Defending Darwin Day
Tomorrow is the 199th birthday of Charles Darwin. The rising anticipation of a big 200th celebration next year prompts a question: why is this man worthy of such hullabaloo more than other scientists? Why the efforts to make Darwin Day an annual event of international scope? Kevin Padian undertook to justify all this attention in an essay in Nature,1 entitled, “Darwin’s enduring legacy.”
Perhaps no individual has had such a sweeping influence on so many facets of social and intellectual life as Charles Darwin, born on 12 February 1809. Of the other two of the great nineteenth-century triumvirate of European thinkers, Marx’s ideas have been distorted beyond recognition in their political execution, and Freud’s approach to the psyche no longer merits scientific recognition. Neither man had Darwin’s impact on the structure of empirical knowledge.2
Considering how high Marx and Freud rose before their fall into the dustbin of intellectual history, Padian needs to make the case that Darwin is not only the “last man standing” among the triumvirate but deserves to remain as Grand Marshall in an endless parade of scientific thinkers. “His contributions can scarcely be reduced to a simple list,” Padian disclaims, “but the following ten topics hint at the magnitude of the man’s legacy.” Each of the items on Padian’s list will be evaluated in the commentary. They are: (1) Natural selection, (2) One tree of life, (3) Genealogical classification, (4) Selective extinction, (5) Deep time, (6) Biogeographical distributions, (7) Sexual selection, (8) Coevolution, (9) Economy of nature, and (10) Gradual change.
At the end of the essay, Padian dismissed Darwin’s critics: “It is dismaying, then, to note the rise of anti-evolutionism in recent decades,” he said. “This is a direct result of the rise of religious fundamentalism, whose proponents feel it necessary to reject modern science on the basis of highly questionable (from mainstream historical and theological viewpoints) readings of sacred texts.” Padian did not deal with the many non-“fundamentalist” critics of Darwinism, including the 600 scientists with PhDs who signed the Dissent from Darwin statement. He used a label that is primarily employed these days in a derogatory manner.
Noting Darwin’s influences not only on science but literature and the humanities, Padian ended with praise for the liberating vision Darwin ushered in for all mankind:
Humans are animals, one species of many on the planet, bound by common ancestry to all other species, part of an ages-old dance of reproduction, accommodation, survival and alteration.
It is for this vision, one that liberates humans from the conceit of special creation, that Darwin was honoured by interment in Westminster Abbey. And it is for his innumerable scientific insights, most still as valid and stimulating as the day he coined them, that we look forward to celebrating him next year.
Kevin Padian also appeared in a Darwin Day press release posted on PhysOrg. The automatic ads, though, included a plug for Ben Stein’s upcoming movie Expelled which documents Darwinian attacks on intelligent design proponents and has a blog entry criticizing Darwin Day, as do Evolution News and Breakpoint.
1. Kevin Padian, “Darwin’s enduring legacy,” Nature 451, 632-634 (7 February 2008) | doi:10.1038/451632a.
2. Notice how Padian called it the structure of empirical knowledge, not empirical knowledge itself. This implies a paradigm shift in philosophy of science – a change in what constitutes ”empirical” knowledge. Philosopher J. P. Moreland termed Darwin’s revolution a third-order theory change. It was not simply a change of one theory with another, or a change of one value with another (e.g., elegance over utility). Darwin’s theory change was a revolution in what constitutes science itself.
Don’t be mesmerized by the rhetoric. It is to be expected that the Archbishop of Can’tbury Charlie’s Corpse, Kevin Padian, rector of Bestmonster Abbey and former head of the Darwin Party KGB (i.e., the NCSE), would exude great swelling words of vanity for his bearded Buddha. Did you notice how much of his sermon was religious in nature? If you expected a scientific defense of Darwinism, you got a mostly anticreationist, humanistic, antitheological rant. It was necessary to portray Darwin in bold either-or strokes: either stand with Darwin in the parade, or you are condemned as a fundamentalist heretic. Try that on David Berlinski.
