Is it possible to ‘falsify’ Darwinism or neo-Darwinism? The ongoing confusion of S. Joshua Swamidass regarding ideology vs. science.

Computational biologist & MD Joshua Swamidass continues to misunderstand ideology. Whether he does so intentionally or not, it reveals a rather important social problem of pseudo-knowledge being presented as knowledge simply because it is being said by a natural scientist. Swamidass has multiple times claimed that “Darwinism was falsified by population genetics back in 1968” (https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/darwinism-falsified-in-science-long-ago/4325). Yet he still doesn’t seem to understand that one cannot actually ‘falsify’ Darwinism. That is the wrong language (likely based on an outdated view of Karl Popper’s notion of ‘falsifiability’) that is rather harming than helping the conversation.

One can only argue, strongly or weakly, visibly or invisibly, against Darwinism, whether or not one uses an alternative ideology to do so. Likewise, one cannot falsify Marxism. One can, however, argue against it. Indeed, non-Marxists and anti-Marxists do this often and regularly. Yet they haven’t ‘falsified’ or erased Marxism (or neo-Marxism) and likely won’t succeed in significantly reducing it for a long time, evidence that there are still many self-proclaimed Marxists & neo-Marxists in universities today, especially in the social sciences and humanities departments (cf. Jordan Peterson’s ‘corrupted universities’ hypothesis). Similarly, there are many people who still promote ‘Darwinism’ and ‘neo-Darwinism’ and who write ‘confessionally’ about ‘Darwinism’ as a kind of worldview today, regardless of the population genetics work of Kimura and others. Swamidass’ lack of understanding about ideology has led him to pretend that he can scientifically reject ideology, which is both myopic and simply wrong.

Darwinian evolution, i.e. Darwin’s natural scientific theory of evolution, however, and later, the ‘neo-Darwinian synthesis’ or ‘modern evolutionary synthesis’ (MES), could potentially be overcome with an alternative ‘strictly scientific’ theory of change-over-time in natural history. The so-called ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ (EES) is being claimed as doing just that. Yet what one doesn’t see much in Swamidass’ writing that one finds regularly in the writings of IDists and of EES proponents, is legitimate push-back against specifically Darwinian evolutionary theory. No doubt the IDists would like to see Joshua write more about how he believes Darwinian evolutionary theory is now obsolete or how it has been improved upon such that a *different name* should be used nowadays to identify the current type of evolutionary theory that is most accepted in biological sciences. Yet Joshua’s ideology seems to hold him back from doing this, while he promotes evolutionary science and even sometimes evolutionist ideology in defense of his evangelical anti-YECist worldview.

“Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the adaptedness and diversity of the world solely materialistically.” – Ernst Mayr

Gary Hurd is correct when he writes: “The generalization of of [sic] Darwin’s core ideas about natural selection, and common ancestry most certainly have not been falsified.” Thus, the term ‘generalized Darwinism’ was made (cf. Levit, Hodgson, Vromen, Knudsen, Thomas, et al.), usually for applications of ‘evolutionary science’ outside of biology. The ideologues are running amok in evolutionary biology as well as in economics! Let’s not even talk about ‘universal Darwinism’ (coined by Dawkins 1976/83?) as if that offers a sustainable or coherent view of reality, when it is merely a cover for ideological materialism, naturalism & usually either atheism, agnosticism or anti-theism.

However, there is no name associated with a post-Darwinian ‘synthesis’ (the late Lynn Margulis perhaps most well-known) that would give the EES ‘name brand’ credibility, which is likely in part why the EES has yet to catch on broadly among biologists.

When Swamidass writes the following, however, it should be treated as nonsense, not as a credible position or worth taking seriously: “Kimura replaced Darwinism in 1968. No need to make up a pseudo history. Neo-Darwinism as understood within science was falsified a long time ago.” People simply shouldn’t listen to Swamidass’ pseudo-philosophy when he wanders so far outside of his fields of competence, as he so often does nowadays on his PS website. Indeed, many IDists clearly understand this much better than Swamidass does, given that they have evidently paid more attention to philosophy of science than Swamidass has from his ’empty chair.’

