On the beach with Stephen Jay

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It doesn’t take much to get some attention from the upper echelons of the Intelligent Design movement. All you need is two things:

1. an argument against mainstream evolutionary theory, no matter how old and stale (e.g.: “mutations are not really random”, “we can tell design when we see it”, “natural selection is a tautology”, “common descent is an illusion” etc)

and

2. some sort of claim of authority to prop up that argument (“I have a PhD in a science-related field”; “I design/engineer things for a living, so I know how design works”; “I have written a pioneering/forthcoming/acclaimed book on the topic”; etc).

Of all the latter kind of claims, the most bizarre I have heard is probably the one underlying the latest post at Denyse O’Leary’s blog: she believes a guy’s take on evolution and on Stephen J. Gould’s ideas, because Gould used to spend time at his beach house. Seriously.

(Please note - an update now follows the main entry)

O’Leary’s source is a fellow named Stuart Pivar who, according to O’Leary, is “a chemical engineer as well as an art collector”. He apparently was a good friend of Gould’s:

“steve and ronda would spend weekends at my beach house. we were close friends for years. i officiated at his funeral service.” (S. Pivar, as quoted in O’Leary’s blog entry)

He also dabbles in evolutionary theorizing (but who doesn’t these days? It almost seems that posing as an evolution theorist has become the equivalent of posing as a beat poet in the early ’60s, or a punk rocker in the late ’70s). In fact, Pivar has written a book, titled Lifecode, in which he apparently proposes a structuralist view of evolution. I can’t comment on the book, since I have not read it, but the illustrations look cool. Mr. Pivar has also set up a web site, www.stephenjgould.org, in which he claims to take over the mantle of the late Dr. Gould against - who else? - the evil Darwinist orthodoxy.

OK, so Mr. Pivar is an eclectic spirit, a bit of an eccentric, perhaps with a tendency to self-aggrandizement, but nothing wrong there. Alas, judging from his site, his knowledge of evolutionary biology, and of Gould’s own ideas, can be charitably called rudimentary, or perhaps just confused.

Based on Pivar’s word (because, you know, they spent time together at the beach), O’Leary claims that Gould would have never signed the statement of the National Center for Science Education’s list of Steves:

Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design,” to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation’s public schools.

In particular, Pivar notes:

steve lifes work was to understand evolution. His message was that natural selection was merely an eliminative force with no creative role, capable of choosing for survival among preexisting forms which are produced by other natural structural processes. (S. Pivar, as quoted in O’Leary’s blog entry)

O’Leary, not new to premature triumphalisms, concludes:

If so, this is a major upset in the current intelligent design wars that will surely damage NCSE’s case for teaching Darwinism only in American schools. [emphasis O’Leary’s]

Now, Gould was certainly a strong critic of adaptationism and reflexive selectionist approaches, but neither applies to the Steve’s statement, which clearly recognizes the role of other forces besides selection in evolution.

Never one to shy away from polemics, Gould was often criticized by other scientists for his penchant for staking debates in rather extreme terms, and sometimes caricaturing his opponents’ positions. This trait, together with his vast popularity with the general public, made Gould a favorite source of misquotation by Creationists and assorted opponents of evolutionary theory (to Gould’s great annoyance). Nevertheless, in his professional work, Gould was generally quite careful and clear on the central and creative role of selection in evolution. In his final book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, which pretty much summarizes (eh) and organizes Gould’s entire theoretical view of evolution, he compares evolutionary theory to a branch of coral, in which fundamental theoretical concepts are organized along the axis: a main basal trunk representing agency (the theory of natural selection at the organismal level as the “causal locus” of evolution), is followed by the two upper branches efficacy (“selection acts as the primary creative force in building evolutionary novelties”) and scope (“microevolutionary modes and processes can, by extrapolation through the vastness of geological time, explain the full panoply of life’s changes in form and diversity”). These are in turn followed by higher branches representing, in Gould’s view, secondary aspects of the theory. Gould extends the metaphor comparing criticisms of the theory to cuts at different levels on the coral (lower for more destructive criticisms, higher for less consequential ones). He says:

