While searching historical databases for material on John Tyndall, the subject of my master’s research, I came across an article in The New York Times of November 25, 1884, “Turn in the tide of thought: Thomas Kimber’s lecture on science in relation to divine truths” (Anonymous 1884). It is an account of a lecture regarding a return to biblical teachings and harmony between scientific discoveries and Scriptural statements. From the article:
As an illustration of the change of thought, the lecturer spoke of evolution’s failure as a strong theory and the downfall of Darwinism. When the theory came out it was seized upon with avidity, and most of the great scholars examined it and accepted it. Now they had given it up. Prof Virchow in the Edinburgh celebration said evolution had no scientific basis. No skull had yet been found differing to any extent from the general type. Prof Tyndall had lately said that “evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture”. Prof Huxley, at first one of its strongest advocates, said the link between the living and the not living had not been found. It must be found to prove the evolution theory.
John Tyndall (1820–1893), an Irish physicist and science popularizer, was an ardent supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution, and showed his support most famously in his 1874 address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Belfast. He was a member of the X Club — with Thomas Huxley, Joseph Dalton Hooker, Herbert Spencer, and five others — a dining and social club established in 1864 that supported Darwin’s theory of evolution and campaigned for the authority of science in British society. Knowing who Tyndall was, when I read “Prof Tyndall had lately said that ‘evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture,’” I immediately questioned the quote. How is it that a man with a well-documented reputation of his support for evolutionary theory became adjoined to a quotation that seems to imply the very opposite of his position? I popped the quote into Google Book Search.
In 1878, Tyndall published an article in The Nineteenth Century titled “Virchow and evolution” (republished as Tyndall 1879). Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), a German physician and biologist, opposed the theory of evolution based on the lack of fossil evidence (openly in an 1877 speech in Munich). Tyndall’s article addressed that speech:
The keynote of his position is struck in the preface to the excellent English translation of his lecture — a preface written expressly by himself. Nothing, he says, was farther from his intention than any wish to disparage the great services rendered by Mr Darwin to the advancement of biological science, of which no one has expressed more admiration than himself. On the other hand, it seemed high time to him to enter an energetic protest against the attempts that are made to proclaim the problems of research as actual facts, and the opinions of scientists as established science. On the ground, among others, that it promotes the pernicious delusions of the socialist, Virchow considers the theory of evolution dangerous; but his fidelity to truth is so great that he would brave the danger and teach the theory, if it were only proved. The burden indeed of this celebrated lecture is a warning that a marked distinction ought to be made between that which is experimentally established, and that which is still in the region of speculation. (1878: 822)Two pages later:
In a discourse delivered before the British Association at Liverpool, after speaking of the theory of evolution applied to the primitive condition of matter as belonging to “the dim twilight of conjecture,” and affirming that “the certainty of experimental inquiry is here shut out,” I sketch the nebular theory as enunciated by Kant and Laplace.… (1878: 824, emphasis mine)
Clearly Tyndall did not reject the theory of evolution, but simply made a distinction between what can be known about evolution through experimental inquiry and what cannot. The piece in The New York Times either took Tyndall’s quote out of context and skewed his intentions or unknowingly borrowed the misquote from another source. This is a perfect example of quote mining, a creationist tactic that members of the NCSE are all familiar with (see the Quote Mine Project at the TalkOrigins Archive). It is common to find instances of quote-mining perpetuated by 20th and 21st-century anti-evolutionists against the words of 19th- or 20th-century evolutionists, Darwin included, but I was rather surprised to find an occurrence of strictly 19th-century quote-mining.
Tyndall did not state that “evolution belongs to the twilight of conjecture,” but rather that “the theory of evolution applied to the primitive condition of matter” belongs to “the dim twilight of conjecture.” Surely those are two different meanings. Darwin explained how species evolved, but not how life first originated. This is what Tyndall was getting at.
We cannot be sure of the intention of the person who wrote the piece in The New York Times. The article is neither critical nor laudatory of Kimber’s lecture. What is certain is that Tyndall was not presented accurately in this anti-evolution piece; nor elsewhere. From The Medical Record (December 1, 1883):
In other quarters there are indications that the doctrine of Darwin is losing some of its charms for scientists. Some tell us that they accept it as a step to something else. Others find its demands on their credence too great. Your readers know pretty well the opposition it has encountered by such men as St J Mivart, Virchow, Wharton Jones, FRS, and others. A further indication of uncertainty in scientific minds is afforded by the statements of Prof Tyndall, who, in the Popular Science Review, says that “Evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture. … Those who hold the doctrine are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. … Long antecedent to his advice I did exactly what Virchow recommends, showing myself as careful as he could be, not to claim for a scientific doctrine a certainty which did not belong to it. … I agree with him that the proofs of it are wanting. I hold with Virchow that the failures of proof are lamentable, that the doctrine of spontaneous generation is utterly discredited.” (Anonymous 1883: 611)In Friends’ Review (March 22, 1884):
Probably the following quotations from Prof Tyndall’s utterances on evolution, taken from The Popular Science Monthly, will surprise some of those who have hastily accepted the theory, and based assumptions upon it. “Evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture, and the certainty of experimental inquiry is here shut out. … Those who hold the doctrine of evolution are by no means ignorant of the uncertainty of their data, and they only yield to it a provisional assent. … Long antecedent to his advice I did exactly what Prof Virchow recommends, showing myself as careful as he could be, not to claim for a scientific doctrine a certainty which did not be long to it. … I agree with him that the proofs of it are wanting. I hold with Virchow that the failures of proof have been lamentable, that the doctrine of spontaneous generation is utterly discredited.” (Anonymous 1884: 524)Samuel D Gross, an American trauma surgeon, wrote in his Autobiography (1887):
If we believe in a great First Cause, as all rational men must, why not assume that all things, visible and invisible, were the product of a special creation instead of a gradual evolution, as asserted by Darwin and his followers? If God could create the earth, the stars, and the mighty planets, of which our world forms only an insignificant part, could He not also, by a special act, have created all the dwellers therein, from the most minute microcosm up to the most complicated form of animal life? I agree with Professor Tyndall that the whole subject of evolution belongs to the dim twilight of conjecture. (Gross 1887: 186, emphasis mine)
It is important to note that a common creationist strategy — the intentional misquoting of supporters of evolutionary theory by removing particular passages of their writings from their original context to make it seem they were stating something different from their original intent — has a history that dates at least to the decades following Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859. Sadly, out-of-context quotes from statements made by supporters of evolution gain a life of their own, being repeated in newspapers, periodicals, books, websites, and documentaries without anyone’s consulting the original source. Anti-evolutionists engage in quote-mining because they can only sustain the mistaken view that even experts in biology doubt evolution if they quote selectively. Once quotes are placed out of context, other anti-evolutionists never go back to check the original source. Furthermore, once they are in print, it is easy for an indiscriminate search to find mined quotes.
It is unfortunate that such misconceptions about evolution have been perpetuated by an organization with a reputation for accuracy like The New York Times. As the Quote Mine Project attests, and my little bit of on-line searching shows, it is only a little more complicated to find the proper context, which allows a reader to know the author’s original intention in what he or she wrote about evolution.
[Anonymous]. 1883 Dec 1. Our London letter. The Medical Record 24 (22): 611–12.
[Anonymous]. 1884 Mar 22. Correspondence. Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal 37 (33): 524.
[Anonymous]. 1884 Nov 25. Turn in the tide of thought: Thomas Kimber’s lecture on science in relation to divine truths. The New York Times 8 (col 2).
Gross SD. 1887. Autobiography of Samuel D Gross, MD, with Sketches of His Contemporaries vol 2. Philadelphia: George Barrie.
Tyndall J. 1878 Nov. Virchow and evolution. The Nineteenth Century 4 (21): 809–33.
Tyndall J. 1879 Jan. Virchow and evolution. The Popular Science Monthly 14 (17): 266–90.
From the outside, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum looks like any number of other dinosaur-related attractions in Montana. Its 20 000 square feet of displays features the head and jaws of a menacing Tyrannosaurus rex protruding through the museum’s front wall, and lifesized castings of dinosaur skeletons give the inside the look of a typical natural history museum (Figure 1). The museum opened in 2009 and in its first months of operation, it attracted more than 1000 visitors per month. Most of the $1.5 million needed to open the museum was raised by the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth from citizens and groups in Montana.
