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2009: The modern (neo-Darwinian) synthesis is – safely – admitted to be fading

The Evolutionary Informatics Lab - Evolutionary Simultations and Investigation

2009

Intelligent Input Required for Life. In a significant peer-reviewed article in the September 2009 journal IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man and Cybernetics authors William A. Dembski and Robert J. Marks II use computer simulations and information theory to challenge the ability of Darwinian processes to create new functional genetic information. This paper is in many ways a validation of Dembski’s core ideas in his 2001 book, No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased without Intelligence, which argued that some intelligent input is required to produce novel complex and specified information.

The Collectivist Revolution in Biology. An essay by Mark Buchanan in the August issue of Nature Physics announced the breaking with “many of the presuppositions of traditional evolutionary thinking.” He highlighted its message with these words: “A coming revolution may go so far as to unseat Darwinian evolution as the key explanatory process in biology.” The essay is a contribution to crossdisciplinary thinking starting with an awareness of collective phenomena in modern physics. Thinking has moved away from reductionism and is adopting a holistic interactionism. Buchanan sees a parallel between physics and biology. The tools of physics and engineering are already being used to
understand interacting networks within biological systems. Why does this take us beyond Darwinism? It is because the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution are inherently reductionistic, with individual life forms struggling for survival in competition with other individuals. Within Darwinian theory the environment acts as a filter, allowing the fit to live on. The emerging understanding of biological functions, such as horizontal gene transfer (HGT), moves away from individuals and towards breeding populations, and the environment becomes a driver of genetic change rather than a passive filter. The tree of life now looks like an unstructured bush. Darwinism is inherently reductionistic, and it can devise ways of framing HGT to fit into its own mental models. But what it cannot easily do is adopt the holistic perspectives that are emerging everywhere. This is why an increasing number of scientists find a framework of design to be compelling. Design provides a coherent context for systems biology, for biomimetics, and for many other contemporary areas of research.

Meanwhile,

The Modern Synthesis is Gone. In February of this year Eugene Koonin published a masterly analysis of the impact of genomics on evolutionary thinking (“Darwinian evolution in the light of genomics”, Nucleic Acids Research, 2009, 37(4), 1011-1034). Koonin notes that the 1959 Origins centennial was “marked by the consolidation of the modern synthesis” but subsequent years have witnessed great changes which have undermined its credibility. The modern synthesis was formulated in the 1930’s and 1940’s to draw together seemingly conflicting evidence from natural selection, population genetics, cytology, systematics, botany, morphology, ecology and paleontology into one modern theory of neo-Darwinian evolution. Three distinct revolutions have occurred over the past halfcentury to bring down the modern synthesis theory: the molecular, the microbiological and the genomic revolutions. Koonin tentatively identifies two candidates to fill the vacuum left by the discarded modern synthesis. The first appears to emphasize the role of chance; the second appears to emphasize the role of law. While many in the scientific community will continue to cling to the modern synthesis for years to come, it is significant that articles are now appearing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature declaring the theory needs to be abandoned because it no longer fits the molecular, microbiological and genomic data.

The Edge of Evolution Confirmed. Nature published an interesting paper in the September 24, 2009 issue that discusses severe limits on Darwinian evolution. The manuscript, from the laboratory of Joseph Thornton at the University of Oregon, is titled “An epistatic ratchet constrains the direction of glucocorticoid receptor evolution.” Although the work is interpreted by its authors within a standard Darwinian framework, it also confirms the primary thesis of Michael Behe’s recent book, The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism, demonstrating the looming brick wall which confronts unguided evolution in at least one system. It points strongly to the conclusion that such walls are common throughout all of biology. In a series of blog exchanges Behe successfully defends his position against Thornton.

Darwinists commonly react to these developments by announcing that “Most of those people don’t agree with ID” – apparently unable to comprehend that that’s a much bigger problem for them than for the ID theorist.

Meanwhile, both “Ida” and “Ardi” – “missing link” and “central character” in human evolution respectively, collapse into embarrassing insignificance despite massive Darwin hype.

Next: 2010: Layer on layer of intricacy outstrips Darwinian just-so stories

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One Response to 2009: The modern (neo-Darwinian) synthesis is – safely – admitted to be fading

  1. A lot of this has to do with the Darwin lobby and their tactics. This from the NCSE’s “antievolution.org” website during the year in question (2009):

    http://www.antievolution.org/c....._the_earth

    “The Kansas State Board of Education held “unofficial” hearings in 2005 to decide between the antievolution-influenced rewrite of proposed state science standards and those developed by the writing committee. They brought in over twenty “experts” in “intelligent design” creationism to testify. Attorney Pedro Irigonegray asked many of them to give their opinion of how old the earth is. Their answers are instructive.”

