“Men make angels?” Darwin, more accurately viewed


Public broadcasting’s unpopularity among certain members of the conservative punditry may be squarely laid at the foot of public broadcasting’s tendency to smash inaccurate myths and unworthy icons.  While certain pay-for-pray televangelists like to fill their coffers by bashing Darwin, public radio programs look deeper, and find different answers to some questions.

American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith has an archived program on Darwin and his journals, in which one may see a gentle, religious man struggling with the knowledge that nature rarely shows what the pulpit pounders claim. 

For example, here is an excerpt from Darwin’s journals in which he wonders about the power of ecological niches to pull evolutionary advance from “lower species” — if humans ceased to exist, Darwin wonders, would monkeys evolve to fill the niche?  If angels did not exist, would humans evolve?

Darwin as a religious man, a man concerned with morals and a concern for the donwtrodden of societies, is a picture often hidden by those who attack science.  The picture tends to rebut, refute and make silly so many of the claims of the enemies of evolution. 

Here is another excerpt, in which he notes that humans are one species, not separate species as the creationists of his day claimed.  This is exactly contrary to the views argued by the Coral Ridge Ministries’ anti-Darwin diatribe scheduled for this weekend.  The website for Speaking of Faith has several excerpts from Darwin’s diaries and notebooks in which he explicitly ponders issues of faith and evolution, well worth the read and MP3 listen.

The program’s host, Krista Tippett, has several essays (not necessarily on Darwin, but on other religious people who ponder the meaning of science knowledge) which also provide rebuttal to the distorted views of Darwin popularly held.  She writes about Darwin’s journals, for example, “There is much in Darwin’s thought that would ennoble as well as ground a religious view of life and of God.”

That’s a view D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Ministries does not admit.  He is much the poorer for the log that blinds him.

Nota bene:  Also see the link to The Darwin Digital Library.  It is a useful source of original documents and solid commentary.

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6 Responses to “Men make angels?” Darwin, more accurately viewed

  1. edarrell says:

    The “controversy” in biology is over the how of “macro” evolution, not whether it occurs. Discovery Institute is the $2 million/year public relations effort of “hopeful pastors” who hope evolution someday will be found to be wrong. Recently (for the past 15 years, say) DI has been promoting intelligent design. The money spent to promote intelligent design is approximately $2 million annually more than the money spent in intelligent design research.

    Don’t bet on a horse that won’t run, and for heaven’s sake, don’t breed the thing!

    Like

  2. ssbg says:

