Sunday, January 20, 2008

Darwin As Icon Posted by olvlzl.

When this series was planned, it was to be posted on successive Saturdays with Sunday’s free to post about news items. Circumstances led me to change that schedule a bit, moving things up. The third part will be posted next Saturday.

One of the weeks would have to deal with Darwin, there wasn’t any way to dodge that hot topic any longer, and I knew that would be the most controversial. Darwin is a number of things to different people depending on their agendas and, apparently, on whether they’d bothered to read him and his followers.

Those who really read the post yesterday will see, that was anticipated. And anyone who also bothered to read Part One will see, I am not a creationist, a stealth ID quack or any of the other assorted things attributed to me in the comments and the e-mails I’ve gotten. The posted and e-mailed suspicions that I would support Huckabee only prove that some people who can type apparently can’t read. By the way, if you want to e-mail your invectives, I don’t open attachments. Please use this address,

For some who believe they are supporting “science”, Darwin is an icon, an ideological figurehead with not much relation to his writings and life. From what I’ve seen, you don’t have to have the slightest idea of Darwin to be that kind of a Darwinist. Unfortunately that works just as well for rallying the opponents of evolutionary science. He’s also an icon of creationism, and, I’m sorry to say, as an icon of the devil, he’s worked a lot better for them than he has for science. If you don’t believe that, look at the polls so frequently bemoaned by the would be, pro-science side of this struggle. The battle for the public understanding of science doesn’t seem to be going our way, anyone with an interest in science should find new tactics or the war will be lost.

I’d thought of writing a post about the politics of Darwinism within science, having followed a few of the vicious fights over even minor attempts to introduce additional mechanisms of evolution for consideration (no, ‘intelligent design’ was even considered) but it would have gotten way too long. One of the things found while researching that topic was this abstract by Susannah Varmuza of the University of Toronto. This says it better than I can.

Evolution is an idea that inspires huge emotional responses, in part because it speaks to our very identities. The religious overtones associated with debates about evolution are not restricted to those between evolutionary biologists and creationists (the inspiration for the quote above). Among evolutionary biologists, there is an aura of deification of Darwin that tends to stifle discourse on ideas that are construed by the mainstream to be anti-Darwinian, perhaps, as pointed out by Gould (1981), to counteract the political machinations of the creationist movement. Over the decades, attempts by non-traditionalists to introduce new thinking into the study of evolution have met with either stony silence or rancorous derision. Goldschmidt, Gould, and proponents of Lamarckian inheritance can still raise hackles, even posthumously (‘Goldschmidt is a bum!’ echoed around the lecture theatre at a recent scientific meeting, 44 years after his death.

You should read the entire thing if you’re interested in evolution and genetics. I’ve got the feeling the epigenetics might help open up a lot of new areas into the effectively infinite reality of EVOLUTION. But they have to stop pretending that Darwin can’t be questioned first.