At least he didn’t reveal the secret Darwinist handshake

In another response to the awful A.N. Wilson article, Jules Howard exposes our secret.

The truth is that – and this is worth saying a million times over – most scientists probably don’t think about Darwin very much in their day-to-day studies and would consider themselves as much “Darwinist” as they would “round-Earthers” or “wifi-users”. This is, after all, the best working theory we have to understand the nature that we see around us. Also, I think we are all OK with entertaining the idea that, if a more scientifically accurate way of explaining the diversity of life on Earth comes along, Darwin would be ousted. It’s just that, based on current evidence, Darwin’s ideas still seem capable of explaining much, if not all, of what we see in nature. Hence, our kids learn about him in schools and popular science books that refute his influence are treated with understandable confusion, concern or disdain.

It’s true. I probably think about Darwin more than most, simply because I teach and think it’s important to toss in some history and philosophy of science with the subjects I cover. But otherwise, I don’t have a shrine to Darwin, I don’t worship him, most of the papers I read in evolution, development, or genetics don’t even mention him. It’s a fine example of projection when creationists assume that Darwin is our Jesus-substitute.

Unfortunately, this fact can be turned around into another creationist trope: Darwin (and therefore evolution, because Darwin and evolution are synonymous in their minds) isn’t a necessary component of biological science, because you can do experiments without ever thinking about the old man, and because the literature contains millions of papers that don’t mention Darwin, he’s obviously superfluous and we only continue to bow to his shrine out of religious fervor.

Of course, I watched Game of Thrones on the ol’ TV the other day, and I didn’t think of Philo Farnsworth even once; I also have to note that my TV is one of those flat-screen jobs that doesn’t even have a cathode ray tube in it, so it’s far advanced over anything he ever did. Therefore, since Philo and TV are synonymous, I couldn’t actually have watched it.

I guess I’ll have to put up a Farnsworth shrine in my house and pray to it if I want to see the next episode.


  1. zetopan says

    “I guess I’ll have to put up a Farnsworth shrine in my house and pray to it if I want to see the next episode.”

    How silly. You need to look out of a second story window at your plowed garden to see a True Farnsworth Miracle.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ PZ

    I was under the impression you sacrificed a zebra fish to Darwin before every class.

  3. handsomemrtoad says

    People who say that Darwin was right about everything are annoying and wrong. But people who say that the fact that Darwin got some things wrong implies that the Darwinian theory of evolutionary biology is also wrong, are even more annoying and wrong than those who say that Darwin was right about everything.

  4. handsomemrtoad says

    This thing about non-scientists, especially right-wing ones, thinking we pray to Darwin, resembles another error they make: they think all climate scientists and atmospheric chemists are AGW-hysterics. Climate-change communications has become a derivative industry to climate science as sports communications has to sports. I often find myself having to explain that most atmospheric chemists, like most scientists, do not make big sweeping claims; big-picture types are a small minority among scientists, including climate-scientists and atmospheric chemists. Most physicists are NOT trying to develop a Theory of Everything, and most virologists are NOT trying to cure AIDS, and most scientists are NOT trying to influence politics with their work. The very large majority of scientists are only trying to understand a small, narrow question, trying to add their little bit to the communal knowledge-base. Atmospheric chemistry does not look like Al Gore. Atmospheric chemistry looks more like this:

    Evaporation kinetics of aqueous acetic acid droplets: effects of soluble organic aerosol components on the mechanism of water evaporation

    Kaitlin C. Duffey, Orion Shih, Nolan L. Wong, Walter S. Drisdell, Richard J. Saykally, and Ronald C. Cohen*

    Phys. Chem. Chem. Phys., 2013,15, 11634-11639

    Abstract: The presence of organic surfactants in atmospheric aerosol may lead to a depression of cloud droplet growth and evaporation rates affecting the radiative properties and lifetime of clouds. Both the magnitude and mechanism of this effect, however, remain poorly constrained. We have used Raman thermometry measurements of freely evaporating micro-droplets to determine evaporation coefficients for several concentrations of acetic acid, which is ubiquitous in atmospheric aerosol and has been shown to adsorb strongly to the air–water interface. We find no suppression of the evaporation kinetics over the concentration range studied (1–5 M). The evaporation coefficient determined for 2 M acetic acid is 0.53 ± 0.12, indistinguishable from that of pure water (0.62 ± 0.09).

    To me this means: atmosphewic chemistwy is vewy vewy compwicated!