In a state filled with dinosaurrelated museums, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is the second-largest dinosaur museum in the state (only the famed Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman is larger). However, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is not your typical natural history museum. Instead, it’s an elaborate young-earth advertisement that uses Montana’s rich dinosaur-related history to lure people to lessons in biblical literalism and anti-science nonsense. As Jack Horner, the curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, has noted, “there’s nothing scientific about it.” Instead, the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is “dedicated to the glory of God the Creator” as it combats “evolutionism’s nonsense” and the “abyss of scientific deception”. Otis Kline Jr, the museum’s founder and director, wanted to include his museum in the Montana Dinosaur Trail (see below), but he abandoned the group when it adopted the slogan “150 Million Years in the Making”.
Entering the museum, visitors walk over models of the sea floor, which claim that life “couldn’t have evolved or developed by chance”. Soon thereafter, there appear a 40-foot–long mosasaur, a 16-foot–long sea turtle, and a series of questions that challenge wellestablished discoveries; for example, did dinosaurs “coexist with man and diminish within the last 5000 years?”
The answers to these and other questions are on the museum’s second — and most entertainingly depressing — floor, which rings the main exhibits like a gallery (Figure 1). Atop the stairs is the usual “here’s why evolution is a lie” propaganda, including exhibits about “The failure of radiometric dating”, Ernst Haeckel, peppered moths, the Glen Rose dinosaur tracks, “irreducible complexity”, and a curious model of DNA and a cell. There’s also an exhibit of Australopithecus (“Lucy is not our ancestor”).
Each exhibit claims to prove evolution is a conspiracy perpetuated by scientists, and in the adjacent theater, you can watch movies such as “Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution” and “The Faith Behind the Science.” Although several museums along the Montana Dinosaur Trail (see below) displayed Bibles, only in the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum were all of the Bibles open to the same passage: Book of Job 40 (which describes “Behemoth”) and 41 (which describes “Leviathan”). And, of course, you can help support the museum’s anti-science mission by spending some money in the gift shop.
The museum’s second floor tells visitors about the biblical flood and stresses how the Colorado River could not have carved the Grand Canyon (“it would have to flow uphill for over 2000 [feet]”). So what did form the Grand Canyon? “A global flood is the simplest explanation.” There’s “scientific” documentation of the remains of Noah’s Ark being found on the mountains of Ararat, as well as a large exhibit titled “Noah’s Ark — Eyewitness Accounts”. I learned that “Noah probably had approximately 16 000 animals on the Ark,” and a scale model of the ark shows tiny animals — dinosaurs included — walking onto the Ark two-by-two. How could Noah and the Ark’s seven other sailors have handled all of these animals? No problem: the animals “hibernated” to minimize the daily chores of the crew. How convenient.
The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum is located on the northeast corner of I-94 Exit 215 in Glendive, Montana, which is also home to Makoshika State Park, an area in the famous Hell Creek Formation that has yielded numerous discoveries of dinosaurs. Nearby, in downtown Glendive, is Makoshika Dinosaur Museum, which opened in 2004 and attracts 2000 visitors per summer.
If you’re in Glendive and want to see some real science, get on the Montana Dinosaur Trail, a nonprofit set of museums created in 2005 to promote tourism at Montana’s dinosaur-related museums. To see all fifteen of the Trail’s museums, I drove 1348 miles and saw some fantastic exhibits and beautiful countryside. The centerpiece of the Trail is Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies, which is just south of Montana State University. This museum, with one of the largest collections of dinosaurs in North America, is described by Frommer’s Montana and Wyoming as “one of the premier paleontology attractions in the world.” This is not an overstatement, for the museum houses numerous world-class exhibits, including those of the first identified female dinosaurs (an ovulating T rex), the world’s largest T rex skull, and some of the world’s rarest fossils.
Some other museums along the Trail aren’t nearly as famous or elaborate. Although some of these sites have only a few dinosaurrelated exhibits, many are rich in history. For example, the badlands near Garfield County Museum in Jordan, Montana (population 364) are where famed fossil-hunter Barnum Brown in 1902 excavated the first documented T rex. These badlands also show some of the most informative exposures of the K-T Boundary found anywhere in the world (Figure 2). The Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana (population 410), was the first museum in Montana to display dinosaurs, and the 27 residents of Bynum, Montana (“25 in the offseason”), are justifiably proud of their Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, which houses the world’s longest dinosaur (the 137-foot–long Seismosaurus). Readers can find more information at The Montana Dinosaur Trail.
A new on-line, open-access, peer-reviewed journal with the ungainly name BIO-Complexity (ISSN 2151- 7444) was announced on April 30, 2010, by its publisher, the Biologic Institute. According to its statement of purpose and scope, BIO-Complexity “aims to be the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design (ID) is a credible explanation for life.” The journal hopes to publish “studies in all areas of science with clear relevance to its aim, including work focusing on the relative merit of any of the principal alternatives to ID (neo-Darwinism, self-organization, evolutionary developmental biology, etc.).”
Hailing the journal was the Discovery Institute’s Jay Wesley Richards, on the Discovery Institute’s blog on May 1, 2010. He declared, “A new scientific journal, BIO-Complexity, is set to accelerate the pace and heighten the tone of the debate over intelligent design,” complained that work supporting “intelligent design” is unjustly (if not entirely) excluded from the scientific literature, and added, “Of course, the journal itself is simply a forum for the evidence to be presented, defended, debated, and critiqued — not to be a mouthpiece for ID” (Richards 2010). A look at the publisher, the editorial staff, and the history of “intelligent design” journals suggests otherwise.
The Biologic Institute — as Barbara Forrest noted in her “Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement” — was first publicly mentioned in a story in The New York Times (Chang 2005) in August 2005, “one month before the Kitzmiller trial began, at the time of the ID movement’s greatest need to create the appearance of scientific authenticity” (Forrest 2007: 23). Yet it was not incorporated in the state of Washington until October 2005, and its existence was not publicly confirmed until 2006, when Celeste Biever, a reporter for New Scientist, visited it in person and received a chilly reception. “The reticence,” she reported, “cloaks an unorthodox agenda” (Biever 2006).
George Weber, a director of the Biologic Institute, a retired member of the business faculty at Whitworth University, and the head of the Spokane chapter of the old-earth creationist ministry Reasons to Believe, told Biever, “We are the first ones doing what we might call lab science in intelligent design. ... The objective is to challenge the scientific community on naturalism.” After he spoke to New Scientist, however, Weber left the board of the Biologic Institute, and Douglas Axe, the lab’s senior researcher, told New Scientist that Weber “was found to have seriously misunderstood the purpose of Biologic and to have misrepresented it.”
Instead, Axe said, the lab only seeks “to show that the design perspective can lead to better science. He also contended that it will nevertheless “contribute substantially to the scientific case for intelligent design.” Axe told New Scientist that the Biologic Institute was currently conducting research on “the origin of metabolic pathways in bacteria, the evolution of gene order in bacteria, and the evolution of protein folds”as well as research on computational biology, where, he claimed, “we are nearing completion of a system for exploring the evolution of artificial genes that are considerably more life-like than has been the case previously.”
A list of selected publications on the Biologic Institute’s website cites twenty-eight papers in a variety of fields. But over half were published before the institute was officially formed, and Biologic Institute is listed as the affiliations of the authors on only two (Axe and others 2008, Sternberg 2008); neither mentions “intelligent design”. The editor of the journal in which the former article appeared commented:
There has been some concern about the authors’ connection with an intelligent design institute, which understandably creates a perception that the research may be ideologically biased. I did not detect any such bias in this manuscript; nor do the results support intelligent design in any way. (Scheffler 2008)
New Scientist reported, “It was Discovery that provided the funding to get the Biologic Institute up and running,” but noted that both Axe and a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute insisted that the Biologic Institute is a “separate entity” from the Discovery Institute (Biever 2006). Biologic Institute’s tax return for 2006 indicated revenues of $261 000 from “indirect public support” — a category that would include revenue from a tax-exempt parent organization, such as the Discovery Institute. In 2007 and 2008, the Biologic Institute’s revenues, of $464 000 and $280 998, respectively, were from direct public support. The source is unclear.
There is also overlap between the personnel of Biologic Institute and of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture: Guillermo Gonzalez and Jonathan Wells are both listed under “People” at the former and as “Senior Fellows” at the latter. Brendan Dixon, listed under “People” at the Biologic Institute and a coauthor of Axe and others (2008), donated $700 000 to the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in 2006 through a private family foundation (Bottaro 2007). The same foundation also donated $30 000 to Baylor University to fund a parttime appointment for William Dembski; it was later returned by the university (Bottaro 2007).
