Culture Darwinism

Nature, it seems, has gotten bored with Dawkins

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Johns Hopkins history of medicine prof Nathaniel Comfort offers, in Nature, a decidedly dismissive review of the second volume of Richard Dawkins’ autobiography, Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science:

A curious stasis underlies Dawkins’s thought. His biomorphs are grounded in 1970s assumptions. Back then, with rare exceptions, each gene specified a protein and each protein was specified by a gene. The genome was a linear text — a parts list or computer program for making an organism —insulated from the environment, with the coding regions interspersed with “junk”.

Today’s genome is much more than a script: it is a dynamic, three-dimensional structure, highly responsive to its environment and almost fractally modular. Genes may be fragmentary, with far-flung chunks of DNA sequence mixed and matched in bewildering combinatorial arrays. A universe of regulatory and modulatory elements hides in the erstwhile junk. Genes cooperate, evolving together as units to produce traits. Many researchers continue to find selfish DNA a productive idea, but taking the longer view, the selfish gene per se is looking increasingly like a twentieth-century construct.

Dawkins’s synopsis shows that he has not adapted to this view.

For a time, Dawkins was a rebellious scientific rock star. Now, his critique of religion seems cranky, and his immovably genocentric universe is parochial. Brief Candle is about as edgy as Sir Mick and the Rolling Stones cranking out the 3,578th rendition of ‘Brown Sugar’ — a treat for fans, but reinscribing boundaries rather than crossing them. More.

It sounds for all the world as though ultra-Darwinism is just plain over, and Nature knows it.

There was a time when the journal would surely not have printed such a review. (?)

But then one could only stave off growing awareness for so long by crabbing about creationists.

Is it possible that Dawkins’ many adventures in public advocacy have resulted in such “fed-upness” that he is not to be granted an honourable retirement?

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18 Replies to “Nature, it seems, has gotten bored with Dawkins

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    “Brief Candle is about as edgy as Sir Mick and the Rolling Stones cranking out the 3,578th rendition of ‘Brown Sugar’”

    say it ain’t so Dickie D!

    Richard Dawkins – Beware the Believers –
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaGgpGLxLQw

  2. 2
    Dionisio says:

    Nature, it seems, has gotten bored with Dawkins

    who hasn’t?

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    Rodney Stark- End of Religion? (May 5, 2015)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93OE8drIFeE

    “The Triumph of Christianity” Doing History a Second Time Around — Rodney Stark Lecture – (Nov. 30, 2011)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbEsyKJJQcU

  4. 4
    Dionisio says:

    it was once a “fact” that a substance called phlogiston that conferred combustibility and was released during burning. That wasn’t superstition–it was based on the best science of the time. But we don’t accept that fact anymore. We say that fact was wrong. Similarly, in 20 years, many of today’s facts will no longer be true.
    Science is precisely that way of learning about the world in which facts can be revised, updated, nuanced, or rejected.

    -Professor Nathaniel Comfort
    http://www.nature.com/nature/j.....l#comments

    Professor Comfort made a very good point in that comment.

    However, it seems like the double quotations (“…”) is missing around the term “facts” in Professor Comfort’s comment.

    Because I think objective FACTS are always true. That’s why it’s recommended to refer to subjective “facts” as just that, “facts”, which may fade away with time, as more information sheds light on the subject.

    For example, it is a fact that, as of today, I can’t voluntarily hold my breath indefinitely. At some point I won’t be able to continue holding my breath.

    That’s a fact not a “fact”.

  5. 5
    groovamos says:

    objective FACTS are always true ‘scuse, But is this a statement of “objective fact”?

    And are there multiple types of ‘fact’, objective and whatever others?

    If I’m not mistaken plenty of cultures in history have been described as not even having the concept of ‘fact’. Whether or not one could ever call such descriptions as “objective fact” is outside the scope of the discussion. And whether or not it is a ‘fact’, objective or otherwise, that the scope of the discussion is so constrained, is beyond the scope of the discussion. So stated without committing to the factuality, “objective” or otherwise of the statement. Which may be a non-“objective” statement of fact, and so the use of non-“objective” fact can save us from the evident absurdity of “objective fact”.