The cut labeled K1 on Figure 1-4 [at the base of the coral - AB] would have severed the entire coral by disproving natural selection as an evolutionary force at all. The cut labeled K2 would have fully severed the second branch, leaving natural selection as a legitimate cause, but denying it any creative power, and thereby dethroning Darwinism as a major principle in explaining life’s history. (We shall see, in chapters 3-6, that such a denial of creativity underlay the most common anti-Darwinian argument in the first generation of debates.) The cut labeled K3 would have fully severed the third branch, allowing that natural selection might craft some minor changes legitimately called “creative” in a local sense, but denying that Darwin’s mechanism could be extended to explain the panoply of macroevolutionary processes, or the actual pageant of life’s history. The success of any one of these K-cuts would have destroyed Darwinian theory, plain and simple. None of them succeeded, and the foundation of Darwinian logic remains intact and strong. [emphasis mine] (S.J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Harvard University Press, 2002, p.20)

Gould then proceeds to describe other higher-level cuts that have modified secondary branches of the theory, or “coral”, while leaving its central tenets, the trunk and main branches, intact. There too he says something else relevant to the topic:

On the second branch of efficacy, the cut labeled R2 accepts the validity of Darwin’s argument for creativity (by leaving the base of the branch intact), but introduces a sufficient weight of formalist thinking - via renewed appreciation of the enormous importance of structural, historical and developmental constraint in channeling the pathway of evolution, often in very positive ways - that the pure functionalism of a strictly Darwinian (and externalist) approach to adaptation no longer suffices in explaining the channeling of phyletic directions, and the clumping and inhomogeneous population of organic morphospace. (S.J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Harvard University Press, 2002, p.21)

In other words, Gould saw structuralist principles, together with the role of contingency and developmental contraints, as applying on top of a solid Darwinian theoretical foundation, not to supplant natural selection as a major creative force in evolution, but to influence its outcome. This is a view consistent with the Steves’ statement, and most certainly shared, with accommodations for varying emphasis on this or that aspect, by the vast majority of modern biologists.

For those who have read Gould’s primary scientific works this is really nothing new, since - misunderstandings and histrionisms aside - his views on the matter did not change very much over time (see for instance ref. 1, or the text of his Cambridge University Tanner Lecture in 1984). Perhaps he talked differently after a few pina coladas, who knows. However, his legacy as a scientist should be found in his own articles and books, not on the web site of some beach buddy, no matter how close.

References 1. Gould, SJ. 1982. Darwinism and the expansion of evolutionary theory. Science 216: 380-7.

UPDATE - 10/25/05 2:30 pm O’Leary, who doesn’t know when to stop digging herself a hole, has returned to the topic this morning in a new post attacking Genie Scott and visibly vibrating at uttering the word “scandal”.

Mr. Pivar has apparently contacted her again, reiterating his point:

Steve Goulds life work featured the debunking of natural selection as the cause of anything more important than the differences in the beaks of finches, in his investigation of the causes of evolution. The Steve List is the appropriation of his name in the propagation of a theory which he opposed his entire life long. Every statement SJG ever made rejects natural selection, and none can be found in its support. Is this colossal misunderstanding innocent incompetence, or a soviet style paradigm takeover? [emphasis mine]

Perhaps “eccentric” was too mild a term for Mr. Pivar. His claim that all of Gould’s published statements reject natural selection, and none can be found to support it, is belied by the quotes and references I mentioned above, and by that provided by Glen Davidson in a comment to this entry. Glen’s quote is actually particularly nice, in that by identifying natural selection as “a major cause of evolution”, is almost identical to the wording in the Steves’ statement.

So far, it seems that the only scandal is Denyse O’Leary’s continuing reliance, in her commentaries about evolution, on information of dubious credibility, rather than on widely available primary sources.

