>For the past
an intense battle has been fought in the academy about the veracity of
Darwinian evolution. At stake is the complete discrediting of Darwin's
This would be news to anyone in
If such arguments were presented in scientific journals, they would
to hold such tremendous implications that they would appear in the
most-read three: Nature, Science, and the
of the National Academy of Sciences. As such, any truly
stories would have garnered the attention of the popular press and
have been discussed enthusiastically within academic circles. I
not aware of any of this having occurred. Conclusion: This is a
fabrication on the part of the author.
Where the debate has generally
has been at the level of what to include in text books and school
Thankfully, the courts have consistently sided with the scientists on
is science education. (See the Lemon Test for the legal criteria
in Church vs. State issues s to what constitutes the promotion of one
of religious ideals by the State. See also Edwards vs. Aguilar
for the most recent case in which evolution was restored to Louisiana
and the "scientific creationism" --which was anything but based in
that had briefly supplanted it was removed.)
>The movement challenging
is called "Intelligent Design" (Design).
I will point out here that this is
for a set of ideas that reside for the most part with
On the scientific publication search engine Scirus, a search for the
"evolution" yielded 14,354 citations whereas "intelligent design"
255 hits. Conclusion: Bullshit.
>Design proponents argue
that the empirical
evidence ostensibly proving that evolution is true is sketchy at best
outright false at worst.
At this point, I'm not sure how
evolution, but the scientific community and the rest of the
world defines it as the process of a change in the proportion of genes
in a population. Period.
Darwin recognized this process
and offered up an explanation of this process (Lamark did as well, a
earlier, in fact, but did not propose a mechanism. He also lacked
the volume of evidence Darwin amassed as a well-traveled naturalist).
Darwin in a nutshell:
-New genes arrive through
This can be demonstrated through mutagenesis (i.e., the application of
chemicals or radiation to change the sequence of DNA) that results in
variations in organisms. Most of these changes don't have an
a good many of them are deleterious to the organism, and a few of them
(more if you have a few years and lots of funding in which to do the
result in interesting new critters like bacteria that eat oil slicks
that sort of thing.
-Some combinations of genes grant
advantage. Thus, a cheetah that can run faster (due to extra
in its bursa, for example) will catch more prey. Or, conversely,
will not become the prey of someone else!
-Organisms that are "selected for"
greater reproductive potential. In other words, they go forth and
-Genes are passed on through
Offspring of the survivors carry the advantageous genes. Thus,
proportion of the population with the more "highly evolved" genes
over time. (Note that I place "highly" in quotes. Evolution
makes not judgment in this respect, only in how well organisms "fit"
their environment... Hence, "survival of the fittest.")
The extension of this is that:
1) These processes occur over a
period of time and
2) There is a tremendous pool of
in which nature may carry out these "experiments."
As a result, something like HIV
at a terrifying rate due to a short generation time and the fact that
million (if not billion!) new virus particles are produced every day in
every infected individual. (It also helps that they are
carrying the more volatile RNA as your primary genetic material allows
you to mutate that much faster than DNA-based organisms... but that's a
discussion for another time.) The timescale for evolution goes up
accordingly as you modify these factors. For example,
is growing resistant to antibiotics, but much more slowly (and, at the
same time, too fast!) than HIV. Similarly, insect populations
pesticides on the timescale of mere decades.
>They assert that
Darwinism is not science
at all, but a cosmology built on the foundation of nineteenth century
That came out of left field.
is an iterative process yielding knowledge. Philosophy is a
of ideas only demonstrable through speculation. Science begins
a hypothesis (an educated guess) that is challenged by the scientist
generated it him- or herself. Each of the assertions can be
through this process. I consciously phrased each as a "guess"
by supporting evidence. In the scientific literature, authors are
impelled to report in this manner more or less, and that includes
evidence to the contrary... else they be called to task by their peers!
In Why People Believe Weird
Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time,
Michael Shermer points out how fringe groups often refer to the
as cults. This form of projection is especially common among
The example at hand is the devaluation of the theory of evolution as a
philosophy while theology in the absence of experimental validation is
summarily promoted to the status of science!
>The facts marshaled
Not to me. But then the
isn't especially convincing to this guy, so he's liable to come out
>For example, there is
of a single cell emerging from inert matter than a tornado blowing
a factory and assembling a Boeing 747.
