Unexpected consequences

| 94 Comments

Salvador Cordova (YEC) wrote a triumphant piece on Uncommon Descent that Allen MacNeill had declared Neo-Darwinism to be dead. Most of us are quite familiar with IDers or YECers declaring that Neo-Darwinism is dead, which to them (via the application of the logical fallacy of a false duality) means that ID must of course be right. Since ID has no positive evidence to provide or to rely on, one should not be too surprised by such desperate measures.

As expected, the announcement backfired when Allen responded

IDers and YECs who hail the “death of Darwinism” are like the poor benighted souls who hailed the death of the “horseless carriage” and the return to “normal equine transportation” in 1905 or thereabouts: they are either ignorant of the most basic principles of current evolutionary theory, or they see the onrush of the juggernaught and close their eyes to avoid witnessing the impending impact.

And this hilarious response

Allen MacNeill Wrote:

On the contrary, I thought Wiker and Dembski’s book was crystal clear: that the philosophical implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection are the source of most if not all of modern society’s ills, from the rise of Naziism to the tendency for men to leave the toilet seat up.

This is, of course, news to those of us who actually do evolutionary biology for a living, who have loving families and friends, and who participate in social and religious communities in which most of us do not commit genocide and (unless we forget to do so because we are sleep-walking) we leave the toilet seat down…

94 Comments

Ok, another hilarious response, this time by Benz

Benz Wrote:

Let me clarify what I think is real implication: Darwin’s (unscientific) part of his theory, which through intellectual-exchange down the ages picked up by Darwin, snuck in total randomness in matter and an exclusion of any interacting God in nature. These might not be the “true” implications of his theory—as you suggest because it’s “news to you”—but they are the ones Darwin intended and people picked up one.

There are so many problems with this single paragraph that I have a hard time deciding where to start: Darwin snuck in total randomness… an an exclusion of any interacting God in nature… These might not be the ‘true’ implications of his theory but Darwin still intended them…

Sigh… No wonder that ID in some circles still seems to have some credibility.… Where do these people get their information anyway?

Darwin ‘snuck in’ variation, and did not use the term ‘random’ or ‘randomness’ to describe such variation.

Exclusion of any interacting God in nature

Darwin Wrote:

“What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one but myself. But, as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates…In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an Atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. I think that generally (and more and more as I grow older), but not always, that an Agnostic would be the more correct description of my state of mind.”

and

“It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came, and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to me that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.”

Re “Where do these people get their information anyway?”

Maybe from each other, in a sort of positive feedback loop?

Where do they get their information? Easy! Next time you go to the bathroom.…

I was amazed that they would try to use MacNeill in their quote mine, since he famously does visit, and comment on, UD. Is Cordova really so befuddled that he doesn’t know how badly he takes these things out of context, that he does it right in front of the author?

I’m guessing that he has never caught onto the nuances in biological writing, having had quite a different education, and he always reacted against, instead of learning, evolutionary theory.

About this:

Benz wrote:

Let me clarify what I think is real implication: Darwin’s (unscientific) part of his theory, which through intellectual-exchange down the ages picked up by Darwin, snuck in total randomness in matter and an exclusion of any interacting God in nature. These might not be the “true” implications of his theory—as you suggest because it’s “news to you”—but they are the ones Darwin intended and people picked up one.

I wanted to add to Pim’s comments above, that Darwin wrote of the “little known laws of variation” (emphasis added), and occasionally he also wrote as if natural selection itself is a “law”:

The old argument of design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of natural selection has been discovered.

[bolding added]

http://www.update.uu.se/~fbendz/lib[…]cd_relig.htm

continued below:

Leaving aside the randomness of Benz’s English, we might note that Darwin actually was trying to show how nature is not random, or the mere whim of a god or gods (which is why his theory does have some appeal to those whose God is a god of order). ID, unfortunately, does not explain things according to order, “laws”, or regularity. Dembski specifically means to exclude “regularity” as well as “accident” to get to what he imagines is the default of those two, “design”. There is something more than a little bizarre and counter-intuitive about concluding “design” due to a lack of regularity, but so it goes in ID.

No, it’s Dembski who denies the regularity that we are concerned about using, and having taught in schools. What he does to appeal to the ignorance of the many is to treat evolution as if it were a random search through possibilities, and he limits these possibilities much more than is warranted, as well.

