‘Religion entered into me’: A talk with Jane Goodall, winner the 2021

1 Like

From the interview:

“When more scientists are saying there’s an intelligence behind the universe, that’s basically what the Templeton Foundation is about: We don’t live in only a materialistic world. Francis Collins drove home that in every single cell in your body there’s a code of several billion instructions. Could that be chance? No. There’s no actual reason why things should be the way they are, and chance mutations couldn’t possibly lead to the complexity of life on earth.”

I’m not sure that Francis Collins would put his conclusions the way Goodall does here, but her statement of her own view is interesting in itself…

1 Like

“Several billion instructions”? That gave me a good laugh.

I think she really meant to say, “could [all] that be chance?” and the answer is a resounding no.

Again if she meant “[only] chance mutations couldn’t possibly lead to the complexity of life on earth”, then she is right. HGT, endosymbiosis, selection, drift, recombination etcetera all contributed in different ways and capacities, but these chance/random mutations played a major role. Without the genetic diversity generated via mutations, biological evolution would have never occurred.

1 Like

Why is it interesting? She’s ignoring selection.

4 Likes

It’s not.

And even if she wasn’t (she could just as well have blindly asserted that “chance mutations and selection…”) it doesn’t matter. Unless she backs it up with some evidence and arguments it’s just an assertion of no value or consequence. But she supplies none.

2 Likes

Well, Goodall does believe we and primates have a common ancestor

It was a very dark time for me. . . . I thought they were like us, only nicer. I’d no idea of the brutality they could show. War always seemed to me to be a purely human behaviour. I’ve come to accept that the dark, evil side of human nature is deeply embedded in our genes, inherited from our primate ancestors. [emphasis added]

Oh, yes, but what I found interesting was that she has joined the swelling chorus of scientists who accept evolution but express doubts about the standard narrative of how it happened. I expect we will see more of this over the years and decades to come.

How are you defining the “swelling chorus”? Are you basing this on the “Dissent from Darwinism”?

We will doubtless see others over the years that have either no professional connection, or a barely tangential connection, to the study of evolution claim that they don’t see how it could work.

4 Likes

Well, there are plenty of people posting here, and on Panda’s Thumb, and on The Skeptical Zone, and on BioLogos, who “have either no professional connection, or a barely tangential connection” to the study of evolution who claim to know for sure how it does work, so that makes things about even. :slight_smile:

Hardly - I somehow doubt you are as excited about the opinions of these nebulous people as you are about Goodall’s. :slight_smile:

3 Likes

I guess I’m one of those people with only a tangential connection.

No, I do claim to know for sure how it works. I do see evolution as a pretty good explanation. But, in science we never know for sure. There’s always more to learn.

Oh, I don’t have any problem with what Jane Goodall wrote.

3 Likes

It has been my experience here and elsewhere that the creationists online on these forums who reject evolution in general have never completed reading a first year university biology textbook.

For example, imagine trying to argue for the irreducible complexity of the sense of smell, asserting that it would require the simultaneous evolution 2-4 new parts while having never heard of G protein coupled receptors!!

Or arguing, as a few creationists have, that the second law of thermodynamics precludes evolution… facepalm

Or arguing, as one professional creationist apologist did, that a preponderance of C>T mutations would mean that we should have no cytosine left… facepalm

Or arguing, as another progressive creationist did, that asparagine is apparently unstable ex vivo… facepalm

Or arguing, as multiple creationists I have debated online with, that covid-19 is all a hoax or that hydroxychloroquine is safe and effective prophylaxis… double facepalm

Or arguing, as another creationist did, that light has no speed, and that mutations aren’t real, and dinosaurs never existed… triple facepalm

The one creationist I did debate with online who did study a (non-degree) biology online course, with no labs and no exams thought arguing “but that doesn’t explain abiogenesis” was a valid refutation of the argument that the recurrent laryngeal nerve is evidence of poor design!

2 Likes

That’s certainly not true of Paul Nelson, who has appeared here often. He took many undergraduate and graduate courses in biology before completing his Ph.D. in the philosophy of biology (under an evolutionary biologist) at the University of Chicago.

In any case, your comment is not responsive to the point I was making. My point was that if it requires advanced specialist training in evolutionary mechanisms (training so advanced that it would exclude a primatologist like Goodall) in order to have a valid opinion about how evolution works, that same requirement would mean that a large number of the people posting here also lack the basis of a valid opinion. The reading of a first-year biology textbook would not take someone anywhere near what would be needed to follow the research of Gunter Wagner, Andreas Wagner, Futuyma, Fisher, Dobzhansky, etc., and criticize it meaningfully. So if Goodall is not allowed a place at the table, I fear that a good number of other commenters here must fall under the same judgment.

You missed my point. You were essentially implying that even highly qualified scientists who doubted the standard narrative of evolution don’t know what they’re talking about if their specific scientific field is not evolutionary theory. (Presumably, for example, you would say that Goodall’s field is primatology, not evolutionary theory proper, so her views on evolutionary mechanism are irrelevant.) But if “not specifically trained in, or publishing in, evolutionary theory” is your criterion for “not being competent to offer an opinion regarding likelihood and unlikelihood of outcomes based on standard evolutionary mechanism”, then the vast majority of people posting here, including the majority with science Ph.D.s, are just as unqualified as Goodall, since virtually none of them have done even a stitch of research or produced a single peer-reviewed article in evolutionary theory. I see only two people here with doctorates actually in evolutionary theory/systematics, and another physicist turned population genetics theorist who can count as a published evolutionary theorist, but beyond that, I see an assortment of biologists, biochemists, physicists, lawyers, psychiatrists, lab techs, grad students nowhere near finished their dissertations, and of course, ubiquitous on these sites, lay groupies whose knowledge of science comes from reading Wikipedia (or at best, Scientific American). Some of these people have some knowledge pertinent to evolutionary mechanism, but none of them publish in the field of evolutionary mechanism – or if they do, they have not mentioned specific publications where evolutionary mechanics are discussed. So overall, not many trained, productive evolutionary theorists posting here. So sure, if you want to exclude Goodall as not specialist enough in evolutionary theory to have an opinion that counts, then fine, but ask yourself whether a psychiatrist (who by his own admission has not published any research papers even in psychiatry, let alone evolutionary biology) is likely to know any more about evolutionary mechanism than Goodall. Or a lawyer with no science background whose main contribution to these debates is flashy anti-ID polemics in Amazon reviews. I’m not sure I see why it’s automatic that such people have a deeper understanding of how evolution works than Goodall.

