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The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw 514

stemnitsa writes: "Michael Ruse is, somewhat unusually, a professor of both philosophy and zoology. In this book he looks at how evolutionary thought developed between 1830 and 1875. The book was originally published in 1979; the text has not been revised for the new edition but Ruse has included an Afterword in which he looks at new research that has come out in the intervening years. There has been an immense outpouring of publications about Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution since his book first appeared but it still merits an honourable place, both for its insights and for its readability, enhanced by touches of humour. To some extent it covers the same territory as Peter Bowler's "Evolution: the history of an idea", but its focus is narrower in time while providing more in-depth discussion of the philosophical and religious ideas of Darwin's contemporaries." The remainder of stemnitsa's review follows; this book sounds like a good one to pair with Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution, reviewed last week by Danny Yee.
The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw
author Michael Ruse
pages xiv + 346
publisher The University of Chicago Press
rating 7
reviewer Anthony Campbell
ISBN 0226731693
summary Darwin's ideas did not emerge from a vacuum; there were important forerunners. Ruse provides a valuable insight into the intellectual climate of the time. He makes it clear that to think of science and religion as being mutually opposed in the nineteenth century is an over-simplification; there were important ways in which religion actually helped the cause of science.

Ruse is particularly good on the personalities of those involved. They were indeed a colourful bunch. They included William Whewell, Adam Sedgwick, Baden Powell (father of the founder of the Scout movement), John FW Herschel (son of the famous astronomer William Herschel), Charles Lyell, Richard Owen, and Charles Babbage, better known for his invention of the calculating engine, as well as Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley. Many of these, especially those belonging to the older generation, were clergymen; it was impossible to be a Fellow of a college at Oxford or Cambridge at the time unless one was in Holy Orders. This inevitably coloured their views on evolution, though not always in the way one might expect.

Popular accounts of the debate about evolutionary thought in the nineteenth century often convey the impression of a straightforward conflict between secularism and religion, in which scientific secularism emerged triumphant. As Ruse makes clear, this is a considerable over-simplification: the relation between religion and science was in fact very complex, and in some ways religion actually helped the cause of science. Other factors, philosophical and social, were also involved, and Ruse's claim is that all of these elements have to be given due weight if the development of evolutionism is to be understood.

That profound changes in intellectual attitudes occurred in the nineteenth century there can be no doubt. In 1844, when Robert Chambers published his "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation", in which he argued the case for organic evolution, hardly any serious scientists accepted its main message, but when Charles Darwin published "The Origin" in 1859 his main claim was quickly accepted by almost all scientists concerned with the origin of organisms. In part, this was a consequence of the difference in the scientific standing of the two authors, but there were other reasons as well and it is these that Ruse seeks to elucidate.

First, there were scientific reasons to accept evolution. It made sense of the geographical distribution of species, such as finches and tortoises on the Galapagos Islands, which Darwin described and which was hard to explain on any other assumption. Also, by the 1860s more was known about the fossil record than had been known in 1844, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to doubt that progression had occurred during geological time. Darwin was therefore able to draw on a more ample arsenal of scientific facts; indeed, he had made significant contributions to that arsenal himself.

Of course, Darwin was not merely advocating evolution as a process, he put forward a mechanism by which it could occur. Chambers had not provided a plausible cause for evolution, but Darwin did, with his mechanism of natural selection. However, this idea had its problems: estimates of the age of the earth seemed not to allow enough time for evolution, and many people doubted if natural selection could be powerful enough to produce new species as opposed to mere variations. Even T.H.Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog", was relatively uninterested in natural selection and tended to downplay its importance. But field naturalists such as Henry Walter Bates found it invaluable as an explanation for insect mimicry and his work was cited by Darwin in later issues of "The Origin".

The second area of change was in philosophy. Many of the older scientists were idealists, Platonists, who favoured the view that species were immutable Types. Huxley, on the other hand, was not a Platonist and criticized his older colleagues on that ground. This change was both a cause and a consequence of other changes, in religious thought and in society at large, that were occurring at this time. Ruse points to innovations in the educational system leading to a reduced emphasis on the Classics and a weakening in the influence of religion. Not surprisingly in view of his professional background, Ruse pays considerable attention to the philosophical principles espoused by the main participants in the debate. There was a prevailing assumption, to which Darwin himself largely subscribed, that physics, and especially astronomy, provided the explanatory model to which other sciences ought to aspire.

The third class of change affected religion. Chambers had been attacked on religious grounds: he was held to have threatened the special position of man and to have left no room for God's design. Similar criticisms were made of Darwin but less strongly. However, religion, Ruse believes, also helped Darwinism. The argument from design prepared people's minds for evolutionism, while thinkers such as Baden Powell thought of God as working through unbroken natural laws rather than through miracles.

In the 1830s and 1840s religion was a thorny problem for many people. Partly this was a reaction to science; Ruse thinks that the attempt to reconcile science and revelation was a particularly British preoccupation (as perhaps it still is). And conventional religion was also under threat from another source: German Biblical criticism. As a result, some prominent clergymen, including Lyell, had moved a long way towards Deism (natural as opposed to revealed religion).

