August 30, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Evolution Is Practically Useless, Admits Darwinist

Supporters of evolution often tout its many benefits.  They claim it helps research in agriculture, conservation and medicine (e.g., 01/13/2003, 06/25/2003).  A new book by David Mindell, The Evolving World: Evolution in Everyday Life (Harvard, 2006) emphasizes these practical benefits in hopes of making evolution more palatable to a skeptical society.  Jerry Coyne, a staunch evolutionist and anti-creationist, enjoyed the book in his review in Nature,1 but thought that Mindell went overboard on “Selling Darwin” with appeals to pragmatics:

To some extent these excesses are not Mindell’s fault, for, if truth be told, evolution hasn’t yielded many practical or commercial benefits.  Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance, and yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say.  Evolution cannot help us predict what new vaccines to manufacture because microbes evolve unpredictably.  But hasn’t evolution helped guide animal and plant breeding?  Not very much.  Most improvement in crop plants and animals occurred long before we knew anything about evolution, and came about by people following the genetic principle of ‘like begets like’.  Even now, as its practitioners admit, the field of quantitative genetics has been of little value in helping improve varieties.  Future advances will almost certainly come from transgenics, which is not based on evolution at all.

Coyne further describes how the goods and services advertised by Mindell are irrelevant for potential customers, anyway:

One reason why Mindell might fail to sell Darwin to the critics is that his examples all involve microevolution, which most modern creationists (including advocates of intelligent design) accept.  It is macroevolution – the evolutionary transitions between very different kinds of organism – that creationists claim does not occur.  But in any case, few people actually oppose evolution because of its lack of practical use…. they oppose it because they see it as undercutting moral values.

Coyne fails to offer a salve for that wound.  Instead, to explain why macroevolution has not been observed, he presents an analogy .  For critics out to debunk macroevolution because no one has seen a new species appear, he compares the origin of species with the origin of language: “We haven’t seen one language change into another either, but any reasonable creationist (an oxymoron?) must accept the clear historical evidence for linguistic evolution,” he says, adding a jab for effect. “And we have far more fossil species than we have fossil languages” (but see 04/23/2006).  It seems to escape his notice that language is a tool manipulated by intelligent agents, not random mutations.  In any case, his main point is that evolution shines not because of any hyped commercial value, but because of its explanatory power:

In the end, the true value of evolutionary biology is not practical but explanatory.  It answers, in the most exquisitely simple and parsimonious way, the age-old question: “How did we get here?”  It gives us our family history writ large, connecting us with every other species, living or extinct, on Earth.  It shows how everything from frogs to fleas got here via a few easily grasped biological processes.  And that, after all, is quite an accomplishment.

See also Evolution News analysis of this book review, focusing on Coyne’s stereotyping of creationists.  Compare also our 02/10/2006 and 12/21/2005 stories on marketing Darwinism to the masses.


1Jerry Coyne, “Selling Darwin,” Nature 442, 983-984(31 August 2006) | doi:10.1038/442983a; Published online 30 August 2006.

You heard it right here.  We didn’t have to say it.  One of Darwin’s own bulldogs said it for us: evolutionary theory is useless.  Oh, this is rich.  Don’t let anyone tell you that evolution is the key to biology, and without it we would fall behind in science and technology and lose our lead in the world.  He just said that most real progress in biology was done before evolutionary theory arrived, and that modern-day advances owe little or nothing to the Grand Materialist Myth.  Darwin is dead, and except for providing plot lines for storytellers, the theory that took root out of Charlie’s grave bears no fruit (but a lot of poisonous thorns: see 08/27/2006).
    To be sure, many things in science do not have practical value.  Black holes are useless, too, and so is the cosmic microwave background.  It is the Darwin Party itself, however, that has hyped evolution for its value to society.  With this selling point gone, what’s left?  The only thing Coyne believes evolution can advertise now is a substitute theology to answer the big questions.  Instead of an omniscient, omnipotent God, he offers the cult of Tinker Bell and her mutation wand as an explanation for endless forms most beautiful.  Evolution allows us to play connect-the-dot games between frogs and fleas.  It allows us to water down a complex world into simplistic, “easily grasped” generalities.  Such things are priceless, he thinks.  He’s right.  It costs nothing to produce speculation about things that cannot be observed, and nobody should consider such products worth a dime.
    We can get along just fine in life without the Darwin Party catalog.  Thanks to Jerry Coyne for providing inside information on the negative earnings in the Darwin & Co. financial report.  Sell your evolution stock now before the bottom falls out.

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