comment by Vladimir_M ·
2011-02-02T21:06:49.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This I disagree with. Smart people often have superficially plausible arguments often connected to their lack of actual understanding or investigation and religious motivation. The set of people who are both smart and well-informed and have a problem with evolution is tiny.
The number of such people is indeed small, but they do exist. The point I'm driving at is that although their ultimate conclusion that Darwinism is false reflects their cognitive biases, typically due to religious motivation, the objections they raise in the process are sometimes not at all ignorant and superficial. Unlike the usual canards and fallacies put forth by run-of-the-mill creationists, sometimes they indeed strike at the heart of things that are still a matter of controversy, confusion, and enigma even among evolutionary biologists. (Hence my analogy with Einstein's 1930s attempts to refute quantum theory.)
This sort of claim would have been valid in the 1920s or 1930s or maybe even a bit later than that. But at this point evolution is understood well enough that failure to understand it reflects one's own ignorance or cognitive biases more than it says anything else.
The very basic ideas between evolution are indeed understood very well nowadays, but as soon as we get into more complex and more concrete issues, often a great deal of controversy and confusion persists even among experts in evolutionary biology. Just think of all the controversies about punctuated equilibrium vs. gradualism, spandrels vs. "Panglossian" adaptationism, the existence and extent of group selection, the epistemological soundness of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, all the numerous case studies where it can be difficult to establish whether a plausible-looking evolutionary explanation is a real insight or a just-so story, etc., etc. Even the ways in which the very basic principles of Darwinism can be validly formulated are a matter of some controversy (witness the arguments over whether the full-blown Dawkinsian gene-centric formulation is valid and complete).
In this situation, one can pose many questions that will get contradictory and confused answers from the experts, and sometimes the only honest answer will be "we have no idea." Of course, it is fallacious to use this to conclude that the very basics of evolution are false. However, there are some smart and well informed people who derive this invalid conclusion, and even though the conclusion itself is biased, it's by no means justified to dismiss their entire arguments as ignorant and uninteresting without hearing. (And however biased and misguided they are, they are still, in my opinion, committing lesser intellectual sins than people who adopt belief in evolution on pure authority and without any real understanding, especially when they use it as a status marker or ideological weapon.)