Category Archives: Charles Darwin
The now Vice-President of the United States stands accused of having said that evolution is “just a theory”; see here and here. No he did not say that. What he did say (full text below, with notes) was far, far worse. Much more detailed and much more dangerous.
L: Pence being sworn in as a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee (CNN)
After reminding us that he was trained in law and history, he mangles the historical facts and legal significance of a key court case (the Scopes trial).
By quotemining a secondary source,* which he treats as if primary, he twists the then-recent discovery of Sahelanthropus into an argument against the underlying science. It is changeable, he argues, therefore it is uncertain.
He justifies this manoeuvre by harping on the ambiguous word “theory”, and making a falsely rigid distinction between theory and fact.
R: Sahelanthropus tchadensis, photo from Smithsonian Human Origins website
And worst of all, he asks his colleagues to “demand [emphasis added] that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory”. The proponent, when it suits him, of small Government wants Washington to tell teachers how to teach.
Pence has been accused of stupidity because of the factual and logical errors contained in his speech. On the contrary, Read the rest of this entry
Evolution has nothing to do with progress. Most evolution doesn’t even have anything to do with adaptation, and it is perfectly possible for a change that is worse than useless to spread through a population. Paradoxically, however, such non-adaptive change may be a necessary prelude for major adaptations.
This post was inspired by a recent opinion piece (open access here1) in BMC Biology, entitled “Splendor and misery of adaptation, or the importance of neutral null for understanding evolution” (I will explain what “neutral null” means later). The paper itself is in parts highly technical, with 86 references to the original scientific literature, but I will try here to give a general overview of some of the main conclusions, and to place them in context.
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution – Dobzhanski, American Biology Teacher, 1973
Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of population genetics – Lynch, PNAS, 2007
Darwin and Wallace both thought that evolution was driven by selection. If so, then whenever we find a feature in an organism, Read the rest of this entry
How Darwin’s name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders. And when I wrote about this last year, I did not expect to have to add a US Vice-President to their number.
Charles Darwin never thought of evolution as anything other than a theory. He hoped that someday it would be proven by the fossil record but did not live to see that, nor have we. – Representative (now Vice-President) Mike Pence, 2002, via Forbes
Trump’s Education Secretary Nominee DeVos Should Challenge Darwinism* – David Klinghoffer, CNS, 13 January 2017 
Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Don’t say theory when you mean historical fact. And don’t say you believe in evolution, when you mean you accept it on the basis of the evidence.
Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don’t say “Darwin” when you mean “evolution”. It’s like saying “Dalton” when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton’s time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin’s. Neither of them knew, or could have known, anything about what caused the phenomena they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded. Read the rest of this entry
This by my friend the geologist, historian, and Anglican priest Michael Roberts, reminding us that the acceptance and active participation of clergymen and other believers in the emerging sciences of biology and evolution dates back more than three centuries.
If you read many historical studies of Britain in the 19th century, you will read that a major conflict was over science. That claim is overstated. Here is a brief overview.
Geology (Deep Time) and Evolution?
From reading many books on church history, general history or popular science, it is easy conclude that advances in geology in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then evolution after 1859 had gradually been undermining belief in God as Creator as well as an almost official literal reading of the early part of the book of Genesis. The actuality is rather different.
Genesis 1 from a 1611 copy of the KJV
So often the work of Archbishop James Ussher is cited as the “official” view of the churches. In 1656 he published his Annales Veteris Testamenti (Annals of the Old Testament) which gave the famous date of creation as 4004BC. (Actually, it has…
View original post 1,651 more words
An excellent historical summary by my friend Michael Roberts, who has himself revisited the sites that Darwin explored in Wales. Darwin the geologist and Darwin the naturalist are inseparable.
HE ORIGIN OF DARWIN AS A NATURALIST
Darwin concluded The Origin of Species with this magnificent paragraph;
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms…
View original post 3,712 more words
Glen Roy is a valley in the Western Scottish Highlands, just south of the Great Glen (home to Loch Ness), and draining through Glen Spean to Loch Linnhe, an inlet of the Atlantic. It is remarkable for the presence of the Roads, a series of parallel, almost horizontal, grooves in the hills on the sides of the glen. Clearly shorelines; but of what body of water? And why are there more than one of them?
Darwin thought the Roads represented vanished marine shorelines, one above the other as the result of vertical movement. Agassiz explained them, rather, as successive shorelines of a glacial lake, now vanished because the retaining glacier has melted away. If so, and if global warming is real, we might expect to see vanishing lakes today, as the glaciers retreat. We can, and we do, as my friend Peter Hess explains.
