Evolutionary Science, not Darwinism

Joshua may be partly to blame here. What does it mean to say that Darwinism is dead or disproven? Now, I think that Joshua may have been referring to the selectionist/neutralist debate that ended some time in the 1980s, over what was responsible for most of the standing variation within species, particularly at the molecular level. That was settled pretty well in favor of the neutralists. But nobody ever said that natural selection didn’t exist and wasn’t important in evolution. Mung has been citing all sorts of books that say selection is important. I don’t think anyone here would disagree that selection is important, including Joshua.

Mung is apparently trying to start a fight and is handicapped by a lack of controversy.

Now, regarding Coyne & Orr, anyone who reads it will learn a lot about speciation, including the fact that selection will result in reproductive isolation much more quickly than drift will, and is thus more important in speciation than drift. Would anyone care to disagree with that point?


In other equally shocking news: water is wet, sun rises in the East. :slightly_smiling_face:


I’m not. Why does this have to become a personal attack on people?

Because you are talking about evolutionary processes, and there are many different evolutionary processes.

Do you seriously believe that neutral evolution and random genetic drift are the two evolutionary processes that are responsible for adaptation of organism to environment and remarkable features of living organisms like the vertebrate eye?

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Perhaps he was using hyperbole and I didn’t pick up on it. :slight_smile:

But if Joshua fumbled the ball he had plenty of others trying to pick it up and advance it for him. We still lack any adequate explanation for why it is illegitimate for ID authors to use the terms when all these authors use it as well.

I’m defining Darwinism as positive selection driven change as the primary or only mechanism of evolution. This is the definition used by 1) Behe, 2) the dissent from darwinism, and 3) EES.

Yes, positive selection continues to be important, however the naive notion that positive selection dominated change is all this required was falsified a long time ago. Contemporary references to Darwinian mechanisms are almost always on reference to Darwinian mechanisms alongside non-darwinian mechanisms and, therefore, not the Darwinism against which Behe, ID and EES are tilting. That Darwinism died a long time ago.

Yes, biologists can slip into panadaptationalism, but that is an error. Quote mining examples of said error does remove the fact that we know panadaptationalism is not tenable.

If one means darwinism in a different sense that this we are no longer talking about the scientific definitions. Perhaps we mean atheism or no-guidance evolution, but it is an error to equivocates positive selection driven change with out current understanding of evolution.


No, I did not fumble the ball.

Of note, look at your own quote from Kimura:

First of all, this appears to be an overstatement of neutral theory. Look at Gould’s statements on spandrels. Rather, his work was focused on molecular evolution, and many of his insights ended up also applying to the phenotypic level.

Second, Behe is focused exclusively at the molecular level, precisely where Kimura’s work already falsified positive selection dominated change. This is why he is tilting against windmills. And, yes, other people have made exactly this point: Which Irreducible Complexity Argument? In fact, about 70 years before the IC argument was made, Muller already showed a pathway to generate IC systems.

Third, while scientists studying positive selection are expected to write primary about positive selection, they are not (or should not representing the whole field of evolutionary science as only positive selection. That, however, is exactly how Behe defines it, and how the Dissent form Darwinism defines, and how EES often defines it. That is just transparently false.

Fourth, this is not actually unkonwn to ID leaders. I explained this to WLC last summer (2017) at Dabar. I objected when John Bloom characterized TE as trying to “read Darwinism into Scripture.” A totally false claim. Any how, WLC pressed Meyers (president of DI) at ETS over the Crossway TE book. He publicly acknowledged that basically no one believes in darwinism any more. So they know they are attacking a strawmam, perhaps for rhetorical reasons or as a strategy to box naive objections into naive into an easily falsifiable position.

This not controversial. It is just a basic test of coherence. Everyone arguing against positive selection dominated change alone (Darwinism) is arguing against a long falsified straw man. At some point, one has to graduate to learn that evolutionary science is more than what was in popular books 25 years ago. There is actually an scientific enterprise that has to be engaged with all its complexities.


The issue @mung, to be clear, is misrepresentation of the science.

Any one who claims modern evolutionary science is Darwinism is in error. That includes both ID and EES authors and the hosts of uninformed nonsense one can read int he public square. In the scientific literature, the term is negligible.

A PubMed search for “Darwinism” gives just 516 results, many of which are not even about current thought biological evolution, but historical commentary. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=darwinism

A PubMed search for “Darwinian” gives 2477 results, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=darwinian.

A PubMed search for “neutral theory” gives 6933 results, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=neutral+theory

Citations to Kimura’s 1983 book The Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution, 9838 citations. https://scholar.google.com/scholar?cites=8534670527924582768&as_sdt=5,26&sciodt=0,26&hl=en

His key paper in 1968 has about 4000 citations.

This has become so foundational to biology that neutral theory is often made use of without citing him. And there were several follow on findings to this that demonstrated that there are many non-Darwinian mechanisms. The only people who would claim to restrict evolutionary science to Darwinian mechanisms are those who are uninformed or misrepresenting the science.


