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Closet Darwinism, and definitions

Every so often, somebody makes the case that “Darwinism”, “Darwinist” and “Darwinian”, being the generic noun, the individual term, and the adjective of Darwin’s name and therefore (supposedly) theory, are dead terms that cause nothing but harm (see Scott and Branch 2009). Larry Moran has just made this very argument, refusing to be called a “Darwinist” in the face of the fluffy-lapdog-bite challenge of the Intelligent Designists who want to put every one into the white hat/black hat category. We can ignore them here.

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.

Scientific theories are not like, to pick a random example out of my hat,* a religious doctrine or philosophical idea, which remains constant and is defined clearly.** A theory is not a body of ideas; it is a research program as Imre Lakatos called it. It is lines of investigation, based on ideas that are continually refined and revised, often without anyone being aware that is what is happening. And it is a formalisation, usually in mathematics and techniques of analysis, of what start out as verbal formulations.

Consider modern physics. It began with some rough and ready ideas of Galileo on how bodies move, together with some mathematical formulations by Kepler of planetary orbits. When Newton came along and gave a general mathematical account of physics in the Principia, physics did not stop there. In fact, Laplace solved some puzzles (why orbits are stable) as much as 90 years later. And of course, Newton’s work, and the cumulative work of all the physicists in between, like Euler, Lagrange, and many others, occurred before Mach and Einstein came up with our present theories.

It would be hard to “define” Newtonian physics, although there would be some constant simple equations. Likewise, when Darwin proposed “my theory” as he called it, there were many elements to it, some of which did not survive Darwin himself for long (his theory of pangenesis, a theory of inheritance, was effectively dead in the water by 1910, 20 years or so after his death). It is clear that natural selection was one of his major theories, along with sexual selection, but the real novelty of his views was common descent, or as he called it, descent with modification. Natural selection was a refined version of ideas of elimination of the unfit that had a century long history before his own book. Darwin’s novelty was to include natural variation in populations, so that variations that happened to confer some advantage to their bearers would come to predominate the population, ratcheting up the fitness of the group overall.

This idea was not formalised until William Castle in the 1900s combined Mendelian inheritance with selection formally. Later, R. A. Fisher published The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection in 1930. Almost immediately, Sewall Wright introduced the notion of “genetic drift”, whereby populations would “wander” around the “adaptive landscape” due to what he called “sampling error”, where genes could be represented unequally in subsequent populations because of population size and the statistical vagaries of mating. In the 1960s and 1970s, this was further developed as “neutral theory”, whereby most mutations would be “silent” concerning fitness, and through drift could come to be dominant in a population.

All this is often subsumed under the general umbrella of “population genetics”, which was the main evolutionary research program in the 20th century. It culminated in the theoretical work of many, such as Sergey Gavrilets, showing that based on what we know about genetics, genes can evolve just as Darwin saw in nature.

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 point though, is that this is an internecine debate within evolutionary biology, and even more, that both sides claim to be “Darwinians”. I think that from the outside, it appears that evolutionary biology (which certainly derives from Darwin) is like a religion, in that these schisms and schools are all Darwinian. Just as Christianity has a slew of sects, so too does Darwinian biology. The difference is that in the end, biology is determined by empirical evidence, whereas in religion the battles are won by the use of the sword or gun, or more rarely, persuasion based on rhetorical skill.

We might take a term of religion here: “Darwinism” is a big tent. It can include these “non-Darwinian” or “post-Darwinian” ideas because that is exactly how science proceeds. Just as Newtonian physics came to include ideas very unlike what Newton himself had held, so too has Darwinian biology.

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.

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”.

As to the ID folk, basically they do no science, and think very simply. We should ignore what they say as warmed over creationism (creationism also evolves, in this case into ID).

* Not.

** In fact, neither are religious doctrines or philosophical positions, if you ever actually read any history of these fields. Ideas are protean and, dare I say it, evolve.


Castle, William E. 1903. “The laws of Galton and Mendel and some laws governing race improvement by selection.” Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 39:233–242.

Castle, William E. 1910. “The effect of selection upon Mendelian characters manifested in one sex only.” Journal of Experimental Zoology 8 (2):185-192.

Castle, William E. 1911. Heredity: In Relation to Evolution and Animal Breeding. New York, London: D. Appleton and Company

Dennett, Daniel C. 1995. Darwin’s dangerous idea: evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Fisher, Ronald Aylmer. 1930. The genetical theory of natural selection. Oxford UK: Clarendon Press, (rev. ed. Dover, New York, 1958).

Gavrilets, Sergey. 1997. “Evolution and speciation on holey adaptive landscapes.” Trends in Ecology & Evolution 12 (8):307-312.

Gavrilets, Sergey. 2004. Fitness landscapes and the origin of species, Monographs in population biology; v. 41. Princeton, N.J.; Oxford, England: Princeton University Press.

Lakatos, Imre. 1970. “Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programmes.” In Criticism and the growth of knowledge, edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, 91-196. London: Cambridge University Press.

Scott, Eugenie C., and Glenn Branch. 2009. “Don’t Call it “Darwinism”.” Evolution: Education and Outreach 2 (1):90-94.

Wright, Sewall. 1931. “Evolution in Mendelian populations.” Genetics 16 (2):97-159.

Wright, Sewall. 1932. “The roles of mutation, inbreeding, crossbreeding and selection in evolution.” In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics, edited by Donald F. Jones, 356-366. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.


  1. Gary Nelson Gary Nelson

    I have a problem with Darwinism, stemming from Mayr (One long argument, p. 104):

    “The truth of the matter is that unless a person is still an adherent of creationism and believes in the literal truth of every word in the Bible, every modern thinker — any modern person who has a worldview — is in the last analysis a Darwinian.”

    Codswallop — pure and simple!

    • We could call this the “Overdominant” specification of Darwinism. Mayr’s notion of “Darwinism” is so vague as to be meaningless.

  2. Gary Nelson Gary Nelson

    No doubt. But is there any other “scientific” ism for which there is similar “authoritative” pronouncement?

    • Interesting question. I would warrant there is, but I’m not familiar with any. Possibly in string theory debates.

  3. I suspect there are several “Darwinisms” in play. One is the idea that selection is all that matters: we could perhaps call this Priceanism. Another is the social idea of Darwinism as a tribal marker for the Enlightened. Another is the broad sense of evolutionary biology that I think the general biological community means by it. Mayr’s comment is senses one and two, I think.

  4. Subscribe to everything, but one caveat. I like to think of evidence as setting constraints to what falls within science and what does fall outside rather than deciding a controversy that is internal to science.

    That way it is easier to understand, for example, how the vintage controversy between classic and balance theories of population genetics was apparently not decided by the flow of evidence coming from sequence data (first on enzymes later on DNA), but rather transformed into another controversy between neutralists and selectionist.

    • You’d call that underdetermination, I guess. But do not scientific controversies have the eerie habit of always settling on underdetermined issues?

      No controversy when evidence determines a matter as straightforward as in the structure of the DNA, for example – some x-ray diffraction photographs and some models of nucleotides et voilá.

      Therefore it is almost trivial to find controversies in underdetermined situations. What is strange is that many controversies never really get decided eventually, but simply fade or merge into some other controversy.

      • As a general rule, when a science is involved in long standing philosophical, conceptual or methodological disputes, it has ceased making progress (in that area). Evidence decides, but in issues where there is none to speak of, disputes become political and personal.

  5. I don’t think I am completely onboard with your definition. It seems unreasonably broad, what are some examples of biological evolution that aren’t Darwinian in this big tent view? If it is really that broad then what is then why not just call it evolution?

    Personally, I prefer my name-isms to have sharp contrast and so I define Darwinism according as the polar compliment of Lamarckism. I.e. the extreme stance that evolution depends exclusively on information transfer through heritable traits present at birth. The idea is that we can then find the ‘real world’ somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes of Dism and Lism, with a proper incorporation of things like phenotypic plasticity and Baldwin effect. For example, I use this sort of definition of Dism when naming algorithmic Darwinism. Is that a historic reasonable use?

    • Technically that is either Weismannism or Mendelism, or if you want to bring it up to the modern era, Central Dogma.

  6. Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

    “As to the ID folk, basically they do no science, and think very simply. We should ignore what they say as warmed over creationism (creationism also evolves, in this case into ID).”

    John, this is pure ad hominem stuff, and actually not that hard to refute.

    Perhaps there’s a match between your remarks above and your later comment:

    “Evidence decides, but in issues where there is none to speak of, disputes become political and personal.”