Lyell is a particularly interesting figure in the present context. His "Principles of Geology" accompanied Darwin on his voyage in the Beagle and had a major influence on his thought. As a Deist, he was unhappy about introducing miracles to explain the origin of species; unlike Whewell, who thought it was compatible with science. Ruse sums this up neatly by saying that Lyell wanted a world left alone by God, in which organisms struggle for survival under the threat of extinction, whereas Whewell wanted to see God hovering protectively over his creation.

Fourthly, there were social and political influences. In the 1830s there was a real fear that revolution might spread to Britain from abroad; by 1860 this was no longer the case. And in the second half of the century it was possible for a man to become a professional scientist without private means and without taking Holy Orders: a change that helped to weaken the influence of religion.

It is difficult to describe all these developments without falling into circularity, because each type of cause influenced, and was influenced by, the others, but in a way this is precisely Ruse's point. He insists that there were many different threads intertwining among themselves and that it is misleading to oversimplify the argument by concentrating on what appear to be the "real" issues. I think he makes a convincing case for this claim. He finds no need to alter his views in this reissue of the book, as he explains in the Afterword, though I was glad to see that he softens his earlier criticism of Huxley, whom I have always rather liked. I was even more glad to read that he strongly dissociates himself from "social constructivism" in the history of science. He states emphatically that "Charles Darwin was telling us real truths about a real world". There is no question of organic evolution being a human-created fiction.

Ruse is, however, rather despondent about the present position of evolution studies as an academic discipline. He is concerned that evolution is often seen to be "popular science" and is usually linked with ecology, instead of being accorded the importance it deserves. There is indeed a paradox here, which Ruse perhaps fails to bring out fully. He mentions that in the USA today there are ten times as many departments of molecular biology as of evolution, but he does not point out that it is impossible to understand molecular biology adequately unless it is seen in an evolutionary context. The interesting question, therefore, is why this fact is not always recognized.

Much the same failure to take account of Darwinism exists within medicine. The origins of many diseases can only be understood from an evolutionary viewpoint (Charlton BG; Nesse RM, Williams GC). Immunology, which is basic to modern medicine, is an evolutionary science through and through (Tauber AI). And yet "Darwinian medicine" is hardly a dozen years old; even today, few doctors are familiar with the term. There is a sense in which the Darwinian revolution has still hardly begun.

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The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw

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  • I believe that Lamarck was the first to postulate Evolution in the sense that we are familiar with it now. Namely, that if a trait is beneficial to a species that it will be passed on from generation to the next.
  • Holy poo! (Score:3, Informative)

    by mofolotopo ( 458966 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:22AM (#4170018)
    I just started my fall semester, and this guy is my history and philosophy of science teacher! Neat. He's funny as hell in person, by the way. If you ever get a chance to see him lecture, take it!
    • YOu think that's funny, I think I lived in the guy's house last year!

      I guess he now lives/teaches down in the states somewhere, but still own a house in Canada where he lives, and during the school year he rents it outto students such as myself!

      Great prof he may be, but not a very great landlord! :>
  • Creationism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:27AM (#4170052)
    This story will no doubt generate some Creationism vs. evolution debates.

    I have a question. Do creationists realise that their beliefs are really only a USA phenomenon? I've not seem much evidence of creationism anywhere else in the "first world". Just thought I'd ask because perhaps some American creationists think this is a hot issue all over the world. It's not.
    • Re:Creationism (Score:4, Insightful)

      by alienmole ( 15522 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:41AM (#4170140)
      Do creationists realise that their beliefs are really only a USA phenomenon?

      That's a tough one, since US creationists are only vaguely aware of the existence of a world outside the USA, and what awareness they do have tends to be about which parts of it need to be carpet-bombed to eliminate the infidels (oops, I mean pagans, getting my religious extremism confused there...)

      • We (The USA) are sorry.

        In the future when Europe is on the verge of falling to a European dictator, we will leave Europe alone.

        When Europe need to be rebuilt after that war, we will leave Europe alone.

        When Europe need protection from forces from the East, we will leave Europe alone.

        When Europe needs help in it's own backyard to bring down yet another dictator who is killing people just because of the ethnic background, we will leave Europe alone.

        • You (The USA) apparently have a guilty conscience. I was talking about creationists. I don't credit the creationists and their ilk with creating US foreign policy, although they might influence it. However, I've found that people with beliefs like that are far more likely to have uninformed views about the world outside the US, and see things purely in us vs. them terms. Never having travelled outside the US doesn't help. Parochialism is bad; religious extremism tends to foster the worst kind of parochialism.

          • Why can't a creationist also belive in evolution?

            Also, it is a lot easier for a European to go to another country because the countries are so close to each other. The 375+ miles I drive to see my daughters would get from one country to another in a lot of Europe. In the US it gets me from Texas to just near the OK/AK border.It is rather expensive for a large portion of the people in the US to go to another country.

            • Why can't a creationist also belive in evolution?

              Sorry, I guess I was thinking of the kind of creationist that believes the Earth is 4000 years old, etc. That's usually coupled with a large set of irrational beliefs denying evidence that's been collected by a large body of scientists around the world, including many Christians and members of other religions.

              You're right about the difficulty most US residents have in travelling to other countries (other than Mexico or Canada). Although for many Americans, I suspect it's much more of a psychological block than a financial one - you can fly New York to London for $265 round trip, on Virgin Atlantic.