That would be assuming life was
of inert matter. This is hardly the case. Different forces
operate on different scales; this is why, for example, a cockroach can
walk on the ceiling and support 10 times its body weight but we
When you get down to the level of quantum interactions we can only just
begin to predict what will happen. However, we know that under
circumstances (for example, RNA molecules on a clay substrate) matter
behavior that could be mistaken for life. Many of these
in conjunction would satisfy the requirements for the definition of
(i.e., reproduction, storage and use of energy, the ability to evolve,
etc.). By contrast, viruses don't satisfy some of said
and are thus considered biological but not alive. It's a very
story. (For further reading, see The Blind Watchmaker by
biologist Richard Dawkins.)
Further, lots of "mistakes"
Many lines of organisms do not make it to present day (i.e., there are
more extinct species by far than there are existing species
For example, the majority of the hominid skeletons found thus far have
been "cousins" who have died out rather than our direct
This confirms (along with a lot of other evidence) that there is a lot
of "trial and error" in this process. One an even lager scale,
that there have been at least six periods of mass extinction in the
of the planet. The particularly famous one was most likely the
of the cataclysmic impact of a meteorite in the present-day Gulf of
which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. However,
was a tremendously more catastrophic extinction known as the "oxygen
in which the first round of life (microorganisms) all but wiped
out through their own waste product: oxygen. (As a species, we
probably learn a lot of this example!)
Is life periodically bungled by
designer? Not likely. There are much more reasonable
even if they leave the universe feeling a little less watched-over.
>There is no fossil
evidence for macroevolution,
the claim that life developed through the selection of random mutations.
This is supposed to read
As I said, it's pretty hard to knock the entire fossil record.
is a reference to changes on the level of molecular machinery.
hope here is that, since genome sequencing has demonstrated that
are genetically distinct*, maybe there's a crack in evolution at the
level. That being the area we still can't probe as effectively
not much has surpassed 50+ year-old X-ray crystallography at looking at
protein structure), so that's the perceived weakness they presently try
*Before DNA sequencing became
it was argued by creationists that a horse and zebra were the same
(lest Noah's ark be the size of California to conceivably accommodate
The idea was that they had the same genes, these were just arranged
whatever that way supposed to mean. Naturally, no explanation was
offered for this, nor was the fact addressed that this would still
as evolution in terms of the genes expressed.
that subatomic systems are so complex that to take away one element
their complete collapse, rules out the possibility that Darwin's
pathways (where complex systems emerge from simple systems) even exist.
Hardly! As I explained with
example of "proto-RNAs," there are incredibly reducible levels to which
life can be taken. I could draw other heady examples from a
on protein structure (which are routinely touched upon in even
biochem courses), but I have a feeling those who support this point
rather not deal with such contradictory details as facts.
>...his purpose is not to
thinkers, but to examine why they have had such remarkable success in
a short amount of time.
Again, what success? All
I know measure their personal success by 1) how many publications they
make over their career and 2) how influential their publications are in
their field (indicated by how often they are cited in other
As I indicated above, scientific publications on this topic are in
>Woodward evaluates the
work of Design
thinkers in terms of cultural narrative.
This is a reflection of the work
in areas ranging from education, psychology, and political
In the book Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, author
Shenk points out how (and this is a timely example!) political
tend to be more successful when they wrap their presentation in a
Shenk terms this "anecdotage," a recent example of which is how the
of Howard Dean shrieking effectively derailed his campaign... never
who had the better political platform. Similarly, the facts get
the way of a scientific *explanation* of evolution. Our brains
don't absorb information in the form of postulates when there are nice
stories about an invisible man who lives in the sky and wants to help
along (or, as it is more routinely stated, created everything outright).
>If Darwinism is indeed a
(a premise Woodward accepts), then the social and cultural dynamics
contributed to its ascendancy are valid objects of study and analysis.
This is indeed a reasonable line
but the environment in which a theory was formulated does not
150 years of research. Why does this author keep side-stepping
>For Woodward, the larger
Darwinian evolution is not only a debate about evidence...
Here he goes again!
>...but about how the
and organizes knowledge to create a coherent worldview, a vision of how
the world is ordered. Woodward argues that the larger culture
knowledge through story. A story organizes ideas in ways that make the
ideas comprehensible by referencing them to, and incorporating them
a larger cultural narrative.
