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 That is the wrong language (likely based on an outdated view of Karl Popper’s notion of ‘falsifiability’) that is rather harming than helping the conversation.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

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: utter forth

    As you express a lot of confidence regarding how “Darwinism” ought and ought not to be used, maybe you could pause to answer Rumraket’s questions about what its central claims are?

  2. T_aquaticus:
    Calling Darwinism an ideology doesn’t tell us what it entails.If I said that Markalamism is an ideology, would you know what I was talking about?

    Define what is in Darwinism.Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.

    Bingo.

  3. Alan Fox: Could you expand on why you describe Dennett as being ideological about Darwinian evolution?

    That’s not quite what I said.

    Dennett describes natural selection as a universal acid, and he applies it far more broadly than to biological evolution.

  4. DNA_Jock: As Neil has noted, your entire argument hangs on asserting an equivocation around “Darwinism”.

    That’s not really the mistake. Also, to write something about this or that claim being a category error is not itself a category error, or your comment would be one too. It isn’t, though it IS confused.

  5. phoodoo: So, mutation, drift, and natural selection. That’s the theory then. How’s about we just call this Darwinism then? Or if you prefer, Neo-Darwinism?

    Because that disagrees with common usage.

    The biologists who say that they are not Darwinists often point to the neutral theory as where they disagree with Darwinism and neo-Darwinism.

  6. Neil Rickert: So therefore you were mistaken.

    The meanings of words depends on context.Swamidass is not automatically wrong in taking “Darwinism” to be science.In some contexts it is science.

    Perhaps he is mistaken about how some other people are using the term.

    Not actually mistaken. Just, as pointed out by T-aquaticus and suggested by Rumraket, didn’t say anything much because of a failure to supply definitions.

  7. Mung: T_aquaticus: You would think that an article railing against Darwinism could define what it actually is.

    How quickly they forget. You just told us that Neo-Darwinism and Darwinism is whatever you want it to be. So regardless of whether or not someone else defines it, it will still remain whatever you want it to be.

    ETA:

    T_aquaticus: Define what is in Darwinism. Otherwise, you are just blowing smoke.

    No, this is not true. Or are you a different T_aquaticus from the one who posts at Peaceful Science who already knows what Darwism is and what Neo-Darwnism is?

    This is a very confused post. t-a [heh, heh] asks how Gregory is using “Darwinism” when he makes various claims in his OP. That t-a has pointed to this or that as species of darwinism someplace is neither here nor there.

  8. Allan Miller: No-one thinks they are all that happens.

    Ha, you can say that again!

    The mysteries of the mechanisms are typed in code inside the Futuyma manuscript!

    You ever heard of the term NEO-Darwinism Allan?

    What a joke that your sides complaint against Gregory’s post is, “What is Darwinism, never heard of it…beats me!”

  9. Neil Rickert: his is just wrong. Sociology does not get to impose its technical jargon on the entire language. Nor does science or mathematics or any other field. Language does not work that way.

    I think it’d be OK if he defined the term for purposes of his OP. But he didn’t–and has refused repeated requests to do so subsequently. I take it he doesn’t want it to be obvious that he’s just begged the question here. If, e.g., he says out loud that by “darwinism” he means any kind of theory according to which stuff happens through natural causes only, everybody he wants to criticize would simply respond, “well, that’s certainly not what I have ever meant when I’ve used that term.”

    So he keeps it dark.

  10. phoodoo: What a joke that your sides complaint against Gregory’s post is, “What is Darwinism, never heard of it…beats me!”

    What matters is what HE means by the term in his OP. If he’s just noting that a lot of people mean different things by it and that conglomeration isn’t falsifiable because it’s incoherent, he should say it out loud. I can’t refute the claim that something is a bank by saying it’s not a natural thing.

  11. Neil Rickert: The biologists who say that they are not Darwinists often point to the neutral theory as where they disagree with Darwinism and neo-Darwinism.

