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Richard Lewontin  (b. 1929)  PhD Zoology  Alexander Agassiz Research Professor at Harvard University  Web  Amazon  AV  

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection in particular is hopelessly metaphysical, according to the rules of etiquette laid down in the Logic of Scientific Inquiry and widely believed in by practicing scientists who bother to think about the problem. The first rule for any scientific hypothesis ought to be that it is at least possible to conceive of an observation that would contradict the theory. For what good is a theory that is guaranteed by its internal logical structure to agree with all conceivable observations, irrespective of the real structure of the world? If scientists are going to use logically unbeatable theories about the world, they might as well give up natural science and take up religion. Yet is that not exactly the situation with regard to Darwinism? The theory of evolution by natural selection states that changes in the inherited characters of species occur, giving rise to differentiation in space and time, because different genetical types leave different numbers of offspring in different environments... Such a theory can never be falsified, for it asserts that some environmental difference created the conditions for natural selection of a new character. It is existentially quantified so that the failure to find the environmental factor proves nothing, except that one has not looked hard enough. Can one really imagine observations about nature that would disprove natural selection as a cause of the difference in bill size? The theory of natural selection is then revealed as metaphysical rather than scientific. Natural selection explains nothing because it explains everything.    “Testing the Theory of Natural Selection”  Nature  March 24, 1972  p.181 

Creationists have capitalized on scientific disputes among biologists on the details of the evolutionary process by pretending that serious students of the subject are themselves in doubt about evolution. Evolutionary study is a living science; as such it is rich with controversy about particular issues off detail and mechanism. Creationists have extracted published statements in those controversies and used them dishonestly to suggest that biologists are in doubt about the fact of organic evolution. Local school boards and students must clearly be impressed that scientists in universities seem themselves to be denying evolution.    Bioscience  September 1981  p.559

We cannot live simultaneously in a world of natural causation and of miracles, for if one miracle can occur, there is no limit.    Scientists Confront Creationism  (1983)  p.xiv

The only alternative is to say that they did arise from muck because God’s finger went out and touched that muck. That is to say, there was a non-natural process. And that’s really where the action is. Either you think that complex organisms arose by non-natural phenomena, or you think that they arose by natural phenomena. If they arose by natural phenomena, they had to evolve. And that’s all there is to it.     “Agnostic Evolutionists”  (1988)

It is the great irony of modern evolutionary genetics that the spirit of explanation has moved more and more towards optimal adaptation, while the technical developments of population genetics of the past 30 years have been increasingly to show the efficacy of non adaptive forces in evolution.    "A natural selection"  Nature  May 11,1989  p.107

The problems that science deals with, the ideas that it uses in investigating those problems, even the so-called scientific results that come out of scientific investigation, are all deeply influenced by predispositions that derive from the society in which we live. Scientists do not begin life as scientists after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience.    Biology as Ideology  (1992)  p.3

For an institution to explain the world so as to make the world legitimate, it must possess several features. First, the institution as a whole must appear to derive from sources outside of ordinary human social struggle. It must not seem to be the creation of political, economic, or social forces, but to descend into society form a supra-human source. Second, the ideas, pronouncements, rules, and results of the institution’s activity must have a validity and a transcendent truth that goes beyond any possibility of human compromise or human error. Its explanations and pronouncements must seem to be true in an absolute sense and to derive somehow form an absolute source. They must be true for all time and all place. And finally, the institution must have a certain mystical and veiled quality so that its innermost operation is not completely transparent to everyone. It must have an esoteric language, which needs to be explained to the ordinary person by those who are especially knowledgeable and who can intervene between everyday life and mysterious sources of understanding and knowledge.

The Christian Church or indeed any revealed religion fits these requirements perfectly, and so religion has been an ideal institution for legitimating society. If only people with special grace, whether they be priests, pastors, or ordinary citizens, are in direct contact with the divine inspiration through revelations, then we must depend upon them completely for an understanding of what has been divinely decreed.

But this description also fits science and has made it possible for science to replace religion as the chief legitimating force in modern society. Science claims a method that is objective and nonpolitical, true for all time. Scientists truly believe that except for the unwanted intrusions of ignorant politicians, science is above the social fray.    Biology as Ideology  (1992)  p.7-8

Not only the methods and institutions of science are said to be above ordinary human relations but, of course, the product of science is claimed to be a kind of universal truth. The secrets of nature are unlocked. Once the truth about nature is revealed, one must accept the facts of life. When science speaks, let no dog bark.  Finally, science speaks in mysterious words. No one except an expert can understand what scientists say and do, and we require the mediation of special people – science journalists, for example, or professors who speak on the radio – to explain the mysteries of nature because otherwise there is nothing but indecipherable formulas. Nor can one scientists always understand the formulas of another. Once, when Sir Solly Zuckerman, the famous English zoologist, was asked what he did when he read a scientific paper and came  across mathematical formulas, he said, “I hum them.”

