Evolutionary Science, not Darwinism

I mean what Stephen Jay Gould means by the term, which he also calls The Modern Synthesis (J. Huxley, Mayr, Dobzhansky, Gaylord Simpson, etc.) It placed great emphasis on random mutations and natural selection. He discusses the Modern Synthesis, and its doctrinaire hardening, in his book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. I have always assumed that modern biologists are well-enough trained in the history of their own discipline that I shouldn’t have to explain the term to them in discussions, any more than I should have to explain what I mean by Big Bang or Steady State to a cosmologist.

That the Modern Synthesis has been modified and extended in recent years, to include other mechanisms, I fully grant. But it is still the picture of evolution in mind of most lay people, regardless of what specialists say to each other in technical journals. The popular evolution/creation/design debates take place in that context.

Whether Shapiro’s characterization of modern evolutionary theory as neo-Darwinian is fair – that is something you can legitimately protest about. But I think Newman is right when he says that the loud publicists of evolution in the media have largely sold neo-Darwinism and that the Dover trial, and its journalistic interpretation in the media, took place within that ethos. If the biologists here don’t perceive the disconnect between their specialist, in-house talk and the way the layman generally understands evolution, they aren’t going to get very far in understanding the cultural debate.


[quote=“Eddie, post:238, topic:1780”]

It takes place in this context because that is where the ID/creationists want it to take place. They beat on a strawman instead of addressing the actual theory.

Why do you think he is right? What do you base this on?

You are presumably referring to Neutral Theory?

I’m still waiting to read the obituary. :slight_smile:

What do you mean by “Darwinism”?

Here surely is something all parties can agree to.

But that’s not my motivation, and it should be plain that it isn’t. I’ve bent over backwards here to be clear about the way words are used. When I use “neo-Darwinism”, I’m not using it to call up culture-war feelings. I’m using it the same way that Mayr, Gould, etc. would use it in their books explaining the history of evolutionary thought. Not every word ending in “ism” is used for rhetorical or demagogical purposes. Sometimes the word is used just to characterize a theory or hypothesis. That is my only intention.

When Behe talks about neo-Darwinism in his critique of it, he isn’t equating the term with atheism, materialism, the end of civilization, etc. He is referring to mechanism of random mutations filtered by natural selection. He thinks that such a mechanism is an inadequate explanation of evolution. Nothing culture-war is intended. (What some bloggers of ID persuasion might do with Behe’s terminology is another matter.)

Shapiro thinks that modern evolutionary theory has been too “neo-Darwinian”. If he is wrong in his characterization, you can call him on that. But he’s not using the term as a synonym for atheism or materialism. He is using it to specify a particular view of how evolution works, a view which he thinks is inadequate.

I happen to think that Darwin’s Origin of Species is a great book. Wrong, in many ways, but still great, as a work of human thought. I teach it in my courses as a great book. I don’t teach that Darwin was an atheist or that accepting evolution makes one an atheist, or that evolution is responsible for all the evils of the modern world. I don’t teach that Christianity is incompatible with evolution (though certain Christian doctrines might be incompatible with certain understandings of how evolution works). I don’t teach that evolution is incompatible with intelligent design. I don’t try to dissuade students from accepting evolution. I have them read Darwin, Paley, Behe, Lamoureux, Dawkins, and other things, and ask them to get straight exactly what these people are saying, without relying on hearsay or bloggers. Then I ask them to make up their own minds about Darwin, evolution, neo-Darwinism, Behe, Dawkins, Collins, etc. My goal is to educate, not to promote culture-war polarization.

Science and religion are not intrinsically at war. Neither are evolution and creation. But that doesn’t mean I have to be supine before any declaration about how evolution works coming from any stray scientist arguing on the internet. I don’t have to accept that any particular individual here or on any blog site is the world’s expert on evolutionary mechanisms. I can be critical of the claims of individuals, without condemning evolution itself, or without painting all of modern science as wrong and Godless.

I think that science is one of the greatest human achievements. I think anti-science is a bad feature of American culture. But so are scientism and militant anti-religion. I’m trying to remain skeptical of all extreme claims in these debates, and to get people in the habit of reading authors before they reject them, and listening carefully to views that are not their own before instinctively pushing them away. Both religious believers and atheist scientists sometimes have the tendency to do these things.

