UD glossary. Thank you.
The question suggests that he still isn't sure what "Darwinims" means after studying it for 15 years. He tries out a few of his own definitions of "Darwinism" but he's quickly shot down by the other people commenting on that blog post. Here's what he though should be added to the glossary definition ...
Of course, ID proponents do not agree with Darwinism. They believe that Darwinism is a metaphysical presupposition posing as a scientific theory. Grounded in materialistic ideology, it holds that purposeless, mindless, physical mechanisms, manifested as small genetic changes, can drive the evolutionary process to produce all observed complexity and biodiversity on earth. As such, it interprets all evidence in light of its own materialistic ideology and rules out, in principle, any possibility that any part of the evolutionary process could have been designed. Like the mythical bandit Procrustes, who reshaped the bodies of his unfortunate visitors to fit his iron bed, Darwinism reshapes biological evidence to fit its iron clad world view, saying in effect, “fit, damn you, fit.”
That's the sort of conclusion you get from 15 years of study if you are Barry Arrington. It may be what he thinks but it has nothing to do with evolutionary theory. Arrington's view was rejected. The discussion in the comments section of that "Darwinism" post is surprisingly reasonable.

Eventually, Barry Arrington adopts the proposal of kairosfocus (seconded by Jonathan Wells) to use the definition of "Neo-Darwinism" and "The Modern Synthesis" found in the New World Encylopedia (NWE) [Neo-Darwinism]. (The New World Encylopedia is a Moonie project.3)

He (Arrington) adopts this definition in spite of the fact that others point out the difference between "Darwinism" and "Neo-Darwinism" or the "Modern Synthesis." He also ignores the comments from kairosfocus and others that the real version of modern evolutionary theory includes things like Neutral Theory and random genetic drift that are not in the NWE definition. These points are also made in the NWE article itself which gives the impression that the NWE experts see "Neo-Darwinism" and the "Modern Synthesis" as something different than "Darwinism" and certainly not an adequate description of modern evolutionary theory.

The current glossary entry reflects the decision made five years ago. Here it is ...

When ID proponents on this site use the term “Darwinism,” they are referring to Neo-Darwinism, also called the modern evolutionary synthesis or Neo-Darwinian evolution (“NDE”), the basic tenants of which are described in the New World Encyclopedia as follows:
"At the heart of the modern synthesis is the view that evolution is gradual and can be explained by small genetic changes in populations over time, due to the impact of natural selection on the phenotypic variation among individuals in the populations (Mayr 1982; Futuyama 1986). According to the modern synthesis as originally established, genetic variation in populations arises by chance through mutation (it is now known to be caused sometimes by mistakes in DNA replication and via genetic recombination—the crossing over of homologous chromosomes during meiosis). This genetic variation leads to phenotypic changes among members of a population. Evolution consists primarily of changes in the frequencies of alleles between one generation and another as a result of natural selection. Speciation, the creation of new species, is a gradual process that generally occurs when populations become more and more diversified as a result of having been isolated, such as via geographic barriers, and eventually the populations develop mechanisms of reproductive isolation. Over time, these small changes will lead to major changes in design or the creation of new taxa.

A major conclusion of the modern synthesis is that the concept of populations can explain evolutionary changes in a way that is consistent with the observations of naturalists and the known genetic mechanisms (Mayr 1982).

Though agreement is not universal on the parameters of the modern synthesis, many descriptions hold as basic (1) the primacy of natural selection as the creative agent of evolutionary change; (2) gradualism (accumulation of small genetic changes); and (3) the extrapolation of microevolutionary processes (changes within species) to macroevolutionary trends (changes about the species level, such as the origin of new designs and broad patterns in history). Evolutionary change is a shift of the frequency of genes in a population, and macroevolutionary trends come from gradual accumulation of small genetic changes.

Note, for example, the words of two of the leading figures in evolutionary theory, Ernst Mayr and Stephen Jay Gould.
“The proponents of the synthetic theory maintain that all evolution is due to the accumulation of small genetic changes, guided by natural selection, and that transspecific evolution is nothing but an extrapolation and magnification of the events that take place within populations and species.” (Mayr 1963)

“The core of this synthetic theory restates the two most characteristic assertions of Darwin himself: first, that evolution is a two-stage process (random variation as raw material, natural selection as a directing force); secondly, that evolutionary change is generally slow, steady, gradual, and continuous. . . Orthodox neo-Darwinians extrapolate these even and continuous changes to the most profound structural transitions in life.” (Gould 1980)
I'll tentatively accept that Arrington's definition of "Darwinism" is not really "Darwinism" but "Neo-Darwinism" or the "Modern Synthesis" for the purpose of answering Barry Arrington's challenge. However, I note for the record that, strictly speaking, this bait-and-switch actually reveals that he DOES NOT understand the scientific meaning of "Darwinism."

