Home » Darwinism, Evolution, News » New mainstream paper: Darwinism can no longer be “a general framework for evolutionary theory”

New mainstream paper: Darwinism can no longer be “a general framework for evolutionary theory”

Remember “Reviewing James Shapiro’s book, Darwinist admits: Growing number of gene scientists unconvinced by Darwinism”?

Heck, that was only last night, folks, … And now this:

Biological Theory
Volume 6, Number 1, 89-102, DOI: 10.1007/s13752-011-0007-1

The Fate of Darwinism: Evolution After the Modern Synthesis

David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber

Abstract: We trace the history of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, and of genetic Darwinism generally, with a view to showing why, even in its current versions, it can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory. The main reason is empirical. Genetical Darwinism cannot accommodate the role of development (and of genes in development) in many evolutionary processes. We go on to discuss two conceptual issues: whether natural selection can be the “creative factor” in a new, more general framework for evolutionary theorizing; and whether in such a framework organisms must be conceived as self-organizing systems embedded in self-organizing ecological systems.

A friend is sending us the paper tomorrow.

Does this kind of thing explain why the Darwin lobby is opening a branch office in climate change? What people say in Canada is, if you wait long enough, it’s bound to warm up. So if the Darwin lobby is in the climate change business, they will at least get to be right some time. Maybe they need a bit of that just now.

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20 Responses to New mainstream paper: Darwinism can no longer be “a general framework for evolutionary theory”

  1. Whether variance generation or natural selection is the “creative” aspect of evolution is a bit like arguing whether you tossed heads because the coin fell heads up or because it fell tails down.

    And if you think the people you call “Darwinists” are running scared from exciting developments in evolutionary theory you are, simply, dead wrong.

    Science progresses. Please read The Relativity of Wrong.

  2. So let me understand this correctly. Your objection hinges on an essay written by a biochemist, most famous for his fictional literature, objecting to the ability of an English major to talk about science. This the biochemist and author of fairy tales accomplishes by a long wound speech about astronomy. And this, to you, is a sound refutation?

    Well then, let’s go with that. Asimov pounded his shoe on the podium about Aristotle and the Greeks. Aristotle and the Greeks pounded their shoes on the podium about the need for demonstrations. And the current fare of Darwinism is to throw shoes about people that ask where the demonstrations are.

    Does this make you the biochemist that writes fairy tales or the English major?

  3. I do wish people would resist the temptation to use the term “Darwinist” in such a pejorative way.
    That which might fairly be called “Darwinism” is but a small part of evolutionary theory. Darwin’s work, in and of his times, was seminal; but the science has grown massively from that seed, encompassing a huge amount that he could know nothing of.

  4. Bydand -

    Who is using “Darwinism” as a pejorative? UD (and the ID movement in general) uses the term *precisely* the way the academic literature does – referring to natural selection as the primary means by which the diversity of life arose. A more technical term for this is “The Modern Synthesis” or “Neo-Darwinism”, but Darwinism is what most people (academic and non-academic) know it as.

    Darwinism can be contrasted with many things, including: (a) special creation, (b) Lamarckism, (c) front-loaded evolution, and (d) structuralism. ID rejects Darwinism because, unlike many other evolutionary theories, it lacks causal power to make the necessary changes. Front-loaded evolution might be a correct or incorrect understanding of the origin of diversity, but it is certainly, at least for genetics, causally sufficient. The same with Lamarckism and special creation (but, in my opinion, only somewhat with structuralism).

    Darwinist is sometimes pejoratively, for the simple reason that many of us stand in awestruck disbelief that people who have spent time considering the many options available have chosen Darwinism as the most coherent view of diversity.

  5. I regret not making myself clear – the term “DarwinIST” is used, here and at other places, with pejorative intent. I imagine that those thus addressed already know your opinion of them, and it adds nothing to the quality of debate.
    If sincere and constructive debate is sought, then I suggest that that term (yes, and “IDiot”) be avoided.
    It seems counterproductive to use a heading containing an inflammatory term, and then deplore it when people become inflamed, no. Still, it might depend on just what sort of debate you’re after – in your last paragraph, you make it clear that you will not consider that anyone you so characterise holds their considered views just as honestly and sincerely as you hold yours.

    I have no particular problem with the word “Darwinism”, used correctly.

  6. Are you really comparing “IDiot” to “Darwinist”!

    The one is a deliberate distortion of the word with the intention to malign and ridicule; while the other is simply a descriptive term incorporating the core element (Darwin), ie. Creationist, Darwinist, Evolutionist, etc.

    In this case “evolutionist” is far too broader term to use, as there are a number of evolutionary views out there that conflict with Darwin’s gradualist views.

  7. Bydand -

    Then what do you propose that we call people who adhere to Darwinism as the mechanism for producing the modern variety of life? Do you have an alternate term? I’m happy to be called an “ID”er or an IDist, for that is precisely what I am. If you use it as a term of derision against me, that’s fine, because it is descriptive. IDiot, on the other hand, is not a descriptive term.

