Re: Message from Phil Skell

From: Pim van Meurs <>
Date: Tue Sep 20 2005 - 13:58:35 EDT

Ted Davis wrote:

>A couple of weeks ago I drew attention here to Phil Skell's op-ed piece from
>"The Scientist," in which he raised questions about the practical value of
>evolutionary theory for doing laboratory science. Phil was not aware of our
>discussion of his essay until I told him about it. He asked me to forward
>his comments below to the list, hoping thereby to "clear away some of the
>fog" (his words to me). I am glad to help him do so.
>The difference between historical and contemporary, experimental science is
>most striking when we consider geology and biology. The ancient geological
>artifacts have survived substantially unchanged in composition and location.
>Modern biology is concerned with examining the structure and function of
>tissues from presently living organisms, whereas historical biology is
>primarily informed by stones--that is, fossils--not tissues. Consequently,
>in the biological sciences there is a sharp line separating the historical
>and the modern; the experimental data obtained by examining these disparate
>materials is incommensurable. Beware historiscization of the fossil record
>into Fact, and then Orthodoxy.
>The evidential problems most apparent in the Cambrian explosion reappear
>less dramatically throughout the fossil succession. This is apparent, for
>instance, when we see the enormous work the Archaeopteryx was asked to do
>for one corner of the theory, the idea of the dinosaurian origin of birds.
>As Ernst Mayr noted in: What Evolution Is? (2001):
Sigh.... That Cambrian explosion again... Still high on the list of ID
proponents... Can we say an Icon of ID... But when it comes to the
actual evidence, many of the evidential problems go away.
I am not sure what Skell's argument is wrt the archaeopteryx but it
seems a strawman to me.

I am not sure how this helped clear the fog though...
As far as evolutionary science is concerned, there are various ways of
studying the past. One is via fossils and one is via genetic data, that
both reveal a mostly consistent pattern is one of the victories of
evolutionary science. Understanding Darwinian theory and modern
evolutionary theory is indispensible for providing the mechanisms
underlying these data points.
While Skell may lament that evolutionary science may not guide
scientific research to satifsy his requirements, it should be clear that
intelligent design provides NO guidance.
The study of the genetic patterns of living organisms has increased our
understanding of evolutionary processes and generated many unexpected
findings. Finding a coherent explanation for these findings is what
makes evolutionary theory so exciting and indispensable.

Important recent breakthroughs in evolutionary theory involve for
instance evolvability, scale free networks. From a scientific
perspective the findings that neutrality is essential for evolvability
and that neutrality itself can be under selective pressures helps
understand many aspects of evolution such as modularity, robustness,
While many additional processes may underlie evolution, selection almost
invariably is involved in some manner to shape.
Received on Tue Sep 20 14:01:29 2005

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