    It is a fact that there is possibility of yours truly pretending. to. logical. ability.

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    It’s a proven fact that we humans breathe in air to get necessary oxygen, then we breathe out CO2.
    It’s a proven fact that many plants get CO2 from the air and release oxygen.
    However, the exact descriptions of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying those important physiological processes may or may not contain proven facts.

    It is a proven fact that there’s a wide variety of biological systems.
    However, any description of how they function may or may not be a proven fact.
    The same way, any description of how they came to be may or may not be a proven fact.

  7. 7
    Dionisio says:

    If someone visits an island (or archipelago) in the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of South America, and observes finches with different beak shapes on different seasons of the year, may that person report his observation as fact?
    I think so.
    It is up to other people to believe it or not, but that won’t affect the veracity of the reported fact. That’s objective.
    However, that same observer might suggest a possible mechanism underlying the reported observation, but that won’t qualify as a proven fact until it’s thoroughly proven.
    Some people might report, publish, teach the suggested mechanism as “fact” and others may believe it is “fact” even though it is not proven.

  8. 8
    Dionisio says:

    #7 follow up

    If someone visits an island (or archipelago) in the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of South America, and observes finches with different beak shapes on different seasons of the year, may that person report his observation as fact?
    I think so.
    It is up to other people to believe it or not, but that won’t affect the veracity of the reported fact. The reported observation is a fact if it is true.
    However, that same observer might suggest a possible mechanism underlying the reported observation, but that won’t qualify as a proven fact until it’s thoroughly proven.
    Some people might report, publish, teach the suggested mechanism as “fact” and others may believe it is “fact” even though it is not proven.

    But in that latter case it is not a fact.
    Now, can something that is true but has not been observed or reported be considered a fact?
    Also, can something that has been suggested, but not confirmed, tested or proven, be considered as fact?

  9. 9
    Box says:

    The gene-centered view of an organism never made any sense whatsoever. A simple question suffices to make this clear: every cell in the human body has the same DNA sequence, so why is a heart cell different from a brain cell?
    In hindsight it’s baffling that the ‘selfish gene’ got so much traction.
    However, materialists, like Dawkins, continue to fail in providing an overall coherent concept of an organism. They keep searching for the *master-controller* inside the cell, although there obviously cannot be such an all-powerful molecule.

  10. 10
    Dionisio says:

    Fact

    : something that truly exists or happens : something that has actual existence

    : a true piece of information

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fact

  11. 11
    Dionisio says:

    Box @9

    So much “evo-devo” hogwash spilled in otherwise interesting research papers. So much precious time squandered on writing all that nonsense, while seriously dedicated scientists are working hard, trying to understand the fascinating interwoven mechanisms underlying the elaborate cellular and molecular choreographies orchestrated within the biological systems.

    Then, on top of all that, making things even worse, we see some interlocutors that appear to be allowed/encouraged by this website in order to make the darwinist/materialist folks look so incoherently clueless or just to keep up the debate in order to increase the online visitors that are looking for plain entertainment?

    Pathetic.

  12. 12
    Box says:

    Dionisio,

    Everywhere we look we see orchestration of the parts stemming from the level of the whole organism — the larger context. Every occurrence in the cell fits into this larger context — and it must be so, because when it doesn’t death is looming.
    Which means that the larger context — which is unfathomable from a materialistic perspective — is real and an essential part of the explanation; SO THERE CAN NEVER BE a bottom-up explanation from the level of the parts.

    Compare it to the sentence of a written text. The individual letters can NEVER explain the words. The words can NEVER explain the sentences. The sentences can NEVER explain the larger message.
    The coherency of a written text stems top-down from a higher level — from an intelligent mind. It’s simply incoherent to try to explain a text bottom-up (from the level of the letters), yet this is what evolutionary biology is desperately trying to do.

    Also, every attempt to reduce an organism to a clock-like device fails simply because there is no fixed structure. A cell is ever changing; it can be said to be never the same during its life cycle. If a cell is a clock-like device then the cell is a sheer infinite number of clocks in one.

  13. 13
    bornagain77 says:

    Box, very nice post. In my opinion, the post deserves its own thread.