Charles Darwin visited the Glenroy area in 1838, two years after his return from his round the world voyage on the Beagle. During that voyage, he had examined the geology as well as the plants and animals of the places he visited, and among them was the coastal area of Chile. This is marked by raised beaches inland where once had been shoreline, and Darwin correctly described these as the effects of uplift, which we now know to be driven by plate tectonics. So it was natural that Darwin should have applied a similar explanation to the Roads, suggesting that the Cairngorms, like the Andes, were a zone of uplift, and that the Roads were ancient beaches of the Atlantic, now some ten miles away. The alternative theory, that they represented shorelines of an ancient lake, ran up against a seemingly conclusive objection; such a lake could only have formed if there had been a barrier across the valley, but there was no trace of this.
Only a year later, the Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz visited the area. He had just published his Ice Age theory, and in the Highlands he found plenty of evidence to support it; scratches on bedrock caused by the passage of glaciers, erratics (boulders far from their parent rock formations), and moraines (piles of rock rubble that had been carried by glaciers, left in place when the glacier melted).
Evidence of this kind is not difficult to find throughout much of Scotland. I saw some of it myself earlier this month a few miles from Glasgow as a student on Glasgow University extension course (see illustrations). Agassiz realised that his ice age theory also provided the correct answer to the mystery of the Roads. Yes, there had been a lake, and yes, the roads did represent the shorelines at different times, carved into the sides of the valley by fierce freeze-thaw cycles. As for the barriers holding the lake in place at different levels over the course of time, they were a series of long vanished glaciers.
We now know that Agassiz was basically correct. Indeed, we can trace a whole series of glaciations, not just a single ice age. And Darwin was right in thinking that the area has experienced uplift; it could not fail to do so as the weight of ice above it melted away.
Later Darwin was to write of his paper on the Roads as his greatest blunder. He had visited Snowdonia in North Wales in 1831, as a student companion of the noted geologist Adam Sedgwick, who had been looking for fossils. In his Autobiography (p. 70) he laments how
“neither of us saw a trace of the wonderful glacial phenomena all around us; we did not notice the plainly scored rocks, the perched boulders, the lateral and terminal moraines. Yet these phenomena are so conspicuous that … a house burnt down by fire did not tell its story more plainly than did this valley.”
But it took Darwin several years to reach this point, and even then he persisted for a while with hybrid explanations, in which icebergs rather than retreating glaciers had deposited at least some of the erratics.
Agassiz rejected Darwin’s concept of evolution when it was published twenty years later, but this does not seem to have diminished Darwin’s respect for him. Belief in the fixity of species was, in the 1860s, understandable conservatism, even if now, 150 years later, it is no more than deliberately cultivated ignorance.
The present is key to the past. It follows that the past can increase our understanding of the present. And so it is in this case. The glaciers of Switzerland are receding. Those of the southern Andes are receding even faster. Among them is Chile’s Colonia glacier, which dams a lake, Lake Cachet 2, some 3 square kilometers in area. As the glacier shrinks and weakens, it becomes progressively less able to hold back the water of the lake, which now periodically bursts through; on one recent occasion, the lake emptied itself overnight.
The overflow channel through which the vanished Loch Roy must have drained can still be detected as an abrupt narrow valley in the surrounding hillsides. The draining of Lake Cachet II sent 200,000 tonnes of water overnight down Chile’s main river, and caused giant waves as far as the Pacific Ocean, 60 miles away.
Since Agassiz and Darwin examined the roads of Glen Roy, the earth’s mean surface temperature has increased by roughly 1oC, with another 0.5oC in the pipeline even if emissions were to be stabilised at the same levels as in the year 2000.
Which, of course, they won’t be.
Darwin’s drawing of the Roads from Darwin Online. Dunglass Crag, photos by author. Darwin’s boulders photographed by Michael Roberts. Lake Cachet II images via NCSE. Global temperature anomaly graph from NASA GISS via Wikipedia
h/t Michael Roberts, Dana Nuccitelli, Peter Hess. An earlier version of this post appeared in 3 Quarks Daily.
A lengthy scholarly discussion by my friend Michael Roberts of the concept of design, from Paley to the present day, making important distinctions between different concepts of design, and placing the Intelligent Design (ID) movement in context. The author, a geologist and historian (and CofE priest), argues that Paley’s concept of the individual design of organisms was obsolete long before Darwin, given the discoveries of deep time and the rich sequential fossil record. Present-day ID is a curious hybrid, and its evolution is discussed in some detail. However, neither the refutation of Paley nor the demolition of ID affect broader design arguments, such as that from fine-tuning or the glory of the natural world. (Disclosure: as my friends will know, I do not find these latter arguments convincing, but I do consider them worthy of respect, and have criticised attempts to use them as justification for evolution-denying creationism, which is not.)