By the way, I’m not a particular fan of Goodall’s. I just think it is interesting that another prominent name with “cultural clout” as a spokeswoman for “science” has expressed some doubt about the standard narrative of how evolution works. It seems to be happening more often these days, that people who would generally be conceded to be at least competent scientists (and in some cases very good scientists), suddenly utter something that indicates doubt about the standard account of how evolution works. Such people might be wrong, but if they are wrong, it’s not because they are lousy scientists.

1 Like

You are right, I should have phrased this differently. What I mean to say is that while Goodall has done outstanding work in her own field and has made considerable contributions to primatology, this does not automatically qualify her as an expert in evolutionary biology. She has not studied evolution or molecular biology (her comment on Collins is proof enough of that), so we should not necessarily laud her words just because she is a giant in her own field.

5 Likes

Hence I said “in general” rather than “all”.

In any case, your comment is not responsive to the point I was making. My point was that if it requires advanced specialist training in evolutionary mechanisms (training so advanced that it would exclude a primatologist like Goodall) in order to have a valid opinion about how evolution works, that same requirement would mean that a large number of the people posting here also lack the basis of a valid opinion. The reading of a first-year biology textbook would not take someone anywhere near what would be needed to follow the research of Gunter Wagner, Andreas Wagner, Futuyma, Fisher, Dobzhansky, etc., and criticize it meaningfully. So if Goodall is not allowed a place at the table, I fear that a good number of other commenters here must fall under the same judgment.

This doesn’t stop the 99.9% of creationists without first year university level biology education from adamantly arguing evolution is impossible. For a variety of very poor reasons, many of which could have been avoided with a basic first year university level science education.

Even now in 2021 we still see a number of creationists online arguing “speciation has never been observed” and “kinds are unchanged since creation”… Even a fellow Christian that I was friends with when I was Christian who went to the same #1 ranked high school in my state that we both went to was arguing with me recently that kinds have been unchanged since creation and speciation is impossible!

(We both had went to the same church Ken Ham and AiG visited about 20 years ago - back when AiG was espousing unchanged kinds and speciation is impossible, and causing me and many at the church to become fundie YECs for a long time. Unfortunately for this Christian friend, he was unable to progress from his views despite AiG changing theirs).

1 Like

And her expression of doubt demonstrates that she has no clue about evolutionary biology, which as you well know, is not merely a narrative.

Doesn’t seem that way to me.

Along with uttering something that indicates a shocking absence of basic understanding of standard evolutionary biology, which is not a mere “account” as you Culture Warriors like to pretend.

Why aren’t any of those scientists competent in evolutionary biology, Eddie?

It’s because they don’t understand evolutionary biology.

After all, if it’s such a fraud, should at least one of those making these utterances have some track record in DOING evolutionary biology? Shouldn’t they be the ones to whom it is most obvious?

2 Likes

I am particularly annoyed by the statement that

I can’t believe that Francis Collins would say any such thing, so that’s all Goodall’s misunderstanding. The code is the genetic code, which is the mapping between 3-base codons and amino acids during translation. The genome itself (even the coding parts) is not a code. And individual bases, the only thing there could be several billion of, are not instructions. On the other hand, she knows a whole lot about chimpanzee behavior.

5 Likes

I agree with that. It is interesting, however, that a number of “giants in their own fields” find some of the claims of evolutionary biology (regarding mechanism, I’m talking about, not whether or not evolution happened) somewhat implausible. This includes not only Goodall but Lynn Margulis (celebrated for her work on endosymbiosis) an evolutionary theorist herself, James Tour the synthetic chemist, Noam Chomsky the renowned linguist, Templeton Prize-Winning scientist, theologian, and historian of science Stanley Jaki, philosopher of science Karl Popper (he went back and forth, but at one point anyway was a Darwin skeptic), philosopher and leading American educator Mortimer Adler, the top-notch MIT physicists and engineers whose challenge precipitated the Wistar Conference, and so on. It is not always stupid people, or intellectually incompetent people, who have doubts on the subject.

I agree that fundamentalists have often presented very poor arguments against evolution. I agree that sometimes they have shown an abysmal lack of knowledge of science. You never see me praising Ken Ham, Duane Gish, etc. here.

Thanks for your autobiographical account. I was never on the inside of any church where creationism was taught or insisted on. If I had been, I would have rebelled, as dinosaurs were my favorite subject as a kid, and I had read up on the age of the earth, fossils, etc. If my church had pit Jesus against evolution, Jesus would have lost, because I found dinosaurs cooler than stories about about pious guys in beards and sandals and their donkeys. But I went to a mushy mainstream church which didn’t believe in much, and evolution was never discussed, one way or the other, and I imagine the clergy accepted evolution as did most of the lay people (many of whom were science-trained folks – engineers, architects, physicians, etc.).

There is no doubt in my mind that the kinds of creatures on the earth have changed over time, and drastically so.

If Google Trends over the last 17 years is anything to go by, it’s actually a rapidly declining chorus…

https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=creationism

1 Like