Friday, January 23, 2009

You would think...

...that in 200 years, the anti-science crowd would have come up with some new objections to evolution. Apparently not: Check out this quote from Origin.

Long before the reader has arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to him...These difficulties and objections may be classed under the following heads:--First, why, if species have descended from other species by fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms?...

Secondly, is it possible that an animal having, for instance, the structure and habits of a bat, could have been formed by the modification of some other animal with widely-different habits and structure? Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, an organ of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe...and, on the other hand, an organ so wonderful as the eye?

Thirdly, can instincts be acquired and modified through natural selection? What shall we say to the instinct which leads the bee to make cells, and which has practically anticipated the discoveries of profound mathematicians?

These questions, of course, have many parallels in the standard litany of "problems" with the theory of evolution often spouted by creationists and intelligent design proponents. Is this yet another example of Darwin's apparent prescience? Or is it more accurate to say that Darwin's statements echo those of modern-day denialists because they are building on the "work" of those who came before, who undoubtedly read Darwin? If the latter, it's really a shame they didn't read the whole book. Even if they'd read a few pages further on, they would have come across this beauty:

When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science.

Perhaps it might be better said that Vox populi, vox veritas "cannot be trusted in science." But the sentiment still holds: Just because most people think it's so, doesn't make it so. The fact that so many people argue that we should teach the Bible as science because "most Americans believe in God" speaks to a fundamental lack of understanding of the way science is done. But I'm not the first to make that statement, nor will I be the last.


NewtonsOcean said...

Hi Kate -
Are you going to join in "Blog for Darwin" to help celebrate his 200th anniversary?

It would be good to have someone contribute who has actually read Origin! It would also give your blog a bit of free advertising. Like Gumby (alas no more) and RocketScientist, I joined Entrecard a while back, which is good in a way but also a frustratingly bad fit for a somewhat serious science blogger. I think your aims in blogging are similar to mine - maybe we can swap ideas for trying to connect with a bigger science-interest community.

Kate Porter said...

How cool! I just signed up. I guess now I have to actually finish the book--I've gotten bogged down in a couple of other things.

And I'm definitely into swapping ideas. I'll check out your blog as soon as I can (at work now...)