A SHORT HISTORY OF DESIGN Michael Roberts
The first thing I should do is to define what Design is. That would be no easy task as the word is used in so many different ways to mean so many different things. I hope some of the variety of meanings comes clear in this paper. Part of the confusion is that Design can be synonymous with the teleological argument for the existence of God, but often it is more restricted to biological structures. Hence Design means different things to different people. Distinguishing between these meanings is important as confusion reigns when one switches from one to another. To give a rough typology there are four types of design;
1 Design of the universe; – front-loading or teleological (fine tuning)
2. Guidance of natural processes through history; Asa Gray
3. Ahistorical recognition of biological structures as designed; Hooke, Paley,
View original post 8,589 more words
How Darwin’s name is taken in vain, with mini-reviews of some of the worst offenders
Don’t say Darwin unless you mean it. Above all, don’t say “Darwin” when you mean “evolution”. It’s like saying “Dalton” when you mean atoms. Our understanding of atoms has moved on enormously since Dalton’s time, and our understanding of evolution has moved on similarly since Darwin’s. Neither of them knew, or could have known, the first thing regarding what they were talking about, and both would be delighted at how thoroughly their own work has been superseded. (Dalton of course deserves further discussion in his own right, which I will be providing in a few weeks time.)
Imagine if a lot of people decided that atomic theory was against their religion. We would see a parallel world of sacred science, in which molecules were “intelligently constructed”, and real chemistry would be referred to as Daltonism, or possibly, these days, neo-Daltonism. The scientific dissidents from Daltonism would invoke Dalton’s name on every possible occasion, and draw attention to the many inadequacies of atomic theory as he presented it in 1808. Dalton didn’t know anything about the forces that hold atoms together, which depend on electrons and quantum mechanics. In fact, he didn’t even know about electrons. He was muddled about the difference between a molecule of hydrogen and an atom of hydrogen. He thought that the simplest compound between two different elements A and B would have the formula AB, so that water must be HO, not H2O. And of course he knew nothing about the origin of atoms, a problem not solved until the 1950s, over a century after his death. Obvious nonsense, the lot of it!
Darwin was ignorant of transitional fossils, and in words still quoted by creationists deplored their absence as the greatest objection to his theory. He was equally ignorant about the origin of biological novelty, which comes from mutating genes. In fact, he didn’t even know about genes. And because he did not realise that inheritance occurred through genes, he could not explain why favourable variations were not simply diluted out. It would be decades after his death before we could even speculate coherently about the origins of life, and despite tantalising clues it remains a largely unsolved problem. But despite this, we have learnt an enormous amount since the publication of On The Origin of Species, and everything that we have learnt is consistent with, indeed requires, the key concepts of evolution and common descent.
So why is discussion of evolution still saturated with Darwin’s name? In part, I think, because that’s the way his opponents want it. By identifying evolution with Darwin, they continue to breathe life into the controversies of the mid-19th century. At the same time, it helps them pretend that modern biology is just one individual’s point of view, rather than a mature science based on the work of thousands of investigators. Very recently, creationists have taken to invoking Darwin himself for their cause, in such titles as Darwin’s Doubt and Darwin Strikes Back. This is an extremely powerful rhetorical tool; if Darwin was puzzled by [whatever], is that not a puzzle to us “Darwinists”? Closely related is the device of presenting creationism under the guise of even-handed debate, as when a creationist pseudo-textbook (which mentions Darwin on almost every page, but not in the index) calls itself Explore Evolution; the arguments for and against neo-Darwinism, or in the list below, where a creationist comic goes by the name, What’s Darwin got to do with it? A friendly discussion …
And while we’re on the subject of unhelpful language, don’t say “theory of evolution” when you mean the well-established facts of historical and continuing change over time, and of common ancestry. And if you find yourself in the position of explaining the difference between a scientific theory (coherent intellectual structure developed to explain a range of observations), and the use of the word “theory” in everyday use (provisional hypothesis), you have blundered into a morass. Back out again.
But back to Darwin. You can see what I mean if you just look at the names of the books written by the enemies of scientific biology, from Darwin’s Doubt (Meyer, 2013) back to Darwin’s Black Box (Behe, 1996) and beyond. There are other examples, such as The Darwin Conspiracy (Roy Davies, 2006), which portrays Darwin as a plagiarist, and, while checking its details, I discovered an even more lurid book of the same name by John Darnton, which portrays him as a murderer. To be fair, Darnton does not pretend that he is writing anything other than fiction, although surely he was writing with half an eye on the creationist market.
