Anti-Science Irony

Anti-Science, evolution and climate change are now at the center of the 2012 Presidential campaign. The answers to the head-turning question, “Do you believe in evolution?” gets top media attention even though few politicians have biology training beyond Biology 101. Of course, “does life have meaning and purpose?” is the real core of the question.

The use of the term Anti-Science today has evolved to mean anti-evolution and anti-climate change. How candidates manage the “evolution” question will likely leverage an effect on the final vote next year.” Question like “Do you believe in evolution” are now one of the most dreaded types of questions on the political campaign trail. But, what is Anti-Science? As we will see, the history of the Anti-Science is an amazing saga of irony.

At the core of the Anti-Science debate is the definition of Science. The Oxford English Dictionary says that science is “a method of procedures that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

The father of “method of procedures” is the Scientific Method founded by English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Use of Bacon’s method launched the Scientific Revolution in the late sixteenth century.

Often called the Baconian Method, or simply the Scientific Method, Bacon replaced deductive reasoning with strict adherence to inductive reasoning for the purpose of discovering natural laws, Bacon’s insistence on establishing a planned procedure marked a new turn for defining the essence of science.

Using Bacon’s method of investigation, the early Scientific Revolution period culminated in 1687with the publication of the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton. Darwin initially followed the footsteps of Newton. In the same way Newton discovered the natural laws of gravity and motion, Charles Darwin was intent on discovering the natural laws of evolution.

The Scientific Revolution was center stage in the eighteenth century. John Herschel’s book, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), encapsulated the concepts of the scientific method. Darwin read Herschel’s Discourse while at Cambridge. William Whewell, a professor at the University of Cambridge, supported Herschel’s approach to the scientific method and later published The History of Inductive Sciences (1837) and The Philosophy of Inductive Sciences (1840).

In the prelude to The Origin of Species, Darwin quotes from William Whewell and Francis Bacon. Ironically, since even the fossil record failed to support his theory, Darwin was forced to abandon the Scientific Method.  Darwin was painfully aware that the Cambrian Explosion actually contradicted his theory.

In response to a letter from Asa Gray, professor of biology at Harvard University, Darwin declared: “I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science.” Darwin was “anti-Science”.

When questioned further by Gray, Darwin confirmed Gray’s suspicions: “What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work is grievously hypothetical, and large parts are by no means worthy of being called induction.”  Darwin had turned against the use of scientific principles in developing his theory of evolution.  The “Anti-Science” movement was popular in the nineteenth century, sponsored by the emerging influential members of the X Club.

Darwin was very concerned about the effect of the Anti-Science approach. Just two weeks before the lease of The Origin of Species, Erasmus Darwin, his brother, consoled him in a letter: “In fact, the a priori reasoning is so entirely satisfactory to me that if the facts [evidence] won’t fit, why so much the worse for the facts, in my feeling.”

In the final chapter of The Origin of Species, Darwin actually only lends hedging confidence to his theory of evolution, noting that the “whole volume is one long argument.… We ought to be extremely cautious in saying that any organ or instinct, or any whole structure, could not have arrived at its present state by many graduated steps.”

Ironically, the use of the popular Anti-Science labeling in politics should be applied to Charles Darwin−the founder of modern evolutionary thought.

Paul Nurse, writing in the September 14 edition of the New Scientist in the article “Stamp out anti-science in US politics” said, “Get the science right first, then discuss the political implications.”

The fact is, the evidence for developing a comprehensive theory of evolution is more in a crisis now, than at any time since the turn of the twenty-first century. As the evidence continues to mount, scientists are now abandoning the once central unifying dogma of evolution established during the late twentieth century−the Modern Synthesis theory that had replaced Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The Altenberg Summit in Austria during the summer of 2008 was a turning point for the evolution industry. At the summit, leading evolutionary scientists declared the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution extinct. Genetic mutations acted on by natural selection are no longer recognized as the natural law for biological evolution.

In the wake of the summit, evolutionary scientists are feverishly in the process of exploring theoretical replacements. The MIT Press book, “Evolution, the Extended Synthesis(2010) edited by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B Műller presents 16 potential theories from the summit. Yet, none of the potential replacement theories have emerged as a forerunner. Currently, a cohesive theory of evolution simply does not exist.

Political candidates on both sides of the isle should actually be asked the question: “What is the theory of evolution?”

As it stands, evolution is simply a philosophy and not a science based on any known natural law verified by “systematic observation, measurement, and experiment(s)”. Ironically, the theory of evolution in the twenty-first century, as Darwin plainly acknowledged during the nineteenth century, falls into the realm of Anti-Science, not Science.

Presidential candidate, Jon Huntsman, highlights the current conundrum. In an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News “Special Report”, Huntsman said “When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on wrong side of science and therefore in a losing position.”

Amazingly, notice that Huntsman had to turn to “climate scientist[s]” to garner a mirage of scientific support for the theory of evolution.  Even the National Science Teachers Association, the vanguard of evolution in public education, takes distance from any particular theory of evolution by concluding: “There is considerable debate about how evolution has taken place.”

Today, evolution is only alive as a philosophy but not as a science. Contrary to Huntsman’s contention, to claim biological evolution as a scientifically proven fact plays into the realm of Anti-Science.

No wonder, Alan Love of the University of Minnesota and one of the Altenberg Summit members concluded that “a fully unified view of evolutionary processes may be out of reach.”

Ironically, the Anti-Science label applies to the sponsors of evolution. By Oxford English Dictionary standards, the Science label only applies to the “Teach the Controversy” sponsors.

4 Responses to “Anti-Science Irony”

  • Thanks , I have just been looking for information approximately this topic for a while and yours is the greatest I’ve found out till now. However, what concerning the conclusion? Are you positive concerning the source?

  • Greetings!

    Thanks for your comments. Just wondering – exactly what “source” were you referring to?


  • Nelson would like his readers to think that Darwin’s statment: “I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of true science” is referring to his theory of evolution in general, but this is not the case, and shows that Nelson is just fine with taking quotes out-of-context. For the context, see the section at the bottom of this post:

  • Barton is challenging the use of a statement Darwin had written to Asa Gray professor of natural history at Harvard University in 1857 assuming that the letter was not referring to an evolution theory.

    Evolution, however, was still their kingpin topic two years later in 1859. Darwin wrote to Gray – “What you hint at generally is very, very true: that my work is grievously hypothetical, and large parts are by no means worthy of being called induction, my commonest error being probably induction from too few facts.”

    I would agree – any one quote is not sufficient to make a case. However, I have a entire section, Point of View” in Darwin Then and Now devoted to this topic demonstrating the “out-of-context” allegation is simply bogus.

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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

With over 1,000 references, Darwin Then and Now is a historical chronicle of the rise and fall of the once popular theory of biological evolution.