In the Last Days There Shall Be Scoffers
Current Biology this week contains two entries either attacking creationism or exalting Charles Darwin.1,2 Nigel Williams reports on the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr (see 07/02/2004 headline), and his “tireless campaign against creationism”:
Ernst Mayr, the renowned evolutionary biologist and champion of Darwin, celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month by leading a scathing attack on creationism. The evolutionary biologist, acclaimed as one of the most prolific researchers, has no intention of retiring and is shortly to publish new research that dismantles the fashionable creationist doctrine of ‘intelligent design’.
Apparently Mayr’s approach is nothing new to anyone in the I.D. community who has read On the Origin of Species; Williams says that “‘intelligent design’ – the latest way in which creationists have sought to present a divine origin of the world – was thoroughly rebutted by Charles Darwin a century and a half ago.” What’s motivating Mayr’s campaign? “a sense of exasperation at the re-emergence of creationism in the US,” Williams says. Evolution was no problem in Mayr’s childhood schools in Germany, so why are so many school boards trying to water it down or omit it in America? Williams recounts the case in Georgia when the superintendent of schools tried to have the “controversial buzzword” evolution “banned” from the curriculum. “Fierce protest, including criticism from Jimmy Carter, the former president, reversed this,” Williams states with apparent satisfaction.
In its ongoing series of interviews with practicing scientists, Current Biology interviewed mathematics professor (U. of Vienna) Karl Sigmund (also a popularizer of evolutionary game theory: see 02/10/2004 headline). Here is his answer to the question, “What turned you on to biology in the first place?”
I hit upon a German version of Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’ at the tender age of twelve. I cannot possibly have understood much of it, but was immediately fascinated, first by a photo of old Darwin, whose piercing eyes haunted me, and then by the idea of having apes among my forebears: it explained why I felt so happy in the tree-tops. Besides, I liked the fact that not a few of my elder family members – catholics all – were distressed to see the book in my hands. Much later, I noticed that a thoughtful editor had removed the parts on sexual selection. What would my relatives have said to that!
After Sigmund was turned off by biology in school and became fascinated with mathematics, there was another turning point:
I forgot all about biology and became a professor of mathematics before I came across ‘The Selfish Gene’. That was a turning point for me. [Richard] Dawkins’ very first sentence thrilled me: “This book should be read almost as though it were science fiction.” There were not just facts in biology; there was a place for the ‘what if’ a basic question for any mathematician.
Sigmund is asked about remaining challenges to evolutionary game theory, and admits it needs to be tied in with the biology and neurology of the brain, “how modules in the brain interact, and cooperate, in guiding an individuals’ feelings and wishes.” He points to tentative experiments that look for relationships between brain imaging and human reactions to perceived fair and unfair situations. “Such a form of neuro-economics – or, better, physio-economics, because hormone levels play a great role too – may eventually tell us more about human nature than anything since Darwin studied expressions of emotions in man and animals. And if I feel foolish when I re-read this sentence ten years from now, I will tell myself that it was pretty good science fiction.”
1Nigel Williams, “One long argument,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R540, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.002.
2“Q&A: Karl Sigmund,” Current Biology, Volume 14, Issue 14, 27 July 2004, Page R541, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2004.07.003.
One way for Karl Sigmund to feel foolish real fast is to read Creation-Evolution Headlines regularly and other publications outside the Darwin Party propaganda machine (here’s a list for starters). An easier way is to flip a few pages in the same issue of Current Biology to the articles on histones and condensins (see headline above). That’s if Sigmund is even interested in truth over “science fiction”. He said it himself: he was drawn to evolution not by a studied analysis of the facts, but by (1) the haunting eyes of Charlie, the materialist’s buddha, (2) a fallacious, childish non-sequitur that apes in the family tree made him feel at home climbing trees, and (3) childish rebellion. Parents, beware. If your kid can’t think straight or exercise self-control by the age of 12, it may be too late. The kid will be a sucker for the Darwin Party storytelling circus.
Ernst Mayr is on his last crusade before becoming a creationist. (For those at the Darwin National Convention, that means meeting your Maker.) Solomon said, in a paradoxical quatrain, to “answer not a fool according to his folly,” but rather, to “answer a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4-5*). This is not a contradiction. Answer not a fool according to his folly, “lest you be like him,”; i.e., don’t imitate his style of argument and get into a vituperative shouting match with irrelevant and useless trivia. Rather, answer a fool according to his folly “lest he be wise in his own eyes”; i.e., don’t let him get away with baloney, or let others who hear him be swayed by it. For instance, in biology class, your fellow students should not hear the evolutionary mythmaking of the teacher go uncontested. Suggested response: keep holding up the facts and asking logical questions. Teach Mayr and Sigmund about histones and condensins and diatoms and plant seeds and motorized sunscreens and migrating sparrows and cellular roller coasters and spider superpowers and underground pioneers and whale aeronautics and antennas built with motorized trucks and 300 million neurons required to see a picture and a million other things. Ask them, “How could such things evolve without plan or purpose? No, I mean really—not just a story, but really now. And if it happened, where is the evidence?” (see 07/22/2004 headline) Keep up the pressure, gently and persistently. These things take time. After sufficient exposure to the observations, if they continue to sputter nonsense, there is nothing more you can do except to try to prevent folly from becoming established as the official, uncontested curriculum for young, impressionable minds not yet able to discern their right hand from their left.