RE: Message from Phil Skell

From: Alexanian, Moorad <>
Date: Tue Sep 20 2005 - 14:43:04 EDT

In a recent essay in the Los Angles Times, "Why Darwin's still a
scientific hotshot,",0,52908
1.htmlstory?coll=cl-bookreview the author James D. Watson writes, " He
(Darwin) could not explain what gave rise to the variations observed in
organisms or how these and other traits were transmitted from generation
to generation." Individual variations drive the process of
evolutionary change, witness dog breeding. However, evolutionary theory
has not found a mechanism that generates those individual variations. In
fact, without individual variations, evolutionary theory has nothing to
work on. The research of Mendel gave the necessary hereditary laws that
would allow preserving traits, etc. from one generation to the next. I
know that the notion of mutation would have to bring in quantum
mechanics and so indeterminism. However, is the work of Mendel a
purveyor of quantum mechanics a la par of that of Willard Gibbs in
showing that there is no such thing a classical statistical mechanics?
Gibbs paradox brought in quantum mechanics before quantum mechanics was

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Pim van Meurs
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2005 1:59 PM
To: asa
Subject: Re: Message from Phil Skell

Ted Davis wrote:

>A couple of weeks ago I drew attention here to Phil Skell's op-ed piece
>"The Scientist," in which he raised questions about the practical value
>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
>his comments below to the list, hoping thereby to "clear away some of
>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
>artifacts have survived substantially unchanged in composition and
>Modern biology is concerned with examining the structure and function
>tissues from presently living organisms, whereas historical biology is
>primarily informed by stones--that is, fossils--not tissues.
>in the biological sciences there is a sharp line separating the
>and the modern; the experimental data obtained by examining these
>materials is incommensurable. Beware historiscization of the fossil
>into Fact, and then Orthodoxy.
>The evidential problems most apparent in the Cambrian explosion
>less dramatically throughout the fossil succession. This is apparent,
>instance, when we see the enormous work the Archaeopteryx was asked to
>for one corner of the theory, the idea of the dinosaurian origin of
>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 14:44:54 2005

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