In “Life All the Way Down”: Stephen Talbott’s Biological Vision” (Evolution News & Views, March 9, 2012), Tom Bethell discusses Talbot’s recent series in New Atlantis.
This “holistic” idea dominates Talbott’s overall view and it goes against the grain of the mechanistic picture that has prevailed in the West since the time of Charles Darwin. Furthermore, he places little reliance on the categories that dominate our thinking today, whether secular or (overtly) religious; whether involving chance, necessity, design or creation.
In “Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness” (Summer 2010) he does question fundamental Darwinian dogmas (such as the concept of fitness). In “What Do Organisms Mean?” (Winter 2011) he raises a question about organisms that today’s biologists obviously never ask.
Darwinism, in contrast, attempts to understand organisms as having been gradually assembled — by natural selection. A recent claim, triumphantly reported by Jerry Coyne, showed how little progress the Darwinians have made. Camouflaged moths tend to do better than conspicuous ones in an environment of keen-sighted predator birds. But as Jonathan Wells wrote here recently, Darwinian evolution requires
much more than a shift in the proportions of light- and dark-colored moths. It requires the descent with modification of all living things from one or a few common ancestors. Darwin did not write a book titled How the Proportions of Two Pre-existing Moth Varieties Can Change Through Natural Selection; he wrote a book titled The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
Stephen Talbott quotes Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin several times; he seems to be one of Talbott’s favorite sources. Lewontin once described how you can cut out the developing limb bud from an amphibian embryo, shake the cells loose from each other, allow them to re-aggregate randomly, and then put the resulting mass back into in the embryo. A normal leg develops.
“Somehow,” Talbott wrote, “the form of the limb as a whole is the ruling factor, redefining the parts according to the larger pattern.”