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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Evolution and Philosophy


by John Wilkins
Copyright © 1997


1. The article by Stamos [1996] is by far the best review of Popper's views on evolution, and I recommend finding it if you have access to an academic library. Popper later 'recanted' his claim that Darwinism was unfalsifiable and a tautology (which were related arguments in Popper's view), in "Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind", Dialectica 32(1978), pp. 339-355 , but it was rather weakly done. This recantation is rarely cited by those who interminably argue about the tautology argument.

A recent criticism of 'Darwinism' by the philosopher David Stove (1995) rehearses the usual arguments and adds some new ones, but in my view it rests on a false notion of what modelling and prediction does in real science. See the section on predictions and explanation. See also Franklin's review (1997). Stove's book egregiously misconstrues Darwinism in order to make a point.

2. For example, the dismissal of Darwin's theory by his mentor, astronomer William Herschel, as "the law of higgeldy-piggeldy' [cf Ruse 1979 : 248-249 ].

3. Although I can't imagine Karl Popper being young, ever.

4. See the review in Panchen 1992 for a more detailed summary, and Oldroyd 1986 for an introduction to science and knowledge since Plato.

5. This was the point of the 19th century creationist Louis Agassiz's "answer" to Darwinism: "If species do not exist at all, how can they vary? And if individuals alone exist, how can differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of species?" [Lurie 1988: 297] Agassiz was strongly influenced by the German Naturphilosophen school, founded by disciplies of Goethe.

6. It is easy to confuse Aristotle's formalism with Plato's idealism. For Aristotle, the perfect dog would be a real dog. For Plato, it might not be a physical dog, and if it were, it would be perfect because it was the physical form of an ideal.

7. Attributed to the physicist Ernest Lord Rutherford, who said "Science is divided into two categories, physics and stamp-collecting", in J.D. Bernal "The social function of science", cited in The Penguin dictionary of twentieth century quotations, J.M & M. J. Cohen, 1993. Thanks to Peter Lamb for this ref.

8. It is often wrongly thought that Williams ruled group selection out. He didn't, and doesn't [cf Williams 1992].

9. Things really shouldn't use the term 'modern' in their title, for the synthesis is showing its age now.

10. That's the term used at the time. Don't blame me for being sexist.

11. Think I'm exaggerating? Try these:

Morris, H.M. (1974) Scientific Creationism. Creation-life publishing, San Diego:

"[Satan] then brought about man's fall with the same deception ("ye shall be as gods") and the long sad story of the outworking of human unbelief as centered in the grand delusion of evolution has been the result." (p. 76)

"Jesus said: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7:18). The evil fruit of the evolutionary philosophy is evidence enough of its evil root." (p. 186)

Morris, H.M. (1975) The Troubled Waters of Evolution. Creation-life publishing, San Diego:

"Satan himself is the originator of the concept of evolution." (p. 75)

Thanks to Chris Nedin for these references. Peter Lamb has commented: " I disagree with this interpretation of Creationism. I read it as a belief that a particular literalist ... interpretation is God's Mind, and to hell with physical phenomena if they appear to contradict it." This may be true, but it is also a feature of many other ideologies, such as Lysenkoist Stalinism, some varieties of Thomist scholasticism, and certain types of environmentalism. But what undergirds creationist literalism is a prior commitment to the Word of God (in effect, the mind and will, or purpose, of God) which is why they deny observable phenomena.

12. Note in passing, that Gould is not a Marxist, although there are a number of prominent evolutionary biologists who make no secret of being so. Also note that there are many liberal and conservative evolutionary biologists. Political affiliation does not specify what sorts of theoretical views one must have. Darwin was a Whig (middle-class liberal) while Huxley and Wallace were radicals. Spencer and Haeckel could only be called conservatives, and a number of Haeckel's views were influential in the rise of fascism. Yet these political views did not and do not determine agreement on matters of theoretical biology - conservatives (eg, Maynard Smith) and radicals (eg, Levins or Lewontin) can often agree against others of their 'kind'.


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