    So THEY know what Darwinism means then!

    I was beginning to think, especially if you read the Al(l)ans that is was like a mythical chupacabra.

  12. phoodoo: So THEY know what Darwinism means then!

    Some people mean this, some that. Here, to assess Gregory’s OP, we have to know what HE means. Get it?

  13. Alan Fox:
    BruceS,

    Couple of takes from that article. I’d agree that use of “ideology” is almost exclusively pejorative and when science is claimed to be scientism, science has to be defined narrowly.

    Well, scientism as I understand the concept is deservedly pilloried, IMHO. But as for ‘ideology’, I think the following from the IEP article is more useful for this discussion:
    [start of quote]
    this article treats “ideology” in its broader and more neutral sense, as a description of the organizing beliefs of a population. This second, broader use is in accord with the practices of empirical anthropology, which might seek to describe the organizing beliefs of a foreign culture. When conceived of in this descriptive sense, ideologies may be understood as necessary or positive for many political purposes. Ideologies in this sense are merely ways of interpreting or “mapping” our political and social environments.

  14. walto: Some people mean this,

    But Neil didn’t ask every biologist, how does he know what each one means then?

  15. phoodoo: But Neil didn’t ask every biologist, how does he know what each one means then?

    Why does he have to know what each biologist means in order to know that some biologists use the term differently than others do?

  16. J-Mac: How can anyone even attempt to falsify Darwinism, or neo-Darwinism, if they can’t agree what they are?

    The thing to do if one wanted to falsify some species of it would be to indicate which one it is before setting to work.

    {Note to Jesus: How freaking complicated is this, anyhow?}

  17. walto: The thing to do if one wanted to falsify some species of it would be to indicate which one it is before setting to work.

    {Note to Jesus: How freaking complicated is this, anyhow?}

    You don’t understand what Darwinism and neo-Darwinism mean, just like Alan?
    Now we are getting somewhere…
    Phoodoo! Your customers! 🤣
    Somebody stop me!

  18. walto: Some people mean this, some that. Here, to assess Gregory’s OP, we have to know what HE means. Get it?

    I think that is a silly point frankly. Some people mean random mutations and NS, some people include drift or neutral selection (and Allan thinks evolutionary theory should get to include any darn mechanism anyone can ever imagine)-so what? Do any of those qualifications make it any more scientific, any more falsifiable?

    If the objection to Gregory’s point is, which theory, which details, what do you mean-well that blame belongs to the evolutionists not the creationists.

  19. phoodoo: If the objection to Gregory’s point is, which theory, which details, what do you mean-well that blame belongs to the evolutionists not the creationists.

    Blame shmame. This is a simple point that maybe you need to take up with your lord and savior unless you can tell me whether all banks must be natural entities.

  20. phoodoo:
    J-Mac,

    Larry also didn’t know what it meant.That’s why he rejects it!

    I hope that Larry Moran, as well as our team of experts here, looked it up and found out that “neo” means “new”… Consequently new + Darwinism means….?

  21. phoodoo: If the objection to Gregory’s point is, which theory, which details, what do you mean-well that blame belongs to the evolutionists not the creationists.

    Is this you admitting you are a creationist? Sure sounds like it to me.

  22. J-Mac: I hope that Larry Moran, as well as our team of experts here, looked it up and found out that “neo” means “new”… Consequently new + Darwinism means….?

    You sure spend a lot of time talking about something you believe to be wrong.

    When will IDists start to make a positive case for ID?
    When will IDists be able to talk about ID without talking about Evolution or Darwinism?

  23. OMagain: Is this you admitting you are a creationist? Sure sounds like it to me.

    I guess OMagain is asking you if you have faith, just like he does…

  24. OMagain: You sure spend a lot of time talking about something you believe to be wrong

    As do you…😉
    The question is: which faith is more reasonable?

