Home » Intelligent Design » [quote mines]: “In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom”

[quote mines]: “In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom”

In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics.

Jerry Coyne

Allen Orr in Darwin v Intelligent Design (again)

there’s a striking asymmetry in molecular versus evolutionary education in American universities. Although many science, and all biology, students are required to endure molecular courses, evolution—even introductory evolution—is often an elective. The reason is simple: biochemistry and cell biology get Junior into med school, evolution doesn’t. Consequently, many professional scientists know surprisingly little about evolution.

Allen Orr

And here’s why evolution doesn’t get Junior into med school:

Ernst Mayr (as quoted by McHugh):

Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science…[where] Laws and experiments are inappropriate…
….
Instead one constructs a … narrative

Ernst Mayr 

Speaking of constructing narratives (or telling stories) here’s a quote mine of an IDer:

Paul Nelson in Junkyard Dog Chases Texas Philosopher
molecular biology graduate students (for instance) don’t know much, or any, evolutionary theory…[because] Students don’t see the point of storytelling. They could take a Fiction Writing course for that.

Paul Nelson

I was in disbelief at Paul Nelson’s claim. After all, is not evolution central to biology? I checked out the “Wedge” document for the American Naturalists and their secret plans for world domination:

American Naturalists: Evolutionary Biology National Agenda

Evolutionary biology …occupies a central position in the biological sciences.
….
As was emphasized in a recent report from the United States National Academy of Sciences, biological evolution is “the most important concept in modern biology – a concept essential to understanding key aspects of living things.”

Despite its centrality in the life sciences, evolutionary biology does not yet command a priority in educational curricula or in research funding.
….

In many or most colleges and universities, a course on evolution is an elective, taken by a minority of biology majors, most of whom do not think it relevant to their medical or other careers. The majority of biology majors may have little exposure to evolution beyond a few weeks (or less) in an introductory biology course.

Don’t these statement strike you all as odd?  Why then, if evolution is so central to science, is it only seen as worthy of a few weeks (or less) in a college entry-level BIOLOGY course! Do you see the incongruity here?

Why is a theory of minimal importance being promoted with so much vigor publicly, yet, in many biology curriculums, it’s mostly dispensable?  In fact, most students ”do not think it relevant to their medical or other careers”.  

I don’t mean to disparage the entire field here, and there are very fine evolutionary biologists like Richard Sternberg, but I simply wish to point out, in terms of a biological disciplines, Darwinian evolution as the explanation for life’s complexity seems awfully over-rated in its utility for science.  I have to somewhat agree with Coyne regarding it’s position in the pecking order of Science as lurking near the bottom of the pecking order.  Finally we all know of this little incident:  Barrow to Dawkins: “You’re not really a scientist.” 

Salvador

PS For the evolutionary biolgists out there, my apologies if I’ve offended you.  I tried my utmost to quote those within your own profession rather than make judgements of my own.  I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for agreeing with evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne.  I think the world of the work of evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg and the work of John Davison, and I regret that their field of study is tarnished by considerations outside of their fine work.

References:

Jerry Coyne. Of Vice and Men. (Review of the A Natural History of Rape, byR. Thornhill and C. Palmer).The New Republic, April 3, 2000.  

 

 

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14 Responses to [quote mines]: “In science’s pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom”

  1. I can’t say much for other colleges and universities, but my college happens to be #1 in PhD productivity for biology, and I was surprised at just how much evolution was stressed in our intro bio course. It was consistently referred to as fact, and all of the material we covered was related to evolution in some way.

  2. 2

    “molecular biology graduate students (for instance) don’t know much, or any, evolutionary theory”

    I didn’t take any evolutionary biology modules in my degree, but I didn’t take a genetics or molecular biology module that didn’t have evolution woven through it. Just because someone doesn’t learn the specific of evolutionary theory doesn’t mean they don’t learn about evolution at all, or that it’s unimportant. Plus these days students generally take modules in genomics, which is very evolution heavy and is currently quite high in sciences pecking order.

  3. The problem with evolutionary biology is that it is the study of the past, in other words, of history. It may be interesting, but we must ask, when is it relevant?

    The history of the Cold War and the Viet Nam war can be urgently relevant to US foreign policy today, but the history of the Pelopponesian wars provides, at most, possible guidance, and then only under the tutelage of an astute interpreter of military history.

