The Dissent from Darwinism

Despite my fully affirming evolutionary biology, I would have no problems signing the “Dissent from Darwinism” document—if not for (1) the way I would be misrepresented and misunderstood if I did so, and (2) the fact that the title of the infamous document has little to do with what its content actually states.

If pressed, why could I say that I affirm the document’s content? Let’s review what it says:

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

(1) Everyone should be “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutations and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” because scientists have known for a very long time now that there are many more evolutionary processes at work than just mutations and natural selection. Indeed, that has been the reality for many decades now!

(2) How could anyone who understands the nature of science not agree with “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged” because good science demands that every scientific theory be continually scrutinized and all evidence examined! Is that not obvious?

Neither of those provisions found in this bizarre “document” represents any sort of “dissent from Darwinism”. I don’t know who drafted the “dissent” but I’m aghast that anyone at all informed on these topics could write something so amateurish and misguided.

Of course, I could also critique the choice to use the word “Darwinism” with all of its attendant ambiguities and connotation baggage but that is old territory for this forum that most readers will recognize and understand.

I will count on Dr. Swamidas to modify my remarks if I have transgressed one of our new forum boundaries for good etiquette. Truly, I’m not trying to insult any particular individual on a personal basis because I have no idea how the “dissent” got drafted and who was involved. But the wording sounds to me like something a non-scientist with a poor understanding of the topic and who is a professional anti-evolution ministry activist would write to encourage his or her donor base.

If I am missing something, please tell me more.


I’m not a biologist but I’ve known and worked with plenty of biology, paleontology, and anthropology professors and only a few of them ever heard of the “Dissent from Darwinism” document. I discussed the document specifically with a prominent comparative anatomist, a paleontologist, and a medical school professor who taught evolution to future doctors (two of the aforementioned scholars teach at Ivy League schools) and they told me the same thing I heard from virtually everyone else: their colleagues had no awareness of the “Dissent from Darwinism” petition nor of any sort of “uproar” surrounding it.

Can you name some of these biologists you are talking about? (Better yet, could you provide some citations?) I have never had a science faculty colleague from any field of science who to my knowledge ever expressed any sort of opposition to scrutiny or skepticism in science.

I’m wondering if you understand what skepticism in science means. How do you define this “skepticism” of which you speak?

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You make good points. The document caused such an uproar because it encouraged more scrutiny and skepticism of Darwinism/evolution. Many biologists don’t want that kind of scrutiny or skepticism. It is unhealthy for that to exist in science. Scientists are supposed to skeptical. But evolution has taken on the status of an article of faith in the naturalist worldview. Naturalism, like many religions, doesn’t like skepticism or scrutiny. You were wise not to sign.

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Except Darwinism has been dead for at least 60 years…

So it is worth, for example, engaging with The Neutral Theory of Evolution. A dissent from Darwinism, however, makes no sense.


Certainly, scientists are supposed to be skeptical of claims whether they are made by other scientists or non-scientists. When a controversial paper is published, a scientist will say something “I’d like to see his data before I buy that conclusion.” In unhealthy situations, scientists will sometimes refuse to show their data (even though the journal will often require it be posted online). This has been a big problem in scientific fields. Science is unhealthy when scientists embrace a recently published paper without anyone attempting to replicate the research or even to examine the data and the statistical methods used.

When skepticism is raised by scientists about evolution, the skeptical scientist is shouted down or cannot get his paper published. It is quite a scandal.

I’m familiar with that ubiquitous claim but I’ve personally seen no evidence of that. Would you also say that Germ Theory and the Theory of Mitosis have taken on “the status of an article of faith”?

Also, it sounds like you are confusing the naturalism of good science with philosophical naturalism. The former is rooted in the very foundations of natural philosophy, the subfield of philosophy which Christian philosophers developed—and which led to the rapid progress of modern science as we know it. In contrast, the philosophical naturalism which many automatically associate with atheism is something else entirely.

(1) As a religious studies scholar, I strongly disagree with classifying naturalism (or whatever definition) as a religion. In its most concise definition, a religion is a devotion to the transcendent. There is no notion of the transcendent in any popular version of naturalism of which I’m aware.

(2) What is your evidence that this naturalism of which you speak “doesn’t like skepticism or scrutiny”?

I happen to be quite dismissive of flat-earthism. Does that make me an advocate of this “naturalism religion” of which you speak? Does it indicate that I somehow lack skepticism in my science? Does it mean that I’m opposed to the scrutiny of scientific evidence?


Why should scientists take seriously skepticism about an already falsified theory of origins presented as a challenge to current understanding?

It feels a lot like the question: “Sir, will you stop beating your wife?” The question itself implies an ad hominem falsehood (if no wife beating is taking place). We just disagree with the whole premise of the question. It would be like seeing a “Dissent from Newtonian Physics.” It is not that it is pseudoscience, rather it is pseudohistory.

