Gnu Confusion

Jerry Coyne recently wrote:

And it’s important to realize this: the great importance of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is that an unguided, purposeless process can nevertheless produce animals and plants that are exquisitely adapted to their environment.  That’s why it’s called natural selection, not supernatural selection or simply selection. (emphasis not added)

Er, according to John Wilkins:

 Darwin coined the term ‘natural selection’ because had made an analogy with ‘artificial selection’ as done by breeders, an analogy Wallace hadn’t made when he developed his version of the theory.

It’s called natural selection to distinguish it from artificial selection, not supernatural selection.  Even Wikipedia gets it right:

The term “natural selection” was popularized by Charles Darwin who intended it to be compared with artificial selection, what we now call selective breeding.

Check this one out:

Theistic evolution, then, is supernaturalism, and admitting its possibility denies everything we know about how evolution works.  It waters down science with superstition. It should be no crime—in fact, it should be required—for teachers to tell student that natural selection is apparently a purposeless and unguided process (I use the word “apparently” because we’re not 100% sure, but really, do we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is “apparently” purposeless?).

What a strange set of sentences.

 “I use the word “apparently” because we’re not 100% sure”

Which would mean that you have to acknowledge the possibility of being wrong and the possibility that God has guided evolution which would be admitting the possibility of theistic evolution.  But:

 Theistic evolution, then, is supernaturalism, and admitting its possibility denies everything we know about how evolution works. 

So when Coyne uses the word “apparently” he, according to his own logic, is also denying everything we know about how evolution works.

Go figure.

And then there is this:

Give me allies who favor pure, unsullied science, a science in which God isn’t directing things behind the scenes. For that, after all, is how things appear to be.

To those who disagree I say, “Sorry, but that’s the way things appear.” We have to live with unguided evolution, unpalatable as it may be to the faithful, in the same way we have to live with the unpalatable knowledge of our own mortality.

I see.  We can know that evolution has always been unguided because it looks that way.

How objective.

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5 Responses to Gnu Confusion

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    Actually, it’s supposed not to look unguided. It looks designed, according to Richard Dawkins’ definition, but the theory says it isn’t. So it sounds like it’s a toss-up between whih “appears to be” your prejudices support.

  2. The Deuce says:

    From Coyne:

    do we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is “apparently” purposeless?

    Er, I don’t think we need to tell physics students that the decay of an atom is purposeless, or apparently purposeless, at all. Whether or not it has a purpose simply isn’t relevant for the practical purposes of physics. A physics teacher who taught their students that the decay of atoms was purposeless, purposeful, or even “apparently” purposeless, would rather obviously be teaching something other than the science of physics. I’m not even sure what it means to say that the decay of an atom “looks purposeless”. Would a purposefully decaying atom look different from a purposeless one or something? Here’s a suggestion: If your scientific theory depends on the claim that some phenomena is purposeless, then it’s not really science after all, certainly not in the way that physics is. Not sure why Coyne even invited the comparison physics. All it does is highlight the difference between hard science and whatever it is he’s doing.


    I see. We can know that evolution has always been unguided because it looks that way.

    Of course, it *doesn’t* look that way, which is precisely why Coyne is at pains to say that it does. The whole reason we’re even talking about this is that living things appear to be purposeful through and through, to the point that we’re not even capable of intelligibly describing them without teleological terms like “purpose”, “function”, “for”, and so forth. That’s why Coyne, gnu that he is, needs to insist that science says the appearance is false, whereas the question simply isn’t relevant in the actual science of physics.

    Furthermore, free will appears to exist, and consciousness appears to be fundamentally irreducible to and distinct from blind, mechanical, material causes. And not only do they appear that way, denying that they actually are that way results in logical incoherence. Certainly these appearances are far stronger than the (non)-appearance of evolution’s supposed purposelessness. And yet in all these cases, Coyne is quite willing to disregard appearance (and logic) in favor of ideology.

  3. Bilbo says:

    I’m pretty sure that Darwin believed in causal physical determinism. So if God had created the universe, then everything that happened after the creation was pre-determined to happen. That would seem to imply that God intended that it happen, and that it has a purpose. So if evolution is true, then it is purposeful. I’m not sure if Darwin saw this implication, but it seems pretty obvious to me, at least.

  4. Crude says:

    We can know that evolution has always been unguided because it looks that way.

    Worse for Coyne – it doesn’t look that way. Certainly not to me, and not to many others. (Hell, I remember when Dennett, of all people, got sandbagged by someone on this topic.)

    I sometimes wonder if Coyne realizes he’s BSing. Can the guy be this deluded? Or does he know better, but he wants to give things a spin?

  5. Dhay says:

    Here’s some more BS from Jerry Coyne:

    Our brains that evolved solely to enable small bands of social primates to make their living on the savannah have nevertheless helped us unravel the deepest secrets of the universe, from the existence of subatomic particles, to black holes, to … …
    [My boldening.]

    “Solely”? Heck, ancestral fish had brains — and many of their ancestors, too — long before they evolved into us. Why would anyone suppose that all of our evolution happened on the savannah, a mere link away in the long, long, long evolutionary chain. In particular, why would an evolutionary biologist like Professor Coyne make such a sophomoric error.

    Michael Shermer tries on more of the same in “The Believing Brain”, when he asserts that ‘patternicity’ and ‘agenticity’ evolved on the savannah — then describes a flight-or-fight (or die) response (to hearing rustling grass, in his example) that would have evolved contemporaneously with the first ever sea-dwelling predators. — And which response would probably have evolved into a flight-or-fight or flight-or-“whoopee, lion-meat” response by the end of the savannah period.

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