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Now, there's an opera I wouldn't mind seeing! It could be written entirely with passages from his "Natural History" essays. It would have leitmotivs for "contingency" and "constraint", "Bauplan" and "Baseball"... Read More

Denyse O'Leary's Latest Absurdity from Dispatches from the Culture Wars on October 25, 2005 7:06 PM

For those of you who don't know of her, Denyse O'Leary is sort of the ID movement's demented, spastic little cheerleader. She's a Canadian journalist who spends most of her time making profoundly silly claims in support of ID. Her... Read More

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Natural selection, an immensely powerful idea with radical philosophical implications, is surely a major cause of evolution, as validated in theory and demonstrated by countless experiments. But is natural selection as ubiquitous and effectively exclusive as the ultras propose?

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1151

The above is a link to one of Gould’s later articles, one that people tend to point to when they’re discussing Gould’s criticisms of the orthodoxy sometimes seen in “Darwinian” reaction. Unless he was lying in such articles, clearly the specific statements given to us by Denyse are bogus.

OTOH, Gould may have moved somewhat further from natural selection than most biologists would. Certainly we see Dawkins lauded plenty on forums like this one, while Gould is frankly and unhesitatingly opposed to Dawkins’ take on evolution. Of course, Dennett is probably about as good on evolution as he is on consciousness, but I’ll leave it at that.

One might wonder if Gould’s Marxist tendencies may have made him less of a selectionist than some others are. To be sure, that isn’t to say that Gould had biases that more capitalist-influenced biologists have no counterparts to. Either way, he’s obviously very pro-Darwin (without noting that Darwin’s caveats to natural selection did include “Lamarckism”) to the end, and this in large part due to Darwin’s and Wallace’s insights into the “major” role played by “natural selection” in evolution.

“The Unbalanced Centrifuge” may think that someone, somewhere is trying to push “Darwinism Only” in science classes. I’m for teaching Science Only in Science Classes.

I’m for teaching Science Only in Science Classes.

If you actually implemented science classes with 100% pure science, what you would end up with would be sterile and boring. Philosophical rabbit trails, while they shouldn’t be allowed to run amok, stimulate interest. At least that has been my experience both as a student and as a professor.

The Discovery Institute has noted Pivar as an ally in their blog.

My thought is that when you have to resort to boasting art collectors as your allies in science, you must be pretty desperate.

Heddle;

If by implication you mean that teaching ID would add interest to science class… i can only agree if you mean it to be presented like it is, as a one-liner style joke.

wooly Philosophical wabbit wubbish- Heddle

Your science classes must have more boring than mine.

Are we going to discuss the

“First there was nothing and then it exploded” again

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His message was that natural selection was merely an eliminative force with no creative role

…much as Michelangelo’s chisel was merely an eliminative tool to remove the bits of rock that didn’t look like David.

o’leary said: “…the celebrated Steve list - a list of scientists named Steve who oppose creationism (and, presumably, intelligent design theory?).”

even she presumes that intelligent design is creationism. fair enough. she is another unfortunate example of the fact that anybody with access to the internet can start a blog.

If by implication you mean that teaching ID would add interest to science class… i can only agree if you mean it to be presented like it is, as a one-liner style joke.

I’m not implying anything other than if it is your wish that science classes are “science only,” be careful what you wish for. Science-only science classes will bore many students. As in most things, a wee bit of impurity strengthens the final product. This is true especially, but not exclusively, for the non-scientists in the class.

Physics abounds with such examples, and all good physics teachers use them to stimulate interest.

Red State Rabble also comments on the Pivar/O’Leary’s silliness regarding Gould, and extracts another good quote from the same NYRB article Glen linked to above:

” …may I state for the record that I (along with all other Darwinian pluralists) do not deny either the existence and central importance of adaptation, or the production of adaptation by natural selection. Yes, eyes are for seeing and feet are for moving. And, yes again, I know of no scientific mechanism other than natural selection with the proven power to build structures of such eminently workable design.” [emphasis mine] (SJ Gould, Darwinian Fundamentalism, New York Review of Books Volume 44, Number 10, June 12, 1997)

dre wrote: o’leary said: “…the celebrated Steve list - a list of scientists named Steve who oppose creationism (and, presumably, intelligent design theory?).”

even she presumes that intelligent design is creationism. fair enough. she is another unfortunate example of the fact that anybody with access to the internet can start a blog.

