Inheriting the Wind ... (Exchange)
We endured our own KT-event regarding David Hawkes's review of Stephen Jay Gould's last book, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory ["The Evolution of Darwinism," June 10]. Scientists and nonscientists e-mailed us in numbers too large to reflect here (a longer exchange is at www.thenation.com).--The Editors
* I have always respected The Nation as one of the few remaining sources of responsible journalism, so it was with a sinking Et tu Brute? feeling that I read David Hawkes's "review" of Stephen Jay Gould's last book. Hawkes has not reviewed the book Gould actually wrote. Instead, he has chosen to proselytize for the religious movement commonly known as intelligent design (ID). He begins the review in a fantasy world in which Darwin did not originate the concept of natural selection. Such an assertion flies in the face of literal mountains of historical documents. Errors fly thick and fast. Whereas there is some justice to the assertion that Darwin's theory of evolution was reductionist, it is nothing short of absurd to claim that the study of genes is even more reductionist. Modern evolutionary theory is far more holistic than was Darwin's and partners with ecology and developmental biology to offer powerful insights about life on earth.
Curiously, Hawkes digresses at length to castigate Richard Dawkins, showing clearly that his real purpose is to attack evolutionary theory. He returns to science, but it is the science of the 1960s. Referring to Triceratops as a member of Reptilia is almost like referring to phlogiston as if it were a valid scientific concept. This is followed by the astonishing claim that evolutionary biologists insist that natural selection is the only cause of evolution and that catastrophes (such as meteor impacts) have no place in their theories. Hawkes proceeds to unveil his revelation, which boils down to: Shit happens. Unfortunately for Hawkes, evolutionary biologists discovered this long before our "reviewer." The technical literature of the past fifty years shows clearly that Hawkes is attacking a straw man. Hawkes then claims that Niles Eldredge and Gould developed the punctuated equilibrium model of evolution as a replacement for what creationists like Hawkes choose to call "Darwinism." Nothing could be further from the truth. The debate over the relative merits and explanatory power of punctuated equilibrium and gradualism revitalized the study of evolutionary rates a few decades ago, and ample proof was shortly discovered that both modes of evolution are common in the real world.
Finally we come to the point of the whole "review." Hawkes claims that intelligent design should be taken seriously because of recent political and pedagogical successes. Here is where Hawkes's training in English (but not science) fails him. Scientific theories do not win acceptance the way one wins a beauty contest. Political successes do not cut the mustard. In the realm of science, theories gain acceptance when they are supported by facts, and when they are shown to have explanatory power. Unfortunately for those who would like ID to be a scientific theory, it is not. ID isn't science for the very simple reason that (1) it makes no testable predictions, (2) its adherents do not do scientific research and (3) there is not one single published scientific paper that uses facts and reason to provide credible support for any aspect of it. ID may be wrong, it may be right, it may be a lot of things. But it won't be science until it acts like science and until its followers begin doing the things that real scientists do.
The Nation didn't earn any points by printing this religious tract masquerading as a book review. David C. Kopaska-Merkel
Geological Survey of Alabama
* David Hawkes sets a new standard for obtuse reviewing by trying to spot-weld Stephen Jay Gould's last book to the giddy expectations of Michael Behe's intelligent design. …