Darwin's Bluff: Shedinger's Folly

I first encountered PS a few years ago, when some comments were made here in relation to a review I’d written of Robert Shedinger’s mind-roastingly shallow book, The Mystery of Evolutionary Mechanisms. Shedinger subsequently became one of those DI hangers-on, writing bizarre pieces for their blog and making hilarious arguments about such things as the theory of sexual selection being “heteronormative.” It seems that to Shedinger, contra Dobzhansky, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of postmodernist claptrap.

After his string of embarrassing gaffes in his first book (e.g., his remark that “imagined scenarios, not documented evidence” are all that support the evolution of mammalian ear ossicles from ancestral jaw bones), most of them unforced errors that resulted from his credulous trust in the things various DI personalities told him, one might have expected the man to skulk off quietly and wish he hadn’t tried to speak to topics on which he clearly neither knew nor was interested in learning anything.

Ah, but his friends at the DI have taught him more than pseudo-biology. They have taught him the rhetorical arts of creationist advocacy. And so Shedinger has decided that, incapable as he is at writing about actual biology, he’ll join in another DI stunt: the “let’s disparage Darwin” routine. His new book is “Darwin’s Bluff,” about Darwin’s unfinished work on evolution.

I haven’t quite finished the book, which came out only yesterday. But it really is quite impressive how little he actually found to work with. As Darwin-disparagement goes, this is small beer indeed. A great deal of ink is wasted on such things as Darwin being maybe a hypochondriac and maybe a malingerer. A great deal more is wasted on the idea that he was egotistic and eager to show off. More is wasted on claims that he may have been obstinate from time to time. Still more seems to be devoted to the idea that Darwin isn’t allowed to have developed his ideas in parallel with one another, but should have arrived at them in some sort of very specific sequence of a type that would be satisfactory to Robert Shedinger. And so on, and so on. I would say it is dreary and formulaic, but, honestly, it almost reads like a parody of Darwin-disparagement works: the condemnations are so thin and insubstantial that they have the effect of “praising with faint damn.”

We are all familiar with cargo-cult science. Since intellectual endeavor requires very little in the way of physical equipment, one might have thought there would never be such a thing as cargo-cult intellectualism. But this seems to be the stuff: all the outer appearance of thought, with none of the actual thinking inside. Wicker, such as the original cargo cults use, would be an improvement, but alas, there is not even a bit of interesting basketwork in the mix.

Is there an upside? Well, apart from various little shots here and there that clearly are meant to appeal to the hard-core fans of the DI, the one good thing one can say is that Shedinger does seem to have realized that he knows nothing about science and that the less he says about it, the better. What occurs neither to him nor to those DI fans, of course, is that if Darwin had been in the habit of fricasseeing babies, it would make no difference to the fact that evolution is the only game in town when it comes to understanding the origins of living diversity. Shedinger, of course, comes somewhat short of the fricassee allegation and merely seems to think that Darwin was the sort of person Shedinger would avoid at parties.

Is it pathetic? Yes. The question is: does its irrelevance mitigate, or aggravate, the pathos?

Amazon review to follow soon…


I read “mind-roastingly shallow” and laughed, and I’m still smiling, and yet part of my surely-damned soul cries out “oh sweet Puck, save thy synapses, think of thy limbic system and how thou hast abused it!” Because, gentle Puck, as you may recall, I once subjected my precious commissures to the analysis of the human wreckage that is the DI’s “writing.” For love of myself (for once), I ended those revels. (Instead, recently, I ingested some undercooked dreck from Simon Conway Morris. Urrrp.)

I will thus thank you most earnestly for your work and then entreat you to embrace self-care. If you will not cease from these masochistic endeavors then please, at least reward your soul and your brain with chocolate or a fine stout or guacamole or whatever your limbic system will interpret as “much-deserved pleasure.”


Ah, you know, I spent years in litigation, so the hazards of reading rank stupidity are well-known to me. I know well enough, these days, to put on a forehead-slap-protection helmet when picking up anything published by the DI. Of course, with Shedinger it’s also not a bad idea to velcro one’s arms down to the tabletop as an added precaution, though freedom of movement for page-turning must be preserved.

Initially I thought I’d reward my travails with Stilton, but then, reflecting on Shedinger’s attempts to somehow imply Darwin was a horrible racist (sure, he opposed slavery, but in the 1830s he sometimes used the N-word, and his wife once made a remark about imagining him on a “plantation,” a word which Shedinger-for-brains thinks means “a place with slaves”), I went another direction.

Pinwheel cookies. Why? Well, I do like them, but there are other reasons. First, they mix black and white in a perfectly lovely way, so that sort of touches on the “Darwin was almost a racist, sorta” theme which pops up late in Shedinger’s book. But the design of them also reminds me of the costume of King Ubu from Alfred Jarry’s famous play. And you cannot read a lot of Darwin-bashing, especially of this rich “I don’t even know what the word ‘plantation’ means but I can somehow arrange sentences in a way that pleases the semi-literate” quality, without thinking of absurdism of the most extreme and offensive sorts. Shitr!


Why don’t they just make one large compendium of their perceived “Darwin’s Failures”? Darwin’s doubts, bluffs, deathbed conversions, fears, nightmares, and Hitlerism could be different chapters.

Oh wait, that will make them less money. Proceed…


Do they just grab a book, flip to a random page, poke their finger on a word and then append it to “Darwin’s”?

Coming soon from the DI:

Darwin’s Chimney!