  7. michaelfugate michaelfugate

    Richard, Name one single bit of science the modern intelligent design community has performed to address design? You can also include the creationist community as well. Writing screeds against evolution is not doing science. It is not an “either or” question – if not evolution then creation. Another “look here is something I don’t believe evolution can currently answer” trope is not doing science. Repeating Genesis in sciency-sounding language is not doing science. And don’t try to pawn off creationists doing science in other fields, but individuals actually testing the hypothesis of design – it just doesn’t happen. When push comes to shove – if someone wants to do science, they can no longer do creation, they must use common descent, an old earth, no worldwide flood, etc. as guiding their work. You can’t design a scientific program around a designer that 1) you don’t know or won’t name and 2) if you name have no idea how it designed.

    “Evidence decides, but in issues where there is none to speak of, disputes become political and personal.”

    So you admit that creationism has no evidence.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      Hi, Michael.

      “Name one single bit of science the modern intelligent design community has performed to address design?”

      Why only one? Here you go:

      “Writing screeds against evolution is not doing science.”

      The word “screed” is defined by Google as “a long speech or piece of writing, typically one regarded as tedious.” A piece of writing is not unscientific just because it is long or considered tedious. Darwin described his Origin of Species as “one long argument” — so would you say it was therefore not scientific? Further, if writing in favour of a particular theory can be scientific, so can writing against that same theory, insofar as science-based arguments are used.

      “It is not an ‘either or’ question – if not evolution then creation.”

      Unless you genuinely consider “theistic evolution” to be a valid option, there are only two live scientific possibilities: undesigned materialistic evolution, or divinely designed creation.

      “Another ‘look here is something I don’t believe evolution can currently answer’ trope is not doing science.”

      Why not? (Not that I myself tend to argue in such a fashion.) If someone with scientific credentials were to use science-based argumentation to support such a view, how would you show he is “not doing science”? But if someone with scientific credentials were to present a science-based argument that evolution can explain a certain phenomenon, would you then equally denounce that person as “not doing science”? If not, why not?

      “Repeating Genesis in sciency-sounding language is not doing science.”

      Why not? Darwin actually used a lot of theological argumentation in his 1859 book. Would you accuse him of “not doing science”? You must have a pretty strict definition of what it means to “do science.”

      “When push comes to shove – if someone wants to do science, they can no longer do creation, they must use common descent, an old earth, no worldwide flood, etc. as guiding their work.”

      So laboratory physicists, graphene chemists, and experimental biologists can’t “do science” without intentionally and actively invoking concepts related to anti-biblical speculative historical reconstructions of the distant past? Seriously?

      “You can’t design a scientific program around a designer that 1) you don’t know or won’t name and 2) if you name have no idea how it designed.”

      Why not? Detection of design — even where we can’t specify who the designer is or was — is done regularly in many fields, such as SETI, archaeology, forensics, cryptography . . .

      ” ‘Evidence decides, but in issues where there is none to speak of, disputes become political and personal.’ So you admit that creationism has no evidence.”

      Ah, very sly, Michael! I appreciate your sense of humour. But no, I was linking John’s personal remarks against “ID folk” with his analysis of how disputes become personal (and political) when evidence is wanting. To make it crystal clear for you, my suggestion is that, since John was the one making the personal (ad hominem) remarks, the lack of evidence would seem to belong to his (and your) side.

      (I recognize that the foregoing is technically an example of affirming the consequent which will not hold up in philosophical court. Ah, well. It’s no worse than various other comments that are being made on this blog.) 🙂

      • Richard, here is what I said:

        As a general rule, when a science is involved in long standing philosophical, conceptual or methodological disputes, it has ceased making progress (in that area). Evidence decides, but in issues where there is none to speak of, disputes become political and personal.

        Note the phrase “when a science”. There is no scientific dispute that evolution occurs. There is considerable dispute about whether or not it is all adaptation, or even whether all adaptation is caused by natural selection. These are philosophical disputes because no evidence seems to resolve the matter.

        This is not ad hominem. Neither, in the sense of a fallacy, is the claim that ID does no science. This is merely reportage. If they did some, and there was nothing to decide between the evolutionary and the ID approaches, then it would be merely a philosophical difference, but as they do none, it is a scientific issue that has been roundly resolved in favour of evolution.

        Science is not philosophy. When people cease doing science then that is all it is.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “ID does no science”

          When Michael Fugate made that claim, I offered him this link:

          Michael has scoffed at my referencing a pro-ID site — but where else shall I send him, or you? Certainly not to a pro-evolution, anti-ID site! If the reference I provided is ruled inadmissible simply on the basis that it’s pro-ID, then your claim is true only by definition, not by a reasoned argument.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          More humor – no doubt unintentional – from Richard’s source.

          Despite ID’s publication record, we note parenthetically that recognition in peer-reviewed literature is not an absolute requirement to demonstrate an idea’s scientific merit. Darwin’s own theory of evolution was first published in a book for a general and scientific audience — his Origin of Species — not in a peer-reviewed paper. Nonetheless, ID’s peer-reviewed publication record shows that it deserves — and is receiving — serious consideration by the scientific community.

          Really? – this is their justification for producing no science that can muster peer review? That Darwin conversed with and learned from and vetted his work among the top scientists of his day, that Darwin revised his work in response to his critics – that Darwin did actual experiments to test his ideas – that Darwin incorporated all the published data and asked others for unpublished data to get a picture based on all available evidence – I could go on, but the DI does none of these things – read the reviews of Behe, Meyer, Demski and the like – they couldn’t even approach Darwin as a scientist even with the benefit of living 150 years in the future. The only consideration by scientists ID gets is how seriously comic these clowns are in pretending to do science.

          If you truly believe that the DI is doing science, then you clearly do not understand what science is. Science is not Christian apologetics – totally different.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          OK, Michael, you’ve caught my attention. I’m glad to know you’ve fully solved the Demarcation Problem.

          So please instruct me, in some detail, “what science is” and what “doing science” means, according to you.

        • TomS TomS

          I trust that you inquire of advocates of ID, when they claim to be doing science, what their solution is to the demarcation problem. Especially as they are doing a different kind of science, they must have criteria to differ whatever they are doing from the other kind of science, as well as from other possible activities (there are things that would fail to meet their criteria, aren’t there?), or doing nothing at all.

          Meanwhile, we might note that one need not solve the demarcatlon problem to tell the difference between science and, say, whistling Dixie, offering gifts to the Oracle of Delphi, or playing Calvinball.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          I already covered this in previous replies for which your only answer is “but evolution isn’t science either.” Which just tells me you don’t have a case.

          The case against creationists and IDists is that evidence has no effect on their answers – it is the always the same no matter what new observations or experimental results are available. Nothing would change your mind.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          And Richard, what is the state of creationism today – in response to being told it is not science – its proponents often claim evolution is not science. So which story are you sticking to – evolution is science and creationism/ID is science or both are not science? Or is it some other combination? Can you make a case for your conclusion? Why do you think creationism/ID is or isn’t science?

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          TomS, you wrote: “I trust that you inquire of advocates of ID, when they claim to be doing science, what their solution is to the demarcation problem.” Well, ID advocates have addressed the demarcation issue (they don’t think a solution is available):

          You also wrote: “Meanwhile, we might note that one need not solve the demarcatlon problem to tell the difference between science and, say, whistling Dixie, offering gifts to the Oracle of Delphi, or playing Calvinball.”

          Do adherents of those things claim to be doing science? Only if they actually do, is there an issue.

          Michael Fugate, in response to my question “So please instruct me, in some detail, ‘what science is’ and what ‘doing science’ means, according to you.”, you wrote: “I already covered this”. Please remind me where you already covered this (a link would be nice).

          You also wrote: “So which story are you sticking to – evolution is science and creationism/ID is science or both are not science? Or is it some other combination? Can you make a case for your conclusion? Why do you think creationism/ID is or isn’t science?”

          Creation and evolution are both theories (i.e., broad explanatory systems) involving some scientific aspects and some other aspects (philosophy, rhetoric, etc.). The two theories both have aspects that are observable (or testable, or falsifiable, or scientific by some other criterion), and other aspects that resist falsification.

          Duane Gish (if you are willing to read him) in 1981 made a clear case that “The creation model is at least as scientific as the evolution model, and is at least as nonreligious as the evolution model.”

        • DogMachine DogMachine

          “ID does no science.”

          There is a lot wrong with ID, but the claim that they do no science is completely false. They are loaded with science, be it experimental or mathematical models. They have entire libraries full of science.

          And their scientific findings are technically correct.

          The problems with ID start with the fact that they have a religious agenda. They have to be suspect for that reason alone. They are very much like the materialists with their overtly atheist agenda.