Well, waddayaknow, I guess O’Leary hasn’t even bothered reading the statement she is criticizing. The Steves’ statement explicitly opposes “creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to “intelligent design””. Unbelievable.

Utterly no one who has read a few of Gould essay collections could possibly think that Gould would have any difficulties signing the Steve Statement unless they had a severe reading comprehension problem or simply read in Gould’s writings what they wanted it to say.

Every statement SJG ever made rejects natural selection, and none can be found in its support.

Tell this creationist about a very obvious example of an essay of Gould about natural selection and how it worked. That essay has the exact same name as this web site.

It would be trivial to find many others…

I hear Denyse is fond of the ladies, if you know what I mean…

What’s that Scooter? Oh, we’re NOT trying to skewer the ID folks? They’re on our side? Oh, whoops, sorry ‘bout that. Oh, in that case, well, ummm, so Gould was hanging out on the beah with this Pizar guy? Well, I’ve heard from his neighbors that what went on in that house was “anything but science talk.”

Gould’s essay “Evolution as Fact and Theory” has several quotes that express agreement with the “Steve” list, and thus add further refutation of O’Leary’s claims on this matter.

Physics abounds with such examples, and all good physics teachers use them to stimulate interest.

really? do tell! I’d be very curious to see what specifically adds “interest” to a science class for you. Can you provide some specific examples?

Meta-physics Meta-Biology Meta-Zoology Meta-Astrology Postmodernist de-reductionism and dismembering of reality

I’d be very curious to see what specifically adds “interest” to a science class for you. Can you provide some specific examples?

Sure, almost any physics teacher will go beyond “science only” when discussing force laws and the stability of atomic or planetary orbits, and will start and permit some rabbit trails along the lines of “we could not exist if it were not that these laws are inverse square.”

The discussion is not science at all, but it generates interest.

As I said, physics abounds with such discussions. Even more so in a quantum mechanics class.

come on now, specifics please.

not along the lines of, but specific examples. I’d bet that most would still be considered to be demonstrating scientific principles, as opposed to religious ones, as ID does.

do you understand the difference?

and how many high school students participate in quantum mehcanics classes, you think?

STJ,

I don’t know how to be more specific; I haven’t recorded conversations. I do know this: No physics class I ever took or taught was “science only”, and that was a good thing.

I don’t know how to be more specific

on that, i feel free to drop the issue.

Karl, that comment was many orders of magnitude beyond inappropriate. This blog doesn’t constrain speech the way Dembski’s does, but when you make a baseless personal “attack” that wouldn’t even matter if it was true, it does nothing to foster discussion. Eviscerating creationists’ arguments and even pointing out their failure to understand concepts is fine. Making speculations about their sexuality is not. It is an affront to both the ideals of impersonal argument and the dignity of homosexuals.

Wait… maybe I misunderstood your joke, Karl. What exactly are you making fun of?

The poster posing as Karl Rove is making fun of Karl Rove, Harq. Standard Rove tactics, those are.

I made it through a physics minor without any need for fart jokes, so I too am puzzled about the non-science examples needed to make the course interesting.

Occasionally, there were amusing sideshows such as a demonstration of the Bernoulli effect with a beach ball and an air hose. Of course, that’s still physics. I don’t remember any of my professors waxing philosophical about the inverse square law. Actually, I don’t even remember any of them commenting that it’s what you’d expect from Gauss’s law, since the flux is distributed over an area that grows with the square of the distance (such is the quality of a giant lecture at a state U). It was pretty much all about problem solving, but no less interesting for all that, at least if physics is the kind of thing you find interesting.

I’ve always found comments about “We wouldn’t be here if blah blah blah…” to be kind of silly, since they don’t preclude that some other sentient creature adapted to the counterfactual conditions might be there instead–and if the conditions were hostile to any sentient life, then there’d be nobody there to complain about it.

I think you’re being a bit over-literal, David.

I used to look forward to Latin class in high school, partly because the teacher had a penchant for going off on tangents. There was generally some connection with the subject of Latin, but sometimes things got pretty far afield.

Now, I might have learned more Latin if he had stuck to the book; I don’t know. Maybe I would have fallen asleep and learned less.

