Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Questioning Darwin

Stephen Meyer relates the following story (starting at about the 23:15 mark in this video) about a Chinese professor of paleontology giving a lecture in which Meyer was in attendance. Meyer recounts:

[The Chinese professor is speaking:] "The strange thing about these Cambrian fossil finds is that they turn Darwin's tree upside down. Instead of having the simple forms at the bottom and gradually morphing and then the complex forms arising and then branching out, we have the disparity between form at the very beginning of the [Cambrian] explosion, with nothing underneath."

So there was some uncomfortable shuffling. And then we went to the Q&A time. And one of the geologists from the University of Washington raised his hand and he said, almost as if in warning, "Professor, aren't you a little bit uneasy about expressing scepticism about Darwinian evolution coming as you do from such an authoritarian country?"

And suddenly you could cut the tension with a knife, to use the old metaphor. But this Chinese professor - no one's fool - got a wry smile on his face, and he said, "In our country we can question Darwin, just not the government." And then he said, "In your country, you can question the government, but you can't question Darwinism."

Meyer also relates the same story in his book Darwin's Doubt (see chapter 3, "Soft Bodies and Hard Facts"):

So there was little doubt about the significance of the discoveries that [J.Y.] Chen came to report that day. What was soon in doubt, however, was Chen's scientific orthodoxy. In his presentation, he highlighted the apparent contradiction between the Chinese fossil evidence and Darwinian orthodoxy. As a result, one professor in the audience asked Chen, almost as if in warning, if he wasn't nervous about expressing his doubts about Darwinism so freely - especially given China's reputation for suppressing dissenting opinion. I remember Chen's wry smile as he answered. "In China," he said, "we can criticize Darwin, but not the government. In America, you can criticize the government, but not Darwin."

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