Interview with Jerry in American Scientist

March 5, 2009 • 8:36 am

by Greg Mayer

An interview with Jerry on evolution vs. creationism appears in the online pages of American Scientist. In the interview, Jerry talks mostly about his approach to teaching evolution based on 25 years experience, and how he applied that experience in the writing of WEIT. A couple of highlights:

…when you read Darwin, the thing that’s most fascinating is the evidence he musters in support of it. In talking with professional biologists and evolutionists, they didn’t ever learn why people thought evolution was true, because you’re not taught that in class. But I thought that that should be passed on to the students because of the second reason I wrote the book, which is the pervasiveness of creationism in this country. I wanted to educate the students so they know that evolution really happened, so they don’t really doubt that, but also to arm them against the forces of irrationality that were going to be impinging on them and society….

And so when I teach the stuff I teach it as sort of an object lesson in how to adjudicate between competing theories in science. And that’s the way I wrote the book, too. I’m constantly asking the reader, “How does creationism explain this observation? It can’t.” So it’s more than teaching the evidence; it’s teaching them how to discriminate between good science and bad science, and that’s a good lesson for students too.

8 thoughts on “Interview with Jerry in American Scientist

  1. Jerry says in this interview that “To my knowledge, I don’t know of any challenge to evolution that’s ever come from a non-religious person. Personally I’ve never experienced one.”

    Philosopher David Stove, who wrote Darwinian Fairytales, was an atheist who argued that, while ‘Darwinism’ may be true of all non-human species, what it must entail about our own species is obviously false.

    There’s also an essay of his available on the web, entitled “So you think you are a Darwinian?”

  2. I don’t believe the posting above is an accurate representation of Stove’s criticisms. Stove was critical of sociobiology, which is a field that attempts to use Darwinian ideas to explain social behavior. Many academics have debated the value of adaptive explanations for explaining human social behavior.

    The post above has an air of mischief to the wording (because it is religiously motivated maybe?). Specifically by asserting that Stove apparently rejected that humans arose from an ape like ancestor predominately through the process evolution by natural selection. This is another fairytale about Darwinism! Stove, like numerous academics world-wide, was simply debated the power of Darwinism to explain all human behavior, which is a very common criticism and discussion of sociobiology.

  3. ‘Downunder fan’ makes three mistakes:

    1. He imputes motives to me (i.e.religious piety). Such imputation is a common tactic of poor reasoners, and ought to be avoided. And he imputes erroneously: I’m an atheist.

    2. He says I ‘assert’ that Stove denied we arose from an apelike ancestor. No such assertion whatsoever can be found in my first post above.

    3. He needs to reread Stove’s essay or Stove’s book. Stove does not only reject sociobiology: he rejects, concerning our own species, what he takes to be central Darwinian claims about all species: e.g. that every organism has as many descendants as it can, that in every species child mortality is extremely high, that any variation in the least degree injurious will be rigidly destroyed.

  4. (1) Actually a common tactic of poor a “reasoner” is to claim imputation, when it was only a mild suggestion/question. Note the “maybe” and question mark. I withdraw the question. But Mark you got quite emotional about it. Are you ok?

    (2) You said that Darwinism might be false for our species. This was a very glib but far reaching statement. Obviously based on your reaction it doesn’t accurately represent what you really meant to say. It would have been more helpful to the reader if you had more thoroughly represented your point. You shouldn’t be surprised by the reaction.

    (3) I still don’t see the connection between Stove’s somewhat extreme claims and a complete rejection of the Darwinism in humans. He was only rejecting the extremes. He doesn’t actually reject that there is differential survival and reproduction (as a result of selection) among humans. Any amount of differential survival and reproduction, whether it be very small or very large, will result in evolution. Some people have tried to suggest that there is now only a very limited amount of differential survival and reproduction in the human population, and hence evolution of humans might not longer be strongly Darwinian. If you can confirm and cite where Stove completely rejects that any amount of ‘selective differential survival and reproduction’ in human is irrelevant to humans, then I think you’ve got a point.

    Although to be frank I find Stove quite boring and he was not a non-religious proponent of creationism (the original point of all of this), so I probably won’t follow things any further.

  5. To downunder fan, post 4:

    (1) I’m glad to see you retract your fallacious imputation. Bravo.

    (2) You need to work on your reading comprehension. I myself never asserted that Darwinism was untrue. I said that STOVE asserted that Darwinism is untrue. You should be embarrassed that I have to point this out to you.

    (3) Here’s Stove, p. xiv, Darwinian Fairytales: “I do deny that natural selection is going on within our species now, and that it ever went on in our species, at any time of which anything is known.”

    (4) Jerry said in his interview that he knew of no “challenge to evolution that’s ever come from a non-religious person.” But David Stove was such a person. All I did in my first post was to point this out.

  6. (1) You missed the point about your over-reaction to a suggestion.

    (2) I was being economical with words. The intention wasn’t to accuse you but to point out your glib representation of Stove.

    (3) Ok, now you’re finally producing a better representation of your point about Stove. Bravo!

    (4) Stove was just a philosopher with a barrow to push about sociobiology. Although your post has made me think about whether there are examples of non-Darwinian evolutionary biologists. The group of biologists that formed the Osaka Group in the 1980s is an interesting one. The group often published in the journal Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum and sometimes in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. People like Gerry Webster, Mei Wen Ho, Brian Goodwin, David Lambert, etc. I once heard that Gould even attended one of their meeting. The group tried to de-throne Darwinism by criticising the functionalist way of viewing the world that is common to both Natural Theology and Darwinian adaptation (i.e. humans are bias towards seeing design in nature). The group believed that seeing design (apparent or otherwise) in nature was just the view through the “colored spectacles” of humans. They advocated a structuralist approach of evolution, which concentrated on understanding developmental process as the key to explaining diversity. Many of the members of this group wanted to bury Darwinism and the concept of adaptation, turning around Dobzanski’s famous saying to read “nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of biology”. The momentum of the group has all pretty much disappeared now. If anyone is interested, the following paper explains the argument a bit more. A.J. Hughes, D.M. Lambert (1984) Functionalism, structuralism, and “Ways of seeing”. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 111 (4): 787-800. My opinion about this now failed non-Darwinian movement in biology? I think they were just pushing another way of looking at the world (and how do we decide between those?) and they could never articulate a clear research program to advance their cause. I wouldn’t have a clue were any of them have got to.

  7. To downunder fan, post 6:

    (1) I ignored your point, for it was just another one of your fallacious imputations: here, that I ’emotionally overreacted.’ I called a spade a spade, period. You desperately need to give up your poor habit of shabby imputation.

    (2) Economy? Your economy is indistinguishable from mere sloppiness. You sloppily fudged over a basic distinction: that between a person asserting p, and a person merely reporting that person S asserts p. It’s a freshman mistake.

    (3) You claimed in your first post that I misrepresented Stove. You thereby implicitly claimed a knowledge of Stove’s views. My quotation from Stove shows (a) that you were wrong in saying I misrepresented him, and (b) that you really didn’t know what Stove’s views are. All your posts on the Stove issue have been a waste of time.

    (4) Again, Stove is NOT merely against sociobiology. My quotation from Stove, and the sampler I gave of some of his claims (see post 3 above), are enough to show this.

    In any event, I’d love to see Jerry or some other brilliant evolutionist take on Stove’s arguments. Perhaps someone already has, and I’m unaware of it. If anyone is aware of a high quality rejoinder to Stove, please post the citation.

  8. I might be able to help out (if your blood pressure can take it!). Simon Blackburn published a rebuttal to Stove’s ideas in 1996 in his paper “I Rather Think I Am A Darwinian” (Philosophy , 71 (278): 605-616). He puts it quite nicely when he said at the end that “Stove chose not to attack the perversions of Darwinian theory, but the theory itself. I believe philosophers need to understand that his weapons were hopelessly ill-adapted to doing this.” That summarizes Stove nicely; he didn’t really get to grips with Darwinian theory and the types evidence. I thought Stove’s philosophical garbage had already been put out and taken away long ago. A lot of things circulate on the internet, but maybe they don’t give a very good representation of the academic debate.

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