  5. blf says

    Of course, I watched […] the ol’ TV the other day, and I didn’t think of Philo Farnsworth even once

    Oh dear. Cue all the enraged shrieks from people (mostly(?) in the UK) who insist John Logie Baird invented TV.

    Hint: Farnsworth invented his all-electronic system whilst still in high school, in the very early-1920s, albeit he didn’t build a system until the late-1920s; Baird developed & built his electro-mechanical system in the mid-1920s (and very nearly killed himself in the process). Baird publicly demonstrated an image before Farnsworth, using a different system inferior to Farnsworth’s earlier concept.

    (Apologies for the digression, but even to this day I keep seeing Baird mentioned as TV’s inventor. Baird did play an extremely important roll in the early — possibly first — all-electronic colour TV, which, combined with his being the probable first to show a B&W image, might be the source of this exasperating misleading meme.)

  6. chris61 says

    Should you be looking for some ideas for your Farnsworth shrine, there’s a very nice Farnsworth museum in Rigby Idaho.

  7. says

    The entire biomedical industry serves as the ‘shrine’ to Darwin. Without model systems and non-human animal research based on evolutionary relationships, there would be no biomedical research.

  8. vole says

    I had never heard of this Farnsworth person, and yes, everyone over here knows John Logie Baird invented television. Not sure about his “roll”, but I’d guess he had bacon in it.

  9. says

    Darwin is still in my office. He’s not a shrine, though — more of a scarecrow to terrify creationists into running away.

  10. blf says

    Darwin is […] a scarecrow to terrify creationists into running away.

    They dare approach the office of an, an, an, (deep breath) athesit !? (Even when they do know how it’s spelled?)

  11. Bruce says

    Presumably, the TV preacher Pat Robertson has a Farnsworth shrine in his broadcast studio. Or else, how would it even work?

  12. emergence says

    It’s annoying enough that creationists don’t get that evolutionary biology has moved beyond Darwin’s conception of it. Creationists also don’t seem to get that the position of evolutionary biology on race has moved beyond Darwin too. Modern evolutionary biology doesn’t place different races into a hierarchy, and all races are considered equidistant from our common ancestor. The overwhelming majority of research in biological anthropology suggests that there are no significant differences in physical or mental ability between different races. Furthermore, the majority of research in biological anthropology suggests that traditional racial categories (which predate Darwin) aren’t even biologically valid.

  13. JoeBuddha says

    On a side note: Phylo Farnsworth has my all time favorite name. He should have been an evil mastermind.

  14. tbtabby says

    It’s simple projection. Cretinists think we blindly accept whatever Darwin says as absolute truth because that’s what they do in regards to Ken Ham.

    To any Cretinists coming here to bash Darwin: Even if all the mud you were slinging about him was accurate (spoilers; it ain’t), it wouldn’t matter. A theory stands and falls on its own merits, not the merits of the person who proposed it. We don’t accept the theory because Darwin proposed it. We accept it because it’s evidently true. Charles Darwin could have spent his spare time stomping on puppies wearing cleats, and it wouldn’t make a difference regarding the theory of evolution by natural selection. And he would still get the credit for it, for the same rteason Henry Ford gets the credit for popularizing the assembly line despite his Nazi leanings, and Ty Cobb gets the credit for his lifetime .366 average despite his open racism and attempts to injure fellow players. A shitty person who accomplishes something still accomplished that thing. Credit where credit is due.

  15. Bruce H says

    As a Darwinist (and an oblate-spheroid-Earthist), how am I not aware of the secret handshake?! I demand redress for this unconscionable state of affairs!

    Also, PZ, it’s a bit uncouth to keep Darwin in your office, isn’t it? He must be quite dessicated by now.

  16. zetopan says

    “[Darwin] must be quite dessicated by now.”

    Not to worry, PZ has a *lot* of aquariums so I’m sure that he has an occasional one available for at least one of Darwin’s feet.

  17. ospalh says

    @blf #6
    I guess TV is among those things where lots of countries claim the invention.
    Did you know that Germans invented the radio (Heinrich Hertz), the telephone (Philipp Reis) and flight (Otto Lilienthal)?

  18. blf says

    ospath@21, Hertz (wireless) and Lilienthal (flight) I’ve heard of — cannot really recall anything, however — but Philipp Reis is a new one on me.

  19. DLC says

    “The damn Farnsworth ruins your eyes. Go outside and play, Dammit! ” — Sombody’s Mom, circa 1950.
    Yet, I don’t hear anyone tell me not to forget to take my Gross Phone with me when I go.

  20. says

    On the other hand, I think of myself as a wifi user all the time.
    i don’t think this has anything to do with anything, does it