NAS Sackler Colloquium papers online


The PNAS Early Edition webpage has just posted a series of papers from the December 2006 National Academy of Sciences Sackler Colloquium, “In the Light of Evolution: Adaptation and Complex Design,” organized by Francisco Ayala and John Avise. The series of papers, on topics ranging from color vision to beetle horns, is now available (I will post the list below the fold). Eugenie C. Scott (aka Genie) was invited to speak at this meeting about evolution education and the history of opposition to it, and the speakers wrote papers to be published in PNAS and a forthcoming NAS volume.

Genie brought me on as a coauthor on the paper she was asked to write. This became:

Scott, E. C., and Matzke, N. (2007). “Biological design in science classrooms.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 104(suppl. 1), 8669-8676.

Abstract: Although evolutionary biology is replete with explanations for complex biological structures, scientists concerned about evolution education have been forced to confront “intelligent design” (ID), which rejects a natural origin for biological complexity. The content of ID is a subset of the claims made by the older “creation science” movement. Both creationist views contend that highly complex biological adaptations and even organisms categorically cannot result from natural causes but require a supernatural creative agent. Historically, ID arose from efforts to produce a form of creationism that would be less vulnerable to legal challenges and that would not overtly rely upon biblical literalism. Scientists do not use ID to explain nature, but because it has support from outside the scientific community, ID is nonetheless contributing substantially to a long-standing assault on the integrity of science education.

We decided to review everything that had been learned about the origins and evolution of the “intelligent design” movement over the last few years. Several of the items in the paper will be familiar to longtime PT readers, but we thought that they deserved to be more widely known in the scientific community. Fans of cdesign proponentsists, this means you. Some sections of the paper did assemble some novel pieces of the historical origins of ID that have not quite been put together in one place before. For example, do a search on “Kenyon”, and you may learn a few new things. All in all I think we added a few more nails to the coffin housing the contention, still popular in certain circles, that “ID is not creationism.” (Note, however, that this PNAS paper was written back in December and January – this is not the detailed paper on the historical origins of ID that I was working on back in March and April, and which I discussed with folks on the Telic Thoughts blog and elsewhere.)

We did not have enough space to do more than a summary of the problems with the ID arguments, but we did take the time to refer readers to what we think are some of the best detailed rebuttals out there. Various PT contributors may recongize their work being acknowledged.

The colloquium papers will be listed below.


Michael Lynch The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0702207104

Albert F. Bennett and Richard E. Lenski An experimental test of evolutionary trade-offs during temperature adaptation PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0702117104

John C. Avise and Francisco J. Ayala In the light of evolution I: Adaptation and complex design PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0702066104

Cynthia M. Beall Two routes to functional adaptation: Tibetan and Andean high-altitude natives PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701985104

Robert M. Hazen, Patrick L. Griffin, James M. Carothers, and Jack W. Szostak Functional information and the emergence of biocomplexity PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701744104

Eugenie C. Scott and Nicholas J. Matzke Biological design in science classrooms PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701505104

Richard E. Michod Evolution of individuality during the transition from unicellular to multicellular life PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701489104

Francesca D. Frentiu, Gary D. Bernard, Cristina I. Cuevas, Marilou P. Sison-Mangus, Kathleen L. Prudic, and Adriana D. Briscoe Adaptive evolution of color vision as seen through the eyes of butterflies PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701447104[Supporting Information]

Joan E. Strassmann and David C. Queller Insect societies as divided organisms: The complexities of purpose and cross-purpose PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701285104

Douglas J. Emlen, Laura Corley Lavine, and Ben Ewen-Campen On the origin and evolutionary diversification of beetle horns PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701209104[Supporting Figures]

Francisco J. Ayala Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701072104

Adam S. Wilkins Between “design” and “bricolage”: Genetic networks, levels of selection, and adaptive evolution PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701044104

John Gerhart and Marc Kirschner The theory of facilitated variation PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0701035104

Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, Peter L. Morrell, and Brandon S. Gaut Plant domestication, a unique opportunity to identify the genetic basis of adaptation PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0700643104

