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Darwin Was Really Wrong!

I just finished reading a rather fascinating article by Bruno Maddox over at Discover Magazine on Charles Darwin’s first paper, a paper he presented to the Royal Society around 1836 and which gained him entrance into the Society as a Fellow. The paper dealt with the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, found in the “remote Highlands of Scotland”. Glen Roy had captured the attention of geologists everywhere at the time, and what made it difficult to explain is that these flat “roads” presumably had formed at the bottom of a lake; but there were three “roads” at three different levels, and, looking to the east these supposed lakes had nothing to contain them, instead seeming to empty out into a valley (‘glen’ in Scottish). Based on his experiences in South America, including experiencing an earthquake firsthand, Darwin theorized that instead of having been formed by lakes, this area had actually been uplifted from the ocean at three different times inthe past. Four years later, Louis Agassiz, the highly regarded Swiss geologist, rightly explained that it had been glaciers that had sealed off the eastern end of the valley, thus forming the lakes during glacial times, and, ultimately the Parallel Roads.

How did Darwin react to the critique his paper underwent as a result of Agassiz’ new interpretation? Not very well. In fact, that’s the very point the author makes. Darwin would later say, “My paper was one long gigantic blunder from beginning to end.” But this admission came in 1861, after his Origins had gone through several printings and a new edition was on its way; i.e., while Darwin felt comfortable with all the plaudits coming his way, at a time when he could admit such a “gigantic blunder”.

Here is what Bruno Maddox writes:

It is more about how he was wrong. Darwin’s admission of gigantic blundering came only in 1861, two decades after Agassiz proposed his glacier model, decades that Darwin spent clinging to his increasingly unlikely theory of sea beaches with a very un-Darwinian stubbornness. As holes were steadily poked in his theory, he doubled down on his rhetoric, insisting to Lyell in 1841 that “I think I have thought over the whole case without prejudice, and remain firmly convinced they are marine beaches.” At one point, in a letter to his friend Joseph Dalton Hooker, Darwin half-seriously blamed a bout of ill health on “an audacious son of dog (Mr. [David] Milne) having attacked my theory.” And while he would, occasionally, declare himself intrigued or even “staggered” by some fresh piece of evidence against him, he would always conclude that, all things considered, he was still right and everyone else was wrong.” (My emphasis)

One further point is worthy of our attention. In my view, this directly impinges on the controversy we find ourselves engaged in as we question Darwinian theory, based as it is on Darwin’s ‘reasoning’ in the Origins. The pertinent part of the article begins as Maddox is there at Glen Roy looking eastward. He writes:

Gazing east from the Hill of Bohuntine, one has an excellent view of a huge but gentle mountain pass known in Rudwick’s unsentimental nomenclature as Col R2, on the same level as the second of the Parallel Roads, the one in the middle. In ancient times, when the second road was being formed, it was over Col R2 that the putative glacial lake would have overflowed. Darwin’s marine theory of the roads—which required no lakes, and by extension no lake overflow points—was substantially premised, he acknowledged from the outset, on Col R2’s not existing. Indeed, at the top of his agenda for that original field trip to Glen Roy was to ascertain whether or not there was a “lip of escape” for the second lake. We also know he climbed the Hill of Bohuntine and most certainly looked east. Whether Darwin missed the col entirely or simply convinced himself—absent modern measuring techniques—that it wasn’t close enough to the level of the second road, we do not know. (My emphasis)

Coupling together what Maddox tells us here about what Darwin came to Glen Roy to “ascertain” and inevitably had to observe, along with the knowledge that though Agassiz had already properly explained the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy in 1841, Darwin was not willing to admit until 20 years later and after the success of his Origins, one can’t help but think of comments Darwin makes along the way as well as his methodology of his 1859 best-seller. Specifically, Darwin uses a kind of ‘methodical doubt’ approach to known biological facts—about the known fossil record, about sterility, about the limits of breeders, about the general understanding of species and varities—and along the way tells us that “imagination’ is very important in understanding the processes of the past (In fact, he states that he didn’t think the current crop of biologists would accept his theory, and that he, Darwin, would have to wait until the next generation of biologists—young and imaginative—came along before his theory would be properly assessed.)