Despite its claims to be above society, science, like the Church before it, is a supremely social institution, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of society at each historical epoch. Sometimes the source in social experience of a scientific theory and the way in which that scientific theory is a direct translation of social experience are completely evident, even at a detailed level. The most famous case is Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.    Biology as Ideology  (1992)  p.8-9

The problem is to get them  to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth. The reason that people do not have a correct view of nature is not that they are ignorant of this or that fact about the material world, but that they look to the wrong sources in their attempt to understand.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"  New York Review of Books  January 9, 1997 

There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become "observations" we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view, and the experiments that produced them are not revisited... The standard form of a scientific paper begins with a theoretical question, which is then followed by the description of an experimental technique designed to gather observations pertinent to the question. Only then are the observations themselves described. Finally there is a discussion section in which a great deal of energy is often expended rationalizing the failure of the observations to accord entirely with a theory we really like, and in which proposals are made for other experiments that might give more satisfactory results. Sagan's suggestion that only demonologists engage in "special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble," is certainly not one that accords with my reading of the scientific literature. Nor is this a problem unique to biology. The attempts of physicists to explain why their measurements of the effects of relativity did not agree with Einstein's quantitative prediction is a case no doubt well known to Sagan.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

As to assertions without adequate evidence, the literature of science is filled with them, especially the literature of popular science writing. Carl Sagan's list of the "best contemporary science-popularizers" includes E.O. Wilson, Lewis Thomas, and Richard Dawkins, each of whom has put unsubstantiated assertions or counterfactual claims at the very center of the stories they have retailed in the market.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

It is said that there is no place for an argument from authority from science. The community of science is constantly self-critical ... It is certainly true that within each narrowly defined scientific field there is constant challenge to new technical claims and to old wisdom. ... But when scientists transgress the bounds of their own specialty they have no choice but to accept the claims of authority, even though they do not know how solid the grounds of those claims may be. Who am I to believe that quantum physics if not Steven Weinberg, or about the solar system if not Carl Sagan? What worries me is that they may believe what Dawkins and Wilson tell them about evolution.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

Given the immense extent, inherent complexity, and counterintuitive nature of scientific knowledge, it is impossible for anyone, including non-specialist scientists, to retrace the intellectual paths that lead to scientific conclusions about nature. In the end we must trust the experts and they, in turn, exploit their authority as experts and their rhetorical skills to secure our attention and our belief in things that we do not really understand.    "Billions and Billions of Demons"

Theodosius Dobzhansky, the leading empirical evolutionary geneticist of the twentieth century, who spent most of his life staring down a microscope at chromosomes, vacillated between deism, gnosticism, and membership in the Russian Orthodox Church. He could not understand how anyone on his or her deathbed could remain an unrepentant materialist. I, his student and scientific epigone, ingested my unwavering atheism and a priori materialism along with the spinach at the parental dinner table.     "The Wars Over Evolution"  New York Review of Books  October 20, 2005


Charles Lyell  (1787 -  1875)  Web  GP  Amazon

Conybeare's memoir is not strong by any means. He admits three deluges before the Noachian! and Buckland adds God knows how many catastrophes besides, so we have driven them out of the Mosaic record fairly.     letter to Gideon Mantell  April, 1829

I conceived the idea five or six years ago, that if ever the Mosaic geology could be set down without giving offence, it would be in an historical sketch, and you must abstract mine, in order to have as little to say as possible yourself. Let them feel it, and point the moral.     letter to Poulett Scrope  June 14,1830

If I had stated as plainly as he has done the possibility of the introduction of origination of fresh species being a natural, in contradistinction to a miraculous process, I should have raised a host of prejudices against me, which are unfortunately opposed at every step to any philosopher who attempts to address the public on these mysterious subjects.     letter to the Rev. W. Whewell  March 7,1837

Making the Bible a school-book here, and setting poor children to read Deuteronomy, is a proof that our Church teaching is not meant to open their minds. People will have education, so they manage thus by sham instruction to evade what they dread, i.e. the making them capable of thinking and reasoning.     letter to George Ticknor  September 26, 1847

In France I fear the new law of schools will place them far too much under the Catholic priesthood, and the same cause will prevent the Italians from becoming fit for representative government, and they will be voted incapable because those above them are determined they shall remain children.     letter to Charles Bunbury  January 17, 1850

But you ought to be satisfied, as I shall bring hundreds towards you, who if I treated the matter more dogmatically would have rebelled.     letter to Charles Darwin  March 11, 1863

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