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Stuart Newman and Evolution’s Testability

What is evolution? Is it natural selection acting on random biological variation? Is it gradualism or punctuated equilibrium? Is it the slow accumulation of neutral changes that eventually become useful? No, these are all sub hypotheses of evolution. Evolution is the theory that naturalistic causes are sufficient to explain the origin of species.   Read more

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19 Responses to Stuart Newman and Evolution’s Testability

  1. Darwin and Wallace knew naturalism was true because they knew supernaturalism was false.

    Darwin perhaps, but Wallace? He accepted spiritualism. What can be more supernatural than ghosts?

  2. 2

    From your blog:

    The greater god (it is beneath god’s dignity to manually create the species), problem of evil (god wouldn’t create this gritty world) and intellectual necessity (naturalism is needed for good science) were a few of the non scientific arguments that were shaping today’s science.

    Funny, I don’t recall much discussion of those topics in On The Origin Of Species. Perhaps they were covered in A Monograph Of The Cirripedia? Or maybe it was On The Various Contrivances By Which British And Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised By Insects, And On The Effects Of Good Intercrossing?

  3. I believe there is a typo in that last title. It clearly should be On The Various Contrivances By Which British And Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised By Insects, And On The Effects Of God Intercrossing. It has been suppressed by Darwinists ever since, as it provides evidence for intelligent design.

  4. 4

    #1:

    “What can be more supernatural than ghosts?”

    Nothing I suppose, but so what? My point, of course, was in reference to the origin of species. Wallace argued that god would not have created the species.

  5. Heinrich – for those interested the book can be downloaded here.

  6. 6

    #2:

    “Funny, I don’t recall much discussion of those topics in On The Origin Of Species.”

    I guess you’ll have to read it.

  7. Dr Hunter,

    Wallace argued that god would not have created the species.

    Where? I admit to not reading much of Wallace.

  8. Dr Hunter,

    For all the quotes from Dr Newman’s essay in your blog entry, you seem to have missed this one.

    The scientific mainstream should rightly be prevailing in the
    evolution debate, since the living world is manifestly a product of evolution.

    My reading of Dr Newman’s essay, which wanders somewhat in its topic, is that while supernatural explanation is often chosen by scientific and non-scientific people, it shouldn’t be. With respect to life and its origins, more people would be convinced of the accuracy of a material explanation if that explanation focused less on variation and selection, and more on the kind of work I do.

    I will agree with Dr Newman that a misconstrual of evolution = Darwinism = “all change is gradual” is unhelpful to the general public’s understanding of science.

  9. 9

    Nakashima #7:

    You may be familiar with SJ Gould’s religious claims about the design of orchids. That comes right out of Wallace, for instance, in his response to the Duke of Argyll’s *Reign of Law*.

  10. Nothing I suppose, but so what?

    Well, it blows out of the water your claim that Wallace knew supernaturalism was false.

    If you want to continue this line of reasoning, I think you have to show hoe Wallace demarcated where the supernatural was and was not allowable.

  11. 11

    #10:

    Here is an example of Wallace’s proofs for evolution:

    The strange springs and traps and pitfalls found in the flowers of Orchids cannot be necessary per se, since exactly the same end is gained in ten thousand other flowers which do not possess them. Is it not then an extraordinary idea to imagine the Creator of the Universe contriving the various complicated parts of these flowers as a mechanic might contrive an ingenious toy or a difficult puzzle? Is it not a more worthy conception that they are some of the results of those general laws which were so co-ordinated at the first introduction of life upon the earth as to result necessarily in the utmost possible development of varied forms? … it would appear as if the sanction of an allwise and all-powerful Being had been given to that which the highest human minds consider to be trivial, mean, or debasing.

  12. Dr. Hunter:

    If you are interested in following some additional implications associated with Newman, Muller, Wagner, Morris and Forgacs that call “Why Evolution is True” into serious question, visit:

    http://cdevoclast.blogspot.com

    and check Episodes 7, 8, and 9.

    The focus is on Newman’s concept of morphological novelty origin and the innovation of entirely new structurs (that you included in tour review of Newman’s paper).

  13. Cornelius,
    This is not one of Wallace’s
    “proofs” of evolution. Wallace is here responding to a theological argument against Darwinism from the Duke of Argyll. how, exactly, should he respond to a theological argument without discussing theology?

  14. 14

    Cornelius Hunter @ 6:

    I guess you’ll have to read it.

    Cute. I have read it, Dr. Hunter, that being kinda necessary and all for me to not recall much in the way of those supposedly major topics of discussion actually being discussed.

    So anyway, like I said, I don’t recall much. Very, very little in fact. Darwin only rarely addresses anything like those topics directly. Often, he only did so in later editions. Now, I’ve only read the first edition, and as I see it, that is actually the most relevant being as it is the originally presented form of Darwin’s argument; however I’ll post the best material I could find (in the sense of most favorable to your claim) in any edition. And here we….go:

    On utility of structure (6th Ed., 159):

    The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest lately made by some naturalists, against the utilitarian doctrine that every detail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor. They believe that many structures have been created for the sake of beauty, to delight man or the Creator (but this latter point is beyond the scope of scientific discussion), or for the sake of mere variety, a view already discussed.

