(continued Subject: SWAA Lecture Date: 18 Jan 1993 16:25:42 GMT Readers familiar with Goul

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

Skeptic Tank!

(continued From: philjohn@garnet.berkeley.edu (Phillip Johnson) Subject: SWAA Lecture Date: 18 Jan 1993 16:25:42 GMT ) Readers familiar with Gould's writings know that he has at times expressed great skepticism concerning the neo-Darwinian theory that Dobzhansky proclaimed so confidently. In a paper published in Paleobiology in 1980, Gould wrote that, although he had been "beguiled" by the unifying power of neo-Darwinism when he studied it as a graduate student in the 1960's, the weight of the evidence has since driven him to the reluctant conclusion that neo-Darwinism "as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as textbook orthodoxy." In place of the dead orthodoxy Gould predicted the emergence of a new macroevolutionary theory based on the views of the geneticist Richard Goldschmidt, another heretic whose views were every bit as obnoxious to Darwinists as those of Grasse. The new theory did not arrive as predicted, however, and Gould subsequently seems to have heeded Dobzhansky's admonition: if you can't improve on the mutation/selection mechanism, don't trash it in public. For whatever reason, Gould did not point out to his readers that the utterly un-Darwinian Cambrian fossil record provides no support whatever for claims about the role of mutation and selection in the creation of complex animal life, or for metaphysical speculations about the purposeless of the process that created humans. Instead, he indulged freely in just such speculation himself, rightly judging that his audience of intellectuals would accept an atheistic interpretation of the evidence uncritically. In the concluding chapter he commented on a Burgess Shale fossil called Pikaia. Walcott classified Pikaia as a worm, but a more recent study concludes that the creature was a member of the phylum Chordata, which includes the subphylum Vertebrata, which includes us. That for Gould means that Pikaia might be our ancestor, which implies that, unlike many other Burgess Shale creatures, it left descendants. If Pikaia had not survived the mass extinctions that killed off so many other Cambrian fossil creatures, we would never have evolved. The existence of humans is therefore not a predictable consequence of evolution, but a never-to-be-repeated accident. Gould concluded this reflection, and the book, with the following sentence: We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes -- one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way. Of course there is absolutely nothing in the Burgess Shale fossils to support Gould's speculation that the universe is indifferent to our sufferings, or to discredit the belief that we are responsible to a divine Creator who actively intervened in nature to bring about our existence. On the contrary, the genuine scientific portion of Wonderful Life provides ample grounds for doubting the expansive notions of metaphysical naturalists like Theodosius Dobzhansky and George Gaylord Simpson. But because of Darwinism's rules of reasoning, even evidence which is thoroughly contrary to Darwinism supports Darwinism. Darwinian evolution will surely remain the reigning paradigm as long as Dobzhansky's metaphysical rules are enforced. To say this is merely to say that the neo-Darwinian synthesis is the most plausible naturalistic and materialistic theory for the development of complex life that persons philosophically committed to excluding the Creator from the Cosmos have been able to invent. The neo-Darwinian synthesis is a vague and flexible conglomeration that readily incorporates any seemingly non- Darwinian elements -- such as the molecular clock, or punctuated equilibrium, or even the ability of bacteria to summon needed mutations -- that appear from time to time. If Dobzhansky's team makes the rules this conglomeration of naturalistic ideas wins, because all the powerful critical points made by such informed critics as Pierre Grasse are excluded a priori from consideration. To Darwinists evolution is by definition a single phenomenon. Dobzhansky's fruitfly variations constitute evolution, and evolution is also the grand creative process that produced fruitflies and human beings in the first place. Of course new genetic information originates by some combination of random genetic changes and natural selection: how else could it originate without the participation of some force unknown to our science? Darwinism is the product of Dobzhansky's rules, and to protect the theory contemporary Darwinists insist that those rules are binding upon all who would ask questions about how complex life came into existence. Does Darwinian selection really have the creative effect that Darwinists claim for it? The question doesn't arise. The power of natural selection to create was settled long ago -- not by evidence, but by the cultural power of those who made the rules. Anyone who questions those rules -- even if he is President of the French Academy and the most knowledgeable zoologist in the world -- is dismissed out of hand. He doesn't understand how science works. I have the honor of speaking today to an audience of anthropologists in an age which is often characterized as "post- modern." Surely this audience above all others ought to understand how a priesthood can maintain its cultural authority by enforcing rules of discourse that prevent consideration of alternatives that the priests disfavor. I assume that this audience also has some acquaintance with the literature of the philosophy of science. If so, you are not likely to be fooled by persons who proclaim that there is a unitary activity called "science," which has fixed boundaries and is governed by a set of rules that no one may question. Philosophers know better. Here, for example, is the concluding paragraph of Larry Laudan's famous article, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem:" Through certain vagaries of history, ...we have managed to conflate two quite distinct questions: What makes a belief well founded (or heuristically fertile)? And what makes a belief scientific? The first set of questions is philosophically interesting and possibly even tractable; the second question is both uninteresting and, judging by its checkered past, intractable. If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like "pseudo-science" and "unscientific" from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.... Insofar as our concern is to protect ourselves and our fellows from the cardinal sin of believing what we wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for (and surely that is what most forms of "quackery" come down to), then our focus should be squarely on the empirical and conceptual credentials for claims about the world. The "scientific" status of those claims is irrelevant. Surely Laudan is on the right track. For example, whether mutation and selection can create complex organs like wings and eyes is a question to be resolved by evidence. To insist that belief in the creative power of natural selection is "scientific," and doubt on the subject is inherently "religious," or even an instance of the thought crime known as "creationism," is simply to try to prejudice the inquiry with a tendentious use of labels. Perhaps those who attribute creation to a Creator are committing what Laudan called "the cardinal sin of believing what they wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for." On the other hand, perhaps this is still more true of Darwinists, who are so eager to believe on slight evidence that natural selection can do all the work of creation. The points in dispute can only be settled by an unbiased examination of the evidence. Those who have confidence in their evidence and their logic do not appeal to prejudice, nor do they insist upon imposing rules of discourse that allow only one position to receive serious consideration, nor do they use vague and shifting terminology to distract attention from genuine points of difficulty. Still less do they heap abuse and ridicule upon persons who want to raise questions about the evidence and the philosophical assumptions that underly a theory. When an educational establishment has to resort to tactics like that, you can be sure that some people are getting desperate. [This address was followed by commentary by Dr. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education and a young anthro- pologist I will forbear to mention. The moderator of the session, Professor Robert Anderson of Mills College, wrote an article in the Association's Newsletter protesting the unprofessional, ad hominem, and thoroughly boring responses of these two to my remarks. Of course, I knew what they would say and anticipated it in my final paragraph. Dr. Scott's paper can also be read in the forthcoming issue of the California Anthropologist.] -- Phillip E. Johnson School of Law, University of California, Berkeley CA 94720

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank