Monday, July 13, 2009

Buchanan Apes Windchy: The anti-science Wing Speaks Again

For a good example of why one should never trust conservatives on science, check out Pat Buchanan's latest idiotic article on evolution, where he apes without critical analysis, all of the moldy oldy anti-Darwin creationist arguments in a recent book by Eugene G. Windchy.

I'm not going to go through all the erroneous, baseless, claims Buchanan mentions in his article, and Windchy has in his book. Ed Brayton did a masterfully thorough job here and here.

There is one part of the essay I want to concentrate on however, because it illustrates starkly the difference and advantage of a scientific worldview over religious faith-based ones:

Buchanan: And here Windchy does his best demolition work.
Darwin, he demonstrates, stole his theory from Alfred Wallace, who had sent him a "completed formal paper on evolution by natural selection."

Brayton: This is false. Darwin and Wallace came up with very similar theories entirely separate from one another. Darwin had begun developing his theory two decades before it was published and it was only at the very end, in 1858, that Wallace contacted Darwin and sent him a manuscript. By that time, Darwin's ideas had already been sketched out in great detail but not made public. In the end, both men had their papers presented at the same meeting of the Linnean Society in London (coincidentally, 151 years ago today).

Indeed, Brayton is correct of course. Darwin was a meticulous scientist, and had been working on his theory for many years, collecting data, studying barnacles, finches, and pigeons, among many other items, making certain his conclusions were evidence-based. Wallace at the time was a young but accomplished scientist who noticed evolutionary indicators in the islands of the Southwest Pacific in his travels. The manuscript he sent Darwin not only served as more supporting evidence, but lit a fire under the elder scientists to publish his findings sooner rather than later, else risking being upstaged by the wunderkind. Thus, the duel presentations Brayton mentions.

The remarkable part of this story is that two men, working completely independently, drew the same conclusion regarding this most complicated topic. This is one of the hallmarks and strengths of science, that relying on replicable, falsifiable testing and the evidence that results is a method that will produce the same results regardless of who is doing it or where. Reality is what it is, in England as well as Borneo. There have been many similar occurrences in the history of science and mathematics: Newton and Leibnitz simultaneously developing calculus, or Ramanujan reproducing established mathematical equations in complete isolation from the mathematics world.

Contrast this to the so-called truths of religions, which differ all over the globe, and which never have the kind of convergence science has enjoyed except in cases where the religious morals have direct physical societal consequences (ie the golden rule). But take only the pure religious laws, those concerned only with what the gods want, and one might as well toss darts at the wall at random to reproduce the results. And the worst part of all, is that faith allows no mechanism for correction of errors.

As is so often the case, what creationists try to use as a weapon against science ends up backfiring. Two scientists coming up with the same theory at the same time provides MORE evidence that evolution is true, not less. Pity, though, that Wallace wasn't the one associated so closely with evolutionary theory. It would have been fun listening to the creationists try to say "Wallacism".

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