Some evolutionists not only own up to just-so storytelling; they parade it.
Evolutionary biologists have been shamed about storytelling for decades, often by their own colleagues. For instance, back in 2004, George Williams—an influential evolutionist—expressed his disgust with some of his colleagues who exchanged scientific rigor for ad-hoc scenarios (5/31/04). The storytellers would claim that any adaptation “had evolved because it provided some benefit” to an individual or population. Anyone can imagine a benefit leading to a trait, but where is the connection between cause and effect? In fact, as we have pointed out, it’s illogical to say something “evolved to” do something, because natural selection is supposed to be blind and purposeless. One case Williams heard about was the notion that dying of the elderly “evolved to do it so we get out of the way, so the young people can go on maintaining the species.” He called this “absolute nonsense” and called on his fellows to act more scientific. This was also a theme of the late Stephen Jay Gould, who dubbed the storytelling habit “Darwinian fundamentalism.” The phrase “just-so story” is itself pejorative to Darwinism, reflecting a caricature of explanation like the childish stories of that name written by Rudyard Kipling for children. Scientists are supposed to do better.
So have evolutionists learned their lesson? Look at this brazen headline in Current Biology: “Just So Stories about the Evolution of Apoptosis” (i.e., programmed cell death). Douglas Green and Patrick Fitzgerald aren’t writing to confess and repent. They’re bragging:
We suggest scenarios for the evolution of one pathway of apoptosis, the mitochondrial pathway, and consider how they might be tested. We conclude with a ‘Just So Story’ of how the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis might have evolved during eukaryotic evolution.
This “scenario” is just as nonsensical as the one about seniors evolving to die so young people could evolve, but the editors of Current Biology let it through anyway, despite the blatant title. Other evolutionists may not be so up front about it, but are just as guilty. Some recent examples:
How early mammals evolved night vision to avoid predators (Science Daily): We’re told that “early mammals evolved night vision to find food and survive” but then later, “our ancestors later evolved to take advantage of the daylight hours again.” No rigor at the BBC News, either: Helen Briggs employs the same Kipling formula in, “How early mammals evolved night vision to escape dinos.”
Putting the sloth in sloths: Arboreal lifestyle drives slow motion pace (Science Daily): This article says that sloth-type lifestyles are rare because more animals “have not evolved to take advantage of a widespread ecological niche.” The reader finds the sophoxymoronic phrase, “evolutionary logic” in the body of the article.
Mathematicians may have found an answer to the longstanding puzzle as to why we have evolved to cooperate (PhysOrg): Aren’t mathematicians rigorous? Usually, but not when they join evolutionists in the storytelling game. Not only did these mathematicians trade in stories, they committed two other fallacies: (1) attributing cooperation to chance, which is no explanation at all (Stuff Happens Law), and (2) falling into the self-refuting trap of ridding cooperation of morality, which means bystanders could accuse them of being the cheaters. On what basis could they refute the criticism that their paper is an evolutionary strategy to cheat and pass on their genes? Isn’t just-so storytelling for a scientist a kind of cheating by definition?
Real reason turtles have shells: Burrowing tool (Science Daily): A lot of reporters jumped on the bandwagon of evolutionists who published in Current Biology a new story for the origin of turtle shells. The shells did not evolve for protection, they say; “Adaptation related to digging was the initial impetus in the origin of the shell” instead. They extend their tale by adding, “Fossoriality [burrowing] likely helped stem turtles survive the Permian/Triassic extinction.” The folly in this story is immediately evident. If this were a law of nature, why didn’t all the other burrowing animals, like rodents and badgers, evolve shells? No reporters asked these simple questions (e.g., Laura Geggel at Live Science). Instead, they just regurgitated the press release from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science that qualifies for Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week by providing two just-so stories for the price of one:
“Why the turtle shell evolved is a very Dr. Seuss-like question and the answer seems pretty obvious — it was for protection,” said Dr. Lyson, lead author of Fossorial Origin of the Turtle Shell, which was released today by Current Biology. But just like the bird feather did not initially evolve for flight, the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived.”
Tail use improves performance on soft substrates in models of early vertebrate land locomotors (Science Magazine). Biomimetics is good science, isn’t it? What if a just-so story leads to an advance in robotics? When Science talks, reporters listen, and their latest tale of the tail was no exception. A companion summary in Science asks, “How did early four-limbed vertebrates, or stem tetrapods, move on land?” Here comes the Kipling answer: “the tail may have helped stem tetrapods to move on land.” So, imitating living mudskippers, robot designers added a tail to their creations for better movement. The application, however, does not justify the evolutionary story. Did mudskippers design their tails “to move on land” better? Of course not. There’s no comparison between whatever process outfitted mudskippers with muscular tails and the intentional planning that went into the robot. Nor does the story explain why all the other strong-tailed fish remained in the water, or why marine mammals didn’t shuck their tails when returning to the sea. Nor does it explain why mudskippers are not further along in their land-based evolution. But Science’s imprimatur was enough to send the compliant press into obeisance, setting reporters’ imaginations free to link a modern design with an ancient imaginary scenario:
- Robot helps study how first land animals moved 360 million years ago (Science Daily)
- Mudskipper Robot Mimics Ancient Land Animals’ First ‘Steps’ (Live Science)
- Robot Modeled After Mudskipper Fish may reveal How Ancient Animals Moved (Maine News Online).
In the last piece, the local reporter accepts the story uncritically, bowing to the experts, saying in her own Darwinian words,
Experts believe that modern land animals evolved when ancient tetrapods came out of water of live on land. When they started spending more time out of water, their body parts started changing according to environment.…
They said the new robot will reveal several interesting things about land animals that lived on earth millions of years ago.
The Ideology Behind Just-So Stories
In an oft-quoted confession nearing 20 years old, leading evolutionist Richard Lewontin revealed why no amount of shaming is likely to change the bad habits of the Darwin storytellers. He wrote for the New York Review of Books in 1997:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
Lewontin went on to say that believing in God meant believing in miracles, and that if you believe that, anything is possible. But what’s the difference between a miracle story and a just-so story? Precious little, Kipling would think. And if unguided material causes must be called on to produce irreducibly complex systems like mudskippers, turtles and mammals, any theist could argue that Lewontin’s miracles seem more incredible than creation by an all-sufficient intelligent cause. Besides, materialism is not made up of materials. It’s a concept—an ideology, not a mindless collocation of atoms and forces. If Lewontin believes some ideas are true, then he must appeal to the supernatural: to ideas like truth and honesty.
Progress can only come when scientists themselves put the pressure on their peers. If you are a scientist reading this, get angry. Write the journals when you see this kind of storytelling. Let them have a piece of your mind. All of you: even if you are evolutionists, start a campaign. Pour on the shame. Don’t let your peers do this. Why? It weakens your argument. It gives opportunities for creationists to mock you. A meaningful dialogue on origins can only occur when the evidence is presented in a rigorous way, without the imaginary “scenarios” that concoct possible ways the evidence “might” fit into a Darwin tale.
We here at CEH certainly don’t intend to let the storytellers get away with it. And if we and other sites get enough of the public to see through the fogma of confabulatatory shenanigans, you might just lose funding. The journals are already vulnerable to new trends in open access and open review. It might not take much more shaming to reach a tipping point. The only way forward for you evolutionists reading this is to straighten up and get rigorous in your science, the way you are expected to.
But of course, if you think storytelling is your evolutionary strategy to pass on your genes, then it’s clear. You were a charlatan all along. You’re not even trying to be right. We’ll expose that, too.