If he's going to use the NWE as an authority then perhaps he should have read their entry on Evolution where it says ...
Darwinism is a term generally synonymous with the theory of natural selection. Harvard evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1982) maintains: "Although 'Darwinism' has often been equated with evolution itself in popular literature, the term should be restricted to the body of thought allied with Darwin's own theory of mechanism [natural selection].” Although the term has been used in various ways depending on who is using it and the time period (Mayr 1991), Gould nonetheless finds a general agreement in the scientific community that "Darwinism should be restricted to the world view encompassed by the theory of natural selection itself."

The term neo-Darwinism is a very different concept. It is considered synonymous with the term "modern synthesis" or "modern evolutionary synthesis." The modern synthesis is the most significant, overall development in evolutionary thought since the time of Darwin, and is the prevailing paradigm of evolutionary biology. The modern synthesis melded the two major theories of classical Darwinism (theory of descent with modification and the theory of natural selection) with the rediscovered Mendelian genetics, recasting Darwin's ideas in terms of changes in allele frequency.
So, given that Barry Arrington mistakenly equates "Darwinism" with "Neo-Darwinism" and the "Modern Synthesis" as proven in the glossary entry, is there any evidence that he doesn't even understand his version of Darwinism?

Yes, there is, lots of it. One of the most blatant examples will be covered in my next post.

Keep in mind that Barry Arrington's version of evolutionary theory is called "Darwinism" but it's not confined to the scientific description of Dawinism as evolution by natural selection. Instead, he is referring to a version of the Modern Synthesis that incorporates common decent and gradualism but still restricts evolution to natural selection. In other words, Barry Arrington has studied evolutionary biology for many years and thinks that it's only about natural selection.

1. The competition isn't great. We only have one nephew!

2. I'm under no illusions that Barry Arrington will be one of them.

3. Here's their Vision: "This project transcends the metaphysical assumptions of both the Enlightenment and Modern Encyclopedias.

The originator of this project is Sun Myung Moon.

NWE editors and contributors promote the ideal of joy and universal happiness through the realization of human responsibility toward self-creation, constructive human relations, and the protection and enhancement of nature and the environment in life and practice. These universal values and ideals are inherent in the great religions, philosophies, and teachings of conscience."


  1. On Barry's thread, a member named Seqener quoted from Sandwalk:

    In one of the comments over at Sandwalk, Jeffrey Shallit has an interesting suggestion:

    “Nearly every university has a course in evolutionary biology. Have Barry take a final exam in that course under equivalent conditions. If he passes, I’d believe him.”

    Barry replied:

    Seqenenre, Shallit is wrong (shocker, I know). Moran made the claim that I do not understand Darwinism. As the one advancing a claim he has the burden of supporting it. He could do that by, for example, pointing to a statement I have made that contains a basic error about Darwinism. If he is unable to support his claim it means he made a claim he cannot back up.

    Apart from Barry's claim that Jeffrey was wrong (About what? Does every university not have a course in evolution? If Barry passed the exam, should Jeffrey not believe this indicates Barry understands evolution?), Barry sounds quite confident that you cannot find any quotes that indicate he does not understand Darwinism. I hope you know what you're doing Larry. It's not like Barry Arrington to shoot his mouth off over something about which he is mistaken. No, not at all.

  2. They can't even spell "Futuyma". The NWE article refers to "Futuyama [sic] 1986" (presumably the second edition of Evolutionary Biology) but has no such publication in the list of references. Arrington just copied and pasted it all with no attention to such detail. I doubt if he's ever so much as opened Douglas Fytuyma's book.

    1. Doug Futuyma told me his name is Polish. (Or the original version is). No wonder you know how to spell it correctly.

    2. It must have been horrendously mangled in the process of Americanisation, so that it doesn't really look Polish any longer, but I'm sure its owner knows better. When I saw it for the first time, years ago, I assumed it was Japanese and had a letter missing. I was quite surprised to find out that the spelling was correct. I suppose many other people's reactions have been similar. But if someone still thinks the name is "Futuyama", it means they aren't really familiar with what he's written. If you see the author's name many times, you are likely to remember how to spell it.

