Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why the Debate Over Darwinism Matters, Part 2


Note: The picture above is of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the Columbine Killers who murdered 12 of their classmates in 1999. They were heavily influenced by Darwinism and admired it. For more, click here.

Also, Part One of this series is here.


As I promised in Part One, I'd like to deconstruct Josh Sullivan's 18-page letter to his grandmother about why he abandoned Christianity and embraced atheism.

The 18-page letter is broken down into four sections:
1) Introduction, 2) Evolution, 3) Belief, and 4) Conclusion.

Leaving aside the “Introduction” and “Conclusion" (for obvious reasons) there are apparently only 2 issues that sparked Josh's religious rollback: “Evolution” and “Belief.”
What does he mean by “Belief?” Well, we’ll get into that later. But first, evolution…

On P. 4, Josh writes…

Evolution is a scientific fact in the same way that the earth’s roundness is a scientific fact. There is absolutely zero dispute among credible scientists that all living things are evolved.

This is absurd. Laughably absurd. In fact, you can tell a lot about the honesty of a Darwinist by whether or not he would make a statement like that. An honest Darwinist would never say such a thing, and would criticize those who did.

Why is it absurd? For a variety of reasons. First of all, anyone who truly understands the debate over evolution knows that the concept of evolution itself - if by “evolution” we mean “change over time” - is NOT controversial. Everyone understands that things change over time. I’m taller than I was 15 years ago. My father has less hair than he did 15 years ago. You get the picture. And no one disputes that. What IS disputed is the larger philosophy of “Darwinism.” “Darwinism” is different from evolution; it takes evolution to an extreme. And it's Darwinism – not “evolution” – which concerns “Mama Murphy.” Darwinism takes a fairly innocent, understandable concept of “evolution” (“change over time”) and perverts it into an extreme, unproven ideology.

As this 2-page paper by The Discovery Institute points out…


When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it was already known that existing species can change over time. This is the basis of artificial breeding, which had been practiced for thousands of years. Darwin and his contemporaries were also familiar enough with the fossil record to know that major changes in living things had occurred over geological time. Darwin's theory was that a process analogous to artificial breeding also occurs in nature; he called that process natural selection. Darwin's theory was also that changes in existing species due primarily to natural selection could, if given enough time, produce the major changes we see in the fossil record.

After Darwin, the first phenomenon (changes within an existing species or gene pool) was named "microevolution." There is abundant evidence that changes can occur within existing species, both domestic and wild, so microevolution is uncontroversial. The second phenomenon (large-scale changes over geological time) was named "macroevolution," and Darwin's theory that the processes of the former can account for the latter was controversial right from the start. Many biologists during and after Darwin's lifetime have questioned whether the natural counterpart of domestic breeding could do what domestic breeding has never done -- namely, produce new species, organs, and body plans. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, skepticism over this aspect of evolution was so strong that Darwin's theory went into eclipse. (See Chapter 9 of Peter Bowler's Evolution: The History of an Idea, University of California Press, revised edition, 1989).

In the 1930s, "neo-Darwinists" proposed that genetic mutations (of which Darwin was unaware) could solve the problem. Although the vast majority of mutations are harmful (and thus cannot be favored by natural selection), in rare instances one may benefit an organism. For example, genetic mutations account for some cases of antibiotic resistance in bacteria; if an organism is in the presence of the antibiotic, such a mutation is beneficial. All known beneficial mutations, however, affect only an organism's biochemistry; Darwinian evolution requires large-scale changes in morphology, or anatomy. Midway through the twentieth century, some Darwinian geneticists suggested that occasional "macromutations" might produce the large-scale morphological changes needed by Darwin's theory. Unfortunately, all known morphological mutations are harmful, and the larger their effects the more harmful they are. Scientific critics of - 2 - macromutations took to calling this the "hopeful monster" hypothesis. (See Chapter 12 of Bowler's book.)

The scientific controversy over whether processes observable within existing species and gene pools (microevolution) can account for large-scale changes over geological time (macroevolution) continues to this day. Here are a few examples of peerreviewed scientific articles that have referred to it just in the last few years:

David L. Stern, "Perspective: Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Problem of Variation," Evolution 54 (2000): 1079-1091.

"One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved… Historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism."

Robert L. Carroll, "Towards a new evolutionary synthesis," Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 15 (January, 2000): 27.

"Large-scale evolutionary phenomena cannot be understood solely on the basis of extrapolation from processes observed at the level of modern populations and species.”

Andrew M. Simons, "The continuity of microevolution and macroevolution," Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15 (2002): 688-701.

"A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution -- whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution."

