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 That is the wrong language (likely based on an outdated view of Karl Popper’s notion of ‘falsifiability’) that is rather harming than helping the conversation.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. colewd: Can anyone take a swag on how you would falsify neutral theory?

    You claim to be a scientist. Why don’t you propose something?

  2. CharlieM: When you use the word “scientism” here I would hope that everyone understands your meaning. We can all see that “scientism” and “science” have different meanings and cannot be interchanged.

    So IMO, for the sake of clarity, we should all follow your lead and think carefully in the future about the context when we use terms like “Darwinism” and “Darwinian”.

    I’m not sure why anyone who thinks about it would disagree with you on this.

    Thanks.

  3. Alan Fox:
    Gregory,
    Reminder that attacking ideas, not people, is encouraged at this site.

    Are you actually serious, after what Swamidass just did & you haven’t said cuddly puppies to him or followed the TSZ rules about it? Does your mirror not give a reflection?

  4. phoodoo:
    walto,

    Oh, the ol’ God is a meanie defense, huh Walto?

    Always keep that in your playbook!

    I have no idea what that is, but I’m sure my playbook would welcome it if you tell me.

  5. It still would be quite useful to know what Gregory means when he says “Darwinism”.

  6. Gregory: So IMO, for the sake of clarity, we should all follow your lead and think carefully in the future about the context when we use terms like “Darwinism” and “Darwinian”.

    I’m not sure why anyone who thinks about it would disagree with you on this.

    Yes, that’s good advice generally. Let us all take it and go home.

  7. OMagain: 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.

    The what is wrong are the reasons why take a stand…
    66 OPs and hundreds, if not thousands of comments…

  8. J-Mac: The what is wrong are the reasons why take a stand…
    66 OPs and hundreds, if not thousands of comments…

    Some people have no other home, sadly…..

  9. colewd:
    Can anyone take a swag on how you would falsify neutral theory?

    You’d take two types that have no observable difference in mean offspring number/growth rate in the same medium, mix them and observe that, contrary to expectation, neither of them ever goes to fixation. You’d need a few replicates to be sure, but neutral theory makes some clear predictions about the inevitability of fixation and the mean time it will take. You’d have to be sure there were no frequency dependence effects.

    But this OP isn’t really about biology.

  10. walto: Some people have no other home, sadly…..

    God-awful detective programmes and sport, my wife’s televisual choices, are my excuse. I keep myself amused on a tablet.

  11. OMagain,

    You claim to be a scientist. Why don’t you propose something?

    So why are we talking about the difference in falsifiability if we cannot falsify the scientific version? Can we falsify Darwin’s mechanism?

  12. colewd:
    Can anyone take a swag on how you would falsify neutral theory?

    There is an extensive literature on “tests of neutrality”. Because neutral theory is used as a null model in molecular evolution, pretty much every attempt to identify positive selection is a de facto attempt to falsify neutrality in a particular organism or nucleotide sequence. See this review, for example:

    Molecular Signatures of Natural Selection

  13. Allan Miller,

    You’d take two types that have no observable difference in mean offspring number/growth rate in the same medium, mix them and observe that, contrary to expectation, neither of them ever goes to fixation. You’d need a few replicates to be sure, but neutral theory makes some clear predictions about the inevitability of fixation and the mean time it will take. You’d have to be sure there were no frequency dependence effects.

    Has anyone run this experiment?

  14. walto: Some people have no other home, sadly…..

    Well, I take frequent, looooong breaks… It requires self-discipline not to visit TSZ for few days though unless “the experts” take over…then its easy…
    Plus, it usually takes me under an hour to write an OP… the traffic has improved…
    It’s pretty amazing, huh? 😉

  15. colewd:
    Allan Miller,

    Has anyone run this experiment?

    Every time you purify bacterial strains in a chemostat***. It wouldn’t work otherwise.

    *** absent a selective distinction.

  16. Alan Fox:
    Gregory,
    Yes, serious.

    So, you’re a hypocrite who doesn’t actually follow TSZ rules. Otherwise you’d have acted against Swamidass’ violation of them. Not men of integrity, apparently either of you two. Swamidass has made no confession as a ‘confessing scientist’. What’s new?

