Paper from the colloquium: In the light of Evolution
One presumes that Francisco Ayala intended this paper to set the scene for the colloquium. He argues that Darwin's main contribution was to find natural mechanisms that accounted for the apparent design of living things. This, he claims, links Darwin with Copernicus as the two architects of the Scientific Revolution: with Darwin addressing the biological world and Copernicus the workings of the universe. This is highly contentious history, but even more troubling is the philosophy of science emanating from Ayala. His view of science is that all explanations of natural phenomena must necessarily be in terms of "chance and necessity" (a phrase included in the keywords). Thus, "The theory of evolution conveys chance and necessity jointly enmeshed in the stuff of life; randomness and determinism interlocked in a natural process that has spurted the most complex, diverse, and beautiful entities that we know of in the universe. [. . .] And this is the conceptual revolution that Darwin completed: the idea that the design of living organisms can be accounted for as the result of natural processes governed by natural laws."
It is this vision of science that excludes intelligent causation as a matter of principle and pre-empts all discussion of design and information linked to intelligent agency by declaring it 'out of bounds'. This is a demarcationist agenda, which ends up concluding that which was assumed at the outset. With Ayala's philosophy of science, if the cosmos and living things were intelligently designed, no one could ever know!
The paper is full of unqualified compliments to Darwin's genius. It is a market promotion exercise rather than an academic paper. Again, historians of science would want to take issue with many of the points made. However, my concern here is with the presentation of natural selection (and Darwin's references to "my theory"). "Natural selection accounts for the "design" of organisms because adaptive variations tend to increase the probability of survival and reproduction of their carriers at the expense of maladaptive, or less adaptive, variations." Also, "Mutation and selection have jointly driven the marvelous process that, starting from microscopic organisms, has yielded orchids, birds, and humans." When ID scholars focus their attention on the inability of mutations and natural selection to deliver specified complexity and novel structures, they are informed that they are being simplistic and Darwinism has several other mechanisms in its portfolio. Nevertheless, not a hint of this is manifest in Ayala's paper. "The number of mutations that can be tested, and those eventually selected, in millions of individual animals over millions of generations is difficult for a human mind to fathom, but we can readily understand that the accumulation of millions of small, functionally advantageous changes could yield remarkably complex and adaptive organs, such as the eye."
This is traditional Darwinism, alive and well, robustly critiqued by both ID scholars and by Ayala's peers - yet presented in this colloquium as the essence of evolutionary theory!
Darwin's greatest discovery: Design without designer
Francisco J. Ayala
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701072104
Darwin's greatest contribution to science is that he completed the Copernican Revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a system of matter in motion governed by natural laws. With Darwin's discovery of natural selection, the origin and adaptations of organisms were brought into the realm of science. The adaptive features of organisms could now be explained, like the phenomena of the inanimate world, as the result of natural processes, without recourse to an Intelligent Designer. The Copernican and the Darwinian Revolutions may be seen as the two stages of the one Scientific Revolution. They jointly ushered in the beginning of science in the modern sense of the word: explanation through natural laws. Darwin's theory of natural selection accounts for the "design" of organisms, and for their wondrous diversity, as the result of natural processes, the gradual accumulation of spontaneously arisen variations (mutations) sorted out by natural selection. Which characteristics will be selected depends on which variations happen to be present at a given time in a given place. This in turn depends on the random process of mutation as well as on the previous history of the organisms. Mutation and selection have jointly driven the marvelous process that, starting from microscopic organisms, has yielded orchids, birds, and humans. The theory of evolution conveys chance and necessity, randomness and determinism, jointly enmeshed in the stuff of life. This was Darwin's fundamental discovery, that there is a process that is creative, although not conscious.
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