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Professor Robert Winston Rejects Determinism in Genetics

The Festival of Science in Liverpool, organised by the prestigious British Association, has certainly produced some fireworks this past week.

Following Professor Reiss’s comments, Professor Robert Winston has now criticised ‘science delusions’ and a ‘deterministic’ approach to genetics. Winston is well known through the mainstream media in the UK as a leading geneticist. He accuses militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins of damaging science with their rhetoric, commenting that the new atheism is ‘dangerous,’ ‘irresponsible’ and ‘very divisive.’

Winston comments that; “Far too many scientists including my good friend Richard Dawkins present science as…factually correct. And actually of course that clearly isn’t true.” “I think that…it is actually…irresponsible. I think it poo-poos other people’s views of a universe about which none of us know clearly or absolutely”

A welcome frank admission, but Winston further rejects misplaced certainty in genetics, commenting that the traditional “deterministic” approach to genetics is ‘too simplistic.’

“We can’t any longer have the conventional understanding of genetics which everybody pedals because it is increasingly obvious that epigenetics – actually things which influence the genome’s function – are much more important than we realised. One of the most important aspects of what makes us who we are is neither straight genes or straight environment but actually what happens to us during development.”

Clearly such an approach to genetics calls into question the type of neo-Darwinian explanation involving ‘selfish genes’ favoured by Richard Dawkins. If there is such uncertainty as he suggests, then how can explanations involving intelligent design be properly excluded from science? This approach must open up a place for intelligent design because evolutionary explanations could never be established with any certainty.

Sourced from the Guardian science blog

http://science-and-values.blogspot.com

 

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9 Responses to Professor Robert Winston Rejects Determinism in Genetics

  1. Sensible talk on both subjects.

  2. How about a hypothesis that the epigenetic system will turn out to be irreducibly complex?

  3. epigentics is a term that covers a myriad of different processes so maybe one or more than one of them may be irreducibly complex. But others may not be.

  4. Hmm, can someone enlighten me if I’m wrong, but isn’t “what happens to us during development” the same as our environment during our development?

  5. I asked about a year ago what happens during development and there was silence to my question. Since then it has become clear to me that there is no comprehensive idea of what happens during gestation. There are definitely some things in the genome that control development and not all these things are the DNA but there are also some things external to the cell that affect development. In some animals is may be due to the environment that the animal finds itself in. For example, temperature.

    Essentially they do not too much but are learning. One of the things I learned is that there is more to the genome than DNA and these non DNA elements affect gene expression, cell type and some other things maybe including cell division during gestation.

    It is an interesting topic and something I personally would like to learn more about.

  6. “Essentially they do not know too much” I left out the word know.

  7. A question that occurs to me is – if natural selection is mainly selecting for random epigenetic factors, then can it really change the genome? This would seem to support the type of argument of John Sandford in ‘Genetic Entropy…’, where he argues that beneficial genetic mutations would be invisible at the level of the phenotype due to random ‘noise.’

  8. “…Winston further rejects misplaced certainty in genetics, commenting that the traditional “deterministic” approach to genetics is ‘too simplistic.’

    “…We can’t any longer have the conventional understanding of genetics which everybody pedals because it is increasingly obvious that epigenetics – actually things which influence the genome’s function – are much more important than we realised. One of the most important aspects of what makes us who we are is neither straight genes or straight environment but actually what happens to us during development.””

    It seems to me Winston is vague or ambiguous in his terminology. He is pointing out that the genetic determinism promulgated by Dawkins et. al. is simplistic, but he presumably still considers epigenetic factors still operating deterministically on the phenotype. I would assume that he still considers that in evolution random change is the operative principle along with selection, even if what is changed inherently randomly with respect to fitness is a vast and mostly unknown set of epigenetic mechanisms. DaveScot has speculated that the primary carrier of epigenetic information of development and form is the cytoskeletal network.

    It is unlikely Winston would admit to the influence of some intelligent agent on such non-genetic but heritable information.

  9. 9

    A welcome frank admission..

    I certainly agree!

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