  17. Allan Miller: God-awful detective programmes and sport, my wife’s televisual choices, are my excuse. I keep myself amused on a tablet.

    You should be writing that goddam book for me! X<{

  18. walto: Yes. That’s a perfect word for it.

    What are you upset about? Coz you couldn’t tell the difference between Darwinism and neo-Darwinism?
    You are not alone….

  19. Dave Carlson,

    There is an extensive literature on “tests of neutrality”. Because neutral theory is used as a null model in molecular evolution, pretty much every attempt to identify positive selection is a de facto attempt to falsify neutrality in a particular organism or nucleotide sequence. See this review, for example:

    How do you know if something is positively selected or neutrally selected?

  20. J-Mac: What are you upset about?

    Oh, so many things.

    Coz you couldn’t tell the difference between Darwinism and neo-Darwinism?

    Not one of them.

  21. colewd:
    Dave Carlson,

    How do you know if something is positively selected or neutrally selected?

    “Neutrally selected” is a not a term that makes sense. As for your question, read the review paper that I linked to in my previous comment.

  22. J-Mac: The what is wrong are the reasons why take a stand…
    66 OPs and hundreds, if not thousands of comments…

    When does the Intelligent Designer act?
    A) At the creation of the universe only – set it up and let it play out
    B) In real time
    If B) How often does the designer act?

    Does the designer cause bacteria to resist antibiotics, or is that “darwinism”?
    Did the designer create the parasitic wasps whose life cycle involves their young feeding on the living body of a host?

    So, sure, 66 OP’s and hundreds of comments. And I still don’t know what sort of Intelligent Designer you believe in nor why.

  23. walto: You should be writing that goddam book for me! X<

    I think the unclosed left parens in this comment broke the CSS?

  24. Dave Carlson,

    There is an increasing amount of evidence that selection is important in shaping varia- tion within and between species. In human SNP data, there is a clear difference in the frequency spectrum between nonsynonymous and synonymous mutations (103, 118). This observation in itself shows that a large pro- portion of the mutations that are segregating in humans (and presumably in other species as well) are affected by selection. In addition, there is a rapidly growing list of specific genes that show evidence for positive selection in both humans and other organisms (7, 31, 98, 113, 125). This explosion of results showing a presence of positive selection may in fact suggest that positive selection is much more common than previously believed. Positively selected mutations may just have remained hidden among all the negatively selected

    This is from the paper. Do you think that the frequency spectrum between synonymous and non synonymous mutations indicates positive selection? Does it simply mean that AA substitutions are neutral?

  25. colewd:
    Dave Carlson,

    This is from the paper.Do you think that the frequency spectrum between synonymous and non synonymous mutations indicates positive selection?Does it simply mean that AA substitutions are neutral?

    Your question is vague. Whether or not the frequency spectrum indicates positive selection depends both on the population demographics and the specific shape of the frequency spectrum. The frequency spectra figure (fig 2) shows what is expected under different scenarios.

  26. This is not going anywhere until God reincarnates and provides us with the proper definition of darwinism. Hey Fifth, can you please give him a buzz?

    -Fifth: “Hold my beer” *clears throat* betelJesus! betelJesus! betelJesus!
    *poof!*
    -Jesus 2.0: “sup Fifth”
    -Fifth: “Hey almighty, we’re having trouble defining darwinism. Can you give us some of that revelation stuff please?”
    -Jesus 2.0. “What do you mean by define exactly?”

    Oh dear

  27. Dave Carlson,

    sites (SNPs). If the difference between these two measures of variability is larger than what is expected on the standard neutral model, this model is rejected.

    How has the standard neutral model been tested?

  28. Alan Fox,

    Bill forgot. It was a while ago.

    So we are testing the observation against the neutral model. Is that model theoretical or is it tested? Sounds like by your comments it is merely theoretical. Or if not how is it tested?

  29. colewd:
    Alan Fox,

    So we are testing the observation against the neutral model.Is that model theoretical or is it tested?Sounds like by your comments it is merely theoretical.Or if not how is it tested?