    3. By the way, Barry's Glossary does not mention random drift or neutral evolution, but it includes "technical terms" like the one below:

      Darwinist Derangement Syndrome (“DDS”) is akin to Tourette’s syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by physical and verbal tics in which the patient involuntarily vocalizes grunts and/or nonsense words. Similarly, those who suffer from DDS seem compelled to spout blithering idiotic nonsense in order to avoid a design inference. For example, famous evolutionist Nick Matzke makes a DDS utterance in the following exchange:

      Barry Arrington: “If you came across a table on which was set 500 coins (no tossing involved) and all 500 coins displayed the ‘heads’ side of the coin, would you reject ‘chance’ as a hypothesis to explain this particular configuration of coins on a table?”

      Mark Frank: “. . . they might have slid out of a packet of coins without a chance to turn over.”

      Sal Cordova: “Which still means chance is not the mechanism of the configuration.”

      Matzke: “Not really.”

      That an internationally prominent Darwinist would make such a patently ridiculous utterance is beyond rational explanation and can be explained only by DDS. DDS is a sad and pathetic condition that the editors of UD hope one day to have included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

      Of course Nick's "reply" is a mined quote. Whoever did it (in a supposedly "technical" glossary) is a liar and a jerk, or, to use a technical description, a nasty little turd. Here's the original exchange.

    4. @Piotr, I just went to a site that, based on 93 people named Futuyma, showed me in which countries the name was most prevalent. The highest number are in Ukraina. So maybe Doug's families were interlopers in Poland. This also speaks against the theory that the name changed.

    5. I doesn't sound Ukrainian either. But I found a full database of Polish surnames (based on official census data from the early 1990s) and searched it for names resembling Futuyma. They do exist, though they are rare. The number of Polish citizens who carry a given name is shown in brackets:

      Futyma (832)
      Futoma (279)
      Futymski (27)
      Futyna (13)
      Futujma (5) [Heureka!]
      Futymowski (4)

      For comparison, there are 220217 people called Nowak, 131240 people called Kowalski (the two most common surnames in the country), and 8391 people called Gąsiorowski.

      To sum up the findings so far: Futyma, Futoma and Futujma (and probably Futyna) seem to be variants of the same family name (from which the other names listed above are also derived). The most frequent allele is Futyma, but Douglas Futuyma's ancestors were in all likelihood carriers of the variant Futujma. The Futymas and Futomas are concentrated in SE Poland (in the Rzeszów and Lublin voivodships), close to the Ukrainian border, but there is a secondary hotspot in an around Wrocław (German Breslau) -- the city in which thousands of Poles expelled by the Soviets from what is now Western Ukraine (especially the Lviv/Lwów area) settled in the aftermath of WW2. All the 5 people called Futujma live (or used to live) in Wrocław, and so do all the Futynas.

      I have no idea yet what the etymology of the name could be. I'll report back if get to the bottom of the Futuyma mystery.

    6. Maybe not yet there, but getting closer. There is a village called Futoma in SE Poland. Its name was first documented in 1436 (as Futhomyna) and 1439 (Futhuma). The longer variant can be reconstructed as Futomina, which is a possessive type of name: (village) belonging to someone called Futoma. It demonstrates that Futoma existed as a given personal name (or nickname) already in the 15th century, and probably earlier (hereditary surnames were not yet regularly used at the time). The consonant /f/ was unknown to Proto-Slavic and does not normally occur in inherited words in Polish or Ukrainian (except as a rare development of *ch /x/ (the final sound of loch as pronounced in Scotland), so the name is either foreign or continues earlier *Chutoma. The latter possibility is more likely, since -oma quite often occurs in hypocoristic variants of compound names (like Old Polish Witomir --> Witoma). My best guess at the moment is that there was a Slavic name like that, Polish *Chętomir, regularly corresponding to Ukrainian *Chutomyr, which could be abbreviated to Chutoma (the related and similar names Chotimir and Chotomir are attested in several Slavic languages). In Ukrainian dialects old *ch may be confused with and replaced by /f/ before the vowel /u/, hence the by-form Futoma, used already in the Middle Ages in the bilingual borderland between Poland and Ukraine.

      The existence of the full version Chutomir is supported by the fact that there is a village name derived from it near Lyubeshiv, Ukraine (not far from the modern Polish border):


      Whether I am on the right track or not, Douglas Futuyma has a most interesting name.

    7. So I emailed Doug Futuyma and pointed out this discussion of his name. Here is his reply (I had described this jokingly as "The latest crisis", hence his reference):

      "Fantastic, and fascinating. Thanks so much for sending this to me -- and for sparking the discussion and Gasiorowski's investigation.

