It may come as a surprise to learn that evolutionists have a great deal of work to do to put their house in order. Although the title of Kevin Padian's article refers to common misrepresentation of evolution in textbooks and the media, the abstract makes it clear that many of the problems are "confusingly discussed in the scientific literature" (meaning that professional evolutionists are also at fault). Nevertheless, textbooks are Padian's main target, and we agree with his thesis that changes are long overdue. Nevertheless, the details of the proposed changes need to be considered critically. We cannot discuss in this blog all the issues raised by Padian, but we shall look at some in each of the three sections in his article.
The Cobb County textbook sticker was deemed unconstitutional, but the need for critical appraisal of evolutionary concepts has not gone away. (Source here)
The ideas and language of evolution
What does the word "evolution" mean? There are several meanings, says Padian, and he is correct to argue for greater precision of terms. What he does not say is that demonstrating validity for one meaning of evolution should not be used to validate or reinforce other meanings of the word. As an example, consider this sentence: "science understands that life has evolved through time, and there is no reasonable doubt about this anywhere in the scientific community." When textbooks develop this argument, they use the peppered moth or the Galapagos finches as case studies of evolution. There are changes over time and no one can deny this evidence. There is no controversy here and no one contests the observed variations. Where the problems start is when textbooks treat this evidence as validating Darwin's thesis of common descent by natural selection acting on varying traits. Padian does not even acknowledge that this problem exists.
Take another example: evolution is "a change in gene frequency in a population". This definition also is uncontroversial and is not contested. Yet how many times is it used to stand as evidence for the evolution of all life's diversity from the first living cell? Padian overlooks this abuse of the word "evolution" and contents himself with the words: "This simple (or simplistic) definition gets to one level of the processes of evolution (yet it misses many processes from speciation to what causes changes in gene frequencies in populations)." Yes, it is simplistic - but that is not the real problem.
Padian reflects approvingly on Darwin's definition of evolution as "descent with modification". He claims: "It is as useful on a short timescale as on a long one; it suggests minor evolutionary modifications as well as major ones." But this claim IS controversial! Of course, Darwin thought that evidence for minor evolutionary modifications over short timescales (which are observed) is also evidence for major evolutionary transformations over long timescales (which are not observed nor are they documented in the fossil record). This is the issue that is urgently in need of clarification - but which Padian covers over. He refers to pre-Darwinian concepts and to a century of debate about what controls morphology and asserts (wrongly) that Darwin's approach settled this debate:
"Darwin brushed away this conflict in a single paragraph by showing that common descent could explain the common body plans of related organisms, and that natural selection could explain their adaptive differences as they were modified to fit the conditions of existence." (page 2)
Historical and philosophical aspects of evolution
Padian points out that the architects of the Modern Synthesis (Neo-Darwinism) made much of "slow and insensibly small changes". However, Darwin's use of the word "gradual" was closer to the root meaning of "step" (from the Latin gradus or step). Padian goes on to suggest that Darwin would have seen "little difference between the evolutionary tempos of classic Mayrian 'gradualism' and 'punctuated equilibria'." It is surprising to see these arguments being presented again - they were (apparently) fully explored before Gould's untimely death. The issues go much deeper than a consideration of the question: how large can a step be? In particular, the evidence for stasis needs to be considered. Darwin's branching model of descent with modification did not anticipate stasis, nor does the fossil record provide a good fit with any form of Darwinian gradualism. Padian's approach appears to rob students of some interesting discussions.
Padian advises educators to use care in characterising the religious beliefs of historical figures. These people may have championed ideas that are out of favour today, but they do not fit into the predetermined profiles devised by popularisers of science. In the main, historians of science have recognised that these scholars deserve a more rigorous analysis and Padian draws attention to some relevant literature. What would have been helpful would be to give the same advice about the religious beliefs of contemporary influential thinkers who question evolutionary theory. Popularisers have a highly polarised view of dissenting scientists. What appears to matter to them is whether they can be labelled as mainstream evolutionists or creationists (of any kind). This means they rarely engage with rational arguments and they end up contending with strawman adversaries.
