Evolution vs Stupid Design Theory
February 11, 2009
In Unspeak, I suggested that there was a problem with the use of the term “Darwinist”:
['Intelligent Design' proponents] tended to refer to their opponents — that is, biologists — as ‘neo-Darwinists’. What was actually known as the ‘Neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis’ of evolutionary science combined Darwinian theory with twentieth-century genetics. Yet the consistent use of the term ‘neo-Darwinist’ by evolution’s enemies imputed to science an idolatrous reliance on the supposedly outdated ideas of one man, as though he were the false god of an ‘evolutionist’ religion.1
Now, in the New York Times, Carl Safina argues persuasively that biologists themselves have erred in accepting the term:
By propounding “Darwinism,” even scientists and science writers perpetuate an impression that evolution is about one man, one book, one “theory.” [...] Science has marched on. But evolution can seem uniquely stuck on its founder. We don’t call astronomy Copernicism, nor gravity Newtonism. “Darwinism” implies an ideology adhering to one man’s dictates, like Marxism. And “isms” (capitalism, Catholicism, racism) are not science. “Darwinism” implies that biological scientists “believe in” Darwin’s “theory”.
And this, Safina argues, leaves a rhetorical door open for liars:
Using phrases like “Darwinian selection” or “Darwinian evolution” implies there must be another kind of evolution at work, a process that can be described with another adjective. For instance, “Newtonian physics” distinguishes the mechanical physics Newton explored from subatomic quantum physics. So “Darwinian evolution” raises a question: What’s the other evolution?
Into the breach: intelligent design. I am not quite saying Darwinism gave rise to creationism, though the “isms” imply equivalence. But the term “Darwinian” built a stage upon which “intelligent” could share the spotlight.
For a case in point, see this remarkable farrago of unreason by the Telegraph‘s anti-science correspondent Christopher Booker:
[Darwin] might [...] have recognised that some other critically important but unknown factor seemed to be at work, an “organising power” which had allowed these otherwise inexplicable leaps to take place. But so possessed was he by the simplicity of his theory that, brushing such difficulties aside, he made a leap of faith that it must be right, regardless of the evidence. In this he has been followed by generations of “Darwinians” who have found his theory so beguiling that, like him, they have refused to recognise how much it cannot explain.
It’s true that “Darwinism” cannot explain what Booker invokes, a “critically important but unknown factor [...] an organising power”, because such a power is by definition inexplicable. But hang on, if this “factor” is “unknown”, how does Booker know it’s “critically important”? Indeed, if it’s “unknown”, how does Booker know it’s an “organising power”? These are rhetorical questions: what is going on here, piquantly, is that a major broadsheet columnist is outing himself as a creationist.
Like his fellow creationists, Booker doesn’t have much truck with known facts. As Richard Wilson helpfully points out, Booker’s Telegraph column recycles two of its dunciac paragraphs from this earlier piece in the Spectator, wherein Booker confidently asserts that “genetically we are all but identical” to “mice and sea urchins”, and wonders plaintively how “much the same genetic coding can produce such an infinite variety of life forms?”
Me, I wonder how the same alphabetic coding can produce such a stunning variety of tongue-dragging moronitude in purportedly high-minded periodicals. And from long meditation on that improbability, I am inevitably driven to believe in a Stupid Designer. Surely the accretion of random changes could not possibly have resulted in organisms so ill-suited to rational thinking?
- Unspeak, 2nd edn (2007), p.50. ↩