  25. phoodoo: No, that’s not clear at all Alan. It seems you have never heard of Darwinian Theory. Its not hard to find writings on it, you know? You like wikipedia I recall, they have a page on it. Let me help you if I can:

    It would be against the rules to speculate on your motive here. I’ve heard of Charles Darwin. He came up with* the idea of selection acting on variation as a mechanism for evolution.

    (*or the first to publish).

    Regarding the Wikipedia article, I said it was OK. There are plenty of other ways of summarizing the basic concept.

  26. OMagain,

    What a creationist? I have no idea what you mean! I have never even heard of that.

    I don’t know anyone who is that.

  27. phoodoo: There is one part in particular that I want you to take note of. Its the word variation. Do you see that word? If not, go back, and check again so we can make sure we are on the same page (literally and metaphorically).

    Now, pay attention, the natural selection part, its meaningless without the variation part. Just tear it up, throw it away if no variation. Variation is so important to the theory that they use the word variation, just to make sure you understand that variation is part of it.

    Now, Alan Fox comes along and says, well, if you want to talk about the variation part, I wouldn’t call that Darwinism. Why does Alan Fox say that? Maybe you can answer that. You are Alan after all, right?

    I see Allan has already addressed this but I’ll confirm my agreement with his comment. You seem to have got my message that a useful way of employing “Darwinian” is to distinguish aspects of evolution that are adaptive.

  28. phoodoo:
    OMagain,

    What a creationist?I have no idea what you mean!I have never even heard of that.

    I don’t know anyone who is that.

    Really!!!! Most Christians would confirm that their God created this Universe. That surely means they could happily describe themselves as Creationists. Are there any Christians reading here who would object to the description?

  29. Alan Fox,

    It would be against the rules to speculate about your bias as a moderator here, and about your reasons for returning from your fake retirement, so I won’t do that, no, no. That would be against the rules, I just want to remind you.

    It would also be against the rules to ridicule your intellectual abilities, especially if I am not an atheist doing that to an atheist. If I were a fellow atheist doing that to a non-atheist, well, I can’t really say that would against the rules, because I have no evidence to prove it is.

    So I will just say, Oh, you read wikipedia. Cool.

  30. Neil Rickert: Dennett describes natural selection as a universal acid, and he applies it far more broadly than to biological evolution.

    But does that make him an idealist? Selection by performance is a widely applied paradigm. It seems to apply in many spheres of life.

  31. BruceS: Well, scientism as I understand the concept is deservedly pilloried, IMHO.But as for ‘ideology’, I think the following from the IEP article is more useful for this discussion:
    [start of quote]

    this article treats “ideology” in its broader and more neutral sense, as a description of the organizing beliefs of a population. This second, broader use is in accord with the practices of empirical anthropology, which might seek to describe the organizing beliefs of a foreign culture. When conceived of in this descriptive sense, ideologies may be understood as necessary or positive for many political purposes. Ideologies in this sense are merely ways of interpreting or “mapping” our political and social environments.

    Perhaps we should distinguish between soft and hard ideology. 😉

  32. phoodoo: Ha, you can say that again!

    The mysteries of the mechanisms are typed in code inside the Futuyma manuscript!

    I found you a copy online for a few dollars. I even offered to make a donation of the price to a charity of your choice.

  33. phoodoo:
    You ever heard of the term NEO-Darwinism Allan?

    Why, yes, yes I have. Is neo-Darwinism an ideology too? Why would someone say the one when they mean the other?

  34. Neil Rickert: Because that disagrees with common usage.

    The biologists who say that they are not Darwinists often point to the neutral theory as where they disagree with Darwinism and neo-Darwinism.

    That’s my understanding. I’d add that the disagreement usually turns on the relative importance of selection and drift in adaptation.