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I know of other biologists, most notably Larry Moran, who have said this as well. That they would sign it but won’t because of how it would be spun. I’m not a Darwinist and have spent a good bit of time arguing against the adaptationist paradigm.


What is your best example of such a paper? Let’s take the allegedly #1 most egregious case you can find and see if the claim of bias (and scandal) is justified. (I’m not being dismissive of your claim. I sincerely want to check the evidence and see if the claim holds true. I am skeptical and want to submit your claim to due scrutiny.)

Also, do you understand that not every scientific paper gets published?

I can’t speak for every field, but in my own experience in academia a typical paper is routinely rejected until various issues are addressed. Sometimes those are major issues but usually they are details. Yet, even after all of those issues are addressed, a paper can be rejected for all sorts of reasons, such as the paper not “making the cut” in a competition with many other papers submitted to the same journals or failing to “fit” a particular theme planned for a given issue of that journal periodical. Not everybody’s paper will get published. That’s not how science works—nor is it how good scholarship in the humanities works. (I was a science professor before I became a humanities professor.)


As a long time metaphysical naturalist, until my recent conversion, I can say with confidence this is false. The naturalist community I was a part of was very skeptical of certain arguments and scrutinized every one that was presented. I wonder what naturalists you are referring to @Ronald_Cram.


A post was merged into an existing topic: Quoting Primer and Suggestions

I don’t agree. Buddhism is a religion and it has no transcendent God, personal or impersonal.

According to the second definition for religion in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

“2: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices”

Evolution certainly fits that definition for many people.

I’m referring to the well-documented opposition to those who are skeptical of evolution. I would rather get back to discussing the science.

Except we are talking about Darwinism here, not evolution. What does a falsified theory of change have to do with evolution?

I am very interested and curious also.

@Ronald_Cram, I am quite fascinated by the issues you’ve raised and I hope to resume my participation on this fun thread after a few hours attending to other matters. (Perhaps you’ve been around for a while and my erratic participation here incorrectly leads me to assume that you are new to this forum—but a hearty “Welcome!” to you, whatever the case may be.)

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There have been a couple of examples of papers published and then retracted by the journal because of the uproar they caused by criticizing evolution. This is very unusual in science. Usually if a paper gets by the review process that others don’t agree with, they simply publish a response. But that doesn’t happen with regards to evolution because the religious defenders of evolution demand the paper be withdrawn. I believe there were many more examples in the movie by Ben Stein, but it has been a long time since I saw the movie.

We are talking about Dawrinism, not evolution. Are we not?

yeah it was weird. I knew it was Ronald who said it it just wouldn’t let me direct it towards him. So I gave up and sent it to you. Haha

Read my concise definition more carefully: I did NOT claim that all religions recognize a “transcendent God”. I said that a religion requires “the transcendent”. That transcendence doesn’t have to be a deity, “personal or impersonal” as you say. It can be any sort of transcendent “whatever”.

Buddhism is a religion because its various versions focus on various transcendent goals and foci, whether that transcendence be described as enlightenment, overcoming samsara, Nirvana, or attainment of Buddhahood.

(1) Do you think that the average popular-level layperson dictionary for a language is the best authority on such a term? [My question is sincere. I’m not trying to sound dismissive. I’m just trying to better understand where you are coming from.]

(2) Depending upon the general public’s notions about a word’s meaning is fraught with ambiguities and contradictions—and appalling errors. For example, does the fact that many English-speakers think that a dolphin is a kind of fish provide sufficient reason to doubt an ichthyologist definitions of those words? Does the fact that the average English-speaker thinks that a koala bear is a kind of bear overrule the taxonomist who tells you that the word koala does not refer to a species of bear?

I am also wondering if you think that religious studies scholars and evolutionary biology scholars are commonly mistaken in their terminology. (Again, I’m not being dismissive. I just want to understand more of your opinion of the academy in general and the years of training we had to go through to do our jobs as researchers and as teachers at universities.)

[As a linguist, lexicography is very important to me, so that is why I have responded so carefully on this issue.]

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Ok good. That gives me some specifics because years ago I did a case by case scrutiny of the “bias examples” discussed by Ben Stein in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I concluded that not one of them was valid. Indeed, I was absolutely shocked at the misrepresentations. (In some of the cases, I would have to say my use of the word “misrepresentation” was a euphemism.) By the way, did you notice that in the Expelled film Ben Stein made no effort to check with parties on the other side of the story? The film was a good example of what the Bible warns about: “A story sounds true until another comes forward to cross-examine and testify.” (That’s my personal paraphrase of Proverbs 18:17.)

I’m not going to post my point-by-point refutation of Stein’s example cases in this thread because far more qualified people have done a much better job of that and they are available to the general public online. (Readers can easily find them with a Google search, just as I found them.)

As a born-again Christ-follower who had received many enthusiastic recommendations (and even their advertised endorsements) for the Expelled movie from friends and evangelical colleagues, I was very frustrated and disappointed by that film once I had opportunity to see it and investigate it. My scrutiny and skepticism over its claims turned out to be well founded.

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