          Secondly, their leaders, the DI, have a history of duplicity,

          Third, ID is far too wide an umbrella. It includes everything from biblical hard-line creationists to Darwinist evolutionists who believe in immaterial consciousness.

          My personal peeve with ID is the word “design”. I believe this word was intentionally used to direct thinking toward a remote God-like designer. Intelligence involves so much more than merely the design.

          A reader below correctly pointed out that if Mt. Rushmore had been merely designed, without any actionable execution, then the sculpture wouldn’t exist. Intelligent evolution includes purposive movement of matter, as seen in all aspects of life.

          Design alone does nothing. Therefore ID can’t work any more than the failures of Darwinism or abiogenesis.

          …But contrary to the Darwinists, ID does do science to support its case.

        • Id devotees do science, but it is not ID science. ID devotees do fill large volumes with various kinds of math and mathspeak, but it is not science. No actual scientific research into ID is done or published.

          I have a large library of science too, but I’m not a scientist, I’m a philosopher, Jim!

    • TomS TomS

      It is not so much a matter of “no evidence” as “there is no alternative”. Even Young Earth Creationism, which does at least tell us when, there is no description what it might it have been like when “kinds” were created – unless one counts Omphalism – that the world of life appeared over a short (much less than a generation time) stretch of time with all the appearances of having had a history. I do not count Theistic Evolution as being an alternative to “common descent with modification”. There is nothing for which it makes sense to speak of evidence – for Omphalism is immune to evidence. (Unless one cares to make a case for the hopeless “Arkeology” – one can adhere to that only by a practical decision not to count evidence.)

  8. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate


    Please try to understand what science is before engaging in an argument about science.

    Citing the Discover Institute – now who is being deliberately humorous? Science is not part of their MO, but writing sciency-sounding screeds full of tropes is.

    Nice try to hijack an argument by riffing on the word screed and missing the point completely.

    Creationism has been thoroughly refuted, so it is not even an option and your lack of imagination leads you to believe that other options are not possible – ones we have yet to consider. For any question in science there are always more hypotheses than those we test or even can currently imagine. If you truly believe it is an either-or, then you lost at least 150 years ago.

    Picking out a minor detail in well-established theory does not invalidate the theory – once again go read about how science is done. Better yet go do some science, but if you did it might blow holes in you beliefs – so better not.

    Your Genesis answer is hilarious – really if I take any crackpot myth and dress it up in science language it becomes science? If I take talking horse heads from Grimm’s fairy tales or Odin’s talking crows and reinterpret those stories to make them sound like science it becomes science – make each a fact – it becomes fact? I am giggling so much I can hardly write. This is the realm of woomeisters – memory in water molecules and ESP.

    Your last is even sillier – especially as I have explained this to you two or three times maybe more – yet you still keep repeating the same tired inanities. We can do forensics, archeology, etc. because we know the designers are humans and we know how humans design. SETI is likely a waste of time – who knows what they are looking for there. Unless you believe your God is just another human, then you’ve got nothing.

    I have never said that there is no evidence for creation or design – that is certainly incorrect – it is solely that the evidence better fits common descent.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      All right, Michael, it’s cute that you’re in giggle mode.

      Enjoy it while you can.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Thanks for the link, Michael. I’ve carefully read Giberson’s article. (Wow! What sour grapes!) I’ll watch the full debate later.

          Contrary to your suggestion, I didn’t notice any ID advocates agreeing “that ID is not science”. Giberson does quote Nelson (along with Johnson) as noting that there is not yet any “full-fledged theory of biological design” — but that isn’t the same thing.

          In terms of answering “who, what, when, where or how”, it seems to me that evolutionary theorists are missing full-fledged understanding of such particulars as well. “When discussing organic evolution, the only point of agreement seems to be: ‘It happened.'” (Cambridge University’s Simon Conway Morris, in the prestigious journal Cell, Jan. 7, 2000)

          So by that criterion, evolution isn’t science either?

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          So you admit creationism is not science.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Michael, I wrote: “So by that criterion, evolution isn’t science either?” — plainly questioning your logic.

          You then snapped back with: “So you admit creationism is not science.” Cute, but an obvious non sequitur.

          Creation and evolution both have scientific aspects, and other aspects. See my response to you and TomS, jointly, above.

        • Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

          Richard, evolution is a science – countless philosophy of science papers exist that demonstrate this – many referenced on this blog. That is a given. You, on the other hand, need to demonstrate that creationism in its modern from is – creationism, one could say, once was, but is it now? I would say no. The DI is not in the science business – if it were it would be trying to develop a full-fledged theory of design, but it isn’t. It is content with conspiracy theories, polemics, legal arguments and the like. It is a PR firm, not a research institute.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          That of course should be modern “form” not from.

          I find it curious that evolution developed into a “full-fledged theory” in a very short time, but creation, which has been present since the beginning of modern science, still hasn’t. Why is this so?

        • Richard, you really should read Sedley directly. He says that creationism is not a Christian invention by a Socratic/Platonic invention.

          Moreover, while ID is a new theory, relatively speaking, it has roots that have borne little to no scientific fruit as far back as the 18th century, so it had its chance. It was abandoned because it was barren, scientifically.

          All philosophers of science know that science is not infallible. This is not news. In fact, it is the whole point: we are fallible knowers, so the really interesting question is how we come to know anything (hint: not by revelation).

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “Richard, you really should read Sedley directly.”

          I did, actually. I bought the book when it was new and read it cover to cover.

          “He says that creationism is not a Christian invention by a Socratic/Platonic invention.”

          Depends what you mean by “creationism.” Sedley writes, “There are two plausible ways in which, if taken as historically authentic, this Socrates [described by Xenophon] marks a new beginning, and thus, both symbolically and intellectually, heralds the close of the Presocratic era. One of these lies in the fact that by his day the creative power of accident had, thanks to its advocacy by the atomists, emerged as an explanatory model aspiring to compete with intelligent causation. This would almost certainly be why Socrates became the first to argue [Sedley’s italics] for the creationist option against the rival materialist hypothesis. Thus it was that the Argument from Design entered the scene.” (pp. 82f.)

          So if “creationism” means formulating intellectual arguments to engage a rival view, then sure, Socrates may have originated creationism in that sense. On the other hand, Sedley identifies Anaxagoras’s writings as “the first Greek manifesto of rational creationism” (p. 31). And, of course, believers in creation (e.g., Jews) were around long before either Socrates or Anaxagoras.

          “Moreover, while ID is a new theory, relatively speaking, it has roots that have borne little to no scientific fruit as far back as the 18th century, so it had its chance. It was abandoned because it was barren, scientifically.”

          We shall see. It ain’t over till it’s over. “No fruit yet” (even if that assessment were accepted as fully true) is not the strongest argument against a view.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “… evolution is a science – countless philosophy of science papers exist that demonstrate this – many referenced on this blog. That is a given.”

          Michael, if it has to be demonstrated, it’s obviously not a “given” — countless philosophy papers notwithstanding.

          Nonetheless, I allow that evolutionary theory has some scientific aspects — as does creation theory or Intelligent Design theory.

          But evolution is certainly not all science. (Nor is it necessarily good science.)

          “Evolutionary scenarios are an artform. They usefully exercise the brain, causing us to look at old data in new ways and stimulating us to collect new data. They do not have to be true!”

          — W. Ford Doolittle, leading theorist on the (alleged) evolutionary origins of basic types of organisms, Dalhousie University (Reviewer’s report 1, in Eugene V. Koonin, Tatiana G. Senkevich, and Valerian V. Dolja, “The ancient Virus World and evolution of cells.” Biology Direct 2006, 1:29

        • Keyword in Doolittle’s quote, if it is not lifted from context, is “scenarios”. We know things evolved – what he is arguing is that we do not know with great certainty how they evolved (and I agree with him; historical reconstructions are not knowledge, but rather scenarios).

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “Keyword in Doolittle’s quote, if it is not lifted from context, is ‘scenarios’.”

          I provided a link. You can check the context.

          “We know things evolved – what he is arguing is that we do not know with great certainty how they evolved (and I agree with him; historical reconstructions are not knowledge, but rather scenarios).”

          Virtually all of evolution (other than modern field or laboratory studies of small changes within a particular species) involves “historical reconstructions.” I fully agree with you that these are “not knowledge,” being only “scenarios.”

          But if we don’t know any of the details for certain, how do we really “know” things evolved?

          “When discussing organic evolution, the only point of agreement seems to be: ‘It happened.'”
          — Simon Conway Morris, paleontologist, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge. “Evolution: Bringing Molecules into the Fold.” Cell 100:1 (Jan. 7, 2000).

        • I was not challenging you on context – but it is a common issue with creationists who use scientists’ comments.