  35. phoodoo: Allan thinks evolutionary theory should get to include any darn mechanism anyone can ever imagine

    Now, that is not a position I recognise as my own. And I write with such crystal clarity, too. I is sad 🙁

  36. BruceS: I’d be interested in the background to that remark. Are you speaking of a statistical analysis of the texts of the primary scientific literature of evolutionary biology? Is the use of such “big data” technologies an example of an ideological influence on the sociology of science a valuable new tool for the field, or both?

    IMHO, this is a key point.Scientists involved in the ID debates should perhaps be aware of the sense of ‘Darwinism’used in Gregory’s discipline. Gregory, if you have the time and interest, I’d welcome an OP on how that can be done, where discussions of ideology should be incorporating into education, and on how other countries differ from North America in doing this.

    Well, I didn’t expect this thread would cause such a fuss, just intended to point out how Swamidass has things all mixed up & confused re: Darwinism &/vs. Darwinian evolutionary theory. He won’t back down because he apparently doesn’t know how to, but if he’s just going to use the DI’s definition of Darwinism, then he’s adding nothing important to the conversation.

    The 2nd question above is quite difficult to answer. Statistics are key in most, if not all social ‘sciences.’ Are big data statistics an ideological influence on SoS? Yes, in particular for those who succumb to over-dependence on statistics – statisticism if you will – & who have stopped thinking & exploring for themselves. To the 1st question, it was data collected about evolutionary biologists, part of the results of more than one survey made across disciplines of what scientists think & believe, not specific only to evolutionary biologists.

    Yes, I agree that natural scientists ought to be more aware of Darwinism-as-ideology than most of them currently are. Listening to me confounds most of them, other than those who have lived in different countries, who ‘get it’ usually before I even open my mouth. Likewise, SSH scholars in NA ought to be more aware of ideological Marxism than many of them they currently are (how many times have I heard the idiotic, ignorant & arrogant “that wasn’t real Marxism” pro-Marxism trope that Peterson so clearly identifies).

    To you request, in short, the interest is there, but my time is rather limited right now & there’s a team who I must answer to for my priorities. I’ll hang around in this thread, but have said what I wanted to say already. Swamidass’ ideologies, which he doesn’t even acknowledge simply aren’t immune from criticism though he might wish them to be & I’m really not happy with his bombastic approach right now & apparent lack of conscience. Couldn’t have imagined a non-mainstream evangelical protestant PhD & MD whose views are quite similar to my own in important ways, yet who stoops to such a low level of character attack & phobia display, while smarming unprepared others with the idea that he’s delivering peace, when really he’s just largely avoiding the most important features of the conversation, which go far beyond biology.

    Ideological Darwinism can’t be ‘falsified,’ which I’m glad you likewise recognise, BruceS. Regarding other countries, might pick it up another time. The non-English native speaking countries I’ve lived in don’t nearly prioritise the topic of Darwinism or evolutionism vs. creationism like in NA. If you look at the photos from Joshua’s gathering in St. Louis or at BioLogos or the DI, the pattern is fairly obvious who really cares so (too) much about it in NA.

  37. J-Mac: As do you…
    The question is: which faith is more reasonable?

    There’s very little to be said about creationism and Intelligent Design that has not already been said. If you took a moment you’d see that I’m mostly interested in the reasons people like you and phoodoo are so reluctant to take a stand and say what you believe is right rather then what is wrong.

  38. phoodoo: What a creationist? I have no idea what you mean! I have never even heard of that.

    I don’t know anyone who is that.

    Oh? And yet in this post you apparently know exactly that:

    8. Move posts to guano which are mostly from creationists, but every so often move one from a theist that is particularly egregious, so that he can claim he moves posts from all posters.

    If you don’t know what a creationist is, how do you identify their posts?

    Given we are talking about words and their definitions, can anyone think of a word for what phoodoo did there?

  39. Alan Fox: Really!!!! Most Christians would confirm that their God created this Universe.

    I suspect phoodoo lives near a farm and hears a cock crow many times a day.

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