    To give a few examples of just how antithetical Darwinian explanations are for ‘the larger context’ of the whole organism, you may enjoy these following findings (which you have probably seen before):

    HOW BIOLOGISTS LOST SIGHT OF THE MEANING OF LIFE — AND ARE NOW STARING IT IN THE FACE – Stephen L. Talbott – May 2012
    Excerpt: The question is indeed, then, “How does the organism meaningfully dispose of all its molecules, getting them to the right places and into the right interactions?”
    The same sort of question can be asked of cells, for example in the growing embryo, where literal streams of cells are flowing to their appointed places, differentiating themselves into different types as they go, and adjusting themselves to all sorts of unpredictable perturbations — even to the degree of responding appropriately when a lab technician excises a clump of them from one location in a young embryo and puts them in another, where they may proceed to adapt themselves in an entirely different and proper way to the new environment. It is hard to quibble with the immediate impression that form (which is more idea-like than thing-like) is primary, and the material particulars subsidiary.
    http://www.netfuture.org/2012/May1012_184.html#2

    What Do Organisms Mean? Stephen L. Talbott – Winter 2011
    Excerpt: Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin once described how you can excise the developing limb bud from an amphibian embryo, shake the cells loose from each other, allow them to reaggregate into a random lump, and then replace the lump in the embryo. A normal leg develops. Somehow the form of the limb as a whole is the ruling factor, redefining the parts according to the larger pattern. Lewontin went on to remark: “Unlike a machine whose totality is created by the juxtaposition of bits and pieces with different functions and properties, the bits and pieces of a developing organism seem to come into existence as a consequence of their spatial position at critical moments in the embryo’s development. Such an object is less like a machine than it is like a language whose elements… take unique meaning from their context.[3]”,,,
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....nisms-mean

    “Last year I had a fair chunk of my nose removed in skin cancer surgery (Mohs). The surgeon took flesh from a nearby area to fill in the large hole he’d made. The pictures of it were scary. But in the healing process the replanted cells somehow ‘knew’ how to take a different shape appropriate for the new location so that the nose now looks remarkably natural. The doctor said he could take only half the credit because the cells somehow know how to change form for a different location (though they presumably still follow the same DNA code) . — I’m getting the feeling that we’ve been nearly as reductionist in the 20-21st century as Darwin and his peers were when they viewed cells as little blobs of jelly.”
    leodp – UD blogger
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-563451

    Epigenetics and neuroplasticity: The case of the rewired ferrets – April 3, 2014
    Excerpt: Like inventive electricians rewiring a house, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reconfigured newborn ferret brains so that the animals’ eyes are hooked up to brain regions where hearing normally develops.
    The surprising result is that the ferrets develop fully functioning visual pathways in the auditory portions of their brains. In other words, they see the world with brain tissue that was only thought capable of hearing sounds.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....d-ferrets/

    If DNA really rules (morphology), why did THIS happen? – April 2014
    Excerpt: Researchers implanted human embryonic neuronal cells into a mouse embryo. Mouse and human neurons have distinct morphologies (shapes). Because the human neurons feature human DNA, they should be easy to identify.
    Which raises a question: Would the human neurons implanted in developing mouse brain have a mouse or a human morphology?
    Well, the answer is, the human neurons had a mouse morphology. They could be distinguished from the mouse ones only by their human genetic markers.
    If DNA really ruled, we would expect a human morphology.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....is-happen/

    DNA doesn’t even tell teeth what they should look like – April 3, 2014
    Excerpt: A friend writes to mention a mouse experiment where developing tooth buds were moved so that the incisors and the molars were switched. The tooth buds became the tooth appropriate to the switched location, not the original one, in direct contrast to what we would expect from a gene’centric view.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....look-like/

  14. 14
    Box says:

    Bornagain77: In my opinion, the post deserves its own thread.

    You know, the exact same thought has occurred to me many times when reading your posts — your last one included.

  15. 15
    Dionisio says:

    Box @12
    I assume you know you’re preaching to the choir, do you?

