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Carl Woese on the “conceptual failings of the modern evolutionary synthesis”

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File:Rotavirus Reconstruction.jpg
rotavirus/Graham Beards (Gnu)

In response to our recent reprise of “Are viruses alive?”, a friend writes to draw our attention to a passage from Carl Woese (1928-2012), who first identified the archaea as a separate kingdom of life: in a paper:

During the past few years, an even more astonishing example has come to light, prompted in part by the attempt to find the cause of colony collapse disorder—the dramatic reduction in the honey bee population (in the United States, losses of adult workers were 23% during 2006- 2007 and 36% during 2007–2008) (124). One of the potential pathogenic causes, the Israeli acute paralysis virus, was found to be able to integrate harmlessly its genome into that of the bee host, and thus confer immunity on the host to further infection. The surprise is that this virus is not a retrovirus: It does not need to integrate itself into the host genome in order to replicate, and so it lacks the genetic machinery for reverse transcription of its RNA into the host DNA. It is not currently known, therefore, how the Israeli acute paralysis virus was able to work its way into the host genome. This is not an isolated example: It is now known that a similar process has occurred in at least 19 vertebrate species, the relevant viruses that have conferred immunity being the lethal Bornavirus and Ebolavirus (125, 126). It seems that this mechanism is a eukaryotic analog to lysogeny in microbes. These findings support the notion that there are collective interactions between viruses and their hosts. – Nigel Goldenfeld and Carl Woese, Life is physics: evolution as a collective phenomenon far from equilibrium (2010), (paywall) More.

Halobacteria.jpg
halobacterium, an archaean

Abstract: Evolution is the fundamental physical process that gives rise to biological phenomena. Yet it is widely treated as a subset of population genetics, and thus its scope is artificially limited. As a result, the key issues of how rapidly evolution occurs, and its coupling to ecology have not been satisfactorily addressed and formulated. The lack of widespread appreciation for, and understanding of, the evolutionary process has arguably retarded the development of biology as a science, with disastrous consequences for its applications to medicine, ecology and the global environment. This review focuses on evolution as a problem in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, where the key dynamical modes are collective, as evidenced by the plethora of mobile genetic elements whose role in shaping evolution has been revealed by modern genomic surveys. We discuss how condensed matter physics concepts might provide a useful perspective in evolutionary biology, the conceptual failings of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the open-ended growth of complexity, and the quintessentially self-referential nature of evolutionary dynamics. [color emphasis added]

Also from Britannica:

Woese proposed a new model to replace the standard Darwinian theory of common descent—that all life on Earth evolved from a single cell or pre-cell. Woese proposed instead that various forms of life evolved independently from as many as several dozen ancestral pre-cells. A 2004 paper further postulated that Darwinian natural selection did not become a factor in evolution until more complex life-forms evolved. Woese argued that in the early stages of the development of life, all organisms engaged in horizontal gene transfer and were not in competition.

Woese made clear that he was not a Darwinian. But, given his status, he was easier to just ignore than attack.

The problem he raises is hard to ignore: At what point does marshaling support for a failing concept like Darwinism (or, if you like, neo-Darwinism or the modern evolutionary synthesis or some other PC face-saver*) get in the way of productive research? If Darwin’s finches and bluster are any indicator of what they have got, that point is probably well past.

* Note: Claim: Evolutionists do not use the term “Darwinism.” Yes they do. This is just another word game.

See also: Why viruses are not considered to be alive

New paper hopes to “salvage the concept of fitness”

Engineering Tradeoffs and the Vacuity of “Fitness”

and

Special issue of Biology: Evolution Beyond Selection will be open access

25 Replies to “Carl Woese on the “conceptual failings of the modern evolutionary synthesis”

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    Woese made clear that he was not a Darwinian.

    What do you mean by “Darwinism” here? Goldenfeld & Woese don’t use the term, still less deny that one of them is one.

    FWIW, I think the reason nobody attacked Woese about this paper is probably because few people noticed it, and those that did probably just shrugged their shoulders.

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Bob:
    “and those that did probably just shrugged their shoulders”

    You may be onto something there Bob. In my experience that is the typical response of Darwinists when it is demonstrated they are wrong about this or that. “Shrug and move on” is far easier than reevaluating whether they should continue to adhere to a failed paradigm.