TSZ’s Mung, however, also confuses the terminology, when he asks: “The question I have is, if Neo-Darwinism has been falsified why is it still the reigning paradigm in biology?” Sorry Mung, but neo-Darwinism always was and still is an ideology, while evolution is the reigning paradigm in biology. Dembski, Behe, Meyer, et al. get this wrong as well, since they treat ‘Darwinism’ as ‘strictly scientific’, and thus paint themselves into a unnecessary corner of incredulity involving evolutionary theories. Once one starts addressing post-Darwinian biology with appropriate terminology, more positive thinking on the topic can take place, which to their credit, IDists have actually tried to do, however, over against their predominantly negative arguments against ‘evolution’ and misnamed ‘Darwinism’.

To set the record straight, Darwinism is an ideology, neo-Darwinism is an ideology and ‘evolutionism’ is an ideology. Evolutionary theory is part of biological sciences. Let me therefore issue yet another warning about this ambitious ‘science vs. religion’ activist in St. Louis who is muddying the communicative waters with his misunderstanding of ideology. Be careful not to let people like Swamidass mangle the English language in order to suit their own neo-creationist, quasi-YECist ideologies as if this is ‘simply good science.’ It is not science. He is in fact just hawking his uninformed opinions as if they count as ‘scientific’ and showing obvious confusion about ideology, including apparently, his own. Will he correct himself or continue to misrepresent the conversation as a ‘fifth voice’ who claims to be bringing revolutionary ‘peace’?

Unfortunately, Swamidass’ scientistically pretentious strategy is simply not going to work. To Mung, he writes: “Yes, defer to the scientists here. That will resolve it.” This kind of ‘Me-Scientist-Man’ arrogant statement reveals just how much work is needed to be done to help natural scientists who are ignorant of ideology finally realise what they’ve been missing that makes all the difference in the conversation.

Let me try to be clear in attempting to be fair to Swamidass that I believe one of the biggest challenges to constructive dialogue with people in the science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse broadly construed is the general lack of knowledge and understanding about ideology among participants. It is not only Dr. Swamidass who misses the mark, but rather a general condition in North America due to public school teachings that don’t address ideology and thus leave people almost entirely ill-equipped to deal with it, even when most required.

“[I]f we do not resist the idea of Darwinism as a universal principle, biology literally eats itself as it becomes like a racing driver who, to avoid friction, chooses tyres that are so smooth they offer no resistance.” – Connor Cunningham

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387 thoughts on “Is it possible to ‘falsify’ Darwinism or neo-Darwinism? The ongoing confusion of S. Joshua Swamidass regarding ideology vs. science.

  1. Gregory: What do you consider as Dennett’s most important contribution to philosophy that isn’t simply an outgrowth of his atheist worldview?

    We all start out as atheists. Some of us never learn to be otherwise when young enough to get imprinted.

    ETA missing “when”

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  2. Alan Fox: We all start out as atheists. Some of us never learn to be otherwise when young enough to get imprinted.

    ETA missing “when”

    What makes you think that?

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  3. phoodoo: What makes you think that?

    Personally I think it’s pure coincidence that religious people typically have the same religion as their parents. I believe they all came to that conclusion, that that was the one true religion, independently.

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  4. phoodoo: What makes you think that?

    OM has pointed out (you might have missed the irony) that religion is culturally based. It’s hard to find another explanation other than that religious concepts are taught and learned. Sometimes, as in my case, they don’t take hold. Sometimes people discover conflict between religious claims about reality and reality itself which can result in questioning religion rather than reality. Sometimes not.

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  5. phoodoo: What makes you think that?

    Why do most muslims have muslim parents, why do most christians have christian parents, why do most jews have jewish parents, etc. etc.?