    Let me tell you a short personal story for illustration:
    My primary doctor diagnosed hyponatremia (low sodium in the serum). After a series of lab tests and images (PET-Scans, MRIs) of the whole body, seeing various specialists (nephrology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, cardiology), they were able to narrow down the diagnosis to ‘idiopathic’ (unknown cause). They noticed that apparently the pituitary gland was sending wrong signals to the kidneys that was causing too much sodium getting released from the body. However, they could not find what caused the pituitary to behave so strangely. They looked for tumors in the head and everywhere else, that could affect the functioning of the pituitary, but nothing was found.
    One doctor asked me to reduce the fluid intake in order to increase the sodium concentration, but another asked me to keep the fluid intake high, while increasing the sodium in the diet. I did the latter. The latest test results were fine. Thank God.

    Neither the medical or the biology fields appear to approach their fields as complex systems.

    Some biology ‘in silico’ models are kind of ‘top-down’. However, most biology research done these days is bottom-up, hence most available papers reflect that traditionally established approach.
    If you want to study biology (some aspects of it) for whatever reason, you may take formal classes online, but in order to remain updated, you must read the latest papers on the subject you’re interested in.
    Perhaps one of the reasons why we find relatively often terms like “surprisingly”, “unexpectedly”, “intriguingly”, “shockingly”, in the latest scientific research papers, is that they still don’t seem to realize they are dealing with complex systems made of interwoven functionality.

    That’s why every new discovery seems to make the complexity look more complex. As outstanding questions get answered, new questions are raised.

    Unending Revelation of the Ultimate Reality. 🙂

    We don’t have many available choices, because most research papers look at parts of the whole. But, by looking at those papers thoroughly, with the sincere attitude of a child full of wonder, we ask questions, no matter how simple they might sound, about anything we don’t understand.

    As we understand the functioning of the subsystems separately, we also try to understand the interrelationship between the subsystems. At the end we expect to get a better idea of the whole show as a finely controlled entity.

    Basically, by sticking to the available research papers (what’s the alternative?), but looking from the perspective of complex systems, we can have a better understanding of the whole puzzle and present a strong argument for our case, while giving the scientific establishment their own medicine.

    Does this make sense to you?

  16. 16
    Dionisio says:

    #15 addendum

    Box,

    Here’s an example of the benefit of analyzing the bottom-up papers to point to their problems:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-582880

    Basically, we can take their papers and evaluate them, to show their deficiencies due to the wrong approach.

  17. 17
    Box says:

    Dionisio,

    What do you mean with a “complex system”?

    Wiki is presenting a naturalistic version:

    A complex system is a system that exhibits some (and possibly all) of the following characteristics:[1]

    feedback loops;
    some degree of spontaneous order;
    robustness of the order;
    emergent organization;
    numerosity;[2]
    hierarchical organization.[3]

    Examples of complex systems are Earth’s global climate, the human brain, social organization, an ecosystem, a living cell, and ultimately the entire universe.

    “Emergent organization”? Lumping together the global climate, a living cell and so forth — as if everything is under the umbrella of naturalism?

    I sense that the dark side of the force is strong with this one.

  18. 18
    Dionisio says:

    Box

    Wiki seems to be an open-source environment.
    Perhaps it’s kind of bias towards certain worldview positions.

    I admit that the term ‘complex system’ is not very accurate, hence it may leave room for misinterpretation.

    What I mean is a complex management information system.

    Most research papers are written by seriously dedicated scientists trying to figure out how things work in the biological systems.

    Perhaps their approach is not exactly right, because it’s kind of reductionist, but we can take a look at their papers and point to the problems we spot. At least it gives an idea of the magnitude of the problem they’re facing.

    The complexity gets more complex as more research is done. As outstanding questions get answered, new questions are raised. Never-ending story. 🙂

    To some of us that’s expected. To other folks, that may be unexpected, intriguing, surprising, shocking. To another group it may even be undesirable. But that’s their problem, not ours.

    To me the OOL debate is a non issue, because it’s settled.
    I believe there’s only one way.

    The biology researchers seem to be doing reverse engineering, like the Soviet block did with the IBM/360 & 370 behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Except that the biologists have a more difficult task, because the system they’re trying to understand is much more sophisticated than the IBM mainframes, and there’s no deign documentation to look at.

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