It certainly isn’t lost on anyone familiar with ID Creationism that its proponents tend to lack originality. Now and then one sees a new quote-mine, for example, but mostly one just sees the recycling of the same quote mines again and again, as ID Creationists too lazy to actually read sources just repeat the quote-mines they find in other works. I can predict, to an astonishing degree of accuracy, when a creationist is going to quote Lewontin, for example.
The same can often be said of the sources. People love to cite certain sources and inflate their importance, and one of the most commonly recurring of these is the Wistar conference of 1966 (proceedings published in '67) titled “Mathematical challenges to the neo-Darwinian interpretation of evolution.” Dang, I would think that was the most important scientific conference ever held, if I relied upon creationist accounts. Every book seems to go there sooner or later, and the ID Creationist fantasy-take on this one is that mathematicians identified problems in evolutionary theory to which no satisfactory answer has been provided, even now, 54 years later.
It seems unlikely to me that most of the people who cite the conference have ever bothered to read the actual proceedings. They’re not that easy to find. But a friend sent me a .pdf of the whole thing some years ago, and while it’s been a few years since I read it, what I do recall is that it seemed like one long schooling of mathematicians, in a situation where it was clear that these particular mathematicians had a rather naive conception of evolutionary biology. They didn’t even really understand evolutionary theory particularly well – I recall one rather painful-sounding discussion where someone on the “math” side of the thing was talking about the theory of evolution by natural selection being a tautology. That was a real forehead-slapper.
Anyhow: the weird thing about this is that while this conference is cited again and again and again in DI publications, I have never seen a single reference to it ever, in any actual work on biology. I don’t have credentials for a lot of online resources, but it really does appear that the conference proceedings were unimportant in 1966, and that they have vanished into the long-long-ago land where such things as 1940s genetics symposia go, of interest to, at most, the historian of science. And because hardly anyone on the creationist side appears to be familiar with the actual proceedings – learning of it, as they usually do, from accounts published in other creationist nonsense – the treatments of it in creationist works tend to be on the criminally-naive side.
Now, I am a lover of many things Philadelphian. I spent nine years of my life there, consuming all the hoagies and Frank’s Wishniak that I could. But the Wistar proceedings seem to be about as useful as the reanimated corpse of Frank Rizzo, to anyone interested in actual biology. I am happy to be shown what contribution they have made to modern biology, but my impression is that the answer is pretty much one word: nil.
I had the Wistar conference cited to me in a private message by another user here, who was defending Meyer’s horrid, dishonest fictional work on the Cambrian, Darwin’s Doubt, and that’s what brought it to mind. I would be interested in hearing from those here who work in quantitative aspects of evolutionary biology: do these proceedings, contrary to my understanding, have any enduring importance at all? Or are they, like most 54-year-old biological symposia, now so far over the horizon behind us that no importance can be assigned to them at all? As best I can tell, they are very rarely cited, and then mostly in philosophical or historical treatments of biological topics.