    And my most I mean something like >95%. It is overwhelmingly the case that parents teach their children their religion. That’s the main reason most people are religious. They were taught to be by very early childhood.

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  6. Gregory,
    Interesting that you mention Lewontin. He and Gould were highly critical of Harvard colleague Wilson for his chapter on human society in Sociobiology (I presume it’s that chapter rather than the stuff on insects that’s the problem …). But Lewontin and Gould are no strangers to sticking their own oar in outside their field. They see punctuated equilibrium as some kind of template for revolutions, and Gould derides Charles Lyell’s Uniformitarianism as merely the product of his class and time. Which seems a little ungenerous. Both are opposed to ‘genetic determinism’ not least because it would argue against the possibility of ‘re-education’, culturally cementing a revolution.

    So they, I guess, are OK. Their political biases and leanings are of the right stripe, so societal lessons they wish to impart from biology are worthwhile ones?

    A vague non-answer I know, but it’s a vague challenge – to critique ‘sociobiology’. My basic take on genetics applied to human behaviour is that one has to be more rigorous than many are. It is not enough to merely point to a behaviour and invent a plausible selective advantage. On the other hand, ethics precludes much investigation.

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  7. Allan Miller: My basic take on genetics applied to human behaviour is that one has to be more rigorous than many are. It is not enough to merely point to a behaviour and invent a plausible selective advantage. On the other hand, ethics precludes much investigation.

    ^^This^^

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  8. Gregory: Selection without a Selector/selector & ‘design without a designer’ are complete non-issues in SSH.

    If the Designer is God, so is the Selector. But who selected the selector?

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  9. Rumraket: Why do most muslims have muslim parents, why do most christians have christian parents, why do most jews have jewish parents, etc. etc.?

    Why do most atheists have atheist parents? Why do most suicide bombers have parents who were suicide bombers?

    Evolution. Obviously.

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  10. Well, I consider the discussion in this thread now over given that Swamidass how changed his tune. He likely won’t come & admit it here (given that he still hasn’t apologised to me for his violating behaviour), nevretheless he has published on it, so we can only hope that perhaps he’ll stop making his previous error in the future.

    In an article to Behe uploaded today that is filled with Swamidass’ usual brash evangelicalistic tone, he wrote: “This version of evolution, the target of Behe’s three books, was already shown inadequate in science by Kimura in 1968.” (my emphasis)

    The use of ‘inadequate’ is fine. However, to claim that ‘Darwinism was falsified’ is not ok, due to how that term has been used in the science, philosophy and theology/worldview discourse that Swamidass is a relatively new entry to, only in the last couple of years. So I consider this to mean Joshua learned from this post and has at least partially changed his mind. He even uses the term ‘ideology’ in his 3 definitions of ‘Darwinism’ there. Mission accomplished.

    Swamidass uses several other phrases in his piece about Behe that I’ve been saying for quite a few years as well, but that can wait for another time. He still appears confused about ‘methodological naturalism,’ so we’ll see what happens next time this comes up between us, which it undoubtedly will. I continue to hold the position that I will not be bullied by Swamidass or his scientisim on topics he does not know enough about to be speaking with such bravado as he currently does. Now back to other work.

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  11. Gregory:

    What about you, Joe? -> Sociobiology, memetics, the exaggeration of biological concepts beyond biology’s borders? D.S. Wilson & ‘evonomics’?! What are your thoughts about them?

    I’m sincerely curious to hear from biologists about what they think of their colleagues like D.S. Wilson who are obviously using biology for their own ideological purposes. This is not some rare activity. It is common & prolific among some.

    Will you defend the integrity of biology by calling these ideological biologists folks out or perpetuate the misuse by not mentioning it as an actual problem?

    I will not comment on individuals (these are colleagues in my field) but I will note that D. S. Wilson roused the ire of many evolutionary biologists by his dismissal of the importance of kin selection, in favor of the group selection mechanism he has been promoting for explanation of the evolution of altruistic behaviors. See Jerry Coyne’s columns on that at Why Evolution Is True.

