Another philosopher misunderstands evolution

Over at UD, they’re crowing about another philosopher abandoning Darwinism. Unfortunately, checking their source finds that the philosopher has made a simple error (my emphasis):

Geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky famously wrote, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Did you get that? Nothing.

Yet after urging that “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved,” molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick remarked, “It might be thought, therefore, that evolutionary arguments would play a large role in guiding biological research, but that is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now.”

The contradiction between these two scientists is rather odd. If it is enough to study living things without paying attention to natural selection, as Crick thought, …

Crick didn’t say it was enough to study living things, he said it was hard to study living things, and much harder to study their evolution. There is no contradiction. It is very hard to study the detailed evolutionary history of something, because we can’t see it directly. That doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary - but it does mean that easier investigations are likely to be done first. Budziszewski is confusing picking low-hanging fruit with pretending the rest of the fruit doesn’t exist.

The rest of the article is all about debate techniques, and whether it is acceptable to deceive in order to promote a view. I’d have thought a philosopher would know that focussing on the debate technique used by proponents of an idea rather than the available evidence is a fallacy, but apparently this philosopher doesn’t because he doesn’t mention evidence at all.


To consider deception as an option is a huge admission of weakness.


That’s what someone does when the facts aren’t on their side.

Scientists are well aware that the point of the scientific method is to remove, as much as possible, our fallible human intuition from the process of determining how the universe works. This is why Empiricism replaced Rationalism early in the history of modern science. Intuition can be useful as inspiration, but it isn’t evidence.


An argument based entirely on Dobzhansky’s probable overstatement and empty rhetoric seems to be all that is needed for some to be convinced that evidence really isn’t needed in the “debate”. It’s really somewhat sad…


It was clearly meant as hyperbole. But people like to take that quote literally to knock it down.


There’s another strange idea I some times see evolution-proponents jump on board with inadvertently, namely that if some entity’s evolutionary history is not important to understanding how it works, then that somehow constitutes a problem for evolution. As if evolutionary biology needs to prove itself of great practical importance, or it’s false or not worth doing.

But there is no logical issue whatsoever with the idea that understanding an entity’s history can be a purely intellectual exercise without it having any direct or useful applications. Knowing that my great great great great grandfather was a fisherman really explains next to nothing about my life. And yet, he really was. The fact that every atom in my body had it’s origin in nuclear processes in stars makes no difference to my life, except intellectually. And that is enough. That knowledge doesn’t have to be useful for putting food on my table to be knowledge worth acquiring, and finding to be otherwise inspiring or satisfying. No doubt there will now be responses to this post extrapolating from it the meaning that evolutionary biology never has a use.

Would these same people bringing up the putative uselessness of evolutionary history make the same claims about music, or written words of fiction? Can purely intellectual persuits not be worth doing?


AGA. This is what YEC should make a drumbeat about.
Obviously its hard enough to figure out how things work now. thats why so little healing is done.
SO to figure out how the present biology came WOULD suggest a probability curve that its mORE difficult to figure out how complicated things came to be WHERE its invisable today.
Crick is a REAL actual accomplished scientist. its not his opinions on evolution but on methodology that matters more. His conclusion is that invisible past and gone processes MUST be intellectualy difficult if PRESENT biology is intellectually difficult to figure out and those who do get, like Crick, nobel prizes and impress the girls.
indeed al accomplished scientists SHOULD say this publicly.
Possibly they think it but don’t want to break ranks with evolutionists possibly. I don’t know that.
its also another way of saying evolutionism MUST demonstrate its conclusions are based on biological scientific evidence and not AFTER THE FACT musings.
Where is the evolutionist WATSON and CRICK these days?!
this was a nice end of summer gift to creationists and good guys everywhere.

What are you saying? This is even more impressive than your usual sequence of random phrases that don’t make sense when put together. It must be the capitalized words. You could have gotten my attention a little faster though if you put IMPRESS THE GIRLS WITH THOSE NOBLE PRIZES in caps instead.


Dr. Crick should have gotten a Poultry Prize for General Non-Fiction Literature with The Double Helix, a fascinating book. That would have surely IMPRESSED THE GIRLS. (After all, just about everybody likes the taste of chicken.)