But again, the greatest problem with ID is that it recognizes no regularities (aside from the physical parameters), even denying that “good design” (or rational design) is the mark of the designer whose abilities far exceed our own at the present time. By contrast, when we identify “designers”, such as humans or animals, we are interested in the regularities—the rationality and the psychologies behind them—that appear in the causes and effects of their respective designs. Crucially, evolution explains both good and bad “designs”, and more importantly, it explains how both arise causally.

Unfortunately, Dembski’s depictions of evolution as “random” are what are noticed by many naive folk, while his denial of regularity in origins is welcomed by the same folk (it’s all gussied up with jargon they don’t understand, but it’s all true so long as it disproves “godless” evolution). The false claim of the randomness of evolution is held against the latter, while the true lack of regularity in ID is held to be a virtue (in short, this owes much to the fact that these people don’t understand the regularity of evolution (for various reasons), and want order to be dictated by God). It is the inversion of reality, and even of their own proclaimed values, as they reject order and proclaim the superior science of whimsy.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

PvM:

Where do these people get their information anyway?

According to a Small Group Communication web site these are the negative consequences of groupthink:

Some negative outcomes of groupthink include:

* Examining few alternatives * Not being critical of each other’s ideas * Not examining early alternatives * Not seeking expert opinion * Being highly selective in gathering information * Not having contingency plans

Misrepresenting a scientist’s dissent from some aspect of evolutionary theory as being more than it is, happens quite frequently over at Uncommonly Dense. Here’s Denyse, kind of arguing that Larry Moran isn’t really a Darwinist, or something. I’m not quite sure what the hell she’s saying, actually.

http://www.uncommondescent.com/arch[…]19#more-1719

Maybe from each other, in a sort of positive feedback loop?

It’s the lesser known but not rare enough negative feedback loop.

Sometimes it seems ID takes the Brylcreem approach to quotations, just “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya!” A short quote taken out of context much to the chagrin of the original author. This gives ID that greasy appearance in its attempts to repopularize an old fad.

BHT, Butylated hydroxytoluene, an ingredient in Brylcreem is also found in embalming fluid and seems to be ideal agent for ID. It helps preserve those tired worn out arguments for recycling.

The resurgence of pomades and hair creams since the late 1990’s correlates well with the output of material from the proponents of ID beginning in 1996 with Behe’s “Darwin’s Black Box” and then Dembski’s “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities” in 1998. Could it be that one of the unintended consequences of ID is the resurgence of pomande usage world wide?

Bruce Thompson Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Re “It’s the lesser known but not rare enough negative feedback loop.”

That doesn’t sound right. Negative feedback is where two or more things successively reduce, suppress and/or diminish each other. Positive feedback is where they successively increase, strengthen, or encourage each other.

This may be somewhat off topic but MacNeil’s statements actually irritated me more than those of the other posters on UD. As entertaining as it might be to make sport of the responses to MacNeil I believe that his rhetoric is equally open to criticism. Here is the key statement from his response that allowed the IDers to use his work in the first place.

“What is “dead” is the core doctrine of the “modern evolutionary synthesis” that based all of evolution on gradualistic changes in allele frequencies in populations over time as the result of differential reproductive success.”

He then goes on to cite a number of developments in evolutionary biology since the synthesis that have putatively led to its downfall including the development of kin selection and neutral theory, endosymbiosis, punctuated equilbria, constraints on evolution, and evo-devo. Some of these developments are direct developments from the modern synthesis and others are orthogonal to it rather than in opposition.

How is Hamilton’s work or Kimura’s in any way a challenge to this ‘core doctrine’? Both are explicitly based on the population genetic framework created by Fisher, Haldane, and Wright. They rely on allele changes due to differential reproductive success (drift is based on differential reproductive success, just like selection - it just isn’t linked to a phenotype).

Endosymbiosis theory and the explosion of work in evo-devo have both enormously enhanced our understanding of evolution. I fail to see how either of these is an assault on the modern synthesis. No matter where they are and no matter what they do genes still have variants (i.e. alleles) and drift, selection, etc. will still cause or prevent changes in allele frequencies.

The enthusiastic endorsements of stasis and constraints as alternatives to the modern synthesis (as in PE and the Spandrels paper) seem to indicate a complete lack of understanding of selection as a stabilizing force. Note - I’m not acccusing Lewontin of not understanding basic evolutionary theory - I think that the Spandrels paper was a good antidote to pan-adaptationism but hardy a refutation of the modern synthesis as MacNeil claims.

