Yet another “Post-Darwinism”

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[Review of Shapiro, James A. Evolution: A View from the 21st Century. FT Press Science, ISBN: 0-13-278093-3, $34.99 Publisher’s site]

Over the years there have been many books that purport to “radically revise” or “supplant” Darwinian evolutionary biology; they come with predictable regularity. Usually they are of three kinds: something is wrong with natural selection, something is wrong with inheritance, or something is wrong with phylogeny. This book, by geneticist James A. Shapiro, exemplifies all three.

33 Comments

So the link leads to an article with the exact same intro as this one, except the word “chemist” is replaced with “geneticist”.

Well spotted! I made a mistake, using an older version where I confused this Shapiro with another. I had fixed it on my blog but failed to fix the edit version. Now corrected.

Here we evolved brains redundantly, when all of the time cells were genetically engineering evolution.

Funny that they didn’t come up with engineering solutions, merely GA-type solutions.

Well, at least Shapiro’s not crediting the generally minimalistic tinkering of evolution to some extremely brilliant “designer,” rather to dull little cells. What’s not clear is why he thinks evolution needs intelligence, and why single cells could provide any.

Glen Davidson

I may be entirely off target but I have (almost) always been impressed by how (thankfully) the cells in my intestine are processing all the stuff I throw a them.

They are great chemists, are they not? In my book, that takes intelligence.

Rolf said:

I may be entirely off target but I have (almost) always been impressed by how (thankfully) the cells in my intestine are processing all the stuff I throw a them.

They are great chemists, are they not? In my book, that takes intelligence.

You need another book.

Shapiro wrote:

“The operation of a tightly regulated sequence of natural genetic engineering events in the adaptive immune system is probably the most elaborate example we have of purposeful genome manipulations. [66]”

Just another Behe clone, assuming the conclusion and ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

I really do wonder what reference 66 might be? A Behe “paper” perhaps?

This strikes me as a possible evolution in reality denial, and potentially a very annoying one.

The features that seem to be emerging as the latest trend are -

1) Factually or logically testable claims are evaded. However, a preference for teleology is expressed. The problem here what makes the theory of evolution the scientific explanation for life’s diversity and relatedness is that no teleological claim is required. Of course it can always be the FSM or some other magical explanation “making it look just like evolution”, but we don’t need such claims, and there are an infinite number of such claims that cannot be tested either against science or against each other.

Essentially, go back to the pre-modern era and argue against Francis Bacon, William of Occam, and any other advocates of empiricism and/or parsimonious explanations, even though science is built on that foundation. “I don’t deny, wink, wink, I merely add an unnecessary teleogical element of my own subjective preference”.

2) An implicit but subtle straw man of the theory of evolution is created - “the theory of evolution is exactly whatever it was before some new development in molecular biology occurred, but doesn’t ‘include’ this new development”.

Although subtle, this straw man is a rather extreme and annoying one. The theory of evolution would be challenged only by a discovery that overturned almost everything we already know about molecular biology and genetics.

As John S. Wilkins says -

Lateral transfer, endosymbiosis and jumping genes are many “post-Darwinian” ideas that have been easily inserted into the consensus) is illuminating.

We are likely to make many more discoveries that expand and fine tune our knowledge. That is not an argument that the strong factual knowledge and theory that we already have is false.

The book sounds as if it also contains a lot of valuable information, but the false analogy to “engineers” is always a yellow flag.

DS said:

Rolf said:

I may be entirely off target but I have (almost) always been impressed by how (thankfully) the cells in my intestine are processing all the stuff I throw a them.

They are great chemists, are they not? In my book, that takes intelligence.

You need another book.

I see Rolf’s point. I consider myself middlin’ smart, but I couldn’t begin to figure out how to do what my intestinal flora routinely handle.

Of course they’re not conscious and don’t “think”–but damn, they’re smart little buggers.

PS: They’re capable of going on strike occasionally and know how to punish me if I don’t treat them properly.

Found it:

66. Muller, J., Barker, A., Oehler, S. amp; Muller-Hill, B. Dimeric lac repressors exhibit phase-dependent co-operativity. J Mol Biol 284, 851-7 (1998). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9837708.

Funny, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the immune system. Shocking.

harold said: 2) An implicit but subtle straw man of the theory of evolution is created - “the theory of evolution is exactly whatever it was before some new development in molecular biology occurred, but doesn’t ‘include’ this new development”.

Although subtle, this straw man is a rather extreme and annoying one. The theory of evolution would be challenged only by a discovery that overturned almost everything we already know about molecular biology and genetics.