It should be noted that all of the scientists quoted above are believers in Darwinian evolution, and that all of them think the controversy will eventually be resolved within the framework of that theory. Stern, for example, believes that new developmental studies of gene function will provide "the current missing link." (p. 1079) The important point here is that the controversy has not yet been resolved, precisely because the evidence needed to resolve it is still lacking. It is important for students to know what the evidence does or does not show -- not just what some scientists hope the evidence will eventually show.

Since the controversy over microevolution and macroevolution is at the heart of Darwin's theory, and since evolutionary theory is so influential in modern biology, it is a disservice to students for biology curricula to ignore the controversy entirely. Furthermore, since the scientific evidence needed to settle the controversy is still lacking, it is inaccurate to give students the impression that the controversy has been resolved and that all scientists have reached a consensus on the issue.

I don’t know whether Josh is ignorant of the difference between “macroevolution” and “microevolution” or if he is deliberately trying to confuse his grandma. But either way, he’s already lost a ton of credibility just 4 pages into the document.

In any case, the unsettled issue of “macroevolution vs. microevolution” is just one of several problems with the neo-Darwinian paradigm. On March 23, I wrote…

I've broken down neo-Darwinism into four main ideas: (1) life can be produced "by chance" in a soup of chemicals, 2) life can come from non-living matter, 3) random genetic mutations and environmental pressures can explain the creation of new species, and 4) there is a logical evolutionary continuum (known as "common descent") between apes and humans.

Literally 150 years after Darwin published
On the Origin of Species, there is still ZERO evidence for the first 3 tenets, and surprisingly little evidence for the final one. We should stop making excuses and admit that Darwinism isn't a science anymore; it's an ideology.

Josh is a nice boy, though. Later on, he pats his grandma on the head and basically says,
“You – as a Christian – can’t help your disbelief in evolution. After all, your brain is hardwired for faith! And why? Through evolution, of course!"

Josh writes…

Ideas are selected for fitness by humans through a non-random process akin to Darwinian natural selection in the same way that Cordyceps has managed to survive and reproduce. Ideas, including religious beliefs, either fade into extinction over time or evolve and are selected to live on in the minds of humans. Ideas that are transmitted from one mind to another are called memes…

By analogy with “gene” especially with the connotation that memes parasitize people into propagating them much as viruses do. Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.The term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion...

I have good reason to believe that the particular brands of Christianity that I am most familiar with, fundamentalism and evangelicalism, contain particularly harmful meme complexes that cause meme carriers to deny reality in favor of adhering to a context-free literal interpretation of scripture.

Ah, so Mama Murphy is infected with a "parasitic meme," and Josh is coming to the rescue with a new and better "meme." I'm tempted to ask, though: Do "memes" actually exist?

According to science journalist, Denyse O'Leary, the answer is "no."

As she wrote in 2 blog posts:

Do not bother to ask whether neuroscience has discovered any correlate of a meme. Of course not…

Are memes or memeplexes testable? Could we know if they were not a correct explanation? Not likely…We know that genes exist and we have even mapped the genome, but the meme is too vague a concept to generate anything except speculation, good graphics, culture vignettes - and hoaxes.
At Neuroanthropology.net, Greg Downey (who favors Darwinism) states…

I think ‘memetics’ is one of the bigger crocks hatched in recent decades, hiding in the shadow of respectable evolutionary theory’… What’s hard for me to understand is that I LIKE some of Daniel Dennett’s work, and I can’t cite Dennett’s other work confidently when he has picked up a ‘meme franchise…’

It’s one thing to reify a concept, it’s another thing to start attributing it a whole complex personality, drives, desires, and levels of different reification. If defining gene as ’self-replicating’ is playing a little free with the details, defining meme, as ’self-replicating’ beggars the imagination it’s so stupid….

Arguing this reveals so little understanding of how brains work, especially how hard it is for ANY pattern to repeat completely. That is, even repetitive action typically involves constant changes in patterns of neural activation; maintaining consistency requires constantly shifting neural resources, even slightly, to take account to changes even in the organism itself…

Has anyone, ever, anywhere, seen an idea ‘replicate’ itSELF? Although this may seem like a semantic point, I think it’s a bigger logical problem with reifying culture as ‘memes’ and then attributing agentive power to the memes.

For me, the problem with memes is two-fold: theoretical and observational.

On a theoretical level, the problem with memes is the same as the one with “selfish genes.” It assumes intent for something that – by definition – cannot have intent. Ideas are not conscious. They have no purpose…They have no desire to “replicate”…They are just, um, ideas!...You would think the Darwinists would understand that, but apparently not. They want to explain all facets of human behavior with their theory. Seriously.