    Originally, there was no mention of the ‘Creator’.

    On variation as a natural phenomenon (1st Ed, 167) :

    He who believes that each equine species was independently created, will, I presume, assert that each species has been created with a tendency to vary, both under nature and under domestication, in this particular manner, so as often to become striped like the other species of the genus; and that each has been created with a strong tendency, when crossed with species inhabiting distant quarters of the world, to produce hybrids resembling in their stripes, not their own parents, but other species of the genus. To admit this view is, as it seems to me, to reject a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown cause. It makes the works of God a mere mockery and deception; I would almost as soon believe with the old and ignorant cosmogonists, that fossil shells had never lived, but had been created in stone so as to mock the shells now living on the sea-shore.

    So, a preference for theories which don’t require God to be a liar.

    On the eye as an exemplar of design (1st Ed. 188):

    It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man?

    And here a preference for avoiding anthropomorphization of God or presuming to know his means with certainty a priori.

    On Taxonomy (1st Ed., 431):

    But many naturalists think that something more is meant by the Natural System; they believe that it reveals the plan of the Creator; but unless it be specified whether order in time or space, or both, or what else is meant by the plan of the Creator, it seems to me that nothing is thus added to our knowledge.

    And no, ‘naturalist’ here does not mean an adherent to the philosophical position, despite the fact that the passage endorses, rather mildly, the methodological variety. Or, at least, asks for some level of detail in any supernatural account (not necessarily a pathetic one, though).

    On Homology (4th Ed., 513):

    Nothing can be more hopeless than to attempt to explain this similarity of pattern in members of the same class, by utility or by the doctrine of final causes. The hopelessness of the attempt has been expressly admitted by Owen in his most interesting work on the “Nature of Limbs.” On the ordinary view of the independent creation of each being, we can only say that so it is; that it has pleased the Creator to construct all the animals and plants in each great class on a uniform plan; but this is not a scientific explanation.

    That’s probably the best of the lot for you, coming closest to your “intellectual necessity”, though it fails to explicitly declare that “naturalism is needed for good science”.

    If you have better examples from Origin (or Darwin’s barnacle or orchid monographs or, hell, anything else he wrote for that matter), please do share them with the class. You can conveniently search all editions of Origin and other works here:
    http://darwin-online.org.uk

    As it stands, these supposedly major arguments of yours are either mentioned only parenthetically or not at all.

  15. Dr Hunter,

    Thank you, a very clear example.

  16. 16

    Yes, Nakashima, that actually is a good example. It is just the one, though. What matters is how many more of them in Wallace’s work are there? If the whole theory rests on such arguments, his writing should be lousy with them. And also, if these are so foundational to evolutionary theory, why is Origin so lacking in that department?

  17. 17

    #14:

    Good job in bringing out some Darwin passages. I don’t particularly like 159 or 431 as they are not much of an argument for evolution, certainly not strong arguments. Your other three are good examples.

    188 comes right out of Hume. This, along with making evolution the default answer and shifting of the burden to the skeptic were Darwin’s strong arguments against complexity.

    167 is another good one. It echoes Leibniz’ rebuke of Newton, and establishes a strong metaphysical mandate for rather silly reasons.

    And yes, 513 does argue from the intellectual necessity, an argument that was gaining steam in Darwin’s day (eg, Baden Powell).

    These are not gratuitous arguments, and they are merely a sampling. There are many more in Origins, but you can’t just search on “creator”.

    For example, read the penultimate paragraph of Ch. 2 (I use the 6th edition). After much rambling Darwin gives the metaphysical interpretation and mandate.

    These are all through the book and meanwhile the science is weak. For instance, for a passage with no such metaphyics read the laughably circular passage, “Compensation and Economy of Growth” in Ch. 5.

    If you give *Origins* a close read what you will find is that the science is speculative at best (It was mostly circumstantial evidence and Darwin had to argue his way around the fossil and breeding evidence), but is consistently given a metaphysical interpretation that mandates evolution.

  18. You can conveniently search all editions of Origin and other works here:
    http://darwin-online.org.uk

    It’s also fairly good for linking individual pages.

  19. As best I understand it, the criterion that Darwin is laying down in that quotation is transmutationism, not naturalism in the sense of materialism. Thus many ID or ID-compatible thinkers from the present or recent past would pass the test. I also think that by 1863 there were or had been several biologists who took the same position – they had evolutionary ideas which would pass Darwin’s test but which made no claim to be compatible with thoroughgoing materialism – and that Darwin was aware of this. (Apparently Richard Owen is the man behind the curtain in the letter quoted from, while from what I can glean St. Hilaire doesn’t even qualify as a thoroughgoing evolutionist.) To be sure, elsewhere in the letter Darwin asserts that his own transmutationist theory is the one that best explains the overall evidence. (Though, likewise, he doesn’t in this letter advance the unequivocal materialism-friendliness of Natural Selection as a virtue.)

    (Finest-quality St. Hilaire sources:
    * Packard’s Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution

    * the Dubya Pee: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/inde.....=319126517 and

    * http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/hilaire.html

    )

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