    Would you prefer to be called a “Modern Synthesizer”? I’m just confused. If the terms that match the ideas are unusable, what do you use?

    I have a feeling that the reason a lot of people (not necessarily you) don’t like Darwinism, is not because it gives people a false idea about what is being discussed, but rather because it gives people a precise idea about what is being discussed. And nothing tends to make those-that-adhere-to-Darwinism more frustrated than people using precise terms, because it makes their smoke and mirrors show a lot less smoky. There are a number of people who understand Darwinism 100%, and choose to disagree. It isn’t valid to respond, “hey, agree with us now, we go by a different name!”

    That’s PR, not science.

  8. No, it doesn’t “hinge” on his essay, but on a very important point he makes about science.

    You seem to have missed it.

  9. If you want to use it to describe people who subscribe to modern evolutionary, then, it’s important to make that clear, but then that would include many people championed as heralding the “end of Darwinism”.

    It’s a developing field. It will be different tomorrow.

    However, often it is used, as Bydand says, pejoratively, to describe, well, I don’t know who, really. But the equivocation over the term gets seriously in the way of constructive discussion.

    I tend to use the word “Darwinian” to denote the principle that heritable variance in reproductive success leads to adaptive evolution, but I’ve been told recently that that isn’t what it means to most people.

    Well, I don’t know what it means to “most” people, but it clearly means different things to different people, so not a useful term unless the writer makes it clear what s/he means.

  10. Elizabeth -

    The problem is that there is no one such single thing as “modern evolutionary theory”. As you say yourself, “it’s a developing field, it will be different tomorrow”. And that’s precisely what we think, too. In fact, that’s the point of ID – to make modern evolutionary theory even more different tomorrow, and specifically to distance it further from Darwinism.

    Bydand and Elizabeth -

    The ones doing the equivocation is NOT the ID movement, but rather groups such as the NCSE. The ID movement is quite clear what it means by Darwinism (the exact thing that the technical literature says it is). This has been true from Phillip Johnson to Michael Behe to William Dembski.

    I don’t know anyone who takes umbrage with all of evolutionary theory, except for people who don’t realize that there is evolutionary biology apart from Darwinism. In this case, it isn’t their definition of Darwinism that’s the problem, but rather they are agreeing too much with the NCSE that Darwinism is equivalent with evolutionary theory.

    Let’s take 3 theories – front-loaded evolution, Darwinism, and symbiogenesis (i.e. Margulis’s extended theory). Now, there is really nothing in common between these two theories. And, they are all *naturalistic* *evolutionary* theories. Yet groups such as the NCSE will equivocate between Darwinism and symbiogenesis as both being “evolution” and front-loaded evolution as being “anti-evolution”. As you can see, the NCSE uses word-games to push their position.

    The ID movement, on the other hand, is quite clear about what it is they are discussing, what they take issue with, and why. Can you name a prominent ID author which mis-uses the term Darwinism? Where is it? If you point one out, I’ll do a UD blog post myself talking about the misuse of the term Darwinism by ID’ers.

    Elizabeth –

    You said, “it clearly means different things to different people, so not a useful term unless the writer makes it clear what s/he means”. That’s true for any term, but if we spend our entire lives defining every word we use, we’ll never communicate anything. Darwinism has a very clear definition in the technical literature, especially regarding mutation theory. Darwinian changes are those arising by happenstance, giving organisms a benefit, and then becoming dominant in the population through selection.

    I will agree, however, that it is often diluted in the literature because of the amount of equivocation in the technical literature over what types of evidence point towards or away from Darwinism. In this case, it’s not the definition of Darwinism which is unclear, but, as has been pointed out at UD repeatedly, the fact that in many evolutionary biology journals, Darwinism is assumed, and really anything counts as evidence for it, even when it doesn’t.

  11. Indeed it does “hinge” on the essay of a man that wrote fairy tales. For a more schooled view about how science progresses you should try reading Kuhn. It progresses because the Good Ol’ Boys die off; and a very good reason to stop the scientific search for immortality that.

    But I do apologize as I have apparently missed the point you thought Asimov’s essay made. Since he only harped on empirical results and reducing error bars in prediction I’m a bit stumped. After all Darwin doesn’t do empiricism and the only prediction made is that we’ll never see macro evolution in any given human life time unless a human designs it.

    In the interest of science perhaps you could cotton us all on to the subtext your Derrida goggles pulled out of this essay.

  12. Bydand:

    If sincere and constructive debate is sought, then I suggest that that term (yes, and “IDiot”) be avoided.

    Indeed. And if folks were running about the place referring to Darwinists as Darwignorants you’d would be quite right to object. And, of course, they do precisely that in more flowery language. And vice versa, but then that’s precisely what any disagreement is about; no matter how pretty a face we put on it. Someone, perhaps both sides, are completely off their rocker and out huffing paint fumes.

    johnnyb:

    Would you prefer to be called a “Modern Synthesizer”?

    Go go Wang Chung!

