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Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Darwinism: Irrelevant to Hard Science, Pernicious in its Application to Politics and Everything Else Worth Thinking About

Darwinism (the modern synthesis of Darwinian Evolution and Mendelian Genetics) is said to be the cornerstone of Biology. – “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of Evolution”, says Theodosius Dobzhansky. I challenge you to think of a stupider assertion.

How on earth can an intelligent person make such insane pronouncements? Harvey described the circulation of the blood without any reference to evolution. It’s true. It’s useful. They cut my son open at 17 months to repair his patent ductus. We know a lot about mammalian reproduction and none of what we know depends upon us accepting Darwin’s theory.

Darwinism or Darwin’s theory of evolution, to describe it less ideologically, is the idea that random mutation and natural selection are together a sufficient explanation for the diversity of life on Earth.

It cannot ever be stressed often enough or strongly enough that Darwinism has nothing to say about the origin of species (the title of his book is The Origin of Species, an outright and palpable falsehood, it pains me to say, as an admirer of the man) ie the origin of Life. But how has that idea ever guided any scientific enterprise in Biology?

Newton, so he said, stood on the shoulders of giants. Succeeding physicists have stood on his. Did Fleming with similar modesty assert that without the great Darwin he could never have discovered penicillin? No. Did Crick and Watson acknowledge their debt to Darwin? No. Who of the great biologists since 1859 would acknowledge any such thing of their own discoveries? None. Some were Darwinians, some not.

When we think of other major theories, the Germ Theory of Disease, say, or The Heliocentric Theory of the Solar System (neither of which is graced with the name of a single progenitor), it is easy to see how these theories have provided a framework for fruitful investigations and technical advances. The Germ Theory of Disease has (through Lister, Semmelweiss and others) saved countless human lives. Space travel (based upon the sciences of Physics and Astronomy) would be impossible if we still believed that the Sun revolved about the Earth.

Evolutionary Biology (as opposed to Biology), in contrast, has not spawned any daughter discoveries at all. All it does is to add a footnote to any discovery (any discovery whatever) to the effect that now that we understand how the circulation of the blood works (for example), we can confidently pronounce that it evolved (by random mutation and natural selection). We/they (evolutionary biologists) are apparently perfectly free to make up a story about the steps by which it might have evolved. Nobody will trouble to prove us wrong. Nobody can. Nobody has the remotest idea what actually happened!

The footnote is an exercise in pointlessness. And yet it takes up space on virtually every page, adding nothing to what we know about the circulation of the blood or any other biological phenomenon. You have to feel sorry for anyone who says they are in Evolutionary Biology (a very different thing from being a biologist who accepts that Darwin’s theory embodies the truth). Dental hygienists, estate agents and bookies should command greater respect.

Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, for all that it was a brilliant idea and a spectacularly powerful explanation (if confirmed) of how the myriad species of plants and animals developed, has not been the springboard for any scientific discoveries whatsoever. Its contribution to Biology has been nil. Being believers in Darwinism has never aided biologists to come up with breakthroughs of their own. Nor is it easy to imagine that being violently opposed to Darwinism has ever prevented a doctor from curing a patient, or a geneticist from improving a strain of rice.

Fundamentalist Baptists and Moslems (who disbelieve in Darwinism) are not per se incapable of biological innovation. Someone who disbelieved the Atomic Theory of Matter would be per se incapable of groundbreaking work in Nuclear Physics.

The extraordinary thing is that, barren as Darwinism has proved in Biology (where it allegedly holds pride of place, as the cornerstone), it has proved fantastically (ferociously) fertile in a huge variety of non-Biological endeavours. Embraced as “modern”, welcomed enthusiastically for its undermining of religion, Darwinism has had a profound effect on political thinking, thinking about education, society, psychology, sexuality and practically everything else. Hence my title: Darwinism: Irrelevant to Hard Science, Pernicious in its Application to Politics and Everything Else Worth Thinking About.

