Stephen E. Jones

Creation/Evolution Articles

Colin Patterson's address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, 1981, pages 1-5

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page 1
Notice: Not approved for release in print until
edited by Colin Patterson
November 5, 1981

My title is "Evolutionism and Creationism.". I can tell you that title was laid on me by Don Rosen. I'm speaking on it to gratify this old friend of 700 years. I've never spoken on it before and I hope I never have to speak on it again. It's true that for the last eighteen months or so I've been kicking around non-evolutionary or even anti-evolutionary ideas. I think always before in my life when I've got up to speak on a subject, I've been confident of one thing that I know more about it than anybody in the room, because I've worked on it. Well, this time it isn't true. I'm speaking on two subjects evolutionism and creationism, and I believe it's true to say that I know nothing whatever about either of them.

One of the reasons I started taking this anti-evolutionary view, or let's call it a non- evolutionary view, was last year I had a sudden realization for over twenty years I had thought I was working on evolution in some way. One morning I woke up and something had happened in the night and it struck me that I had been working on this stuff for twenty years and there was not one thing I knew about it. That's quite a shock to learn that one can be so misled so long. Either there was something wrong with me or there was something wrong with evolutionary theory. Naturally, I know there is nothing wrong with me, so for the last few weeks I've tried putting a simple question to various people and groups of people.

Question is: Can you tell me anything you know about evolution, any one thing, that is true? I tried that question on the geology staff at the Field Museum of Natural History and the only answer I got was silence. I tried it on the members of the Evolutionary Morphology Seminar in the University of Chicago, a very prestigious body of evolutionists, and all I got there was silence for a long time and eventually one person said, "I do know one thing - it ought not to be taught in high school."

Well, maybe someone here know a more convincing answer than. that - something they know about evolution. The other answer, apart from the high school answer, I've had from anybody, and I've had this from several people in conversation - yes, they do know something, Convergence is everywhere, that's what they've learned.

Well, I'll come to convergence later but it does seem that the level of knowledge about evolution is remarkably shallow. We know it ought not to be taught in high school and that's all we know about it.

My second subject is creationism and what do we know about that? We know that it ought not be taught in high school too.

* Dr Patterson is a senior paleontologist and editor of their journal at the British Museum of Natural History in London. He is author of the book Evolution.

(Patterson C., "Evolutionism and Creationism," Transcript of Address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York NY, November 5, 1981, p.1) [top]

page 2

... I want to talk about evolutionism and creationism as applied systematics... The text of my sermon will be from Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, California University Press...I want to consider the way in which these two alternative world views-evolutionism and creationism have affected or might affect systematics and systematists.

Gillespie's book is a historian's attempt explain the amount of space that Darwin gave to combating the creationist arguments. Gillespie shows that what Darwin was doing was trying to replace the creationist paradigm by a positivist paradigm, a view of the world in which there was neither room nor necessity for final causes. Of course, Gillespie takes it for granted that Darwin and his disciples succeeded in this task. He takes it for granted that a rationalist view of nature has replaced an irrational one and of course, I myself took that view about eighteen months ago. Then I woke up and realized that all my life I had been duped into taking evolutionism as revealed truth in some way.

From my new viewpoint, some of Gillespie's comments on pre-Darwinian creationism seem to be strikingly apt, but they are apt because when I transposed them from the period he is talking about (1850s to today) - Here is one quote from Gillespie's book:

"The old scientific epic scene has sanctioned, or so it appears from the new perspective, a pseudo-paradigm that was not a research governing theory. This is hard to explain with only verbal, but an anti-theory, a void that had the function of knowledge but as naturalists increasingly came to feel, conveyed none."

Here Gillespie is characterising the old pre-Darwinian creationist paradigm. But I feel that what he says could just as well be applied to evolutionary theory today.

Now, of course, it must seem to you that I'm either misguided or a malicious to suggest that such words could be applied to evolutionary theory. But I hope to say that there is something at least as far as systematics is concerned. Gillespie says first that creationism can't be a research governing theory since its power to explain is only verbal. Now today evolution certainly seems to be a research governing theory. Most of us think that we are working in evolutionary research. But is its explanation power any more than verbal when in systematics the research governing aspects of evolution is common ancestry or descent with modification or divergence?

Those of you who were at the meeting last month may have heard that both Rob Brady and I without any prior collusion both quoted the same statement. This was the statement:

"Explanatory value of the hypothesis of common ancestry is nil."

