To: All Msg #35, Feb0693 10:12AM Subject: Darwin on Trial A few days ago, I read Phillip J

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From: James J. Lippard To: All Msg #35, Feb-06-93 10:12AM Subject: Darwin on Trial Organization: University of Arizona From: (James J. Lippard) Message-ID: <> Newsgroups: A few days ago, I read Phillip Johnson's _Darwin on Trial_ for the first time. I had previously read an interview with him in the _Bible-Science Newsletter_ and two of his articles from _First Things_, one of which I quoted from and commented on extensively here. (I'd also previously sent him some comments in email, to which he replied without addressing.) I do not think his book is anywhere near as bad as Stephen Jay Gould makes it out to be in his _Scientific American_ review. I think it does have some valuable things to say. At the very least, it shows how someone can be misled by popular writings on evolution, and how scientists have themselves been confused about what natural selection is. The following are a few of the things which jumped out at me as being particularly strange or wrong. I'd like to go through the book again when I have time, and offer some detailed comments on some of its more philosophical arguments, though I have already done this with Johnson's most recent _First Things_ article, which seems to make the same points. On p. 10, Johnson writes that "[Irving] Kristol observed that Darwinian theory, which explains complex life as the product of small genetic mutations and 'survival of the fittest,' is known to be valid only for variations within the biological species." Not only is this false, Johnson later admits it to be false. But not here--he doesn't question Kristol's statement, but restates it in the next sentence in a vaguer form: "That Darwinian evolution can gradually transform one kind of creature into another is merely a biological hypothesis, not a fact." Note the switch from "species" to "kind." On p. 19, Johnson writes that "In some cases, convincing circumstantial evidence exists of evolution that has produced new species in nature. Familiar examples include the hundreds of fruitfly species in Hawaii and the famous variations among 'Darwin's Finches' on the Galapagos Islands." On the same page, however, he writes that "Whether selection has ever accomplished speciation (i.e., the production of a new species) is not the point. ... If breeders one day did succeed in producing a group of dogs that can reproduce with each other but not with other dogs, they would still have made only the tiniest step towards proving Darwinism's important claims." So Johnson is willing to admit that natural selection can produce new species, but that's not the point--he thinks it's still not "proven" that it can produce larger-scale changes. I don't believe, however, that he ever states in the book what kind of evidence he would accept as such proof--perhaps a complete and continuous fossil record. On p. 12, Johnson writes, "But consider Colin Patterson's point that a fact of evolution is vacuous unless it comes with a supporting theory. Absent an explanation of how fundamental transformations can occur, the bare statement that 'humans evolved from fish' is not impressive." Johnson here appears to have a double standard, since he is willing to accept a bare statement of supernatural creation without a mechanism. This also seems to be incorrect. Surely we can have excellent evidence that something *has* occurred without having any inking of how it has done so. On p. 50, Johnson quotes Gould: The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. [...] 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually [...] (Johnson quotes more, but this is all I want to look at.) Johnson concludes from this passage that "In short, if evolution means the gradual change of one kind of organism into another kind, the outstanding characteristic of the fossil record is the absence of evidence for evolution." Notice that Gould says "The history of *most* fossil species" exhibits these features; that "*Most* species exhibit no directional change." Johnson transforms this into "absence of evidence for evolution" as "*the* outstanding characteristic of the fossil record." "Most" has become "all." In chapter 7 (pp. 86-99), Johnson's account of "The Molecular Evidence" makes no mention of pseudogenes. On p. 107, here is how Johnson addresses artificial life: Prospects for experimental success are so discouraging that the more enterprising researchers have turned to computer simulations that bypass the experimental roadblocks by employing convenient assumptions. An article in _Science_ in 1990 summarized the state of computer research into "spontaneous self-organization," a concept based upon the premise that complex dynamical systems tend to fall into a highly ordered state even in the absence of selection pressures. This premise may seem to contradict the famous Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that ordered energy inevitably collapses into disorder or maximum "entropy." There is reason to believe, however, that in a