Axe himself was named in the Wedge document as the head of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture biochemistry program, and he was listed as a Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (as it was known then) in 2000; although his name was removed in the same year, his curriculum vitae in 2003 listed him as a Senior Fellow from 1999 to the present (Forrest and Gross 2004: 40–1). Axe told Forrest in 2001 that he had not attempted to argue for “intelligent design” in any of his publications (Forrest and Gross 2004: 42), although in 2007 he was quoted as saying that they “add to the case for intelligent design” (Forrest 2007: 24).
BIO-Complexity’s editor-in-chief and the thirty people on its editorial board have a variety of connections with the “intelligent design” movement. Five — Michael Behe, Walter Bradley, William Dembski, Scott Minnich, and Jonathan Wells — are Fellows at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Those five, as well as Russell Carlson, James Keener, Matti Leisola, and Jed Macosko, were Fellows of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, which William Dembski cofounded in 2001, with the slogan “retraining the scientific imagination to see purpose in nature”. ISCID seems to have become moribund.
The editor-in-chief and twentyfour members of the editorial board of BIO-Complexity are signatories to the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”:
We are skeptical of the claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged. (www.dissentfromdarwin.com)The statement, of course, is widely and misleadingly cited by creationists as evidence for the claim that there is a genuine scientific controversy over evolution.
Three members of the editorial board — Behe, Dembski, and Minnich — were slated to testify in Kitzmiller v Dover, although only Behe and Minnich did so (Elsberry 2006). Five members of the editorial board — Behe, Carlson, Edward Peltzer, Ralph Seelke, and Wells — testified in Kansas in May 2005 to express their support for the so-called minority report version of the state’s science education standards, rewritten with the aid of a local “intelligent design” organization to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. (The standards were adopted in November 2005, only to be rescinded in February 2007, after the balance of power on the state board of education shifted.)
There are also connections with creationism in its traditional forms, starting with the editor-in-chief, Matti Leisola. He is identified by BIO-Complexity as “a professor of Bioprocess Engineering at Aalto University (previously Helsinki University of Technology).” Unmentioned, however, is the fact that he is evidently a dyed-in-thewool creationist, having spoken on his “30 years as a non-evolutionist” at the 8th European Creationist Conference (Anonymous 2003), being described by Creation Ministries International as a biblical creationist (Wieland 2009), and having told a Finnish Christian youth magazine that evolution “is basically a heresy” (Anonymous 2006).
Similarly, Colin Reeves is a Trustee of Biblical Creation Ministries and a contributor to the journal of the Biblical Creation Society (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009); Stuart Burgess is listed as a speaker for the United Kingdom branch of Answers in Genesis and a contributor to AiG’s journal (Lynch 2009, Pieret 2009);Norman Nevin edited and contributed to a book arguing that Christians ought not to accept evolution (Nevin 2009); David Snoke wrote a book arguing for old-earth creationism (Snoke 2006); and so on. To be sure, none of these activities and affiliations implies that the editorial board members are not competent to evaluate submissions to the journal. But it is hard to imagine such a prevalence of creationists in a journal without any axe to grind.
True, it seems that there were efforts to recruit non-creationists to the editorial board. Loren Haarsma and Scott Turner are both on the board: Haarsma is a physicist at Calvin College who coauthored a book arguing for a reconciliation of evolution and religion — in particular, Christian Reformed doctrine — (Haarsma and Haarsma 2007;see Flietstra 2008), while Turner is a biologist at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry who wrote a book declaring on its first page that it “is not about intelligent design ... ID theory is essentially warmed-over natural theology” and adding, “it is not a critique of Darwinism” (Turner 2007).
Günter Wagner, a biologist at Yale University, was also asked to join the editorial board. He told RNCSE that he declined because “the existing evolutionary biology journals are able to handle the necessary research on the evolvability of complex characters.” He explained:
Publishing on this subject in mainstream journals is also better for ... the credibility of the eventual answer to this question, as well as for the integrity of the scientific process in general. There are too many reasons for scientists to distrust a journal with a substantial ID influence, regardless of whether this particular enterprise is biased or not. ... In the current situation any project of this sort will have a hard time to earn the trust of the scientific community.
The first, and most successful, “intelligent design” journal was Origins & Design (ISSN 0748- 9919), produced by the Access Research Network, formerly Students for Origins Research, which published Origins Research. The stated goal of Origins & Design was “(1) to examine theories of origins, their philosophical foundations, and their bearing on culture, and (2) to examine all aspects of the idea of design.” The journal received a portion of its funding from the Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (Forrest and Gross 2004: 166, 176). Origins & Design apparently ceased publication in 1999, with its last issue identified as volume 19, number 2.
After his plan to establish a base for “intelligent design” at Baylor University failed, Dembski founded the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (Forrest and Gross 2004: 207–13). ISCID published the second “intelligent design” journal, Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design (ISSN 1555-5089) in an on-line format. Its stated goal was “to advance the science of complexity by assessing the degree to which teleology is relevant (or irrelevant) to the origin, development, and operation of complex systems.” Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design ceased publication in 2005, with its last issue identified as volume 4, number 1.
The on-line Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (no ISSN) was sponsored by the Evolutionary Informatics Lab, a project of Dembski and Robert Marks, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Baylor University. The “Lab”was controversial because it was originally hosted on a Baylor University server; after Marks and Baylor were unable to come to terms about its content, it was removed to a third-party hosting facility. As a result, Marks was then featured as a “victim” in the creationist propaganda movie Expelled (Sager 2008). The Journal of Evolutionary Informatics seems to have become defunct before managing to publish a single issue.
These journals failed to make a splash scientifically: articles from none of them appear in major scientific indexes such as PubMed, Web of Knowledge (which subsumes Science Citation Index and Biological Abstracts), and EBSCO’s Academic Search Complete, although a few articles from Origins & Design are indexed in GeoRef. Google Scholar indexes articles from all of the “intelligent design” journals except the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics — but it also indexes articles from such young-earth creationist journals as Creation Research Science Quarterly, Acts and Facts, and the Journal of Creation, betraying a certain lack of discrimination.
Moreover, few articles from “intelligent design” journals are even cited in the scientific literature. According to Web of Science, only two such articles, both from Origins & Design, have ever been cited in the literature — and not auspiciously. One, Craig (1996), was cited by two ringleaders of the “intelligent design” movement, writing in the theology journal Zygon (Dembski and Meyer 1998). The other (Kenyon and Mills 1996; coauthored by Dean Kenyon who also coauthored Of Pandas and People) was cited in a notorious paper (Meyer 2004) published in a legitimate scientific journal under suspicious circumstances and subsequently disavowed by the journal (Sager and Scott 2008).
It is not surprising, then, that academic libraries were not inclined to subscribe to Origins & Design. Only thirty-two libraries listed in WorldCat show holdings of Origins & Design; the majority are libraries of seminaries or of colleges or universities with religious affiliations historically disposed toward creationism in various forms. WorldCat lists fifty-two libraries with holdings of Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design — but those libraries need not subscribe to or provide space for a free on-line journal. No libraries apparently have holdings of the Journal of Evolutionary Informatics (which is not even listed on WorldCat), or of BIOComplexity (which is listed).
“Intelligent design” journals thus seem to be a scientific cul-desac — a fact ironically conceded by the Discovery Institute, which in a “briefing packet for educators” (Discovery Institute 2007) recommends articles from Origins & Design and Progress in Complexity, Information, and Design, but under the rubric “Science Resources About Evolution and Intelligent Design” rather than “Peer Reviewed Sciences [sic] Articles”. Scientists with anything scientifically important to say about “intelligent design” will, as Wagner noted, take it to the mainstream scientific literature, which is already widely disseminated and respected, not to a parvenu like BIO-Complexity.
It seems safe to predict that it will be difficult for BIO-Complexity to attain its ostensible goal of serving as “the leading forum for testing the scientific merit of the claim that intelligent design ... is a credible explanation for life.” But was that really the point? Unable to convince the scientific establishment of the merits of their views, creationists have long been engaged in the project of constructing a counterestablishment, which mimics — or perhaps the mot juste is “apes” — not only peer-reviewed journals but also professional societies, textbook publishers, media organizations, natural history museums, and graduate programs at accredited universities.
The purpose of the counterestablishment is not necessarily to challenge the scientific establishment or to affect the public’s view of science, although those are certainly accomplishments that would not be despised if they were to come to pass. Instead, the counterestablishment seems primarily to serve to reassure the activists, the supporters, and (perhaps crucially) the funders of the creationist movement that there is a worthwhile project under way. To the extent that BIO-Complexity flourishes, it will not be because it is reporting scientific tests of “intelligent design” but because it is evincing, in the otherwise declining “intelligent design”movement, a few feeble signs of life.
Michael D Barton compared the editorial board of BIO-Complexity with the signatories of the Discovery Institute’s “Dissent” statement and kindly shared the result.