Ah, but they don’t. Coyne and Orr referred to natural selection in the bit you quoted, not “Darwinism”.



When someone who makes a living from his expertise in evolutionary science tells you the industry considers Darwinism to be an obsolete term…

Wouldnt you say it takes a sheer boldness to tell such a person he is really wrong?

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So, Dawkins writes:

Note “may”, indicating that he is not affirming this is as a fact, but only granting it as a possibility.

Does that sound like “embracing” neutral theory? Not to me.

But even if Dawkins personally embraced neutral theory, that’s not the view he conveys in The Blind Watchmaker, which was the only thing he wrote that I was commenting on. The book is a paean to the powers of selection. It must be a long time since you read it – if you read it – for you to have forgotten that emphasis.

– are not what most of the angry reactions to Behe have focused on. Most of them have focused on how random mutations and selection could easily build a whale from an artiodactyl in 9 million years, could easily build a flagellum, could easily turn a swim bladder into lungs, could easily build an eye from a light-sensitive spot, etc.

Sure, I have also seen criticisms of his alleged insistence that every single change has to be selected for (though in fact his remarks on that point are often more qualified than his detractors make out), but not nearly as often as I’ve seen, in response to him and to Meyer, Dembski, Wells, etc.: “Given that there’s time for every gene to have mutated X times over Y million years, there is plenty of time to find the right combinations” (focus on mutations) or “There is a gradual fitness landscape, so selection could build up the new form in small steps” (focus on natural selection). Behe or other ID folks may be twitted every now and then for not granting enough to neutral theory, but when his opponents give their own accounts of how specific complex organs and systems are or might be built up, their accounts are usually loaded with the conventional language of mutation and selection. I haven’t see many accounts with statements like: “This mutation affecting the shape of the wing of the mosquito in very minor ways would neither help nor harm the mosquito’s flying ability, or any of the mosquito’s other physiological functions, so it would therefore be just jim-dandy as the basis for a radical new modification of the mosquito’s body plan.”

So the public is not really going to agonize much over the short-changing of neutral theory. What they see in the internet and popular debate is that Behe thinks that random mutations plus natural selection can make important small changes, but not major changes of biological form, whereas his opponents think that random mutations plus natural selection can build just about anything, given enough time.

Look, I have nothing invested in the label used. If you don’t like “neo-Darwinian”, we don’t need to use it. But it doesn’t change the issue of substance to say “modern evolutionary theory” instead. The point is that “modern evolutionary theory”, like neo-Darwinism before it, says that undirected, unplanned mechanisms can and did generate every complex cellular and bodily structure that has ever emerged, and Behe and the ID folks do not agree with that. You can rename the “Ford Pinto” to the “Ford Modern”, but if the gas tank still explodes, what difference does the packaging make?

Further, at least “neo-Darwinism”, for all the historical ambiguity of the term, reminds us of Darwin, and that suggests that natural selection is going to be top dog among the mechanisms – it indicates something of the content of the theory; “modern evolutionary theory”, on the other hand, indicates zero of the content of the theory. If I spoke of “modern educational theory” or “modern economic theory” or “modern sociological theory”, all differences of opinion among experts in those field would be completely hidden by the generalization, whereas if I speak of “Deweyite educational theory” or “Keynesian economics” or “Weberian social theory”, or “Feminist Theology”, something more precise is indicated.

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I’m going to comment on some of the terminology there.

  • modern evolutionary theory

I’m not sure that there a specific set of claims or principles that goes under the name “modern evolutionary theory”. Rather, I suspect that there is disagreement over the details.

  • undirected

It seems to me that biological organisms and population are engaged is a struggle to survive. And that sets some kind of direction, albeit a rather broad direction.

  • unplanned

This depends on what we mean by “plan”. The production of random mutations could be seen as a plan for dealing with unpredictable contingencies.

  • mechanisms

That’s the most troubling word in your list. Biological organisms and populations don’t look very mechanical to me.

However, I suppose that the greater disagreement is this. The ID proponents want to put the direction setting, the planning (if there is any) and the non-mechanical as outside influences acting on the biological population. By contrast, I see them as inside and acting within the population.

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I agree.

Well, yes, but what the ID people mean is not that organisms have no direction, but that the mutations which make them evolve are supposed by modern evolutionary theorists to be undirected, in the sense that they occur without foresight of, or reference to, future evolutionary advantage or disadvantage. And natural selection is supposed to be undirected, in the sense that no one from on high is telling it what organisms are to live and what organisms are to die. It just kills off what it kills off, without any plan or purpose. It kills the unfit, not because it plans to, or wants to, or has any grand scheme for evolution, but because unfit organisms just don’t make it.

Yes, but here I didn’t mean “machine-like”. When evolutionary biologists speak of mechanisms of evolution (e.g., drift, lateral gene transfer, mutation, selection), their point is not to prove that organisms are like machines. Their point is that these are the factors, operations, processes, means, etc. by which the evolutionary process is driven. So change it to “unplanned operations” or “undirected factors” or the like.