It depends on who the person is for your assertion that this is a straw man. Paleontologists Niles Eldredge, David Jablonski, among others (not mentioning the late Stephen Jay Gould since I am referring to those who are still living) and some evolutionary developmental biologists such as, for example, Massimo Pigliucci (who is working now primarily as a philosopher, but did edit a recently published volume calling for an “Extended Modern Synthesis”) would respectfully disagree. But lumping them with bonafide creationists is not only unfair, but also supports creationist arguments that evolution is not a “well-established” scientific theory or is a theory in crisis, etc.

The recurring problem is that academics competing for attention feel pressure to inflate the importance of their work. So some of them want to declare that their changes to the understanding of evolutionary biology are important enough to require us to reject the old evolutionary synthesis and declare a new one, with of course them as its central figure.

If this succeeded every time it was proposed, we would have endless chaos, with the public encouraged to believe that what they were taught about evolution is now known to be All Wrong.

And of course opponents of evolutionary biology feed on this academic self-promotion by crowing that all the statements by biologists about evolution have now been admitted to be All Wrong.

Joe Felsenstein said: The recurring problem is that academics competing for attention feel pressure to inflate the importance of their work. So some of them want to declare that their changes to the understanding of evolutionary biology are important enough to require us to reject the old evolutionary synthesis and declare a new one, with of course them as its central figure.

Interesting. Of course, to anyone with a college degree the idea that some profs are carried off by ego does not come as news. Granted, every school has heroes among the faculty – just as certainly as it has its fools and scoundrels.

John said:

harold said: 2) An implicit but subtle straw man of the theory of evolution is created - “the theory of evolution is exactly whatever it was before some new development in molecular biology occurred, but doesn’t ‘include’ this new development”.

Although subtle, this straw man is a rather extreme and annoying one. The theory of evolution would be challenged only by a discovery that overturned almost everything we already know about molecular biology and genetics.

It depends on who the person is for your assertion that this is a straw man. Paleontologists Niles Eldredge, David Jablonski, among others (not mentioning the late Stephen Jay Gould since I am referring to those who are still living) and some evolutionary developmental biologists such as, for example, Massimo Pigliucci (who is working now primarily as a philosopher, but did edit a recently published volume calling for an “Extended Modern Synthesis”) would respectfully disagree. But lumping them with bonafide creationists is not only unfair, but also supports creationist arguments that evolution is not a “well-established” scientific theory or is a theory in crisis, etc.

To fully clarify what I am saying -

Something that extends our knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms does not “overturn” the underlying theory of evolution.

None of the people mentioned above are creationists, and all of them are associated with discussing issues within the framework of the theory of evolution.

We’re all aware of the ID/creationist trick of claiming that every new discovery “overturns” evolution, even when none of the discoveries made so far cast any evolutionary mechanisms into doubt.

Joe Felsenstein makes a very good point about academic use of overblown language. And then there is often a far worse layer of journalistic language added as well.

harold said:

We’re all aware of the ID/creationist trick of claiming that every new discovery “overturns” evolution, even when none of the discoveries made so far cast any evolutionary mechanisms into doubt.

It is similar to the creationist trick of finding some point on which Darwin was wrong (say his proposed mechanism of inheritance) and then demanding that evolutionary biologists “admit that Darwin was wrong”. For most of the public the phrase “Darwin was wrong” implies that his central assertions, of common descent and of the importance of natural selection in explaining adaptation, are wrong. Not that he got (say) the wrong geological mechanism for the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy.

The creationists know that this word game will, if successful, discredit evolution and natural selection in the eyes of the public. It is a dishonest word game, and they know that, but they seem happy to play it.

Joe Felsenstein said: The creationists know that this word game will, if successful, discredit evolution and natural selection in the eyes of the public. It is a dishonest word game, and they know that, but they seem happy to play it.

Remember the row sometime back when NEW SCIENTIST published an issue with “DARWIN WAS WRONG!” splashed on the cover? (21 January 2009, article by Graham Lawton.) There was an online feeding frenzy with the author, who seemed perfectly unapologetic about the matter: “Why get mad at me?”

“Because you’re being unhelpful.”

As long as the human natures of scientists can be misconstrued for political purposes, perhaps the repeated headline response to any ID/creationist claim should be

“ID/creationism maintains its perfect, fifty-year streak of always being wrong; the only ideological movement that has achieved perfection at imperfection!”