For Padian’s pitches to count, he has to send them through the science batter box or walk out. This is Nature after all, reputed to be a “science” journal. Logically, he also needs to defend several propositions, not just assume them: namely, that the points are germane to Darwinism and nothing else, that Darwin alone dreamed them up, and that they are so supremely important that they are worthy of granting Darwin an international holiday above and beyond the birthdays of all the other greatest philosophers and scientists in history, none of whom, including Einstein, Newton or Maxwell, have anything like Darwin Day. Good luck, comrade Kevin:
- Natural selection: Darwin was co-inventor of this notion, so why no Wallace Day? Actually, neither discovered it. Hints of natural selection can be found in Edward Blyth (10/10/2002) and William Paley (12/18/2003) and others as far back as the Greeks. Even young-earth creationists accept natural selection to a degree (CMI), so big deal.
Padian admits the flawed associations with Malthus and Spencer, and admits N.S. was rejected till the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1930s brought it back with a vengeance. There exists a staunch minority of biologists who do not consider N.S. the be-all and end-all of evolutionary theory (e.g., 02/16/2005). Besides, who wins a birthday party for inventing a tautology? If fitness equates to survival, N.S. is a vacuous idea.
- One tree of life: Well, of all things. Look at Padian give good press to Haeckel – a racist hoaxster who “developed enthusiastically” the tree icon. Then, he assumes that the tree of life was vindicated by “the discovery of genetic structure more than a century after the Origin was published.” That is, only if one ignores recent findings and sweeps countless difficulties under the rug (02/01/2007, 10/08/2007). The single tree of life is not a conclusion from inductive reasoning from observation, but rather a paradigm into which all observations must be fitted. Neither was Darwin the inventor of this ancient notion that goes back to Democritus at least and is part and parcel of some pagan religions. You know, like Darwinism.
- Genealogical classification: Darwin should not have expected taxonomic divisions. His theory predicts smooth transitions between forms from top to bottom, from simple to complex. Besides, the ability to arrange assorted items into a taxonomic scheme has no necessary correlation with natural divisions that are “out there” in the world. Taxonomy is a human enterprise. Taxonomists try to arrange parts (whether tools, occupations, atoms, or whatever) into compartments that are useful to them. For Padian to claim that a genealogy-based scheme is somehow better than any philosophical, theological or pragmatic scheme, because it fits his preconceived notion of universal common ancestry, begs the question that evolution is empirical. Say it is useful to promote materialist religion, but don’t claim it carves nature at its joints.
- Selective extinction: Padian knocks down a straw man of the “great chain of being” then explains how selective extinction rescued Darwinism from the evidence: “the living world [i.e., the observations] is a patchwork of possible forms, with most transitional stages and features removed.” And you thought science was supposed to be about what you could see.
- Deep time: Darwin did not invent deep time. Aristotle believed in an eternal universe. Enlightenment anti-Christians before Darwin thought in terms of misty depths of prehistory: Comte du Buffon, Hutton, Lamarck and others. Why should Charlie get credit for begging the question? Darwin needed deep time, so he assumed it. Look at this marvelous example of chicanery:
True, Lord Kelvin’s calculated limits on solar duration nonplussed many supporters of Deep Time, but Darwin was not cowed by physics, because he knew the rocks. Deep Time was absolutely necessary to his theory, in a way that it had not been for any biological theory before. It was no longer possible to accept that Earth was 6,000 years old, as some Biblical scholars estimated.
Stand in amazement at this admission. Mr. Darwin was not cowed by physics. Well, he should have been! Lord Kelvin had him pinned and he refused to cry uncle (07/02/2007). What kind of scientific attitude is that? Deep Time was an escape, a hidden fortune where he could make reckless drafts on the bank of time.
Darwin “knew the rocks,” we are told. Ever see a rock with a date on it? Rock ages are interpreted, students, not discovered. Rocks were dubbed ancient, and it was no longer possible to accept a young earth, for one reason alone: “Deep Time was absolutely necessary to his theory.” It does not follow that the Earth needed Deep Time. By force of propaganda and group-think, Darwin and his musketeers rode a wave of Victorian materialist progressivism and rising dissatisfaction with organized religion (some of it deserved), redefined science and took over the institutions of learning. Since then, the Darwin Thought Police have enforced their totalitarian doctrines. That is why it is no longer possible to think outside the paradigm.