  3. 3
    tribune7 says:

    –Woese proposed instead that various forms of life evolved independently from as many as several dozen ancestral pre-cells. A 2004 paper further postulated that Darwinian natural selection did not become a factor in evolution until more complex life-forms evolved. Woese argued that in the early stages of the development of life, all organisms engaged in horizontal gene transfer and were not in competition.–

    Woese was a very smart man.

  4. 4
    News says:

    Yes, Barry at 2 re Bob O’H’s comment at 1: It’s a dead giveaway of decline when a field does not much notice someone who identified an entire new kingdom of life but heaps plenty of attention on Kettlewell (the peppered myth of the textbooks) and the Grants (piffling, reversible changes in Darwin’s finch beaks). That signifies a remarkable level of avoidance of the problems, as long as the establishment’s position is safe.

    Sooner or later, that happens to all religions, including Darwinism, of which Woese was clearly and obviously not a fan, as his biography shows.

    * Or whatever you want to call it. It may not be too long before the fact that Darwnists/Darwinians/whatever have nothing left but these word games and Fixing people.

  5. 5
    Daniel King says:

    Much ado about very little.

    This paper was published in Annual Review of Condensed Matter Physics,Volume 2, 2011, not a venue that most biologists would be perusing.

    Still, some, like Norman Pace, noticed it, as there are about 125 citations of the paper listed on Google Scholar.

    Regarding recognition of Carl’s contributions to science, see Wikipedia:

    Woese was a MacArthur Fellow in 1984, was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1988, received the Leeuwenhoek Medal (microbiology’s highest honor) in 1992, the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology in 1995 from the National Academy of Sciences,[37] and was a National Medal of Science recipient in 2000. In 2003, he received the Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences “for his discovery of a third domain of life”.[38][39] In 2006, he was made a foreign member of the Royal Society.[10]

  6. 6

    BA @ 2: Right on.

    Also, I just watched the new documentary “Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of Molecular Machines.” Time well-spent.

  7. 7
    Bob O'H says:

    Denyse – huh? We haven’t noticed Woese? This is simply wrong – Woese’s name was well known, and as far as I’m aware was well respected.

    Once again, what did you mean by “Darwinian”? I don’t know who you’re referring to.

  8. 8
    PaV says:

    Off-Topic:

    Where is Born Again 77 these days?

  9. 9
    goodusername says:

    News,

    Woese made clear that he was not a Darwinian.

    Woese believes that there’s been Darwinism as long as there’s been bacteria – he even calls the period when there were the first cells “the Darwinian threshold”. Sounds like a Darwinist to me.

    It’s a dead giveaway of decline when a field does not much notice someone who identified an entire new kingdom of life but heaps plenty of attention on Kettlewell (the peppered myth of the textbooks) and the Grants (piffling, reversible changes in Darwin’s finch beaks). That signifies a remarkable level of avoidance of the problems, as long as the establishment’s position is safe.

    I remember when archaea were first discovered – it was very huge news. And I think it’s safe to say that Woese is more famous than the Grants or Kettlewell, and Woese has won every major award that is given to biologists. Hardly what I’d describe as giving “not much notice.”

  10. 10
    ET says:

    PaV:

    Where is Born Again 77 these days?

    Here he is

  11. 11
    rvb8 says:

    ET @10,

    Heaven?

    I don’t know why Woese is being feited here at UD. Whatever he proposed or didn’t (horizontal gene transfer prior to evolution), it was all natural.

    That is, the distinct lack of a designer.

    As we come to understand the beautiful simplicity of nature in greater depths, the clumsy machinations of a designer become less and less defensible.

    Woese was a naturalist, not a clumsy designerist.

  12. 12
    rvb8 says:

    ET,

    I apologgize, I do believe you have indeed unearthed the remnants of BA77; I clicked your link.

    I interpret his moniker as meaning, he found Christ, and was touched by the Holy Spirit, in the year of our Lord, 1977.

    A fit, and proper person, to stand upon the masthead of ID, and ID science.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    LoL! Better he than some ignorant atheist. As for Woese he still cannot account for genes without a designer. No one can. You lose, as usual

  14. 14
    rvb8 says:

    ET,

    you are fond of, ‘Laughing out Loud’.

    Is that because of the confidence of your position? Or is it based upon the massive ID research projects, on going experimentation, or peer reviewded publications?