To further test my idea, I went online to Amazon.com, and typed “Darwin” and “Darwinism” in the search window (I regularly search on Amazon, but prefer to buy from The Book Depository or Wordery). Here are some of the books by creationists that I came up with; a lot of the names were all too familiar, but I never realized that Rick Santorum had actually got his name on a book. There were also references to “materialist neo-Darwinism”, but since I don’t pretend to know what a “materialist” is, and whether I or for that matter Darwin would qualify, I decided to let those ones go.
God vs. Darwin: The Logical Supremacy of Intelligent Design Creationism Over Evolution (M. S. King, 2015): “Ever since its inception, the edifice of Evolutionary Darwinism has rested upon a foundation of sand, propped up solely by media hype, public ignorance and extreme intellectual bullying.”
Dehumanization: A Product of Darwinism (David Campbell, 2012)
The Dark Side of Charles Darwin (Jerry Bergman, 2011)
Evolution by Intelligent Design: Debate is Over – Darwinism is Extinct (Gabor Lingauer, 2011)
The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (David Berlinski, 2010; I have written about Berlinski here)
What Darwin Got Wrong (
The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin (Benjamin Wiker, 2009)
Exposing Darwinism’s Weakest Link: Why Evolution Can’t Explain Human Existence (Kenneth Poppe, 2008)
Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against NeoDarwinism, (Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich, Jonathan Moneymaker and Paul A. Nelson, 2007; this fraudulently misnamed creationist pseudo-texbook is discussed further here)
Darwin’s Plantation: Evolution’s Racist Roots (Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware, 2007)
The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism (Michael Behe, 2007; since Behe clearly believes that biological complexity is the work of a designer who operates independently of natural laws, I include him as a creationist, although he would deny this)
Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward, 2007)
Darwin’s Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement (William A. Dembski and Rick Santorum, 2006)
Darwin Strikes Back: Defending the Science of Intelligent Design (Thomas Woodward and William Dembski , 2006)
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Jonathan Wells, 2006)
Reclaiming Science from Darwinism: A Clear Understanding of Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, (Kenneth Poppe, 2006)
The Naked Emperor: Darwinism Exposed (Antony Latham, 2005)
Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing (William A. Dembski, 2004)
What Darwin Didn’t Know: A Doctor Dissects the Theory of Evolution (
Darwinism, Design and Public Education (John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, 2003) Blurb: if science education is to be other than state-sponsored propaganda, a distinction must be drawn between empirical science and materialist philosophy.
Darwinism and the Rise of Degenerate Science (Paul Back, 2003) Blurb: many of the constructs of evolution are based on fantasies devoid of scientific credibility.
The Collapse of Darwinism: Or The Rise of a Realist Theory of Life (Graeme D. Snooks, 2003)
Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory (Michael A. Cremo, 2003)
The Case Against Darwin: Why the Evidence Should Be Examined (James Perloff, 2002)
Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Benjamin Wiker and William Dembski (Jul 12, 2002) Abortion. Euthanasia. Infanticide. Sexual promiscuity. And it’s all Darwin’s fault.
Darwinism Under The Microscope: How recent scientific evidence points to divine design (James P. Gills, 2002)
Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Cornelius G. Hunter, 2002)
Darwin’s Demise (
Shattering the Myths of Darwinism (Richard Milton, 2000)
Darwinism Defeated? (J. I. Packer, Phillip E. Johnson and Denis O. Lamoureux, 1999) (Lamoureux says no, by the way)
Evolution Deceit: The Scientific Collapse of Darwinism (Harun Yahya and Mustapha Ahmad, 1999)
Tornado in a Junkyard: The Relentless Myth of Darwinism (James Perloff, 1999)
Darwin’s Leap of Faith: Exposing the False Religion of Evolution (John Ankerberg and John Weldon, 1998)
Darwin’s Enigma (Blurb: No legitimate fossil evidence exists that shows one species changing into another
Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Phillip E. Johnson, 1997)
Darwin’s Black Box (Michael Behe, 1996)
In the Minds of Men: Darwin and the New World Order (Ian T. Taylor, 1996) Blurb: Creation Moments is pleased to bring you what has been hailed as the classic work on the creation-evolution issue!
