Creationists Turn to Lolita, or, Butterflies! How do they work?
You would think creationists would be trying to ban Lolita, not associate themselves with its author. You know that the Discovery Institute is down on its luck when they attempt to gain credibility by counting the author of Lolita among their number. You know that they’re even more down on their luck when they try to further lend Nabokov credibility by citing his contribution to the scientific understanding of butterfly evolution.
As my current literature teacher is fond of saying with bellowing zest, “IRONY!”
You can read the quote in question from Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir, Speak, Memory, but lets see if the Discovery Institute is really onto something with this whole Nabokov-butterflies-evolution thing.
The Discovery Institute post further goes on to quote a literature professor as saying (emphasis added):
My students, I was happy to see, were a little shocked that someone with Nabokov’s way of seeing things would say something that might even remotely be construed as Intelligent Design-ish.
Obviously someone with Nabokov’s way of seeing things doesn’t actually believe in anything that might even remotely be construed as Intelligent Design-ish because, as seen in the New York Times article mentioned in the same website, he clearly accepted that speciation occurs and evolution happens. Regardless of why Nabokov doubted natural selection’s power in the case of butterfly mimicry, it’s a far stretch to call him a creationist. At best, he’s theistic evolution-ish, but here even theistic is used loosely because there’s no evidence Nabokov believed in a god, let alone an intelligent designer, as found in their own post.
Even if Nabokov actually believed in intelligent design, arguing from authority is fallacious, and so is Nabokov’s original argument (I personally can’t think of a way this process could have made this happen, so it didn’t happen). What the Discovery Institute post basically boils down to is saying “Nabokov wrote a great work of literature and contributed to the understanding of butterfly evolution, and he’s going all ‘butterfly mimicry, how does it work?’ in his memoir, therefore Intelligent Design.”
Nabokov did make surprisingly prolific contributions to the field of lepidoptery, but does his qualm still hold scientific validity? As it happens, Stephen J. Gould covers the Speak, Memory quote in I Have Landed and quotes Charles Lee Remington in answer to that question:
Impressive though the intellectual arguments are… it would be unreasonable to take them very seriously in science today… Subsequent publication of so many elegant experimental tests of mimicry and predator learning… and color-pattern genetics… has caused the collapse of the basic challenges, in my view as a specialist in the field. However, I do guess that Nabokov had such a strong metaphysical investment in his challenge to natural selection that he might have rejected the evolutionary conclusions for his own satisfaction.
So there you have it folks. The Discovery Institute’s silliness aside, butterflies pose no real scientific threat to evolution by natural selection, and I’m inclined to think that Nabokov is rolling in his grave with the attempted association with Intelligent Design (speaking of science, literature, and authors rolling in their graves).