Re: [asa] Darwin's belief (was: Cameron- question of Adam)

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Fri Jun 26 2009 - 11:18:41 EDT

Heya Gregory,

First, congratulations on passing your pre-defence!

As for your replies. First, the sentence about Darwin being irrelevant was
poorly written on my part, so I'll flesh that out some.

I didn't mean to say that TEs generally claim Darwin to be irrelevant. In
fact, I see the opposite as typically true - praising Darwin's brilliance
and so on. It's one of those things you can generally count on hearing when
the topic comes up, almost a formality.

But I do think there are two ways Darwin is becoming irrelevant - or already
is. The first way is seen when someone sits down and actually takes stock of
the state of the science of biology. Punctuated equilibrium, DNA, neutral
drift, retroviruses, horizontal gene transfer, epigenetics, microbiology,
exaptation/pre-adaptation, convergent evolution, etc, etc. The list of
developments, changes, amendments, redefinitions and so on in the field
since Darwin's time is simply massive. What's left over for Darwin to take
credit for once the various "Darwin couldn't have possibly foreseen..."s and
"Technology has changed so Darwin can be forgiven for not realizing..."s are
gone - and what was actually, truly original to Darwin - is (in my layman's
view) broad but shallow. When compared alongside men like Newton, or even
Leibniz (my favorite under-celebrated modern scientific mind), it's more

The second way is less obvious, but ultimately more stunning - and it does
apply to TEs. Many TEs - some more than others, admittedly - are entirely
comfortable divorcing metaphysics from Darwin's theory. "Random" and
"chance" are treated as, at best, statements of our own personal ignorance
rather than scientific, much less essential, aspects of Darwin's theory.
Meanwhile, human technological advancement - primarily insofar as software
is concerned, but also in a broader sense - is also encouraging, even if
subconsciously, viewing nature as technology rather than "nature". As I
said, I think Darwin (while certainly functioning as a kind of PT Barnum for
evolution in a broad sense) really has been overshadowed by the advances in
knowledge and understanding since his time. And I think Cameron is right
that once you gut the metaphysics from the theory, what remains isn't
Darwinism anymore. Just a few very broad (important, yes, but still broad)

I suspect a lot of the reluctance comes from image. Merely criticizing
Darwin's contribution to science is enough to make many people's YEC alarms
start blaring. Darwin's name is treated as a synonym for evolution - but
that can't, and won't, last. Nor can the gritting of teeth and stamping of
feet from the Jerry Coyne set, where we're told that unless we accept
Darwin's metaphysics we don't really believe in evolution. What really
spooks many atheists about ID isn't because they (at least the well-read
ones) truly believe it's stealth-YEC or evolution-denying at heart, but the
exact opposite - because they know that some major ID proponents happily
accept evolution and see design in it. That's a nightmare scenario for guys
like Coyne and company - if evolution shows (even via philosophical
argument) design, guidance, and/or purpose of any kind, that's it for
scientific atheism. The ID mindset (Not the specific claims of irreducible
complexity, or the edge of evolution, or anything else. I'm talking here
about the fundamental approach of regarding nature as designed - whether as
a technology, or as an Aristotilean reality, or in several other ways
including "TE" views) robs atheism of its association with science. And once
that's gone, there's not much left.

Now, as for how to promote philosophy, metaphysics, etc, I'm going to take a
maverick view here: If I'm reading you right, you seem to be implying that
part of the solution is going to come from careful attention to teaching and
courses in schools and universities. There may be a place for that (I don't
want ID in classrooms - I want extraneous metaphysics out), but I tend not
to think in those terms. I would agree that highlighting the distinctions
between philosophy and science in school would be the best bang for the buck
in that situation, and intellectually warranted.

In fact, I'm tempted to say that's the single best move that could be made -
promoting that distinction loud and often, in whatever venue it's feasible.
Because once a person realizes what science can or cannot do, if they're at
all interested in the questions, they're going to naturally take philosophy
and metaphysics more seriously anyway. Along the lines of how, if I think
one store in my neighborhood sells all products that exist at the best
prices, I'm only going to visit that store. But if I find out that no,
actually that store has only a certain amount of merchandise and the prices
aren't always the best, chances are you've already got me looking for other

Either way, if I were to think about specifically promoting it, I'd go with
culture over institution. Books (fiction and non), shows, podcasts,
animations, games, and otherwise are far more important when it comes to
reaching people and actually getting them to consider things, in my view.

> “As far as TEs go, I still can't help but feel Darwin himself is becoming
> irrelevant - valid as evolution is fundamentally in my eyes, and as
> near-sainted his status is with New Atheists.” – Schwarzwald
> Interesting comment! I’d sure appreciate examples of this and imagine that
> Cameron would too. TEs don’t seem to be giving much ground about Darwin’s
> contribution to the history of natural sciences (and they largely ignore,
> let me repeat largely ignore his contribution to human-social sciences), in
> the sense that they have found no *name* worthy of replacing him. Doing so
> would help both to expose some of the serious errors that Darwin made (see
> the reluctance on the ASA ListServe a few months back to acknowledge
> ‘Darwin’s Errors’ – American Biology Teacher 2008) and to remove (or at
> least to lower in rank) that particular appeal to authority from the New
> Atheists who bank on things such as ‘Darwin Day.’ Or perhaps you meant
> something quite different? Darwin himself is ‘becoming irrelevant’ – how so?
> “Philosophy, metaphysics and otherwise have to come into play - and science
> alone is not going to settle the issue.”- Schwarzwald
> With this we are fully agreed. There is a great problem in the ‘science
> alone’ mentality. One of the helpful things of the ‘science and religion’
> discourse/theme/topic is to seek areas of overlap, or to ‘get outside of
> one’s limited sphere’. On the other hand, philosophy serves as an
> integrative or interpretive force, which many involved in ‘science and
> religion’ underestimate. Do you have a suggestion, Schwarzwald, of how to
> involve philosophy more directly in the conversation? Would an increase in
> teaching philosophy of science offer one means of improvement?
> Finally, returning to a point made by Dave Siemens:
> “To think of God as man writ large is surely to produce an idol.”
> This is the point that Steve Fuller, who defends ‘intelligent design’ as
> ‘scientific’ or as a ‘scientific contribution’ (under a certain definition
> of ‘science’), charges the IDM with; he says they are anthropomorphising
> God. As you say, ID seems to regularly use a ‘man writ large’ view of what a
> ‘designer/Designer’ might, by implication, be (e.g. in referring to a
> mousetrap, Easter Island or Mt. Rushmore as examples of ‘design’). This is
> the same problem that Mike Gene faces, it seems to me, when he talks about
> ‘scientific’ things, without involving both philosophy *and* theology,
> respectively. At other times, and more often now, he is speaking about
> theological topics, as for example in the viewpoint ‘because of us.’ If he
> were to distinguish how his view is not ‘anthropomorhphic’ but rather
> ‘anthropic’, it would be more consistent with the historical canon of
> theology as a scientific/scholarly and academic discipline.
> Or so it seems from here,
> Gregory
> p.s. successfully passed my dissertation pre-defence and now in Finland for
> some days, en route back to N.A.’s west coast (hurrah!)
> ------------------------------
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Received on Fri Jun 26 11:19:28 2009

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