    As for the “exaggeration of biological concepts beyond biology’s borders” I am generally suspicious of that. In my freely-downloadable text “Theoretical Evolutionary Genetics”, at the end of chapter 2 I treat kin selection and then issue a warning. Biologists tend to fall too easily into biological determinism as an explanation of human behaviors. I point out there that there is another category of explanations, which I lump under “cultural evolution” which is available to explain changes in human behavior and differences in behavior between populations (see point 3 on pages 125-126 in that book).

    Of course I’m against “exaggeration” (who isn’t?) but I do think that there are some valid usess of analogies to biological processes. Probably the most successful has been the analogy between evolutionary trees and the “genealogy” of languages. That was, of course, discussed by Darwin, who noted the work of philologists, particularly Sir William Jones. In recent years evolutionary biologists like Russell Gray and Mark Pagel have used phylogeny inference programs to infer branching genealogies of languages.

    I would not throw out that particular baby with the evolutionary-psychology bathwater. I presume you would.

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  12. Alan Fox: OM has pointed out (you might have missed the irony) that religion is culturally based. It’s hard to find another explanation other than that religious concepts are taught and learned. Sometimes, as in my case, they don’t take hold. Sometimes people discover conflict between religious claims about reality and reality itself which can result in questioning religion rather than reality. Sometimes not.

    You are talking about the type of religion one ascribes to. How does that prove your unusual theory that the default believe for humans is atheism, and they need to be taught to be religious?

    Who taught the first primate? Did he teach the second primate?

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  13. phoodoo: Who taught the first primate?

    It’s parents?

    phoodoo: Did he teach the second primate?

    probably, along with the rest of the tribe

    Then someone made up some shit along the way and it stuck

    Problem solved

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  14. Have to say the dialogue (in its widest sense) between evolution news and peaceful science is fascinating. Here’s a taste. Behe seems to have picked up some hints from phoodoo. 😋. When is gain of function loss of function?

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  15. phoodoo: You are talking about the type of religion one ascribes to. How does that prove your unusual theory that the default believe for humans is atheism, and they need to be taught to be religious?

    You misunderstand. I was talking about babies. Babies are all atheists. Humans aren’t born with a set of religious beliefs. They have to learn them.

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  16. Alan Fox: You misunderstand. I was talking about babies. Babies are all atheists

    Right, why do you think babies are atheists? That makes no sense.

    Having no thoughts about life makes one an atheist, how so?

    As soon as babies start having thoughts about life, what makes you think they believe there is no purpose to their existence?

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  17. Alan Fox:
    Have to say the dialogue (in its widest sense) between evolution news and peaceful science is fascinating. Here’s a taste. Behe seems to have picked up some hints from phoodoo. . When is gain of function loss of function?

    I didn’t read the whole thread, but this quote caught my attention:

    {from the reported study} We suggest that the shift to a diet consisting predominantly of fatty acids in polar bears induced adaptive changes in APOB, which enabled the species to cope with high fatty acid intake by contributing to the effective clearance of cholesterol from the blood .

    More lifestyle inducing genetic changes? Is this what Darwin meant? Is this what Darwinists mean? Lamarck should be pissed.

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  18. phoodoo: I am just a rice farmer, who never learned anything.

    So is mung right? If you want to keep it a secret, no big deal. I realise it’s easier to pose questions than answer them.

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  19. Alan Fox: So is mung right? If you want to keep it a secret, no big deal. I realise it’s easier to pose questions than answer them.

    I just answered it! I am not anything. Except a dumb farmer.

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  20. phoodoo: More lifestyle inducing genetic changes? Is this what Darwin meant?

    The important element is the new niche. Protein-and-fat rich seals and not much else. Bears already carrying alleles beneficial to a high-fat diet are able to exploit the niche.

    And now sea ice is rapidly receding, the polar bear species is likely to go extinct.