              Of course, it'll be quite a bit more than that from Texas - which I'm sure does go a long way towards explaining the much higher level of fundamentalism in the central US states, which are physically isolated in a way that only has an equivalent in some other physically large countries like perhaps China, India, Brazil, Russia.

              That might be fine if the US really was isolationist, but unfortunately (for you too), the US has a strong military presence in the Middle East, primarily to protect its oil interests. The combination of isolationism and global interventionism makes for some strange policies, and has some unfortunate consequences.

        • The fact that the US has done some wonderful things in the past doesn't mean that it should be criticized for doing dumb things now, nor that it shouldn't be held up unfavorably for comparison to other societies that happen to be handling certain things (e.g. science education) better. In fact, one of the main things that has historically made the US a good place to live is its ability and willingness to absorb good ideas from elsewhere. If you think that the Way The US Is right now is Perfect And Eternal And The One True Way, then I not-so-respectfully suggest that you have no understanding of what the US actually is.
        • Are you actually using the "we saved your ass in WWII" argument? Man! I thought only homer Simpson said things like that!


          And I guess that the united states were created by god from clay? No european country ever had to, you know, send a few people over, a couple of beasts of burden here and there, a few tools...none of that?
          No military aid in your old wars or european country ever gave the US a giant statue to put in its harbor...the thing was there when you arrived, right?

          When the US helped its european fiends, it was 1) looking out for its own interests and 2) REPAYING A DEPT, yup, they don,t owe you, you owed them.

          And I guess from your "tone" that you feel that if european counties ever dare to make the US look bad by being more advanced that you are, you will feel the need for revenge and hope (or get the CIA to help) that a blody war kills 'em? Jeez...good christians indeed!
    • Do creationists realise that their beliefs are really only a USA phenomenon? I've not seem much evidence of creationism anywhere else in the "first world".
      As someone who considers himself, if not a creationist at least a skeptic about evolution, I was not aware of how Europeans see the issue. Is the difference cultural or philosophical? i.e. Is the lack of a phenomenon reflective of the protestant/evangelical movement in the USA or is it due to some element of philosophy unique to the American mind?

      This is something I'd like to hear more about.

      • Re:Creationism (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mikeplokta ( 223052 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:48AM (#4170198)
        As someone who considers himself, if not a creationist at least a skeptic about evolution, I was not aware of how Europeans see the issue. Is the difference cultural or philosophical? i.e. Is the lack of a phenomenon reflective of the protestant/evangelical movement in the USA or is it due to some element of philosophy unique to the American mind?

        It's cultural. Biblical literalism is not a widely held belief in any Western country other than the US. And creationism is a desperate kludge intended to explain the natural world without having to give up biblical literalism -- without the pre-existing belief, it's no more likely that anyone will take creationism seriously than that they'll take phlogiston or epicycles seriously.
        • It's cultural. Biblical literalism is not a widely held belief in any Western country other than the US.

          I'd agree with this. There are lots of people who believe in God in Europe, but most don't find any conflict between their religious beliefs and science.
        • Textual literalism in general is a particularly American phenomenon. American religion is intensely Protestant in the sense that it derives everything from Biblical sources as opposed to many other religions which have popes, imams and gurus from which authoritative wisdom may be derived.

          Similarly the US takes a kind of literalist view of its Constitution where many legal decisions are in fact textual analyses trying to extract the "original intention". It is interesting that the Magna Carta, for example, plays a far more important role in American history than it does in British history!

        • What about the Islamic world? They are known for for their rather "traditional" beliefs.
    • Re:Creationism (Score:4, Informative)

      by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:42AM (#4170153) Homepage
      You are correct. The data about the demographics of Bible literalism [] are pretty discouraging: between 32 and 40 percent of Americas subscribe to a literal reading of the Bible, versus 7 percent of the British. There's other interesting data at that link. What's most striking is that American belief in creationism is around 45 percent for most of the population, but only at 5 percent for scientists.

      • That's 5 percent who believe in a literal Biblical account of creation (Garden of Eden). The percentage of scientists who believe in a personal God (one who could answer prayers) is around 40% at last check, the percentage who believe in some kind of creator is higher than that.

        Albert Einstein, for instance, was one of them.

        • Re:Just to clarify (Score:5, Informative)

          Albert Einstein, for instance, was one of them.

          Sheesh, not this old myth again. Here's one of the many pages [] that kill it. To quote Einstein,

          "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it." - Albert Einstein in Albert Einstein: The Human Side

          When Einstein used the word "God", he used it as a methaphor for existence.

        • Re:Just to clarify (Score:2, Informative)

          by Laura J. ( 89654 )
          Albert Einstein, for instance, was one of them.

          Not so. This is taken from "Albert Einstein - The Human Side",a selection of his letters, edited by Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, Princeton University Press, 1979.

          "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."

          I think we can take his own words to be the truth of the matter.
      • if you want an essay written by EINSTEIN HIMSELF on his religious views, try here:

        Einstein on Cosmic Religious Feeling []

        "In my view, it is the most important function
        of art and science to awaken this [cosmic religious] feeling
        and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.
        (Albert Einstein)

        • 1. As noted above, Einsteins "religiosity" was far more about aesthetic sensibility than about doctrine. He is talking about a feeling of wonder, not about belief.