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Those of us engaged in defending the teaching of evolution in public schools are aware of the need to understand evolution properly. For example, we emphasize that selection and evolution are not the same thing, pointing out that there are a number of evolutionary processes, for example, selection, drift, mutation, and migration. And we point out that debate among biologists over the relative importance of different evolutionary processes is often deliberately misrepresented by creationists. However, it is also important to understand the history of the debate over evolutionary processes, that is, how it is that we came to hold the views concerning the relative importance of selection that we hold today. Stephen G Brush, perhaps most well known as a physicist and a historian of physics, seeks to help us understand that debate as it occurred in the mid-20th century. In that, he is mostly, if not entirely, successful.
Brush’s thesis is that the “Natural Selection Hypothesis” (NSH) came to be accepted by a “bare majority” of evolutionary biologists in the 1950s and 1960s. The NSH is “the hypothesis that natural selection, with an ample supply of variation in heritable characters, is not only the major process involved in evolution (with the help of geographical isolation or polyploidy in some cases), but also that Lamarckian effects, random genetic drift, and macromutations have essentially no evolutionary significance” (p 2; emphasis in original). The thesis is, on the whole, reasonably uncontroversial, but the devil is in the details. Brush focuses almost exclusively on what he calls the “competition” between natural selection and random genetic drift (roughly, the question of whether changes in populations over time are due to differences in fitness or due to chance); there is little discussion of other evolutionary processes or other processes involved in evolution, such as development. Furthermore, many biologists in fact disagreed, and the “majority” position did not remain the majority position past 1970. Finally, and very unfortunately in my view, Brush has left out a detailed discussion of Sewall Wright’s shifting balance theory and Motoo Kimura’s neutral theory of molecular evolution, both of which were influential views developed during the period Brush is covering and both of which posited a substantial role for drift and selection (defying the “either selection or drift, but not both” way of thinking that sometimes characterized this period).
The thing to understand is that the truth of the reception of the NSH is complicated; people’s views changed over time and could not necessarily be neatly categorized as “accepting” or “rejecting” the NSH. The truth is also difficult to uncover, because like any family dispute where there is widespread general agreement, but disagreement over details (in this case, the particular ways in which evolution is proceeding), arguments can get heated, and it is difficult to find neutral parties whose accounts we can trust.
Brush categorizes his book as a “reception” study, stating that while we have studied the reception of Darwin’s views immediately after 1859 and the early 20th century, we have not studied the reception of what Brush calls “the modern version of Darwin’s theory” in the mid-20th century. The book offers a synthesis of the Modern Synthesis literature, together with a detailed examination of its citation patterns, which (to my knowledge) has not been done previously. Of particular interest to readers of RNCSE will be the discussion of the different types of evidence for selection that influenced mid–20th-century evolutionary biologists. Many of these remain classics in the field.
Brush’s concern is with the empirical reasons why the NSH had the reception it did. He particularly emphasizes the confirmation of “novel” predictions (prediction of facts that were not known at the time that the prediction was made). If the theory of natural selection were to make such predictions, it could either be corroborated or be falsified; in other words, it would be falsifiable. This raises another pair of issues: whether falsifiability is a criterion that demarcates science from pseudoscience and whether the theory of natural selection is indeed falsifiable. Brush suggess that falsifiability is important but should not be considered the sole criterion and argues that the biologists of this period themselves did not seem concerned with confirmation of novel predictions, though many were in fact confirmed. I think readers will enjoy the examples here, especially the brief history of the use and misuse of the falsifiability criterion in creationist attacks on evolution.
I highly recommend Choosing Selection for anyone interested in evolution. Scholars familiar with this period will come away having learned some things they didn’t know and will appreciate Brush’s provocative position on a provocative subject; those new to this area will be introduced to the main players and will receive a wealth of pointers to both primary biological literature and secondary historical and philosophical literature.
In 1900, Jane K Sather endowed a Visiting Professorship in Classics at the University of California, Berkeley, which, beginning in 1920, included an obligation to deliver a series of lectures, to be published as a book, that would make an original contribution to our understanding of the Classical world. The series of monographs that has resulted from that endowment contains many of the most important contributions to Classical studies of the past century, such masterpieces as Paul Shorey's Platonism, Ancient and Modern, ER Dodds's The Greeks and the Irrational, and Bernard Williams's Shame and Necessity. David Sedley's Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity deservedly takes its place in this noble lineage.
As with many of its predecessors, Sedley's is a controversial book that reaches well beyond the world of classical scholarship. It is a study of defenders and critics of the idea that the cosmos, the orderly world around us, is the product of a divine, extra-natural designer. Sedley leaves no doubt that it is appropriately reviewed in this journal. As Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge, his College, Christ's, he reminds us in the preface, was also the college of both the Reverend William Paley, famous for his "watch on the heath" defense of the argument from design, and Charles Darwin, famous for arguing that apparent design in nature is due to natural selection. Sedley also reminds us that his Sather Lectures were delivered in America, where "it would have been a mistake to consign the debate [over intelligent design] to history" (p xv). His aim, he tells us, is to use history to shed new light on the debate (p xvi). Though infused throughout with Sedley's mastery of the Greek and Latin sources, Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity achieves its goal of wide accessibility by keeping the scholarly details in footnotes and appendices. For a work of such immense learning, the integrity of the narrative is remarkable.
The chapters have a conventional layout in two respects: they examine the key figures chronologically, and they are organized around the narrative's chief protagonists. The first two chapters target two Presocratics, Anaxagoras and Empedocles, chapter 3 the pivotal figure of Socrates, and chapter 4, his disciple Plato. The chief critics of "intelligent design" in the Ancient world, the Atomists, are taken up in chapter 5. Sedley apologizes for placing the discussion of that entire tradition, from Leucippus and Democritus to Epicurus and his Roman spokesman Lucretius, before his chapter on Aristotle — justified, since the early Atomists predate Aristotle; yet problematic, because the later Atomists were clearly reacting to Aristotle. Sedley then turns to the Stoics and concludes with a Galenic epilogue, viewing Galen's teleology through the traditions he inherits.
While the layout is conventional, the interpretations are iconoclastic. Some examples: Anaxagoras and Empedocles, read through the eyes of Plato and Aristotle as they typically are, are materialists and reductionists, in search of the ultimate material roots of all. In Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, however, Sedley portrays them as design teleologists, stressing the overarching role of Mind (Nous) in Anaxagoras and of Love and Strife in Empedocles. Anaxagoras' Nous is a designer (in fact, Sedley suggests, of the agricultural variety! [p 22–24]), but Anaxagoras' motivations are "not theological ... but scientific and causal" (p 25). Likewise, Empedocles is portrayed as the author of a cosmic cycle, controlled alternately by the powers of Love and Strife, giving rise to a "double zoogony", the production of myriad animals both on the way toward a perfectly spherical cosmos and on the way from it and toward the complete separation of the four elements under Strife's rule. Sedley seeks to unseat "the presumption that teleology plays no significant part in Presocratic philosophy" (p 52), which, he argues, has blinded readers to an obvious role for divine craftsmanship in Empedocles.
If Sedley's presentation of these two great Presocratics as arch-teleologists comes as a surprise, his portrait of Socrates is eye-popping! Rather than relying on the voluminous, but also problematic, evidence of the Platonic dialogues for his Socrates, Sedley turns to Xenophon's defense of Socrates against the charges of impiety in his Memorabilia. "Xenophon's Socrates," Sedley proclaims, "is a fundamentally anti-scientific creationist" (p 78). Our uniquely human attributes (intellect, hands, upright posture) and the clear evidence that other animals exist for our use are evidenced to develop an explicitly "anthropocentric teleology" (p 80). Much later in the narrative we are shown how this very passage serves as a source for Stoic theology (p 212–25), while passages in Aristotle discussing the same human attributes lead Sedley, with far less plausibility, to ascribe the same sort of teleology to the Stagirite (p 201–3). But Aristotle and the Stoics must wait. I am convinced by the portrait of Socrates painted here, in part because we hear echoes of these arguments in Plato's Socrates as well. Summing up Socrates' argument in Memorabilia I 4.2–7 (translation and text appear on p 214–5 during that discussion of the Stoic legacy), he asks, rhetorically, "Do we not have here the earliest instance, or at least direct forerunner, of the Argument from Design?" Even more important, Sedley finds in Xenophon's Socrates an explicitly theological, rather than scientific, defense of design. In Plato's Phaedo (96–9) Socrates reports his early enchantment and gradual rejection of the natural scientific route to discovering why the cosmos was ordered as it was. In the last pages of this chapter, Sedley neatly returns us to Anaxagoras, whom Plato portrays in the Phaedo as Socrates' last hope for a naturalist cosmology. As I noted earlier, Sedley's Anaxagoras is not the one Plato or Aristotle leads us to expect. All the more reason, then, to suspect that the obvious connection we see between Socrates' disappointment in the Phaedo and Plato's "later move into physics" in the Timaeus (the primary topic of the next chapter) is a link, as Sedley puts it, planted in the text (p 92).