So, what do we have? We have a Darwin that was wrong (a “gigantic blunder”) about a geological interpretation, but one who nontheless was capable of writing, “I think I have thought over the whole case without prejudice, and remain firmly convinced they are marine beaches.” Hence, a Darwin who could remain “firmly convinced” about a completely erroneous theory of the Roads formation. And, we have a Darwin who could travel to Glen Roy having in mind the intention of viewing the Col R2 formation because of its critical importance in any explanation to be given, and who, per Maddox, substantially premises his theory on Col R2′s not existing. This causes Maddox to ask himself a question and state: “Whether Darwin missed the col entirely or simply convinced himself—absent modern measuring techniques—that it wasn’t close enough to the level of the second road, we do not know.”

We who find Darwinian theory unconvincing have to ask ourselves: “Was Darwin capable of ‘convincing himself’ that all the evidence pointing against his theory could be left to the one side, just as Col R2 was swept to the one side at Glen Roy?” I suspect Darwin’s biggest blunder will prove not to be his interpretation of the Parallel Roads at Glen Roy, but his Theory of Origins. I don’t think we’re very far away from this day.

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19 Responses to Darwin Was Really Wrong!

  1. Four years later, Louis Agassiz, the highly regarded Swiss geologist, rightly explained that it had been glaciers that had sealed off the eastern end of the valley, thus forming the lakes during glacial times, and, ultimately the Parallel Roads.

    Interesting, as this is not the only time that Darwin’s and Aggasiz’s theories conflicted. Darwin references Agassiz in Descent of Man when Darwin was showing that all of mankind was a single race. Agassiz did not think the various races had common ancestors.

    That Adam and Eve were neither the only nor the first human beings created is intimated in the statement of Moses himself, [[p. 185]] where Cain is represented to us as wandering among foreign nations after he was cursed, and taking a wife from the people of Nod, where he built a city, certainly with more assistance than that of his two brothers. Thus we maintain that the view of mankind as originating from a single pair, Adam and Eve,–and of the animals and plants as having originated from one common centre, which was at the same time the cradle of humanity,–is neither a Biblical view nor a correct view, nor one agreeing with the results of science, and our profound veneration for the Sacred Scriptures prompts us to pronounce the prevailing view of the origin of man, animals, and plants as a mere human hypothesis, not entitled to more consideration than belongs to most theories framed in the infancy of science. It is not for us,–for we have not the knowledge necessary for undertaking such an investigation,–it is not for us to inquire further into the full meaning of the statements of Moses. But we are satisfied that he never meant to say that all men originated from a single pair, Adam and Eve, nor that the animals had a similar origin from one common centre or from single pairs.

    I guess somebody could be completely wrong about one thing but be correct on another.

    I suspect Darwin’s biggest blunder will prove not to be his interpretation of the Parallel Roads at Glen Roy, but his Theory of Origins. I don’t think we’re very far away from this day.

    Highly unlikely

    One last thing, while Darwin’s interpretation in Glen Roy were off doesn’t mean his work in Geology was all wrong

    Darwin’s observations of the ocean after an earthquake in south-central Chile on 20 February 1835 have helped scientists understand what happens in tsunami zones. “He put together a lot of concepts that we now know – 180 years later – are the result of an earthquake and an offset under the sea, pushing this huge wave toward the coast,” said Lisa Ely, a geologist at Central Washington University in Ellensburg.

    from
    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/.....overlooked

  2. hdx:

    The point of the post is not that Darwin made a mistake per se, but how he came to make the mistake in the first place, and how he reacted to it in the second place.

    BTW, I believe we now know why Darwin waited until Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the same notion of ‘divergence’ as Darwin’s before he dared to publish his findings. Seems like he was afraid of Agassiz and how Agassiz might respond.

  3. Reminds me of Microsoft. I was once browsing through a computer magazine where Microsoft had an ad touting the virtues of Windows NT 4.0. The success story was from a business person who simply could not keep their computer running on their old operating system. It kept crashing, crashing, crashing, but the new system saved the day. The old system was… Windows 95.

    The same thing happened when Windows 2000 came out. Microsoft had vehemently denied that there were security or stability problems in Windows NT 4. Of course, as soon as they release Windows 2000, the flaws in NT 4 were not only acknowledged, but used as selling points for Windows 2000.

    Whatever they are selling is capable of no wrong, and whatever they are no longer selling they can afford to be honest about.

  4. To PaV: Whats the point of all this ? So, Darwing was wrong about some geology. It was 150 years ago for crying out load. Weve moved on since then, a long way. Why all this agonizing about a dead white guy ? Maybe Darwin ate babies. Whats this got to do with anything ? Is the progress of science to be forever crippled because some guy made a mistake 150 years ago ?