          2. More to the point, my link and data is about belief in Biblical accounts of cration, not on religious affiliation or sensibilities. Many scientists have some religious affiliation (I know a number of Buddhist-affiliated cognitive scientists) - that's a far, far cry from questioning scientific theories on the basis of religious doctrine.

      • Let's see:
        1) An educational system that, since the 1970's at LEAST has developed a pervasive philosophy of social promotion, moral relativism, and anti-intellectualism*. Teachers compensated not against performance, but according to time served.
        2) Schools that have so much corruption, kickbacks, and a positively Medieval fixed resistance to change that they look like Papa Doc's Haiti.
        3) Dependence on rote learning, memorization, and 'teaching to the test'.
        4) A culture that agrees that your average pro baseball player should make $45/minute ($2.3 mill/yr), and popular icons are Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, but there's little money for consistent space exploration.
        * if you disagree, you've never seriously tried to dispute a politically-correct position in a modern American university system. No matter the labels, it's NOT about 'discourse', it's dogma. It may be liberal dogma, but it's dogma nonetheless.
        I'll be blunt: people who believe in creationism are ignorant. The American educational system is turning out ignorant graduates. Why is anyone surprised that as these people grow into adulthood they are easily led by charismatics touting infantile ideas?
    • That's right, the catholic church certainly does not preach creationism. This is what Pope John Paul II says:

      "Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The sacred book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and makeup of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven."

      Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 3 October 1981.

    • Some of the whacky "creation science" titles seem to come from Australia, too. Is there something about former colonial properties of the UK that leads to this sort of zany thinking?

      (Maybe it's as simple as the British shipping out their more obnoxious fundie sorts to the colonies.)

  • So what, when there is a drop in traffic to Slashdot you just post an evolution story and watch the flamewar?

    For how long is plinking back and forth with people who have no remote intention of taking even a second to contemplate the argument of the opposition's viewpoint?

    Well, here's the OBLink to Talk origins [].

    Let's find a more interesting flamewar, OK?

  • Great book... (Score:2, Interesting)

    I was left with a few questions, though, that I was thinking it'd be cool if he (or someone else) would follow up with:

    • Why did the scientists originally take up the study of evolution?
    • How have different cultures and nations gone about studing evolution?
    • How are studies into evolution funded?
    • 1) Scientists took up the study of evolution because science is about understanding the world. The first step to becoming a scientist is having the courage to look for deeper reasons than the easy explanation: "It's that way because that's how God made it."

      2) There aren't a lot of differences in how different cultures have studied evolution. Science tends to transcend cultural differences. The one exception seems to be Creationism, which is largely an American pathology.

      3) Studies in evolution are funded by many organizations, both government and private, including NIH, NSF, and private biomedical companies. Evolution is so fundamental that virtually any study in biology or medicine bears on evolution to some extent. For example, perhaps the most extensive source of information on human evolution--the human genome--was sequenced independently by NIH funded investigators and private firms.
    • Why did the scientists originally take up the study of evolution?

      One explaination I heard was that it sort of fell naturally out of the exploration of geology. When people discovered how geological strata was depositied, and investigated further, they discovered that the fossils were different in different strata.
  • by David Wong ( 199703 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @11:43AM (#4170160) Homepage
    This is always such a strange subject; to me, science observes the physical process of evolution, the church offers a philosophical explanation of what was behind it. But it is a philosophical point, not a scientific one. Or, to quote one commentator []:

    ...if Christianity is true and if the nature of God is as they say, then you will not be able to observe God interacting with the physical world by any kind of scientific measurement.

    As in, if God were to miraculously bring a thunderstorm on you for some reason, a scientific examination of the event would reveal only that air currents and moisure combined in a certain way to create the storm. God's touch would be invisible to the materialist observer.

    ...It is the same with creation. I can point out how fantastically unlikely it is for creation to snap itself into existence on its own; but this does not thwart the scientists. A scientist's job is not to examine causes beyond those in the physical world. A scientist can only observe the physical circumstances of creation and make statements based on those observations.

    Whether or not there was a greater meaning behind the events is and always will be left undiscovered by the scientists. This is not a fault of the scientists; that simply is not their job.

    If God set evolution in motion to bring about man, so be it. I find the subject of evolution fascinating, but I believe in God for reasons completely unrelated to it (that is, regardless of the exact method of creation).
    • This is always such a strange subject; to me, science observes the physical process of evolution, the church offers a philosophical explanation of what was behind it. But it is a philosophical point, not a scientific one.

      Must be a strange subject if you miss the point by a mile. Creationism is not just about god putting things in motion, but rather how Evolution never took place as god created Adam and Eve and so forth.

      What people are here referring to is mostly US crap like Kansas forcing schools to teach evolution as an theory alternative alongside with creationism. Which I find bloody frightening.

      BTW, good points here about creationism being mostly US movement. From nowhere else I've ever heard of similar stuff, not in first, second nor third world for that matters...

