I used to think that the Vancouver Sun was a reputable newspaper. It has the largest staff of any paper in that city, and is the province’s second most widely-read paper (after The Province). And, indeed, this column by Douglas Todd starts off by properly decrying the low acceptance of evolution in Canada:
An Angus Reid poll recently showed only 58 per cent of Canadians (compared to 42 per cent of Americans) accept the fundamental teaching of evolution; that “human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years.”
It’s disturbing that 24 per cent of Canadians (39 per cent of Americans) told Angus Reid pollsters they embrace Biblical Creationism , or the belief that “God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years.” Another 20 per cent of Canadians said they weren’t sure.
Todd’s diagnosis of the problem? Canadian schools don’t give the kids a proper education in evolution.
Most Canadian public school students are also not taught evolutionary theory in mandatory science classes. Retired B.C. high-school teacher Scott Goodman and others justifiably worry only a small sliver of Canadian students – typically those who choose elective biology classes in Grades 11 or 12 – ever focus on it.
The education systems’ inadequate handling of evolutionary theory is partly based on political correctness. Many governments and teachers are afraid of offending conservative Christians, Mormons and Jehova’s Witnesseses (often not recognizing mainstream Protestants and Catholics, as well as Buddhists and Hindus, generally accept evolution).
In addition to the piecemeal teaching of evolution in Canadian public schools. which are a provincial jurisdiction, most university science classes offer students virtually no sense of the wide array of evolutionary theories in existence.
So far so good, I think, though what does he mean by “the wide array of evolutionary theories”? Then it becomes clear: Todd thinks that the modern theory of evolution, often described as “neo-Darwinism,” is really only one of a dozen competing theories of evolution, some of which he says are “more complete” than neo-Darwinism:
Most media outlets also fall short on enlightening the public on this wide-ranging theory about the origins of life. These media contribute to a false-choice debate about evolution; acting as if there only two polarized camps – neo-Darwinism and Biblical Creationism.
There is actually a much richer discussion about evolution occurring behind the scenes. It involves 12 current theories.
Only one of these evolutionary theories is neo-Darwinism, the school based on genetic mutation and random selection that is dominant in most universities.
Neo-Darwinism is advanced by high-profile, anti-religious biologists such as Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.
But to my mind, some of the other 11 theories of evolution are more complete than neo-Darwinism.
Uh oh. Eleven other theories? What are they? Todd describes some of them, taken from an article by Carter Phipps in Enlightenment Magazine, which seems to be a New Age-y rag.
1. “Cooperation,” which Todd imputes to Lynn Margulis. And of course students should be taught Margulis’s confirmed ideas that mitochondria and chloroplasts had their origins as bacterial endosymbionts. But Margulis’s view that symbiosis and its attendant cooperation are responsible for nearly every aspect of evolution, including speciation (my own field) is bizarre and certainly not part of mainstream evolutionary theory.
2. Complexity theory. Whatever this is, it’s certainly not an alternative to neo-Darwinism, but a tool for studying the behavior of complex systems. It may help us understand evolution, but it’s not a theory of evolution itself.
3. Directionality, which he ascribes to Robert Wright and others:
A group of evolutionary psychologists also strongly oppose Dawkin’s view that selfish genes can explain everything. These social scientists, such as Robert Wright, ar e known as “directionalists” because they see elements of purpose in life.
I’m pretty sure that even Wright, who does descry some signs of purpose in both evolution and the development of human society, wouldn’t describe his views as an alternative to neo-Darwinism. And, at any rate, absent any good evidence for such purpose in biological evolution, it’s not a theory with any credibility—certainly not one that should be taught to biology students.
4. Intelligent design. WTF???
5. The evolutionary views of Madame Blavatsky. Well-known mystic and founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Blavatsky promulgated a number of bizarre “evolutionary” views, including that of a multi-racial origin of humans, with Aryans of course being superior. It’s the usual mystical pap that has excited people from time to time. Here’s some Theosophical garbage about evolution, which Todd apparently wants Canadian children to learn:
Evolution is the emergence of the possibilities inherent in Nature from latency into active expression. The word means, literally, unfolding, and it implies the prior process of involution by which the potentialities of spirit are communicated to matter.
Esoteric Science affirms the universality of the evolutionary process:
The whole order of nature evinces a progressive march towards a higher life. There is design in the action of the seemingly blindest forces. The whole process of evolution with its endless adaptations is a proof of this. (10)
Here we must return to the Hierarchies of Sections 4 and 5, for the evolutionary process is not a mechanical one but “is guided, controlled, and animated by almost endless series of Hierarchies of sentient Beings.”
6. Conscious evolution, as described by the priest-mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I can do nothing better here than refer you to Sir Peter Medawar’s review of Teilhard’s The Phenomenon of Man, one of the funniest (and most scathing) book reviews ever written.
Todd then degenerates into complete madness:
7. Process philosophy. I’m not an expert here, but this is philosophy, not evolution—unless you subscribe to Todd’s characterization of it as a philosophy that “blend[s] science and spirituality. Biologists such as Charles Birch and progressive Christian theologians such as John Cobb maintain the divine is ‘the creative advance into novelty,’ the source of the universe’s process of change.”
There are others, but I can’t go on. I have a stomach ache. The sick part is that Todd apparently wants all of these “theories” taught to young Canadians, and bemoans the fact that they’re not:
It’s my hope this fascinating array of evolutionary theories will soon receive more media attention. But when will they be widely taught in Canadian or American public schools and universities? Not likely soon.
I don’t need to fulminate about the educational outcome if this panoply of gobbledygook is funneled into the heads of Canadian children. You’d get a group of kids who wouldn’t have the slightest idea what evolution was about; they’d put Darwin on a par with that old charlatan Teilhard de Chardin—or Madame Blavatsky. Of course Canada won’t, I trust, take Todd’s advice. But by writing this column, he’s undoubtedly confused a lot of people about what the theory of evolution really is, and how well it’s stood up.
By now you might be asking: who is this guy Douglas Todd, and why did the Vancouver Sun give him a forum to spout this kind of garbage (and probably pay him for it)? Is there anyone at that paper who knows anything about evolution, and could have deep-sixed this piece before it went into print? How could Todd have any credibility as a journalist if he writes stuff like this?
Well, it turns out that Todd is not only credible, but has a good reputation among some folks; and he has won prizes for his writings on faith. Maybe he writes good stuff on religion, but how on earth did he get into biology, which he seems to be conflating with spirituality?
Ah, there’s a clue. Look at what Todd has won (emphasis mine):
Although he was raised in a family of staunch atheists, Douglas Todd has gone on to become one of the most decorated spirituality and ethics writers in North America. He has received more than 50 journalism honours for his features, analyses, news stories and commentaries. Vancouver Magazine recently referred to him as “arguably Vancouver’s most thoughtful journalist.” He is the author of two successful books and has been awarded with several major fellowships.
Internationally, Todd has won numerous writing prizes. He has twice taken first place in the Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year Award, which goes to the top religion reporter in the secular media in North America. Todd is the only Canadian to have received the Templeton.
The John Templeton Foundation is so good at recognizing this kind of talent.
Fig. 1. I can haz theory of evolushun. Madame Blavatsky.
h/t: Frank Sellout