The chapter on Plato, principally focused on the dialogue that the echoes through the history of science, the Timaeus, is too rich in argument and interpretation to do it justice here. Suffice to say Sedley's final assessment is well-justified: "Even at its most mythical or its most comic, it is a profound guide to Plato's own views on the world's teleological origin, purpose, and structure" (p 132). Indeed, Plato's Timaeus is my candidate for the single most influential source for the history of natural theology.
Sedley's take on Aristotle on the issue of creationism is as unorthodox as his reading of Anaxagoras, and less convincing. He states it clearly at the outset: "... I want to defend a portrayal of Aristotle's teleological worldview as a reasoned modification of Plato's creationism" (p 167). To give you a sense of the difficulties in the way of such a defense, you only need to be reminded that Aristotle is not a creationist! Sedley says as much: "The world, along with its resident species, is not [according to Aristotle] the product of an intelligent act of creation, for the simple reason that it had no beginning at all but has always existed ..." (p 168). Better, then, to see this as a reasoned rejection of Plato's (and indeed anyone's) creationism. Likewise, we are told that Aristotle's theory of causation as formal replication is essentially Platonic (p 179). Odd, then, that after presenting a defense of his theory of causality in Metaphysics VII 8, Aristotle announces that it renders Plato's account of generation by reference to separate Forms "of no use" (1033b27–30). Aristotle's very un-Platonic understanding of the causes of generation is displayed vividly in his Generation of Animals. It is thus unfortunate that, while acknowledging that Aristotle is "the ancient world's greatest zoologist," Sedley announces that "my focus will not be on Aristotle's biological writings" (p 167).
The final section of Sedley's discussion of Aristotle is entitled "Aristotle's Platonism" (p 203–4). Yet it contains the following sentence: "The result is that, while Aristotle's world retains all the positive values — both functional and other — that Plato had associated with divine craftsmanship, these are now explained by on the one had phasing out the divine craftsman, and on the other representing nature as so closely isomorphic with craft in its structure as to be capable of producing its results even in the absence of a controlling intelligence" (p 204; compare p 208). Especially when one remembers Aristotle's oft-repeated (intentionally anti-Platonic?) maxim that "art imitates nature," it is hard to see the point of referring to this principled rejection of a cosmos created by intelligent design as Platonism.
Similarly, but more plausibly, Stoic cosmology is interpreted as deeply indebted to Socrates (as presented by Xenophon) and to Plato's Timaeus (compare p 205–10). This chapter (largely an English version of a 2005 essay published in French) presents the Stoic doctrine of Cosmic Intelligence as reported by the Skeptic Sextus Empiricus. As he had with Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Sedley again detects an anthropocentrism in the Stoic arguments for cosmic design.
This is an important and timely volume. In the fifth century BCE the Greeks originated a tradition of defending theories about the cosmos and its origins and order by reason. Almost immediately philosophers conceived of "the argument from design," the claim that the apparent order in the cosmos is best understood as created by an intelligent craftsman. As David Sedley recounts the story, the only fundamental attack on this argument was that of the Atomists. My only disappointment with this remarkable work of philosophical synthesis is that it reinforces an injustice done to Aristotle by his Christian apologists. For it was Aristotle who challenged the argument from design by challenging the need for an intelligent creator to explain the order of the cosmos. Sedley acknowledges this, of course, but by treating Aristotle's challenge as a "modified Platonism" he undermines its significance. This one misgiving aside, I urge everyone concerned about the revival of "intelligent design" to read this compelling story of its origins in Ancient Greece.
Do not judge this book by its cover. Despite the claims made there and in the forewords (by AC Grayling and Stuart Munro, no less), no strong case is made here for the assertion that his time in Edinburgh had any major influence on Darwin. There are references to Darwin’s study of taxidermy and to his membership of the Plinian Society, and a paragraph from his autobiography that describes how hearing Robert Grant’s views on evolution could have influenced him later, but nothing more on the ostensive central theme. A later two-page description of Darwin’s 1838 visit to Scotland and his incorrect analysis of the parallel roads of Glen Roy adds nothing of substance to the more scientifically detailed account in his autobiography.
The book sometimes reads as if aimed at a very restricted audience: those who have personal acquaintance with Edinburgh’s High Street (“So, the next time you are passing by his [David Hume’s] statue ...”). The chronology is, to put it politely, confusing, with no sense of historical perspective. There is a two-page inventory of sources for Darwin’s own writings, and a ten-page list of recommended readings, but the vast majority of these are not taken up in the text. Meantime, almost all of the many excerpts used in the text are presented with little more than the author’s or speaker’s name.
There is no great emphasis on purely Scottish aspects of the response to Darwin. The threepage chapter on “Scottish Geology” starts with James Hutton’s uniformitarianism, and credits him with the discovery in the West of the concept of “deep time,” as if Robert Hooke, Nicholas Steno, Benoît de Maillet, and the Comte de Buffon had never existed. There is only one brief reference in this chapter to Charles Lyell, who should surely qualify for more extended treatment, not only because of his long friendship with Darwin, but because he was, after all, a Scot. We have a paragraph on William Thomson’s (Lord Kelvin’s) thermodynamic objection to uniformitarianism, backed up with a well-chosen quotation, but on this occasion the failure to give an exact reference is more than a trivial annoyance. The passage quoted originally came from Thomson’s address to the annual meeting of the Christian Evidence Society in May 1889. This context is highly relevant to Thomson’s beliefs, as is the date to the detailed evolution of his arguments, but you will not learn that here. Nor will you learn that Thomson’s publication campaign against uniformitarianism in general, and the deep time required for unguided evolution in particular, began as early as 1862, and that Darwin himself described Thomson as an “odious spectre” and among his sorest troubles.
The major part of the book is actually taken up with interviews by the author of an impressive array of people, many of them based in Scotland, or whom he managed to interview while they were passing through. The list of contributors is impressive, twentyfour in all, from Noam Chomsky, Daniel C Dennett, and Richard Dawkins through Michael Behe and William Dembski to Ken Ham, and supplemented by a useful collection of brief biographies. Again, I would have been glad to know the dates of these interviews, and indeed in some cases whether we are dealing with interviews as such or with excerpts from other materials, such as Web postings. The contributors are encouraged to expound their ideas by gentle questioning, although at times I wished the author, himself a biologist, could have brought himself to ask more elementary questions. Despite this, I found these interviews highly informative. My own perspective was shifted on a number of scientific matters, while a damningly self-revelatory interview with Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis and Creation Museum fame) gave me insights into a way of thinking that I could not even have imagined.
A chapter devoted to the teaching of evolution, both in the United Kingdom and the United States, is totally unsatisfactory. Confusing cause with effect, the author attributes the opposition to introducing “intelligent design” (ID) in American schools to vigilance over the First Amendment, and fails to understand why the creationists are so eager to market their products as “science”. He also describes the ruling in Kitzmiller as a rejection of ID’s attacks on evolution. True, but the real point is that the school board lost, not because ID is wrong, but because it is an expression of religion. He incorrectly states that Truth in Science (which he associates with ID, although its young-earth creationist and biblical literalist roots are well-known) was “blocked by the UK government from disseminating Discovery Institute material.” This is not what happened. The UK government did not and could not stop TiS from sending materials to schools; what it can do, and did do, was reiterate its view that ID and creationism are not scientific theories.
The author is rightly concerned that the “faith schools” set up under the (recently displaced) Labour administration would be sympathetic to creationism, but fails to mention that this problem has already arisen in the most acute form in independent statesupported academies (as documented, several years before this book was completed, in Dawkins’s The God Delusion [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006], p 331–7). He does not explain the fundamental problem in the UK, which is that as long as schools teach the scientific curriculum to the required standard, they can, and some do, also teach creationism, or even tell their students that the account required for national examination purposes is false.
One further theme is the relationship between evolution and religion. Here the author falls into the trap of presuming a dichotomy, saying in his preface, “The other role for Darwinian evolution puts it at the heart of the science-religion debate, as a counterpoint to contemporary Creationism and Intelligent Design” (p xiv). The mainstream biologists interviewed have no chance to comment on this assertion, since in the main they are asked only about science, while the creationists have space to expound their full range of objections to naturalism. No mention is made of theologies that embrace evolution or the movement represented by Evolution Weekend. It is only at the very end of the book’s epilog that we are shown a scientist contemplating the notion that evolution itself might be the work of a creator. That scientist is Charles Darwin.
