On the Meaning of Neo-Darwinism

(Marty Pomeroy) #1

Josh - I think the term is much more flexible than you imply here. A quick look at the wikipedia discussion shows that it is still in general use: “Any current version of evolutionary thinking.”

Is Evolution Speculation?
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

The way it is defined by ID is positive selection dominated change. This is also how it is commnly defined in the literature, as a panadaptationalism.

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(George) #3


Have you ever seen that term before? I havent!

(Marty Pomeroy) #4

Yep. Wherever I see it, ridicule is typically counterproductive. If people don’t engage fairly (as you point out), after being warned people lose the opportunity to post. That, it seems to me, is the job of the moderator. But to go down to that level? No, not a good idea.

This is one of the cultural problems we are facing today, that people start with disrespect. We don’t have to respond in kind.

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(Marty Pomeroy) #5

I had to look it up also. I typically see “neo-Darwinism” as a synonym for “the modern synthesis” and even as a synonym for “evolution” which all mean AFAICT that basically mutation and natural selection (M+NS) are the mechanisms. Details get tweaked so now we have Neutral Theory but that is still ultimately a form of M+NS.

But I’m glad Josh brought up the term, cuz the main reason I visit forums is to learn something.

So trying to understand your thrust here. I think you are saying that ID is arguing against panadaptationism AND that neo-Darwinism is defined in the literature as panadaptationism. Underlying is that panadaptationism is replaced by Neutral Theory.

That would imply to me that the literature is using neo-Darwinism in a more specialized way. And that’s fine, it’s just that the term seems to be used much more broadly outside the literature.

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(Nonlin.org) #6

Haldane and Kimura seem very much in line with Darwin and his neo.

(Nonlin.org) #7

How about observing that only intelligent beings select? Predators, plants, birds, insects or bacteria, all show intelligence and the willful pursuit of predetermined goals.

(Marty Pomeroy) #8

But that’s the whole point of “natural selection” and Darwin’s contribution. He knew about human selection (animal breeding) but recognized that traits better adapted to the environment could help a species with those traits survive. Indeed, nature does select! As you point out, not toward a chosen goal, but just differential survival rates.

(George) #9


But nothing like @swamidass or @gbrooks9!

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

So @Marty, this there is a common equivocation between

  1. Darwinism (meaning our best understanding of evolutionary science)
  2. Darwinism (meaning positive-selection dominated change)
  3. Darwinism (meaning atheism)

Some scientists use Darwinism to mean #1, but this is actually very rare among evolutionary biologists in their scientific work. It is much more common for us to be talking about non-Darwinian processes too.

However, it is common for ID, YEC and Atheists to equivocate these because it serves their joint rhetorical goals to present evolutionary science to be in direct conflict with religion. Moreover, blurring the line between 1 and 2 makes it possible for people to argue they have disproven #1 by disproving #2.

A great example of this is the Irreducible Complexity Argument: Which Irreducible Complexity Argument?. Look how Behe defines IC2:

Do you see the problem with the bolded phrase?

Here, Behe is making the case that Darwinism (positive selection dominated change) is insufficient to explain the diversity of life. And biologists already agree, and think non Darwinian mechanisms are important too. The problem is that he treats Darwinism as if it is modern evolutionary theory, and it is not.

Same thing happens in the Dissent from Darwinism:

“A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” states that:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.


Notice that random mutation and natural selection does not include non-Darwinian evolution. They have defined evolution here to be Darwinism (positive selection dominated change), not the modern theory. This is a truly strange statement, calling for scientists to scrutinize a falsified theory. One might as well call for scrutiny of Newtonian Physics, or of Phrenology. Why? We already moved on from that decades ago? While we are at it, we might as well ask when scientists will stop beating their wives.

As a science student, the Dissent from Darwinism was a key event in my journey away from ID. When I realized they were arguing against a cartoon version of modern evolutionary science, and did not even seem to realize it, I was floored. I couldn’t trust the arguments without carefully scrutinizing them. They did not stand up to the same scrutiny to which my work as a PhD student was subject. It was all downhill from there.

I wonder if ID could benefit from Steelman Instead of Strawman, but to date they are engaging with strawman versions of the evolutionary science I’ve learned about as a scientist. The abuse of the term Darwinism is a key way how this happens. Remember, these are mutually contradictory definitions, even though they are connected to the same utterance. Rather than go along with the ID-YEC-Dawkins consensus around “Darwinism”, I use it in the technical precise way.

Does that make more sense? How do you understand this all.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

@Marty, this article from NSCE is salient too, about an ad promoting the Dissent from Darwinism:

In October and November 2001, the Discovery Institute (DI), a Seattle-based public policy institute, placed advertisements in at least three periodicals, including The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard. The advertisement in The New York Review of Books appeared under the headline “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” followed by this text:

Public TV programs, educational policy statements, and science textbooks have asserted that Darwin’s theory of evolution fully explains the complexity of living things. The public has been assured, most recently by spokespersons for PBS’s Evolution series, that “all known scientific evidence supports [Darwinian] evolution” as does “virtually every reputable scientist in the world.”

The following scientists dispute the first claim and stand as living testimony in contradiction to the second. There is scientific dissent to Darwinism. It deserves to be heard.

After this brief statement is a gray box taking up the majority of the page which contains in small print a list of names followed by the names of the institutions at which the signatories work, previously worked, or attained doctoral degrees. In a cleared space in the middle of this display is an area containing the statement to which the signatories attest:

We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.

Under close examination, the text of both the leading paragraphs and the statement attested to appear to be very artfully phrased. The first paragraph tells readers that spokespersons for the PBS series Evolution have assured the public that “all known scientific evidence supports [Darwinian] evolution.” But notice that “Darwinian” appears in brackets. That “all known scientific evidence supports evolution” is a different claim than “all known scientific evidence supports [Darwinian] evolution.” Exactly who is equating Darwinian evolution and evolution? In the same vein, the signatories to the second declaration are described as dissenting from “Darwinism” — but do they reject evolution as well?

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