We wondered when Jerry Coyne, a longtime Darwin stalwart, would take time to diss J. Scott Turner’s Purpose and Desire:What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It, given that his disapproval is becoming a sort of imprimatur. We hope he can still do this sort of thing emeritus forever:
Well, no, we don’t have a well-supported Darwinian explanation for the origin of life, but we do have Darwinian explanations that good people are working on (see Nick Lane, Addy Prosser, Gerald Joyce, Jack Szostak et al.), so the claim that there are “no Darwinian explanations for the origin of life (or of the gene)” are simply false. And our lack of understanding, which is due to our not being there when life started, surely doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with abiogenesis as a naturalistic theory, much less with “materialism.” I’m not sure what Turner means by “a hard time explaining what an organism is”, but if they mean individuals, then no, we don’t have a hard time with that; they are simply the genome-carrying descendants of an original life form. We also have theories about how multicellularity evolved. And we certainly have explanations for why living things are “well-designed”; it’s called natural selection. But there are glitches in design as well, and those glitches are evidence not for purpose or conscious design, but for mindless evolution constrained to work with the materials it has.
Coyne sounds like a bureaucrat explaining why a once-thriving city is now a hellhole: Good people are working on it:
Now what Turner’s evidence is for “purpose, intentionality, and striving” I don’t know, and I suppose I’ll have to read this book (I’ve requested it via interlibrary loan); but these claims have been made over and over again since 1859, and none have stood up.
Getting and reading the book might be an idea for Coyne. A century and a half of Darwinians hammering down reports of failure and alternative proposals is beginning to tell. That sort of thing tends to make a field top-heavy with dullards who go along to get along, not pioneers of great new ideas.
I’d very much like to hear a detailed account from Coyne of the evolution of homeostasis, rather than a simple declaration that it can be selected.
The evolution of homeostasis requires the coevolution of multiple parts. Control systems in vertebrates can be quite baroque, so it would be unfair to ask questions about homeostasis there, so let’s go to one of the simplest kinds of homeostasis — just one part of the regulation of sugar metabolism in E coli. … More.
But let’s be honest here: Darwinism, well-founded or otherwise, is an easier and cheaper way to get a biology degree than any non-Darwinian approach could be, even if it makes much more sense. If that fact is not confronted, we won’t understand why the difficulties of the evolution of homeostasis, among other things, are just not confronted. Or even confrontable at present.
See also: Ann Gauger’s cautious assessment of Scott Turner’s Purpose & Desire