Thursday, February 16, 2006

Praise Holy Darwin!

In its February 11-12, 2006 edition of its Review section, the Australian newspaper published, presumably in celebration of Darwin Day, an interesting review of Niles Eldredge's Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life and From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin (edited by Edward O Wilson) by Hiram Caton, who is described as
a retired professor of politics and history at Griffith University. He is completing his next book, Evolution in the Century of Progress.

The title of the review, An Article of Faith is a bit disconcerting, and this is reinforced throughout the early part of the review:
The canon's adroit evasion of uncomfortable facts [during Darwin's funeral oration] was not the beginning of the Darwin legend, but it was a landmark in his sanctification as the presiding spirit of scientific enlightenment.

"Legend"? "Sanctification"? "Spirit"? Do you see a certain theme evolving here?
Signs abound that the celebration of the bicentennial of his birth will reverberate with hymns and hosannas. [...] the hosannas of these two distinguished scientists provoke awe and adulation. We learn that the Origin is the "greatest scientific book of all time" that "fully explained" the struggle for existence (Wilson). The Voyage "is today regarded as intellectually the most important travel book of all time" (Wilson). [...] These surpassing achievements constitute a revolution equal in importance to the Copernican revolution. Smitten with reverence, my eye falls on the dust jackets to contemplate the photo of the aged Darwin: yes, he looks like a prophet.

Using the straw man arguments of the Creationists (but barely letting that word sully his 'review') Mr Caton points out various perceived flaws in Darwin's theory (though, of course, they are only flaws in Mr Caton's hastily erected "cathedral" (his word) to Darwin):
What were Darwin's discoveries in biology, and what is the story of their uptake? What was his new concept of humankind? Did it support the actively canvassed idea of sexual equaility?

But worse is to come. Darwin was not a 'real' scientist, but only an amateur:
Darwin the country gentleman was in complete disconnect with his world. His ceaseless pursuit of evolution questions resulted in not a single empirical discovery of interest to experimental biologists on the cutting edge. [...] The disconnect is especially telling in Darwin's failure to make any contribution to the science of heredity.

Mr Caton argues that Darwin's attempts at domestication breeding experiments proved his theories wrong:
Domestication also provided abundant documentation of events that Darwin unreservedly declared could not happen: single generation leaps, such as the two-headed calf and other "sports of nature", that disprove his gradualist theory of organic change.

Of course, we've all seen how two-headed calves become the dominant form in various species, outbreeding and outcompeting their inferior single-headed cousins.

The major hole (not failing, note, only a gap) in Darwin's theory was of course an understanding of genetics, and it is to Gregor Mendel that we look to provide the beginning of that particular science. Mr Caton, astoundingly, claims
Mendel believed his discovery disproved Darwin's theory. He was right.

Mr Caton concludes
One way to disabuse [creationists] of this nonsense is to discard the legend, which in any case has no business in science.

Indeed. THough it's usually the creationists who argue for the 'legend' of Darwin (and then attempt to dismantle it as proof of their pet 'theories'). EoR wonders why Mr Caton spent the bulk of his review on the legend, and so little on the science.


  1. This guy needs to put down the comic books, turn off the drive-in B horror movies, and start reading a 7th grade biology book.

  2. When science has friends like Mr Caton, who needs creationists?


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