  5. hdx, off topic, but it according to the Genesis account, Adam lived 930 years and had many sons and daughters. There are no dates, even relative dates, associated with the Cain and Able story, so we have no idea when they were born during Adam’s lifetime, how old they were when Cain killed Able, or how long Cain lived apart from his father’s family before he began building the city. When people live that long, a large population could develop quite quickly in terms of generations.

  6. Graham 1

    Whats the point of all this ?

    It is about Darwin’s shameless rhetoric of objectivity even as he clings to ideas that are clearly wrong.

  7. johnnyb

    Whatever they are selling is capable of no wrong, and whatever they are no longer selling they can afford to be honest about.

    That certainly is true in regard to hominid fossils. Sheesh, they defend one set of bones to the death until another set is found and then all of the sudden the first set is not even considered in the human lineage anymore. “We have always been at war with Eastasia.”

  8. To find out how wrong Darwin really was just have a look at wasdarwinwrong.com

  9. To Jehu: But so what ? Perhaps Darwin wasnt a nice person. So what ? This has absolutely no relevance to the correctness (or otherwise) of Evolution. (I presume this is the relevance of the topic). Suppose we discovered that Newton was a serial killer. Does this mean that gravity is now tainted ? We can obsess over whether Darwin (or any other historical figure) was less than perfect, and it may have some interest as a historical curiosity, but it has absolutely no relevance to the correctness of their ideas. Especially after 150 years.

    If Darwin could be shown to have been a saint, would you then be ready to accept Evolution ?

  10. My last comment (#10) should have appeared at Dr. Dembski’s latest thread. I would appreciate if you could delete it here.

  11. Wow, scientists don’t like when someone tells them (even correctly :-) ) that they aren’t right. That’s not much of a revelation.

    @Dr Dembski : How is the peer-review for “The Search for a Search” going?

  12. Hi, I actually am Bruno Maddox and I think you missed the point of my article. As the author of it, that’s my fault, and I’m sorry.

    For me, the lesson of the Glen Roy incident is that Darwin was maybe more of an ordinary guy, and an ordinary scientist than we’ve been led to believe. I think those of us who are convinced by his theory have made a mistake over the centuries in building Darwin up as a man of genius, because it implies that his theory was a work of great creativity and imagination, when it wasn’t. Evolution by natural selection is a plainly observable fact about life on earth. Darwin didn’t discover it, or theorize it. He noticed it, and once he’d done so, it stayed noticed–except by those striving desperately, for religious reasons, by any quasi-intellectual means necessary, not to notice it. You can attack Darwin the man all you want. You can poke holes in Origin til it falls apart. But until you can change the fact that parents pass on traits to their offspring, and those traits can have an impact on whether the offspring get to reproduce, it’s like you’re sitting at a poker table with a handful of dominoes. You got nuthin’.

    But thanks for reading,

    Bruno

  13. osteonectin Comment # 8:

    To find out how wrong Darwin really was just have a look at wasdarwinwrong.com

    It leads to Gert Korthof’s blog Towards the Third Evolutionary Synthesis
    http://home.kpn.nl/gkorthof/

    The answer for the question if Darwin was wrong can be found here:

    http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/kortho13.htm#Wrong

  14. Greetings, Bruno:
    Very nicely put: as Thomas Kuhn pointed out a long time ago, scientists are just like everybody else, with (perhaps) one exception. Many people cling to their ideas in the face of disconfirming evidence because changing one’s mind often involves changing an awful lot more than just one idea. Indeed, it may mean changing one’s entire worldview (i.e. it may involve a personal “paradigm shift”).

    This is especially the case when the idea to which one is clinging is one that you came up with yourself. Doing the hard intellectual work of coming up with an explanation for something one has observed is difficult, so difficult that many people don’t even attempt it. They just adopt other people’s ideas, without questioning them in any significant way.

    Among other things, Darwin was a committed and talented field geologist. That is, he actually went out in the field, observed the structure of rocks, soil, etc. and tried to come up with an explanation for the patterns that he observed in those phenomena. In the case of the Glen Roy formations, his hypothesis eventually turned out to be less compelling than an alternative hypothesis formulated by Agassiz.

    What makes Darwin (and many, but unfortunately not all) scientists different from most non-scientists is that, when presented with a compelling argument, backed up with compelling empirical evidence, he changed his mind: he dropped his own hypothesis and adopted that of his opponent. That it took him quite a while to do so is a testimony to his basic humanity. That he did eventually adopt the glacial hypothesis is a testimony to his integrity as a scientist.