    Genes are molecules, are they not? We know that in the Periodic Table some elements are incredibly stable and bind naturally by natural forces, to produce stable, complex molecules.

    By simple observation, and extrapolation, more complex molecules can form from the preceeding earlier complex molecules; evolution evolves.

    Your whimsical designer, turning up peiodically after a hard night, tinkering here and there, is a poor substitute for the complexity of nature:

    Laugh out Loud:)

  15. 15
    ET says:

    rvb8- I know I could demolish you in a debate on science, biology and evolution. That is why I laugh at you- well that and the fact that you prove you are ignorant with every one of your posts.

    Yes genes are molecules- specified molecules that your position cannot explain the existence of. And science isn’t any help in that regard.

    You do realize there aren’t any peer-reviewed articles that support blind watchmaker evolution? You do realize that there isn’t even a scientific theory of evolution? Or are you that hopeless?

  16. 16
    EugeneS says:

    RVB

    The molecules that living things are made up of are specified. Their chemical properties are consequently specified, too (with their strong and weak bonds critically important for essential molecular interactions). In the middle stands this grand design of information translation, without which not only evolution but life itself would not be possible. Ignorance (willful or otherwise) does not make a case…

  17. 17
    rvb8 says:

    EugeneS & ET,

    this word ‘information’ that you and almost all posters here find so alluring, is also used by scientists, to be sure. But it is not used in the way you intend.

    When DNA replicates there are introduced errors, I hope we can all agree. These produce new expressions of those errors, phenotypes.

    These ‘errors’, if beneficial to the individual are retained and passed on to the next generation.

    Your, ‘information’ can be accurately described as an accumulation of billions of errors, passed on as beneficial traits to the next generation, over billions of years; we are error laden individuals, the original single celled organism, has had its original DNA so warped and changed, that finding out what this original ancestor was, is next to impossible. But we do know it existed, because we exist.

    Isn’t it amazing when a clear headed idea can be so quickly and accurately described.

    Enter the indecipherable ID team to muddy waters, misunderstand definitions, and just generally confuse a simple and beautiful idea, with gobbledegook.

    Now ET, present your short rebuttal, with both fists in your ears, while murmurring, ‘genes specified perfect’, you hopeless’, ‘I demolish you’, ‘I laugh at you’,’no peer review’ etc etc, Heh:)

  18. 18
    ET says:

    this word ‘information’ that you and almost all posters here find so alluring, is also used by scientists, to be sure. But it is not used in the way you intend.

    Nonsense.

    When DNA replicates there are introduced errors, I hope we can all agree. These produce new expressions of those errors, phenotypes.

    DNA doesn’t replicate. DNA gets replicated along with everything else in the cell. And biological replication is something your position cannot explain anyway.

    And yes errors are introduced but the issue is are all mutations errors?

    These ‘errors’, if beneficial to the individual are retained and passed on to the next generation.

    Whatever is beneficial is relative to the environment. Even loss of function can be beneficial- see anti-biotic resistance.

    Look, if you think errors can accumulate in such a way as to produce the appearance of design then there is no hope for you. And unfortunately for you it is an untestable concept. But it does remind me of a very funny story that I am sure you will think is true:

    I imagine this story being told to me by Jorge Luis Borges one evening in a Buenos Aires cafe.

    His voice dry and infinitely ironic, the aging, nearly blind literary master observes that “the Ulysses,” mistakenly attributed to the Irishman James Joyce, is in fact derived from “the Quixote.”

    I raise my eyebrows.

    Borges pauses to sip discreetly at the bitter coffee our waiter has placed in front of him, guiding his hands to the saucer.

    “The details of the remarkable series of events in question may be found at the University of Leiden,” he says. “They were conveyed to me by the Freemason Alejandro Ferri in Montevideo.”

    Borges wipes his thin lips with a linen handkerchief that he has withdrawn from his breast pocket.

    “As you know,” he continues, “the original handwritten text of the Quixote was given to an order of French Cistercians in the autumn of 1576.”

    I hold up my hand to signify to our waiter that no further service is needed.

