Darwin the Mythmaker

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Darwin the Mythmaker

#1  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 7:19 pm

Now that Darwin has been unceremoniously dumped from the British ten pound note, it is only fitting that a new book should address the flaws in his theory of evolution by natural selection. The author, A.N. Wilson, discusses how Darwin was influenced by his theories of social class as much as by biology: https://audioboom.com/posts/6261113-cha ... -mythmaker
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#2  Postby Thommo » Oct 05, 2017 7:21 pm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#3  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 7:53 pm

Thommo wrote:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Why not listen to the author himself rather than just reading wikipedia excerpts about him? Wilson is not a biologist, but neither was Darwin (a theologian and medical school dropout). But he attempts to show that Darwin was influenced more by social and economic theories of his day than by anything to do with living organisms.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#4  Postby Rumraket » Oct 05, 2017 7:58 pm

Read the reviews: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charles-Darwin-Victorian-Mythmaker-Wilson/dp/147362097X
Deranged: literally the worst book I have ever read about Darwin and evolution
By Adam R.on 7 September 2017
Format: Hardcover

I am a scientist who has studied evolution and genetics for many years. I have also extensively written about Charles Darwin. Singularly, I have never come across a more incoherent, inconsistent, deranged attempt to analyse Darwin as a man and his science. If AN Wilson has indeed researched this book for 5 years, as he has claimed, he has managed to do something impressive, which is to draw conclusions which are so comprehensively bonkers as to fall into the category of 'not even wrong'. This book is littered with errors, both trivial and fundamental, ones that could easily be fact-checked. But Wilson seems not to care. His understanding of evolution, of genetics, and of science in general is comically egregious - based on this book, he would fail GCSE biology catastrophically. The anti-Darwinian arguments presented here are not even as cogent as those presented by Young Earth Creationists.
* To associate Darwin with Hitler's policies is at best misguided and at worst intellectually dishonest: Darwin's scientific ideas have little to do with the political ideas of Social Darwinism, and the deranged policies of Nazism drew from distortions of the works relating to Norse mythology, the Bible and a host of other sources.

*To suggest Darwin did not credit others who thought on evolution before him is not borne out by the fact that he lists more than 38 who did just that, in the Origin of Species itself.

*To assert that there are no transitional fossils is not supported by the fact that there are literally millions of transitional fossils.

*To suggest that genetics does not support Darwinian natural selection is contrary to the view held by every biologist in the world that genetics fully reinforces natural selection.

The only valid criticism I can find herein of Darwin is that he might have been flatulent, which can be attributed to a serious disease that he picked up on his travels on the Beagle.

And so on. I can't for the life of me work out how a serious writer could draw these conclusions about someone who has been studied for more than a century, on a subject that millions of people have spent millions of hours and millions of £££ testing. I can only conclude that AN Wilson is not a serious man.

The pagination is excellent. I like the picture of the bat on the back cover.

Dr. Adam Rutherford


The worst biography of Darwin ever written
By Dr John van Wyheon 8 September 2017
Format: Audio Download

As a historian of science who specializes on Darwin, and the Director of Darwin Online, I have to say this is the worst biography of Darwin I have ever read.
I was sent this volume for my views prior to publication and was dismayed at the catalogue of errors and misreadings it contains. I think it fair to share them on the book's Amazon page in case other readers are in danger of being misled.

The author provides an absurd rendition of Darwin’s theory, and then proceeds to confidently assert that Darwin was wrong.
Here is an example: “the stronger and the better fitted to survive, the greater a species’ chance of survival” (p. 248) This error is repeated many times in the book. But Darwin’s theory is about individuals surviving (or not), not whole species. Another: Darwin had to show that “natural selection occurred by sexual means”. This is so ignorant it isn’t even wrong.

The book is full of inexcusable, sloppy errors. These show both a staggering ignorance of the topic and lack of competent research rigour.

Wilson writes (twice) of an “ornithological society of London” where Darwin sent specimens. This was in fact the Zoological Society of London. For a writer on Darwin and his context to not know well the ZSL shows breathtaking ignorance.

Equally breathtaking ignorance is shown of the large scholarly literature on Darwin. Wilson repeats the 1960s claim of anti-Darwin conspiracy theorist Loren Eiseley that the first 50 pages of Darwin’s first evolution notebook were suspiciously missing. They aren’t. They were located and published by 1967. How could anyone even vaguely competent to write a book on Darwin know so little of the literature on him?