    Some thoughts hopefully to foment a good discussion. SSBG

    The Scientific Controversy Over Whether
    Microevolution Can Account For Macroevolution
    © Center for Science and Culture/Discovery Institute, 1511 Third Avenue, Suite 808, Seattle, WA 98101
    When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it was already
    known that existing species can change over time. This is the basis of artificial breeding,
    which had been practiced for thousands of years. Darwin and his contemporaries were
    also familiar enough with the fossil record to know that major changes in living things
    had occurred over geological time. Darwin’s theory was that a process analogous to
    artificial breeding also occurs in nature; he called that process natural selection. Darwin’s
    theory was also that changes in existing species due primarily to natural selection could,
    if given enough time, produce the major changes we see in the fossil record.
    After Darwin, the first phenomenon (changes within an existing species or gene
    pool) was named “microevolution.” There is abundant evidence that changes can occur
    within existing species, both domestic and wild, so microevolution is uncontroversial.
    The second phenomenon (large-scale changes over geological time) was named
    “macroevolution,” and Darwin’s theory that the processes of the former can account for
    the latter was controversial right from the start. Many biologists during and after
    Darwin’s lifetime have questioned whether the natural counterpart of domestic breeding
    could do what domestic breeding has never done — namely, produce new species, organs,
    and body plans. In the first few decades of the twentieth century, skepticism over this
    aspect of evolution was so strong that Darwin’s theory went into eclipse. (See Chapter 9
    of Peter Bowler’s Evolution: The History of an Idea, University of California Press,
    revised edition, 1989).
    In the 1930s, “neo-Darwinists” proposed that genetic mutations (of which Darwin
    was unaware) could solve the problem. Although the vast majority of mutations are
    harmful (and thus cannot be favored by natural selection), in rare instances one may
    benefit an organism. For example, genetic mutations account for some cases of antibiotic
    resistance in bacteria; if an organism is in the presence of the antibiotic, such a mutation
    is beneficial. All known beneficial mutations, however, affect only an organism’s
    biochemistry; Darwinian evolution requires large-scale changes in morphology, or
    anatomy. Midway through the twentieth century, some Darwinian geneticists suggested
    that occasional “macromutations” might produce the large-scale morphological changes
    needed by Darwin’s theory. Unfortunately, all known morphological mutations are
    harmful, and the larger their effects the more harmful they are. Scientific critics of
    – 2 –
    macromutations took to calling this the “hopeful monster” hypothesis. (See Chapter 12
    of Bowler’s book.)
    The scientific controversy over whether processes observable within existing
    species and gene pools (microevolution) can account for large-scale changes over
    geological time (macroevolution) continues to this day. Here are a few examples of peerreviewed
    scientific articles that have referred to it just in the last few years:
    • David L. Stern, “Perspective: Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the
    Problem of Variation,” Evolution 54 (2000): 1079-1091.
    “One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved…
    Historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance of
    micromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between some
    dramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism.”
    • Robert L. Carroll, “Towards a new evolutionary synthesis,” Trends in Ecology
    and Evolution, 15 (January, 2000): 27.
    “Large-scale evolutionary phenomena cannot be understood solely on the basis of
    extrapolation from processes observed at the level of modern populations and
    species.”
    • Andrew M. Simons, “The continuity of microevolution and macroevolution,”
    Journal of Evolutionary Biology 15 (2002): 688-701.
    “A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of
    microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are
    governed by the principles of microevolution.”
    It should be noted that all of the scientists quoted above are believers in Darwinian
    evolution, and that all of them think the controversy will eventually be resolved within
    the framework of that theory. Stern, for example, believes that new developmental
    studies of gene function will provide “the current missing link.” (p. 1079) The important
    point here is that the controversy has not yet been resolved, precisely because the
    evidence needed to resolve it is still lacking. It is important for students to know what the
    evidence does or does not show — not just what some scientists hope the evidence will
    eventually show.
    Since the controversy over microevolution and macroevolution is at the heart of Darwin’s
    theory, and since evolutionary theory is so influential in modern biology, it is a disservice
    to students for biology curricula to ignore the controversy entirely. Furthermore, since
    the scientific evidence needed to settle the controversy is still lacking, it is inaccurate to
    give students the impression that the controversy has been resolved and that all scientists
    have reached a consensus on the issue.

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  3. Carpus says:

    Ed: my apologies for posting this here, but I can’t find an email address for you and this sounds right up your alley and in keeping with the theme of your blog:

    http://factcheck.org/article415.html

    My response on my blog.

    Like

  4. DavidD says:

    I take it the tradition of seeing Charles Darwin as the personification of evil started in the 19th century. By now there’s much history to creationists speaking as if Darwin and those like him have fooled the worldwide academic community into believing that evolution is a fact, while so many intrepid creationists can see through such deception. The true history is so less stirring. If people are determined to believe their tradition, I don’t know how to tell them differently. Well, I might if they wanted to go through slowly what they think the deception is, but I find instead that people want to jump from one argument against evolution to another, never facing the fact that none of them work, unless one goes to metaphysics that has science being a complete illusion, which no one does.

    Fortunately evolution will become more and more concrete as molecular genetics continues to expand. I once posted a link to some animation (http://www.hhmi.org/biointeractive/gender/animations.html#y_evol) regarding the 300 million year history of the mammalian Y-chromosome at a debate site. One can download the animation from that site with Quicktime or just go through the written description through the “learn more” link. It’s a fascinating story of how gene duplication from a different body segment led to the sry gene that determines a male gender in mammals (other animals do that differently) and how one can reconstruct all the coming and going of other genes over time. I’ve yet to hear from a creationist why God would have designed this to look so much like evolution. Eventually there will be enough things like this, including genes that made all of human evolution possible, not just gender, that creationism won’t survive any more than flat-Earthers have. At some point, they’ll just lose a whole generation, like the gender gap in music in the fifties and sixties, and that will be that. I guess that’s over a hundred years away, but I just can’t see the anti-Darwin tradition lasting forever.

    Like

  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Use it — I’ve got the copyright, but you’ve got permission.

    Like

  6. elbogz says:

    ***snip*** Pay for pray televangelist

    I love that term. I might have to steal it and plagiarize the hell out of it

    Like

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