Ah the lonely wanderings of the LDS evolutionary believer. First, she is under suspicion by those who think there is something suspect about the claim of even being an ‘LDS’ evolutionist. ‘Shouldn’t she at least believe in Intelligent Design?’ There is a whiff and taint of unbelief about her. ‘Aren’t evolutionary biologists the ones writing those books advocating atheism? Didn’t your mother warn you about choosing your friends? I think I smell sulpher whenever you are around.’ Let’s throw her in the pond and see if she floats.
Over on an LDS list server a few weeks ago I was asked by a member what part of evolutionary biology I believed.
What parts of it do I believe? In the current issue of the journal Evolution is an article called, “Natural selection along an environmental gradient: a classic cline in mouse pigmentation by Lynne M. Mullen, Hopi E. Hoekstra. Is he asking if I believe that this study represents a classic cline in mouse pigmentation? The question he asks is intriguing because it is not one that you would likely ask someone of any other science. Imbedded in the question are suspicions that this science has things that one ought not believe. And not in the way we skeptically view all scientific results. The question seems to broker deep suspicions about its legitimacy as a science as such. It seems to me that one would rarely ask a physicist, say, ‘What parts of the standard model do you believe?’ Not that we think the standard model is completely correct or even that it’s the right model, string theorists have another model that seems to work, at least coherently. But somehow we trust the guys and gals interpreting the results coming out of the superconductor-supercollider more than the men and women looking at Galapagos finches, although the I’d put up the logic, analysis, careful data collection etc. up against those particle physics jocks any day. Their looking at swirls of bubbles does not elicit the same visceral distrust that evolution does.
‘What parts do I believe?’ All of it and none of it I suppose. Like any science, individual findings I leave open to skeptical suspension. But not in the way the asker of this question I suspect means. It’s an impossible question taken at face value. I haven’t been following say the bat echolocation evolution debates very closely. In fact, I suspect the ‘parts’ of evolutionary theory are getting close to being found in such a large number that we can start to call them innumerable (not mathematically, of course, which would mean it mapped to the real numbers which is way bigger infinity than the measly, teeny-tiny infinity of the integers. That’s an infinity for babies.).
So what parts to I believe? Not all of it certainly. By this I mean something like, “Well, I’m not really sure if the above example in mouse pigmentation is going to hold up in the long run, but hey they did a good job and I see no good reason to discount the study, so sure why not, let’s call it a classic case of cline selection, but if more comes in the pipeline that suggests something else, hey, I’m open to change.” But if the writer thinks that the deep findings supported by DNA evidence (see Dan Fairbank’s excellent book on this), the fossil record, embryology, anatomy, brain science, current research in artificial life, or that the theory and findings of population genetics are going to suffer from a whole scale refutation from somewhere. No I don’t believe that. Evolution is on as strong evidentiary basis of any science. It’s about as likely to suffer a complete overturn of its fundamentals as the science of chemistry. Certainly there will be disputes about this finding or that, as there are in any discipline, but evolution is not going anywhere. So are there parts I don’t believe? Sure. No big ones though. I’m an evolutionary biologist true blue and through and through. But, that said, I still have some open questions about mouse pigmentation and its classic clinishness.