The article promotes the NOMA principle advocated by Gould. This requires a strict separation of "science" and "religion". It leads to statements such as the following:
"All science is non-theistic, by which is meant that it does not entail or require any concept of a god or other supernatural being or force. In fact, science is completely independent of any ideas about gods or other supernatural beliefs. But science is not anti-theistic: it does not deny such beings or forces, any more than it accepts them (or leprechauns or unicorns), because these things are not within the purview of science."
There are numerous problems with this approach: historical, philosophical and theological. The NOMA principle turns a blind eye to the scientific revolution of the 17th Century, when all the leaders of science were theists whose science was an expression of their Christian calling. The autonomy of science came with the 18th Century Enlightenment - which is when Padian seeks to ground the roots of science. By contrast, many Christians today do not regard the Enlightenment as a positive intellectual movement. In stressing the autonomy of reason, Enlightenment scholars drove a wedge between Christianity and science. This led to the mechanical view of man, and ultimately spawned a plethora of non-rational ideologies that were driven by the search for meaning and purpose in a mechanistic universe. These issues are with us today. Students should be exposed to the alternative view that all science is theistic. The axioms of theism that are relevant to science, and which were important for triggering the scientific revolution, are: nature is real; nature is good; nature is created; creation is rational; creation exhibits "laws"; creation is designed. These axioms have their roots in the Bible, but cannot be derived using reason alone. The Enlightenment scholars took the axioms they liked and built on them. However, reason alone does not provide these foundations.
Natural selection and related concepts
There have always been concerns that natural selection is perceived as a force that moulds organisms, as in the phrase: "Natural selection would favor the acquisition of such-and-such a feature". It has often been pointed out by both evolutionists and dissenters, that this leads directly to Darwinian story-telling rather than science. Padian has helpful things to say here:
"This phraseology suggests a naive faith in the optimality of evolutionary processes, and some omniscience on the part of the author, in continuing to personify natural selection as if it were a conscious being. Of course, scientists do not really think these things (do we?); we just write as if we do. Natural selection is a description of a process, not an actor; we recognize it as a post hoc outcome of the struggle for existence."
"Remembering the previous point, it is more accurate to say that in the struggle for existence, some individuals are weeded out before they can reproduce. This process is not creative, any more than a lawnmower is creative with your backyard grass." (page 9)
This interaction with Padian's article has had to be selective, and there are many other issues worthy of discussion. Padian's desire to see evolutionary theory taught well is commendable, and he puts his finger on a number of relevant topics. However, in many cases, Padian does not succeed in counteracting the misrepresentation because he replaces one form of misrepresentation with another.
Correcting some common misrepresentations of evolution in textbooks and the media
Evolution: Education and Outreach, 25 June 2013, 6:11 | doi:10.1186/1936-6434-6-11
Abstract: Topics related to evolution tend to generate a disproportionate amount of misunderstanding in traditional textbooks, other educational materials, and the media. This is not necessarily the fault of textbook and popular writers: many of these concepts are confusingly discussed in the scientific literature. However, faults can be corrected, and doing so makes it easier to explain related concepts. Three general areas are treated here: ideas and language about evolution, historical and philosophical aspects of evolution, and natural selection and related concepts. The aim of this paper is to produce a template for a more logical, historically and scientifically correct treatment of evolutionary terms and concepts.
Ball State University is declining to release a four-member faculty panel's report on its review of assistant professor Eric Hedin's controversial "Boundaries of Science Course."
The Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank that is supporting physicist Hedin, are criticizing Ball State's decision to keep the records secret.
Here is a review of Darwin's Doubt by Frank Turek, who is a speaker and award-winning author/coauthor of three books; I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Legislating Morality, and Correct, Not Politically Correct.