Then, there’s the problem on an “observational level,” which is just a fancy way of saying “common sense.” To say that religion itself is a meme is absurd. Religious ideas are not “analogous to biological evolution.” And how do we know that? Because there is so much variety, diversity, and innovation in religious thinking! Think about it: Catholics require their leaders to be celibate. How is that ‘analogous to biological evolution?” Jews require their men to be circumcised. Muslims require a month of fasting (Ramadan). Many ancient cultures – like the Mayans – required human sacrifice, even by members of their own tribe. These religious practices (among many others) might be “good” or “bad,” but to say they’re required by a process “analogous to biological evolution” doesn’t pass the “common sense” test.

So once again, Josh is trying to pass crackpot theories onto a person who probably doesn’t know any better, and isn’t informed enough to rebut them. I’m almost tempted to say Josh is trying to pass on his own “parasitic meme” (atheism) onto his Mama Murphy, but I’ll bite my tongue.

What Josh is trying to do, though, is very common about Reductionists. Indeed, it sounds like Josh is a graduate of the “Frankfurt School of Reductionism.”



On May 29, I wrote…

In the same way that the Frankfurt School reacted to the failure of Marxism (by blaming the “distortions, errors, and blind spots in the consciousness of the underclass”), the Reductionists are reacting to their failure to earn the conviction of the American people (see these polls) by reveling in the idea that people themselves CAN'T make rational convictions – that “people often have little or no information about the real causes of their own behavior” and that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior…”

Subtly, this new “Frankfurt School” of Reductionism is hoping to pick up where the old cultural Marxists left off – by keeping the game going a little while longer – not by waging an objective battle for truth, but by denying Man’s ability to know Truth altogether.

Josh concludes…

The memes that I was able to put off looking into for so long are the memes that ultimately did my faith in. These memes, when I addressed their claims, simply couldn’t stand up. It bears pointing out that, in the beginning, I sought to strengthen my faith by supporting my beliefs with Christian literature, prayer, scripture reading, and meetings with pastors. Needless to say, that kind of confirmation bias worked for a while, but, as Valerie Tarico puts it, my hopper did eventually fill up. When I really laid my beliefs out on the table for examination in light of all the evidence I realized that the available evidence is woefully impoverished. It was then that I applied the same rules of reason to my personal beliefs that I do to the rest of my life. Slowly, as Christoper Hitchens says, what had been asserted without evidence was dismissed without evidence.

Eh, whatever. I’m not sure how to respond to all that except to repeat what I said on Jun. 10 about folks (like Josh) who were raised in oppressive Christian households and then discovered – later in life – that Christian fundamentalism…how can I put this nicely?… "sucks."

I think they’ve incorporated society’s overarching flawed assumption that there are only 2 possible sources of truth: 1) Christian Revelation, or 2) nihilistic atheism. And if the first choice is so obviously untrue, then the second choice is all that remains.
Could there be a third choice? A third way? [Short answer: Yes]

And with that, my analysis of Josh's letter comes to a close. Of course, I still haven’t answered the question I asked in my headline: “
Why Does The Debate Over Darwinism Matter?”

Hey, I’m building up to that! Patience, patience. Part 3 is coming soon…


6 comments:

Mark Turner said...

wow. You've provided no sources to back up your claims, nor do you have the faintest idea what actual biologists believe and have shown to be true through repeatable experiments/observations. You've provided links to the discovery institute as well as yourself, which neither are credible sources for anything scientific especially relating to scientific FACTs such as evolution.

Seriously, please go read a book that's not spoon fed to you by your preacher.

Todd White said...

That made me laugh, Mark. Thanks. You’re obviously very emotionally attached to your atheism, which is unfortunate. For example, you apparently assume that anyone who criticizes Darwinism must be reciting from his preacher. In fact, I have no preacher. I’m not even a Christian. I am actually quite aware of what biologists believe, since (among other things) I have Richard Dawkins’ book “The Selfish Gene” and Daniel Dennett’s book “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. Also, it’s not clear me to me why you object to that Discover Institute paper, when the paper itself is quoting pro-Darwin scientists who (in a rare fit of honesty) admit some of the holes in Darwinian theory.

I get the impression you’re someone who is more comfortable yelling than persuading, but if I’m mistaken, I invite you to show me what precisely was wrong with my essay.

Mark Turner said...

Sure, I'll take the bait since clearly you're unable to see the holes in your own arguments. Also, to assume I'm more interested in "yelling" than convincing you based on a rather well written comment in a sea of drivel shows some cracks in your thin armor of self righteous thought. You seem to have some beliefs that you reenforce with the writings and thoughts of ID proponents and organizations with a single goal of proving the existence of some designer or "god".