Wilson even describes and ridicules a “Darwinian” scenario with the ancestors of giraffes “straining their muscles in order to elongate their necks”. What!? Even the most casual research would show that this is Lamarckism, not Darwinism. But for Wilson, Darwin’s theory was the same as Lamarck’s and Vestiges.

Another egregious blunder is made regarding a 1 June 1858 meeting of the Linnean Society which was supposedly cancelled because of the former president’s death on the 10th!? (p. 235) How could a meeting be cancelled in honour of someone who died 9 days later??
(In my book on Wallace and Darwin, Dispelling the darkness (2013), the correct dates can be found: “The last meeting of the 1858 season was 17 June. However the former president of the society, the Scottish botanist Robert Brown, had died aged eighty-four the week before”)

Wilson claims that George Richmond made only pencil sketch portraits of Darwin and Emma after their wedding. Wrong. Richmond painted both in watercolour. These paintings are reproduced in countless books on Darwin. How could anyone get such things wrong? (A pencil sketch study for Darwin’s portrait was found in the cellars of Botany School Cambridge in 1929.)

Wilson claims: “Darwin believed that his own theory…made it impossible to believe in the Bible.” (p. 238) This is simply made up by Wilson. Darwin thought no such thing. The majority of those who accepted Darwin’s theory in the early decades were Christians.

The discussion of Darwin’s book Descent of Man never even bothers to cover the theory of sexual selection, which makes up the majority of Darwin’s book. Wilson’s coverage of Expression of Emotions is equally bonkers.

The other main theme of the book is to attack Darwin’s character, honesty, motives and competence. Here again the portrait painted by Wilson bears almost no resemblance to the real Darwin. According to Wilson, Darwin’s illness was just “psychosomatic whims” used as “excuses” to get out of doing things. (e.g. p. 271) Wilson also invents and spends a lot of time condemning Darwin’s supposed “driving ambition to become the English Humboldt” with a “towering ambition” “to be a universal genius”. Wilson imagines he sees a “personal deviousness” in Darwin and damns his “inability to come clean about…his debts to previous scientists” (p. 239) Darwin’s method of argumentation was “slithery” and he only “waved” away the big difficulties for his theory. (p. 253) Nonsense. On the contrary, even Darwin’s strongest critics admired how he laid out all the likely objections to his theory. Tired old creationist fantasies are also carted out, such as Darwin being responsible for Hitler and the Nazis.

It’s puzzling how anyone could get Darwin and his science so completely wrong. The other puzzle is how someone so unqualified to write about Darwin and the science of evolution today could dare to make such brazenly overconfident claims sweeping away generations of science and scholarship. This is “towering ambition” indeed.
"Nullius in verba" - Take nobody's word for it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nullius_in_verba
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#5  Postby Thommo » Oct 05, 2017 8:11 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Why not listen to the author himself rather than just reading wikipedia excerpts about him?


Why do you assume I didn't?
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#6  Postby Rumraket » Oct 05, 2017 8:24 pm

Wortfish wrote:Why not listen to the author himself rather than just reading wikipedia excerpts about him?

Because it's a red herring from the crux of the matter: Whether evolution is true and life evolved.

Charles Darwin could have been a slave-owning child rapist and advocated the consumption of vomit, human flesh, and feces, and it still wouldn't make it any less true that life evolved and that you are an ape. Just get over it.

But he attempts to show that Darwin was influenced more by social and economic theories of his day than by anything to do with living organisms.

The facts are what the facts are regardless of what influenced the people who discovered those facts. Charles Darwin could have invented his theory entirely through the liberal use of narcotics and fevered halluscinations, it would not move all the amassed evidence even one iota. :roll:

This AN Wilson dude, and your thread about his irrelevant and terrible pseudo-biography, is just one big red herring fallacy having sex with an ad hominem fallacy.

Life evolved, you are an ape, your distant ancestors were primitive primates and you should just grow up and get over it.

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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#7  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Oct 05, 2017 8:33 pm

Thommo wrote:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Not to mention that the ToE has moved beyond the original findings and theory of Darwin.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#8  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 8:39 pm

Thommo wrote:
Why do you assume I didn't?

Because you didn't actually comment on what he said, only on what others have written.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#9  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 8:40 pm

Thomas Eshuis wrote:
Thommo wrote:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Not to mention that the ToE has moved beyond the original findings and theory of Darwin.


The book is not a critique of evolutionary theory. It is a critque of Darwin's own ideas about how evolution works.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#10  Postby Thommo » Oct 05, 2017 8:40 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:
Why do you assume I didn't?

Because you didn't actually comment on what he said, only on what others have written.


I didn't comment at all.