Yes, recall "anecdotage." I
to have a storybook I found at a Goodwill that showed Noah loading
onto the ark by way of explanation that there was no such thing as
No explanation was offered as to why, as an entire class of animals,
selectively died out whereas mammals prospered.
>In concrete terms
Woodward writes that
there are four brute facts that undermine Darwinian evolution and play
powerfully into the hands of Design advocates.
I'll take these one by one where I
1) the Cambrian explosion,
and heightened in the recent discoveries in China
Paleontology is not my strong
I'll direct your attention to the qualifiers in this one. And
exactly what the author intends: Never mind the rest of the Cambrian
pay attention only to an isolated sampling of geological history, and a
recently published (at least I'm assuming) set at that. It's a
suspect, but I'm no expert. And neither is the vast majority of
readership of this book. Which is exactly what Woodward hopes.
2) the general absence of
the higher taxonomic categories outside of the Cambrian
Again with the qualifiers!
understand this correctly, there were apparently fossils between the
categories. Was "unintelligent design" supposed to be at work
but some other mechanism invoked at other times?
3) the breathtaking
complexity of cells'
This is a really despicable
evoke emotion rather than providing evidence in what is supposed to be
an intellectual argument. The idea is that "It's more complicated
than I can imagine, therefore it could not have happened other than
the guidance of someone higher than myself." This assumes that
human brain is powerful enough to encompass an understanding of all the
processes in the universe and then to play them out in an elaborate
that accurately depicts what has occurred in the last 15 billion
If the end result of this egocentric thought experiment does not jive
the observed reality, well, "Somebody's wrong and it ain't gonna be
I can't tell what galls creationists more, that God didn't have an
hand in their "special creation" (another keyword for intelligent
or that they were evolved from monkeys. Sorry, the fact that it
pretty doesn't mean you can chuck the evidence. Is it better to
come from dirt than to be evolved from primates?
The whole history of cosmology
of the universe, not a philosophy as Woodward has misappropriated the
is filled with examples of scientific observations knocking humanity
its pedestal. See the Catholic church's take on heliocentric
of the universe by Copernicus and Galileo. In recent years they
even tangled with Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose on questions about
the origin of the universe. Next up: Neuroscience cracks the code
on the nature of consciousness in the human brain.
The interesting end of this is
rarely spend much time proselytizing to the general public. I
have a satisfactory explanation for this disparity, but the last couple
paragraphs above should tie into any good attempt at one.
4) the quiet,
of the confidence in "chemical soup" scenarios of the origin of life.
Here is a failure to appreciate
of science. As I stated above, the scientific method is a process
of ruling out hypotheses. The failure to generate an explanation
for a phenomenon does not automatically rule the rival explanation the
winner by default... especially when there is no logical connection
the alleged failure* here and the implied alternative by
Indeed, many times several explanations (be they "models" or
co-habitate if there is supporting evidence for both... even if they
contradictory. The golden example of this is Einstein's theory of
gravitation and quantum mechanics which have coexisted for ~80 years
either ruling the other out. However, intelligent design is
untestable (unless someone could convincingly get a line through to
so it does not qualify as a scientific theory.
*I was not aware that this
course of study
had been abandoned. If it hasn't, clearly the scientific
does not regard their progress as halted. I mean, they *do* have
to publish, so they are obviously getting something out of this line of
>These brute facts mean
nothing in themselves.
...Especially when taken in
with scores of published observations.
>They may surprise and
And that is what they are designed
do. Child psychologist Jean Piaget formulated a model of
still respected today, that dealt with this. He proposed that
we encounter a new idea or piece of information, we are at first set
a state of disequilibrium. We regain our internal equilibrium by
doing one of the following with the new piece of information 1)
it (fitting it into existing frameworks of knowledge), 2) accommodating
it (creating a new cognitive framework that organized the fact), or 3)
discarding it because it cannot be accommodated or assimilated.
a related point: It has been experimentally validated that pre-existing
knowledge impairs the ability to acquire new information. Taken
these ideas explain what this book intends to do: Sabotage the
of new knowledge that might challenge theological explanations.
As George Carlin reminds us,
is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve."