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For Richard Leakey and So Many Other Darwin Advocates, Evolution Is a Word that Can Mean Anything

Paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey was speaking in New York the other day and took a break to deliver his prediction that evolution will achieve universal affirmation within the next 15 to 30 years, so that "even the skeptics can accept it."

"If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive," Leakey says, "then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges."

[...]

"If you don't like the word evolution, I don't care what you call it, but life has changed. You can lay out all the fossils that have been collected and establish lineages that even a fool could work up. So the question is why, how does this happen? It's not covered by Genesis. There's no explanation for this change going back 500 million years in any book I've read from the lips of any God."

Writing at the libertarian blog Volokh Conspiracy, Jonathan H. Adler disagrees:
I am not so sanguine, as I don't believe skepticism of evolution is driven by "skepticism," scientific or otherwise, nor do I think additional scientific evidence will satisfy evolution's opponents. To the contrary, resistance to evolution is driven, first and foremost, by a belief that evolution represents a threat to religious belief, and second by "tribal" impulses. Lack of evidence has nothing to do with it, and I doubt the accumulation of additional evidence will change many people's minds.
Do you notice anything odd about these pronouncements? That's right, neither Leakey nor Adler says what he means by "evolution." Leakey speaks in vague terms: "life has changed," and it displays "lineages." Who could disagree? In fact, no one does.

Adler isn't even specific enough to be called vague. For him, the supremely multivalent term "evolution" simply functions as a bat to hit out blindly at people holding "religious beliefs" -- which ones? -- and other folks who are subject to "tribal impulses."

What "tribe" is it that's organized around opposition to "evolution," whatever that means?

I would love to sit down with a guy like Jonathan H. Adler, who teaches law at Case Western Reserve University, and quiz him on what he thinks evolution entails and what the evidence being offered against it is, even if that evidence is totally bogus as he thinks. Perhaps Adler is among those who know nothing about the subject but for whom it really is a marker of tribal belonging, your membership card to a society of folks who are so smart that they are exempted from having to define terms when they speak.

This strangely consistent slapdash quality among Darwin advocates leaves the impression that a not very competent group of salesmen are trying to sell you something you don't need. It is one reason that evolution skeptics remain skeptical.