    Personally, if I were presented with compelling evidence from field and laboratory observations and experiments that “intelligent design” (rigorously and operationally defined) was a more useful and productive hypothesis than non-foresighted evolution, I’d change my viewpoint too. Given that no ID supporter of whom I’m aware is actually doing any field or laboratory research that might conceivably falsify the ID hypothesis, not to mention that ID theory is neither rigorously defined* nor empirically falsifiable in its current form, I’m not sanguine about the possibility that I’ll be changing my mind any time soon.

    *If you disagree, please post a rigorous and empirically falsifiable definition of “intelligence”, so we can debate it. For more on this issue, see:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......igent.html

  15. As to whether Darwin was “wrong”, even stating it in this way betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the empirical sciences are all about. Scientific hypotheses, theories, laws, etc. aren’t “right” or “wrong”, if by these terms one means “true” or “false”. All of the empirical sciences are ultimately based on inductive reasoning, which cannot possibly produce “right” or “wrong” or “true” or “false” conclusions. Rather, inductive reasoning can only produce generalizations that have relative degrees of confidence, based on the preponderance of the evidence. This is quite literally the case in biology, in which statistical analysis is the universal standard of hypothesis validation.

    Bottom line: Darwin wasn’t “wrong”, nor was he “right”; rather, his explanation for the diversity of life and the origin of adaptations was (and still is) supported by the preponderance of the empirical evidence.

  16. Darwin Was Really Wrong

    And in other news – dog bites man.

    Yes, Darwin got things wrong. He was a human being. He got things wrong just like William Dembski or Richard Dawkins or Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton or you and me.

    It would be really helpful if there were preternaturally wise sages like gurus or Jedi masters around to guide us whenever we needed them but the world and people are not like that.

    Science doesn’t rely on one man or woman getting things right every time. It works on the assumption that humans are fallible and in the hope that what one person gets wrong, others will get right at some point in the future.

    So far it has worked out pretty well.

  17. If scientists are falliable (as we all know), then perhaps rabid atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al, can stop writing books wherein they imply that science is the only path to knowledge.

  18. Bruno:

    Thank you for your input. But, no, I didn’t miss your point at all. It was exactly as you have posted it. And I, of course, understood that. And I’m rather certain you were expecting something to show up somewhere on the blogosphere. So I was rather certain you’d find this thread.

    However, I had reasons for using it. As I think my entry makes clear, what happened in the case of Glen Roy gives us reason to scrutinize Darwin’s claims even more closely. Only in 1861, twenty years after Agassiz gave the correct interpretation of Glen Roy, was Darwin willing to admit he was wrong. During the interim, he simply felt that he was correct. Well, the question has to be asked: what happened in 1861 to make Darwin reassess his paper? You give no evidence of anything having come out that would have caused Darwin to finally see the error of his ways. It seems like he was simply in the position now, in 1861, to disavow his earlier paper without loss of prestige. Well, if that is the case (and The Delicate Arrangement makes the argument that this could easily be the case with Darwin), then what does that say about Darwin’s intellectual honesty? Considering that the Origins was seen by Darwin and others as a “prolonged argument”, his intellectual honesty becomes very pertinent with such a style of presentation. And, again, if Darwin is able to simply pretend that the Col R2 didn’t exist—and, of course, this turns out to be critical in the correct understanding of Glen Roy—then should we trust him when he minimizes known phenomena that, if true, would make his theory a non-starter?

    Passing on to some of your other comments, I find this rather lacking in charity:

    He noticed it, and once he’d done so, it stayed noticed–except by those striving desperately, for religious reasons, by any quasi-intellectual means necessary, not to notice it.

    Why is it so necessary to impugn the motives of those with which you disagree? You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. So why this characterization?

    Now here’s the very next thing you state:

    You can attack Darwin the man all you want. You can poke holes in Origin til it falls apart. But until you can change the fact that parents pass on traits to their offspring, and those traits can have an impact on whether the offspring get to reproduce, it’s like you’re sitting at a poker table with a handful of dominoes. You got nuthin’.

