Natures Wonders (Introduction)

by dhw, Monday, October 31, 2011, 14:27 (2639 days ago) @ David Turell

David and I are having fun with woodpeckers.

DAVID: This is where Darwinian imagination makes no sense. It would have to be very soft bark for the first event to take place. Or why bother, when the ground is so wormy all the time! Perhaps the little pecker tried rotted wood, then why bother to hit the hard stuff?

Maybe he got sick of worms. Maybe the ground wasn't always wormy. Maybe his success with rotten wood encouraged him to try the hard stuff. Maybe he was barking mad.

DAVID: The point is we don't know why the woodpecker ever started. Or how he got there. This is where Darwin is so weak. We see all the results, and how designed much of it looks. We see all the complexity of animal activity, in its own way as complex as human activities. And we can never see how Darwin did it, if he did.

But we know the woodpecker did start. We know that some unknown human genius had the bright idea of making something round and rollable, and from that first primitive wheel we've created vast industries. By analogy, Percy Pecker grabbed a grub from under the rotten bark, and started a new fashion. Then from one generation to the next, it seems likely that techniques and beaks got smarter and sharper as his descendants built on that first stroke of genius. We agree that all life forms developed out of earlier life forms, and any advantageous changes were preserved by Natural Selection. Darwin's theory doesn't attempt to pin-point the origin of the evolutionary mechanisms, although he sometimes refers to the Creator, and he didn't know what we now know or think we know about genetics and epigenetics ... so the emphasis on gradualism and on the randomness of mutations may well be a weakness. But in my view that doesn't undermine the basic theory.

DAVID: Epigenetics will be a big help, but the truth is evolution is a process that occurred and we don't know how. Designers and non-designers can only pick their own faith.

Of course I agree. My objection is to the general attack on Darwin, which might perhaps be better directed at people who draw unsubstantiated conclusions from his work. He didn't claim to know all the hows and whys and wherefores, but he certainly anticipated current trends of research: "A grand and almost untrodden field of inquiry will be opened, on the causes and laws of variation, on correlation of growth, on the effects of use and disuse, on the direct action of external conditions, and so forth." (Origin, Recapitulation and Conclusion) Give the man his due!

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