« The Asian Squat | Main | Social Stability »

December 30, 2007



But Mick Darwinism IS "just a theory".

Its strength is that is the best fit for the evidence, not that it is deemed to be the truth. The scientific method is better than received truth precisely because no statement concerning the workings of the universe can be immutable (or sacrosanct). If a better theory than Darwin's came along then we would abandon Darwin. In point of fact there are some neo-Darwinists who claim that rather than gradual evolution, the evidence better fits the idea of sudden leaps followed by long periods of relatively slow change. Some disagree. The fact that Darwin is constantly subject to revision is the best proof we have that evolutionary science is strong. Received truth is the reverse - no theory can be abandoned, rather evidence must be dismissed. Once we say the science is settled it ceases to be science and becomes faith.

Post Modernism suggests that everyone is entitled to their own version of the truth. Fuller is at least honest and consistent when he suggests that ID advocates are as entitled to their version as anyone else. I would suggest that most PMs pay only lip service to this absolute relativism. They would privilege the narrative of say some Palestinian terrorist because his anti-western worldview coincides with their own. Most do not support the ID movement for precisely the reasons specified by Levitt.

There's an interesting post on this subject (Creationism) at Unenlightened Commentary http://fountain.blogspot.com/2007/12/politics-threats-to-science.html

"This encapsulates a lot of the problems I have with those who sneer about the views held by certain people about creationism, usually they are just as ignorant and misguided about the science as the creationists themselves. The likes of Peretz who don't understand evolution but know that they are passionately supportive of it aren't a huge concern in any practical sense, they're just annoying. The real danger to evolutionary science comes not from creationists or the Peretzs of this world but rather from those who claim to believe in evolution but try to silence anyone who proposes that it may apply to humans as much as any other species."

I think there's some truth in that. I recall the absolute horror of research into IQ when I was at university. I also note the common assumption that Eugenics was a movement of the right, which is an exact reversal of the history. The clearest example today is the attempt to shut down debate on AGW.

Mick H

Darwinism is a theory, but it's also the truth. That's the way it is. We don't just speculate that evolution happened - we know it happened. The whole of biology is based on that fact. All that punctuated evolution stuff from Gould et al is entirely compatible with natural selection. Yes, we don't know all the details, obviously, and the origins of life are still mysterious, but there's never going to be a point when biologists turn round and say, OK, now we know we were wrong, and evolution doesn't happen.


Let me separate your response into two parts: the nature of truth and the specifics of a particular theory being supplanted.

I think Evolution is a true theory because it fits the evidence best. I cannot conceive a better theory to explain the evidence. That is to say my criteria for truth is contingent upon the theory and the evidence. The corollary is that I am loyal to a method of determining the truth not a particular version of it. It doesn't matter that I can't conceive a better theory only that I be prepared to change to it. Statements such as "That's the way it is" suggest that your version of the truth is received; this is a statement that would not be amiss in the mouth of a creationist. It suggests that you would not change your view even if a better theory arose, merely because you can't conceive it. Is this correct?

Scientific theories are rarely completely reversed. More usually they are refined. Thus Newtonian Mechanics explains the movement of objects in the everyday world but fails to explain subatomic particles. In the same way I doubt that Evolution will ever be fundamentally rejected. I note however, that the science that operates at sub atomic levels seems pretty bizarre even today. The ideas of string theory or Schrödinger's cat seem fantastic. Therefore I don't dismiss the notion that Biology will develop in unexpected ways.

I would note this. Darwin didn't discover evolution or species mutability. The ideas date back to at least the Greek cities. Darwin proposed a mechanism that would drive the process - natural selection. He was a definite believer in gradualism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gradualism Therefore Gould's theory must be viewed as (at least in part) contrary to Darwin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punctuated_equilibrium Furthermore, whilst Darwin explains why certain mutations will survive and hence drive species change, this doesn't explain why mutations occur and in particular why the apparent rate increases dramatically at various times. This means that say, the pre-Cambrian explosion, doesn't prove Darwin wrong but does prove his theory inadequate.

Thus whilst Darwinism, in the sense of a popular shorthand for Evolution, is unlikely to be replaced, we already see evidence that Darwin in certain particulars has already been subject to revision.

Mick H

Well...clears throat...I'm quite happy to say "that's the way it is" about evolution because we know evolution happens. It's no longer deniable. There are all kinds of debates still possible, about whether the locus for evolution is at the gene level, whether group selection can happen, whether culture might have some effect, whether all that supposed junk DNA really is junk, and so on and so on. But evolution happens. We know that. It's a confusion to think that because we talk of the "theory" of evolution, that it's just a piece of speculation that could be superceded by something else. It isn't going to be. It's true. I think we should be quite unashamed of talking about truth here. It's that weaselly link between theory and speculation that allows the creationists to creep in and argue that it's not certain, that we don't know for sure. Well yes, it is certain. We do know for sure.

The analogy with physics seems to me a poor one. If there's an equivalent in physics to the Darwinian revolution, I'd say it was more like the change from astrology to astronomy - or alchemy to chemistry. It's the birth of (a) science. Biology before Darwin (simplifying, of course, but in general) wasn't so much a science as a classification system. Now we've moved from fixed god-created species to our current understanding of mutable life forms adapting to their environments with different levels of success - and there's no way back.

As for the punctuated equilibria stuff, I'm entirely unpersuaded that there's anything in it that's in any way a challenge to Darwin, as I believe Dawkins et al argued at the time. Which isn't to say that Darwin got everything right: of course he didn't.


I think we are talking at cross purposes. I'm attempting to place Darwinism into the Theory of Knowledge and would use Popper and the notion of falsifiability to demonstrate its truth, which would not apply to Creationism. The Scientific method stands or falls on its openness to challenge. That's my fundamental objection to your defence of evolution.

I think your analogy of astrology vs. astronomy is a useful one. Copernicus gave us heliocentrism, which I suggest equates to Darwin. Biology's Kepler will inevitably come along and it would be no less wrong to defend every syllable of The Origin of Species as to defend the Biblical account of Creation.

Have a good new year.


Let me come back on one point.

"It's that weaselly link between theory and speculation"

I'm aware that Creationists use the word theory in that way. If I've written so badly that you assume that is my intention, I'm sorry. From the point of view of the Scientific method, a theory can be treated as a fact. I don't regard Creationism as being a valid competitive science, not because it doesn't fit the evidence, but because it is a pseudo science. A theory that ultimately rests upon magic can't be disproved.

Steve Fuller

In light of this discussion, you might want to see my response to Levitt's review:


The comments to this entry are closed.