Tuesday, October 13, 2009

more close encounters with Dr Carl

Apparently Dr Carl found my remarks a bit on the nose as you'll see. I wonder what he's a doctor of? Divinity, I'd guess. I wonder whether that means a doctor of the divine or a doctor to the divine?

Dear Stewart, as I read through what started off being a civil and interesting email, I assumed I would be wanting to engage in a detailed and civil discussion on the more nuanced view of Darwin in Gould's essay, as it appeared to deserve. A pity then that the latter parts not only showed that you had not even been willing to check out the detailed information on natural selection (which we endorse strongly as a real phenomenon and mechanism for speciation, even) on our site, let alone the evidence (not some rant) relating to the background of the Nazi scene (confirmed by my own mother who grew up in Germany in that era, btw) - or even the items which show that your claims re both the utility/necessity of evolution for science (See Prof Philip Skell in The Scientist 2005, 19(16):10, titled "Why do we invoke Darwin? Evolutionary Theory contributes little to experimental biology") and viral mutation (see http://creation.com/has-aids-evolved) are misrepresentative of the reality concerning our claims.
A pity that the rather ungracious (even perhaps abusive) ending meant that there was clearly little point going on.

Carl W.

I don't think my remarks were particularly abusive, but anyway, here's my response:

Hello Carl

I'm glad you've seen the light.

Actually, I think my tone has remained much the same throughout this exchange, but it might surprise you to know that unoriginal claims about Darwin as racist and progenitor of nazism do tend to annoy reasonable people.
I hope this email will bring the exchange to an end - unless you respond, because, you see, I always have to have the last word!

One has to ask why it is that creationists get so hot under the collar about 'Darwinism'. Of course it has little to do with racism or nazism and everything to do with the supernatural elephant in the room, or I should say the cosmos. Your god just doesn't have enough of a role to play.

It should be pointed out that it was generally recognized, among the leading scientists even of Erasmus Darwin's era - before the birth of his grandson Charles - that some form of evolution was going on. The opposite of evolution - or change - was the fixity of species - or no change. The idea - hardly so coherent as to be called a theory - that a creator separately created these endlessly multiplying species, at different times in different places, seemed less and less credible as more fossils were discovered, all with related body plans and classifiable similarities and differences. This along with increasing knowledge and speculation around artificial or human selection, the breeding of pigeons, dogs, strains of wheat, etc, provided increasing evidence that living things evolved, changed somehow. What wasn't understood was the mechanism or set of mechanisms involved. Various attempts were made, from the late eighteenth century onwards, to work out these mechanisms.

Had Darwin never existed, natural selection would still be the cornerstone of modern biology. Wallace worked out the mechanism separately, and had he never existed, someone else would have done so. Maybe it would have taken a bit longer, but it was an idea whose time had more or less come.The evidence had to be accounted for. Natural selection provides an enormously powerful mechanism to account for the changes as well as the connections that so puzzled earlier scientists. And of course the later discovery of genes provided the universal organic material upon which selection could act.

I think I've given you a fair go, but I won't be accessing your propagandist website. I did, for open-mindedness' sake, attempt to access the link you provided re Philip Skell's article, but it required a paid subscription and, being poor but honest, I can't presently afford it. I did find out something about Skell's background though. His beliefs seem to have caused a stir, mainly of amusement, in the science-blogging community. I was quite tickled by some of the comments here.
Without the evolutionary mechanism worked out by Darwin and Wallace - without evolution in fact - we'd be back where we were in the eighteenth century. Creationism has no testable theory, it can create no research program, it simply gives up on understanding as far as I can see. Now I'll get back back to my Darwin book. That's what I call stimulating company.



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