We attributed that statement to T.S. Russell's 1916 book, Form and Function. In thinking about it since then, I feel that the effects of hypotheses common ancestry in systematics has not been merely boring, not just a lack of knowledge, I think it has been positively anti-knowledge. I'll come back to that later anyway.

Gillespie also said that creationism is an anti-theory, a void that has the function of knowledge but conveys none. Well, what about evolution? It certainly has the function of knowledge but does it convey any? Well we're back to the question that I've been putting to people. "Is there any one thing you can tell me about evolution?" The absence of answers seems to suggest that it is true, evolution does not convey any knowledge or if so, I haven't yet heard of it.

(Patterson C., "Evolutionism and Creationism," Transcript of Address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York NY, November 5, 1981, p.2) [top]

page 3

Well, here we all are. We all have shelves of books on evolution. We've all read tons of them and most of us have written one or two. How could it be that some Donald Black had read these books and learned nothing from them? How could I work on evolution twenty years and learn nothing from it? Gillespie's comment: "a void that has the function of knowledge but conveys none" seems to me to be very precise, very apt.

But in systematics there are pieces of evolutionary knowledge that all our heads are stuffed with, from the :most general statements like eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes, vertebrates evolved from. invertebrates, down to specific ones like I evolved from apes. I imagine by now this group does appreciate that such statements exactly fit Gillespie's description - voids that have the function of knowledge but that convey none.

To analyze all such things saying that there is a group, a real group of characters, eukaryotes, vertebrates, Homo sapiens, whatever, and opposed to is a non-group, prokaryotes, invertebrates, apes. These are abstractions that have no character of their own; they have no existence in nature and therefore they cannot possibly convey knowledge, though they appear to when you first hear such statements.

So, in general, I'm trying to suggest two themes. The first is that evolutionism and creationism seem to have become very hard to distinguish, particularly lately. I've just been showing how Gillespie's bitterest characterization of creationism seems to be, as I think, applicable to evolutionism - a sign that the two are very similar.

Now as you all know thee is somewhat of a revolution going on in evolutionary theory at the moment. It doesn't concern the fact of evolution or things general theory of evolution, descent with modification. It concerns possible mechanisms that are responsible for transformations. Well, natural selection is under fire and we hear a raft of new and alternative theories. I've heard four in the last six weeks.

Well, here's Gillespie again on creationism in the 1850s. He says:

"Frequently, those holding creationist ideas could plead ignorance of the means and affirm only the facts."

That seems to summarize the feeling I get in talking, to evolutionists today. They plead ignorance of the means of transformation but affirm only the facts, knowing that it's taken place. Again the two points do seem hard to distinguish.

Here are a couple more quotes from Gillespie. Again, he's saying things on creationism that seem to be just as applicable to evolution today.

"The supposed credibility of the theory was merely the result of familiarity."

Here's a second quote:

"Too much of the contents of the old science was the result of intuition that was in principle unverifiable either directly or indirectly."

(Patterson C., "Evolutionism and Creationism," Transcript of Address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York NY, November 5, 1981, p.3) [top]

page 4

Now those two may have a familiar ring. We hear that sort of thing in evolutionary theory all the time.

Here's another quote on the changing world view associated with the spread of evolutionary thinking in the 1860s.

"Just as science shifted from a theological ground to a positive one so religion among many scientists and laymen influenced by science shifted from religion as knowledge to religion as faith."

So I think many people in this room would acknowledge that during the last few years if you had thought about it at all, you've experienced a shift from evolution as knowledge, to evolution as faith. I know that's true of me and I think it's true of good many of you in here.

So that's my first theme. That evolution and creation seem to be sharing remarkable parallels that are increasingly hard to tell apart.

The second theme is that evolution not only conveys no knowledge but seems somehow to convey anti-knowledge, apparent knowledge which is ................. to systematics.

I want to illustrate that with a couple of parables. These parables concern a diagram that I expect to be immediately familiar to all of you when I put it up. Do you recognize it? It is a diagram that Ernst Mayr has used in his repeated explanations of the true method in systematics that exists in evolutionary systematics.

                           / k
                         / j
                       / i
                     / h
                   / g
                 / f
              / e
       B    / d
A      |   \
 \   b -  / c
  /    | \
 1 \   |/ b
    /  |
   a \ - a

Fig. 1 Cladogram of taxa A, B, and C. Cladists combine B and C into a single taxon because B and C share the synapomorph character b. Evolutionary taxonomists separate C from A and B, which they combine, because C differs by many (c through k) autapomorph characters from A and B and shares only one (b) synapomorph character with B.