          I do not think that historical reconstructions are problematic in one way: we infer from the data the likely scenario by which a species or trait evolved. This, however, is the explanans not the explanandum: we explain the distribution of specimens and traits by a historical account. There are well established such scenarios and less well established. What I take Doolittle to be saying, and what I agree with, is that these are inferences not data, and too many scientists think that a phylogeny is data rather than a model.

          It is not illicit for scientists to make models – arguably that is the point of doing science. But any such model of the present or the past is to be assessed by actual data, not by other models, except insofar as they are themselves based on data.

          Some events will never be firmly established or even known. This is because history erases information about the world. But we have a slew of data points that can test such models when they are testable at all. For example, we know, to a very high degree of certainty, that the world is 4.55 billion years old and that life arose 3.85 billion years ago, because physical data indicates this. So many younger scenarios are simply ruled out.

          The origins of life will never be known precisely, in my view, but we will come up with viable scenarios that show that it can originate by natural means (the wealth of data here is enormous). So arguments that it cannot can be ruled out of contention by present scientific data (such as radioactive decay rates, etc.).

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          John — Much of your comment I agree with, but I will take issue with this statement:
          “For example, we know, to a very high degree of certainty, that . . . life arose 3.85 billion years ago, because physical data indicates this.”

          This is quite doubtful, even from an evolutionary point of view.

          Several years ago I investigated this topic in detail, and found the alleged evidence to be quite shaky. A variety of claimed cellular fossils and chemical evidence from Australia, Greenland, and South Africa has all been under a cloud for the last 12 years. (Newer claims keep arising, of course.)

          Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath wrote, “To my regret, the ancient Greenland rocks have not yet produced any compelling evidence for the existence of life by 3.8 billion years ago.” Stephen Moorbath. 2005 (Mar 10). “Dating earliest life.” Nature 434:155.

          Moorbath concluded that article: “For the time being, the many claims for life in the first 2.0-2.5 billion years of Earth’s history are once again being vigorously debated: true consensus for life’s existence seems to be reached only with the bacterial fossils of the 1.9-billion-year-old Gunflint Formation of Ontario.”

          Regarding fossils dated prior to 1.9 billion years ago, Harvard paleontologist Andrew Knoll could only offer: “A single fossil in 2.7-billion-year-old cherts from Australia looks tantalizingly but not unambiguously cyanobacterial, and 2.5-billion-year-old cherts from South Africa contain indifferently preserved remains that could be blue-greens, as well. Fortunately, better evidence of cyanobacterial antiquity comes from an unexpected source—biomarker molecules [i.e., not cells!] in 2.7-billion-year-old shales found just south of North Pole in northwestern Australia.” Andrew Knoll. 2005. Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 93.

          I’ve written all of this up at length, with extensive quotes from the scientific literature:

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Couple of further thoughts, Michael:

          “… evolution is a science – countless philosophy of science papers exist that demonstrate this – many referenced on this blog.”

          You say “countless” philosophy papers “demonstrate” this. The word “countless” is obviously hyperbolic, meaning “lots”. And the word “demonstrate” must be hyperbolic as well, because if the first philosopher had truly demonstrated (proved conclusively and convincingly) that evolution is science, the others would be unnecessary.

          The fact (if such it is) that “countless” papers have attempted to “demonstrate” the same thing would seem to indicate that it must be a difficult or dicey thing to demonstrate.

          “The DI is not in the science business – if it were it would be trying to develop a full-fledged theory of design, but it isn’t. It is content with conspiracy theories, polemics, legal arguments and the like. It is a PR firm, not a research institute.”

          The idea that an organization, if involved in “PR,” cannot also be in the “science business,” would have to mean that the NCSE is also not in the science business. I enjoy that conclusion, but I’m afraid I must question your premise.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Richard, it is like water off a duck’s back with you. We keep pointing out how you don’t understand what science is and you keep ignoring our comments. What is it that makes you think quoting chapter and verse from a scientist translates into an answer? Scientists are not infallible – so why act as if they are?

          Never said the NCSE was doing science – they promote evolution in schools, they don’t do science. Once again, this has nothing to do with whether ID or creation is science. Even if evolution were not science, ID/creation would need to justify that it is. Why keep thinking this is an either or? Why might I ask during the Dover trial did the DI never show up? Why couldn’t anyone in the ID/creation community convince a judge that ID/creation was science? Where were the philosophers, the historians, the lawyers who advocate ID/creation?

          Although Tom S would disagree, I think, ID/creation could be hammered into science, but it doesn’t come close at present. Maartan Boudry has some interesting commentary on this issue which I think have great merit.
          See for instance his review of Massimo Pigliucci’s “Nonsense on Stilts”:

          He and Massimo have also written on the demarcation problem.

          When in the past I have brought up the who, what, how of creation, you have made no effort to answer and only retort it’s the same with evolution. If you had any positive evidence you would bring it up, wouldn’t you. Yet all we get is negative evidence, why?

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “We keep pointing out how you don’t understand what science is and you keep ignoring our comments.”

          Come on, Michael. You claimed that you’ve told me what science is, so then I asked you to tell me what you said or where you said it, but you’ve declined to respond properly. Sorry, but currently I’m skeptical that you’re able to definitively delineate what science is.

          “Why might I ask during the Dover trial did the DI never show up? Why couldn’t anyone in the ID/creation community convince a judge that ID/creation was science?”

          The ID folks have responded in detail to the Dover business. Have you carefully read what they say?

          “Maartan Boudry has some interesting commentary on this issue which I think have great merit. See for instance his review of Massimo Pigliucci’s ‘Nonsense on Stilts’:

          An interesting article indeed. I noted several issues on which Boudry stated his disagreement with Pigliucci (and with Judge Jones as well). As you wrote, “scientists [and philosophers and lawyers] are not infallible”.

          “When in the past I have brought up the who, what, how of creation, you have made no effort to answer and only retort it’s the same with evolution.”

          Nothing wrong with doing that. The point is that all origins theories or perspectives face a variety of difficulties including paucity of data. But as for the who etc., you can read about it in Genesis 1.

          “If you had any positive evidence you would bring it up, wouldn’t you. Yet all we get is negative evidence, why?”

          Along with God’s Word on the subject, and the strong display of design in cells and organisms, there is plenty of positive scientific evidence for creation:

        • Please do not proselytise. I will allow this because you and Michael are discussing the issues, but this skates too close to my boundaries for noise rather than signal.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          I understand your concern, John, and appreciate your tolerance. Once again, I do recognize whose website this is.

          But it seems to me I was simply giving direct (and brief) answers to issues Michael raised.

        • TomS TomS

          I’m not sure what it would mean to hammer something into science. Maybe something like alchemy is beyond hope, but astrology might be helped by the discovery of a force accounting for influences?

          Anyway, my opinion, FWIW, goes something like this:
          “…the most credible philosophical argument against ID being treated as science is to point out the absence of any positive specification of its fundamental concepts, intelligence and design … . The basic claim is that, in the absence of such a specification, ID cannot be a substantive theory, scientific or not. In the case of intelligence, there is no positive specification at all. In the case of design, there is no coherent specification.”
          page 302 in
          Sarkar, “The science question in intelligent design”
          ”Synthese”, volume 178 number 2 (2011), pages 291-305,
          doi 10.1007/s11229-009-9540-x

          In particular, not a theory, scientific or not.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Definitely not a theory. Without operationally defining terms, it is not even a hypothesis.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Richard, this is about your ability to make the case for creationism/ID as science. Get off your ass and make it.
          Evolution is already consider good science – I don’t need to make its case, but you need to argue for your side. You lost at Dover because your side couldn’t make the case for ID as science. Do it now – no quotes, no links – just a straight argument in your own words.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          No need to be rude, Michael. Let’s maintain a civil discussion here.

          For the case for creation, see my recent post that John took me to task for, alleging that I was “proselytising”.

        • Jeb Jeb

          Article made me cringe particularly as the writer seemed to have difficulty in grasping that the rest of the world is not America and experience regarding debates surrounding evolution may be somewhat different.

          I don’t think it was sour grapes just reflects the tensions North American culture and its divisions.

          Thing I found interesting was the comments about debate as a form of cheer-leading then highlighting webbed feet and tails.

          In popular debate in the late 1870’S I suspect evolutionists may have gone for a different narrative approach.

          Using that one would have gone down like a pooh filled balloon on a sceptically audience who were highly familiar with older tales about such things that were reanimated in this period as interest and gossip grew.

          Darwinism did seem to result in people trawling back through history and old forms of popular fiction to find an attack vector (or simply to entertain and amuse using an of the moment and topical theme) that would have broad appeal.

