Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Point of Inquiry - The Darwin Myth

Old supernatual wine in a new reasonable bottle

This week (actually back on August 7, 2009) D.J. Grothe interviewed Dr. Benjamin Wiker, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and St. Paul Center for Theology on his book Charles Darwin: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin.

There is far, far too much to unpack in the interview than I can possibly cover in the space of a blog.  In fact, there was clearly far, far too much to discuss during the interview of fifty odd minutes.  Grothe continually had to reign in the discussion to keep focused.  I suspect the interview could have gone on for three or four hours.  Wiker discusses how in his study of Charles Darwin, Darwin started out an atheist, or at least non-theist and if I understood correctly wrote On the Origin of Species specifically to cut god out of the process of evolution.  The discussion delved into eugenics, of Darwinism vs. evolution.  They also discussed Darwinism as the basis for certain National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazi) theories.   All of this is discussed ably by Grothe in the time permitted.

What struck me was just how reasonable Wiker sounded to those not steeped in the current creationist/intelligent design/evolution by natural selection controversies.  In the first half of the interview that focused on Darwin's life, how Darwin came to write his book, Nazis, Eugenics, etc., Wiker sounded as if he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  But on the last part of the interview, to someone who knows merely a little about this "Darwin-evolution stuff," he sounded down to Earth.  First, Wiker makes a distinction between Darwinism and evolution.  Darwinism is wrong, evil, soulless, and godless.  Evolution on the other hand is fine.  It explains a lot.  It's just a question of what guided evolution.  Why the creationist out there rejecting evolution are just as kooky as the Darwinist.  I think to someone who is casually acquainted with the evolution "controversy" this all sounds pretty good.  Darwinist or evolutionist who stick to a purely "silly" reductionist natural world view have blinders on, what Wiker is pitching is being open minded. We get god.  We get science with evolution.  It all sounds like a pretty good win-win deal.  Why not?

The problem is that the theory of evolution by means of other than natural selection is basically the "god of the gaps" wine in a reasonable appearing bottle. (I submit there could be other natural processes at work, but so far natural selection with revisions has been the best explanation.)  Wiker indicates that natural selection is insufficient to describe how something as complex as man was formed -therefore it must be you know who?  Do not know how something came about . . . well let's take a sip of Chateaux de Deity from this nice new bottle with a twist top and just say it must have been god's plan or will or "intelligent design."  To most of the readers of this blog, who value a natural world view studied by the scientific method, it is easy to see the flaw.  Basically, you are injecting the supernatural into the study of the natural world leading to an artificial dead end of knowledge.   This is when science is suppose to kick in to go about its business of learning what makes the natural world tick.  Yet, Wiker in this realm seems safe, compromising, and reasonable.  Grothe, given the breadth of the discussion, did a nice job keeping the interview focused while being extremely civil.  I tip my hat to Grothe for a job well done.  I urge all who read this blod to listen to this podcast even if you are not a POI regular.  Wiker is the type of challenge that will be faced when struggling for actual science to be understood and appreciated by society instead of the trying to learn about the world with a mixture of the natural and supernatural as if it were 1009 instead of 2009.


  1. A few things I noticed. The guest kept going on and on about Marxism and Freud. Evolution, Marxism, and Freud were the three great blows to religion in the 19th century. They've been the target of the neo-con/ID movement. Marxism and Freud have fallen but evolution keeps on chuggin' away. It sure does sound like the guest is echoing the neo-con/ID agenda.

    Not having examined his book and his footnotes, I can't say much about his claim Darwin was an atheist from the start. That sounds like it would be a big surprised to several generations of historians. Beyond a popular book, wonder if he's tried to argue his hypothesis in the historical journals.

    He's cranked out the ID version of "Other Losses" as far as I'm concerned until he submits his ideas to peer review.

    He made no sense about how Dawkins et al beat the drum and everyone else falls in line. DJ challenged him on it and his answer was pure ass covering. He didn't have a good response and he knew it.

    Right at the end where he drags out more ID agenda stuff like trying to claim "darwinism is a theory in crisis". And the ol' "the paradigm is on its last legs" canard. Geez. I guess he had to get that out there but wisely left it to the end so he didn't have to defend it.

    DJ didn't get on his case about "darwinism" which is a term only flogged by the ID crowd. No evolutionary scientist thinks natural selection is the only mechanism. There are about a dozen other known mechanisms for evolution of new genetic traits that don't involve natural selection. Genetic drift and mate selection are a couple.

    Yeah, his whole argument was "using natural selection to explain the evolution of humans seems to defy common sense." As someone who attempt to be a historian of science, he clear demonstrates he's not been paying attention. Science frequently violates our ideas of common sense. Relativity and QM are but two.

    The guy is probably smart enough to know he can't argue against the vast evidence for evolution, the natural mechanisms involved, there's not been a need yet to plug in gawd, Earth is 4.5 billion years old, etc. He's likely gone and wrote a 300 page book that amounts to him trying to eliminate personal cognitive dissonance.

    Which strikes me both as the makings of a vastly dull book and an attempt to hammer the facts in a way that will resolve his cognitive dissonance.

  2. You have basically "unpacked" many of the things I refrained from getting into on my post.

    I will add that even if C. Darwin set out to invent a theory that purposely left god out, and Wiker is correct that Darwin is indeed a liar, liar with his pants on fire about his personal beliefs and or motivations it does not change that Darwin's ideas have held up really darn well for over 150 years.

    My real concern is that to the informed Wiker is obviously way off base, but to only the modestly aware he sounds pretty reasonable.

  3. Geez. I had no idea the author was part of the DI. He just "sounded" like he was with all his talking points. Turns out he's a senior fellow at the DI.

  4. The whole thing is another "ploy" by the DI to undermine those pesky "Darwinist." What concerns me is that he sounds so accommodating to the untrained observer that unlike Creation-Science, or ham fisted "Of Pandas and People" this latest iteration could work.