  • I'm about 400 pages into Gould's Structure of Evolutionary Theory, and I'm reminded again and again that "critics" of Evolution/Natural-Selection/Darwinism/viz. are pretty much unaware of the Religion-Science dichotomy: the two do not really intersect, although one may certainly (and easily) affect if not distort the perception of the other.

    There's no greater sign of this than Gould's quoting of Paley's Natural Theology, and consistently, most Christians really wouldn't bother to learn what Paley was referring to. Darwin was influenced by Paley's terminology (and Gould even gives Paley some merit on his views); but the two are still in different stratae. I would suspect that most Christians, not knowing Darwin's or Paley's views, would not be able to differentiate the two.

    It's as though if it sounds or reads "too much" like Science, it must be Science, and must be countering God's design.

    Makes me wanna hollar ....

    • Of course, one shouldn't treat Gould as the uncontroversial authority he always wrote himself as being. Just as creationism is largely an American phenomenon, so are the ideas of Gould. He's a great writer, but a lot of evolutionary theorists consider him something of a sideshow: his ideas neither as new nor as revolutionary, nor as right (certianly not as widely accepted), as he makes them out to be. Daniel Dennet's "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" discusses some of this, as does Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker."
  • Loren Eiseley was a wonderful writer as well as a anthropologist and paleontologist.

    His essay collections (The Immense Journey, The Night Country) are primo stuff; entertaining and sobering reflections on science and nature.

    One of Eiseley's most important books, however, was Darwin's Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It:

    My review is the lastest (top) one.


  • by Bingo Foo ( 179380 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @12:03PM (#4170295)
    I only write this because I'm anticipating how this slashdot thread will evolve.... It is far too rare to see a discussion on evolution that admits much room for alternatives between "10000 year Earth" and "Science has disproven the existence of God." Full disclosure: I am a Christian who believes in an 8-15 billion year old universe spawned by a "Big Bang" event. I believe biology is the result of evolution from inanimate, self-reproducing molecules up to and including human evolution, by processes indistinguishable from chance. I believe that human consciousness is the spiritual touch that makes us uniquely "in the image of God."

    I got a call this morning from someone asking me to listen to "Focus on the Family" this morning because they were playing a tape of a debate held at Stanford between a creationist and evolutionist. I was immediately turned off because the creationist would make sweeping statements without support, like "evolution is based on bad and shaky evidence." Also, the evolutionist was assumed by the audience to be driven by an anti-God agenda, and gave no evidence to the contrary.

    If the reason for holding these "debates" is to foster intellectual honesty in "both camps," then at least they should admit that there are a great number of reasonable people who hold neither of these publicized views. By limiting the debate to these two views they present the undecided with a false dichotomy, and by golly, with as effective as science is elsewhere, that must mean that there is no God!

    • The reason is just to ridicule the creationists for the benefit of the sector of the public that matters.

      We hold no hope for the hard entrenched "card-carrying" anti-science ones, but there is a huge young audience whose upbringing may have favoured a distorted, supersticious, view of science. These can be saved from their ignorance and their children may have hope for a better education, away from the pathetic 6000 years old Earth crowd.
    • It is far too rare to see a discussion on evolution that admits much room for alternatives between "10000 year Earth" and "Science has disproven the existence of God."

      Which just goes to show you don't understand the position of science. Science only considers the natural world and can say nothing about the existence or non-existence of any supernatural being .

      Science does tell us that evolution is a fact, because it is an observed phenomena. Science can't tell us if evolution is driven by a supernatural being or not. However science has developed a very strong theory about evolution that explains it in terms entirely consistent with the natural world.

      So the strongest statement science can make is that you need not invoke God to explain evolution as observed in the fossil record or in living ecosystems.

      But the fact that such an explanation exists does not deny the existence of God.

      This is why so many scientists have no problem reconciling their belief in God with science. Faith and science operate in different realms, as someone mentioned in a previous post. Of course many scientists don't believe in God, and many who do believe in God aren't Christian, not surprising given the fact that science is a world-wide profession.

    • If the reason for holding these "debates" is to foster intellectual honesty in "both camps," then at least they should admit that there are a great number of reasonable people who hold neither of these publicized views. By limiting the debate to these two views they present the undecided with a false dichotomy, and by golly, with as effective as science is elsewhere, that must mean that there is no God!

      Marvellous points indeed, and I fully agree. Most religious people that I know of are far from creationism. Actually I cannot believe that anyone in their right minds would actually believe and promote creationism. You go figure out what meen there with "in their right minds".

      BUT I must say that among western scientists outside US the whole god discussion has been dropped aswell. Due to it being unnecessary assumption. It serves no purpose whatsoever, taken, that you don't need the (should I even say childish) comfort a belief to some higher power can bring you.

      Just before you go ranting back at me, I must clarify that I'm not denying gods existence, I'm merely stating that as an uncausal entity it's not worth the hypothesis.
    • You should know that creationists often explicitly seek to debate only with people who anti-God agendas, and even simply refuse to accept that evolutionary theorists are anything but, even when they roundly deny it, and note that they are believers too. You should read about Michael Shermer's experience debating Gish in his book "Why People Believe Weird Things" (note, "God" is not one of the "weird things" he talks about, though the cult of Ayn Rand, creationism, Holocaust denial, recovered memory, etc. are)
  • ... but he does not point out that it is impossible to understand molecular biology adequately unless it is seen in an evolutionary context. The interesting question, therefore, is why this fact is not always recognized.