Benjamin Prud’homme, Nicolas Gompel, and Sean B. Carroll Emerging principles of regulatory evolution PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0700488104

Nancy A. Moran Symbiosis as an adaptive process and source of phenotypic complexity PNAS published May 9, 2007, 10.1073/pnas.0611659104


Nick: Thanks for posting about this, I mentioned it in one of my previous posts earlier today in another thread and made a post about it at my linked (but probably unread) blog. I’ve only started going through the papers, and only a few are of real interest to me although they all look great. The intro summary article I thought was a particularly good read as was the one you co-authored. Keep up the good work, as you said some of the bits and pieces in that paper hadn’t really been collected in one place before and although I like to think I’m relatively familiar with the players and history I learned a thing or two.

I’m hoping to do a commentary on articles of interest from the collection as I read them.

Again thanks for making sure people know about this, some of these papers look like truly valuable resources for people who want to confront the fallacies of ID.

The guys at the Bible-Science Association, San Fernando Valley, aka Creation-Evolution Headlines, are not pleased, poor lads.

I note the very top line that precedes their rant:

Watch for the Recycle logo to find gems from the back issues!

…and there’s a little picture that says:

recycled goods.

recycled, rehashed.


it’s like they just took their standard rant template, and simply changed a few words around to plaster it onto the series of PNAS articles.

Yipeee 1.782 more seconds!

(Actaully I got up in the middle of the night to finish “Specified Complexity: Hammered and Screwed”) (Really!)

But, so far I have had much more fun reading your paper- goog job to you both!

I notice that these creationist and ID web sites all follow a pattern.

The writers of the material adopt a superior, arrogant, angry tone as they set up and demolish straw men. The general idea seems to be to vigorously stamp out cognitive dissonance or individual thinking within the ranks.

The “comments” that are allowed through are all butt-smooching, submissive genuflections to the “leaders” who write the material.

I can’t help being reminded of some other things…

Prediction -

A troll will come by and “cleverly” change “ID and creationist” in my post above to “evolutionist”, or more likely, “atheist” or “materalist” (even though many of the pro-science posters here are not atheists).

When that happens, I or someone else will explain why this childish “you’ve got cooties too!” logic doesn’t work in this context.

Openly stating my prediction in plain view will not prevent it from being realized.

Let’s see if the my crystal ball is accurate today.

Awesome, theory of facilitated variation. I didn’t know it was gaining so much prestige.

harold: Very true, they conveniently forget the fact that since they can post those sorts of comments here and not be censored that we are in fact doing the exact opposite of the ID/Creationist blogs.

Michael Lynch, in the same volume, disses facilitated variation and a lot of other evolution-of-evolvability stuff and a lot of the “our new idea is THE answer to the evolution of complexity” rhetoric which is out there and which is highly overwrought IMO. Evolution of regulation is clearly important stuff but it is far from clear that it is revolutionary.

Nick Matzke Wrote:

Michael Lynch, in the same volume, disses facilitated variation and a lot of other evolution-of-evolvability stuff and a lot of the “our new idea is THE answer to the evolution of complexity” rhetoric which is out there and which is highly overwrought IMO. Evolution of regulation is clearly important stuff but it is far from clear that it is revolutionary.

I’m always more of a pragmatist when it comes to much of these theories, mostly because they all have good evidence and are all good concepts so it is going to come down to matters of degree as to what process contributes what to the overall evolutionary mechanism and process. Its like the ongoing selectionist-neutralist debate (I lean closer to the neutralist camp though). My point is that alterations and mutations in gene regulation, especially those that impact during development, is proving to be a rather significant contributer to evolution as a whole. What with the recent paper calculating a rather significant number of positvely selected adaptations in non-coding regions that correspond to regulatory elements in the human genome.

Thank you so much!! awesome article!!

Thanks for writing, I really enjoyed your newest post. I think you should post more frequently

Great show, I don’t think they could have found a better combination of actors and actresses for this series. I may not like any of them in particular, but they definitely produce an entertaining episode for me to watch.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on May 10, 2007 4:39 PM.

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