          Here is Darwin’s terse and indirect response to an early satirical response and popular debate on the theme of tails.

          “Dear Sir

          My father directs me to thank you for your account of the alleged discovery in New Ireland. My father does not believe in the existence of the tailed men, but even if it should prove true it would (as a mere inherited monstrosity) have no important bearing on evolution

          Yours Faithfully

          Francis Darwin

          January 4, 1877”

          The charge I suspect he was trying to avoid was that Darwinism was simply a rehashed version of Monboddoism (the term used in the press) Lord Monboddo the late 17th century Scottish philosopher was presented in this period as believer in aquatic apes and tailed men.

          Both sides in this debate come to mirror each other I think and use the same narrative tactics, although whats going to work or spectacularly fail is somewhat context sensitive.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Of course there are similarities; modern creationism is a direct response to scientific findings and creationists have chosen to fight evolution by emulating science – however poorly. Creationists have created a veneer of scholarly-sounding rhetoric to hide a strict reading of select portions of the Bible – assuming those stories to be historically and scientifically accurate. Are scientists naive? yes. Do they use bad/inappropriate analogies? again yes.

        • TomS TomS

          I believe that the imitation of science began a bit earlier, which the “Common Sense” philosophy of Thomas Reid, and taking Francis Bacon’s characterization of science as induction, and applying that method to theology. As I recall, Archibald Alexander and the Princeton School in the earliest 19st centrury were the promoters of this “scientific” theology.

  9. TomS TomS

    We don’t have enough of a description of “creation” or “design” to know what evidence for (or against) them would look like.

    What do know about design, it is not enough to account for the existence of something: If I ask about the origin of the sculptures on Mt. Rushmore, my question is not answered by “they were designed” – especially not, if by “design” one includes the “design” of natural objects. Many things are designed which never were realized: from the Superconducting Supercollider to a “Penrose triangle”.

  10. David Duffy David Duffy

    I was thinking that there is one relatively recent relevant usage: “Darwinian Medicine” (from ~1990 onwards). The hypotheses there are usually explicitly adaptationist.

    • TomS TomS

      Thanks. This led me to look: Wikipedia has articles on “Darwinian selection”, “Darwinian algorithm”, “Darwinian fitness”, “Darwinian literary studies” as well as “Darwinian medicine”.

      • Don’t forget Darwinian economics and Darwinian archeology…

  11. … a religious doctrine or philosophical idea, which remains constant and is defined clearly.** …** In fact, neither are religious doctrines or philosophical positions…

    Apparently this second note intends to clarify a lack of constancy, but an even greater weakness of the first claim jumps out. Religious concepts such as “trinity” and trans/con-substantiation have “definitions” by the shelf-length, but can’t muster clarity if their (after-) lives depended on it.

    Nor would I feel much shock if someone offered comparable examples from the wonderful world of philosophy, but I will let others rush in angelically where this fool fears to tread.

  12. TomS TomS

    Richard Peachy tells us:
    0) We have no basis for a status of science, yes or no, lacking a solution to the demarcation issue
    1) ID advocates tell us that there is no available solution to the demarcation issue
    2) That the lack of a claim to be science is a basis for a negative judgement of a status of science.

    If one accepts the claim in (1), and (0), then there is no more basis for anything to be science than there is for it to be science. Thus there is no basis for ID advocates to claim that ID is science. If ID advocates have no basis for a claim of science, then (2) tells that there is basis for a negative judgement for ID being science.

    Aside: If X is needed to deny Y, is X not also needed to claim Y? If not, then is it “anything goes” as far as positive claims for Y? With no way available to rebut those claims, everything is Y. And if everything is Y, then is no positive content to a claim of being Y.
    Aside: Is a meta-theoretic statement (the supporters of Z say W about it) part of the nature of the theory (Z)? In particular, if a genuine scientist makes a genuine science discovery, but is naive about philosophy of science (for example, holding a particular position about the demarcation problem), or is diffident, or is distracted, or is mistaken about the discovery (thinking that it is something that it is not), that the scientist makes no claim to its being a scientific discovery – because of the scientist’s omission, the status of the discovery is different?
    Aside: On what basis do you make the claim (2), when you claim (0)? Even ignoring (0), why should believe (2)? You gave us no reason for (2), and thus it has the look of an ad hoc reply.

    • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

      TomS, I’m sure your argument is brilliant and watertight, what with all the symbolic jargon and everything.

      You lost me, however, when you numbered my first point as “0”. What’s up with that??

      (Except, actually, none of those points are really mine. Also, the demarcation problem is not something made up by ID advocates. Also, if you wouldn’t mind spelling my name correctly. 🙂 )

      • TomS TomS

        We’re all aware that ID has nothing to say.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          “We … all” — Who’s that? All humans? Or all arrogant anti-theist academics? Or all opinionated self-appointed intellectuals whose method of debating amounts to simple dismissal of any opposition?

          “nothing to say” — Really? Have you diligently read, with care, Stephen Meyer’s Signature in the Cell, nominated as a 2009 book of the year by atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel:
          “Meyer is a Christian, but atheists, and theists who believe God never intervenes in the natural world, will be instructed by his careful presentation of this fiendishly difficult problem.”

          You may utterly disagree with both Meyer’s argument and Nagel’s approbation, but I suggest it’s difficult to maintain that leading ID advocates have “nothing” to say.

        • TomS TomS

          As I said, I am having trouble with posting more than a few lines. I see, however, that I am “arrogant” and “opinionated self-appointed intellectual[s]”. I see no point in responding to insults. “Discussion” closed.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          My “insults” were all followed by question marks. I gave you several options. You could have chosen to explain yourself properly.

          Your own insult, on the other hand (“nothing to say”), was firm, declarative, and general, leaving nothing to the imagination.

          But the discussion can be closed if you want.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          The argument from personal incredulity made by Nagel is unbecoming a philosopher of his caliber. One would expect much, much better. Meyer has tried to take this same incredulity and justify it using bogus probabilities – something one could make for any event in the universe. It easily fools the unwashed masses, but some of use have indoor plumbing and water heaters.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          No problem, Michael. As I said: “You may utterly disagree with both Meyer’s argument and Nagel’s approbation, but I suggest it’s difficult to maintain that leading ID advocates have ‘nothing’ to say.”

          If you want to argue with Nagel, go for it. But remember, he’s a nontheist and an evolutionist. In other words, he’s one of you. (And you even seem to be allowing that he’s high caliber!)

          For my collection of juiciest quotes from Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, see here:

          “It easily fools the unwashed masses, but some of use have indoor plumbing and water heaters.”

          Ah! Spoken like a true adherent of élitist scientism! Only folks with the right qualifications are allowed the honour of evaluating truth. “This mob that knows nothing of the law — there is a curse on them.”

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Given Richard’s penchant for quotations instead of argument, I think he might enjoy one by theologian David Bentley Hart reviewing Richard Dawkins’ “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

          Although the book is, for the most part, wholly “positive” in its argument, it is nonetheless explicitly directed toward two targets: young-earth creationists and the intelligent design movement. In regard to the former, of course, he does not really need to expend much energy. After all, ranged against their beliefs is nothing less than the entire universe and every physical datum it comprises.


        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Thanks for your quote, Michael. May I offer you one in return:

          “Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest.”
          (Proverbs 26:2)

      • TomS TomS

        (I have a longer reply concerning Luskin’s rebuttal, but for some reason it will not work.)

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Ah, so now who has “nothing to say”?

          But teasing aside, maybe I can help. (I would actually like to see your rebuttal.)

          When I’ve previously tried to paste a lengthy item into a reply box on this blog, the system fought me. (The “Post Comment” button disappeared.) But then I found that if I pasted smaller segments into the reply box, one at a time, I could get a way with that.

          Perhaps that will allow you to proceed.

  13. TomS TomS

    John S. Wilkins observed:
    the really interesting question is how we come to know anything (hint: not by revelation).

    It is not an interesting answer to suggest that there is a supernatural basis for knowing. For no one would trust Puck or Satan. And the track record in trusting the Oracle of Delphi ought to cause some hesitation. And we have come to find that what seems to plain truth of divine revelation requires help from a couple of millennia of various natural sources (archaeology, philology, astronomy, etc.) to result in knowledge. And are we to trust designers of the world of life when they design it to seem as if it has been evolving for billions of years, and design our capacity for learning to reach the (seemingly) obvious and sure conclusion.

    • Besides, how would we know (independently of revelation) that the revelation we are attending to, is the right revelation? Maybe Mani or Zoroaster were right?

      • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

        Clearly a very important question. If I offer an answer from a Bible-believing Christian point of view, will I be chastised for proselytizing?