Darwin’s Scoundrel!

Darwin’s Love Song!


I’m thinking about picking up the second edition of The Dembski Disaster so I’m can review his math. It ought to be better now with Ewert helping out, but who knows?


I would love to see you review Dembski’s “work.”

I would read Darwin’s Chimney.

But, yeah. I find myself always amused by this pattern. It makes me want to issue a series of parodies:

Darwin’s Carbuncle: how one man’s sore inspired him to struggle against God’s truth.

Darwin’s Ghost: a spectre is haunting evolutionary biology! Boo! Oh, there it goes!

Darwin’s Darwins: how Charles Darwin’s annoying children caused the creation of the worst scientific theory EVER.

And so on.


You’ve probably seen my earlier effort already. It could do with an update


Has Shedinger managed to discover this old (1987) book by Darwin-hater (and real biologist) Søren Lovtrup, Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth? Lovtrup truly detested Darwin, more than I can adequately express and for reasons unclear, and as a bonus he presented his own attempt at a better theory of evolution.

Ah, I hadn’t seen that! I believe you have spoken about it, but I had not seen your writeup. That’s a rather shocking basic error, given that Dembski’s whole schtick is math.

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I must admit to be curious as to why this book’s Amazon blurb labels Darwin’s uncompleted manuscript the “sequel to The Origin of Species”. I was under the impression, and his bibliography seems to confirm), that Darwin wrote a number of further books on evolution. His last book was published the year before his death.

I think it might be useful to seek a less inexpertly partisan account of this unpublished manuscript.

This commentary describes what might be the same manuscript:

hat is the nine surviving chapters of the very large manuscript (comprising nine thick volumes of the Charles Darwin Papers, DAR 8-16) published posthumously by R. C. Stauffer in 1975 as Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection, Being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858.

However the commentary goes on to describe this manuscript as “the immediate, yet partial, precursor of the Origin.” (my emphasis) Could Shedinger have gotten it this wrong, and mistook the “precursor” for the “sequel”?

Other things have been distracting me, so I still haven’t finished this rather short book, though I may get there tonight. But it does get worse, as one might expect, the farther in one goes. My forehead-slappin’ helmet certainly saved my life when I reached the point where he gives an extensive, if confusing and somewhat incoherent, defense of “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce’s performance in debate with Huxley. That particular effort is as pointless as it is futile, and it certainly is a wild little tangent.

The man seems to think that if there were persuasive responses to Darwin in 1861, that diminishes the importance of his work in relation to science as it stands in 2024. I’m not sure he understands how this works.


This is wonderful! :slight_smile:

I don’t see any references to Lovtrup in the text or the bibliography, so perhaps not.

It seems that Darwin sometimes referred to the Origin as a mere “abstract” of a larger work to be completed later (and on which he had already been working). And that sort of makes sense, given that he was put in a bit of a rush to publish by the realization that Wallace had arrived at some similar ideas. Shedinger’s take on this, of course, is quite insane. He speaks of the Origin as though it contained no references to any evidence at all, and speaks of the larger work as being the one where all the evidence would be, at last, divulged. With those distortions in the mix, of course, he can then make it sound like the scientific community was the victim of a huge swindle because Darwin’s “big book,” in draft form, didn’t actually answer all of the critics of the Origin.

Of course, even if that strange scenario HAD been true, it would by now be utterly irrelevant, rendered so by 165 years of subsequent research. But Shedinger doesn’t understand – as was made clear in his earlier book – the idea that scientific hypotheses actually lead onward to further work and refinement. He has very much the paradigm of a theologian, and not of one of the brighter theologians: that wisdom comes from on high and is then regarded as authoritative. Chop Darwin’s Origin down, then, and the whole edifice of evolutionary theory must necessarily collapse with it. He doesn’t understand that if all memory of Darwin, and all the works of Darwin, were suddenly erased, the impact upon contemporary biological science would be nil.

When I read his previous book, I thought of Shedinger as a simpleton who had been tricked by the DI into believing various insane things: a victim as much as a perpetrator of this nonsense. But he’s had enough time to figure it out now, and so the “simpleton” hypothesis, though it is probably true to a large degree and does explain much, is not enough. The man is, like his DI colleagues, extremely dishonest.


You probably know this already, but Natural Selection is the book Darwin had been working on for years until 1858, when Wallace sent him the paper in which he independently proposed the idea of natural selection. Darwin abandoned work on that book in favor of a much shorter and more quickly completed “abstract”, The Origin of Species.

In one sense Shedinger is correct. The first two chapters of Natural Selection were published in 1868 as The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication.


But the DI would cease to exist. Just like Oasis.


This mindset is fascinating to me, and feels so weird and foreign that I have to exert effort to understand it when I see it in people. I suspect that there is actual scholarship on this topic but my sense is that the mindset goes far beyond “theology” and is instead a result of particular kinds of religious teaching and thought. (It is almost universal among biblicists such as evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists.) Most obviously IMO, any religion that has a canon delivered by a deity is a religion whose teachings will veer toward that mindset. Why does the mindset “bleed over” into realms of thought that are unrelated to the deliverances of deities? That’s a really interesting question for those with more expertise in sociology and psychology than me.


I’ve finished the book, and can attest that it is indeed difficult to distinguish Shedinger from Shinola.
shinola.pdf (243.0 KB)

This may not be quite done, but this is the direction I’m presently going on this review.

PS: Argh, I hate typos. “Altare.” Yes, I do actually know how to spell altar.