How many evolutionary biologists are really Dawkins-ites?
|October 18, 2006||Posted by O'Leary under Intelligent Design|
Non-Darwinian evolutionary biologists may start to speak up in greater numbers as more ID conferences are held. An ID conference sometimes spotlights those who do not want to be called Darwinists or Darwinians, irrespective of their views on ID.
Readers may recall that at our University of Toronto ID conference a couple of weekends ago, I ran into an interesting biochem textbook author named Larry Moran, an evolutionary biologist who does not seem to be a Darwinist or a Darwinian. He proposes an alternative.
He wants to be called an evolutionary biologist , which is fair enough to describe what he does for a living, but I suspect that virtually every one of his colleagues who is a fanatical Darwinist on the issues under discussion will want the same title.
Meanwhile, many people mean by “evolution” Richard Dawkins’s ultra-Darwinism. That is, Dawkins has come to define what evolution means. No mean feat for Dawkins, especially if he is wrong.
As I noted in By Design or by Chance?, one of Dawkins’ editors has commented on his status as a cultural icon:
If you’re an intelligent reader, and you read certain literary novels that everybody has to read, along with seeing Taratino movies, then reading Richard Dawkins has become part of your cultural baggage. (p. 104)
With all due respect, I think you’re getting a lot of mileage out of lumping the kooks in with real scientists and covering them all with the “Darwinist” label. It allows you to attack and make fun of the kooky non-science in “The Universal Darwinism” while impugning real scientists by implication.
Well, of course, blowing off the silliness about the infidelity genes or the God meme is certainly easier than slogging through actual news but – call me unlucky, I’ve always preferred the news beat. And there would still be plenty of folly to send up if the Darwin cranks packed themselves off to Quaoar for a very long vacation.
I think Larry needs to face up to the role he and his colleagues have played in this state of affairs. It’s no good telling me he disowns the Darwin cranks. He should go tell them.
Meanwhile, Larry has sent me a link to one of his essays “Evolution by Accident”, and I have now read it. He seems to be far more a Gouldian than a Dawkins-ite. Gould’s misfortune was to die in 2002, and his more Dawkinsian colleagues lost no time in telling the world his failings (See By Design or by Chance?, pp.108Ã¢â‚¬â€œ13.)
Larry writes, in part,
Excellent arguments have been advanced to prove that most of evolution is due to random genetic drift and that’s the position I take. Thus, in a discussion about the role of chance and accident in evolution I would say that most of evolution is accidental because of the frequency of drift vs. selection. Note that this says nothing about the perceived importance of these mechanisms. That’s a value judgement. Some evolutionists think that adaptation, or evolution by natural selection, is the only interesting part of evolution. These evolutionists don’t deny that random genetic drift occurs; instead, they simply relegate it to the category of uninteresting phenomena. Others, like me, think that random genetic drift is far more interesting than natural selection because drift is responsible for junk DNA, molecular phylogenies, molecular clocks, and DNA fingerprinting.
On Darwinism, he writes,
Technically, Darwinism can be construed to mean only evolution by natural selection so this is an acceptable way of avoiding the topic of drift. However, if you read closely, you’ll see that these writers are often very sloppy about using “”Darwinism” to describe their interests. The term often fills in for all of evolution in a sort of rhetorical sleight of hand. Thus, this group of chance-deniers tends to eliminate chance from evolution by re-defining evolution so that it only applies to natural selection. As you might expect, those who choose to eliminate chance by redefinition are usually the same people that are only interested in natural selection (see above).
All of which reminds me of the huge uproar last year when Stu Pivar, a friend of the late Steve Gould, told me that Gould was rather an indifferent Darwinist, and Darwinists charged in to protect Gould’s reputation from the imputation of heresy.
Larry seems to think I benefit from the Darwin cranks but seems unwilling to confront the role that he and his colleagues play in giving them a social power they haven’t really earned.
I wonder if evo bios can only allow themselves the luxury of questioning a given dogma, as long as they all close ranks in that way when under threat. A sort of angry religion without God or the church kitchen? Sounds like Hull to me.
Anyway, a commenter at the Post-d, wants to know, what about ID and genetic drift?