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The New Evolution Deniers by Colin Wright

Greg Ellis reads The New Evolution Deniers, Colin Wright’s essay about how the denial of evolutionary biology has migrated from the Christian Right to the secular Left. It was published in Quillette on 30th November 2018.


  1. I am definitely going to have to give this a listen….I wonder how the author of this book explains for example the Burgess shale (Cambrian explosion) which left Darwin himself pretty much non·plussed…..

  2. TarsTarkas says

    The Burgess shale was discovered after Darwin’s death.

    Gould & Eldridge’s theory Punctuated Equilibria certainly goes a long way towards explaining the gaps in the fossil record. I’ve seen it in action in natural plant communities. A catastrophic event (fire, flood, whatnot) followed by rapid colonization, then stability as fringe players are forced out or into the seedbank, where they remain quiescent until the next catastrophe. But the makeup of each post-castrophe stabilized community depends upon which plants get there first. The floras may be similar, but they’re never exactly the same, and are often quite different.

    Happens of course in animal communities. I remember reading an article where spiny lobsters, once the apex invertebrate predator in a particular, were overfished almost to extinction, and starfish took over. When they tried to reintroduce the spiny lobsters, the starfish overwhelmed the forced colonists and ate them up.

  3. Sean Leith says

    Darwin’s Theory Evolution answers many questions about life, but leaves many unanswered. For example, from non-organism to organism, from organism to living things, from single cells to muticell, from plans to animal, from animal to human. If we try apply evolution to the above processes. Each step have a chance close to zero. You multiply those extremely small number, you get something is essentially zero. Why is human just so lucky, that against all odds, emerge to existence anyways. Smart people, can you convince yourself that evolution is only answer to that?

    • Sorry, Sean, but your understanding of probability and natural processes is pretty limited, and this is all too common.

      People can’t grasp that billions of simultaneous “experiments” – non-random, natural processes – were taking place for an unimaginable span of time in the prebiotic oceans of earth. And once self-replication was first achieved, the evolutionary process that followed, as amazing as it is, was another non-random process of natural selection.

      Read this short piece, “The Probability of Life,” and ponder the notion that much of what seems unfathomable to our ordinary minds is not quite as deep a mystery when we learn more:

      What is truly fascinating is the way a closer examination of the power of nature renders the common god and religion concepts considerably more unlikely, yet so many turn to them in their ignorance.

  4. I find trying to grasp the immensity of evolution rather like trying to grasp the immensity of the universe, my brain being totally inadequate for the task. Not that I doubt either. I just can’t get my head around them, so mind-bogglingly far is it from any experience I have.

    So far as Abrahamic religion is concerned, I’m an atheist, so there is no question of me looking to “intelligent design” in defence of anything written in the Bible. However, I refuse to accept the soulless, meaningless & purposeless materialism of atheists like Richard Dawkins, who promotes his atheism with religious self-righteousness & fervour, thereby revealing his lack of understanding of evolved human nature.

    Clearly, humans need religion (L. religare = to bind together), but in up-dated, more rational form.

    The amount of Orwellian doublethink, even amongst evolutionary scientists like Dawkins is sobering to behold. And when it comes to the social sciences, they are not really sciences at all, but riddled with ideology, their understanding of human nature & society being on a par with medieval understanding of the universe. They are trapped in a pre-Darwinian dark age, on account of an extreme overreaction (esp. on the part of traumatised Jewish academics) to the evils of Nazi social Darwinism.

    The failure & refusal of social scientists to apply Darwinian logic to understanding evolved human nature & the societies it has given rise & shape to, esp. our own, is having tragic consequences, which are rapidly leading to the fall of western civilisation.

    • “I refuse to accept the soulless, meaningless & purposeless materialism of atheists like Richard Dawkins”


      There is nothing in the view that the universe itself is “soulless, meaningless & purposeless” which in any way suggests that humans cannot make richly meaningful lives, as Dawkins and others have repeatedly pointed out.