    • michaelfugate michaelfugate

      The dilemma facing creationists is if science is the best tool for gaining knowledge, then evolution is a better explanation than creation. If evolution is not because revelation is a better tool, then why would creationists, ID proponents and Christian apologists of all sorts try to convince everyone that they are doing science and/or science is a Christian invention? Wouldn’t we all be better off making pilgrimages to Mt Sinai or fasting in the desert for 40 days than we would be experimenting in the lab or field?

      If revelation were truly better and Christian commentators really believed this, then they have it all backwards. The only task for science would be to merely confirm what was already known through revelation – which would make science a colossal waste of time and money. Yet what we see is that science makes a discovery and religions shuffle through their texts trying to find some sentence if one squints at in the proper manner means the same thing and then says “see we knew it all along.” For instance, search for “Koran and medicine” for comic relief. One would think that Christian colleges would replace their science departments with revelation departments and hire batteries of revelationists to focus on cures for cancer or alternatives to fossil fuels. Why pretend to do science when you already know science is not going to give you the correct answer?

      • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

        Michael, you’re mixing up two kinds of “science.” To find cancer cures or alternative fuels, we use laboratory (or field) trials, hypotheses, experiments, observations, etc. — operational science/technology.

        But historical sciences has to use a lot more of abduction or “inference to the best explanation,” and that’s where revelation (if it’s true) would provide a clear advantage over the fallible and often speculative attempts by finite, ulterior-motivated, confirmation-biased, revelation-denying humans to reconstruct the past.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Richard, I am not mixing up anything. To understand how evolution works, we use laboratory (or field) trials, hypotheses, experiments, observations, etc. You are once again clueless about how scientists actually do science.

          If revelation were better, you should be able to explain:
          1) how you know something is a revelation and not just something happening within a human brain.
          2) how you know who is revealing the information revealed.
          3) how you know a revelation is true.

          Please provide methods that I can use to gauge any claimed revelation. Please provide data on the accuracy of your methods – how good is it at determining 1), 2) and 3)? Means and confidence intervals?

          I don’t deny that revelations are possible, but you need to convince me that you can can determine the source of the revelations and distinguish revelations from dreams, hallucinations, wishful thinking and the like.

          Let’s move on to your claim of Genesis telling us something about the creation.

          ” And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

          “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

          “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.”

          “And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”

          “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;”

          “And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”

          Is this the way it happened? Something named LORD God scooped up some dirt, formed it into a human shape, and then breathed into its lungs? It all sounds so simple – no molecules, no cells, no tissues, no organs mentioned. Just dirt and air? No water?

          ID keeps telling us it is a proteins that the “designer” made. Is that implied above?

          Why a different method for creating woman than for everything else? Or did female animals get made from male ribs also? Why females from males and not males from females?

          I am looking for some testable hypotheses – if you don’t understand how history can be studied scientifically, then you obviously don’t accept fields like forensics. We can reconstruct past events with high degrees of accuracy – even when no human was there to witness those events. Your problem is that science doesn’t give you the answer you want – so you attack scientists as biased.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Snowflake’s Comment: I am going to allow this last comment containing creationist links, but henceforth, unless the post of a comment is discussing creationism or Intelligent Design, discussions about scientific method or historiography must not mention either. If you wish to discuss “historical science” do so without reference to anything remotely related to creationism or ID. My site is not to be subverted to discuss what I think is irrelevant, Richard. You have plenty of venues to do this. Do. Not. Do. It. Here. Final warning. Further action will include a total bannification.

          Hi, Michael. You’ve asked some very significant questions, well worth pondering.

          “Richard, I am not mixing up anything. To understand how evolution works, we use laboratory (or field) trials, hypotheses, experiments, observations, etc. You are once again clueless about how scientists actually do science.”

          Here you once again appear to be mixing things up. You’re confusing ‘evolution’ as defined by neo-Darwinists (gene frequency changes in a population of a particular species) with evolution of the sort that is actually under dispute.

          Certainly ‘evolution’ can be observed, experimented on, and studied in the laboratory or field. For example, see the review “Experimental Evolution” in TREE, October 2012.

          But attempts to “reconstruct the past” (which is what I was talking about) — especially the distant past — are distinguished as “historical science” for good reason.

          In other words, yes, “microevolution” can be observed and experimented on, but “macroevolution” must be carried out as a historical science with all its limitations.

          Sure, some scientists would like to link micro- and macro- as if the latter is merely an obviously justifiable extrapolation of the former. But many, even evolutionists themselves, would disagree with the logic of that:

          “I am looking for some testable hypotheses – if you don’t understand how history can be studied scientifically, then you obviously don’t accept fields like forensics. We can reconstruct past events with high degrees of accuracy – even when no human was there to witness those events.”

          Of course I accept forensics, in principle. After all, Intelligent Design theory is a form of forensic science! And yet . . . the further we go into the past, the more problems can arise. And even when we consider rather recent forensic work, there can be serious issues — and the wrong people can go to jail. It is a different thing from being to do repeatable physical experiments in the lab. See the Nature news item, “Faulty forensic science under fire” (Feb. 4, 2014):

          Regarding the other things you wrote, concerning revelation, I’ve previously answered you to the extent that I was able. Interested readers can refer to the series of comments under the following two blog posts:

          Also, some of the comments under this blog post are relevant:


        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Richard, I think I am done – there is nothing further to say to someone so confused and unwilling to learn.
          The outright arrogance of an apologist who thinks he understands a field better than a philosopher of science and a scientist is laughable. Then again, almost everything you say is a joke because the foundation it is based on is flat wrong. Come back when you can make a case – I won’t look for you any time soon.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          Michael, your comment is unfortunately just a string of ad hominems, without any substantive content, so nothing actually worth responding to.

          I’m sorry to see that, because in earlier comments you did present some interesting challenges.

          Anyway, I wish you all the best.

        • Richard Peachey Richard Peachey

          In response to “Snowflake” (= John?): I do acknowledge that I’m a guest on this site, but I suggest you’re overreacting.

          I did not include “creationist links”. There was ONE single link to an article that I myself wrote, which is indeed on a creationist website, but that article consists only of quotes from evolutionists on both sides of the question of whether ‘microevolution’ can legitimately be extrapolated to yield ‘macroevolution.’ Which was directly related to the topic Michael raised. I could have easily put some of those quotes into my comment and omitted the link, but I was trying to be brief.

          Anyway, I will henceforth be scrupulous to adhere to the stated requirement. And thanks for allowing the comment.

  14. Mayr defended Darwinism as Darwinism. What John is defending is not Darwinism, but something more general. To understand the boundary between Darwinism and not-Darwinism we can just look at history to see who is rejected and labeled non-Darwinian or anti-Darwinian. Early geneticists such as Johannsen, de Vries, Morgan, Punnett and others *clearly* combined selection and genetics into a view. With the exception of de Vries (who was not actually a Mendelian in his views of evolution), their views would seem familiar today– they would perhaps even be welcomed by today’s DiNOs (Darwinians in Name Only).

    However, in actual history, their thinking was rejected as non-Darwinian. Combining genetics and selection does not make you a Darwinian.

    If you want to understand why, read Provine, 1971 (and focus on the details– don’t be led astray by Provine’s framing). You will be surprised. The key to understanding Provine’s story is what he calls “the effectiveness of selection”, which means something very specific– it means that “selection” can change the value of a quantitative character smoothly, well beyond the mean of the starting population, without new mutations, i.e., selection can create new characters without mutation. This justifies Darwin’s view in which selection can be invoked as a creative force. If you accept that the “effectiveness of selection” is the sine qua non of evolution, then you have achieved enlightenment according to Provine. You can’t just *allow* selection on smooth characters based on abundant standing variation, you have to accept it as the essence of evolution, because this is the only way to justify Darwin’s externalist perspective on causation. If you believe that evolution begins with a new mutation, you are not a Darwinian. If you believe that evolution can happen via a jump, you are not a Darwinian. If you believe that the course of evolution reflects tendencies of variation, you are not a Darwinian.

    When read closely, Provine’s narrative shows that the foundations of mathematical population genetics do not actually depend on this Darwinian ideology. The allelic selection model, for instance, was stimulated by Punnett, one of the Mendelians rejected for being non-Darwinian.

    To state this differently, Mendelian evolutionary genetics is not inherently Darwinian– it allows evolution via acceptance or rejection of individual mutations, neutral evolution, saltations, trends due to biases in variation, etc. There is really only one branch of evolutionary genetics that makes evolution *seem* Darwinian, and that is quantitative genetics with the standard assumptions of abundant infinitesimal variation in a sexual population. No prokaryotic evolutionary biologist is a neo-Darwinian. In order to justify a Darwinian position, 20th century neo-Darwinism rested on the idea that recombination, not mutation, generates the variation used in evolution.

