Thursday, December 09, 2004

Around the Blogs

My fellow evolution bloggers have been posting such great stuff lately, I think I'll mooch off them for today.

John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts debunks the annoying old myth that Darwin did not ectually explain the origin of species in his most famous book. As Wilkins shows, he certainly did:

However there are the following points to make:

1. Darwin did give an answer to the origin of species in The Origin of Species.

2. Recent work shows that in fact his mechanism does, realistically, generate new species from time to time (reviewed nicely by Schilthuizen 2001).

Schilthuizen, Menno. 2001. Frogs, flies, and dandelions: the making of species. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

3. Many new species are formed either by polyploidy or in allopatry, in fact.


4. Darwin explained some, but not all speciation.

The myth seems to be that Darwin did not even try to explain new species in TOoS. He did. He gave a good explanation - it just happens that it does not explain most speciation.

Read the full article for the details.

Wilkins also has a link to this interesting article, from the Phi Delta Kappa website about the threat ID poses not just to science, but to all fields of inquiry:

If you're not a high school biology teacher, you may be missing some of the current excitement in American education. There has been a sea change in the tactics of the anti-evolution forces, whose efforts have waxed and waned ever since the Scopes Trial. Before you dismiss this topic as of no interest to you as a history, English, or social studies teacher or as an administrator, watch out for the Wedge. For the Wedge is looking for you, too. Evolution is simply the initial target of opportunity, and there is a special emotional attachment to rooting it out. But make no mistake: if the first dangerous weed, modern science, can be removed from the garden, your area will be ripe for replanting as well.

And later:

The Wedge Strategy, which derives from the writings of Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, proposes nothing less than “the salvation of Western Civilization” by, among other things, the removal of evolution from science education and the institution of a Christian belief system throughout American society.

In their more aggressive postures, the advocates of Intelligent Design have proposed a reestablishment of “proper science,” science that will always take into account the work of a Supreme Being, an Intelligent Designer, or even, if you catch them in an unguarded moment, God.11 The restoration of the science that was being pursued in England prior to the Darwin/Huxley revolution -- all to the greater glory of God and mindful of His great works -- is central to the Wedge Strategy. And, of course, this very aim gives the lie to proclamations of a purely scientific revolution. Proponents need to have science itself redefined to include the supernatural if they are to conduct their revolution.

It's a strange scientific revolution that seeks to establish its position in secondary school curricula before the research itself has been accomplished. But this obvious impediment is removed if the revolution is based on a redefinition of science rather than on new research.

Wilkins offers some further comments on the subject here.

And at The Panda's Thumb Gary Hurd weighs in with a provocative, and entirely correct, post about the commonalities between evolution deniers and holocaust deniers:

When I read Prof. Young’s piece, I was immediately taken with the social and intellectual parallels between Holocaust deniers and evolution deniers. I recalled reading Lying About Hitler by Richard J. Evans (2001) which relates the court battle that followed when Holocaust denier and pseudohistorian David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt over her accurate portrayal of Irving in her book “Denying the Holocaust” (1994, Plume Books). Both Lipstadt and Evans give details of how the Holocaust deniers operate that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has invested much time studying evolution deniers such as the Intelligent Design Creationists (IDC) of the Discovery Institute, or Young Earth Creationists (YEC) such as Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind, or the Institute for Creation Research (which was recently characterized in the San Francisco Chronicle as “the world leader in creation science”). Lipstadt has written that Holocaust deniers, “… misstate, misquote, falsify statistics, and falsely attribute conclusions to reliable sources. They rely on books that directly contradict their arguments, quoting in a manner that completly distorts the authors’ objectives.” It would be hard to write a more apt description of creationist “scholarship” as attested in the Talk.Origins Archive article “Quotations and Misquotations” by Mike Hopkins, or in “The Quote Mine Project” edited by John Pieret.

I would only add that Holocaust denial is suffused through and through with anti-semitism. The major creationist organizations in this country are guilty of a great many things, but anti-semitism isn't one of them. In that important respect, the comparison breaks down.

But the fact remains that fringe groups routinely make use of a few basic rhetorical tricks when making their case, and it is useful to be able to recognize them when you see them. I often tell people that in many cases, even if you do not know the minutiae of a particular scientific discipline, you can still spot a crank when you are confronted with one. Hurd has pinpointed many of the tell tale signs, both in the paragraph above and in the remainder of his essay. Go read it.


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