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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The year of Darwin dawns: Loud and exceedingly laughable

In "Darwin's "dangerous" idea: Top ten evolution articles, the inimitable New Scientist advises us,

Scientists continue to respond to the latest attacks from creationists, and at the same time propose profound new ideas about evolution. This year has seen perceptions of the virus change from disease-causing villain to evolutionary hero, and the emergence of a new force of evolution - the absence of natural selection.
In other words, this year has seen the emergence of even more aggressive attempts to just plain make stuff up.

(Note: This post appears to be exceedingly popular and I want to thank all the generous new donors to my PayPal button. Also, this post has garnered a large amount of attention (assuming site meter stats are accurate) and I am astonished at the number of third- and fourth-rate tax burdens who have written privately, proclaiming their faith in propositions like the Big Bazooms theory of human evolution. No wonder our economy is in the tank, and a thorough housecleaning is needed. I had no idea how bad it all was - but then I have usually had the privilege of working with productive, intelligent, and interesting people. Wow. I have always had the highest respect for my friends and colleagues, but I had no idea how lucky I have been, compared with the current Deleted Items box, mostly from Darwin's Faithful.)

Put another way, everyone except the Darwinists has long since observed "the absence of natural selection." It's the presence of natural selection - as a source of new species - that we look for in vain.

A couple of years ago, after I had been following the controversy for several years, I found myself listening to a long lecture by a Darwinist, replete with bafflegab and pretty lame examples. Finally, sensing (correctly) that I was unconvinced, he proclaimed to me, "You just don't understand how natural selection works, do you?"

And suddenly, the penny dropped. What he meant was that I just don't believe in magic. I can't make myself believe in magic; I haven't been able to since I was a child. And I was no longer going to give the matter any attention. What I really wanted to know then and now is - how magic became so important a principle in science? And I think I know of at least one reason.

Looking over New Scientist's top ten evolution articles, I am struck by how paltry it all looks, how inadequate to the matter to be explained. I can't believe that they are still fronting the peppered moth, for example, but they are, and under the windy title, "reclaiming the peppered moth for science." (= In order to qualify as "science," the moth must be reinstated as the notorious "peppered myth.")

Who ever doubted that dark coloured moths might have a selective advantage over their light coloured kin in a polluted environment? The key problem, of course, was that, as Judith Hooper showed in Of Moths and Men, experimenter Kettlewell interfered with the moths' normal behaviour during his research. So, while the legend blossomed in textbooks and popular science presentations, the very minor event of a change in population frequencies between the two variants that Kettlewell was attempting to demonstrate may never actually have occurred. And if it did occur, it was soon reversed by widespread industrial cleanup. In other words, to the extent that natural selection does occur, it is apparently easily reversed.

The fact that so many people have put so much energy into defending the peppered myth merely shows how important the popular science myth of "evolution" is to their world view. Following the story, I learned far more about them than about moths.

So now, as to why the magic of Darwinism is so important to some people: People who don't follow traditional religions make a religion out of whatever they follow. In this case, apparently, historical biology. But that comes at a cost. A burden is placed on historical biology that it cannot really bear.

To see what I mean, consider the difference between being a Darwin popularizer and being a traditional Catholic. As a traditional Catholic, I am asked to believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ. But I am not asked to believe in virgin birth as a general proposition, and especially not for human males whose mothers' pregnancies could be readily - though not respectably - accounted for otherwise. In that one instance, I am told, I cannot argue that "God wouldn't have done it that way," as I have no basis for arguing with God about what he would or wouldn't have done as an intentionally unique, divinely ordained event.

By contrast, in all conventional matters, I am entitled to use my best judgement as to what would or wouldn't - or did or didn't - happen. Not so the Darwinist who is compelled to defend the increasingly shabby icons of popular materialist science culture as if they were Very Important. Sadly, to him, they are.

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