Seth Slabaugh of the Muncie Star Press reports that...Ball State University has hired a controversial astronomer who is a national leader in the intelligent design movement.
President Jo Ann Gora approved the hiring of Guillermo Gonzalez as an assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy on June 12 at a salary of $57,000. He will start teaching at BSU in August.
The hiring occurred after Ball State had launched an investigation into a complaint that another assistant professor in the same department, Eric Hedin, was promoting intelligent design in a science class.
Ever since Darwin, there has been a tension between the theory of biological transformation (stochastic tinkering) and the concept of progress. Two Italian biologists have scanned 67,413 scientific articles published between 2005 and 2010 in 16 top science journals. They were looking for examples of progressionist, pre-evolutionary language because they suspected that evolutionary biology has retained some cultural baggage implying a direction to evolutionary transformation. According to their thinking, the Great Chain of Being concept, historically known as the scala naturae, has a persistent unacknowledged influence over the minds of many in the research community. This concept assigns a place to every entity in the natural world, whether animate or inanimate, "from the lowest steps of the ladder occupied by fire, air and water, up to the highest steps hosting monkeys, apes and humans".
"Despite the explosion of tree-like diagrams in the recent biological literature, evolution is indeed often perceived as a linear, progressive process rather than as a story of unceasing branching and diversification ultimately resulting in a tree. This misleading progressionism is scientifically undefensible (e.g., Dawkins 1992; O'Hara 1992, 1997; Gould 1994, 1996; Nee 2005; Gregory 2008; Omland et al. 2008; Casane and Laurenti 2013)."
1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades, Rhetorica Christiana. (Source here)
The concept appears to be rooted in philosophies developed by Aristotle and Plato, picked up and repackaged by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century, and developed by other natural philosophers as a way of making sense of the extraordinary diversity in the world. After Darwin, many tried to link evolutionary theory with the Great Chain of Being. This is seen in the way evolutionary trees were presented (as linear pathways rather than structureless bushes); in portraying organisms as "higher" and "lower" in the evolutionary spectrum; in the free use of the term "missing link"; and representing a trend to complexity as something inherently significant. Social Darwinists developed the concept in terms of cultural progress, with innately fit groups of humans possessing superior attitudes and modes of behaviour.
"From an educational perspective, Werth (2012) has recently remarked that students referring to "higher" and "lower" life forms retain an Aristotelian view of the great chain of being, a wrong view of evolution to be corrected by training them in the theory and practice of cladistics. Correct reading of the tree of life is indeed less common than we should expect. Besides the persistence of the progressionist language ('lower' vs. 'higher') discussed below, based on data extracted by the recent literature, let us briefly consider the widespread use of 'basal', as applied (illegitimately) to a branch of the tree of life, or to a terminal taxon, rather than (legitimately, in a comparative context) to a node. Krell and Cranston (2004) have forcefully argued that this use, simply, does not make sense, as both branches originating from a node are of equal age and (in some sense at least) have undergone equivalent evolutionary change. Parallel to what we argue in this paper of labeling taxa as 'lower' or 'higher', "Considering clades or taxa as 'basal' is not only sloppy wording, but shows misunderstanding of the tree and may have severe semantic and argumentative implications" (Krell and Cranston 2004, p. 280). In front of a rooted cladogram, many authors ask: "Which of the species is the oldest? Which is youngest? Which is most ancestral? Most derived? Most primitive? Most advanced? Most simple? Most complex? The answer is that a phylogeny provides no information about any of these questions! While this answer may seem inconvenient to researchers looking to phylogenies to provide that information, these are the incorrect questions to be asking" (Omland et al. 2008, p. 856)."
Since the scholarly papers were selected based on their being described as biological, it can be expected that most of them are concerned with empirical science rather than providing evolutionary perspectives. Nevertheless, the two authors found 1,287 papers that used scala naturae language in a way that gave them cause for concern.