    Here’s a UD thread from three years ago. On that thread, Sal Cordova quoted this from Edward Blyth in 1836:

    It is a general law of nature for all creatures to propagate the like of themselves: and this extends even to the most trivial minutiae, to the slightest individual peculiarities; and thus, among ourselves, we see a family likeness transmitted from generation to generation.
    When two animals are matched together, each remarkable for a certain given peculiarity, no matter how trivial, there is also a decided tendency in nature for that peculiarity to increase; and if the produce of these animals be set apart, and only those in which the same peculiarity is most apparent, be selected to breed from, the next generation will possess it in a still more remarkable degree; and so on, till at length the variety I designate a breed, is formed, which may be very unlike the original type.
    The examples of this class of varieties must be too obvious to need specification: many of the varieties of cattle, and, in all probability, the greater number of those of domestic pigeons, have been generally brought about in this manner. It is worthy of remark, however, that the original and typical form of an animal is in great measure kept up by the same identical means by which a true breed is produced.
    The original form of a species is unquestionably better adapted to its natural habits than any modification of that form; and, as the sexual passions excite to rivalry and conflict, and the stronger must always prevail over the weaker, the latter, in a state of nature, is allowed but few opportunities of continuing its race. In a large herd of cattle, the strongest bull drives from him all the younger and weaker individuals of his own sex, and remains sole master of the herd; so that all the young which are produced must have had their origin from one which possessed the maximum of power and physical strength; and which, consequently, in the struggle for existence, was the best able to maintain his ground, and defend himself from every enemy.

    So it appears that, as Darwinian historian Loren Eiseley strongly believed, Darwin ‘borrows’ the rough outline of natural selection from Blyth—and without ever giving him any credit (for which Darwin was rightly and strongly criticized). So, does Darwin deserve any credit at all?

    However you decide that question, there’s this further question: If Blyth pens this in 1836, and it mimics Darwin’s thought, then why did Darwin wait 24 years to publish Origins?

    Well, it seems that it has to do with Darwin waiting until Alfred Russell Wallace came to the same understanding of the principle of divergence as was his. Upon receipt of Wallace’s short paper in 1859, Darwin rushes to have his views, expressed in a letter to Asa Gray years before, read along with Wallace’s paper at the Linnaean Society. (This was the “Delicate Arragnement”!)

    So, to be quite correct on the matter, Darwin’s real idea—one he shared with Wallace—was that species will evolve into much fitter forms which, at some point in the future when the environment has shifted dramatically, will together cause the evolved forms to bring the original parent species to extinction, thus replacing it, and freeing the fitter forms to continue to diverge. This is their principle of divergence. And, in this way Darwin wishes to rule out the well known principle of “reversion”. But what’s a well known principle to Darwin given that you’ve pointed out in your article how Darwin is quite capable of pretending that things that exist really don’t exist, just like Col R2. Perhaps you see the pertinence of all this now?

    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Allen:

    As to whether Darwin was “wrong”, even stating it in this way betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what the empirical sciences are all about. Scientific hypotheses, theories, laws, etc. aren’t “right” or “wrong”, if by these terms one means “true” or “false”. All of the empirical sciences are ultimately based on inductive reasoning, which cannot possibly produce “right” or “wrong” or “true” or “false” conclusions.

    You, Allen, are open-minded about things. But maybe you should be addressing these words to the Darwinists who tell us that evolution is a FACT! Can you imagine this, Allen? A FACT! When you have a “fact”, ‘inductive reasoning’ is no longer necessary or applicable. Maybe you can help them out.

    Why isn’t ID the so-called “null hypothesis” in all of this? It used to be. Or do we prefer a theory that gets us nowhere? But if so, why?

    Rather, inductive reasoning can only produce generalizations that have relative degrees of confidence, based on the preponderance of the evidence. This is quite literally the case in biology, in which statistical analysis is the universal standard of hypothesis validation.

    Before gel electrophoresis came about in the 60′s, it was thought that proteins would be rather uniform. The neo-Darwinists expected a very high level of homozygosity at individual loci, but instead found great amounts of heterozygosity. This led to the “Neutral Theory”; or, as it was also called: “Non-Darwinian selection”. That’s why you, Allen, tell us that neo-Darwinism is dead. Okay, but what about reversions, what about sterility, what about blending inheritance, and—and this is the biggest thorn in the side of Darwinism—what about “intermediate forms”? Darwinism has proved to be a pathetic theory. All of its predictions have turned out to be wrong. So what about this “preponderance of evidence”? Where is it in the case of Darwinism?

    As Steven Meyers has written, ID has much more ‘explanatory power’ than Darwinism. It fits the evidence better. Shouldn’t that mean something to scientists?

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