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  21. Alan Fox: And now sea ice is rapidly receding, the polar bear species is likely to go extinct.

    If they are bears, why do they need ice to live?

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  22. phoodoo: If they are bears, why do they need ice to live?

    Polar bears have adapted to hunting seals on pack ice. No pack ice, no seals to hunt. Loss of habitat means loss of species. I find that quite worrying.

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  23. Alan Fox: Polar bears have adapted to hunting seals on pack ice. No pack ice, no seals to hunt. Loss of habitat means loss of species. I find that quite worrying.

    If they descended from bears, how could they lose the ability to eat other animals? Is that part of evolution, you evolve to be worse hunters?

    Anyway, where are the seals going to go? Monterrey?

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  24. phoodoo: As soon as babies start having thoughts about life, what makes you think they believe there is no purpose to their existence?

    That is why children become religious, as a way to give their life purpose?

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  25. Please someone go start a new thread on the work of Justin L Barrett and others & stop diverting from the OP topic here. It’s not just the ‘culture’ in some abstract way; it’s obviously our families first & foremost, in a specific way. Or maybe it’s just ‘hardwired’ (a strange term in the digital era). Reacting to a professed ‘apatheist’ (Fox) as if he even cares about any actual answer other than ‘default atheism’ is close to absurdity. Why feed into it?
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2008/nov/25/religion-children-god-belief

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  26. phoodoo: I just answered it! I am not anything.

    If you are too scared to come to grips with the fact that your can’t even speak what it is you believe, just take a deep breath and try to relax. There is no devil under your bed, and people aren’t going to laugh at you for admitting you don’t know what you want to say.

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  27. Gregory,
    I’ve done more research on this topic than you’ll ever do. If you don’t wish to respect that, it’s on you & makes no difference to me.

    I am sure you have done more research on this topic than I ever will. Which makes your performance all the more puzzling.
    For example, I was wondering why your plots for “development” and “design” showed double-dips; then I realized that you had switched from plotting Worldwide interest to plotting interest in the USA. That’s an odd choice for someone who loves to berate others for their US-centric thinking.
    No matter: whichever geography you pick, “evonomics” and “memetics” still thrash “human extension”…

    [snip]
    A little prayer might do you some good DNA_Jock, taking yourself out of the centre of your universe for a change & focussing on what is more important in life. Might also lead you to less regular attacks on me simply for being an Abrahamic theist as a bonus, who knows. ; )

    I do not attack you simply because you are an Abrahamic theist. Most of my good friends are. I do not attack you simply because you are an sociologist, either.
    I push back when you write rubbish.

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  28. DNA_Jock: I do not attack you simply because you are an Abrahamic theist. Most of my good friends are. I do not attack you simply because you are an sociologist, either.

    Its against the rules to attack other posters for any reason.

    Have you never read the rules here?

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  29. Gregory:
    Please someone go start a new thread on the work of Justin L Barrett and others & stop diverting from the OP topic here. It’s not just the ‘culture’ in some abstract way; it’s obviously our families first & foremost, in a specific way. Or maybe it’s just ‘hardwired’ (a strange term in the digital era). Reacting to a professed ‘apatheist’ (Fox) as if he even cares about any actual answer other than ‘default atheism’ is close to absurdity. Why feed into it?
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2008/nov/25/religion-children-god-belief

    Sorry, but did you just divert your own thread?

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  30. phoodoo: If they descended from bears, how could they lose the ability to eat other animals?

    I’m trying to parse the sense from the nonsense. Here is an article by National Geographic that you might like to glance at. Habitat loss for polar bears is sea ice receding means their staple diet of seals is displaced out to sea. The extra distance involved in hunting seals is enough to tip the scales to starvation.

    Is that part of evolution, you evolve to be worse hunters?

    Evolution is slow. Climate change is fast.

    Anyway, where are the seals going to go? Monterrey?

    Disappearance of their top predator species might cause seal populations to rise temporarily.

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