      Here is some information that you are free to send to Gasiorowski (or to post on the site, but they are surely tired of this crisis). I had told you long ago that the name came from Poland, because that was what I thought, based on growing up with my Polish paternal grandmother, on having an oldest aunt who identified completely with the Polish-American community, and on knowing nothing about my paternal grandfather. In recent years, I learned (from a friend who looks into such things) that grandfather's immigration entry at Ellis Island is indeed under the name "Futuyma," but I suspect Gasiorowski is absolutely right about the likelihood that this was changed from "Futujma," because I dimly recall, as a child, seeing "aerograms" addressed to "Futujma" in Poland.

      More significantly, 15 or 20 years ago I talked with my father's oldest brother, who was born in Europe, about the family's origins. He told me that my grandfather was from Ukraine and was Russian Orthodox, and that the understanding when he married my Roman Catholic Polish grandmother was that sons would be raised as Orthodox and daughters as Catholic. That didn't happen: the family was fully Roman Catholic in every respect (and you might recall that I attended Catholic grammar and high schools). According to my uncle, the family's home was in Buchach, now in Ukraine near the Polish border (a border that I believe wandered or was nonexistent at times). I once looked up Buchach and found that it had had a majority Jewish population, and is today a destination for some Jewish tour groups.

      I'm grateful to Dr. Gasiorowski for looking into my name and its variants. I doubt I could add any more information, but if he should want to contact me, I would be be pleased.

      My siblings and their progeny will be most interested?"

      (I think he didn't intend the "?" -- JF)

    8. Joe,

      Thanks for the above. I'll contact Professor Futuyma with pleasure. I believe I have found the correct etymology at last. It seems my provisional hypothesis has to be abandoned. The real story is pretty complicated, goes back to the 14th century and (somewhat unexpectedly) involves a third language in addition to Polish and Ukrainian, but since it's off topic here, I'll just share it with the owner of the name.

    9. Damn, just as it was getting interesting. I learn so many things on this blog :P

    10. I agree, I really enjoy Piotr"s etymology and history posts. Fascinating stuff.

    11. Yeah I always wondered where "Futuyma" came from, after initially assuming "Futuyama" back in my early days...

  3. I'm confident that all tribes of creationists only mean to attack evolutionism and not redefine it. Darwinism is just another word for it. There probably is incompetence in keeping up with new developments vut its still just the one target. Those saying fish became fishermen with an inner fish(there was a nOVA series called the Inner fish etc)
    The names don't work well.
    YEC means biblical creationists or Genesis believers yet there are tEC who believe in genesis with no death here till the fall and Adam/eve but accept before the sixth day it could of been millions of years. just so long as nothing in biology or geology etc evolved.
    YET YEC works best. i have people complain to me for using the word evolutionist or evolutionism. We need tags for quick profiling and keyboard typing.

    1. If a million Robert Byers did them some "keyboard typing" for a million years, would even one post that wasn't total, incomprehensible wanking result ?

  4. the basic tenants of which are described in the New World Encyclopedia

    So there are people renting space in some apartment called "Darwinism," who, though they are rather basic people, still merit an encyclopedia entry.


    1. Barry has spent so much time studying Darwinism that his general literacy must have suffered.

    2. Maybe Barry is an expert in real estate law.

  5. We had a wonderful time last night at dinner with our nephew. My day of optimism is over.

    I've read Barry Arrington's latest at: Larry Moran is a Desperate Man. I despair at ever being able to teach him anything and that goes for all his sycophants on Uncommon Descent. They are, in fact, IDiots.

    BTW, how does one get sycophants? I'd like to have some to keep my spirits up from time to time. Can you buy them on eBay?

    1. Larry, you are so great, your words are so wise, and your 'stache is so luxuriant, that you have no need of sycophants.

      That work?

    2. Sites where all the people nominally on the same side are all in perfect agreement on everything are tedious.

    3. @Ken Phelps

      Excellent! Thanks. How much do I owe you?


      Does that mean I can't have sycophants? Boo!

    4. It is all two easy to mispoll a word, as evidenced by the disqussion about Futuyma. I think what Barry Arrington has are 'psychophants'.

  6. I don't think Arrington understands what the English verb "to predict" means. He uses it as though the definition were "to hold the opinion".

    A genuine prediction has to be temporally prior to the outcome, and it is not simply a matter of placing a bet on the winning horse, but having a legitimate and clearly stated reason for doing so. The argument from Ohno in 1971 was theoretical and it occurred long before genomics or even DNA sequencing. When asked to name the ID proponents who "predicted" that junk DNA would turn out to be functional, he points to 2011 book by Jonathan Wells. How can that be a prediction? Evolutionary biologists like Tom Cavalier-Smith were arguing against junk DNA from the 1970s.