My first lesson with the diagram - the first parable - looks like that. (See Figure 1). That is the version that came out in Science (October 30, 1981) last week. The marks along the lines are all autapomorphies of A, B, and C except. for that one which is a synapomorphy of B and C. In Mayr's paper in Science last week C is man, B is the chimpanzee, our sister group according to Mayr and A is not named but I would assume it is the gorilla, Here's what Mayr said:

"The main difference between cladists and evolutionary taxonomists, thus, is in the treatment or autapomorph characters. Instead of automatically giving sister groups the same rank, the evolutionary taxonomist ranks them by considering the relative weight of their autapomorphies as compared to their synapomorphies (Fig. 1). For instance, one of the striking autapomorphies or man (in comparison to his sister group, the chimpanzee) is in the possession of Broca's center in the brain, a character that. is closely correlated with man's speaking ability. This single character is for most taxonomists of greater weight than various synapomorphous similarities or even identities in man and the apes in certain macromolecules such as hemoglobins and cytochrome c. The particular importance of' autapomorphies is that. they reflect the occupation of new niches and new adaptive zones that may have greater biological significance than synapomorphies in some of the standard macromolecules."

There are several things one might say about that statement but not all of them would be polite so I'll just point out that both the statement and the diagram are intended to convey knowledge of evolution. The diagram in the different angles of the lines there and the statement in reference to things like new niches and new adaptive zones, etc. When I first read that passage in Science it immediately reminded me of something - an episode in the history of evolution that many of you may recall; something called "The Great Hippocampus Question." The Great

(Patterson C., "Evolutionism and Creationism," Transcript of Address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York NY, November 5, 1981, p.4) [top]

page 5

Hippocampus Question is recorded in fiction in Charles Kingsley's novel, his children's book, The Water-Babies, In fact, not in fiction, it was a controversy that lasted through 1861 and 62 between Richard Owen and T.H. Huxley. Owen was a creationist and Huxley an evolutionist. Owen, the creationist ; insisted that man was quite distinct from the apes. He couldn't be related to them by descent or any other physical link because the brain of man contained a certain centre, the hippocampus, that was absent in apes. T.H. Huxley insisted that man was related to the apes because the ape's brain, so he said, contained a center that was homologous to the hippocampus. The row went on for two years and eventually a usual, Huxley won.

Here we are 120 years later and we have Ernst Mayr, the evolutionist, insisting that man is quite distinct from the apes because the brain of man contains a certain center Broca's center, that is absent in apes. Mayr even goes on to cite Julian Huxley, grandson of T.H. Huxley and with some approval of his kingdom for Psychozoa. You remember that? It all begins to sound very familiar, doesn't it? Yet notice how the roles have been reversed. The part of Owen, the creationist, with hippocampus now taken by Mayr, the evolutionist and Broca's center. The part of T.H. Huxley, the evolutionist, is now taken by the cladists, who most people now cite as anti-evolutionists, many do.

Bev Halstead, who I'm sure needs no introduction here published a paper called, "A Debate with the Creationists" in which he called me a devoted disciple of Sir Richard Owen. So be it. The wheel has gone right the way around. The evolutionist is now taking just the stand that the creationist took 120 years ago- Broca's center equals the hippocampus .This parable reinforces the point I was making earlier that evolutionists and creationists are now hard to distinguish.

I want to use it to make another point about evolution being an anti-theory that conveys anti-knowledge. It is harmful to systematics. What is Mayr recommending? He recommends that man be maintained in a taxa of high rank, distinct from the apes. Look at what prompts him to that recommendation. It is his apparent knowledge of evolution - that man has evolved at an exceptional rate... Those evolutionary facts justify a taxa of high rank. Then look at the consequence of his recommendations. Man is removed in a taxa of high rank and apes are left to the character of the group, a group without characters and therefore with no individuality or reality and therefore an abstraction that is beyond criticism.

...Man evolved from the apes. That must say something about evolution. Seems to me we have another statement that has the appearance of knowledge, but, in fact, contains none, a piece of antiknowledge derived from the evolutionary theory. Rather than comment further on this I'll quote what T.H. Huxley said of Owen in 1861, again referring to the hippocampus question:

"I do not believe that in the whole history of science there is a case of a man of reputation putting himself in such a contemptible position."

(Patterson C., "Evolutionism and Creationism," Transcript of Address at the American Museum of Natural History, New York NY, November 5, 1981, p.5)


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