To: Joe Morlan 931109 22:42:24 Subject: Mayr on Darwin I've been checking the TAMU library

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

From: Wesley R. Elsberry To: Joe Morlan 93-11-09 22:42:24 Subject: Mayr on Darwin I've been checking the TAMU library pretty regularly, and just this evening was able to check out Mayr's "One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought". It was worth the wait. One thing that it clears up is exactly what Mayr's opinion on Darwin and species is. Mayr is critical of Darwin's stance as published in the Origin Of Species, but never did Mayr get to the "scathing" level that has been elsewhere imputed to him, at least not in what I've read. I'm going to resurrect a post from September 25 from Joe Morlan. In two separate messages, Joe has indicated an unwillingness to discuss anything further with me, based upon age of messages (Joe stated that he wasn't interested in defending ancient messages that had expired off his local BBS, which is an excellent tactic when reminded of the indefensible) and upon the contention that he won't talk to me until I issue an apology for accusing Joe of altering quoted messages such that the original meaning was inverted (I've got the messages; Joe did delete and split quoted text and claim meanings for the remainder that were not what I had entered; I'll provide them for download if anybody is interested. Since I'm the one with a legitimate claim to an apology, it is likely to be a while before Joe makes any responses to my messages.). [Quotes from a 25 Sep 93 post by Joe Morlan] WRE> While I was looking up the context in the original message, WRE> I found an interesting claim of yours: "Darwin never defined the species concept. In fact Darwin had only a vague idea of what a species is." -- Joe Morlan, 3 September 1993 WRE> I've got my copy of Darwin's Origin of Species [first WRE> edition, of course] here in front of me right now, and I was WRE> wondering if I could get your opinion on this: WRE> This I feel sure, and I speak after experience, will be no WRE> slight relief. The endless disputes whether or not some WRE> fifty species of British brambles are true species will WRE> cease. [I don't imagine that this was one of Darwin's WRE> better predictions. -- WRE] Systematists will have only to WRE> decide (not that this will be easy) whether any form be WRE> sufficiently constant and distinct from other forms, to be WRE> capable of definition; and if definable, whether the WRE> differences be sufficiently important to deserve a specific WRE> name. JM> Darwin provides an ill-defined, currently discredited, JM> morphological species concept. It is not the biological JM> species, nor the phylogenetic, nor is it any other JM> currently accepted concept of species. Darwin is saying JM> that a species is whatever a systematist says it is. JM> This is not a workable definition. Let's see what Mayr says, hmm? "The species concept [interesting wording there, wouldn't you say, Joe?] at which Darwin finally arrived is clearly described in the Origin. There is nothing left of the biological criteria of the notebooks, and his characterization of the species now is a mixture of the typological and nominalist species definitions." WRE> This latter point will become a far more essential WRE> consideration than it is at present; for differences, WRE> however slight, between any two forms, if not blended by WRE> intermediate gradations, are looked at by most naturalists WRE> as sufficient to raise both forms to the rank of species. WRE> Hereafter we shall be compelled to acknowledge that the only WRE> distinction between species and well-marked varieties is, WRE> that the latter are known, or believed, to be connected at WRE> the present day by intermediate gradations, whereas species WRE> were formerly thus connected. [Note the prediction of WRE> discontinuity here. I'll come back to that. -- WRE] JM> You might interpret Darwin as predicting discontinuity JM> via extinction of intermediate forms. But he is not JM> talking about species as we know them today. He's JM> talking about any discontinuity in variation regardless JM> of whether they are biological species or not. Really? Mayr again: "However, each of the three major species concepts (typological, evolutionary, and biological) has a certain legitimacy in some areas of biological research, even today. [...]" That would certainly seem to take a bit of steam out of the absolute statement, "he is not talking about species as we know them today". Given the criticism of Sokal and Crovello, it is an open question as to just how operational the biological species concept is. Something is being applied, but that something is not likely to be the BSC. There may be more life in typology than you've imagined. I think the BSC is a great concept. It just doesn't seem to be followed with any great frequency or regularity. WRE> Hence, without quite rejecting the consideration of WRE> intermediate gradations between any two forms, we shall be WRE> led to weigh more carefully and value higher the actual WRE> amount of difference between them. It is quite possible WRE> that forms now generally acknowledged to be merely varieties WRE> may hereafter be thought worthy of specific names, as with WRE> the primrose and cowslip; and in this case scientific and WRE> common language will come into accordance. In short, we WRE> shall have to treat species in the same manner as those WRE> naturalists treat genera, who admit that genera are merely WRE> artificial combinations made for convenience. JM> Here Darwin is saying that species have no more objective JM> reality than genera. They are simply a matter of JM> opinion. This is not science. This is babble. Really? Mayr quoted the very same passage that I did, and his immediately following commentary is: "The example set by Darwin was followed by just about every taxonomist and evolutionist in the nineteenth century except for a few enlightened field naturalists. It clearly was the species concept of the Mendelians. [...]" While critical, the above could hardly be considered congruent with terming Darwin's quoted text as "babble". WRE> This may not be a cheering prospect; but we shall at least WRE> be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and WRE> undiscoverable essence of the term species." JM> He's offering a heuristic approach to