Darwin Day — and exploding some myths about Charles Darwin

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

12th February is Darwin Day.

There is an International Darwin Day website that is currently making a special pitch at Americans for recognition. For good reason, no doubt, given that today’s newsletter from the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science contains the following (with my emphasis):

As a universal figure of such profound importance, his birthday should be a national celebration — a day to honor the advances brought about by reason and science. 

But a resolution to this effect, introduced in the U.S. Congress, has little support outside a handful of Democrats. Frighteningly, Darwin is still considered a controversial figure, especially among conservative Republicans.

For anyone who does not yet know, just about everything we have that Darwin produced is available in digitized format at Darwin Online.

And I happily live in a suburb where the Beagle crew called in back in 1839 and work at a university that eventually took the name of Charles Darwin.

But here’s the highlight of this post, brought to us by Freethought Blog The Ace of Glades:

Darwin was no racist, and Hitler was no ‘Darwinist’



The Argument from Design Meets a Third Contender, and Bayes

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

William Paley
William Paley

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer that for anything I knew to the contrary it had lain there forever; nor would it, perhaps, be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer.

But suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had given, that for anything I knew the watch might have always been there.

Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone; why is it not admissible in that second case as in the first?

For this reason, and for no other, namely, that when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive — what we could not discover in the stone — that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g., that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed in any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. (William Paley, Natural Theology, p. 1)

William Paley’s famous argument for creation by a designer consists of two distinct arguments joined together:

  • Artefacts like watches and living organisms like eyes have special functions. Watches to tell the time; various kinds of eyes to see in various types of environments: “each such entity exists because of its function” (p. 42);
  • Such functionality implies a designer both conscious and intelligent.

Biologists accept the first argument.

The second proposition seems right given the axiom that a cause must precede every effect. The effect is the ability to see. It must therefore follow that the eye was caused to exist for this specific function. In other words we have a teleological argument for the existence of eyes. They appeared for the purpose of enabling sight.

According to Paley there are only two alternatives. A complex organism, such the eye, must have come about either by

1. a conscious designer


2. blind chance aided by no other mechanism

Continue reading “The Argument from Design Meets a Third Contender, and Bayes”


Unsettled, settling

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I’m at the blue dot — Darwin

I have recently moved (again) to take up a better position, still in the field of making research publications, cultural and other resources available online to the widest target audiences possible or appropriate into the long-term future, his time at the top end of Australia. So recently blogging has been much more of an ad hoc distraction than usual. My job is one of those new fangled types that can never be really explained to those not in the know, and I have been very lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, and to have met the right people, to have a forefront seat in the way everything is moving with digitized research and cultural collections globally. And some exciting directions are being initiated up north here in Australia. But my professional life has nothing to do with my Vridar hobby-horse so I maintain quite distinct online accounts.

Once I’m settled (again) I hope to resume more systematic blogging following through coherent themes. If others kindly contribute with a post or two to this blog, then of course they do so without implying they concur with any other topics I blog about here, in particular those with a political or social commentary.

A Darwin local told me that this region is one of the most egalitarian in Australia. If so, I wonder if the geography has something to do with encouraging that. Where there are no hills, where the landscape is flat and the same dry in all directions, and where one cannot help but sense a vulnerable isolation from the major cities amidst green hills and rivers, where all 119 ethnic and cultural groups here feel the same heat and humidity, and prepare annually for the same cyclone season, how much room can there be for class conscious uppitiness. This is one city where rich and poor can be found alongside each other in the same neighbourhoods, even the same streets.