Had his discursions ventured into something along the lines of “serious scholars have come to doubt whether Cicero ever existed”, or “it turns out the 3d declension is completely bogus”, I think that would be more analogous to what Wesley is talking about.

Hope that helps!

I can’t comment on whether we had ‘science only’ physics lessons, but my physics teacher (many years ago now) used to demonstrate things such as momentum and leverage with the aid of a student and karate moves. (no students were harmed in the demonstrations)

The same teacher also had a bit in the module on transformers and induction. A demonstration setup with a couple of thousand coils on one leg of a U shaped ferrite core and a free moving single ring on the other leg of the core. Some money would be slapped on the table and offered to any (unsuspecting) student who could hold the single coil on the core for more than 20 seconds…

I don’t think I’ve ever fogotten about AC transformers, even If I can’t remember the exact equations.

I was the one posting as Karl Rove. I’m glad that people picked up on the guiding notion.

It started at least as early as George Bush’s bid for the Texas governorship. Besides having Karl plant a bug in his own office, voters heard rumors about Ann Richard’s lesbianism. During the 200 primary, John McCain’s wife was rumored to be a drug addict, and he himself was rumored to have personality disorders. The whole thing with Joseph Wilson reveal chronic tendencies: as Frank Rich put it (NYT, July 17 2005), “The implication that Mr. Wilson was a John Kerry-ish girlie man beholden to his wife for his meal ticket is of a thematic piece with previous mud splattered on Rove political adversaries.” Also during the Iraq war, Matt Cooper, an openly gay reporter who discovered information on Iraq’s WMD contrary to the administration’s wishes found his ignomoniously exposed homosexuality to be the diversion of choice when the spotlight came to his story.

Today, the tactic is to allege that someone (particularly, a woman) is a lesbian. This is absolutely equivalent to the allegation, 200 years ago, that someone was a witch.

If you actually implemented science classes with 100% pure science, what you would end up with would be sterile and boring. Philosophical rabbit trails, while they shouldn’t be allowed to run amok, stimulate interest. At least that has been my experience both as a student and as a professor.

You mean you bore your students to death with your religious opinions?

Do you explain to them why your religious opinions are any more authoritative than anyone else’s?

Matt Cooper, an openly gay reporter who discovered information on Iraq’s WMD contrary to the administration’s wishes found his ignomoniously exposed homosexuality to be the diversion of choice when the spotlight came to his story

I have just one thing to say to that:

Jeff Gannon

Just out of curiosity: I assume Stuart Pivar was not Stephen Jay Gould’s only friend, and I assume there are plenty of surviving friends of Gould’s out there who are practicing evolutionary biologists. So I’m wondering if it would be possible to track down one or more other friends of Steve to give some perspective on Pivar’s claims.

Stephen Stralka wrote

Just out of curiosity: I assume Stuart Pivar was not Stephen Jay Gould’s only friend, and I assume there are plenty of surviving friends of Gould’s out there who are practicing evolutionary biologists. So I’m wondering if it would be possible to track down one or more other friends of Steve to give some perspective on Pivar’s claims.

That would be mere icing on the cake. As both Andrea and Jason have made obvious, Gould made his position clear in numerous publications written over decades, all of which are easily available to both O’Leary and Pivar could they but read for comprehension. Hell, if Pivar was such a good beach buddy of Gould’s, he should have autographed copies in his beach house.

RBH

Sir_Toejam,

I should have said that Matt Cooper found information that Iraq’s WMD were much less significant than the administration wanted us to believe.

And, yes, Jeff Gannon is a part of the wonderful “un-bias the biased media so it can tell the truth about…” charade.

Regarding Gould, look at “A Devil’s Chaplain”, a collection of essays by Richard Dawkins. There is a section in there on a planned letter denouncing creationism to be signed by both Dawkins and Gould, showing that they agreed on far more than they disagreed. Gould died before the letter was complete and Dawkins freely admits it was a real shame that Gould couldn’t bring his literary craftsmanship to something that must now remain forever unfinished.

And, yes, Jeff Gannon is a part of the wonderful “un-bias the biased media so it can tell the truth about…” charade.