    In the same way, the rise and fall of the trilobites is probably useless to the RN or family practitioner (whose most frequently visiting patients are late life humans (50+)). Because few people survived to the conventional human life span in early times, there’s not much to learn there. Most of the sample is here with us today. That’s probably why neither of these skilled and learned ladies (RN + MD) cares much about evolution.

    Even where evo bio IS relevant, it requires skilled interpretation.

    For example, in the 1950s, doctors believed that the tonsils and adenoids were vestigial organs left over from earlier stages of human evolution. I had mine taken out, along with huge wardsful of other children.

    Only later did these minor organs’ role in combatting infection come to be considered. As it happened, I subsequently suffered from respiratory illnesses most of my life, some quite serious, because I have often lived in cold, damp conditions. My parents were once advised to move to Arizona, but we were Canadians.

    Of course, one might have suffered those illnesses anyway, who knows?

    But this I know: Doctors no longer casually rip out organs believed to be vestigial with anything like the abandon they did when they were in the grip of “vestigial organs left over from evolution” thinking.

    So, not only is evolutionary biology often irrelevant, but when it is relevant, one can jump too hastily to a wrong interpretation.

    I am not at all surprised that the huge contingent of biology majors who are headed for the health sciences prefer to think, “Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight … my name is today.”

  4. Not only is it barely taught to bio majors, what is taught to them is complete garbage. At the University of Kentucky there are three main courses in which you receive information on evolution: there is an undergrad evolution course, a graduate evolution course, and intro to biology I. Of these three, most bio majors don’t take the first or second, but all are required to take the third (along with most other students at the university). However, in the evolution that is taught in the intro to bio class, the main case studies that are given in favor of evolution are the pepper moths and the Urey-Miller Experiment, both of which are either frauds or in serious doubt.

    So, if this is all the evolution instruction academia is going to require of its future members, why don’t they at least teach something that is legitimate?

  5. Couple comments,

    Most evolutionary biology taught in the university is primarily microevolution, which most ID supporters agree with. I am sure that anything taught in genetics and micro-biology is for the most part microevolution. I do not know what genomics is but I bet the evolutionary component is also microevolution or something like comparisons or homologies which is really not evolution even though the Darwinists make it into it. Maybe Chris Hyland could explain how it is something other than microevolution.

    Off topic. Denyse, I spent ten days in the company of Victor Davis Hanson who wrote a recent book on the Pelopponesian War (published in 2005) and is probably one of the top three people in the world on the history of warfare. He believes that the Pelopponesian War is very relevant to what is going on in the world today in many ways.

  6. jerry wrote: ” spent ten days in the company of Victor Davis Hanson who wrote a recent book on the Pelopponesian War (published in 2005) and is probably one of the top three people in the world on the history of warfare. He believes that the Pelopponesian War is very relevant to what is going on in the world today in many ways. ”

    I had written: “The history of the Cold War and the Viet Nam war can be urgently relevant to US foreign policy today, but the history of the Pelopponesian wars provides, at most, possible guidance, and then only under the tutelage of an astute interpreter of military history.”

    I now comment: Yes, exactly my point. Given a good deal of information and a genuinely skilled interpreter, you can learn something worth knowing from history. But that’s not always available. Also, I think that a skilled strategist could intuit the right decisions without knowing the history of the P. War. However, the strategist MUST know WWII onward to have a general idea of the present geopolitical landscape.

  7. “Maybe Chris Hyland could explain how it is something other than microevolution.”

    Here is the syllabus from the evolution module that is compulsory for our 2nd year biology undergrads:

    “Objectives
    On the completion of this module, students should be able to:

    1. make sense of micro- and macro- evolutionary processes, and relate this to changes at the genetic level.
    2. describe the biotic and abiotic factors promoting adaptive change and speciation.
    3. explain why evolutionary trees are of fundamental importance to dissecting these processes, as well as how and why such trees are used and constructed.
    4. describe developmental features of various multicellular organisms, and give their current evolutionary interpretation.
    5. provide examples of major macroevolutionary changes in known clades, understand how these changes came about, and the effect they had.
    6. place these examples in the context of evolution in general, in order to form an understanding of the processes by which organisms have radiated across the planet.