    Perhaps it is because some molecular biologists (Behe) see a intellegent design in molecular biology and do not see it a strictly evolutionary context.

  • by Christianfreak ( 100697 ) on Friday August 30, 2002 @12:11PM (#4170346) Homepage Journal
    Comment section of this article:

    Religious person: Evolution is wrong.
    Everyone else: We can prove that creationism is stupid just search on Google []!
    Religious Person: but evolution is wrong to because bla bla
    Everyone else: Well you're a stupid fool for believing that crap bla bla bla ...

    There, its all there, nothing else has to be said you can go on to a different article now.

    This wouldn't be such a big issue if people realized that the Bible was written by people who didn't understand science for people who didn't understand science, therefore its a metaphor, what's important to the creation story is WHO(God) and WHY (he wanted companions). Rather than HOW which for the most part is left to our imagination, if we scientifically prove evolution then great, that doesn't change WHO and WHY (but you can choose to believe that or not).

    I agree this issue would also go away if more Christians themselves would realize that faithwise this is a non-issue, that they can believe whatever they want about where we came from but that Loving Thy Neighbor is far far far more important that flamewars over evolution!

    That said how is evolution something that matters on a technology site anyway? I get the feeling that these articles are here just to start pointless flamewars over religion. Hey! There's enough fighting over religion in the world without adding it to /.! Enough with these articles already! /rant
  • 120 comments and still not a single one about one of the most important evolution [] of this year !!!

  • Interesting how the face you're using for this story's icon was a God fearing man. Not to spark any religion vs. evolution debates, just an interesting choice for the mascot of this article ^__^
  • To some extent it covers the same territory as Peter Bowler's "Evolution: the history of an idea", but its focus is narrower in time while providing more in-depth discussion of the philosophical and religious ideas of Darwin's contemporaries."

    There's something interesting in the way evolution continually focuses on itself. In defending itself against creationism, evolution touts itself as objective science, rational answers, the generally accepted truth of the scientific community. And yet, I don't see books with titles like "Continental Drift: The Evolution of an Idea" or "The Big Bang: Collecting the Evidence" getting written, let alone reviewed.

    There's something about evolution, and the debate around it, that invites what I've come to think of as scientific elitism. If it were a SCIENTIFIC THEORY that COULDN'T BE ARGUED based on the AVAILABLE EVIDENCE, then that would be that. The Big Bang and continental drift don't get all this attention, but evolution does. Is it because those theories are more rigid, that there's less debate over the nuances of how they happened, than genetic evolution? Or is it because scientific minds genuinely like to push fundamentalists' hot buttons?

    Maybe this is just an American phenomenon; maybe other countries are more at ease with the scientific theory of evolution and the whens and hows of it all. I just find it odd that for a theory that claims to have so much science backing it up, it needs to keep reminding everyone of its validity. One begins to wonder if the scientists doth protest too much.
    • I suspect it's because the history of evolution has an interesting plot. There's a compelling story to be told.

      This isn't unique. The development of the transistor was an event of imense importance, but you see far more being written about the Enigma machine. Was the Enigma machine more important? No, just sexier.

    • One begins to wonder if the scientists doth protest too much.

      Not at all. The battleground isn't science, it is the science classroom in tax-funded schools in the United States.

      "Creation Science" was invented to get the story of Creation as told in the Bible into our public schools. It can't be taught as religon due to Supreme Court rulings that hold that the doctrine of separation of Church and State in the Constitution prevent it in tax-funded schools (you can do what you want in private schools).

      Thus "Creation Science". The argument is that, as a "real" science, the doctrine of separation of Church and State does not apply. On the heels of this follows the argument that evolutionary science is "junk science" and should be replaced by so-called "Creation Science", or that the latter should at least be given equal footing. Not simply in schools, but in the science classroom, i.e. the Biblical Creation story should be taught as science .

      See ... because it's not really religion but science.

      If a similar movement were to arise in opposition to theories in modern physics you'd see the same sort of reaction among scientists as you do today with evolution vs. so-called Creation Science.

  • Contrast this balanced review of a fine and nuanced history of an idea with this screed []. I can't bring myself to get excited about this retarded debate any longer. We should respond to the Creationist with some patronizing smiles. Treat the Cobb Cty School Board to an awkward, embarrassed silence.

    It is not as though the alternative is a poison. If the young minds of Cobb Cty can't be moved from their faulty instruction and misapprehensions by subsequent study, their convictions can be classed as theological and impervious to reason. And politely ignored by reasonable society.

  • i've always felt it is better to go back to the ORIGINAL documents
    than to read commentary ABOUT them. in addition to Darwin, there was
    also Haeckel, Kant, and Steiner -- who were certainly some of darwin's
    most significant fellow researchers in the area. here's a experpted chapter from
    one of Darwins contemporaries circa 1886:

    The TYPUS in Organic Nature []

    Above all, one has committed a serious error in this. One believed that the method of inorganic science should simply be taken over into the realm of organisms. One considered the method employed here to be altogether the only scientific one, and thought that for "organics" to be scientifically possible, it would have to be so in exactly the same sense in which physics is, for example. The possibility was forgotten, however, that perhaps the concept of what is scientific is much broader than "the explanation of the world according to the laws of the physical world." Even today one has not yet penetrated through to this knowledge. Instead of investigating what it is that makes the approach of the inorganic sciences scientific, and of then seeing a method that can be applied to the world of living things while adhering to the requirements that result from this investigation, one simply declared that the laws gained upon this lower stage of existence are universal.