Just so you know, you were wrong.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#11  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 8:45 pm

Rumraket wrote:
This AN Wilson dude, and your thread about his irrelevant and terrible pseudo-biography, is just one big red herring fallacy having sex with an ad hominem fallacy.
Life evolved, you are an ape, your distant ancestors were primitive primates and you should just grow up and get over it.

Maybe you should actually listen to the audio transcript? It is obvious you cannot be bothered to even understand the author's argument. A.N. Wilson does not argue against the theory of evolution. In fact, he mocks the idea put forward by creationists, taking their cue from Bishop Usher, that the earth is only 6000 years old. He presents the case that Darwin's obsession with struggle, rather than cooperation, in Nature was influenced by the socio-economic thinking of Victorian elites and his obsession with gradualism was borne out of his desire for slow political change rather than revolution.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#12  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 8:46 pm

Thommo wrote:
Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:
Why do you assume I didn't?

Because you didn't actually comment on what he said, only on what others have written.


I didn't comment at all.

Just so you know, you were wrong.

Yes, you didn't comment, you just appealed to authority...on wikipedia.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#13  Postby Thommo » Oct 05, 2017 8:52 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:
Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:
Why do you assume I didn't?

Because you didn't actually comment on what he said, only on what others have written.


I didn't comment at all.

Just so you know, you were wrong.

Yes, you didn't comment, you just appealed to authority...on wikipedia.


It's nice you agree you are wrong, but you don't have to reinforce the point by being wrong about what an appeal to authority is as well. :scratch:
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#14  Postby Animavore » Oct 05, 2017 8:55 pm

Listened to two minutes. Once he said Darwin is treated as infallible I was done. Darwin was wrong about the origin of the multitude of dogs, the mechanism of inheritance, just off the top of my head.

Much infallible. Such wow.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#15  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 9:48 pm

Thommo wrote:
It's nice you agree you are wrong, but you don't have to reinforce the point by being wrong about what an appeal to authority is as well. :scratch:

You're the one who appeals to the arguments of others to make your own.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#16  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 9:49 pm

Animavore wrote:Listened to two minutes. Once he said Darwin is treated as infallible I was done. Darwin was wrong about the origin of the multitude of dogs, the mechanism of inheritance, just off the top of my head.
Much infallible. Such wow.

He meant in the context of gradual and undirected change, not everything Darwin proposed.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#17  Postby Animavore » Oct 05, 2017 9:54 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Animavore wrote:Listened to two minutes. Once he said Darwin is treated as infallible I was done. Darwin was wrong about the origin of the multitude of dogs, the mechanism of inheritance, just off the top of my head.
Much infallible. Such wow.

He meant in the context of gradual and undirected change, not everything Darwin proposed.

Then he should've made that clear.

Sounded ranty to me. Not attracted back.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#18  Postby Thommo » Oct 05, 2017 9:55 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Thommo wrote:
It's nice you agree you are wrong, but you don't have to reinforce the point by being wrong about what an appeal to authority is as well. :scratch:

You're the one who appeals to the arguments of others to make your own.


What do you want me to say? The audio link is just a book plug for a polemic that is widely reported as being biased and factually inaccurate. I haven't read the book and having heard the author and read various reviews and review extracts I'm not going to.

I've conversed with you more than enough previously to know that nothing fruitful will come of us discussing this or anything else further, so I tried to keep my contribution as short as possible whilst directing people to information they may find both relevant and useful. I found this far more constructive than some nonsensical comments about the issue of new bank notes with a new design, something that happens on a regular basis.

If you want to try and provoke a fight by wittering on about "arguments from authority" where none are present, I guess that's your prerogative, but I've got better things to do.
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#19  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Oct 05, 2017 10:19 pm

Wortfish wrote:
Thomas Eshuis wrote:
Thommo wrote:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._N._Wilson

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Not to mention that the ToE has moved beyond the original findings and theory of Darwin.


The book is not a critique of evolutionary theory. It is a critque of Darwin's own ideas about how evolution works.

It's a transparent piece of polemics aimed at discrediting the current ToE by attacking it's founding father. This is nothing new Worfish, we've seen theists do this for decades.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."
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Re: Darwin the Mythmaker

#20  Postby Wortfish » Oct 05, 2017 11:58 pm

Thomas Eshuis wrote:
It's a transparent piece of polemics aimed at discrediting the current ToE by attacking it's founding father. This is nothing new Worfish, we've seen theists do this for decades.

Wilson makes no religious arguments. He points out that the ToE as a concept was established well before Darwin. What Darwin did was try and explain evolution, for which there were many explanations at the time, in terms of Malthusian economics and Victorian racism.
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