I’d say Jeff Gannon (aka Jim Guckert) is the freakin’ poster boy for the hypocrisy of the Bush administration, on many levels!

Not really a defense of Dave… but occasionally I had a science teacher talk about the social implications of science… but it was all based in science… it rarely if ever got controversial… well except for the Earth Science guy, but he was an economic conservative of the first order and had us do experimental work on the effects of erosion from a little stream over millions of years… so I doubt he was “New Earth”. ;)

of course I came from a privileged school district in a blue state where evolution was pretty much a done deal. “God” knows now though, there are probably some stealth candidates on the school board trying to change that. :D

Just so I understand Heddle’s point, if any: do you consider Feynman-style experiments to be “100% science” or not?

If not, why not?

If so, then isn’t “100% science” sufficient to keep kids interested?

andrew,

I never took a course from Feynman, so I do not know if he ever waxed philosophical. It is possible you have a point, providing will can fill classrooms everywhere with Nobel Prize caliber scientists who actually enjoy teaching undergrads and high school students. There are probably what, ten or twenty such people in the entire world?

You know, something else just occurred to me. The Steves list is a joke. Its whole purpose is to mock the creationist lists, and it’s certainly not meant to stand on its own in any way as a serious argument in the evolution wars. If Denyse O’Leary is going to take it seriously enough to think that anything at all depends on whether or not Steve Gould would have signed the statement, the only reasonable response is to mock her.

Ah, more of that fabled Heddle wit. Say, did you hear the one about original sin being coded into our genes? Oooh, my sides hurt.

Pivar’s Lifecode’s jacket flap concludes:

” …life elsewhere must be like ours. The large brained vertebrate is a biological inevitability.”

One of the core themes in Gould’s oeuvre was the role of contingency in messy history & that “replaying the tape” would result in wildly different outcomes – making the above dogma by alleged interpreter & art collector, Mr. www.stephenjgould.org Pivar, rich irony.

Would prof. Steve Steve sign? I mean, I know he’d want to, but what with those thumbs

Kinda hard to hold a pen.

One thing that I haven’t seen noted elsewhere is that Gould, while living, took an extremely proprietary stance towards his prose. He didn’t let mere editors sully his words. Why we should simply accept that Gould, dead, would contemplate having Stuart Pivar do his own hack edit job is beyond me. I’m sure that Gould raised more than a couple of drinks with Richard Milner, editor at Natural History magazine for many years during Gould’s tenure as columnist there. Yet Gould didn’t privilege Milner by letting him re-arrange or, heaven forbid, change his words around. But “The Unbalanced Centrifuge”’s case depends upon trusting Pivar’s unsubstantiated retelling of Gould’s stances over Gould’s own unmeddled-with words. This also makes hash of the tale that Gould was somehow intimidated by “the establishment” into modifying what he would say in print. That’s hogwash, pure and simple. Gould was one of the least conformist commentators around.

(AE BB)

O’Leary has said on uncommon descent that she herself had no opinion on the accuracy of Stuart Pivar’s comment. She said that she was simply writing the comment on the blog to get some disscusion on it, and was herself agnostic on whether or not Stephen Jay Gould would have signed the “Steve list”.

I’ve come to the conclusion that what we need more of is science.

http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/233937

O’Leary has said on uncommon descent that she herself had no opinion on the accuracy of Stuart Pivar’s comment. She said that she was simply writing the comment on the blog to get some disscusion on it, and was herself agnostic on whether or not Stephen Jay Gould would have signed the “Steve list”.

Well, sorry, but she doesn’t get off the hook so easily. She could have verified the accuracy of Pivar’s statement quite easily, with a trip to the local library or even a google search. Sheer intellectual laziness is no better reason for propagating falsehoods than malicious intent.

She could have verified the accuracy of Pivar’s statement quite easily

Are you kidding? Do you really mean to suggest that everything O’Leary posts argues the same brief simply because she’s lazy? By all indications, she spends a great deal of time and energy casting about for anything she can find that might undermine evolution, however absurd it might sound to anyone not pre-convinced. I doubt she’s at all lazy, and probably not even malicious. She Believes! She is *spreading the Good News*. Part of her schtick, of course, is to provide a little protective coloration to give the impression that she’s doing so in good faith.