We conventionally think of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, Geology etc as being the hard sciences. In these disciplines (when they are disciplined) the scientific method rules supreme. Theories are eventually replaced by theories which are better supported by the facts or by theories which explain more. Unfortunately, theories hardly ever simply collapse of themselves, no matter how little convincing evidence can be adduced in their support – supply your own examples (“Land Bridges” spring to my mind). There has to be an upstart theory which overthrows the reigning theory (when the old professors retire or die!). Indeed we can describe scientific progress of the hard kind as being evolutionary! Not evolutionary in the Darwinian sense, however. Scientific theories never arise by random mutation. Having been designed, they are selected (or rejected) by the scientific community, not by Nature. The history of hard science has been linear – generally moving forward. We do actually know more about the universe and how it works than Aristotle did, about the human animal than Galen did. Don’t we?

The hard sciences are conventionally contrasted with the soft sciences: Psychology, History, Sociology etc. This is not to decry them, only to say that it is impossible to maintain that in Sociology, for example, the scientific method rules with a rod of iron, that old theories are ruthlessly stricken down by new (and better) ones.

That there are competing schools of thought in Psychology or Sociology is a commonplace. Scientific consensus is the ideal in the hard sciences and frequently achieved (eventually and “by and large”). In the soft sciences it is an impossibility. The histories of these sciences frequently evince circularity, with ancient theories coming back into fashion and “progressive” ideas being abandoned for traditional ones (Phonics in the teaching of reading?). We can say that hard sciences are (or at least ought to be) objective; whereas soft sciences are, to a degree, subjective, and always will be. Needless to say, this is not an argument for abandoning all thought about Education or History.

Subjectivity is characteristic and allowable in the soft sciences. BUT it is in these soft sciences that “the fact of Darwinian evolution” has been so incredibly influential.

It now occurs to me to wonder what Darwinism is for. Of course, if Darwinism were confirmed to be true (and it may be one day – but I’m not holding my breath), then its value will/would lie in the fact that it explains(ed) what it set out to explain (clear “relationships” between species, descent of one species from another – DNA, pentadactyl limbs, etc), though not the origin of life in its most primitive form (in itself a significant lacuna [for which Darwin is not to be blamed unless, like me, you think that the title of his most famous book is misleading in the extreme]).

Whatever Darwin’s intention, then, the main use of Darwinism has been to inspire or support theories not in Biology (of which, remember, it is [supposedly] the cornerstone) but in Politics, Philosophy, History, Sociology Economics, Law and other soft sciences. And it must be admitted that (at least in general, to be extremely generous) the results have not been pretty.

Part 1 of this monograph will deal with the paucity of evidence that Darwinism has been a productive/useful/predictive force in Biology.

Part 2 will address the agendas of the Darwinian faithful.
In short, maybe Darwin had something; but the something which he had (if it was something) is spectacularly and self-evidently unimportant scientifically. You and I might wish that he had snuffed it before he published The Origin of Species. He didn’t; and some one else would have come up with the same idea. Actually Wallace did. The deeper problem (and nonsense) is the growing prevalence of materialism and reductionism which is the hateful legacy of the late nineteenth century.

1. Scientifically Irrelevant

In this section I shall attempt to discredit the idea that Darwinism is “the cornerstone of Biology”. It is my contention that Biology was well and flourishing before 1859 and that the wonderful discoveries of biologists since then (not to mention the incredible and beneficent technological achievements based on these discoveries) owe nothing to Darwinism, whether or not the discoverers/achievers were Darwinian in outlook. In other words, “Don’t tell me you were standing on Darwin’s shoulders when you made this breakthrough.”

2. Philosophically Pernicious

In this section I shall develop the view that “it doesn’t make you a bad person” to subscribe to Darwinism but that in the Darwinian camp there are some very bad people indeed.

Communism: The Triumph of the Proletariat - Led by the Party (Us)

Fascism: The Triumph of the Master Race (Us)

Brutal Capitalism: The Survival of the Fittest (Us)

Eugenics: The Sterilisation or Elimination of the Unfit (Them)

to be continued...

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