"Articles with scala naturae language were particularly frequent in Molecular Biology and Evolution (6.14%), BioEssays (5.6%) and Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics (4.82%). The fact that two of these three journals are in an area of evolutionary biology shows that the use of pre-evolutionary language can survive even in the most renowned professional journals."
There is a dearth of analytical discussion in this paper. A possible role of Lysenkoism is considered to have influenced Russian authors, although the cognitive connections are not clarified. Progressivism may be more "entrenched" in Western cultures, but the lower percentages from Indian, Korean and Turkish authors do not lead to a discussion of how cultural factors might explain the data. The conclusion is this: "the great chain of being is still with us, 153 years after Darwin (1859) published The Origin of Species". The justification for announcing the findings in this way is that an "appreciation of the extent to which progressionist language survives in scientific papers is the first, necessary step towards its eradication." The route to eradication is said to be "a robust training in tree thinking".
There has been a long tradition of saying 'more education needed' to sort out unwanted cultural legacies. However, the track record of those who follow this tradition is not good. Somehow, the perceived problems do not go away. In this case, there is a need to probe a bit deeper and analyse the worldviews associated with progressivist thinking. This is particularly important as the authors are all educated to higher degree level and represent the cream of the evolutionary biology community. With this problem, we are not talking about student term papers, but research articles in high-impact journals!
The theme of progress in the minds of the intelligentsia has been tackled by Professor John Gray in several books, the most recent being The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths (2013). An insightful review of Gray's contribution is by Robert W. Merry in The National Interest. Gray traces the concept of progress partly to Socrates and much more to Christian thinking about redemption.
"But the modern world retained a powerful philosophical outlook from the classical world - the Socratic faith in reason, the idea that truth will make us free; or, as Gray puts it, the "myth that human beings can use their minds to lift themselves out of the natural world."
[. . .]
"But the power of the progress idea stems in part from the fact that it derives from a fundamental Christian doctrine - the idea of providence, of redemption. Gray notes in The Silence of Animals that no other civilization conceived any such phenomenon as the end of time, a concept given to the world by Jesus and St. Paul. Classical thinking, as well as the thinking of the ancient Egyptians and later of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Shintoism and early Judaism, saw humanity as reflecting the rest of the natural world - essentially unchanging but subject to cycles of improvement and deterioration, rather like the seasons."
With the waning of these influences (we now live in a post-Christian culture), intellectuals have sought to retain the concept of progress by associating it with various good causes such as education, evolution, capitalism and empire building. The problem they encounter, however, is that they have no rationale for their substitute for redemption. By abandoning the sovereign God who is working out his purposes in history, the concept of progress becomes an exercise in wishful thinking.
"[T]he idea of progress is merely a secular religion, and not a particularly meaningful one at that. "Today," writes Gray in Straw Dogs, "liberal humanism has the pervasive power that was once possessed by revealed religion. Humanists like to think they have a rational view of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition, further from the truth about the human animal than any of the world's religions.""
The Social Darwinists warmed to progressivist thinking and explored ways of predicting and engineering the evolution of humanity. The Eugenics Movement has had a field day. But the progressivist leanings of liberal humanism affects all aspects of their thinking - and this is why there is a link with the Great Chain of Being concept. Whilst these cultural trends explain the data gathered by Rigato and Minelli, there are concerns about developments within liberal humanism. We have the emergence of visionary thinkers, who are crusaders for their progressivist goals. They wage a war on any who stand in their way and are not interested in dialogue - only in conquest.
"After centuries of intellectual effort aimed at developing the idea of progress as an ongoing chain of improvement with no perceived end into the future, this new breed of "Progress as Power" thinkers began to declare their own visions as the final end point of this long progression. Gray calls these intellectuals "ichthyophils," which he defines as "devoted to their species as they think it ought to be, not as it actually is or as it truly wants to be." He elaborates: "Ichthyophils come in many varieties - the Jacobin, Bolshevik and Maoist, terrorizing humankind in order to remake it on a new model; the neo-conservative, waging perpetual war as a means to universal democracy; liberal crusaders for human rights, who are convinced that all the world longs to become as they imagine themselves to be." He includes also "the Romantics, who believe human individuality is everywhere repressed.""