    Syllabus
    Introduction: Evolution pre and post Darwin, biological timescales, geophysical & climatic evolution, neodarwinism: from genes to macroevolution
    Molecular evolution: Genetic change, classical population genetics, molecular population genetics, evolutionary genomics
    Intraspecific evolution: Evolution at the level of the individual, sex and mating systems, sexual selection, the evolution of life histories
    Interspecific evolution: phylogenetics, uses of trees, coevolution (host-parasite, plant/pollinator)
    Speciation: The restriction of gene flow, speciation in the face of gene flow Adaptive radiations
    Evolutionary developmental biology: Multicellularity & modularity, animal body plans I, II, III.
    Macroevolution by example – the chordate/vertebrate story: The radiation of chordates, vertebrate origins and fish, macroevolution and the origins of Tetrapods, evolution of tetrapod diversity, locomotor diversity in the tetrapods, running with dinosaurs, bird evolution: feathers & flight, mammalian evolution”

    I don’t know what’s taught in any more detail than that.

    As for genomics it includes things like Transposable elements, B chromosomes, gene & genome duplication, lateral transfer polyploidy etc that are all important to understanding evolution. Or to put it a another way genomics is comparing genomes in light of evolutionary processes that allow us to make predictions and perfrom a better analysis.

  8. Chris,

    Thank you for the objectives and syllabus. I think the point is that a lot of these topics are taught but how necessary is it to know them other than this is interesting information. How much does Darwinian theory affect modern biology? Certainly it has many applications such as resistance to anti-biotics, insect resistance to pesticides and I am sure many other microevolution examples. But this is not the issue that is under debate.

    How has its applicability to macroevolution or things such as the origin of new types of tissue, body parts, and functions helped modern biology? If you cite some things such as homologies of genes or body parts then how has neo Darwinism as a mechanism driving macroevolution been of more value than other proposed mechanisms of macroevolution? Does it really add anything? Certainly studying the genomes of the various animals and plants is extremely useful but what does neo Darwinism add to this understanding that would not be available if it were just relegated to a position of one of many possible causes for the diversity of life.

    As Denyse has said. most of evolution is history and like history we can argue not only over the quality of the sources but what each source actually says and then how to interpret that source. Is Neo Darwinism nothing more than just one historical explanation is to another as to why Athens lost the Pelopponesian War? Do we have proof in any form that it was the mechanism of any macroevolution event? Or are we just extrapolating from these trivial microevolution events to the macroevolution events which is what the debate is all about?

  9. Comrade,

    Welcome to our weblog. The link to American Naturalist lists several schools where Evolutionary biology is emphasized. I would bet your school was in that list.

    I’m not in a position to make quantitative estimates about what goes on in biology curriculums as some of those here. I can only merely relate that it seems there is some unrest that evolutionary biology is having to compete with other biological disciplines.

    I and many other IDers promote the study of population genetics. I consider that real science. I am not averse to students studying evolutionary theory seriously (even IDers), but with respect to evolutionary theory, it seems as A.S Wilkins said, it is mostly superfluous.

    I see only a few biology majors studying evolutionary theory (as in NDE or whatever) seriously. Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, Systems Biology, Bio Technology, Physiology,…..seem to have priority over evolutionary biology, imho.

    Salvador

  10. Certainly it has many applications such as resistance to anti-biotics.

    I agree that it has applications, but even at this point the NDE had nothing to do with the discovery of penicilin by “Alexander Fleming” which was totally an accident. Darwinists always try to imply that Biology=Darwinism, but reality is much different than that. I believe that the mechanisms responsible for bacterial resistance could be discoverd with or without darwinian theory. An ID proponent could go in a lab and discover the mechanisms behind the bacterial resistance. The only difference would be that he would suggest that those mechanisms are intelligently designed or evolved as a result of directed mutations.

  11. > Most evolutionary biology taught in the university is
    > primarily microevolution, which most ID supporters agree with.

    Accepting that _random mutations_ can explain even just
    the “microevolution” gives up ID as natural science altogether.
    It gratuitously concedes to neo-Darwinians something they
    haven’t demonstrated and allows them to use the same defective
    reasoning for everything else, macro-eveolution and origin
    of life.

    Consider an analogy — a number guessing game where a player is
    guessing a number only from yes/no answers to his questions. If
    I can guess a number written down by another player in 10 tries
    on average, would you allow neo-Darwinians to claim that this
    fact (9 out of 10 tries fail) is a proof that I was guessing
    randomly?

    Obviously not, since to make such determination, they need also to
    know what is the _range_ of allowed numbers. If the range is 1..1000
    then I wasn’t guessing randomly. Generally if the range is 1..N,
    then the average number of tries for a “random” guessing strategy
    (where the last try receives Yes answer to the question “is the
    number equal X”) would be T=(N+1)/2. Hence for my average T=10 tries,
    the range must be be 1..19 in order for my result to be at least
    consistent with random guessing. Anything above or _below_ N=19
    indicates a use of non-random guessing strategy.