I think there is widespread confusion between the population level processes driving or restraining evolutionary phenotypic change and the organismal/cellular/molecular mechanisms that facilitate the observed phenotype. Very little was known about those mechanisms at the time of the synthesis. We know a lot more now. I have yet to see a convincing argument that the fundamental processes of evolutionary change have been cast into doubt by the discovery of any of these mechanisms.

My complaint is this - people who make important advancements in evolutionary biology seem to be given to hyperbole - claiming that phenomenon X has revolutionized evolutionary biology and overthrown the modern synthesis. Aside from providing ammunition to anti-evolutionists I think it confuses well-intentioned, curious bystanders.

Right, Kevin. I think of the ‘modern synthesis’ as being dead like Homo erectus is dead. It’s true in one sense, but it’s rather partial to simply say that H. erectus is dead without noting that H. sapiens evolved from H. erectus—and in an important sense is H. erectus in modified form.

Unless the architects of the modern synthesis declared that their work would be untouchable and unquestioned dogma—which I believe is only an ID/creo delusion—the evolution of the modern synthesis into today’s theory might be considered as the triumph of the synthesis. The modifications have been substantial, but the progress is characterized more by gradualism than by saltations.

But saying that the modern synthesis is dead gets rather more attention than does delineating the successes of the theory in allowing for evolutionary modifications.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

KevinD Wrote:

My complaint is this - people who make important advancements in evolutionary biology seem to be given to hyperbole -

Thank you for noticing. Evo-devo, stabilizing selection, speciation, all are subject to the spread, or not, of mutations [by no means restricted to point mutations] in populations. Population genetics has not gone away.

Too bad Kuhn isn’t dead. This idea of science proceeding by revolutions is responsible for a lot of mischief.

Who is Allen MacNeill anyway to criticize the work of me and my (admittedly sometimes confused) colleagues like Professor Wright? Up here in heaven I have access to Web of Science, but I cannot seem to locate the man’s work.

“That doesn’t sound right.”

I think it was meant as a joke.

“Negative feedback is where two or more things successively reduce, suppress and/or diminish each other. Positive feedback is where they successively increase, strengthen, or encourage each other.”

In systems theory or applications such as electronics feedback is when the output of a system (a “thing”) adds to the input, with or without inversion and/or amplification. If it subtracts it is negative, if it adds it is positive.

I was amazed that they would try to use MacNeill in their quote mine, since he famously does visit, and comment on, UD. Is Cordova really so befuddled that he doesn’t know how badly he takes these things out of context, that he does it right in front of the author?

I wonder just how polite and upstanding Allen thinks Sal is now?

As entertaining as it might be to make sport of the responses to MacNeil I believe that his rhetoric is equally open to criticism

completely agree. Allen has said a great many odd things over the last year or so.

hard to figure what his game is, exactly. Pim has speculated, but I don’t agree, that his method, whatever it really is, will have positive results in the long term.

does Allen have tenure at Cornell yet?

Just curious.

Chip Poirot Wrote:

Too bad Kuhn isn’t dead.

You can say that again! You have no idea how much of a bother this is.

Braaaaaaaaiiiiinnnnssss…

Sir TJ — Almost surely yes.

It might help to realize that Allen’s speaking very narrowly when he speaks of the “modern synthesis” as being dead:

Motoo Kimura and Tomiko Ohto dealt the “modern synthesis” its coup de grace: the neutral theory of genetic evolution, which pointed out that the mathematical models upon which the “modern synthesis” was founded were fundamentally and fatally flawed.

Elsewhere he defends Darwin heartily, etc etc.

Waterloo !!!!! Waterloo !!!!!! Waterloo !!!!!!

(snicker) (giggle)

I’m not quite so sure as David that MacNeill is tenured. As best I can tell, he’s only got an M.A.:

I found the following at http://www.clt.cornell.edu/campus/l[…]scstaff.html.

Allen MacNeill earned a BS in biology from Cornell in 1974 and an MA in science education from Cornell in 1977, and has taught the support course for introductory biology at Cornell University since 1976. As a senior lecturer for the Learning Strategies Center, Allen works with students taking both majors and non-majors introductory biology. In addition, he organizes and carries out in-service training for teaching assistants in biology and related fields. Allen also teaches evolution for the Cornell Summer Session, and has taught the introductory evolution course for non-majors at Cornell. He has served as a Faculty Fellow at Ecology House and as an honorary member and faculty advisor for the Cornell chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society. He has served on numerous advisory committees and editorial boards at Cornell and in the Ithaca community.