    All models, whether they have been tested or not, are theoretical. That’s what a model is. In any case, neutral and nearly neutral theory have been subject to extensive empirical tests. In some cases, they have been rejected in favor of selective explanations. In other instances, neutrality appears to be the best explanation

    Honestly Bill, if you just spent half as much time learning about evolution as you do arguing about it on the internet, you wouldn’t have to ask questions like that.

  30. walto: You should be writing that goddam book for me! X<{

    Haha! Can’t concentrate with that goddamned telly on! We may have other rooms; I’ll have to investigate.

  31. Dave Carlson: All models, whether they have been tested or not, are theoretical.That’s what a model is.In any case, neutral and nearly neutral theory have been subject to extensive empirical tests.In some cases, they have been rejected in favor of selective explanations.In other instances, neutrality appears to be the best explanation

    Honestly Bill, if you just spent half as much time learning about evolution as you do arguing about it on the internet, you wouldn’t have to ask questions like that.

    Could you provide us with the empirical results of these extensive testings that prove the models of neutral or nearly neutral theory?
    I’m sure they are available…and not just speculative in nature of the interpretation of the findings…

  32. Dave Carlson,

    All models, whether they have been tested or not, are theoretical. That’s what a model is. In any case, neutral and nearly neutral theory have been subject to extensive empirical tests. In some cases, they have been rejected in favor of selective explanations. In other instances, neutrality appears to be the best explanation

    What tests and what assumptions do those tests make? Your vague answer seems evasive. In string theory you have a model that is untested. In general relativity you have a model that is tested. The test is easy to
    describe.

    Again how was the basic null model formulated and tested? Does the test use universal common descent as a working assumption?

  33. colewd:
    Dave Carlson,

    What tests and what assumptions do those tests make?Your vague answer seems evasive.In string theory you have a model that is untested.In general relativity you have a model that is tested.The test is easy to
    describe.

    Could you describe the tests?

  34. colewd:
    Dave Carlson,

    What tests and what assumptions do those tests make?Your vague answer seems evasive.In string theory you have a model that is untested.In general relativity you have a model that is tested.The test is easy to
    describe.

    Again how was the basic null model formulated and tested?Does the test use universal common descent as a working assumption?

    Here are some tests:

    http://www.weloennig.de/Loennig-Long-Version-of-Law-of-Recurrent-Variation.pdf

  35. newton: Could you describe the tests?

    Hey,
    How did you like the “newtons” coming the the conclusion of miraculous dark energy?
    Are you a believer yet like OMagain? That is… if he can remember …😉

  36. colewd:
    Dave Carlson,

    What tests and what assumptions do those tests make?Your vague answer seems evasive.In string theory you have a model that is untested.In general relativity you have a model that is tested.The test is easy to
    describe.

    Again how was the basic null model formulated and tested?Does the test use universal common descent as a working assumption?

    Bill, I pointed you to an excellent review paper. It and its citations answer your questions (at least the ones that make sense). There is nothing evasive about asking you to learn even the basics of a subject that your discussing. Read the paper and make an effort to understand it.

  37. Dave Carlson,

    There is nothing evasive about asking you to learn even the basics of a subject that your discussing. Read the paper and make an effort to understand it.

    Fair enough.

  38. J-Mac: Are you a believer yet like OMagain? That is… if he can remember …

    A believer in what?

    J-Mac: Here are some tests:

    No, here’s a random link that you fail to link to your claim. URL bluff much?

  39. Mung: Behe and other IDists appear to think that Darwinism can be falsified. This is one reason that I find Gregory’s OP so freaking interesting.

    ETA: That the DI and Joshua Swamidass could find common ground! An idea I floated myself over at PS.

    Here is Ann Gauger at PS:
    “I think it is incorrect to say Darwinism (or neo-Darwinism which includes the modern synthesis) was falsified. You yourself just said positive selection still had a role to play, as does mutation, of course. You could say neo-Darwinism was “superceded by” or “expanded to include”, but not falsified. Rhetorically of course it is more effective to say Behe is arguing against a theory that has been falsified. It’s not as impressive to say he is out of date.”

    https://discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/darwinism-falsified-in-science-long-ago/4325/104

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