      “Clearly, humans need religion (L. religare = to bind together), but in up-dated, more rational form.”

      This is trivially true, but one of the ways to update and be more rational is to stop calling the natural need to bond “religion.”

      • The need for religion is not just “trivially true”, but absolutely true. The very survival of our civilisation, which is currently hopelessly divided, depends on it.

    • Vince Porter says

      As per The Selfish Gene, we live on in a cascading series of bodies in an undefined future, long after we are dead. Nothing soulless about that!

  5. Robert LeChef says

    While I share the concerns of the host vis-a-vis the ideological strangling of science, I have a few objections.

    First, the characterization of the view of the Catholic Church with respect to evolution is misleading and requires deeper context. When the Church posits that individual human “souls” are created directly and infused at conception, they do not suggest a dualism wherein the biological is somehow negated. Traditional Catholic thought is heavily influenced by Aquinas who was essentially an Aristotelian. Aristotelians, of course, place a great deal of emphasis on observation as an important part — indeed the starting point — of coming to know things. Thus, when Aristotelians make claims about human nature and the good of man or any organism of any species, they appeal to the functional or teleological structure of the organism. Any modern biological and scientific insight is therefore in principle welcomed as something that potentially enriches our understanding of human nature, etc. Indeed, natural law theory first and foremost appeals precisely to biological facts to judge things like whether some use of a body organ or contrary to the good of the organism.

    So what does the Church mean when it posits the need for direct divine creation in every human person? The Church means something very specific, namely, that whatever this divine act is, it consists of imbuing the form of an individual with what among the known animals are distinctive of human beings, such as a intellectuality and volitionality. In short, personhood. In other words, we aren’t talking about the creation of a Cartesian soul that is attached to a hollow body. We aren’t talking about overriding animality. That is not the traditional understanding of “soul” which is actually a term that should avoided because of the connotations it has accrued over the centuries (i.e., ghosts, ectoplasm). Here, soul is actually form, i.e., that which causes the body to be a body because it is what causes the organism to be what it is (thus, a dead body is not truly a body but the remains of the organism, and this is no mere matter of linguistic convention, but a metaphysical distinction). Therefore, when we hear that God somehow infuses those distinctive human faculties or that nature into the “soul”, what it meant is not a negation but a kind of enrichment. There is a large body of work about why there are strong reasons to believe that intellectual and volitional faculties are not explicable in purely materialist terms and I encourage the host, if he is intellectual honest and free of prejudice, to explore that literature. A good place to start are books by Edward Feser such as “The Last Superstition”, “Aristotle’s Revenge”, and “Scholastic Metaphysics”. The arguments and reasoning he details are pedagogically suitable summaries of a long line of thought on the subject that, sadly, has not been given the attention is deserves.

    Second, while social justice and certain religious views can conflict and corrupt science, I would caution against taking too narrow a view about what influences scientific activity and scientists. Science is, of course, a part of human culture. It has a tradition. It is carried out by human beings. Science has therefore never been immune to influences, good or bad. There is, for example, the insinuated materialism that is quite widespread among scientists, even if it does not consistently exert itself on the sciences. I use the term “materialism” in the technical and philosophical sense, i.e., the metaphysical view that not only is everything composed of matter, but that matter is to be understood in broadly Cartesian terms. Such materialism is extremely problematic, if not untenable. It is why the problem of qualia exists at all. It is why consciousness, an intentional notion, resists scientific explanation to such a degree that some have given up and adopted an eliminativism stance wherein they absurdly deny the very fact that needs explaining. Now I say that this materialism is not consistently applied because, for example, biologists need to appeal to function to make sense of organisms and function is an intrinsically teleological notion (teleology is not the same thing as conscious or willed intent, it is important to note). So here I would caution the host to take note of his own tacit metaphysical commitments. This is not to relativize science, but to bring greater awareness to our presuppositions and any problems inherent in them.

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