Darwin in Scotland: Edinburgh, Evolution, and Enlightenment
Dunbeath, Scotland, United Kingdom: Whittles, 2010. 224 pages
In 2009 we celebrated the 200th
anniversary of Darwin’s birth. We
also celebrated the 150th anniversary
of the publication of his most
famous book, On the Origin of
Species. Indeed, if you were to ask
most people about Darwin and
what he wrote, the only work
they’re likely to remember is the
Origin — with good reason. It was
the Origin, after all, in which
Darwin laid out the evidence for
descent with modification and for
evolution by natural selection. If you
pressed, some people might remember
the Voyage of the Beagle or,
Steve Jones wants readers to remember that there were many other books as well, from On the Various Contrivances by which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects to On the Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms. And he wants them to remember that these books draw largely on original observations he made on plants and animals in “the garden of England” referred to in the subtitle. He wants to convince you that “[t]he great naturalist’s lifelong labours generated an archipelago of information; a set of connected observations that together form a harmonious whole.”
He succeeds. For there is a constant thread running through Darwin’s work. Even when Darwin is writing about the Power of Movement in Plants, the thread of common ancestry is never far from the surface. Darwin couldn’t have known that the signal proteins allowing a sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica) to respond to touch are related to signal proteins in the human body promoting the production of certain hormones, but even so Darwin couldn’t stop himself from writing that “[i]t is impossible not to be struck with the resemblance between the foregoing movements of plants and many of the actions performed unconsciously by the lower animals.”
But Jones’s object is not merely to describe what Darwin wrote. Rather, he uses each of Darwin’s books as a springboard to introduce readers to a wide range of discoveries in modern biology, from signaling proteins to DNA paternity testing to homeobox genes, and to show how this vast diversity can all be understood as a consequence of the two fundamental processes Darwin identified: descent with modification and evolution by natural selection.
The book is not perfect. In discussing The Effects of Cross- and Self-Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom, Jones first argues that the death of Darwin’s first daughter, Annie, “may … in part have been due to her parents’ marital history” (Charles and Emma Darwin were first cousins), though the immediate cause was tuberculosis. A few pages later he writes that “[t]he great man’s concern about the possible damage to his own children was not justified.” Small contradictions like this may be difficult to avoid when telling an engaging story, but they are distracting.
As Jones points out, Darwin wrote to Huxley a few years after publication of the Origin that “I sometimes think that general and popular Treatises are almost as important for the progress of science as original work.” Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, in Unscientific America, and Randy Olson, in Don’t Be Such a Scientist, have made similar pleas, and science would benefit if more of us paid attention — as Steve Jones has done for more than two decades. Already a popular author and commentator in Great Britain, in Darwin’s Island he introduces a wide audience to Darwin’s other books, books that specialists know well but that few others even realize exist. In doing so he reminds us all of the great fabric that is modern biology and of its warp and weft, which is evolutionary theory.
Daniel Loxton has crafted an adventurous story about evolution. Not only is the science accurate but it is also presented in a way that draws kids of all ages into Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries.” This book took me back to childhood Saturdays in the library immersed in a journey that I did not want to end. The adventure starts with a dinosaur nearly leaping out of the page, and then Loxton introduces us to the usual evolutionary suspects — Darwin and Cuvier — and unexpectedly to a young woman, Mary Anning, who hunted fossils for a living. The inclusion of Anning is perfect for young girls wondering what adventures to pursue in life — teaching them that they too can indeed take on science.
Our guide wastes no time in providing a clear description of the mechanism of evolution in three easy-to-understand steps: struggle among and between individuals, variation and natural selection acting on it, and the passing on of characteristics to the next generation, and voila! evolution explained. From that point, Loxton gently guides us along the trail of Darwin’s big idea — to the land of “Zooks” (imaginary zebra-like beasts), where we learn how species can split, and on to stories of adaptations as answers to questions posed by nature. Here a gorgeous pterodactyl flies off the page, and there the first amphibians crawl on to dry land to mingle with the first vascular plants, portending the later invention of trees with trunks as an answer to the question of how to trap the most light to make the most food. Pretty soon we are face to face with our own ancestors. Loxton makes that speciation event seem as natural as flowing water, and then unobtrusively points out that the species resulting from those early ancestors has control of the destinies of all other species — indeed that of the whole planet — through technological evolution.
Loxton does miss several teachable moments that could provide young students with non-magical and logic-strengthening insights on how life on the planet is interconnected. One of the omissions is a page devoted to the actual molecular basis of evolution — a depiction of the elegance of a DNA molecule. Elementary students easily grasp the concept of molecular structure and the energetic glue that holds them together, and this understanding can then be applied to the concept of the material basis of evolution — that if a biological characteristic is not written in the codes of the molecule DNA then we are not discussing evolution by natural selection.
One other major oversight is the lack of explanation of the role of photosynthesis as the energetic basis of virtually all life. Students need to understand early on that they are the product of light, and some pages devoted to the story of light and its connection to life would have made evolution so much less magical to young minds. Providing this would have required explaining photosynthesis and respiration, illustrating how the laws of thermodynamics apply to life and thus also to evolution. This is not as difficult a task as it might appear. None of the fourth through sixth graders that I have taught in weekly lessons on biology have been unable to understand these ideas.
Evolution: How We and All Things Came To Be should be an early reading for elementary students’ science education curriculum and a permanent part of the classroom library. The book’s simple lucidity, stunning art, and connected storytelling teaches students that they can learn science, and it teaches them their own special place in the grand scheme — the “grandeur” as Darwin wrote — of life.
As a student of Stephen Jay Gould in the 1970s, I thought it was standard procedure to analyze the social context of scientific thought to determine what possible bias your predecessors, contemporaries, and rivals brought to their work. A historian and philosopher of science, as well as a practicing paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, he delighted in placing the works of others in their social/political context. I think he would be pleased that David F Prindle, Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, has subjected his work to the same scrutiny in Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution.
You might wonder, as I did, what a professor of government is doing writing about evolution. How could he possibly know enough about concepts such as punctuated equilibria and macroevolution to critique Gould’s work? Prindle has done his homework. He has read all of Gould’s books and seminal articles and many additional publications, as well as audited a course on speciation. Except for occasional slips (for example, an inadequate description of species selection, errors in his comments on the Cambrian explosion, underestimation of the acceptance of punctuated equilibria among paleontologists) he gets the science right. But more importantly, I think he gets the politics right.
What’s politics got to do with it? A lot, Prindle argues effectively. His thesis is that “Gould’s mind worked along two tracks simultaneously, the scientific and the political. ... Gould never penned a line that did not address, if only implicitly, both areas of human thought” (p 11). Prindle argues that Gould was involved in both the internal politics of science and the politics of evolution in society as a whole, that is, in his opposition to creationists.
In the first chapter, Prindle evaluates Gould’s political orientation, dispelling the notion that he was a Marxist, arguing instead that he was a “leftist” or “modern liberal” for whom equality of opportunity was key. He also analyzes why Gould’s writing had such charm for his readers, taking them on a voyage of discover; it was personal, informal, and placed ideas in their cultural context.
The next chapter deals with issues in the philosophy of science — Gould’s interest in Kuhn and Popper; the nature of historical science; Gould’s opposition to reductionism; his views that evolution is nondirectional and that humans are not “special”.
The remainder of the book addresses Gould’s involvement in “internal politics”. Chapter 3 discusses the controversies in which Gould was involved relating to evolution and life history (gradualism versus punctuated equilibria, macroevolution, species selection, contingency). The next two chapters focus on the “politics of human nature,” including sociobiology, and on human inequality (Gould’s campaign against intelligence testing). Prindle makes a convincing case that Gould’s scientific stance was inextricable from his political stance. He also recognizes a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in Gould’s writings and relates them to his political aims.