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Why won’t you use the simple term “evolution” or “modern theory of evolution”?

Why doesn’t Behe just say “evolution”?

I think Newman is right about the neo-Darwinian ethos of the Dover trial, based on reading all 2,000 pages of the Dover trial testimony, all the Amicus briefs, all the news coverage in the two local Dover papers, scores of articles in other media (NYT, etc.), coverage on the NCSE website, coverage on Discovery, several books written after the trial analyzing it, thousands of comments about the trial published on blog sites, plus many things written by the lead players, including the books of Ken Miller and Behe and Steve Fuller. I don’t think there are many people here who have studied that trial and its context in as much detail as I have, so I think I’m as entitled to a judgment on this matter as much as anyone else here.

Nonsense. The same portrait of evolution can be found in scientists from Monod through to Dawkins and beyond. The same portrait of evolution can be found in popular presentations on television, etc. Scientists and science journalists are just as guilty of presenting an oversimplified and largely neo-Darwinian portrait of evolution to the public as ID and creationist people are. In fact, ID people have in some cases tried to correct the oversimplification. It was from ID people that I first heard about Newman, Wagner, etc. who aren’t pure neo-Darwinians, Shapiro who isn’t a pure neo-Darwinian, etc. It was from ID people that I first learned about structuralist or formalist interpretations of evolution, in contrast with adaptationist interpretations. ID writers helped me to see that not all of evolutionary thought had been, or is today, purely neo-Darwinian. By way of contrast, on BioLogos, the presentation of evolution in the era of Falk and Giberson was almost pure neo-Darwinism. Many ID writers gave a much fuller picture of the range of views within modern evolutionary theory than the BioLogos people did.

Could you be a bit more specific?

What portrait is that? Be specific.

I’ve already explained this to you and others here, many times. “Evolution” for Behe means essentially “descent with modification”. Neo-Darwinism is a particular explanation of how evolution works. Behe is not attacking “evolution” but only certain explanations of how it works.

For the same reason that Gould doesn’t always do so. Sometimes it is necessary to talk about a particular theory of how evolution works. When I mean the process of descent with modification, I say “evolution”. When I mean what Mayr, Dawkins etc. advocated, I say “neo-Darwinism”. When I mean what certain current evolutionary theorists advocate, I say, “Certain current evolutionary theorists”. I try always to be clear.

Regarding current evolutionary theory, I don’t see complete unity in it; I see a pick and mix set of mechanisms, with each evolutionary theorist weighting the various mechanisms differently in his own formulation of how evolution works. The Royal Society Conference, the Altenberg Conference, and other other meetings confirm that there is diversity among theorists in the weighting of various mechanisms. And that’s fine with me. What I object to is any presentation of “modern evolutionary theory” as if it is a seamless and precisely defined theory, rather than a collection of ideas about how evolution works, with pronounced differences of emphasis among the theorists themselves. To pretend that there is more unity than there is, is not intellectually honest.

I already explained this. The emphasis in neo-Darwinism is on random mutations and natural selection as the two main factors in evolution. That’s also still the popular portrait. Individual neo-Darwinians may stress randomness more, or selection more, but the two factors together are seen as explaining most of what happens in evolution. But why do you keep asking me this? Are you testing me? There is no need; when it comes to the history of evolutionary thought, in all probability I have read more than you have; certainly on the historical side I have read more than most biologists of my acquaintance. So if testing me is what this is about, forget it; I have no reason to suppose that on these historical questions you are in a position to be my teacher.

Great. Then do it.

Yes. Except Neo-Darwinism RIP in 1968. Why is he tilting against windmills? Why are you?

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2 posts were split to a new topic: What is Scientism?

Say what now?

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More precisely he can often rhetorically equivocate the two. Don’t you think? How would you put it?

Grant it I haven’t asked him directly. Though we can be sure he does not deny all non Darwinian mechanisms.

I see nothing in anything I’ve read from Dawkins to suppose that he means “atheism” when he says anything other than “atheism”. I don’t know that he uses “Darwinism” at all, and if he says “neoDarwinism”, I would assume he means “neoDarwinism”.

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We have several active loose ends. Let’s add this to the list and pick it up soon.

Not in the popular consciousness.