In response to Andrea Bottaro on October 25, 2005

“It doesn’t take much to get some attention from the upper echelons of the Intelligent Design movement. All you need is two things:

1. an argument against mainstream evolutionary theory, no matter how old and stale … “natural selection is a tautology”)”

Well, what’s wrong with that? At least as it is normally used, evolutionary theory actually is largely tautological which, so it seems to me, is one of the reasons why it is so bad at making clear predictions. Were it less tautological, there might be less need of these arguments about design.

John Hewitt

What’s wrong with it is that it’s BS. See, e.g., http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evo[…]utology.html

Dear Mobius, No, my views on the tautology of evolutionary theory are not BS and, since such luminaries as Popper held the same opinion as me, you might want to consider giving a sensible reply.

Evolutionary theory concerns reproduction of the reproducers, and fitness is defined simply as the ability to reproduce - that is a virtual tautology. One can, and you should, go on to talk about the adaptations that achieve fitness, but such insertions merely extend the tautological loop without removing it. Adaptation is adaptation to the ability to reproduce but adaptation still says nothing specific to the properties of individual organisms.

I do not deny that standard evolutionary theory makes clear and tested predictions about the relations between organisms but such work was more or less completed decades ago. Such studies are highly labour intensive and often involve chance discovery - not a happy situation for gathering relevant data.

Very few of these tests, if any, involve relating adaptation in individual species to any identifiable, evolutionary processes in those individual organisms. One of the many things I dislike about your approach, the kind of standard, modern evolutionary “theory” described in your link, is that it predicts nothing specific about the properties of individual, evolving organisms. (I also think that much of it is not “theory” at all - it is, to use your term, BS.)

Even during his earlier years, Popper was not an antievolutionist, he merely identified this sort of thing as a weakness in evolutionary theory. The early Popper dismissed evolution as vacuous because it made no testable predictions and, at least expressed across the domain of describing individual organisms, I agree with him.

luminaries, Scientists and Philosophers hold the same opinion(s) as the not so modest John Hewitt. Great bit of underground marketing there too by the way I hope you are not as dull as the (metaphysical) material would seem to suggest, maybe you should take up a decent hobby.

The early Popper dismissed evolution as vacuous because it made no testable predictions and, at least expressed across the domain of describing individual organisms, I agree with him.

Good for you Mr Hewitt. Is the early Popper anything like the Late Karl Popper (1902-1994)?

You didn’t read all of the Popper citations on talkorigins.org did you? (shakes head)

If you are going to quote mine to make a trivial point why not check the whole story.

It’s called aim before shooting. It would seem you have blown your foot off.

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evo[…]falsify.html .…. A page of philosophical history ending with.… .… Creationists who say, “evolution is not like what Popper said science should be, so it isn’t science” are like the janitor who says that teachers don’t keep their classrooms clean enough, so they aren’t teachers.

Re “Evolutionary theory concerns reproduction of the reproducers, and fitness is defined simply as the ability to reproduce - that is a virtual tautology.”

That ignores differences in environment in different places and times.

Henry

Both these comments, and the article on talkorigins, display a shallow understanding of philosophy and scientific method and their relationship to tautology. I will give you a simpler example in the hope that you will understand the point I am making.

Consider the hypothesis that men who grow fast become tall. That hypothesis is, I am sure you will agree, not a useful hypothesis because it is tautological, it is essentially self-referential and, because it is so self-contained, cannot cohere with other aspects of science. Still, one could develop it; for example, one could insert the extension of hypothesizing that men who grow fast do so due to growth hormone in their blood stream.

That extension is, I am sure you will agree, in itself, a testable and meaningful extension of the original hypothesis. Nonetheless, the total hypothesis, that men who grow fast have growth and hormone and so become tall, remains tautological - all the testability and meaning is contained within the extension. The bracketing hypothesis is still tautological. The total theory still cannot be a coherent part of science because it remains self-referential.