Darwinism, Science or Philosophy? (Phillip E. Johnson et al., 1994)
Darwin on Trial (Phillip E. Johnson, 1991)
Darwinism : The Refutation of a Myth (Soren Lovtrup, 1987)
And so on, all the way back to The Refutation of Darwinism: And the Converse Theory of Development; Based Exclusively Upon Darwin’s Facts (T Warren O’Neill, 1879)
There is now a second edition of Evolution: Making Sense of Life, by Carl Zimmer and Douglas Emlen, one of the very few textbooks I have come across that can be read for pleasure. Much as I deplore the US textbook publishers’ practice of issuing a new edition every very few years, this means that the first edition, which came out in 2013, is going to be available very cheaply for all of us who aren’t using it for of course credit and can tolerate the occasional underlining. Carl Zimmer (whose formal university education was in English, at Yale) is one of our most engaging current writers on evolution, and if you have not yet subscribed to his blog, The Loom, I urge you to do so. Douglas Emlen’s lab website clearly shows his passion for sharing the excitement of evolution science, and I have already reviewed his award-winning book Animal Weapons.
For much younger readers, the PDF of Jonathan Tweet’s Grandmother Fish, which I have also reviewed, is available as a free download, which qualifies it for a mention here. The physical copy, beautifully produced and printed, is now available in the US from Amazon, and I have advised Jonathan to look for a UK distributor. Answers in Genesis concedes that “the author and illustrator do a good job of simplifying evolution through words and pictures and using terminology that is kid-friendly,” so that “it is exactly those points that make the book so deceptive.” As most readers will realise, “deceptive”, as used by Answers in Genesis, is a technical term meaning “a good argument against Young Earth creationism”. I congratulate Jonathan on having earned this accolade.
At one time, I got interested in the seemingly simple question (to which I might well return one day) of whether zebras are horses that have acquired stripes, or horses are zebras that have lost them. Stephen J Gould, it turned out, had written a perceptive essay on this very topic in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes. When I went looking for this volume, I found out to my surprise that I could get hold of it, and many others in Gould’s magnificent series of essays, for pennies plus postage. (Here, one good search strategy is to start with Amazon, look for the “From” options, and then, where possible, contact the sellers directly. That way, I help the independents stay independent. For UK readers, I would also recommend searching Abe Books, although I was saddened to learn that they too are part of Amazon; I would be happy to learn of other equivalents).
Finally, most obviously, and still greatly underused even by professionals, the huge reservoir of literature available for free download in a wide variety of formats. This resource could be, and should be, even more valuable, but is limited by outrageous copyright restrictions; for no reason I can tell other than the special interest of Disney Corporation, the copyright on a work now only lapses 70 years after its creator’s death. So JBS Haldane’s seminal 1929 article The origin of life will not be out of copyright until 2034 (though if you can find it online, here for instance, you can get away with downloading a copy for individual study). And for Ernst Mayr’s 1923 paper on birds in Saxony, instrumental to his crucial redefinition of the species concept, you will have to wait until 2075, However, we have all the published works and much of the voluminous correspondence of Charles Darwin, to say nothing of TH Huxley, Charles Lyell (for all his writings, and for other seminal works on geology, many of them also available for free, see the Geological Society’s Lyell Collection), James Hutton, and even William Jennings Bryan. Legal proceedings are also in the public domain, regardless of time. So what shall we say of scholars and commentators earnestly debating Darwin’s own views on religion, in evident ignorance of what he himself tells us on the subject, in his freely available and beautifully written Autobiography?
Look, see , enjoy.
h/t reader Gordon Drumond, for disillusioning me about Abe Books
Did Satan make Darwin do it? Why does Ben Carson think so? The deep roots of Flood Geology creationism
There is an apostolic succession from the Millerites to Ellen White and the Adventists to George McCready Price (who plays a role in tomorrow’s blog post) to his Genesis Flood plagiarisers, Whitcomb and Morris, to Ham and Baumgartner and Carson. But Glasgow has the best statues:
For my friends outside the US: Ben Carson is a real live rebublican contender for the 2016 Presidential nomination. Like almost all his competitors, he does not believe in evolution. But what makes him special is his deep insight into where the science of evolution science really comes from. Now read on.
Much has been made of Ben Carson’s comment that Satan guided Charles Darwin to accept evolution. This comes from a lecture for the Seventh Day Adventists in 2011 which you will find embedded in this article.http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danthropology/2015/09/ben-carson-says-charles-darwin-created-the-theory-of-evolution-under-the-influence-of-satan/
To claim that Satan led dear Darwin astray is pretty face-palming for a potential President of
our former colonies the United States. However other candidates hold similar views including Mike Huckabee, a southern Baptist minister.
Carson is a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church which is one of the many millennial groups which came into being in the 19th century. Most of their beliefs are typical of conservative evangelicals /fundamentalists but they are several additions, which are not optional bolt-on extras.
These are that one must believe in a 6-day creation of the earth some 6000 years ago as this is the direct conclusion of believing the Fourth Commandments means that you must…
View original post 4,119 more words