- Biogeographical distributions: For Padian to score with this pitch, he needs to prove that nobody else with any other theory could accommodate the observations. He simply asserts that “Only evolutionary adaptation and dispersal could account for such patterns” and that “the distributions of plants and animals are not serendipitous patterns or whims of a Creator.” This is a collection of hot air balloons wrapped in a straw man pinata. Maybe he should read the Creation Research Society Quarterly. The claim that plate tectonics confirmed Darwin’s theory is like the claim that Marx predicted Al Qaeda. Padian should read up on the philosophy of science, particularly in regard to scientific justification.
- Sexual selection: This idea is somewhat original to Darwin, but is not without controversy (05/17/2004). Furthermore, since it concerns microevolutionary change, it is not germane to his philosophy of universal common ancestry.
- Coevolution: Padian discusses long-tongued moths that pollinate orchids with long corollas (11/11/2007 commentary, bullet 13), parasites and symbiosis and “many other associations that can only reasonably be explained by co-evolution through diversification over millions of years.” We don’t need Padian to lecture us on what is reasonable.
How does Padian know that microevolutionary changes required millions of years? How does he know that these observations fit Darwin, the whole Darwin, and nothing but the Darwin? He needs more research on scientific justification of theories. Claiming that co-evolution confirms evolution is like claiming that theories of the unconscious confirm psychoanalysis or horoscopes prove astrology.
- Economy of nature: Did Darwin invent ecology? Certainly not. Great thinkers and scientists from Greeks to medieval scholars were not blind to the interactions of plants and animals. Calling Darwin the father of ecology is like calling Freud the father of dream theory – as if he were the only one who dreamt about it. All Darwin did was change the vision: “What had been, for earlier authors, the divinely ordained balance of nature became the autocatalytic war of nature.” If you want to believe that, worship in the mosque of Darwin, but don’t call it science.
- Gradual change: Padian spends a lot of time defending Darwin here in a most unusual way: he tries to prove that gradual doesn’t really mean gradual. Darwin can still be reconciled with punctuated equilibria (or punk eq, you know, the punk who goes around making gradualists squeal “Eek!”). But in Charlie’s own blessed words, he said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” Aside from the fact that Charlie’s rhetorical ploy put the onus on his critics to prove a universal negative and opened the door for endless just-so stories by his disciples (12/22/2003), it is clear that by gradual, King Charles meant really gradual.
Displaying his collection of non-sequiturs and big lies and half-truths and glittering generalities and irrelevant details on the table, Padian ends by acknowledging that there have been other great scientists, but Darwin is so precious and special we should all bow down and worship:
But Darwin moved intellectual thought from a paradigm of untestable wonder at special creation to an ability to examine the workings of that natural world, however ultimately formed, in terms of natural mechanisms and historical patterns. He rooted the classification of species within a single branching tree, and so gave systematics a biological, rather than purely philosophical, rationale. He framed most of the important questions that still define our understanding of evolution, from natural selection to sexual selection, and founded the main principles of the sciences of biogeography and ecology. His work is still actively read and discussed today, inspiring new students and scientists all over the world. Few authors can claim so much.
That paragraph is so corrupted with incestuous illogic and irrelevant appropriation of concepts not unique to Darwinism, only a gullible nitwit would be convinced that Charlie deserves Darwin Day. This reads like Party propaganda defending reasons why Lenin’s corpse is displayed in public so that the peasants can file by it in reverence, while the Party troops parade alongside the big guns with the subliminal message “Don’t stray out of line.” This list could not stand up to critical scrutiny from scientists or philosophers not already pledged to DODO (Darwin Only, Darwin Only).
Darwin may have been a polite English gentleman, but he was a loser who deserves to buried alongside his buddies Freud and Marx. His ideas have inhibited real science for 149 years with endless quests for the ultimate just-so story, and have energized proponents of eugenics, abortion, racism and social Darwinism. His disciples today have no conscience about playing God with human embryos. Science doesn’t need him, medicine doesn’t need him, and politics doesn’t need him. Let the dead bury their dead. Shed some tears on Darwin Day for all the harm he and his followers caused (11/30/2005). Then, for goodness’ sake, let’s get on into the 21st century – the century of intelligent design.