"Bashing, choice & lamarkism" was "conservation..."

Tim Ikeda (tikeda@sprintmail.hormel.com)
Sat, 21 Aug 1999 13:28:21 -0400

Hi Tim,

> Having read interesting posts of yours in the past, I was
> disappointed to hear you refer to critics of Darwinism as
> "bashing evolution". Such terminology is why I usually find
> myself emotionally on the side of creationists, even though
> my own thoughts are not consistent with either Darwinism or
> creationism.

Bertvan, "bashing evolution" is a fair description of what
many, including Johnson, do to promote creationism in lieu
of presenting a positive, testable theory of creation. If they
in fact did manage to present something besides "it's not
evolution" and other, purely negative negative arguments then
I would be happy to choose another descriptor.

Note that I do not make it a practice to charcterize all
critics of Darwinism as "evolution bashers", only certain
ones. Further, one who is not a Darwinist is not necessarily
an anti-evolutionist.

> I was impressed with two articles Steve cited recently.
> http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9711/johnson.html
> http://www.nationalpost.com/commentary.asp?f=990819/57988.html
> The first, by Johnson seems an eminently reasonable definition of
> the philosophies behind Darwinism and creationism. If people are
> free to reject those philosophies with which they disagree, and
> science firmly identifies itself with a particular philosophy,
> shouldn't anyone feel free to reject science?

I have to disagree with this characterization of Johnson's
arguments regarding the philosophies behind Darwinism. Johnson's
position has been critically examined by others on this list an
in print. Ultimately, I've found Johnson's philosophical
characterization of evolution to be excessively strict and
not even in line with other Christian views (particularly TE).
You may wish to review many of the posts by Howard VanTill
for some background. Also, if you can manage to, try Robert
Pennock's recently published _Tower of Babel_ for a more
detailed analysis of Johnson's M.O.

> The second article, written by someone dissatisfied with both
> Darwinism and creationism (my position), was also offered by
> Steve-even though, as a creationist, he obviously is not in
> complete agreement.

I'm not sure of that author's position wrt common descent.
What is yours? My view is that common descent is effectively
a fact. I call this "evolution". I have difficulty finding
common ground with people who cannot seem to get their minds
around such a simple and straightfoward deduction from the
patterns of life we see today.

So I am largely encouraged by what I see as a development
among creationist thinkers (at least the newer ones coming
into prominence), towards common descent. We'll argue about
mechanisms, but the common groundwork is essentially there.
In that group I would include: Mike Behe, Lee Spetner, &
Mike Denton. But I am somewhat saddened by others who
are actually driving this movement (Paul Nelson, Bill
Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Phil Johnson), for whom common
descent is either not accepted or never spoken in more
than passing (possibly for political or religious reasons more
than scientific ones).

But basically, I've found talking to those who are certain
that the earth is new or that the various branches of life
are unrelated in time or geneology is like talking to a wall.

> On the subject of evolution, religious people appear more
> tolerant and open to discussion than those who defend Darwinism.

Umm... Those who defend Darwinism <> religious people? No.

And what of the Morrises, Hams or Gishes. Or Johnson's attempts
at relating materialistic evolution with decay of morals
in society? They've got to drop that devisive line. Even other
Christians have complained about the polarizing effects
their rhetoric has had. Similarly I wish Provine and Dawkins
would shut up about their pet teleological conclusions from
evolution. You heard it from me: "That's all crap."

By far, the majority of scientists that I know tend to be
much more careful of teleology and science.

> People discussing this subject have firm philosophical
> commitments, which I have no desire to change. However, for
> those people looking for alternatives I suggest a simple one.
> Lee Spetner's discussion of information obscures his real position-
> a form of neo Lamarckism. The "intelligent design" some people see
> in nature might merely be the existence of will. Great designs are
> often simple. I see no reason to restrict the possession of will to
> humans-or to mammals-or to any form of life. (Humans do seem to have
> more than their share of it.) The ability to make choices is one
> definition of life.

I disagree. Aren't you talking about the definition of free will

> Those who see life as a mechanistic, predictable, deterministic
> process would disagree, of course.

Umm no. That's not the only reason. Define "choice" in a manner
that applies to humans and E. coli and we'll discuss. The idea
of "choice" carries so much metaphysical baggage that I'd hesitate
to include it in a discussion of bacterial behavior without
massive qualificiations.

> Even Darwinists sometimes admit they don't know what causes
> mutations to take the form they take. Some even admit they don't
> know the source of macro mutations.

I do not know how to tell the difference between macro and micro-
mutations. Could one seach the genetic databanks and point to
one gene that is the result of a macro-mutation?

> Insistence that they must be "random" seems a determination
> to maintain ignorance about them.

No, not necessarily to maintain ignorance but to acknowledge
ignorance. An assumption of randomness provides an easy
null hypothesis.

> Whether, as Spetner suggests, mutations are influenced by use
> (and use can be a result of will) would be difficult to determine,
> if the process were slow and subtle. However, since science has
> declared Lamarckism to have been officially "discredited", many
> scientists would fear to even try.

Denton also rejects Lamarkian evolution in his recent book, even
though I suspect it could be helpful for his pet theory. Mike
does not claim that it doesn't happen but that Lamarkian mechanisms
are generally only found in special cases -- not generally as might
otherwise be suspected.

Certainly, I have no philosophical problems with Lamarkism
(heck, I could even propose some Darwinian mechanisms which
might be used to bootstrap a Lamarkian system), but we'd
need a lot more data before including it as a signficant
evolutionary mechanism. Geneticists have been following the
emergence of variation for a large part of this century.
If there were strong indications of Lamarkian mechanisms, I
suspect that they would have found it by now. Remember that
for a long time, Russians biologists were committed to finding
Lamarkian mechanisms (it turned out to be driven by political
philosophies), but had poor success. But don't worry, if
Lamarkian mechanism really are signficant, someone will find
it eventually and get a Nobel prize or two.

Tim Ikeda
tikeda@sprintmail.hormel.com (despam address before use)