In chapter 6, Prindle discusses Gould’s forays into “external politics” — the evolution/creationism struggle. This chapter will be of particular interest to readers of RNCSE. He summarizes briefly the anti-evolution movement from Scopes through the 1960s to Reagan and the Arkansas court case, focusing on the testimony that Gould presented as a scientific witness at that trial. Prindle also critiques several creationist arguments (such as lack of transitional forms in the fossil record), dismissing all except the question of “origin of mutations,” which he feels (I think unjustifiably) evolutionary biologists have not addressed sufficiently. He examines the way creationists have treated Gould’s work, including punctuated equilibrium, the contingency argument of Wonderful Life, and the argument about design related to the panda’s “thumb”. He states that Gould understood that creationism was a political issue; he sees Gould’s NOMA approach (“Non- Overlapping Magisteria” presented in Rocks of Ages) as politically motivated, because “[i]f there was one American scientist in the 20th century who mixed the magisteria of fact, morality, and ultimate meaning in his work, it was Gould. For him to turn around and recommend the separation of the two spheres begs for some sort of explanation” (p 196). For Prindle, the explanation is that NOMA was a political strategy — an effective one — for building a “coalition of the ambiguous” joining scientists with religious Americans wanting to avoid conflict with science.
Prindle’s final chapter assesses Gould’s long-term contributions, especially as seen in his Structure of Evolutionary Theory. He sees Gould’s final book as a call for a new theory, rather a “series of good starts, shrewd critiques, memorable phrases, and half-baked ideas…. His political legacy, then, must be much like his scientific legacy, a set of ideas that cohere more in tone than in conceptual completeness” (p 212). Should a “Gouldian” theory emerge, he predicts it will be anti-reductionist and focus on emergence, macroevolutionary hierarchies, and constraints. But for now Prindle sees Gould’s main scientific contributions as “two good ideas” (p 213), spandrels and exaptation, which he admits partly solve the “origin of mutations” problem. He concludes that, though Gould’s scientific contributions may not last, his writing will, because “by recontextualizing biological discourse he demonstrated, to scientists, to nonscientists, and even to antiscientists, why it was relevant” (p 217).
This book should interest evolutionary biologists; I can see it being used in seminars on evolution or the philosophy of science, and it would be valuable reading for graduate students who may consider science an objective pursuit. It will appeal to the still strong cohort of Gould’s fans, and should be understandable by the educated lay person (for instance, Prindle does a good job of explaining arcane subjects like factor analysis). Even though I thought I knew Steve well, I learned a lot from this book, and much of it rang true to the lessons Steve tried to teach his students.
Stephen Jay Gould and the Politics of Evolution
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2009. 249 pages
This short volume resulted from the 2006 George L Shriver Lectures on Religion in American History, which Larson presented at Stetson University. It consists of three chapters — one on 19th-century British reactions to evolution as it applied to humans, one on the American controversy over creation and evolution, and one providing a general view of the religions of American scientists. The book offers only a brief survey of material examined much more thoroughly elsewhere. It concludes with a short appendix that describes a survey that Larson and Larry A Witham conducted regarding US scientists’ religious beliefs.
Larson’s first chapter, “Darwinism and the Victorian soul,” turns quickly from Darwin's and other natural scientists’ concerns about the theological significance of his 1859 On the Origin of Species and the widespread acceptance of his theory of evolution by natural selection to the scientific community’s reaction to his 1871 Descent of Man. Larson asserts that the “triumph of evolutionism within the Victorian scientific community during the 1860s did not translate into widespread popular acceptance of the theory, at lease with respect to human origin” (p 8). In general, Larson argues, most people rejected the notion that humans’ highly developed brains, morality, and emotions evolved via selection from lower animals.
In the book’s second chapter, Larson moves the discussion about Darwin's theories to the United States, explaining, “The American controversy over creation and evolution is primarily fought over what is taught in US public school biology classes” (p 14). It occurred, Larson asserts, in three phases: 1) the Scopes Trial in 1925; 2) the creation science movement in the mid-20th century; and 3) the “intelligent design” movement that emerged at the end of the century. He concludes the chapter by predicting little progress in the stalemate between evolution and creation, given that “dark clouds remain on the horizon” (p 36).
The third and final chapter of the book examines the interplay between science and religion in 20th-century America. Larson pays special attention to the warfare terminology employed in discussions about science and religion in the United States by showing how firmly rooted it is in both the proevolution and anti-evolution narratives. He finishes the chapter by introducing some of the work of the Bryn Mawr psychologist James H Leuba, who conducted a series of surveys of American scientists in 1914 and again in 1933. Leuba reported that about 40% of average American scientists believed in God, but when he surveyed the American scientific elite (as defined by being starred in the American Men and Women of Science) he discovered much lower rates of belief.
In the later portion of the third chapter and in the book's appendix, Larson describes the results of his survey of American scientists' religious beliefs. Following Leuba's model, Larson and Witham found similar rates of belief and disbelief among American scientists. They also found, as had Leuba, substantially higher rates of disbelief among the scientific elites in the United States. Larson asks, “Are the deepest contemporary scientific minds drawn to atheism, or does elite scientific society itself select for the trait of disbelief?” (p 50). He concludes — rather unsatisfyingly — that “the answer seems to be a bit of both” (p 50).
In his book Wonderful Life (1989), Stephen Jay Gould argued that evolutionary history exhibits contingency: If you could rewind the tape of life and play it back again, you would observe different evolutionary outcomes each time. Simon Conway Morris, a paleontologist whose work on marine invertebrates of the Cambrian period inspired Gould, defends a view of evolution that is just the opposite of Gould’s. In Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe(2003), Conway Morris argued that convergence, rather than contingency, is the hallmark of evolutionary history. Evolutionary convergence is the development of a particular trait in independent lineages: for example, the evolution of wings (in bats, birds, insects, and pterosaurs) and the camera eye (in mollusks and vertebrates). Most biologists think that convergence occurs when natural selection adapts different lineages to similar environmental conditions. The real question is whether convergence is more than incidental. Might it be “a straw in the wind, pointing to a deeper pattern of biological organization” (p ix)? Does convergence suggest a deeper purposiveness in evolution? This debate about the relative significance of contingency versus convergence represents a new development in evolutionary science as well as in the discussion of the relation between science and religion.
This volume offers twelve contributions of mixed quality by scientists, philosophers, and theologians, including one paper by Conway Morris. Especially noteworthy is the paper by Richard Lenski, whose research team at Michigan State University has done experiments that replay the tape of evolution using populations of E coli bacteria in the lab. Following Lenski’s piece, paleontologist and theoretical morphologist George McGhee offers some intriguing speculations about the possibility of developing a “periodic table of life”. McGhee’s paper comes closest to making good on the promise of the title of this book, which is that evolutionary convergence has something to do with the “deep structure” of biology.
The middle part of the book consists of a cluster of scientific papers that explore the evolution of intelligence in plants, social insects, primates, and crows. There is also a fascinating paper by Hal Whitehead on convergent social structures in elephants and sperm whales. These papers illustrate the tricky problem of defining “intelligence”. The idea of plant intelligence seems baffling, until plant biologist Anthony Trewavas reveals that ‘intelligence’ is to be defined in very broad terms, as “adaptively variable behavior”. Don’t all living things exhibit adaptively variable behavior? This points toward a general problem that philosopher of biology Kim Sterelny (2005) identified in a review of Conway Morris’s earlier book: Whether the same trait evolves in two different lineages depends on how broadly or how narrowly you define the trait. If you define “intelligence” broadly enough, that virtually guarantees that intelligence will occur in many lineages.
The last third of the book shifts to talk of purpose in nature. Does evolutionary history have any aim or destination? Michael Ruse provides the clearest and most helpful discussion of purpose in Darwinian science. The functional role of adaptations naturally leads us to see purpose in evolution, but, Ruse and others warn, we must be careful not to conflate adaptational purpose with the idea that evolutionary history has an overarching purpose. The book then takes an abrupt theological turn with essays by Celia Dean-Drummond and John Haught. These authors do not engage much with the scientific details. Instead, they argue that a convergentist evolutionary biology can easily be combined with certain theological views, a claim that most scientists and philosophers would see as unproblematic. Perhaps a more interesting question is whether a convergentist evolutionary biology would lend support to those theological views. None of the contributors to this volume go quite so far as to defend an affirmative answer this last question.
In both his introduction and his contributed paper, Conway Morris himself seems a little reluctant to lay his cards on the table and say what exactly he thinks about the connection between evolutionary convergence and larger metaphysical and theological questions. In other contexts, however, he has been more forthright. In 2005, he delivered the annual Boyle Lecture at Cambridge University, entitled, “Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation” (published as Conway Morris 2006). The lecture provides a stronger taste of his thoughts on science and religion than he offers here. There he writes of a desperate need “to re-examine how science and religion not only must co-exist ... but far more importantly how science reveals unexpected depths to Creation while religion informs us of what on earth (literally) we are going to do about it” (2005: 3). He rejects Stephen Jay Gould’s “reckless canard of science and religion defining independent magisteria of influence” (2005: 3). That, in turn, suggests that he does think that evolutionary convergence has some theological significance. It’s just not entirely clear what the significance is supposed to be.