    Elizabeth:

    But the equivocation over the term gets seriously in the way of constructive discussion.

    johnnyb:

    The ones doing the equivocation is NOT the ID movement, but rather groups such as the NCSE.

    Both sides are guilty. Evolution is not a theory, it is a broad area of research, a research program as it were, into sex and birth defects. And a creation myth and a mandatory religious adherence to metaphysical materialism.

    No one seems to doubt, despite internet denizens being what they are, either birth defects or — at least — the possibility of sex. Within such it is entirely proper to refer to the contentious portion of things by their proper name: Darwinism.

    Just the same ID is sex, birth defects, as well as the flaws and limits of genetic algorithms and processes. And a creation myth. Those that disagree with ID cull it down to Creationism. Which is, at least in this case, improper as there is no necessary Christian portion in that creation myth. Despite that they are proper to cat call the historical narrative that is carted along.

    To the degree that one is a True Believer in either it’s scientism. The Cargo Cult of the Lab Coat. But sex and birth defects are everywhere valid. As are the well known issues with genetic mechanisms.

  13. “The ID movement, on the other hand, is quite clear about what it is they are discussing, what they take issue with, and why. Can you name a prominent ID author which mis-uses the term Darwinism? Where is it? If you point one out, I’ll do a UD blog post myself talking about the misuse of the term Darwinism by ID’ers.”

    - johnnyB

    Still no response from either Bydand or Elisabeth. It’s important in these exchanges to hold people’s feet to the fire. Otherwise, the arguments prove little superior to Question Time, media-style infotainment

  14. I thought I had made it quite clear that it was the determinedly pejorative use of the word “DarwinisT” that i questioned – whatever the presumed prominence of the user.
    And that only because it tends to abrogate useful discussion – partly because such determined efforts have been made to draw parallels between Darwin’s ideas and ethnic cleansing, eugenics , call it what you will, as practiced by the Nazis.
    Its use is often purposefully offensive, and needlessly so.

  15. Bydand -

    First of all, you never answered what you would *like* us to call someone who holds to Darwinism. A term would be helpful — Darwinist seems obvious (I would never object to being called an IDist), but if you prefer a different one – propose it! Perhaps you have a better description.

    As for the connections to eugenics. First of all, that is a completely different issue than terminology. Nonetheless, with the exception of Ben Stein, most of the major IDists have been very careful in their analyses and only presented what history showed. The fact is that eugenics *is* natural selection applied to human health (the morality is a secondary question). The people practicing eugenics thought of it this way, too. Likewise, the scientific establishment at the time did precisely what the NCSE does to IDists – labeled them as anti-scientific. The only unified group of people who objected to eugenics (at least that I am aware of) at the time was the Catholic Church.

    If you know of anyone who was a Darwinist during this period, and rejected eugenics on scientific grounds, I would be interested in hearing about it. Eugenics is not the necessary result of Darwinism, but they go hand-in-hand, and eugenics would not have been possible as a social movement without it. If you disagree with that – fine – we’ve had lots of opportunities on UD to discuss it. However, that isn’t “purposefully offensive”, it just happens to be the truth, or at least a discussable point.

  16. If I must be an “-ist”, I would rather be an “evolutionist”, since that carries less baggage (in my opinion – others might disagree)

    And I did specify “eugenics as practiced by the Nazis” by which I meant their “racial purification” ; which was NO WAY natural selection. I was, I admit, forgetting that eugenics as a “science” has a longer, less vile, history.
    Look, I can’t stop anyone using the term “Darwinist”. If used of me, I can generally tell from tone and context if the use is pejorative in intent, and would couch my response accordingly.
    Some people of the anti-evolution persuasion quite unjustifiably attempt to smear people of the opposite cast of mind with having remarkably evil intent. This too, I object to.

  17. Bydand -

    But what do you mean by “evolutionist”? It doesn’t distinguish between very many positions. Many ID’ers are evolutionists, too. Michael Behe is an evolutionist, UD’s Vincent Torley is an evolutionist, Genomicus is an evolutionist, Michael Denton is an evolutionist, and I believe Richard Sternberg is an evolutionist. Technically, depending on how you define the term “evolutionist” (for instance, evolution is *often* defined as change over time), even young-earth creationists are evolutionists.

    This is why we often use “Darwinism” – it is quite specific, and details the precise point of disagreement.

  18. I’m really glad all those people are evolutionists. So am I, and if someone uses the word insultingly I’ll be in good company.

  19. Look, I can’t stop anyone using the term “Darwinist”. If used of me, I can generally tell from tone and context if the use is pejorative in intent, and would couch my response accordingly.

    And if someone uses mind-peeking clairvoyance into the perceived beliefs of others as a grant or condemnation of that persons arguments? Then I can generally tell that someone has a job with the Psychic Friends Network and makes more money than God in the stock market.

    Or I’d like to be able to tell that as I wish everyone the best in their personal and material affairs. But since that has yet to happen one single time I just chalk it up to standard hatred of the out-group. Or, you know, the same thing that Nazi eugenics were about.

  20. Derrida?

    Sheesh.

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