Dissent from science

I’m currently out of town so am repeating a few old posts – this one form last February.

Opponents of scientific evolutionary theory will often refer to the Scientific Dissent From Darwinism list to justify that the theory is controversial and should be discarded, or at least equal time be given to creationist “theories” in school biology classes. There is no doubt that the list is being used to attack scientific theory but its worth looking at the statement professionals on the list have signed up to. It reads:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Few of the signatories have signed the statement for scientific reasons – rather their motives have been religious (see Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?). However, scientists by their nature are skeptics and should always critically examine evidence. In principle few scientists would disagree with the statement. So why has the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list attracted so little scientific support (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context)?

Consider the equally valid statements:

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of the Periodic Table to account for the complexity of chemistry. Careful examination of the evidence for Mendeleevian theory should be encouraged.”


“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of absolute space and time to account for the complexity of movement in the universe. Careful examination of the evidence for Newtonian theory should be encouraged.”


“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of the ideal gas law to account for the complexity of pressure, temperature and volume in real gases. Careful examination of the evidence for Boyleian theory should be encouraged.”

Take your pick. We could advance similar statements calling for “careful examination of evidence” for any scientific theory. And we could attach the name of any historically well known scientist and imply dogma – Einsteinism, Schrödingerism, Hubbleism, etc, etc. Most scientists would be happy to be “skeptical” and support “careful examination of evidence” in any of these cases.

But would they sign such statements, knowing they would be used to discredit scientific theory in the public mind? Of course not! They would be too busy actually practicing their skepticism and carefully examining the evidence – thereby further developing the theory.

Of course the creationist propagandists claim that evolutionary theory doesn’t receive critical examination. This claim is easily proved wrong by looking at the huge amount of current scientific literature on evolutionary theory. T Ryan Gregory described some of the current debates in his paper Evolution as Fact, Theory, and Path:

‘Is evolution always gradual, or can it follow a more punctuated pattern? Are chance mechanisms such as genetic drift ever as important as the nonrandom process of natural selection? Does natural selection operate only among organisms (or genes) within populations, or can it occur at other levels such as among groups or species? Did mammals diversify as a consequence of the extinction of dinosaurs? Is the primary divide among groups of organisms between those with and those without nuclei, or are there deeper splits? Are wholescale genome duplications common in evolution, and if so, are they associated with major evolutionary changes? Can complex features ever beregained once they have been lost from a lineage? Is a substantial fraction of noncoding DNA functional, or is most of it simply “junk” or “parasitic”? Was Australopithecus afarensis (”Lucy”) a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens or a member of a different hominid lineage? Debate over these questions of theory and path can become quite acrimonious within evolutionary biology, but in no case do they raise doubt about the fact of evolution. As Gould (1981) noted, “facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.” ‘

Related Articles:
Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?
Dissenters from Darwinism in context
Religious opposition to “intelligent design”
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Intelligent design and scientific method
Intelligent design – a war on science
New Zealand supports evolution
Intelligent design at the shopping mall
Isaac Newton and intelligent design
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript

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5 responses to “Dissent from science

  1. Ken,

    Nice straw-man argument (“these ludicrous examples I’ve postulated are obviously false, so all the arguments against Darwinism are, ipso facto, false as well.”)

    But tell me, can you provide ONE fact about Darwinism that we know to be true? Just one? And please, no theories, no “everybody knows that,” no sweeping generalizations. Just one fact. And don’t include finches changing beak size to conform to changing climatological conditions, because they just change back as the seasons change and they remain finches. They don’t become eagles or start writing computer code in the sand.

    Looking forward to your reasoned scientific argument.

    Hale Meserow

  2. OK – we know that new species of Libertia have arisen in New Zealand as a result of polyploidy events.

    & while we’re speaking of straw men, ‘finches->eagles’ is an excellent example.

  3. Hale – what do you mean by “Darwinism?”

    Assuming you mean evolutiuon by natural selection I think there are plenty of examples. But won’t you just reject nay example we give (eg. finches). To see “natural selection” as meaning that finches “become eagles or start writing computer code in the sand” indicates that you have been misinformed about its meaning.

  4. “Darwinism”?

    “…no theories…”

    Please, don’t be ignorant. Before you come on to science blog, it might help if you educated yourself and found out what a theory means.

  5. I note Hale isn’t above a little opportunistic advertising…

    Hale, Ken mentioned a list of examples in a recent post (Missing fossils? From water to land). There are literally hundreds of others. It would be more practical for you to get out a few recommended textbooks on evolution and learn from them. It is not really possible to have “reasoned argument” with anyone who hasn’t taken the trouble to learn what it is that they are claim they wish to “argue” about.

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