avoid having to JM> define a the term, "species." This is what creationists JM> do when asked to define the term "kind." It's like the JM> old definition of pornography. "I cannot define it, but JM> I know it when I see it." Mayr seems to think that the passage I quoted contained a clearly described species concept. So did I. Which leaves you, once again, on the other side of the fence. WRE> This seems to be a compact operational definition of WRE> "species" as it was understood in 1859, with predictions on WRE> what it would become. JM> These predictions were wrong, and what you call an JM> "operational definition" is what I call a crock. We've already seen that Mayr asserts that Darwin's species concept was the operational one for quite some little time. Earlier in the book, Mayr says, "[...] Darwin was the first person to work out a sound theory of classification, one which is still adopted by the majority of taxonomists. [...]" Pretty good for someone that you've claimed had nothing to say about species, I'd say. WRE> I do believe that demolishes your assertion given WRE> previously. JM> In your dreams. Mayr's as well as mine, it would seem. WRE> I had wondered about your assertion before, given Darwin's WRE> work on the taxonomy of barnacles and insectivorous plants. WRE> If Darwin had been inept or incorrect in his grasp of where WRE> to differentiate between species, I would have expected to WRE> find an indication of that reflected in the biographies that WRE> I've read. Amazingly, though, this fellow with "only a WRE> vague idea of what a species is" published quite a few WRE> volumes of systematic work without engendering commentary or WRE> criticism out of the ordinary for such work. Maybe we could WRE> ask Duane Gish to derive a probability for *that* unlikely WRE> event... JM> Darwin's concept of species has come under scathing JM> criticism by Ernst Mayr. Please read "Animal Species and JM> Evolution" before concluding that Darwin's species JM> concept has not engendered "commentary or criticism out JM> of the ordinary for such a work." Again, Mayr's work is contemporary, so there's no chance that "biographies of Darwin" would record Darwin's reaction to Mayr's criticism, is there? Also, Mayr has critiqued the Origin of Species in the two works I have here, not Darwin's systematic work. Two strikes on this one section, and ... Mayr is certainly critical of Darwin's later writings on defining species. However, Mayr notes that Darwin's notebooks indicate that Darwin utilized a variant of the biological species concept for a period of some fifteen years, and only ran aground on the shoals of botany prior to penning the Origin of Species. Having developed and defined two of the major species concepts within one lifetime is quite an achievement for that fellow who said "nothing about species" or who only had a "vague idea about what a species" was, eh? JM> Standard Creationism (that all life was created as it is JM> now) predicts that life will be organized into JM> discontinuities (separate species). Evolution, in and of JM> itself, does not predict that life will be organized into JM> the discontinuous gene pools which we observe today. WRE> Note that the sentence beginning, "Hereafter we shall be WRE> compelled to acknowledge ..." nicely rebuts your assertion WRE> that evolutionary theory does not predict discontinuity in WRE> heredity. While Darwin didn't have the jargon "gene pools" WRE> to kick around, it sure looks like that is what he is WRE> talking about here. JM> Darwin is claiming that extinction of intermediates will JM> result in "species" as long as the differences are JM> sufficient for a systematist to warrant their JM> recognition. Darwin views species as any discontinuity JM> regardless of reproductive isolation. Darwin's theory of JM> evolution, does indeed predict such discontinuities. But JM> since Darwin's "definition" of species has no resemblance JM> to the modern idea of "species" Darwins's theory of JM> evolution does not (and could not) predict speciation as JM> we now understand the concept. Really? Again, let's hear from Mayr: "(3) Multiplication of species. This theory explains the origin of the enormous organic diversity. It postulates that species multiply, either by splitting into daughter species or by 'budding,' that is, by the establishment of geographically isolated founder populations that evolve into new species." This is theory number three of five which Mayr identifies as contributions of Darwin in the Origin. You remember Mayr, the fellow who is the main proponent of the BSC? He didn't seem to have terrible difficulty in recognizing in Darwin's writing the same thing that I did. WRE> From your September 3 post again: WRE> JM> I know this stuff, guy. WRE> How do you propose that we go about finding out when you WRE> actually "know this stuff" as compared to when you merely WRE> think that you "know this stuff"? The level of confidence WRE> with which you forward assertions does not appear to vary WRE> between the two cases, which makes that an unreliable WRE> indicator. JM> I always appreciate the obligatory personal insults at JM> the end of each of your messages. They give the echo a JM> unique warm, cozy atmosphere. JM> Have a great day. It isn't "insulting" to have shown your statements to be founded on something rather less stable than Birnam Wood, and ask how we should treat further items in this vein in the future. It does appear to be a problem, and given the attitude you have toward hearing corrections, it would seem to be intractable. I mean, all the fun would have gone right out of this if you had responded to the quote from Darwin with something like, "Gee, I must have missed that on my previous reading. It looks like Darwin did say something about species, even if he was wrong." Instead, your going ballistic over the mere thought that someone might actually question your assertion has provided a few months worth of low grade amusement. It is really a very nice day here, snuggling up to Mayr's book, and finding I have every justification for saying, "I told you so." Well, I did tell you so. You told me off, and now you may do the same for Mayr. I'm sure he'll understand. Have a simply peachy day, Joe. --- msgedsq 2.0.5 * Origin: Central Neural System 409-589-3338 (1:117/385)


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank