Darwin’s dying legacy
Approaching the 2009 anniversary, evolutionists are working hard to salvage Darwin
Are you ready for the media frenzy that will surround Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species in 2009? The hype is already building and the guardians of Darwin’s legacy are pulling out all the stops. Their efforts include a very interesting series of articles and letters in Nature magazine over the past several months. Here, the shortcomings of Darwinism are openly admitted, but blithely ignored. As this series has progressed, the main arguments against Darwin, including the scientific evidence and claims for priority by competing scientists, have been aired and, they assume, answered.
The Darwin “puff piece” that started it all
Kevin Padian, of the atheist founded and operated National Center for Science Education, is a name that shows up frequently on our website (Search CMI website for "Padian"). Last February, one year before the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, he published an article titled, ‘Darwin’s enduring legacy.’1 With a combination of bombast, bravado, transference, and intolerance, Padian boldly tries to salvage Darwin’s reputation and to deflect future criticism. He failed miserably.
The essay starts off by comparing Darwin to what he claims are the two other great thinkers of the 19th century, Marx and Freud! He readily admits that Freud’s approach no ‘longer merits scientific recognition’ (in other words, he was a fraud), but tries to salvage Marx by saying that his ideas have been ‘distorted beyond recognition’. Why can he not come out and say that these two men were shysters, ignoring the obvious and good in lieu of their pet theories? And what a strange way to back up the ‘legacy’ of Darwin! If the two other ‘greatest thinkers’ of his age were such poor examples of good thinkers, this throws open the door to a reanalysis of Darwin.
Padian tries to rebuff anticipated criticisms by claiming that Darwin has been distorted as well, with people falsely blaming a range of societal ills on Darwinism, ‘including atheism, Nazism, communism, abortion, homosexuality, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, and the abridgment of all our natural freedoms’. He of course gave no reason why these after-effects of evolutionary thought are not consistent with the theory (see Communism and Nazism Questions and Answers).
In order to stave off some of the mounting numerical arguments against natural selection, Padian states that Darwin was less emphatic about natural selection being the driving force behind evolution than Wallace (more on him below). Is he really saying that if natural selection turns out not to be the engine of evolution, Darwin’s reputation will be secure and only Wallace’s reputation will be sullied? He mentions that Darwin introduced other ideas that might drive evolution, specifically sexual selection (Peacock tail tale failure), but he did not discuss the difficulties with sexual selection theory (Problems in sexual selection theory and neo-Darwinism), the controversy that has been raging about it for the past 125 years or so, nor how it directly contradicts the main thesis of Origin of Species! He briefly outlines the history of the near death of Darwinism at the hands of mathematicians, and how Fisher, Haldane, and Wright resurrected it in the 1930s. In this section, it sounds like he is trying to head off the conclusions of a new book, Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome, which is an arrow aimed at the heart of the neo-Darwinian synthesis.
In order to stave off some of the geological arguments against Darwinian gradualism—such as the profound lack of transitional fossils—Padian tries to redefine the word ‘gradual’. While it might be true that the Latin word gradus means ‘step’, the usage of this word throughout the history of Darwinism clearly indicates that it is used to mean ‘gradation’. Therefore, he claims, if punctuated equilibrium turns out to be the rule of thumb for the fossil record, Darwin will be vindicated. But we are not going to let them off the hook that easily (Gould grumbles about creationist hijacking).
Padian’s grand stretching of facts begs all credulity. He frequently sets up straw man arguments, distorting what creationists believe in order to knock down what then seem like (and are) silly arguments. Sadly, this seems to be the rule for creation opponents. Here are some examples of his faulty argumentation:
‘ … the distributions of plants and animals are not serendipitous patterns or whims of a Creator.’
Darwin was 22 years old when he set off in 1831 to spend four years on The Beagle.
Contrary to a common misconception, Darwin was not the ship’s naturalist—that was the ship’s surgeon, called McCormack. Darwin was employed as the gentleman companion to the captain (with scientific work as an accepted sideline) because he was of sufficient social standing for the aristocratic Fitzroy, who would otherwise have had to eat alone and suffer great solitude, according to the conventions of the time.
This was a matter people were wrestling with in the years leading up to the 19th century. Even the Captain of the Beagle, Fitzroy, said some things like this in his reports on the expedition.2 However, this does not mean that all people of the time thought like this and it does not mean that all creationists thought this way either. I would point the reader to the creationist Edward Blyth, who came up with an excellent theory of natural selection and change 25 years prior to the publication of The Origin of Species, and others (see Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild). Also, the statement above directly ignores clear biblical teaching. The air-breathing land animals and birds spread out across the earth from a single point, the resting place of the Ark after the Flood. By corollary, the plants would have been distributed across the world by the Flood waters, except for the domesticated varieties carried on board for food. This is the basis for biogeography under which modern creationists operate, not some naïve view that God created all species in place.
‘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 mechanistic and historical patterns.’
This statement fails on several levels. First, notice the word ‘paradigm’. He is essentially claiming that Darwin moved intellectual thought from one untestable worldview to another! Also, while ‘wonder’ might not be a subject for scientific measurement, the ability to examine the workings of the natural world was well developed under the creationist scientists, who were in the majority prior to Darwin. They did not need Darwinism to discover how the universe works (Scientists of the past who believed in a Creator). He alludes to the idea that there might be a diversity of opinion about how the universe was ultimately formed, but historically this is not the case, for Darwinists have always closed ranks around atheism/agnosticism. Because Darwinism depends upon ‘deep time’ (billion of years) and mechanistic naturalism, the presence of an active God is excluded from the start. This is hardly grounds for claiming a diversity of opinion about origins.
‘It is dismaying, then, to note the rise of anti-evolutionism in recent decades. 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.’
Here he assumes that there was a time when ‘anti-evolutionism’ did not exist. Rather, creationists have always been in the world and in recent decades have only learned how to better raise their voices in protest. Also, the proponents of creationism do not reject modern science, only the naturalistic philosophy that underlies evolutionary theory. And the ‘questionable’ readings actually do not exist. When one considers the biblical text in its proper grammatical-historical context—as creationists do—there is little room for claiming that a ‘reading’ is questionable (see The Bible and hermeneutics). So-called ‘mainstream’ historical and theological viewpoints ignore the plain meaning of words. It is their ‘readings’ that are highly questionable.
‘One might ask how such people can accept the benefits of medical research, inoculations, pharmacology, crop improvement and so much more that depends on an understanding of evolution.’
Here he fails to realize that there is a vast gulf between operational and historical science (see It’s not science), and he fails to demonstrate how any of these technologies depend upon evolution. Sure, ‘One might ask’, but only if they were ignorant of such things! (Is evolution really essential for biology?)
In another place, he claims that groups of plants and their insect predators, vertebrates and their parasites, the combination of fungus and alga to make a lichen, etc, ‘can only reasonably be explained by co-evolution … over millions of years.’ Actually, these fit perfectly into biblical creation, with an initial perfect creation subject to degradation and the effects of natural selection (see Diseases on the Ark). The only answer that seems reasonable to him is the single possibility that his narrow worldview permits.
‘ … the changes in species wrought by natural selection and other processes would eventually lead to new kinds of organisms with new adaptations–a premise violently rejected by fundamentalists and other anti-evolutionists.’
Again, Padian sets up a straw man. Creationists do not believe in species stasis, and informed creationists did not even back in Darwin’s day (e.g., Blyth). I can only conclude that he wants creationists to react ‘violently’, for that would perhaps give him justification for his hatred of us. It must be very disconcerting for someone who believes in the ‘the autocatalytic war of nature’ (as opposed to the ‘divinely ordained balance of nature’) to be faced with staunch foes. But, he does not understand the heart of the Christian and transfers his own heart into theirs.
‘It is for this reason, one that liberates humans from the conceit of special creation, that Darwin was interred in Westminster Abbey.’
Oh, the sadness of this statement! We are ‘liberated’ from knowing that God created us in his own image? Surely the ultimate ‘conceit’ is to ignore our Creator, attribute His works to ‘chance’ and live our lives as if we are in control? And Darwin’s burial place mocks God more than that of any other Englishman.
Trying to add Wallace to the picture
Alfred Russel Wallace.
In order to show how Darwin’s reputation is being propped up, we will examine two short letters that appeared in Nature after Padian’s longer article. These letters deal with the status of a potential rival claimant to the evolutionary throne, Alfred Russel Wallace.
In a letter responding directly to Padian’s article, ‘Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace’s role’, authors Beccaloni and Smith make the case that Darwin should share the glory with Wallace:3
‘This lack of interest in the 2008 anniversary [of the discovery of natural selection by Wallace] is indicative of how Wallace’s achievements have been overshadowed by Darwin’s since Wallace’s death in 1913, a process certainly not helped by the Darwin ‘industry’ of recent decades … Isn’t it perhaps time for the current darwinocentric view of the history of biology to be revised?’
Note that the authors are calling for a revision to the standard historical byline. This is not an easy thing to accomplish and it is somewhat surprising that Nature published such a call to arms. However, given the tenor of Padian’s longer article, perhaps it is in their best interest to air this bit of dirty laundry in an attempt to steal some of the major talking points the creationists are sure to use over the coming year.
Cutting the legs out from under Wallace
In a third letter to Nature, this one in response to Beccaloni and Smith, Kutschera makes the case that there are reasons why Darwin should outshine Wallace:4
- Darwin provided more detail in his book than Wallace did in his earlier paper.
- Wallace acknowledged the priority of Darwin.
- Wallace was involved in spiritualism, which undermined his credibility as a scientist and cast a shadow over his entire career.
First, a critical level of detail is not needed to establish priority in science. One must give credit to anyone with priority over your own ideas, no matter how detailed your later writings. Second, perhaps Wallace was demurring to Darwin’s higher social status in the class-conscious Victorian society in which both men lived. Third, here we see the religious bigotry of naturalism raising its ugly head. While I certainly do not believe in the tenets of spiritualism, I find it interesting that naturalism excludes any non-physical realities a priori and then claims that anyone who believes in such things is not scientific. It is as if they are saying, ‘things that cannot be seen must not exist.’
‘The “Darwin–Wallace principle of natural selection” could be substituted for the old-fashioned “darwinism”, which smacks more of a political ideology than a modern scientific theory.’
Here is another call for a revision of the historical evolutionary byline. This is the second that Nature has published in the past several months. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. Or, perhaps, with Wallace brushed aside, they can give lip service to Wallace’s role and then quietly forget him, just like they did over 100 years ago.
Conclusion: Things to Look for in 2008-2009
As Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species approaches, there are several things for which we should be watching. First, anticipate full-out frontal attacks on anything non-Darwinian, including Intelligent Design and biblical creation. Second, be prepared for ramped-up media coverage of Darwin, his life, and his contributions to science. And lastly, keep your eyes open for further desperate attempts to prop up Darwin’s failing legacy.
A major CMI initiative
To take advantage of the inevitable hype surrounding Darwin in 2009, CMI has commissioned a major documentary film project—a huge project for a Christian ministry. This film retraces the steps of Darwin on his famous voyage on The Beagle, and takes a calm, rational look at how he developed his ideas. It asks the question, ‘If Darwin knew what we know about science today, would he have ever dreamt up his theory?’ We have a dedicated website for this landmark project with photos from the shoot in South America and other locations. You can also assist this project by donating to help see the project finished. Visit Darwin Film Project.
- Padian, K., Darwin’s enduring legacy. Nature 451:632-634, 2008. Return to text.
- FitzRoy, R., Narrative of the surveying voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle between the years 1826 and 1836, describing their examination of the southern shores of South America, and the Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe. Proceedings of the second expedition, 1831-36, under the command of Captain Robert Fitz-Roy, R.N., London: Henry Colburn, 1839. Available at http://darwin-online.org.uk. Return to text.
- Beccaloni, G.W., and Smith, V.S., Celebrations for Darwin downplay Wallace’s role. Nature 451:1050, 2008. Return to text.
- Kutchera, U., Darwin–Wallace principle of natural selection. Nature 453:27, 2008. Return to text.