Liberal humanists have achieved leadership in the world of science, and have succeeded in making their vision of the future dominant in the media. We are seeing also the politicisation of science, not only in areas like global warming, transhumanism and GMO technologies, but also in educational policy. These visionaries make it clear that if we do not follow their advice, the world is doomed to experience unimaginable disasters. The main concern in this blog is the integrity of science and the protection of education from ideological straitjackets. In both cases, dangers are with us from secular humanists promoting their agendas in the name of science. We need freedom within science to discuss these issues and we need freedom in education to recognise cultural issues within science and to follow evidence wherever it leads - even if that takes us beyond the naturalism of the humanists.
The great chain of being is still here
Emanuele Rigato and Alessandro Minelli
Evolution: Education and Outreach, 28 June 2013, 6:18 doi:10.1186/1936-6434-6-18
Abstract. Background: Professional papers in evolutionary biology continue to host expressions in agreement with the pre-evolutionary metaphor of the scala naturae (the great chain of being), when contrasting 'lower' to 'higher' representatives of a given branch of the tree of life. How pervasive is the persistence of progressionist, pre-evolutionary language in contemporary papers?
Results: We document here the prevalence of this unexpected linguistic survival in papers published between 2005 and 2010 by 16 top scientific journals, including generalist magazines and specialist journals in evolutionary biology. Out of a total of 67,413 papers, the unexpectedly high figure of 1,287 (1.91%) returned positive hits from our search for scala naturae language.
Conclusions: A quantitative appreciation of the survival of progressionist language in scientific papers is the first step towards its eradication. This will obtain by improving skills in tree thinking as well as by more careful editorial policy.
Merry, R.W. The Fallacy of Human Freedom, The National Interest | July-August 2013
Presented by Access Research Network. Browse this page to review all posts. Choose a tab at the top of the page to read only those subjects of interest. Browse the right-hand column below to read by specific category.
|<< <||> >>|
Evolution has become a favorite topic of the news media recently, but for some reason, they never seem to get the story straight. The staff at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture started this Blog to set the record straight and make sure you knew "the rest of the story".
A blogger from New England offers his intelligent reasoning.
We are a group of individuals, coming from diverse backgrounds and not speaking for any organization, who have found common ground around teleological concepts, including intelligent design. We think these concepts have real potential to generate insights about our reality that are being drowned out by political advocacy from both sides. We hope this blog will provide a small voice that helps rectify this situation.
Website dedicated to comparing scenes from the "Inherit the Wind" movie with factual information from actual Scopes Trial. View 37 clips from the movie and decide for yourself if this movie is more fact or fiction.
Don Cicchetti blogs on: Culture, Music, Faith, Intelligent Design, Guitar, Audio
Australian biologist Stephen E. Jones maintains one of the best origins "quote" databases around. He is meticulous about accuracy and working from original sources.
Most guys going through midlife crisis buy a convertible. Austrialian Stephen E. Jones went back to college to get a biology degree and is now a proponent of ID and common ancestry.
Complete zipped downloadable pdf copy of David Stove's devastating, and yet hard-to-find, critique of neo-Darwinism entitled "Darwinian Fairytales"
Intelligent Design The Future is a multiple contributor weblog whose participants include the nation's leading design scientists and theorists: biochemist Michael Behe, mathematician William Dembski, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez, philosophers of science Stephen Meyer, and Jay Richards, philosopher of biology Paul Nelson, molecular biologist Jonathan Wells, and science writer Jonathan Witt. Posts will focus primarily on the intellectual issues at stake in the debate over intelligent design, rather than its implications for education or public policy.
A Philosopher's Journey: Political and cultural reflections of John Mark N. Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds is Director of the Torrey Honors Institute at