Re: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Aug 06 2009 - 19:51:55 EDT


I have nothing against looking for underlying principles in order to explain
why certain correlations exist in nature. And I agree that science cannot
be just masses of data. This was one of the problems with Francis Bacon's
writings on science. He overemphasized the purely empirical parts of
science, and underestimated the need for theoretical imagination. That's
why, in the end, he contributed very little to our actual understanding of
how nature works, though of course he was very important as a propagandist
for modern science.

In fact, what is our understanding of the protein-DNA machinery, if not a
body of unifying biological theory? Vast areas of biology -- cell biology,
genetics, physiology, etc. -- are linked and made clear in their
interconnections by the working out (since 1953) of that DNA-protein system.
It is a scientific accomplishment on the level of the accomplishments of
Newton or Galileo. And note that both in terms of mathematical and chemical
detail and precision, and in terms of things like practical applications
(medicine and so on), this new body of knowledge vastly surpasses the
accomplishments of evolutionary biology. If you are looking for a vast
unifying theoretical concept around which biology is centered, I would
suggest that this is certainly a strong candidate, stronger than
evolutionary theory.

In reply to one of your points below, my critique *wouldn't* apply to any
overarching model. For example, Newtonian physics (albeit modified by
post-Newtonian refinements) allows us to put up satellites and land
spacecraft on Mars within a few hundred feet of the target. Newtonian
physics is no *post factum* interpretive gloss which NASA
could easily do without. The possibility of atomic weaponry was predicted
on theoretical grounds (cf. Einstein's famous letter to the President). The
atomic interpretation of matter is no *post factum* interpretive gloss which
the bomb-makers could easily have done without. Yet if a
Cambrian rabbit were found tomorrow, or if a hundred out-of-sequence fossils
were found tomorrow, and if everyone agreed that the theory of
macroevolution was dead in the water, I cannot think of a major area of
biology (outside of evolutionary biology
itself and obviously connected disciplines like paleontology) which would be
fatally wounded or even seriously slowed down. (True, many articles of the
sort that are published in biological journals now (e.g., on subjects like
genetics and embryology) would have to be shortened from 15 pages to 12 or
10 pages, with the gratuitous historical-speculative parts cut out. But
everything else would chug along just fine.)

Again, I'm not attacking evolutionary biology as such, or paleontology as
such. They are interesting subjects and worthy of study, along with all
other branches of the life sciences. I just get tired of evolutionary
biologists' breast-beating. Truly well-grounded sciences don't have to keep
shouting how well-grounded they are in order to get attention or respect.
They just produce demonstrable results. I wish evolutionary biologists
would do less shouting, less self-promotion, less nasty politicking about ID
and YEC, and more hard-core research into the detailed biochemical
mechanisms by which the eye, the lungs, avian flight, etc. came into being.
They would then find that the respect and admiration that they so evidently
crave would come to them by the same means it came to Newton, Lavoisier and


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: "asa" <>
Sent: Thursday, August 06, 2009 12:44 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] New fruit fly threat in Southern California

>> In many walks of life, it isn't necessary for pragmatic purposes to be
>> able to account for why certain characteristics are "bundled". <
> True; but if you want to know when to expect bundling, you need to
> have some underlying principle.
>> One of David's examples below provides another example of how
>> evolutionary theorizing can *look* as if it contributes substantially to
>> biological theory or practice while *in fact* being merely a redundant
>> interpretive gloss.<
> A further problem with this assertion is that it applies just as well
> to any overarching model. It is the same inconsistent use of Occam's
> razor invoked by atheists who claim that adding God into the system is
> an unparsimonious superfluity.
> Taking the reductio ad absurdum approach with this, why have any
> scientific model at all? Why not just have stacks and stacks of data?
> In practice, science tries to minimize the number of models needed by
> producing broader, more comprehensive models. Thus, physics seeks for
> a theory of everything, even though good formulas are available for
> characterizing fundamental forces separately. The models that apply
> to special cases often retain their usefulness, frequently being more
> practical to apply and easier to understand. (Incidentally, this is
> also why a good example of ID within biology would not completely
> overthrow evolution-evolutionary models would remain useful for all
> the other cases where there isn't intervention. Conversely, examples
> of evolutionary models working well don't prove there aren't any
> instances of ID.)
> --
> Dr. David Campbell
> 425 Scientific Collections
> University of Alabama
> "I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Thu Aug 6 19:53:41 2009

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