What Is It About Butterflies that Drives Men to Doubt Darwin? - Evolution News & Views

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What Is It About Butterflies that Drives Men to Doubt Darwin?

I've written here before about novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov, a self-described "furious" critic of Darwinian theory. An erstwhile butterfly researcher and curator at Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History, Nabokov thought that butterflies possess powers of mimicry inexplicable on Darwinian assumptions:

"Natural Selection," in the Darwinian sense, could not explain the miraculous coincidence of imitative aspect and imitative behavior, nor could one appeal to the theory of "the struggle for life" when a protective device was carried to a point of mimetic subtlety, exuberance, and luxury far in excess of a predator's power of appreciation.
In the same tradition of butterfly-induced Darwin heresy, meet Bernard d'Abera. A kind of latter-day Audubon of lepidoptera, D'Abrera is a philosopher of science, renowned butterfly photographer, one of the world's most formidable lepidopterists -- and if anything, an even more furious Darwin doubter than Nabokov. His series of enormous volumes, The Butterflies of the World, a heroic act of categorization and illustration, is almost completed with the recent publication of Butterflies of the Afrotropical Region, Part III: Lycaenidae, Riodinidae, in a revised edition including a lengthy assemblage of introductory essays. The latter comprise one of the most colorful, amusing, enraged, and wildly unclassifiable attacks on Darwinism that I've come across.

The book is huge -- I've been carrying it around as I bicycle to work and my sore back attests to this -- and gorgeously furnished in the systematic section with d'Abrera's incredibly detailed butterfly photos. His pictures were taken both in the field and in the unsurpassed collections of the British Museum (Natural History) where he has been a longtime visiting scholar in the Entomology Department. Unfortunately, priced at more than $500 a copy, the book probably isn't a realistic purchase for you unless you have a professional or at least very serious amateur interest in butterfly classification.

D'Abrera is an old-fashioned scholar, insisting over and over on the indispensability of Linnaean taxonomy, governed by "the rules of ideology-free, empirical science," before it began to be overtaken by worldview-driven speculation. He recalls his dismay in the mid 1980s when his British Museum colleagues permitted themselves to be swept away by a "sudden and almost manic drive to abandon the vestiges of tradition and endow their own output with the pseudo-intellectual flavor of phylogenetics."

Candidly, I should say that Bernard d'Abrera, while a distinguished scientist, publisher and photographic artist, stands out in other ways for which one cannot commend him. Some of the intellectual paths he takes in this book are disconnected from reality. Yet his objections to Darwinism are illuminating, and more fundamental than Nabokov's thoughts on mimicry.

He pours particular scorn on the late Harvard zoologist and would be Darwin heir Ernest Mayr, from whom d'Abrera offers a quotation that sums up everything he finds fraudulent in evolutionary thinking. Mayr explained how evolutionary biology's status as a "historical science" exempts evolutionists from normal standards of scientific argumentation:

...the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that lead to the events one is trying to explain [emphasis added].
The evolutionist begins with the assumption that the events in question have already taken place, life's development has occurred, by means of Darwinian processes. He seeks only to "explicate" in more detail how this happened. His method consists of imagining a historical scenario and then spinning out a fictional narrative, in line with a theory that's already held to be true before any proof has been offered

When you reason this way, as Marxists and Freudians also delightedly found in their respective pseudo-scientific fields, it's almost eerie how all the evidence you consider appears to uniformly confirm your theory. More on d'Abrera tomorrow.


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