    • michaelfugate michaelfugate

      I think under your scheme, Darwin would not have been a Darwinian; he was much more open to new ideas than you allow.

    • Arlin, although I greatly respect you, on this I must disagree. We are considering the extension of “Darwinism”, from the usage and history of the term, and I do not think you can declare by fiat what it must be on the basis of some preferred interpretation, Provine’s, or Mayr’s or anyone else’s. If some people in the relevant expert language community (i.e., scientists and other thinkers) use the term in a more inclusive sense than these authorities, then these authorities are just two data points, no matter their authoritorial weight. Words are not stipulated except in very limited contexts, and this is not one of them.

      As to the subordinate term “neo-Darwinian”, that, too, has had at least three major interpretations. The first was that of Romanes, who asserted that Darwin’s views on heredity must be taken seriously (I believe it was Wallace who termed that “neo-Darwinism”). The second was the inclusion of Mendelian, later population, genetics around 1920. The third was the inclusion of the Central Dogma of molecular genetics around 1960. Which of these should be taken as the gold standard? Why should neo-Darwinism exclude, say, Ohno or Kimura? Why must the recent inclusion of developmental theory be “post-Darwinian”? All these strands and developments are extensions of the original Darwinism” as begun under that name by Wallace in his Darwinism in 1889, after Darwin’s death in 1882.

      I take a fluid view of the meaning of these and similar terms because I read the history. Darwinian theory is not some fixed set of assent-seeking beliefs; it, too, evolves. That is my point.

      • Yes, michaelfugate, Darwin was not a Darwinian, in the sense that he believed in 3 major means of modification, 2 of which are “non-Darwinian” by the standards of historical discourse. Mendel also was not a Mendelian, in the sense that he did not see discrete biparental inheritance as the sole or predominant means of inheritance.

        However, Darwin saw these 3 means of modification quite separately. His view was a view of pluralism, but not of multiple causation. Just like we might allow several different modes of speciation, DArwin allowed several different modes of evolutionary modification. But any instance of evolution was due to one mode or another. That is, Darwin invoked these modes of modification as if a feature was caused by “habit”, or it was caused by “direct effects” (of environment on phenotypes) or it was caused by “natural selection” (mass shifting of blending differences due to the struggle for life).

        Within the confines of his “natural selection” explanations, Darwin was a Darwinian. Likewise, Mendel was a Mendelian when he was talking about certain characters. Fisher’s Mendelian re-working of Darwinism also was Darwinian. However, when Allen Orr describes an origin-fixation model (essentially mutationism) as “Darwinian adaptation”, he is badly misrepresenting the view of both Darwin, and of his 20th century followers. The idea of selection as a non-creative force that merely decides which mutants survive is a non-Darwinian view of selection that Darwin himself disowned.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Who says I need to buy into your definition of darwinian? You seem to have adopted a very narrow one that doesn’t even include all of Darwin’s thought. Not only that – it appears to be in opposition to the spirit of Darwin’s body of scientific work; he would have changed his views as new data became available.

        • You don’t. Go ahead and make your own definition of “Darwinism.” Just don’t call it a scientific theory if it is not a scientific theory.

          For instance, you could define “Darwinism” as “the collective set of beliefs held by all individuals who self-identify as ‘Darwinian'”. Then Darwinism could change into anything depending on what people who like the label believe. But that is not a scientific theory.

          Likewise, you could base a concept of “Darwinism” on what Darwin might have believed if he had lived another 100 years and found out about DNA, i.e., create a kind of fetishistic religion around the person of Charles Darwin. Maybe this new-age spiritualist school of “Darwinism” could include some chanting or some other kind of ceremonies to get in touch with the ghost of Darwin and let him know about DNA so that he can start changing his views.

          But such an idea has no place in science. Perhaps Aristotle or Lamarck was far smarter than Darwin and would have understood genetics better. Or perhaps the ghost of Lamarck has been more assiduous in following advances in science among the living, and is now way ahead of Darwin in his evolutionary thinking. We would not for any such reason claim that evolutionary biology is Lamarckian. Such speculation should be irrelevant to science.

        • and please pause to re-think the criticism that I “have adopted a very narrow one that doesn’t even include all of Darwin’s thought”. If we define Darwinism to include the breadth of Darwin’s thinking then Darwinism is even more clearly false!

          Remember, Darwin’s original view included 3 major means of modification. It is a very simple matter to do text searches in OOS to determine the relative frequency with which Darwin invokes (in order of importance): (1) “natural selection” (which means something particular for Darwin); (2) use & disuse or “habit” (aka Lamarckism), and (3) direct effects (i.e., shift in environment directly shifts phenotype and this is passed on).

          Darwin clearly advocated all 3, along with sometimes invoking “single variations” as an additional mechanism of evolution.

          Roughly speaking, the original “neo-Darwinians” rejected #2 and #3. That is, “neo-Darwinism” means #1, without #2 and #3. Today, when people invoke “Darwinism” as a theory of evolution, what they mean is “neo-Darwinism”, and more specifically, the “modern neo-Darwinism” institutionalized by Mayr, et al. with the Modern Synthesis.

          That is, we have
          * Darwinism 1.0 (Darwin in the OOS and later works)
          * Darwinism 1.5 (Weissman and Wallace, selection only without Lamarckism or direct effects)
          * Darwinism 2.0 (the Modern Synthesis view in Fisher, Huxley, Mayr, Dobzhansky, et al).

          To be strict, we might restrict “Darwinism” to version 1.0, but no one does that. Darwinism 2.0 is the latest release of Darwinism, so that is what we mean by default.

        • TomS TomS

          Darwinism 1.0 = Darwin
          Darwinism 1.5 = Darwinism
          Darwinism 2.0 = Neo-Darwinism

          Which is why I wrote in Weissman. (Wallace did some backsliding.)

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          Do you even read what you write? Darwinism as you define it is not Darwinism as Darwin defined it. As you say, Darwinism as Darwin defined it is mostly incorrect – so what? How can neo-Darwinism be Darwinism when it violates Darwin’s views on heredity? When it excludes some of his proposed mechanisms for change and includes others he never used? You just refuted any validity your argument has.

        • michaelfugate michaelfugate

          In case it is unclear, the above comment was addressed to Arlin.

        • astoltzfus astoltzfus

          TomS, I would say instead

          Darwinism 1.0: the pluralist view of Charles Darwin, invoking NS > use & disuse > direct effects > individual variations

          Darwinism 1.5, codenamed “neo-Darwinism”: the ideologically purified view of Wallace, Weissman, et al., invoking only NS

          Darwinism 2.0, codenamed “modern neo-Darwinism” (the Modern Synthesis): neo-Darwinism justified by appeal to population genetics (Fisher, Mayr, Dobzh., et al)

          michaelfugate, sorry that things are so convoluted, but you’re going to have to embrace some wackiness if you want to understand the way that biologists and historians actually talk about history. The fact is that many evolutionists today think of themselves as “Darwinian”, but none of them actually believes what Darwin believed. Get used to it.

          There are 2 major changes (at least) to understand.

          The first is that Darwin’s 3-part pluralism was rejected. Specifically, mechanisms #2 and #3 were discarded, and ever since, Darwin’s view or “Darwinism” has been associated with “natural selection” and contrasted with Lamarckism and so on, even though Darwin was a Lamarckian. This “neo-Darwinism” can be defended on the grounds that #2 and #3 were not were not original to Darwin. Instead, #1 (“Natural Selection”) was his unique contribution.

          The second major thing that happened is that “natural selection” was reconceived to fit a Mendelian world. The result was “modern neo-Darwinism” or the “Modern Synthesis”. Advocates of the Modern Synthesis argued that a particular view of population genetics (based on recombination in an abundant “gene pool”) provided the “missing piece” of a neo-Darwinian view that actually accounts for evolution.

      • John, clearly I am talking about Darwinism as a scientific theory of the causes of evolution– a theory that makes certain substantive claims about what explains what. For many years, this is the way that scientists understood Darwinism.

        Advocates of “Darwinism” in the 19th century understood the major claim of Darwinism in terms of the debate between evolutionism and creationism. As historian Peter Bowler argues, most of them didn’t understand, or didn’t care to understand, the implications of Darwin’s particular position on “natural selection” as a shape-shifting mechanism that accounts for adaptations. This is why Bowler calls the so-called “Darwinian revolution” a “non-Darwinian revolution.” Huxley stood with Darwin against the creationists, and so many would have called him a Darwinian in the 19th century, but Huxley clearly was a saltationist, *not* an advocate of a Darwinian view of the causes of evolution (in Darwin’s own words, his theory would “utterly break down” under saltationism).