I am making exactly this point about evolutionary theory and fitness. The hypothesis that reproducers reproduce is tautology. I have no objection to inserting other elements into the loop - environment, adaptation or mechanism of selection. Those insertions can, and should, be testable and meaningful but still my point remains. The theory of evolution that brackets those extensions remains a vacuous tautology. It can never pass a coherence test with the rest of science and that is why I have a problem with it.

I think my work is better because it is not tautological and thus can be testable in its own right.

since such luminaries as Popper held the same opinion as me

This well-worn bogus argument from authority further demonstrates your intellectual charlatanry.

The hypothesis that reproducers reproduce is tautology.

Duh. But it has nothing to do with the ToE.

I think my work is better because it is not tautological and thus can be testable in its own right.

Where’s that list of identifying characteristics of crackpots …

Mr John Hewitt

You are a very, very, very, very very very,very ,very ,very ,very ,very,very,very dull tautolog

How do I know ?

13 COUNT THEM.… THIRTEEN uses of the word tautolog..

in just 3 posts!

congratulations!!

You have personally set a new record in tautology.

Forget the book get onto the Guinness Book or records.

What more can I say?

You are a useless waste of space !!

Re “Evolutionary theory concerns reproduction of the reproducers, and fitness is defined simply as the ability to reproduce - that is a virtual tautology.”

That assumes constant environment and constantsy of hereditary traits. If either can change then it ceases to be a tautology - and both are capable of change.

Re “I do not deny that standard evolutionary theory makes clear and tested predictions about the relations between organisms but such work was more or less completed decades ago.”

That contradicts the first statement. Also, that work wasn’t “completed”; it’s still going on.

Henry

Both these comments, and the article on talkorigins, display a shallow understanding of philosophy and scientific method and their relationship to tautology

Your failure to deal with the effects of environment, indeed, your REFUSAL to deal with it shows you don’t grasp the material at all. That you can even think of splitting the environment away from fitness shows your utter lack of understanding of the basic concept.

Try again. Don’t be an arrogant idiot this time.

By the way, Mr. Hewitt.…it would help if you got Popper RIGHT. You’d look less like an idiot if you didn’t quote a man who changed his mind after your citation of him.

Shallow grasp of the philosophy, indeed.

In my posts above, I made it clear that, in my opinion, evolutionary theory, as normally expressed, is essentially tautological and ill-founded. That is an educated and thought out opinion which I expressed in a way which seemed to me polite and reasonably clear. On coming back to this blog, I notice that the responses were mostly abusive and it is clear that no purpose will be served by continuing the thread.

In my posts above, I made it clear that, in my opinion, evolutionary theory, as normally expressed, is essentially tautological and ill-founded. That is an educated and thought out opinion which I expressed in a way which seemed to me polite and reasonably clear. On coming back to this blog, I notice that the responses were mostly abusive and it is clear that no purpose will be served by continuing the thread.

First of all, I apologize to all for not moderating this thread as I should have.

Dr. Hewitt: I don’t really think your opinion was particularly well thought-out. It is honestly quite absurd to claim that evolutionary theory as a whole is tautological: an individual statement can be a tautology, but a whole scientific theory, incorporating dozens of specific claims, models and explanations clearly cannot.

Some people certainly have claimed before that the basic concept of natural selection is tautological (an opinion often repeated by anti-evolutionists of various stripes), but that claim is also erroneous. In the appropriate conditions, natural selection’s effects can predicted before any reproduction occurs - that would be impossible if all there was to it was the tautological “reproduction of the reproducers”. The argument has really been empirically put to rest a long time ago.

That said, I agree with you that some of the replies to you were unacceptable. The combined effect of these ill-mannered posts was to actually cloud what were basic good arguments against Dr. Hewitt’s claims. Certainly, any uncommitted reader would have been put off by them.

So, I’ll let this thread go on for a few more days if anyone has anything to add. After that, I’ll close it off. Any offensive or rude post will be deleted without notice.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Andrea Bottaro published on October 25, 2005 1:38 PM.

The bass-ackwardness of ID proponents was the previous entry in this blog.

Would Gould Have Signed the Steves List? is the next entry in this blog.

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