    Above all, however, one should investigate what the basis is for any scientific thinking. We have done this in our study. In the preceding chapter we have also recognized that inorganic lawfulness is not the only one in existence but is only a special case of all possible lawfulness in general. The method of physics is simply one particular case of a general scientific way of investigation in which the nature of the pertinent objects and the region this science serves are taken into consideration. If this method is extended into the organic, one obliterates the specific nature of the organic. Instead of investigating the organic in accordance with its nature, one forces upon it a lawfulness alien to it. In this way, however, by denying the organic, one will never come to know it. Such scientific conduct simply repeats, upon a higher level, what it has gained upon a lower one; and although it believes that it is bringing the higher form of existence under laws established elsewhere, this form slips away from it in its efforts, -because such scientific conduct does not know how to grasp and deal with this form in its particular nature.

    All this comes from the erroneous view that the method of a science is extraneous to its objects of study, that it is not determined by these objects but rather by our own nature. It is believed that one must think in a particular way about objects, that one must indeed think about all objects -- throughout the entire universe -- in the same way. Investigations are undertaken that are supposed to show that, due to the nature of our spirit, we can think only inductively or deductively, etc.

    In doing so, however, one overlooks the fact that the objects perhaps will not tolerate the way of looking at them that we want to apply to them.

    A look at the views of Haeckel, who is certainly the most significant of the natural-scientific theoreticians of the present day, shows us that the objection we are making to the organic natural science of our day is entirely justified: namely, that it does not carry over into organic nature the principle of scientific contemplation in the absolute sense, but only the principle of inorganic nature.

    When he demands of all scientific striving that "the causal interconnections of phenomena become recognized everywhere," when he says that "if psychic mechanics were not so infinitely complex, if we were also able to have a complete overview of the historical development of psychic functions, we would then be able to bring them all into a mathematical soul formula," then one can see clearly from this what he wants: to treat the whole world according to the stereotype of the method of the physical sciences.

    This demand, however, does not underlie Darwinism in its original form but only in its present-day interpretation. We have seen that to explain a process in inorganic nature means to show its lawful emergence out of other sense-perceptible realities, to trace it back to objects that, like itself, belong to the sense world. But how does modern organic science employ the principles of adaptation and the struggle for existence (both of which we certainly do not doubt are the expression of facts)? It is believed that one can trace the character of a particular species directly back to the outer conditions in which it lived, in somewhat the same way as the heating of an object is traced back to the rays of the sun falling upon it. One forgets completely that one can never show a species' character, with all its qualities that are full of content, to be the result of these conditions. The conditions may have a determining influence, but they are not a creating cause. We can definitely say that under the influence of certain circumstances a species had to evolve in such a way that one or another organ became particularly developed; what is there as content, however, the specifically organic, cannot be derived from outer conditions. Let us say that an organic entity has the essential characteristics a b c; then, under the influence of certain outer conditions, it has evolved. Through this, its characteristics have taken on the particular form a'b'c'. When we take these influences into account we will then understand that a has evolved into the form of a', b into b', c into c'. But the specific nature of a, b, and c can never arise as the outcome of external conditions.

    One must, above all, focus one's thinking on the question: From what do we then derive the content of that general "something" of which we consider the individual organic entity to be a specialized case? We know very well that the specialization comes from external influences. But we must trace the specialized shape itself back to an inner principle. We gain enlightenment as to why just this particular form has evolved when we study a being's environment. But this particular form is, after all, something in and of itself; we see that it possesses certain characteristics. We see what is essential. A content, configurated in itself, confronts the outer phenomenal world, and this content provides us with what we need in tracing those characteristics back to their source. In inorganic nature we perceive a fact and see, in order to explain it, a second, a third fact and so on; and the result is that the first fact appears to us to be the necessary consequence of the other ones. In the organic world this is not so. There, in addition to the facts, we need yet another factor. We must see what works in from outer circumstances as confronted by something that does not passively allow itself to be determined by them but rather determines itself, actively, out of itself, under the influence of the outer circumstances.

    But what is that basic factor? It can, after all, be nothing other than what manifests in the particular in the form of the general. In the particular, however, a definite organism always manifests. That basic factor is therefore an organism in the form of the general: a general image of the organism, which comprises within itself all the particular forms of organisms.

    Following Goethe's example, let us call this general organism typus. Whatever the word typus might mean etymologically, we are using it in this Goethean sense and never mean anything else by it than what we have indicated. This typus is not developed in all its completeness in any single organism. Only our thinking, in accordance with reason, is able to take possession of it, by drawing it forth, as a general image, from phenomena. The typus is therewith the idea of the organism: the animalness in the animal, the general plant in the specific one.