    The fact that of the 20, 17 answered that the earth is 4-4.6 billion years old is “instructive?”

    What I find instructive is that people like Stephen Meyer saw right through the thin layer of “objectivity” posed by the question:

    “Q. I have a few questions for you first that I want to establish for the record. In your opinion, your personal opinion, what is the age of the earth?

    A. Do you want my personal– why are you asking me about my personal–

    Q. You’re here to answer my questions. First of all, what is your personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

    A. I understood I was being called as an expert witness.

    Q. What is your personal opinion as to what the age of the earth is?

    A. I’m unclear. I understand–

    Q. The question is simple. What is, in your opinion, the age of the earth?

    A. Well, I’m just wanting to clarify the ground rules here. I thought I was being called as an expert witness, so why are you asking me about my personal–

    Q. That’s not the issue. Now, please answer my question. What is your personal–

    A. I would like to understand the ground rules first. Why am I being asked about–

    MR. IRIGONEGARAY: Mr. Chairman, if he’s not going to answer my questions, I’d ask that his testimony be stricken from the record.

    A. I’m happy to answer your question. I’d like to know why you’re asking about–

    Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) The “why” is not for you to determine.

    MR. SISSON: Mr. Chairman, I understand Mr. Meyer’s request to reflect some confusion about the ground rules, and it is quite appropriate for him to ask that the chair of the committee, namely yourself, speak to him concerning the appropriate ground rules. Thank you.

    CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: Dr. Meyer, can you hear me now?

    A. Yes, sir.

    CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: My name is Steve Abrams, chairman of the science subcommittee. And even though these hearings have been called about the Kansas science curriculum standards and particularly how they relate to the minority report and particularly to the question of the philosophical claims and the religious claims of science and how to teach science in Kansas, we are allowing the counsel for the majority and the counsel of the minority great latitude in trying to establish their case. And Mr. Irigonegaray has elected to ask virtually every question– every witness questions about their personal opinions about certain things. And so we have granted him that latitude, and so I would say that’s where we’re going.

    A. You would like me to cooperate with that?

    CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: You can either answer “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know,” or whatever you want to do, but that– yes, I’d like you to cooperate.

    A. It’s a transparently obvious strategy to impeach the credibility of your witnesses, but I will cooperate. So my answer to your question, Pedro, is that I– my personal opinions and my professional opinions are the same. I think the earth is 4.6 billion years old. I think the universe is–

    Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) No, just the earth. I didn’t ask you about the universe.

    A. My opinion of–

    Q. Mr. Meyer, please just answer my question. I’m not asking you other opinions.

    MR. SISSON: I’d simply request to make a point here, ask the Chairman if I may make a point. Mr. Chairman, would you instruct the witness that there is no subpoena power here and that he is under no compulsion to answer and he would suffer no penalty if he chose to decline to answer.

    CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: He can answer the questions to his extent. However, we would like you to answer them.

    A. Does that mean I can say something else about the age of the earth?

    CHAIRMAN ABRAMS: Mr. Irigonegaray is going to ask the questions that he thinks important and he may repeat the question. And he will ask– my guess is it will be a yes or a no answer or some side of an answer like that. If you feel comfortable answering that, say “yes,” or if you don’t know, say you don’t know, whatever it is. I mean, be truthful and answer however you feel comfortable answering.

    A. Right. But may I say anything more about the age of the earth, then?

    Q. (BY MR. IRIGONEGARAY) I’m the one asking questions here, Mr. Meyer, and all you need to do is to answer my question.

    A. Okay. I think the age of the earth is 4.6 billion years old. That’s both my personal and my professional opinion. I speak as someone who is trained as a geophysicist–

    Q. I’m not asking you about that. I just asked you for a number, and you have given it to me.

    A. Okay. That’s all you want is the number?

    Q. My questions are pretty clear, Mr. Meyer.

    A. You’re not interested in the answer, you’re interested in the–”

    It’s also instructive that in the 4 years that passed between the hearings and this post, the NCSE still didn’t get it.

    It’s these kinds of tactics that are causing the Darwin lobby to falter; not because of the tactics alone, but because the tactics point to a more apparent lack of a coherent argument for Darwinism.

    If all these men had answered that they believed the earth was 5,000 to 100,000 years old, the NCSE would have found that “instructive.” If all 20 had answered 4-4.6 billion years old, the NCSE would have found that “instructive.” Either way, the NCSE, like the attorney asking the question is not so much interested in the answer, but in the number. The fact remains though, that nobody knows for certain the age of the earth. The reason the question was asked was exactly as Dr. Meyer stated “It’s a transparently obvious strategy to impeach the credibility of your witnesses,” and this is exactly the strategy of the Darwin lobby, and exactly why (among other issues) Darwinism is losing ground.

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