Professor Rubinstein digs himself in deeper
Last weekend, during a Sunday random link roundup, I mentioned a jaw-droppingly, mind-numbingly bad piece of anti-evolution writing by a British historian, Professor William D. Rubinstein, that I had found via PZ Myer's evisceration of the sillier assertions and "doubts" about evolution in the article. This article was a fantastic example of how highly educated people who have presumably been well trained in the evaluation of evidence in one field can stumble very badly when they start commenting on another field that is outside their area of expertise. What was truly amazing about the article was that Professor Rubinstein uncritically parrotted a variety of long-debunked anti-evolution canards usually spread by "intelligent design" creationist advocates to the point that it demonstrated such a lack of understanding of basic biology and even the very fundamentals of basic evolutionary theory that I found it hard to believe that it was written by an academic.
Professor Rubinstein's article provoked a firestorm of criticism (to use a cliché) and many responses, which seemed to surprise him. Well, yesterday, Professor Rubinstein decided to respond to all the criticism with a comment of his own (scroll to the comments for May 20 to find it). He was surprised at the number and intensity of the responses and seemed hurt--yes, hurt!--that anyone might conclude from his piece that he might be a creationist. Observe Professor Rubinstein's response, with my comments added:
None of my previous articles for the Social Affairs Unit have attracted more than ten responses, most have only attracted a few responses. When I, for example, advocted abolishing the income tax-- www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000214.php--it only received two responses. When I posted my article on evolution I did not expect it to attract a single response, not on a site unrelated to science or biology, let alone more than seventy.
I wish to make only two points in reply. First, to reiterate what I said in the article, I am not a “creationist,” and would not allow any of what I wrote to be cited by fundamentalists, although there are a wide range of non-“creationist” critics of evolutionary theory.
Finally, to which "non-creationist" critics of evolutionary theory are you referring? Whom, specifically, and what is their critique? If there is indeed such a "wide range" of these critics, then why didn't you mention an example or two? Here, you seem to be playing another game many creationists play by equating controversies among evolutionary biologists over the mechanisms driving evolution with "criticism" of evolutionary theory. Let's get one thing straight here. Modern evolutionary theory is one of the most successful and well-supported scientific theories there is. There is indeed controversy about the specific mechanisms that drive evolution, but the fact that evolution occurs and the broad outlines of the mechanisms by which it occurs are not in dispute among biologists. See here for more.
You could always prove me wrong by getting specific regarding these "noncreationist" critics of evolution, but somehow I doubt that you will.
I honestly find it hard to believe that you would repeat yet again the "speciation has never been observed" canard, which is what you are clearly doing here with "offer." Heck, you even admit that 10 years is a "ridiculously short" period, thus implicitly acknowledging the speciousness of your challenge. Indeed, I would point out that the "ridiculously small" amount of your proposed prize should someone point out an example of new speciation by 2015 strongly suggests that your challenge is more for show than any sort of substance and you know it. In any case, speciation has been observed, and once again Talkorigins.org has many examples (and here as well). I suggest you check those examples out and be educated.Secondly, I would be happy to donate say one hundred dollars or fifty pounds to charity if, by the end of ten years from now (May 2015) anyone can produce an example of evolution in the animal world which has occurred during that time span - that is, the appearance of a new species of animal, which does not exist today, but which is descended from an existing species. (Of course this must occur in the natural world - laboratory experiments are excluded). I readily admit that ten years is a ridiculously short period, but there are more than one million species of animal life and new species should be appearing all the time, surely. I would stipulate a much longer time frame - fifty or five hundred years - but won’t be around to monitor the results.
(Professor) William D. Rubinstein
I had thought that perhaps PZ and I were too hard on Professor Rubinstein. Now that I see his non-response to the criticisms of his article, in which he failed to address directly any of the substantive concerns raised by PZ, me, or any of the commenters on his article, I realize that perhaps I was too easy on him. Professor Rubinstein is Exhibit A for why expertise in one area does not necessarily translate to expertise in another area. Indeed, it boggles my mind that a man trained to wade through detailed primary historical evidence could make such basic mistakes. I suspect that the reason it is possible for him to make such egregious errors is that he doesn't have the scientific background to properly evaluate the sources he has looked at and lacks the humility to recognize what he doesn't know. (He doesn't even seem to know the definition of the word "theory" when used to refer to scientific theories.) Consequently he gives more credence to fallacious "criticisms" of evolution than they deserve, most likely because they appeal to his pre-existing beliefs. When I write about history on this blog, I do so with a distinct appreciation for the limitations of my understanding of history. Indeed, always in the back of my mind is the fear that I may be making a fool of myself commenting on a field outside the area of my expertise (something I've probably managed to do at one time or another, despite my best efforts). Unfortunately, Dr. Rubinstein doesn't appear to have that same appreciation for the limitations of his understanding. If he had, he would have shown a little more humility and probably would have tried to learn some basic biology before forging ahead with an article that could only sully his reputation and make him appear a fool.