What on Earth is David Berlinski Talking About?
Not everyone was as impressed by the Dawkins and Coyne article as I was. Here's David Berlinski, commenting via the Discovery Institute's blog:
Please read the article while endeavoring not to laugh, chortle, snicker, hoot or whistle. You will find it cannot be done. In the course of affirming why there is absolutely no controversy about anything over there where Darwinian biologists hang out, they indicate quite soberly that, in fact, there are lots of controversies after all -- all of them precisely of the sort that Darwinian critics have been insisting were there all along and that Darwinian biologists have all along insisted did not exist and were of no consequence. You could, if you wished, line up Darwin on Trial or my own “The Deniable Darwin” and compare it to the remarkably frank admission and ask yourself just what the hell Coyne and Dawkins are not saying that we did not say long before them? And you could, if you wished further, ask yourself why it has taken this long for the leaders of the field to acknowledge the plain fact that Darwinian theories are simpy riddled with problems for which Darwinian theories have no answers. If you were uncharitably inclined, you might even post this entire piece to the DI website with the words: Hey fellas, we told you so.
In the middle there I'm sure Berlinksi meant to say, “..what the hell Coyne and Dawkins are saying...” as opposed to “not saying,” but let's leave that aside.
Berlinski says that Dawkins and Coyne indicate that “there are lots of controversies after all -- all of them precisely of the sort that Darwinian critics have been insisting were there all along and that Darwinian biologists have all along insisted did not exist and were of no consequence.” Of course, in reality they say nothing of the sort.
To anyone who both read the article and cares about presenting its contents with a modicum of accuracy, the point Dawkins and Coyne were making could not have been clearer. There are a great many points of controversy among evolutionary biologists, something no one has ever denied, but they are fundamentally different kinds of controversies from the ones ID folks try to whip up. Here's Dawkins and Coyne:
Among the controversies that students of evolution commonly face, these are genuinely challenging and of great educational value: neutralism versus selectionism in molecular evolution; adaptationism; group selection; punctuated equilibrium; cladism; “evo-devo” the “Cambrian Explosion” mass extinctions; interspecies competition; sympatric speciation; sexual selection; the evolution of sex itself; evolutionary psychology; Darwinian medicine and so on. The point is that all these controversies, and many more, provide fodder for fascinating and lively argument, not just in essays but for student discussions late at night.
Intelligent design is not an argument of the same character as these controversies. It is not a scientific argument at all, but a religious one.
Totally unambiguous, and totally not what Berlinski described. Likewise, none of the controversies Dawkins and Coyne describe show that Darwinian theories are riddled with problems. Just the opposite. In every case the issue is that there are several different possible explanations that fit comfortably within conventional evolutionary theory, but insufficient data for deciding between them. Indeed, these controversies shoud be far more worrisome to ID folks. They are trying to persuade us that evolutionists are fumbling in the dark, desperate for any plausible mechanism to explain the phenomena they confront. So much so, in fact, that the only plausible explanation for natural history involves concocting, out of whole cloth, a designer with incomprehensible powers. The reality is scientists are inundated with plausible explanations, and argue over which is the correct one.
Periodically I accuse this or that anti-evolutionist of being a liar, and when I do so I know to expect an indignant comment or an angry e-mail. Typically my correspondent informs me that he is generally on my side, but does not appreciate the nasty tone I sometimes take.
To any such person reading this who feels inclined to comment, I offer a simple challenge: Read Dawkins and Coyne, then reread Berlinski's description of what they wrote. Then tell me what I should conclude about Mr. Berlinski?