    Back to evolution, micro or macro — neo-Darwinians have never shown
    that the range of possible DNA configurations accessible to mutations
    and the given number of tries (offspring) imply random mutations
    as the most likely strategy behind mutations. If you accept their
    “answer” (random mutations) for micro-evolution, without requiring
    estimates for the range of possible DNA configurations and number
    of tries, you have no choice but to accept the same type of “answer”
    for any degree of evolution. See a recent talk.origins thread for
    more on this argument (look for posts by “nightlight”):

    http://groups.google.com/group.....1461c31421

    Namely, by accepting the random mutation as the most likely cause of
    micro-evolution, you have accepted their _premise_ that the mutagenic
    biochemical conditions at the site of mutation are “random” (aimless
    or unrelated to the “need”, as perceived by the cellular biochemica
    network). That leaves you only a super-natural designer for the macro-
    evolution (or for origin of life), designer who doesn’t play by
    the rules of the game and who can intervene outside of natural laws
    to adjust the results. While that kind of nature and its unlawful
    designer are conceivable, it is contrary to the basic spirit of
    science — the natural laws are knowable at least in principle
    and no entity can violate them. Hence, the ‘unlawful designer’
    form of ID cannot become a legitimate scientific theory.

    Only a designer who plays by the rules (hence when dealing with
    matter-energy transformation, it plays by the laws governing
    matter-energy transformations), the _lawful_ designer, can be
    a part of any scientific theory. In particular, a lawful designer
    conjecture requires that any intelligence has an _implementation_
    of the “intelligent agency” within the matter-energy realm. A
    plausible proposal along these lines was given in that same
    talk.origins thread:

    On designer implementation within the matter-energy realm:
    http://groups.google.com/group.....a8de95db21

    Summary of links by sub-topics:
    http://groups.google.com/group.....20c272c339

  12. Chris wrote:

    Plus these days students generally take modules in genomics, which is very evolution heavy and is currently quite high in sciences pecking order.

    Can genomics survive without an evolutionary assumption? Aren’t evolutionary assumptions really superfluous to the fact that there are differences and commonalities in the genomes. In fact, it is the architectural comparisons that are far more important than any supposed evolutionary histories, imho.

    The hierarchical relationships were presumed under common design prior to Darwin and under common descent after Darwin. Thus evolutionary assumptions strike me as extraneous un-needed add ons. Given that convergence is pervasive from the morphological down to the molecular level, its seems a rather pointless exercise to be building phylogentic trees that no one can be sure of anyway. Let the similaries be seen for their own merits. Assuming similarities were caused by common descent rather than common design seems to add little of scientific value, and infact is a misleading distraction, imho.

  13. 13

    The problem is that it’s not just looking at the similarities and differences, becuase we’re still cant fully decipher genomes, or we might want to make predictions about genomes that haven’t been sequenced. What common descent and evolution give us is a toolkit with which to make predictions and help our investigations. Of course it is very likely that it is incomplete and there are other mechanisms, for example self-organization has been recently useful in predicting the properties of cellular networks. It could all be worng of course but science is concerned with explanations that are useful. So invoking some unknown designer will remain highly unparsimonious until the hypothesis can be used to make predictions and aid our investigations.

  14. Chris wrote:

    It could all be worng of course but science is concerned with explanations that are useful. So invoking some unknown designer will remain highly unparsimonious until the hypothesis can be used to make predictions and aid our investigations.

    Thank you for responding. However, I was not trying to say we need to invoke ID. I was simply pointing out that I think it\’s over reaching to sell phylogenies which we have no way of independently verifying anyway. What is empirically without question are the strong hierarchical relationships. In fact, it has been proposed multiple hierarchies may be at work, and we aren\’t going to see them if we blur the picture by force fitting phylogenies onto the data.

    Otherwise its starts to look like:
    Doolittle\’s Tree

    I knew a molecular genetics student who was building phylogenies. I asked if she saw convergences through her 3 years of lab work. She said, \”everywhere!\”. Sure, we can build maximum parsimony trees with data, but we can do that with random noise as well and then label them phylogenies. I think, therefore it serves no useful purpose to assume they were caused by an evolutionary relationship. Most of the time I see that assumption made, it leads to wierd contradictions any way like the picture above.

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