Mike Elzinga said:

As long as the human natures of scientists can be misconstrued for political purposes,

Over at Uncommon Descent “News” (usually the amazing Denyse O’Leary) loves to point out that scientists are not more honest than anyone else. And they’re aren’t. But science is a more honest process than individual scientists, since they get corrected by their peers.

UD misconstrues this point as a claim that we should believe scientists because they are paragons of virtue (though compared to creationist debaters, they actually are, as scientists are about average in honesty). But there is the additional reason the believe their scientific claims, that these get checked by the process of science.

Joe Felsenstein said:

UD misconstrues this point as a claim that we should believe scientists because they are paragons of virtue (though compared to creationist debaters, they actually are, as scientists are about average in honesty). But there is the additional reason the believe their scientific claims, that these get checked by the process of science.

It continues with this screed mischaracterizing some comments about physics by Tony Rothman.

Rothman writes a column for lay audiences about some of the deep issues that drive the historical research questions in physics; questions that become more focused and are viewed with changes in perspective as we learn more.

But Unbelievably Dense mischaracterizes this whole process and uses it as excuse for creationists to attack “Darwinism” without ever once understanding the science, the concepts, the progress, the developing understanding, and the clarification of issues and misconceptions along the way.

In short, ID/creationists do not and never have understood science and the processes of doing science; and, by now, nobody is surprised by their ignorance.

harold said: Joe Felsenstein makes a very good point about academic use of overblown language. And then there is often a far worse layer of journalistic language added as well.

Theories in science are mutable and can be everchanging, which is an observation that all creationists, whether they are YECs, OECs or IDiots tend to forget. That is why Newtonian mechanics was subsumed into General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in Physics. That is why the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection was folded into the Modern Syntheis Theory of Evolution, with Natural Selection remaining as its primary, essential cure. And that is why eminent scientists like Joe Felsenstein, Niles Eldredge, David Jablonski and Massimo Piguliucci can disagree, with the latter three among those strongly advocating for an “Extended Modern Synthesis” that would explain better, the latest data from paleobiology and evolutionary developmental biology.

Mike Elzinga said: But Unbelievably Dense mischaracterizes this whole process and uses it as excuse for creationists to attack “Darwinism” without ever once understanding the science, the concepts, the progress, the developing understanding, and the clarification of issues and misconceptions along the way.

I looked through Rothman’s article and was pleased to realize that I’d said pretty much the same sorts of things in my own toy classical physics tutorial: we use approximate models that give us the notion the Universe is some neat clockwork mechanism, when in reality it also includes chaotic behavior beyond any neat description – and seemingly simple situations (water crawling up the walls of a spinning bucket) have some maddeningly subtle implications (what is the bucket spinning relative to?) “Science, as the saying goes, isn’t always an exact science.”

But UD is predictable: Scientists don’t know everything, so we can claim babies are delivered by the stork. “Dem ignorant scientists don’t know nuttin and we’re just as good as they are.”

John said:

harold said: Joe Felsenstein makes a very good point about academic use of overblown language. And then there is often a far worse layer of journalistic language added as well.

Theories in science are mutable and can be everchanging, which is an observation that all creationists, whether they are YECs, OECs or IDiots tend to forget. That is why Newtonian mechanics was subsumed into General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in Physics. That is why the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection was folded into the Modern Syntheis Theory of Evolution, with Natural Selection remaining as its primary, essential cure. And that is why eminent scientists like Joe Felsenstein, Niles Eldredge, David Jablonski and Massimo Piguliucci can disagree, with the latter three among those strongly advocating for an “Extended Modern Synthesis” that would explain better, the latest data from paleobiology and evolutionary developmental biology.

Right, but Einstein never claimed that Gallileo and Newton were totally wrong, and that a marble experiences a different gravitational acceleration than a bowling ball.

Developing and expanding knowledge is not the same thing as denying known fact.

Mike Elzinga said:

As long as the human natures of scientists can be misconstrued for political purposes, perhaps the repeated headline response to any ID/creationist claim should be

“ID/creationism maintains its perfect, fifty-year streak of always being wrong; the only ideological movement that has achieved perfection at imperfection!”

It’s been around a lot longer than 50 years, but you’re correct in stating its track record for however long it has tried. We should remember, though, it’s satisfied many rubes along the way who care nothing about exploring their world or are too frightened, or perhaps intimidated, to do so.

The creationists know that this word game will, if successful, discredit evolution and natural selection in the eyes of the public. It is a dishonest word game, and they know that, but they seem happy to play it.