    “Curiously enough, for none of the brothers could read Spanish, the Order was charged by the Papal Nuncio, Hoyo dos Monterrey (a man of great refinement and implacable will), with the responsibility for copying the Quixote, the printing press having then gained no currency in the wilderness of what is now known as the department of Auvergne. Unable to speak or read Spanish, a language they not unreasonably detested, the brothers copied the Quixote over and over again, re-creating the text but, of course, compromising it as well, and so inadvertently discovering the true nature of authorship. Thus they created Fernando Lor’s Los Hombres d’Estado in 1585 by means of a singular series of copying errors, and then in 1654 Juan Luis Samorza’s remarkable epistolary novel Por Favor by the same means, and then in 1685, the errors having accumulated sufficiently to change Spanish into French, Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, their copying continuous and indefatigable, the work handed down from generation to generation as a sacred but secret trust, so that in time the brothers of the monastery, known only to members of the Bourbon house and, rumor has it, the Englishman and psychic Conan Doyle, copied into creation Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and then as a result of a particularly significant series of errors, in which French changed into Russian, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina. Late in the last decade of the 19th century there suddenly emerged, in English, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and then the brothers, their numbers reduced by an infectious disease of mysterious origin, finally copied the Ulysses into creation in 1902, the manuscript lying neglected for almost thirteen years and then mysteriously making its way to Paris in 1915, just months before the British attack on the Somme, a circumstance whose significance remains to be determined.”
    I sit there, amazed at what Borges has recounted. “Is it your understanding, then,” I ask, “that every novel in the West was created in this way?”

    “Of course,” replies Borges imperturbably. Then he adds: “Although every novel is derived directly from another novel, there is really only one novel, the Quixote.”

    That is from David Berlinski’s The Deniable Darwin

    And by the way, rvb8, you didn’t post anything to demolish- no science, no observations, no testing, nothing.

  19. 19
    Mung says:

    When DNA replicates there are introduced errors, I hope we can all agree.

    Nope. You don’t know they are errors.

  20. 20
    rvb8 says:

    Mung @19,

    certainly they are errors, the only important factor is, are they beneficial errors, (longer legs, shorter/longer coat etc), or are they harmful errors, (misshapen spine, blindness, or other harmful physical/mental traits).

    If the errors are beneficial, they are selected for, and that beneficail error is retained/ selected for, that’s the non-random part.

    ET @18,

    “But it does remind me of a very funny story that I am sure you will think is true.”

    Is it true? You are afterall quoting Berlinski quoting Borges. Did Berlinski have this encounter, or is it the typical ID/Berlinski Gallop? Playing fast and loose with half truths, and shredding facts?

    Listen ET, it is you that makes the claim that Evolution must prove something to you (personally?), that it is Evolution which must convince you, the denialist.

    No! It doesn’t! And neither do I. I suppose in your world you now have incontrovertible proof of Evolution’s failure; enjoy your world. Like many other of your beliefs it (your world) is utterly untestable.

    Here’s some advice, don’t visit Natural History Museums any where, don’t go to Biology conferrances at any half decent university, don’t put forward your flood geology concepts to oil companies, don’t take antibiotics, and don’t read.

    You’ll be fine.

  21. 21
    ET says:

    rvb8- There isn’t any evidence nor any way to test the claim that all mutations are errors. Your bald assertion is meaningless and desperate.

    And look, I know more about evolution, science and evolution than you ever will. You are just a gullible fool. I am sure you thin k there is evidence supporting blind watchmaker evolution. Too bad you can’t reference any of it. And too bad you can’t even link to the alleged scientific theory of evolution.

    You are a great advocate for the BS of evolutionism. Thank you.

  22. 22
    rvb8 says:

    The moniker, “denialist”, @21 is well deserved.

    That second paragraph should be used as the bench mark for ‘denialist’ statements.

    Any onlookers, just read it a couple of times; priceless. Heh:)

  23. 23
    ET says:

    LoL! @ rvb8- I cannot deny what doesn’t exist. But thank you for proving all you can do is talk out of your arse. Heck you thought DNA replicated. That alone proves how little you know.

    Talk about priceless…

  24. 24
    rvb8 says:

    ET@ 23,

    your bad language and insults are instructive. You’ll notice (I doubt), I and other supporters of science here at UD, never resort to this silly tactic.

    Lack of argument, which is replaced by insults, is extremely clear evidence of, grasping at straws.

    Good day.

  25. 25
    ET says:

    rvb8- Yours is a lack of argument and mine is just an observation. You don’t support science as you have no idea what it entails.

    Good luck with that

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