I admit I’m confused… I can’t tell if you liked the book or hated it… :slight_smile:

I’m very enigmatic.

(But the book is a must read. It has been listed very high on the Top 100 Books of the 20th Century. As to the “Poultry Prize”, it was a play off of the “noble prize” of a previous post and the name of a famous newspaper publisher who created the award. However, the term pullet has largely disappeared from American parlance, even among many younger farmers.)

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I won a free McChicken sandwich decades ago when they were first promoting their new product locally on the radio with that as a prize for original chicken jokes:

Q: What did the farmer get when he ordered mixed chicks, but when he got them, they were all female?
A: [You already know the first part. The last is “surprise.”]


Besides, wasn’t that book written, not by Francis Crick, but by that other guy?


If medical doctors are asked whether they ever use evolution in their work, they frequently say no, not at all. Meanwhile they’re getting more and more worried about the evolution of antibiotic resistance and the evolution within a patient of resistance to chemotherapy drugs. And there’s another notable use that they forget. To test therapies, they try them on nonhuman mammals, preferably monkeys. That makes sense only in the light of evolution.


And as I’m sure you know, in addition to evolutionary dynamics of resistance, phylogenetics is widely applied in medicine:

A direct result of evolutionary biology.


You are absolutely right, @Joe_Felsenstein! I read the book in 1974. I can’t always trust my memories.

Back in the late 1970’s I had an Emeritus Professor take one of my evening classes because it was a free perq for him. He would sometimes hang around and tell me stories from his long career. He was very proud of one student in particular, who completed his Ph.D. under his guidance. [The effects of x-rays on Bacteriophage research, I think it was.] He said, “I knew that he would go far. He was only twenty-two years old when he earned his Ph.D.” That student was James Watson.

(That’s another old story for @Dan_Eastwood.)


You should have referred to the Pullet Surprise, the more usual and more effective pun. But not you; you’re such a Pre-Madonna.


Certainly, there are many medical questions and problems for which evolutionary biology are important, but there are also ones where they aren’t, and that is okay. That doesn’t make evolutionary biology useless, or false, or not worth doing. It doesn’t have to be always relevant to applied medicine, to be worth doing.

If I get knee surgery, or an ointment against a rash caused by too much exposure to a chemical, it’s going to be very unlikely to be of relevance that I share ancestry with horses, much less a squid. Questions of origins don’t have to be always relevant to be worth exploring in their own right. I dare say they don’t even have to ever be relevant to medical problems to still be worth doing. I like to know what happened in history even if it is of no actual practical importance to my life. I enjoy knowing about it and that is enough.


Yes! That was a good one from @DaleCutler. I do love the classics. I just didn’t think anybody would know the word pullet anymore. However, on a visit to one of those super-sized, high-class grocery stores some time back, I noticed that they were still selling pullet-eggs at a high premium price. I recall French chefs demanding those first eggs from a young pullet because they have a much higher yoke ratio (i.e., less egg white) so they could produce extra creamy dishes. I remember using them in making homemade ice cream on the farm long ago—although our recipe would now be considered dangerous because we used the eggs raw.

Guilty as charged! (@Michael_Callen will love that one.)

I noticed today that somebody on one of the PS forum threads used the wonderful French expression façon de parler. I always thought that The Façon de Parler would make a great Batman villain. His schtick could be an evil French mime. (That’s mime and not meme. French memes are even more evil. @swamidass really hates those.) Imagine a diabolically demented Marcel Marceau type criminal who torments Gotham City by hijacking the Wayne Foundation sponsored TV broadcast of the Philharmonic Orchestra and forces the metropolitan elite and other upstanding citizens to watch him do all of the cliché mime routines: mime walking against the wind, mime trapped in a box, etc.

(And, yes, I’m a bit like Johnny Carson in his later years, still using pop-culture references from long ago which nobody but the senior citizens recognize. If somebody never saw The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960’s, they probably have no idea who Marcel Marceau was nor why we found him annoying. Meanwhile, I’ve never seen a Batman movie. I’m definitely a dinosaur, which is even worse than being a Pre-Madonna. I still use a flip-phone instead of a smart-phone. Go figure.)