Let’s distinguish between your position and that of “modern evolutionary theorists” (which is supposedly some body of scientists who have agreed on what causes evolution, though I’ve rarely seen this agreement manifest itself in the way they talk to and about each other). My point was that “modern evolutionary theorists” on the whole see no teleology, external or internal, governing the evolutionary process as a whole. They don’t think that organisms direct their own evolution (witness the hostility to Shapiro’s suggestion along that line, and witness Coyne’s mockery of Turner), and they don’t think God directs evolution, either.

Now to your position: I am not averse to the possibility that to some extent organisms can direct their own evolution. I regard the jury as out on that one. Nor are all ID proponents against the idea of internal teleology, though I agree that most of them lean to the external notion of teleology.

But if we set aside your views and mine, and look at the context of the discussion here, what do we see? People are complaining that ID is attacking a strawman, an outdated form of evolutionary theory. I concede that this might be true technically; modern evolutionary theory is no longer neo-Darwinian, but has a richer mix of causes. But it’s missing the forest for the trees. The point is that T. aquaticus, Larry Moran, Jerry Coyne, etc. no more think that evolution is teleological (directed to the accomplishment of a plan or intention) than did the neo-Darwinians such as Mayr, Dobzhansky and Gaylord Simpson. From that point of view, this indignant protest against the term “neo-Darwinism” is a tempest in a teapot. Both the old and the new evolutionary theorists are or would be against ID, and for exactly the same reasons; and Behe, Meyer, etc., object to most of “modern evolutionary theory” for the same reasons that they object to neo-Darwinism.

If anyone thinks that the ID people will be placated by the fact that evolution is now said to be driven by neutral mutations as well as good and bad ones, he is living in a dream world. From the ID point of view, neutral theory is just as non-teleological as neo-Darwinism was – and so is just about every other notion accepted by modern evolutionary theorists, excerpt possibly some of stuff proposed by some of the “structuralists” and by people like Shapiro and Turner, who leave a door open to teleology – but at least the latter two, we are told by the “experts” here, offer only junk science. So even if the ID people acceded to Joshua’s plea and never used the word “Darwinian” or “neo-Darwinian” again, ID would not be one millimeter closer to agreement with “modern evolutionary theory”. The issue here is not one of terminology, but of substance.

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5 posts were split to a new topic: God Necessary For Evolution?

3 posts were split to a new topic: The Culture Wars in Naming Things

You have that part backwards. Just sayin’.

Such as?

This much is true. Best to argue about that rather than argue by label. Do you agree with the ID folks? Why?

But you also wanted planning. And if there is no way to predict future changes to the environment, then the best “plan” would be to prepare for all possibilities. So that would be a “plan” make multiple changes in parallel in different possibilities for the next generation. And that’s just a way of describing mutations that are random with respect to fitness.

That’s why I don’t include “natural selection” in my thinking.

From the way that I look at it, natural selection is the problem – it tends to drive populations to extinction. And the clever use of mutations is part of the way that populations solve that problem. The populations “try” to make sure that they always have a sub-population which won’t be soon selected for extinction.

Yes, that’s about right. And I think it’s a mistake.

What they really object to, is the idea of external teleology – and I agree with that. If they had found a way to allow internal teleology, they might have had a better marketing scheme for their ideas.

They see that as externally imposed teleology. And the evidence from what we see in biology does not support that.

As an agnostic, it seems to me that if there is an omniscient god, that god could work internally, and not just externally. But most theists want to insist on an external teleology, and that’s a problem.

If you allowed that the “plan” was just to survive/thrive under all possible contingencies, they might be more willing to consider that kind of teleology.

We have a war of words between the theists and the biologists, and both groups react by taking positions more extreme than they need to take.

I agree with that. And you can put me in the “against ID” group on that. And I’m “against ID” because I don’t agree with what the “pro ID” people are claiming. If they could broaden that to allow the possibility that biological organisms and populations might already be intelligent and might themselves be engaged in “design” of their future, then I would have a different reaction.

Yes. And the substance is that the scientists want to describe the active inventive biosphere that they see, while the ID proponents want to see it all as a set of their god’s toys (artifacts). Yes, the contrast is stark.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: God Necessary For Evolution?

If I recall correctly, Darwin suggested that the lungs developed, or could have developed, from the swimming bladder. I think I’ve seen the suggestion elsewhere as well. So I wasn’t making the example up. However, I have no idea what the current thinking is on the evolution of lungs.

Yes. I am that guy. :slight_smile:

But to declare that Darwinism is dead and that neutral theory killed it and that this has been true since 1968 is a far bolder claim. Have I not presented sufficient evidence to make even you doubt it?

Then why not call it evolution?

There are a whole host of mechanisms that are a part of the theory of evolution. Why is this a problem? There are a whole host of mechanisms in standard geology like water erosion, ice cleaving, marine deposition, and so forth. Does that confuse you as well?

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