Gould, it seems, is the real nemesis here. Although the contributors to this volume represent a diversity of perspectives, no one speaks up for Gould’s claim that history is contingent. As many of the selections point out, contingency is the antithesis of convergence. It would have enriched the debate to include some discussion of why Gould thought that the case for contingency is so strong.
And why not expand the discussion of convergence beyond evolutionary biology? What convergence might mean for cultural evolution and the history of science would make for fascinating reading — think of Darwin’s and Wallace’s “convergent” discoveries of natural selection.
Overall, the science makes the book worthwhile. When the book moves beyond the empirical study of evolutionary convergence, things get a little murkier. The papers on crows and ants, elephants and plants, do leave one with the sense that convergence is an important phenomenon. This book provides an accessible, if one-sided, introduction to the discussion of contingency and convergence in evolution.
Conway Morris S. 2003. Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Conway Morris S. 2006. Darwin’s compass: How evolution discovers the song of creation. Science & Christian Belief 18 (1): 5–22.
Gould SJ. 1989. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: WW Norton.
Sterelny K. 2005. Another view of life. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 36 (3): 585–93.
The documentary under review is a 52-minute, professionally produced work, funded by Creation Ministries International (CMI), that promotes CMI’s own creationist researchers as correcting Darwin’s mistakes and biases with a view to setting science straight. This picture is drawn by studiously avoiding any explicit mention of creationism, but instead presenting vignettes from Darwin’s life with reputable historians making legitimate points and creationists (with little or no historical training) offering alternative historical and scientific views. The film features excellent cinematography, high-quality graphics and effects, and re-enactments of scenes from Darwin’s life by actors in period dress. There is not much acting to judge — most of it appears for visual effect during narration or interview voiceovers — but we saw nothing to criticize in that regard.
The documentary begins reasonably enough, with the only initial hint that it might not be a mainstream production being the emphasis that is put on Darwin “making up stories” as a child. The first interviewees to appear are well-known professional historians — Peter Bowler, Sandra Herbert, Janet Browne. Several creationists appear quickly thereafter, though they are not identified as such. While CMI’s web page about the film describes the backgrounds of the interview subjects, the film uses on-screen credentials that put recognized experts with well-established reputations on a par with relative unknowns who haven’t established their reputations. For example, Emil Silvestru is identified by his PhD and as a “geologist and speleologist,” but not revealed is that he works full-time for CMI. Silvestru argues for a young earth and the creation of geological features by “a flood,” mentioning the Channeled Scablands of eastern Washington as an example of the work of catastrophic forces. He also makes a polystrate tree fossil argument for rapid deposition in a particular case. Both are examples of the film shying away from common creationist generalizations — he doesn’t argue that the Grand Canyon was similarly rapidly formed, or that all cases of polystrate tree fossils are evidence of rapid deposition, though the viewer may be expected to make the incorrect inference.
Many of the problems with the documentary are exhibited in the approximately ten-minute segment dealing with the Galápagos. The film claims that in Darwin’s time, science argued for gradual change, fixity of species, and an old earth, while religion argued for rapid catastrophic change, mutability of species, and a young earth. This is an historically inaccurate, and over-simplistic, portrayal of the myriad of positions that were held regarding these issues. Many of the claims made in this section are made by Rob Carter who is identified as “(PhD, University of Miami) Marine Biologist and Geneticist” rather than as the employee of CMI that he is. Carter makes seemingly scientific points while on location dressed in field gear — the viewer is clearly expected to believe that he has engaged in field work germane to the issue of speciation, when in fact his research was on fluorescent proteins in Cnidaria. Indeed, despite this biological training, Carter is not afraid to make historical claims. He states that Darwin’s contemporary Edward Blyth had a “fully fledged theory of natural selection” and that “Darwin got Blyth’s first paper when Darwin was in South America, so when he came here to the Galápagos, he had Blyth’s idea of natural selection and Lyell’s idea of geology on his mind”. The documentary goes on to claim that Darwin was misled by his reliance on Lyell’s gradualism to initially miss the evidence for natural selection in the Galápagos islands, in particular with regards the avian specimens he collected. (It is perhaps worth noting here that implicit in the claim is that Darwin somehow plagiarized the idea of natural selection from Blyth, a creationist who saw selection as a purely negative force that maintained the type.) The problems here are twofold. First, natural selection is in no way self-evident from the collections that Darwin — or indeed any other naturalist — could have made. What Darwin observed on his voyage was variation and in particular patterns of variation — the processes behind the patterns would only come to him when back in England. Secondly, while Blyth did indeed have a theory of selection, historians — despite the claim made by Loren Eiseley (1959) — have been unable to demonstrate that Darwin had read Blyth’s paper of January 1835 before visiting the archipelago in September, or had indeed for that matter read Blyth's paper before 1837-'38. In short, Carter is being inaccurate — or disingenuous — in his presentations of historical “facts”.
Voyage defends the view that species change can occur, even across genera, though it avoids addressing the possible implications for humans and other primates. Its version of the religious view is that the wide diversity and geographical dispersal of living things emerged in the last few thousand years since the flood of Noah, with a rapidity of evolution that evolutionary scientists would reject as implausible. The film gives cases of rapid morphological changes in finch beak sizes, and hybridization between land and marine iguanas in the Galápagos. Carter asserts that the latter is evidence of a young age for the Galápagos, since otherwise the species would have mixed rather than remaining distinct. At this point, more typical creationist views are made explicit, with arguments that there are “apparent limits” to biological change, “as any pigeon breeder knows,” and that it is impossible for evolution to generate new information. Finnish creationist biochemist Matti Leisola asserts that random mutation cannot generate new information or novel structures, that introducing randomness “causes information to disappear,” and that we only see new information arise from intelligent sources. He fails to provide evidence for his assertions and to specify what notion of information he is using. He goes on to say that genetic engineering originally promised the ability to make arbitrary changes to organisms, but now promises much less — while we can create bacteria that produce insulin, we can’t change bacteria into anything but bacteria. We wonder what his view is of synthetic biology.
The film correctly points out that a role for catastrophes has been found in geology, but not to the exclusion of mostly uniformitarian processes over very long periods of time, such as may be found in the Grand Canyon. Likewise, it is correct in pointing out that there have been bursts of rapid biological change (but again, not to the exclusion of gradual changes), and that biology has turned out to be more complex than originally suspected. But these discoveries, made by evolutionary scientists, have not generated support for the creationist worldview, which has been remarkable for its lack of scientific fruitfulness. The biggest failing of the film is its omission of a complete picture, including its omission of any indication of the overwhelming evidence in support of common ancestry, the great age of the earth, and for human evolution.
At one point, the film touches on Darwin’s racism, and suggests that this was a result of his evolutionary views, as opposed to religion which teaches the common origins of all human beings from Adam and Eve. But both views teach the common ancestry of all human beings, and there was no scarcity of racist religious believers in the mid-19th century. Darwin’s views on race were a product of his social and cultural context, not his views on evolution. The film’s suggested dichotomy of evolution-supporting racists versus religious creationist non-racists is a false one, particularly given recent books by Adrian Desmond and James Moore (2009) and David Livingstone (2008).
Near the end of the film, it is stated that in Darwin’s time, science was only beginning to emerge from philosophy, and that Darwin’s project was philosophical and anti-religious as much as it was scientific (a position probably inspired by Cornelius Hunter, who appears in the documentary identified as a “Molecular Biophysicist & Author” rather than as the Fellow of the Discovery Institute that he is). The film concludes by stating that there are opposing views of evolution and creation, and that “some suggest that they can coexist, but Darwin himself resisted this position.” This appears to be a case where the filmmakers want the viewer to side with Darwin, in opposition to accommodationism between evolution and religion. The final statement of the film is that questions about how we came to be here and why we are here refuse to go away.
In all, the film is somewhat better than we expected it would be, and the film can be described as trying to downplay or even hide its own creationism, probably in hopes of functioning as a Trojan horse. As such, it omits key evidence for evolution, and suggests that the viewer infer the reasonability of creationism from the selective evidence that is presented. In its favor, it does depict scientific research and discovery in a largely positive light, which may encourage young viewers to become interested in scientific questions. If so, perhaps some of them will come to discover a more complete picture, with the assistance of online sites such as the NCSE’s and the TalkOrigins Archive.
Desmond A, Moore J. 2009. Darwin’s Sacred Cause. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Eiseley L. 1959. Charles Darwin, Edward Blyth and the theory of natural selection. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 103: 94–158.
Livingstone DN. 2008. Adam’s Ancestors. Baltimore (MD): The Johns Hopkins University Press.