Sunday, March 23, 2008
Falling in the Wells
Jonathan Wells has responded to Larry Moran's challenge and, predictably, flunked.
As you may remember, this involved a round robin contest between Wells, Larry, PZ Myers and Dr. Michael Egnor. Wells had claimed, as Dr. Egnor put it, "that research on antibiotic resistance wasn't guided by Darwinian evolutionary theory."
As I noted, Egnor was using his own definition of "Darwinism," as creationists are wont to do. Wells trots out yet another, calling it: "Darwin's claim of universal common ancestry and his exclusion of design." Then, disingenuously, he accuses Larry and the rest of the scientific community of equivocation when, in fact, it is the creationists who have been doing the mangling of the language of science from the very beginning.
First of all, Wells misrepresents what scientists mean by the terms "microevolution" and "macroevolution." To see how, visit this explanation by John Wilkins. In at least one sense of the discussion, scientists are talking about whether the processes, such as selection, genetic drift, etc., that work at the level of populations also work at the level of species or even higher taxa and/or whether there are other forces operating at those higher levels. What the terms most definitely don't mean, as Wells seeks to say, is the difference between "minor" changes within species and the origin of new organs or body plans or species. Worse, Wells misrepresents Theodosius Dobzhansky in furtherance of his sleight of hand:
Theodosius Dobzhansky noted that there was still no hard evidence to connect small-scale changes within existing species (which he called "microevolution") to the origin of new species, organs and body plans (which he called "macroevolution"). Dobzhansky wrote: "We are compelled at the present level of knowledge reluctantly to put a sign of equality between the mechanisms of macro- and microevolution, and proceeding on this assumption, to push our investigations as far ahead as this working hypothesis will permit."Contrary to Wells' statement that Dobzhansky was making an "extrapolation from microevolution to macroevolution," Dobzhansky clearly stated he was referring to the question of what mechanisms are at work at different levels. Furthermore, the real scientific disputes over microevolution versus macroevolution have nothing to do with the evidence for common descent, which is myriad and beyond anything except unreasonable doubt.
What really interests me, though, is Wells' claim that the exclusion of design -- and let's not equivocate, Wells means divine design -- amounts to "materialistic philosophy masquerading as empirical science." First of all, the naturalism of science is not philosophical in nature, it is methodological. In it's most basic terms, science eschews supernatural explanations for the simple reason that, as the IDers own refusal to even attempt any explanation of how the "Designer" achieves his aims amply demonstrates, such "explanations" are beyond science's method to evaluate. But what I want to note is that methodological naturalism did not start with Darwin. It is a far older constituent of the scientific method:
[I]t was typically believed that God could have initiated special conditions and processes at the instant of creation which operating entirely on their own could produce organisms and other intended (and designed) results with no subsequent agent intervention required. Paley himself, the authors of the Bridgewater Treatises and others (including even Augustine, earlier) were explicitly clear that whether or not something was designed was an issue largely separable from the means of production in question. Historically it was insisted that design in nature did track back eventually to intelligent agency somewhere and that any design we find in nature would not -- and could not -- have been there had there ultimately been no mind involved. But commentators at least from the early 17th century on (e.g., Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle) very clearly distinguished the creative initiating of nature itself from interventions within the path of nature once initiated. For instance, over two centuries before Darwin, Bacon wrote:The warrant of science was, almost from the moment that it came into being as an organized activity, to discover the laws governing nature, not to defer explanations to a God that violated those laws. It is not "Darwinism" that people like Wells want to overthrow. It is, as they'll admit in their candid moments, science itself they want to destroy -- to be replaced with their own narrow apologetics.God … doth accomplish and fulfill his divine will [by ways] not immediate and direct, but by compass; not violating Nature, which is his own law upon the creation.
Yes, I have trouble getting my fingers to do what I want them to do, especially when I'm typing. And spell checkers are wont to overlook typos that are also words in their own right.