local system (the earth) which takes in energy from the outside (the sun), the second law permits some kinds of spontaneous self-organization to occur. For example, ordered structures like snowflakes and crystals are common. More to the point, most scientists assume that *life* originated spontaneously and thereafter evolved to its present state of complexity. This could not have happened unless powerful self-organizing tendencies were present in nature. Starting from assumptions like that, scientists can design computer models that mimic the origin of life and its subsequent evolution. Whether the models have any connection to reality is another question. According to _Science_, "Advocates of spontaneous organization are quick to admit that they aren't basing their advocacy on empirical data and laboratory experiments, but on abstract mathematics and novel computer models." The biochemist G.F. Joyce commented: "They have a long way to go to persuade mainstream biologists of the relevance [of this work]." That's it. No comment on whether or not these models prove (in the strong sense!) that complexity can emerge from simplicity. On p. 122, Johnson writes that "If scientific naturalism is to occupy a dominant cultural position, it must do more than provide information about the physical universe. It must draw out the spiritual and ethical implications of its creation story. In short, evolution must become a religion." This appears to me to be either tautological (if by "a dominant cultural position" Johnson means "play the role of religion") or simply bizarre. What kind of spiritual and ethical implications does Johnson think must follow from one account of origins rather than another? Why must *science* be the source of morality, even for someone who rejects the existence of God? (I don't believe in God, and I don't expect science to be the source of morality.) Jim Lippard Lippard@CCIT.ARIZONA.EDU Dept. of Philosophy Lippard@ARIZVMS.BITNET University of Arizona Tucson, AZ 85721 =================================================================== It seems to me that Phillip Johnson believes that there is a philosophy which he calls "scientific naturalism" which is being promoted as the dominant philosophy of these times, and that "evolution" is one of its main supports. He writes in the article "Creator or Blind Watchmaker" (in "First Things", Jan. 1993, pp8-14) Failure to understand that Darwinism is primarily a philosophical rather than an empirical doctrine has made theistic naturalists unduly fearful of incurring what is called the "god of the gaps" problem. [p.14] The question that needs to be investigated, however, is not whether there are gaps in a fundamentally sound theory that has successfully explained a great deal. It is whether Darwinism is wrong _in_ _principle_ in assuming that marvelously complex structures like the human body, or even the bacterial cell, can be built up by an unguided material process. [p. 14, his italics] Attempts to accommodate theism and Darwinism are inherently futile, but the accommodation of theism and empirical science is quite another matter. ... Moreover, empirical science is limited by its methods, and can only tell us _how_ things work rather than whether they were brought into existence in furtherance of a higher purpose. [p. 14, his italics] -- Tom Scharle |scharle@irishmvs(Bitnet) Room G003 Computing Center | University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, IN 46556-0539 USA ====================================================================== Let me just quote a few things which may be of interest to people who follow the debates in, from Johnson's article, "Creator or Blind Watchmaker" (First Things, Jan. 1993, pp.8-14) Darwinists assiduously promote the notion that the only possible alternatives are six-day Genesis literalism on the one hand, and fully naturalistic, neo-Darwinistic evolution on the other. Given such an understanding of the alternatives, anyone who suspects that the cosmos may be billions of years old, or that life may have been created through some long- term process of development, becomes an "evolutionist" -- who by definition rejects "creationism". [p. 9] As I said, this may be of interest to the frequent readers. From whom do we hear that these are the only alternatives? My opinion is that it is the "creationist" side who bombards us with this. (BTW, I wonder what the "creationists" have to say about Johnson's opinions here?) [Or the Christian evolutionists!] ... the fundamental disagreement is not over the age of the universe or the method of creation; it is over whether we owe our existence to a purposeful Creator or a blind materialistic process. [p. 9] As long as this thread is supposed to be a meta-debate, may I ask why there should be a debate between Phillip Johnson and Chris Colby? I have no idea of Colby's philosophy, but whatever it is, and as much respect I have for him, I do not think that he is the appropriate stand-in for us in a philosophical debate. -- Tom Scharle |scharle@irishmvs(Bitnet)


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