The Utility of Darwinism


I’ll get back to the Baloney Debate, but I want to mention an interesting
article that appeared in Forbes this week. Dr. Phillip Skell, member of the
National Academy of Science, wrote a commentary responding to criticism of
Darwin criticism. His commentary is entitled "The
Dangers of Overselling Evolution
." After a full and fruitful career in
biology and chemistry, Dr. Skell does not take a stand on whether Darwin’s
theory is true or false (even to NOT stand firmly for it is itself
controversial), but he does say that he finds in the theory no utility. His
investigation of 100 years of biology Nobel Prize winners found none whose
discoveries depend on Darwin’s theory of evolution, nor even any that built in
any way upon the theory in developing their findings. So why would scientists
organize a
petition to prevent open discussion
on the issue of Darwinism? One can
have scientific reasons for choosing one’s own belief system, but whatever their
reasons for suppressing the free thought of others, they are not scientific.

3 Responses to “The Utility of Darwinism”

  1. Luke Zollner says:

    If there is a “theory” that is completely useless to science it has to be creation science. To say that he “finds no utility in the Darwin’s theory” is complete nonsense. His investigation of 100 years of Nobel Prize winners was not very thorough, this is actually embarrassing. But that’s what Creation Science is all about, it’s an oxymoron pacifier for adults that want to hold on to a fairy tale of their choice. Virtually every major university in the world has a department in which there are practicing evolutionary biologists. What are they all doing, do you suppose, they get funding, spend years investigating things in the field and laboratory, publish tens of thousands of papers and thousands of books, and are awarded prizes by the MacArthur Foundation, the Swedish Academy, and so forth if what they do “has no utility?”

    Just ONE example:

    In 1973 the Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine was awarded to Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and Karl von Frisch for their work in founding and furthering the science of ethology (animal behavior). Here is what the Nobel Prize Award Presentation said about their work:
    “It was not until behavior problems were studied by means of scientific methods, by systematic observation and by experimentation, that real progress was made. Within that research field this year’s Nobel prize laureates have been pioneers. They have collected numerous data about animal behavior both in natural settings and in experimental situations. Being biological scholars they leave also studied the functions of behavior patterns, their role in the individual struggle for life and for the continuation of the species. Thus, behavior patterns have stood out as results of natural selection just as morphological characteristics and physiological functions.
    The Nobel Prize Award Presentation goes on:
    “The discoveries made by this year’s Nobel prize laureates were based on studies of insects, fishes and birds and might thus seem to be of only minor importance for human physiology or medicine. However, their discoveries have been a prerequisite for the comprehensive research that is now pursued also on mammals. Studies are devoted to the existence of genetically programmed behavior patterns, their organization, maturation and their elicitation by key stimuli. There are also studies concerning the importance of specific experiences during critical periods for the normal development of the individual. Research into the behavior of monkeys have demonstrated that serious and to a large extent lasting behavior disturbances may be the result when a baby grows up in isolation without contact with its mother and siblings or with adequate substitutes. Another important research field concerns the effects of abnormal psychosocial situations on the individual. They may lead not only to abnormal behavior but also to serious somatic illness such as arterial hypertension and myocardial infarction. One important conclusion is that the psychosocial situation of an individual cannot be too adverse to its biological equipment without serious consequences.”

  2. Dr. Mc says:

    Hi, Luke.
    Good to hear from you. I don’t feel I necessarily need to defend other people’s work, so if he’s wrong, have at it! I did notice, though, that in your example no form of the word “evolution,” “evolve,” etc. occurs in the prize description. I have no problem with reference to survival’s impact on reproduction, as is the case with Darwin-doubters I know. I am certainly open to considering any example you find where the hypothesis depends on evolutionary theory in any form. That would not include one that merely adds implecations for evolutionary theory as a part of the conclusion.

  3. Dave R says:

    Evolutionary theory predicts common descent. Common descent predicts common genetic mechanisms in all related organisms. Any molecular biologist anywhere in the world can take a new coding sequence or an novel gene and insert it into another organism with the expectation that it will be transcribed and translated properly, based on that hypothesis of common descent. That expectation universally comes true. Every time. Boringly consistent.

    This everyday example will not result in the word evolution or evolves being part of the abstract or body of the publication. Yet that work absolutely depended on evolutionary theory, contra Skell.

    The theory of evolution, as Dobzhansky told us many decades ago, is the common thread that unites biological research today. It is so common that biologists count on it being true without even thinking about it explicitly, as in the case above. They can count on it being true because it is true. If you don’t think so, give us a better predictive framework.

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