Thursday, November 25, 2010

Butler’s Ad Hominem Attack

  In "The Deadlock of Darwinism," Samuel Butler makes the charge that the ideas put forward by Charles Darwin, were anything but novel. This article will address this accusation, and consider whether it has any merit. In addition, it will also consider what the consequences of such an claim being true are for Darwinism.

  To demonstrate that Darwin's work is unoriginal, Butler appeals to the work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck as well as that of Darwin's own grandfather. Both the works of Lamarck as well as Darwin's grandfather identify evolution as the mechanism by which variation amongst and within species occurs. Moreover, both of these works predate that of Darwin. Further, it is difficult to imagine that Darwin was unaware of either of their works, for Lamarck was well known, and the other is his own grandfather. While there does exist subtle variations between the three accounts, they all put forward evolution through a natural mechanism. Given these factors, it seems as though it is fair to say that Darwin is not the father of evolution, as he is often made out to be.

  If Darwin added very little to the theory of evolution, then why it is that he is ascribed credit to this discovery? I propose that the answer to this question is that Darwin popularised the theory of natural selection far better than those before him. Often times a populariser of an invention or discovery is wrongly given credit for being the inventor or discoverer. We can find other examples of this in history. For instance, Henry ford did not invent the automobile, or the production line, and yet he is often miss-credited as having done so; similarly, Alexander Graham Bell, did not invent the telephone, and yet his commonly thought to have. Ford was far more successful than his predecessors, and was consequently was considered the inventor of these things; so too was Darwin's book more successful than his predecessors/peers, and so too is Darwin considered to be the pioneer of evolution by many.

  Darwin is clearly then not the father of evolution, as he is often said to be. However, what then are the consequences of this revelation to the theory of evolution, or Darwinism? Whether or not the ideas presented by Darwin were novel or his own has no bearing on the strength or truth of those ideas. Butler's writing is a successful attack on the intellectual integrity of Darwin as an individual, but has not demonstrated that the ideas he championed are lacking in integrity.

  Thus, while Butler's charge is fair, it has not presented any challenge to the theory of evolution through natural selection. To have shown that Darwin was wrong, one would need to address the validity or soundness of the theories and arguments presented in his writings, attacking the man himself is not sufficient to demonstrate that his theories are flawed. However, what should be taken from Butler's argument is that Darwin did not alone come up with natural selection, and that it is an injustice that the individuals, who did more to develop the theory of evolution than Darwin did, are often not credited for the creation of this powerful theory.

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