Can Evolution Survive Without Darwin?

first_imgCharles Darwin and the theory of evolution seem synonymous.  Nevertheless, many evolutionary biologists have pointed out that a lot has happened in evolutionary biology since Darwin died.  Some even criticize creationists for using the term “Darwinism” for evolution, though often it is just as much the habit of evolutionists (example: Genome Research: “Genomics and Darwinism”).  These days, however, there is a movement to let old Darwin fade away and remove his name from evolutionary theory altogether.  Some even see his main idea, natural selection, as an impediment to progress in the field.    In a letter to Science August 29, U. Kutschera of the University of Kassel in Germany suggested we replace “Darwinism” with “evolutionary biology” – a term first coined by Julian Huxley.  This is because evolutionary theory has expanded far beyond Darwin’s limited domain into other disciplines such as geology and computer science.  He also pointed out, though, that “we need another update of our concepts about the mechanisms of evolution” – a suggestion that natural selection is inadequate.    A distinct down-with-Darwin attitude was most clearly seen in an interview August 24 by Susan Mazur with Stuart Newman, published in The Scoop, an independent news service in New Zealand.  Mazur was asking Newman about his recent involvement in a closed conference of 16 evolutionary biologists in Altenberg, Austria last July (see “Revolt in the Darwin Camp” from 03/07/2008 and Mazur’s July 6 preview of controversial issues in The Scoop; for list of participants and their public statement on the outcome of the meeting, see the Rationally Speaking blog for July 17).  Some of the participants wanted to formulate an “extended evolutionary synthesis” with less natural selection and more of the new perspectives that have recently taken hold, such as self-organization and epigenetics.  Some of them see natural selection only as a culling filter after other mechanisms generated novelty that caused the origin of species and body plans.  These ideas remain controversial.    Newman described why self-organization might lead to complex structures.  To avoid misunderstanding, he prefers the term “phenotypic plasticity” –Plasticity is not only associated with self-organization.  Molecular self-assembly can also be plastic.  It is now recognized that many proteins have no intrinsic three-dimensional structure – their forms and functions change depending on their microenvironment, including other proteins that may or may not be present.  The structure and function of macromolecular complexes can therefore change dramatically over the course of evolution with minimal genetic change, or as a side-effect of other changes, not driven by adaptation.  This is quite relevant to the evolution of highly complex structures like the bacterial flagellum, a problem constantly harped on by advocates of “Intelligent Design.”Newman is saying that complex structures, composed of many parts that ID scientists would call irreducibly complex, might just happen spontaneously – without any “evolutionary force” of adaptation or natural selection driving the process.  Obviously such ideas are going to raise eyebrows among biologists trained in traditional Darwinism.    Newman and Mazur both complained that the establishment biologists are not welcoming the new ideas of self-organization.  What is most interesting in Mazur’s article is her vitriolic description of the “Darwinian industry” that remains sold out to traditional Darwinian adaptationism.  They abhor the concept of self-organization, she said, because of fear those in the intelligent-design community will exploit it.  She held out particular disdain for the NCSE, which “advises schools in America on what textbooks are suitable”.The National Center for Science Education director Eugenie Scott told me that her organization does not support self-organization because it is confused with intelligent design, i.e., “design-beyond-laws” – as Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University describes it.  NCSE also pays lucrative fees to conference speakers who keep the lid on self-organization by beating the drum for Darwinian natural selection.  NCSE and its cronies completely demonize the intelligent design community, even those who agree evolution happened.  Religion is not the target since even the National Academy of Sciences embraces religion.  So it seems the real target is those who fail to kneel before the Darwinian theory of natural selection and prevent the further fattening of the Darwinian industry tapeworm.    NAS and NASA/NAI in their respective publications Science, Evolution and Creationism, and Astrobiology Primer have also kept out any discussion of self-organization. What is your response to this? Why do you think such organizations continue to feed unenlightened information to the public at public expense?Somewhat taken aback at the language, Newman agreed, but with the disclaimer that “I may not use all the terms that you used”.  He pointed out that at the Dover trial, for instance, the idea was reinforced in the public mind that “if you believe in evolution, you believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution because it’s supposedly the same thing.  And if you don’t believe in Darwin’s theory, you must believe in something supernatural.”  In bold print, Mazur quoted his next statement:This is not at all valid and I think it’s a big mistake because we know there are non-linear and what I call saltational mechanisms of embryonic development that could have contributed — and I’m virtually certain they did — to evolution.  It was Darwin who said that if any organ is shown to have formed not by small increments but by jumps, his theory would therefore be wrong.  [Emphasis in original].Newman seems to be implying that, by Darwin’s own standard, natural selection theory has been falsified.  He called it a “Darwinian orthodoxy” that “everything has to be incremental,” including “something very complex like the bacterial flagellum or the segmented vertebral column, they say that it had to have arisen in an incremental fashion.”  Self-assembly and self-organization, Newman believes, can account for these things without natural selection.  “I think it’s an unfortunate error that some advocates of evolution are making by adhering so closely to this incrementalist Darwinian dogma,” which he later attributed to “implausible and incorrect mechanisms”.  Mazur reacted by calling this “mediocre science being pushed on the public” and “wasting of public funds at a time of serious economic downturn in America”.    Newman and Mazur discussed how funding can perpetuate a consensus, even when it’s wrong, and how the consensus controls communication with the public.  “It really undermines confidence in science if people are always being subjected to what we call handwaving arguments that all complexity had to have had an incremental origin.”  Nevertheless, Newman himself, when describing how self-organization might produce a flagellum, seemed also to be just waving his hands.Won’t it be fun if Darwinism collapses just in time for Darwin Day?  There was going to be a big celebration in 1992, remember, for Columbus on the 500th anniversary of his voyage to the New World.  The party fizzled, however, when activists got all untied about his supposed links to racism, exploitation, disease, and slavery.  (Whether this was true to history or not is beside the point.)  Maybe that’s the secret.  Hire a bunch of live-at-home dropouts and history professors who have nothing better to do than protest things.  Convince them that Darwin brought racism, sexism, genocide and a host of other evils.  (That this is true to history is the point.)  Turn them loose, get the media focused on them, raise a ruckus and watch Darwin become very politically incorrect on campus.  What a surprised look we will see on Eugenie Scott’s face when the people chanting “Down with Darwin!” are not religious creationists, but a motley mix of radicals, liberals, progressives, diversity departments and evolutionary biologists like Stuart Newman.    This is not the first time the saltationists have attacked the gradualists.  It’s part of a repeated tug-of-war that resurfaces every decade or two, because insiders bred on Darwinism know that gradualism via natural selection is “implausible and incorrect.”  The Darwin Party hangs on for dear life because they know all is lost if gradualism goes.  No matter what you call saltationism, whether punctuated equilibria or phenotypic plasticity or self-assembly, it is tantamount to naturalistic miracles.  Can anyone really believe an outboard motor of 40 essential parts just self-assembled without design?  Such faith conjures up visions of tornados in junkyards and explosions in print shops.  The Darwinians know that intelligent design people and creationists love this stuff.  It makes their job so easy.  A dinosaur lays an egg and a bird hatches out.  Yeee-haw!    Join the resistance!  Don’t kneel before the Darwinian theory of natural selection.  Prevent the further fattening of the Darwinian industry tapeworm!  (Thank you, Susan, for that picturesque metaphor.)  For those of us outside the Church of Darwin, who think with our brains instead of our imaginations, we’ll get our miracles, thank you, from the intelligent Designer who has both the purpose and the power to execute them.(Visited 11 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img

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