Friday, 15 June 2012

A Mind Of Sufficient Grasp

Charles Robert Darwin, FRS (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882)
Reading Daniel Dennett's must read book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea I came across this little snippet of information.

Back in 1859, Darwin set out the formal logic of his theory in the first edition of "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", popularly know by its later title "The Origin Of Species". It was:

If, during the long course of ages and under varying conditions of life, organic beings vary at all in the several parts of their organization, and I think this cannot be disputed; if there be, owing to the high geometric powers of increase of each species, at some age, season, or year, a severe struggle for life, and this certainly cannot be disputed; then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of existence, causing an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each being's own welfare, in the same way as so many variations have occurred useful to man. But if variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of inheritance they will tend to produce offspring similarly characterized. This principle of preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection.

Charles Darwin, Origin, p. 127

So, which Creationist is going to come forward and explain the fault in that logic. What statement of fact is wrong? What deduction does not flow inevitably from that fact? Because, if you can't you have absolutely no basis whatsoever for denying the fact of evolution by natural selection and the conclusion that it explains the present and past diversity of life on earth.

No, I don't mean which Creationist is going to come forward and try to obscure the argument with quibbles over the meaning of words, or to assert that it can't be right because an old book says so, or that their 'faith' trumps logic and we should just believe what they say. I mean which Creationist is actually going to go through the logic, step by step, and explain why it is faulty.

Because, if you can't you have no basis on which to doubt the truth of Darwin's theory as set out here. You have no real reason to dispute the conclusion that this short piece of undeniable logic was arguably the most profound in all of science.

And, perhaps most importantly, you have no option but to agree with Darwin's statement that, "I think it would be a most extraordinary fact if no variation ever had occurred useful to each being's own welfare". What Darwin is saying here is that, if this logic holds, it would be extraordinary if evolution did not occur.

In fact, it is true to say that evolution not occurring would be as extraordinary as a stone remaining hovering in the air when released and not falling towards the centre of gravity.

The extraordinary thing, and something that might need a supernatural being in the explanation if it were true, would be if there were no bio-diversity. It would be as difficult for science to explain as a stone hovering three feet above the ground. It's not ever going to be true though because, as Darwin's logic shows, evolution is as inevitable as is a stone's movement in response to gravity.

In Thomas Huxley's words on reading Origin, "How stupid not to have thought of it oneself!".

Patrick Matthew (20 October 1790 – 8 June 1874)
Maybe the stark-staring obviousness of Evolution by Natural Selection can be gauged from the words of Patrick Matthew. Matthew had actually described evolution by natural selection in 1831, but as an appendix to his book, "Naval Timber and Arboriculture". Learning of Darwin's rising fame as the 'discoverer' of it, he published a letter in Gardeners' Chronicle (ever the master of choosing obscure publications) claiming his priority, which Darwin graciously conceded but excused his ignorance on the obscurity of Matthew's choice of venue. Matthew's response was revealing:

To me the concept of this law of Nature came intuitively as a self-evident fact, almost without an effort of concentrated thought. Mr Darwin here seems to have more merit in the discovery than I have had - to me it did not appear a discovery. He seems to have worked it out by inductive reason, slowly and with due caution to have made his way synthetically from fact to fact onwards; while with me it was by a general glance at the scheme of Nature that I estimated this select production of species as an a priori recognizable fact - an axiom, requiring only to be pointed out to be admitted by unprejudiced minds of sufficient grasp."

So, if you can't fault Darwin's logic and yet still won't accept Darwinian Evolution, maybe Patrick Matthew offers an explanation: you lack an "unprejudiced mind of sufficient grasp".

So, over to you Creationists. It's time to put your money where your mouth is. Do any of you have sufficient confidence in your belief to take up this challenge and show you have an unprejudiced mind of sufficient grasp?

I think people will understand if you haven't.





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4 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. This argument requires new variations to be formed. Otherwise it just says that the existing variations that are least robust will be weeded out. I don't think that anyone denies that some species have gone extinct and creationists have no problem with changing frequencies of particular phenotypes. It is the creation of new phenotypes they have a problem with.

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    1. >This argument requires new variations to be formed. <

      Indeed. This is called 'mutation'. It's the inevitable result of an imperfect copying system.

      You can read about this stuff in biology books if you want to.

      Delete

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