In this post you state: "I'd like to deconstruct Josh Sullivan's 18-page letter to his grandmother about why he abandoned Christianity and embraced atheism." So clearly I expected a deconstruction on a point by point basis, as I read your post it was clear there was no plans on doing so.

At the beginning of your article you are a associating the Columbine murmurers with 'Darwinism', based on a single quote in which ONE of them referenced "Natural Seleciton" and your entire goal with that is to align a negative feeling with the entire post, that negative association makes it easier for someone to listen to you. I for one find it rather despicable and equivalent to me calling Ghandi a communist because he said the word a few time.

You claim that Josh's comment about the level of dispute in the fields of science studying evolution is absurd, laughably so even, yet you provide no actual rebuttal, just conjecture and hearsay. To back up your claims you provide a link to a "paper" (and I use that term very very loosely) that you then quote from, and that's where your begin to make mistakes.

First and foremost, you are correct that people were observing small mutations in existing species that change over time. What Darwin did was present a load of evidence that he collect on the phenomenon. Your statement of 'it was already known' is misleading at best. You then go on quoting the simple things such as the "controversy" of macroevolution. You provide links to articles that are offering their theories of what occurs at the geologic timescales. The fact you included a link to the AM Simons paper was especially laughable and I sure he would find it awfully disturbing to find you using his papers as an example against natural selection.

You then say this: "Darwinian evolution requires large-scale changes in morphology, or anatomy", at which point I actually laugh while reading. I'm not going to explain why, I'm just going to say: Plants.

I'm done arguing with you, these are the same thin arguments that show up time and time again, by people that are just a little smarter than the sheep they are trying to convince to believe them.

Todd White said...

MT: “You are a associating the Columbine murmurers with 'Darwinism', based on a single quote in which ONE of them referenced "Natural Seleciton.”

TW: It’s useful to read, David Arrington's blog post, Darwin and Columbine...

As the attorney for the families of six of the students killed at Columbine, I read through every single page of Eric Harris’ jounals; I listened to all of the audio tapes and watched the videotapes, including the infamous “basement tapes.” There cannot be the slightest doubt that Harris was a worshiper of Darwin and saw himself as acting on Darwinian principles. For example, he wrote: “YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE??? Natural SELECTION! It’s the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid and weak organisms . . . but it’s all natural! YES!”

Elsewhere he wrote: “NATURAL SELECTION. Kill the retards.” I could multiply examples, but you get the picture.

It was no coincidence that on the day of the shootings Harris wore a shirt with two words written on it: “Natural Selection.”

TW again: Kebold and Harris were disturbed individuals, but I think it’s a fair observation on my part to say (as I did in my essay) that “they were heavily influenced by Darwinism and admired it.”

MT: “You claim that Josh's comment about the level of dispute in the fields of science studying evolution is absurd, laughably so even, yet you provide no actual rebuttal, just conjecture and hearsay.”

TW: Um I did, I provide a factual rebuttal; calling it “hearsay” is incorrect.

MT: You then say this: "Darwinian evolution requires large-scale changes in morphology, or anatomy", at which point I actually laugh while reading. I'm not going to explain why, I'm just going to say: Plants.

TW: You’ll have to explain your excitement over the words “Plants,” or give me a link explaining it. I think I know where you’re going with this, but since there’s a few possibilities (and my time is limited), I don’t think it’s unfair of me to ask for a little more information before preparing a rebuttal.

MT: “I'm done arguing with you, these are the same thin arguments that show up time and time again, by people that are just a little smarter than the sheep they are trying to convince to believe them.”

TW: That’s fine. I never had any illusions that you were interested in an honest, respectful debate. That's how all Darwinists are.

Mark Turner said...

One last follow up regarding your request for more information on plants. Our historical record of Plants provides great examples of the macroevolutionary process. I suggest you pick up a copy of 'The Evolution of Plants' by K.J. Willis for a very thorough walk through the evolution of plants.

I'm actually shocked at how little plants get pulled into the Evolution discussions especially considering photosynthesis been around for the better part of 3 billion years.

Todd White said...

According to Amazon.com, the price of that book is $60.18, so I think I’ll hold off on buying it for now. I’m certainly open to any evidence that is provided by plants, though. I will say that Michael Hart – who is a Darwin believer – wrote a fine essay in which he described the strengths and weakness of Darwin’s theory, and did not mention plants as evidence (at least when it comes to macroeveolution). The link to Hart is here:

http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/009899.html