Oh, the irony …

At the end of a post about why Americans have a problem with evolution, Jerry Coyne quotes and says this:

But I found one telling remark in an interview with Sewell published in Time Magazine in 2009. Here’s his response to a question about the influence of Darwin.

All things considered, do you believe Darwin was a great luminary in the path of human progress?
What has the theory of evolution done for the practical benefit of humanity? It’s helped our understanding of ourselves, yet compared to, say, the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the World Wide Web, I wonder why Darwin occupies this position at the pinnacle of esteem. I can only imagine he has been put there by a vast public relations exercise.

Yep, forget about how Darwin’s work transformed our understanding not only of ourselves, but of nature and our own relationship to other living creatures in nature, or how it made instant sense of so many observations that puzzled Darwin’s predecessors. (We all know the famous quote of geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Noting in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off.) No, to Sewell the influence of evolutionary biology reflects vast public relations exercise engineered by self-aggrandizing scientists.

The irony is that Sewell’s comment could be taken pretty much word for word from comments Coyne and others have made about fields like philosophy and theology when saying that “Science wins because it works”. They continually ask what kind of practical benefits these things have to everyday human life, and stand on the benefits that science has given. And yet, when it’s done to his field, he doesn’t take that lying down, despite not actually rising to the challenge … or, at least, not rising to it in any way that philosophy and theology haven’t, especially philosophy. So while he claims that Darwin’s work has increased understanding and explained observations, let me in turn reiterate that philosophy has clarified the problems of things like morality, knowledge and mind, and created the science that he claims works, while theology has produced the very arguments that he uses to justify his atheism. Surely, then, that’s as useful as Darwin’s work.


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