I consider it necessary to dissect Darwin's conceptual framework of evolution into a number of major theories that formed the basis of his evolutionary thinking. For the sake of convenience, I have partitioned Darwin's evolutionary paradigm into five theories, but of course others might prefer a different division. The selected theories are by no means all of Darwin's evolutionary theories; others were, for instance, sexual selection, pangenesis, effect of use and disuse, and character divergence. However when later authors referred to Darwin's theory thay invariably had a combination of some of the following five theories in mind:After sufficient prodding, we decided to take a look at Ernst Mayr's supposedly more scientific version (more so than Richard Dawkins) of the modern theory of Darwinism. As you can see from the above, it's not much different than Dawkins's-- "the minimal theory that evolution is guided in adaptively nonrandom directions by the nonrandom survival of small random hereditary changes."--though certainly more verbose. What's startling though is the degree to which it's anti-scientific.
The first two subtheories are fairly uncontroversial. Everyone accepts that evolution has occurred, that species today are different than those which preceded them, and that even within a species change occurs over time. The middle subtheory, that geography influences species, seems confirmed, in part, by observation--which is to say that penguins seem better adapted to cold than emus--though it concludes with a mere assertion that this is sufficient to cause new species to arise too. The fourth seems somewhat Jesuitical--a rebuke to Stephen Jay Gould's punctuated equilibrium thinking--though neither is based on evidence. Finally, the last is simply false. We see no evidence that there is significant genetic variation in every generation of any species, while the notion that few individuals survive from each generation, never mind so few that we can say they are better adapted than their less mutated brethren, is risible. The problem for Darwinism is that the last subtheory--natural selection--is the thread by which the whole project hangs and it is wrong on its face.
So, what's going on here? If Ernst Mayr is the avatar of neo-Darwinism, how can his version of the theory be so weak as to not withstand basic scrutiny? Well, Mr. Mayr gives up the game easily when he disavows the idea of Darwinism as a physical science and describes it instead as a philosophy or a historical narrative, Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought: This article is based on the September 23, 1999, lecture that Mayr delivered in Stockholm on receiving the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (Ernst Mayr)
Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.
-ERNST MAYR: WHAT EVOLUTION IS: Introduction by Jared Diamond (Edge, 10.31.01)
EDGE: To what extent has the study of evolutionary biology been the study of ideas about evolutionary biology? Is evolution the evolution of ideas, or is it a fact?
Out of all that, the comparison to Aristotle and Plato, etc., we might extract just this: "Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain." In other words, Darwinism is really just a replacement Creation myth, one that tries to displace God and substitute Nature in explaining how the world around us came into being.
Mr. Mayr states this himself, in no uncertain terms:
"There is indeed one belief that all true original Darwinians held in common, and that was their rejection of creationism, their rejection of special creation. This was the flag around which they assembled and under which they marched. When Hull claimed that "the Darwinians did not totally agree with each other, even over essentials", he overlooked one essential on which all these Darwinians agreed. Nothing was more essential for them than to decide whether evolution is a natural phenomenon or something controlled by God. The conviction that the diversity of the natural world was the result of natural processes and not the work of God was the idea that brought all the so-called Darwinians together in spite of their disagreements on other of Darwin's theories..." (One Long Argument: Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought)
It's inappropriate then to even look to Darwinism to offer scientific justifications for itself--it is in no sense a science. Rather, it is an alternative religion and like all religions depends for its validity on the faith of its adherents. So, yes, Mr. Mayr does ultimately offer a more coherent case for Darwinism than does Mr. Dawkins, but it is a less not a more scientific case. It is an argument from faith.
See also:Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology
-ESSAY: The concerns of science (Ernst Mayr, July-August 1999, Skeptical Inquirer)
The Evolution of Ernst: Interview with Ernst Mayr: The preeminent biologist, who just turned 100, reflects on his prolific career and the history, philosophy and future of his field On July 5, renowned evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr celebrated his 100th birthday. He also recently finished writing his 25th book, What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline [Cambridge University Press, in press]. A symposium in Mayr's honor was held at Harvard University on May 10. Scientific American editor and columnist Steve Mirsky attended the symposium and wrote about it for the upcoming August issue. On May 15, Mirsky, Brazilian journalist Claudio Angelo and Angelo's colleague Marcelo Leite visited Mayr at his apartment in Bedford, Mass. (Scientific American, 7/06/04)
-CV: Ernst Mayr
-Ernst Mayr Library
-PROFILE: Ernst Mayr, Darwin's Disciple (Christine Bahls, Nov. 17, 2003, The Scientist)
-PROFILE: The Big Picture: Ernst Mayr: Evolutionary biologist (Beth Potier, Harvard Gazette)
-EXCERPTS: from Ernst Mayr's "Toward a New Philosophy of Biology"
-Ernst Mayr and the Evolutionary Synthesis (PBS.org)
-ESSAY: Nature, Freedom, and Responsibility: Ernst Mayr and Isaiah Berlin (Strachan Donnelley, Winter, 2000, Social Research)
-ARCHIVES: "ernst mayr" (Find Articles)
-REVIEW: of The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, Ernst Mayr + William B. Provine (editors) (Danny Yee)
-TRIBUTE: Ernst Mayr, Biologist Extraordinaire: An appreciation of Harvard's visionary of modern evolutionary synthesis (Lynn Margulis, May/June 2004, American Scientist)
-EXCERPT: Fred Hoyle, Mathematics of Evolution
"The ability of species to adapt by changing one base pair at a time on any gene, and to do so with comparative rapidity if selective advantages are reasonably large, explains the fine details of the matching of many species to their environment. It was from the careful observation of such matchings by naturalists in the mid-nineteenth century that the Darwinian theory arose. Because the observations were made with extreme care, it was highly probable that immediate inferences drawn from them would prove to be correct, as the work of Chapters 3 to 6 shows to be the case. What was in no way guaranteed by the evidence, however, was that evolutionary inferences correctly made in the small for species and their varieties could be extrapolated to broader taxonomic categories, to kingdoms, divisions, classes, and orders. Yet this is what the Darwinian theory did, and it was by going far outside its guaranteed range of validity that the theory ran into controversies and difficulties which have never been cleared up over more than a century."
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