    One should not picture this typus as anything rigid. It has nothing at all to do with what Agassiz, Darwin's most significant opponent, called "an incarnate creative thought of God's." The typus is something altogether fluid, from which all the particular species and genera, which one can regard as subtypes or specialized types, can be derived. The typus does not preclude the theory of evolution. It does not contradict the fact that organic forms evolve out of one another. It is only reason's protest against the view that organic development consists purely in sequential, factual (sense-perceptible) forms. It is what underlies this whole development. It is what establishes the interconnection in all this endless manifoldness. It is the inner aspect of what we experience as the outer forms of living things. The Darwinian theory presupposes the typus.

    The typus is the true archetypal organism; according to how it specializes ideally, it is either archetypal plant or archetypal animal. It cannot be any one, sense-perceptibly real living being. What Haeckel or other naturalists regard as the archetypal form is already a particular shape; it is, in fact, the simplest shape of the typus. The fact that in time the typus arises in its simplest form first does not require the forms arising later to be the result of those preceding them in time. AR forms result as a consequence of the typus; the first as well as the last are manifestations of it. We must take it as the basis of a true organic science and not simply undertake to derive the individual animal and plant species out of one another. The typus runs like a red thread through all the developmental stages of the organic world. We must hold onto it and then with it travel through this great realm of many forms. Then this realm will become understandable to us. Otherwise it falls apart for us, just as the rest of the world of experience does, into an unconnected mass of particulars. In fact, even when we believe that we are leading what is later, more complicated, more compound, back to a previous simpler form and that in the latter we have something original, even then we are deceiving ourselves, for we have only derived a specific form from a specific form.

    Friedrich Theodor Vischer once said of the Darwinian theory that it necessitates a revision of our concept of time. We have now arrived at a point that makes evident to us in what sense such a revision would have to occur. It would have to show that deriving something later out of something earlier is no explanation, that what is first in time is not first in principle. All deriving has to do with principles, and at best it could be shown which factors were at work such that one species of beings evolved before another one in time.

    The typus plays the same role in the organic world as natural law does in the inorganic. Just as natural law provides us with the possibility of recognizing each individual occurrence as a part of one great whole, so the typus puts us in a position to regard the individual organism as a particular form of the archetypal form. 02_index.html []


    best regards,

    john []

  • Once we are there, we can start inflaming the people that belong there by telling them that creationism is wrong, not a scientific "theory", and that it's just religious superstition. It only seems fair since the vast majority of people on Slashdot believe in science and yet we are hounded by a handful of religious zealots every time there is a story that deals with the science of evolution. My advice to those people: If you want to revel in your blind faith belief in creationism, go to a web site aimed at people that eschew science in favor of the comforting lies of Christianity.

    Before replying, consider that a "theory" is not some wild-assed notion that someone pulled out of their *ss. It's not conjecture or wild speculation.
    Today, nearly all biologists acknowledge that evolution is a fact. The term THEORY is no longer appropriate except when referring to the various models that attempt to explain HOW life evolves... it is important to understand that the current questions about how life evolves in no way implies any disagreement over the fact of evolution.

    - Neil A. Campbell, Biology 2nd ed., 1990, Benjamin/Cummings, p.434
  • ' suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances
    for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting
    different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical
    and chromatic aberration could have been formed by natural
    selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.'

    (CHARLES DARWIN, Origin of the Species)

  • I suggest you study carrefully the list of Arguments for the existence of God []. Specially on-topic for the present discussion are arguments 10, 26 and 120:
    (1) If evolution is false, then creationism is true, and therefore God
    (2) Evolution can't be true, since I lack the mental capacity to
    understand it; moreover, to accept its truth would cause me to be
    (3) Therefore, God exists.

    (1) Telling people that God exists makes me filthy rich.
    (2) Therefore, God exists.

    1) Jesus said that people would make fun of Christians.
    2) I am an idiot.
    3) People often point that out.
    4) Therefore, God exists.
  • The theory of evolution is almost entirely irrelevant to the fields of philosophy and theology. As Ludwig Wittgenstein said in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, "The Darwinian theory has no more to do with philosophy than has any other hypothesis of natural science."

    Philosophy consists of epistemology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, and philosophy of language. It is difficult to see any applicability of the theory of evolution in any of these fields. The philosophical argument advanced in the review about the incompatibility of metaphysical idealism with evolution is rather strange. Adherents of the forms of Idealism attacked therein are likely to say that the argument suffers from equivocation. "Species as eternal Forms," I can hear such Idealists saying, "are not sets of animals which can interbreed and have fertile offspring."

    The continual Slashdot derision of Creationism is based on a straw man and/or bandwagon argument and the fallacy of the excluded middle. "Creationists all believe the Universe is less than ten thousand years old and was created in exactly the manner described in Genesis; since this view is disproven, God did not create the Universe!" is the line generally taken here, and there should be no need for an explanation of why this is fallacious. Nor is there any serious threat from the people who say "My Google-based Rules/Sucks-o-meter says God did not create the Universe" or "Contemporary Europeans don't believe God created the Universe."

    No adherent of any metaphysical or theological/anti-theological position need feel that the above is an argument against that position. I have here argued only against misapplying what I think is a solid scientific theory.

"More software projects have gone awry for lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined." -- Fred Brooks, Jr., _The Mythical Man Month_