Why not, when in their eyes the end justifies the means? They fail to realize that some of the profound psychological insights expressed in the Bible applies to themselves (too); in their own mind they are pure.

harold said:

John said:

harold said: Joe Felsenstein makes a very good point about academic use of overblown language. And then there is often a far worse layer of journalistic language added as well.

Theories in science are mutable and can be everchanging, which is an observation that all creationists, whether they are YECs, OECs or IDiots tend to forget. That is why Newtonian mechanics was subsumed into General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in Physics. That is why the Darwin-Wallace Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection was folded into the Modern Syntheis Theory of Evolution, with Natural Selection remaining as its primary, essential cure. And that is why eminent scientists like Joe Felsenstein, Niles Eldredge, David Jablonski and Massimo Piguliucci can disagree, with the latter three among those strongly advocating for an “Extended Modern Synthesis” that would explain better, the latest data from paleobiology and evolutionary developmental biology.

Right, but Einstein never claimed that Gallileo and Newton were totally wrong, and that a marble experiences a different gravitational acceleration than a bowling ball.

Developing and expanding knowledge is not the same thing as denying known fact.

And why should Einstein have voiced that, when, under many conditions, Newtonian mechanics still holds? The same is true for Darwin, especially when Darwin got a lot right even when he had no conception of genetics, population genetics, evolutionary developmental biology, theoretical ecology, molecular biology and paleobiology.

I am merely reminding you of this lest you assume falsely that critics of modern evolutionary theory like Eldredge, Jablonski and Pigliucci can be lumped with creationists (which is so absurd on the face of it, especially when Eldredge and Pigliucci have been vociferous critics of creationism).

I am merely reminding you of this lest you assume falsely that critics of modern evolutionary theory like Eldredge, Jablonski and Pigliucci can be lumped with creationists (which is so absurd on the face of it, especially when Eldredge and Pigliucci have been vociferous critics of creationism)

There is no disagreement here. What you are describing as “critics” is a group of people who have valid ideas about modifying and/or expanding aspects of evolutionary theory.

What I am critiquing above is, to repeat, either the insertion of implicitly magical teleological explanations, and/or the claim that everything about the theory of evolution is wrong every time mechanisms are clarified.

None of the people you mention ever do either, creationist do both frequently, and although James A. Shapiro seems to have written an overall valuable book, he also seems to use language that comes a bit too close to these for the comfort of some of us.

I see Rolf’s point. I consider myself middlin’ smart, but I couldn’t begin to figure out how to do what my intestinal flora routinely handle.

Of course they’re not conscious and don’t “think”–but damn, they’re smart little buggers.

PS: They’re capable of going on strike occasionally and know how to punish me if I don’t treat them properly.

They are also occasionally wimps.

The intestinal flora frequently fights battles with malevolent invaders and occasionally loses. E. coli OH157, Salmonella, Giardia, a host of viruses, a number of worm species, and more.

They may be smart but they aren’t the greatest of warriors.

I didn’t quite get James Shapiro’s point. It looked like a lot of bafflegab and tortured logic and that is usually a sign of a crackpot.

If the gods didn’t do it and evolution (RM + NS) didn’t do it, then what or who did it?

raven said: It looked like a lot of bafflegab and tortured logic and that is usually a sign of a crackpot.

It can be dodgy sometimes to figure out if someone’s being subtle, or if they’re just being fatuous. I see a lot of it in the comments on PhysOrg.com. There, the good bet is “fatuous”.

“If the gods didn’t do it and evolution (RM + NS) didn’t do it, then what or who did it?”

mrg:

It can be dodgy sometimes to figure out if someone’s being subtle, or if they’re just being fatuous. I see a lot of it in the comments on PhysOrg.com. There, the good bet is “fatuous”.

I take it you don’t know who or what Shapiro thinks did it either then? Oh well, I’ll wait for the movie to come out.

raven said: I take it you don’t know who or what Shapiro thinks did it either then?

Since he didn’t seem very interesting, I didn’t investigate it very deeply – so I must reserve judgement on that issue.

raven said:

I didn’t quite get James Shapiro’s point. It looked like a lot of bafflegab and tortured logic and that is usually a sign of a crackpot.

If the gods didn’t do it and evolution (RM + NS) didn’t do it, then what or who did it?

I guess nobody gets it. He interprets any given natural cellular process as a kind of engineering and links some kind of cellular foresight or purpose to it. In his view upcoming mutants on selection plates are an active response of the cells to the environmental conditions. I.e., the cells mutate to get resistent. What he completely ignores is the Luria/Dellbrück fluctation experiment that showed that in E.coli mutations mediating resistance arise without selection. This was

Genetic drift?

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