Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Lynchpin, The Very Cornerstone. Not Quite.


John Derbyshire is at NRO explaining why only the strengths of Darwinism should be taught to high school students, never the weaknesses. His argument rests on this statement: "Darwinism is the essential foundation for all of modern biology and genomics, and offers a convincing explanation for all the phenomena we can observe in the life sciences." The "convincing explanation" bit is, of course, question begging. As for the claim that Darwinism is the cornerstone for all of modern biology, National Academy of Sciences member Philip S. Skell investigated the claim, and reports his results in the latest issue of The Scientist. He writes:

My own research with antibiotics during World War II received no guidance from insights provided by Darwinian evolution. Nor did Alexander Fleming's discovery of bacterial inhibition by penicillin. I recently asked more than 70 eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin's theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: No.

I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; the development of new surgeries; and others. I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin's theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.

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