“Senior lecturer” doesn’t have the ring of a tenured position to me. On the other hand, he’s certainly been teaching biology at Cornell for a long time, so David may still be right.

Whatever the answer may be, neither our critiques of–nor agreements with–MacNeill’s take on the Evo-Creo discursion should probably turn on that particular credential.

Dhogaza Wrote:

It might help to realize that Allen’s speaking very narrowly when he speaks of the “modern synthesis” as being dead

Hm. So what is it we’ve got now, then? A postmodern synthesis?

In Britain, a senior lecturer is ‘tenured’, being equivalent, approximately, to associate professor. Don’t know what it means at Cornell, tho’…

I’m no expert at parsing acadamese (acadamesian?), but I would hazard that, generally speaking (snaps to attention), “lecturers” in our institutions of higher learning are not included among tenured faculty.

But I’ll agree with David that that generality doesn’t tell us much about the employment structure at Cornell.

Shoulda said, “American acadamese…”

the only reason i was thinking about it was that a lot of what Allen is doing might be considered a “tenure stunt” (i.e., actions intended to attract attention to promote tenure), but if he’s been teaching at Cornell since 76, that seems extremely unlikely.

It was just idle curiosity, really. I have some concerns about some of the odd remarks and the work Allen thinks typical of evo psych, but that’s totally OT for this thread.

the remark about what Allen now thinks of Salvador is not though, and I am actually kinda curious to see if Salvador’s latest missive affects Allen’s impression of him.

I’m sure he’ll just sit Sal down and discuss the matter with him, politely and in a civil manner. Whereupon Sal will slap himself on the forehead, realize he was wrong, and apologize profusely.

(snicker) (giggle)

Sharp-eyed pandas have guessed correctly: I do not have a tenure-track appointment at Cornell. On the contrary, I have been a full-time lecturer (now senior lecturer) at Cornell for thirty years. In that position, I have taught introductory biology (for both majors and non-majors) and introductory evolution (for non-majors). As long as I keep doing a good job at those two tasks (you can check out how some of my students rate me at Rate-Your-Professor.com, and I have twice been nominated for the Clark Award for outstanding teaching at Cornell), my position will continue to be renewed every five years, as it has for the past thirty.

As a senior lecturer, I am not required to do research nor publish the results thereof. However, like many of my colleagues at Cornell who are lecturers and senior lecturers, I have done so anyway, on my own time and my own dime. My most recent publications are described at my website (http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/). I am also writing an introductory evolution textbook under contract with a major academic publisher and a lecture series on evolutionary psychology for The Teaching Company.

And yes, I do not have a PhD. When other people were getting theirs, I was already teaching full time at Cornell and raising my family (which continues to grow, as my wife and I have yet another Goonie on the way). Personally, I take consolation in the fact that Darwin didn’t either; his only academic degree was a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Cambridge University. He was therefore just “Charles” to his friends and “Mr. Darwin” to his supporters and detractors alike. If it was okay for him, it’s okay for me.

I haven’t seen the whole of what Allen’s thinking is here, but the quoted bit seems quite at odds with just about everybody who actually does work on those Cichlids.

I should know, I spent three years in one of the labs at Berkeley that was in fact trying to test various aspects of Malawi and Tanganyika cichlids.

I think he’s barking up the wrong tree, literally.

Thanks man, I thought there was something fishy about his claim :)

I’d be happy to consider the possibility of macroevolutionary processes that can’t be explained by microevolution. (Besides the obvious ones, like mass extinctions) But many of the suggestions for such processes seem a bit vague.

But many of the suggestions for such processes seem a bit vague.

I do hope Allen proceeds to get serious feedback before he decides to write a book or something.

there are some excellent evolutionary biologists at Cornell I do hope he will consult with, like Harry Greene, for example.

Re “macroevolutionary processes”

Would diversification of separate lineages be considered a “process”, or would it just be considered as several instances of repeated microevolution?

Henry

Would diversification of separate lineages be considered a “process”, or would it just be considered as several instances of repeated microevolution?

Depends, see for example:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mac[…]croevolution

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 17, 2006 9:23 PM.

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