        Critical discussions in the decades just before and after 1900 led to a clarification: not all evolutionists hold a Darwinian view. It was in this period that the significance of Darwin’s thinking about evolutionary causes was established– as part of a debate within science about different theories (or principles), rather than as a debate with society generally about evolution vs. creation. What emerged from this debate in the mid-20th century was a theory that nearly everyone agreed was Darwinian or “neo-Darwinian”, because of the relative roles assigned to selection and variation, and the rejection of saltation, mutationism, orthogenesis, and Lamarckism. Gould, Provine and others have described this theory as a “restriction” or “constriction” because its main claim was that genetics justifies Darwin’s view of “natural selection” and refutes all alternative ideas.

        Not long after the advocates of this “Modern Synthesis” declared victory, it became clear that their view was inadequate. For instance, Provine, who carefully described how population genetics was invoked to justify a Darwinian view, quickly saw that the original theory had fallen apart, starting in the 1970s.

        This is when self-styled Darwinians began to take recourse in wishy-washy post-modern ideas of what “Darwinism” means.

        Ever since then, evolutionary biology has been in a stalemate, with perpetual calls for reform. We are living in the age of the DiNOs. Even neutral evolution is considered Darwinian.

        We must see this phenomenon for what it is– special pleading, shifting goal posts, and muddying the waters. “Darwinism” and even the “Modern Synthesis” have become moving targets, in spite of a very clear historical record (e.g., summarized by Provine) indicating what the Modern Synthesis asserts. This wishy-washiness is a major source of confusion in evolutionary biology today.

        John charges me with attempting to define Darwinism “by fiat”. That implies that I am relying on my own authority to simply say how things are. Actually, the reality is the reverse of that. The people who want to keep redefining Darwinism to mean “whatever we believe” are the ones who feel safe in their authority– their authority as a majority. I am not relying on authority, but on logic, theory, and historical analysis. As long as we are talking about Darwinism as a falsifiable scientific theory, facts and logic are on my side, and not on the side of the DiNOs. The only potentially non-shared assumption I am making here is that we are all scientists who need to focus on what “Darwinism” means as a falsifiable theory about the causes of evolution, and stop being distracted by wishy-washy attempts to defend the use of the term “Darwinism” by referring to something squishy and non-falsifiable.

        The reason for this, if it isn’t obvious, is that science is supposed to be a process of learning from our mistakes, but we can’t learn from our mistakes if they have been covered up by an obfuscatory cloud. 99% of biologists could not clearly state why the major claim of the Modern Synthesis is wrong. This includes the majority of the “Extended Synthesis” folks who are explicitly focused on reform.

        • David Duffy David Duffy

          “…[I]t has been a common belief in the scientific world for many years that the establishment of the mutation theory would be fatal to Darwinism, or would at least take from it its most original and essential features. The perpetuation of this impression has been due, very largely, to Mr. Wallace and certain of his followers who have steadfastly refused to admit the possibility of the evolution of species and varieties by any form of saltation and have insisted more uncompromisingly than did Mr. Darwin himself upon the exclusive efficiency of selection exercised upon small, recurring individual fluctuations. In fact, many of Mr. Wallace’s views have out-Darwined Darwin and yet Darwin, somewhat unreasonably, has been held responsible for them.”

        • That passage nicely expresses some of the essential tensions ca. 1909, and it also shows how badly the discourse in evolution has depended on personal appeals to Darwin’s authority. One way to look at this (see Nordman’s “Darwinians at war” is that there was a war *within* “Darwinism” to establish basically whether some kind of mutationist or internalist thinking would be included.

          The war was between broader and narrower views of people who were all paying homage to Darwin. Those like Cox who wanted to take a broader view invoked Darwin’s pluralism. They thought of Weismann and Wallace not as Darwinians, but as “neo-Darwinians”, because they tossed out Lamarckism and direct effects, and invoked only “natural selection.” The problem with this argument, of course, is that Darwin’s pluralism was not compatible with genetics. No one today is a pluralist like Darwin was a pluralist.

          Other advocates of the broader view, such as de Vries or Bateson, tried to appropriate Darwin’s legacy by saying that Darwin really wasn’t wedded to blending inheritance and smooth change, as if he was only forced to take this non-Mendelian position in response to criticism by Fleeming Jenkin. They believed that if Darwin had read Mendel’s paper, he would have come to a different view of evolution. This was a silly argument because Darwin’s writings clearly describe discrete inheritance, giving a multifaceted argument *against* their importance in evolution. Darwin clearly was committed to externalist, selection-based explanations, and not to the idea that mutation explained anything important.

          The narrower view had problems, too. One version of the narrow view was to defend Darwin’s original non-Mendelian mechanism of evolution by blending of abundant environmental fluctuations. Pearson and Weldon held this failed view.

          But there were others like Weismann and Fisher who were prepared to re-think Darwin’s views of heredity, but still insisted that “natural selection” had to be the only cause of evolution and the explanation for everything important. In their view, the way to reform Darwinism was to (1) discard Lamarckism and direct effects (i.e. discard Darwin’s pluralism) and (2) rebuild the concept of “natural selection” on a firmer hereditary basis, still keeping the idea of natural selection as a process of shifting a mass of infinitesimal effects, so that individual variations are never important.

          This is the understanding of Darwinism that won. It is a neo-Darwinian view in the sense noted above. This is why Fisher is now understood as a Darwinian or neo-Darwinian, while Bateson is not.

        • David Duffy David Duffy

          Well, I was pleasantly impressed by Cox’s line of argument, recalling that Galton too was somewhat of a saltationist (transilience), and Huxley as you note. Galton gets as much a serve from Wallace in his 1895 article as Bateson.

          By 1911, it’s obvious that the science has moved on – he
          Fisher (Mendelism and Biometry) completely accepts Bateson’s work despite being in the biometrical camp. In later writing he implies his thoughts on selection were “immature” even in the early 1920’s.

          I agree that Bateson later thinks of himself as an evolutionist rather than one of those overzealous adaptationists (“Not till knowledge of the genetic properties of organisms has attained to far greater completeness can evolutionary speculations have more than a suggestive value”), and quotes Samuel Butler approvingly in his wonderful
          1909 piece. Bateson’s thoughts about the genetics of speciation are pretty modern, but those of Weissman in the preceding chapter are just as good.

  15. Sorry that I have been so incredibly long-winded here. I think the subject matter demands it– it is difficult to penetrate the conceptual immune system that “Darwinism” has built up to protect itself.

    If you want to hear a more complete version of the argument that the core Darwinian claim of the Modern Synthesis has been rejected by scientists, and that the contemporary view is better understood as a kind of Mendelian-mutationism, it is now available from JHB:


    • michaelfugate michaelfugate

      There is no doubt that the simplifications of the early days of genetics and evolution have yet to be overcome – especially in education. Jamieson and Radick make a case for Weldon’s view of genetics in K. Kampourakis (Ed) (2013) The Philosophy of Biology: a Companion for Educators. Their view is that Mendel’s examples were special cases and we should start with a more general approach. Most of the time we teach as we were taught and don’t necessary think much deeper than that.

  16. TomS TomS

    One can point out that applying the same reasoning to a super-natural agency produces a smaller result. Increasing the denominator reduces the fraction.

  17. DogMachine DogMachine

    The important take-home learning of the poll is that there is an enormous middle ground that is neither theist nor atheist and neither creationist nor Darwinist. The poor wording of the poll muddies this fact, as it forces one to choose either supernaturalism or materialism.

    The middle (and scientifically correct) version holds that evolution did happen, but not through random chance / selection, but by intelligence. Those who believe that evolution happened, but that materialistic answers can’t work, make up very close to half the adult population of the US.

    Most importantly, the middle ground is where all the evidence is. Evidence for evolution can be found in genetics, biogeography and comparative anatomy and fossils and their locations in earth’s sediment layers. Evidence for intelligence is even more obvious and ubiquitous in literally all aspects of life. All modern day experiments in induced evolution clearly show a non-Darwinian, purposive type of evolution. We see this first hand daily.

    On the other hand Darwinism is hopeless and useless anti-science. It violates all logic, evidence and math. Darwinism, a mix of random chaos and death, is the most destructive force imaginable and has never created even a single trait.

    • michaelfugate michaelfugate

      Dog – thanks for the comic relief. We all need a good laugh from time to time.

  18. TomS TomS

    But what is this agency which you call “intelligence”? What are its properties that leads to some particular result in the world of life? What sort of result might not be expected? What was the world of life like before intelligence made its changes? When can we not expect this agency to act?

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