Home » academic freedom, Education, Evolution » Reflections on self-organization theorist James Shapiro’s tirade on “misquoting science”

Reflections on self-organization theorist James Shapiro’s tirade on “misquoting science”

[ James A. Shapiro ]

Here, at his regular stand in the Huffington Post, a propos the endless Texas textbook controversy:

Following the webinar and dinner, I checked my email — only to find out that I had myself been the victim of skillful misquoting for an anti-science purpose. An email informed me that certain members of the Texas state’s school board textbook review committee had submitted a report quoting me. The board members raised some objections to the textbook co-authored by Kenneth Miller. They cited excerpts from my 2011 book to make their point (the caps were in the original):

THE CURRENT UNDERSTANDING OF THE GROWING BODY OF EVIDENCE IS THAT NATURAL SELECTION ONLY PURIFIES BUT SOMETHING ELSE IS REQUIRED TO CREATE SIGNIFICANT VARIANTS TO BE SELECTED. The critical aspect is introduction of novelty. It is gradually being recognized that no mechanism for this has been firmly established. See “Evolution: A view from the 21st century,” James A. Shapiro, Prof of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Univ. of Chicago, (2011), page 144, “Selection operates as a selective but not a creative force.”

I was astonished to see that my book was being cited by the opponents of evolution in textbooks. In particular, I was outraged by the completely false statement that “no mechanism for this [introduction of novelty] has been firmly established.”

If the authors of this misleading statement had read my book and looked at its 1,162 references, they would have found abundant evidence about “mechanisms” for the “introduction of novelty.”

I stated on the very first page of the Introduction: “Uncovering the molecular mechanisms by which living organisms modify their genomes is a major accomplishment of late 20th Century molecular biology.” Collectively, I call these processes Natural Genetic Engineering.

Symbiogenetic cell fusions, horizontal DNA transfer, mutagenic DNA repair, reverse transcription of RNA into DNA, mobile genetic elements, interspecific hybridization and whole genome doubling are only some of the topics discussed in my book.

Let’s unpack this in a minute. First, embarrassingly, Shapiro lip synchs the Darwin lobby who have absolutely no use for him:

The school textbook board members who misquoted my work are not just against evolution. They are against freedom of speech in scientific research, honesty in public decision-making, and suitable modern education for the students of Texas. That sounds counter to the ideals of liberty, democracy and opportunity on which this nation was founded.

It doesn’t work, Jim; give it up. None of that will buy your freedom anyway.

Cornelius Hunter finds his remarks

All fascinating stuff, but it directs our attention away from the problem. Yes such mechanisms are real and important, and yes science increasingly understands how these mechanisms help organisms cope with their environment. But these mechanisms do not explain the major evolutionary advances…

I dunno.

“Symbiogenetic cell fusions, horizontal DNA transfer, mutagenic DNA repair, reverse transcription of RNA into DNA, mobile genetic elements, interspecific hybridization and whole genome doubling,” which Shapiro says he discusses in his book, could—taken together—explain a lot of things that are currently at the mercy of Darwin’s duds. (See this, for example.)

The only way we could find out what mechanisms account for which changes would be to defund Darwinism, and throw the whole thing open for serious research (as opposed to current research that attempts to demonstrate Darwin at work and portrays the rapidly growing number of failures as some kind of a big surprise).

Yuh. Surprise, surprise.

But good luck defunding Darwinism when those who oppose it undercut each other. And rhetoric about “the ideals of liberty, democracy and opportunity on which this nation was founded” sounds rather thin after Amarillo.

So now, what is really at issue here? Shapiro claims to have “abundant evidence about ‘mechanisms’ for the ‘introduction of novelty.’” We have covered a lot of them here in the last few years at Uncommon Descent. Are his proposed mechanisms on the Texas curriculum? If not, what is? The Darwin lobby’s version of the history of life?

Cue Surprise, surprise again. Maybe their version will be the only legal one, once they have got the judicial decisions they need.

Shapiro wrote in his own book, in upper case letters, as above: “The current understanding of the growing body of evidence is that natural selection only purifies but something else is required to create significant variants to be selected.”

In short, Darwinism (natural selection acting on random mutation) isn’t, as the Darwin lobby claims, the creative force of evolution. So he is convicted out of his own mouth. No wonder they wouldn’t let students hear about Shapiro’s ideas.

