Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is Bruno Maddox merely deconstructing Darwin?

Bruno Maddox had an article in the November issue of Discover: "Deconstructing Darwin." The article is headed by this sentence: "The best thing we can do for the theory of evolution may be to bring its revered creator back down to earth." And from that point, rather than constructing a clear argument to prove his point (e.g. demonstrating that our admiration for Darwin is actually interfering with the public understanding of evolution) the author just proceeds to not simply bring Darwin back to earth, but to pour on ridicule.

Here is a taste: "Mr. So-Called Charles Darwin, with his dumb beard and his dumb theories, born 200 years ago this very year, was wrong. Not just a little bit wrong. A lot wrong. Wronger than a bluetick hound on moonshine. Wronger than a Dixie Chick wearing a blindfold. And he could, additionally, be a real pain in the you-know-where about it. Happy birthday, smart guy."

What was it that so infuriated Maddox? (I tried to find evidence that he was joking, but he appears to have been serious.) It was that Darwin published an erroneous theory for the origin of Glen Roy, a geological formation in Scotland. Darwin thought it was ancient shorelines. Turns out it was glaciers, as Louis Agassiz had written in 1840.

Yes indeed, Darwin was wrong about Glen Roy. But he admitted that he had made a mistake. Darwin wrote to Sir Charles Lyell, "My paper was one long gigantic blunder from beginning to end." But no, this is not good enough for Maddox. Darwin did not admit his error until 1861. Maddox indicates that Darwin should have admitted his mistake right away, as soon as Agassiz presented the correct explanation in 1840.

The point is well taken that nobody is perfect. And that people like me should remember Darwin's humanness. I have a tendency to be extremely reverential towards Darwin--it was almost a religious experience to be in the presence of some of his first editions at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma, last week, and to actually see his tree-of-life notebook and Annie's little box at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 2006, all esconced in their plastic reliquaries. Fine.

But the fact remains, confirmed by overwhelming historical evidence, that Darwin was not only a gentle and humble man, striving to gather all the evidence he could before dumping his theory on the public, but that he was more gentle and humble than any other scientists of his day or ours. He was the exact opposite of the conceited racist Agassiz, who just happened to get the story of Glen Roy right. He got nearly everything else, except the Ice Ages, wrong. And he never admitted his errors. For Maddox to criticize Darwin so abusively yet have nothing bad to say about Agassiz is pretty stupid.

I do not know anything about Maddox's political views, but his choice of the Dixie Chicks as the epitome of stupidity suggests that he is a right-wing firebrand. This would explain why he is taking the very same approach to truth as Rush Limbaugh. This is all the more bizarre since Maddox seems to believe that Darwin was right about evolution. He just seems to have this conservative need to attack someone.


  1. It's certainly satire. Maddox is primarily a satirist, according to his wiki page at least.

  2. And of course IDers have taken this article in Discover to write this:

    "We who find Darwinian theory unconvincing have to ask ourselves: “Was Darwin capable of ‘convincing himself’ that all the evidence pointing against his theory could be left to the one side, just as Col R2 was swept to the one side at Glen Roy?” I suspect Darwin’s biggest blunder will prove not to be his interpretation of the Parallel Roads at Glen Roy, but his Theory of Origins. I don’t think we’re very far away from this day."


  3. Well, even if you count evolution as only one theory (instead of five to seven theories) and add in Darwin's even greater blunder, pangenesis, but also add in his theory of atoll formation, he still batted .500.

    Compare that to creationists predicting the "Demise of Darwinism," at which they are batting a cool .000, and I know who I'm betting on.