Sunday, September 12, 2004

Adams on Evolution, II

The column discussed in the previous entry comes on the heels of this column from September 7. It opens with the following thoughts about evolution:

Recently, a reader wrote to tell me that he had lost all faith in my intelligence because I made a derogatory remark about Charles Darwin in one of my recent editorials. The reader seemed to suggest that IQ could be measured with a single question. Apparently, his question was “do you believe in evolution?”

Of course, that is not a good question to use on a single-item IQ exam. Intelligent people know that, since it was created, evolution has evolved into two theories. Micro-evolution tries to use Darwinian principles to explain variations within species over time. Macro-evolution tries to use Darwinian principles to suggest that all species have evolved from primordial soup.

The latter theory is less than unproven. In fact, it isn’t even scientific. I believe that it is nothing more than the new religion of pseudo scientists who think that they are atheists. It is easy to fall prey to the mistaken belief that you are an atheist in the protected environment of academia. Trust me, I’ve been there.

I think it will come as news to biologists that “evolution has evolved into two theories”. And I have no idea what he means by “Darwinian principles” here. Usually when one talks about a Darwinian explanation for something, the intention is to explain how the prolonged action of natural selection led to the formation of a complex structure through a process of gradual accretion. The idea that all modern species are related by common descent rests not on some vaguely-defined Darwinain principles, but on the accumulated evidence from paleontology, anatomy, genetics, embryology and numerous other branches of biology. The primoridal soup has nothing to do with evolutionary biology, as I have discussed in several previous postings.

Evolution is a new religion? Seeing as how it's been around for a century and a half, I think Adams uses a funny definition of “new”.

Things get weirder in the next paragraph. “Pseudo scientists who think they are atheistis”? Huh? I know scientists who are atheists and I know scientists who are not atheists, but I don't know any who are confused about the question.

Also, the sheer lack of respect for scientists here is remarkable. Adams is surely aware that virtually every university in the country either has a department of evolutionary biology, or a division of the biology department specializing in evolution. I'd be very surprised if Adams could give any coherent account of what sort of research goes on in these departments, yet he feels no shame in dismissing it all as some elaborate smokescreen for propping up an atheist worldview. In his previous column we saw that he senses nothing strange in the proposition that logical fallacies obvious to any high school student have somehow eluded the finest biological thinkers for more than a century. Do you think Adams ever pauses to say to himself, “ Maybe this subject is a bit more complicated than I'm presenting?”

Pharyngula offers some additional comments on this article here. He doesn't like Adams as much as I do...