Fundamentally, from the Darwin-in-the-schools’ lobby’s perspective, Shapiro is no different from the fellow in Texas who he thinks misrepresented him. Indeed, people have lost their right to teach for less than what Shapiro has already said. If he thinks he can buy safety by attacking that Texan, he is thinking like a newbie.

We will never get free of people like the Darwin lobby unless we want neither their good opinion nor any reward they can offer, nor (except for the bounds of civility) any association with them. This holiday season, read Greg Lukianoff’s Unlearning Liberty, to get some idea of the bigger picture within which such people operate.

– O’Leary for News, follow UD News@Twitter!

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5 Responses to Reflections on self-organization theorist James Shapiro’s tirade on “misquoting science”

  1. It may sound frivolous to others, but I wish most solemnly that the washing-up would self-organize.

  2. 2
    TheisticEvolutionist

    What is self-organization? There is no standard definition on the internet of it’s use in biology. It obviously means different things to different people.

  3. TE, What is self-organization?,,, Organization that arises from within self? :) Not to be flippant, but it seems to me that that is exactly what it all boils down to when one tries to appeal to self organization, as KantianNaturalist(KN) often tried to do on UD. i.e. IMO, He (KN) was trying to, very unscientifically, locate a cause within an effect. Knowing that such reasoning was absurd, I would press KN for specific evidence for this ‘self organization cause’ for the functional information ‘effect’ we see in life. When I pressed him for specific evidence, he, as he was apt to do, would, IMHO, drift off into paragraph after paragraph of obscurity while never directly, and honestly, addressing the primary issue. i.e. Where did the information come from?!?

    “The central argument of my book is that intelligent design—the activity of a conscious and rational deliberative agent—best explains the origin of the information necessary to produce the first living cell. I argue this because of two things that we know from our uniform and repeated experience, which following Charles Darwin I take to be the basis of all scientific reasoning about the past. First, intelligent agents have demonstrated the capacity to produce large amounts of functionally specified information (especially in a digital form). Second, no undirected chemical process has demonstrated this power. Hence, intelligent design provides the best—most causally adequate—explanation for the origin of the information necessary to produce the first life from simpler non-living chemicals. In other words, intelligent design is the only explanation that cites a cause known to have the capacity to produce the key effect in question.”
    Stephen Meyer –

    Stephen Meyer – The Scientific Basis Of Intelligent Design – video
    https://vimeo.com/32148403

    Dr. Stephen Meyer: Darwin’s Dilemma – Where did the information come from? – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CTKKrtSc8k

    Life’s Irreducible Structure
    Excerpt: “Mechanisms, whether man-made or morphological, are boundary conditions harnessing the laws of inanimate nature, being themselves irreducible to those laws. The pattern of organic bases in DNA which functions as a genetic code is a boundary condition irreducible to physics and chemistry.”
    Michael Polanyi – Hungarian polymath – 1968 – Science (Vol. 160. no. 3834, pp. 1308 – 1312)

  4. What is Shapiro saying here? In the first paragraph he claims he was “misquoted”. In the next he says it was “misleading.” Surely he knows the difference between these two words?

    Misleading is a judgement call. Shapiro seems to believe (and I have read him say similar things in the past) that his ideas can’t be used against evolution, because he believes in evolution himself. His personal believes are irrelevant. The evidence can be used by anyone to interpret it as they see fit. That is in no way misquoting OR misleading.

    It’s not only Jerry Coyne who gets to decide his findings implications.

  5. It must not be easy being James Shapiro. Here he has this idea, and this molecular evidence to support it, that says that we know of pathways where organisms direct their own evolution. So he knows this is not what Darwinian evolution says should happen, and he also knows that he can’t come out against Darwinian evolution, because his job at the University of Chicago virtually demands that he can’t be an anti-evolutionist.

    So he has to continue to take crap from guys like Coyne, without being able to adequately tell him to piss off (He should just tell him that, frankly) while at the same time he has no explanation of how a natural genetic engineering system arises through chance mutations. That’s the kicker for him.

    If you really are a Darwinian evolutionist, you have to believe that everything starts off as just this willy nily bunch of copying mistakes, that finally takes on a life of its own as a competent system. Like epigenetics. How in the world do you explain a whole system of switches which turn off and on entire body systems coming about accidentally. The logic is too absurd, so you just have to ignore this big elephant in the room and hope no one notices.

    Shapiro seems to be unhappy that some people notice the elephant.

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