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Evolutionary biologists today want Popper’s name but not his game

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A reader offers an interesting quote from Denis Noble´s recent book on Karl Popper´s view of Darwinism ( Dance to the Tune of Life – Biological Relativity, page 199):

It is not widely known that Popper gave an important lecture to the Royal Society in 1986 entitled “A new interpretation of Darwinism”. It was given on the presence of Nobel laureates Sir Peter Medawar, Max Perutz and other figures, and it must have shocked his audience. He proposed a completely radical interpretation of Neo-Darwinism, essentially rejecting the Modern Synthesis by proposing that organisms themselves are the source of the creative processes of evolution, not random mutations in DNA. He said that Darwinism (but I am sure he meant Neo-Darwinism) was not so much wrong as seriously incomplete. He saw hat reverse transcription, which is the process that allows DNA segments to be transported from one region of the genome to another via an RNA intermediate, greatly weakens the Central Dogma. In particular, it weakens the dogma in justifying Neo-Darwinism theory since it changes the genome from the read-only idea of Neo-Darwinism to a read-write genome.

He was therefore deeply suspicious of sophisticated manoeuvrings and redefinitions to protect the dogma from falsification. In his “conjectures and refutations” view of science it is better to acknowledge when a strong version of a theory has been refuted. The strong Neo-Darwinist interpretation of the Central Dogma was refuted. But he went further than this. He saw that reverse transcription could be one of the routes through which Lamarckian processes and wholesale reorganisation of genomes could occur. Again, the philosopher in him wanted to see this recognised, not hidden behind a web of clever re-interpretations.””

Friend also notes that Noble goes on to say that Popper´s lecture also contained a second major criticism of Neo-darwinism based on the “Baldwin effect”. That is the fact that organisms can push evolution by choosing new niches and causing changes in their phenotypes without changing DNA. Phenotypic plasticity is another inconsistency of Neo-darwinism gene-centric view. (pp 222-223)

And that, according to Noble, Popper never published his lecture. It was locked for 35 years in the Popper archive in the USA. Fortunately it has now been released and published as part of the book: Niemann, Hans-Joachim: Karl Popper and the Two New Secrets of Life: Including Karl Popper’s Medawar Lecture 1986 and Three Related Texts Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014. ISBN 978-3161532078.

Increasingly, one depends on these reticent or redacted sources of information to put together what really happened. It sounds as though Popper spent some time sheltering himself from the hellstorm of wounded pretensions that make up accepted current evolutionary biology and eventually realized that, like sociology, it is not really a science at present anyway. So why die on that hill? Hence the confusion around what Popper said. (He was fleeing the scene at the time.)

See also: Popper didn’t repent and believe Darwin after all

But Darwinism is universally accepted among “real” scientists! Um…

and

Another scholar who dismissed Darwinism – at the end of his life

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13 Replies to “Evolutionary biologists today want Popper’s name but not his game

  1. 1

    Thanks for this.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Friend also notes that Noble goes on to say that Popper´s lecture also contained a second major criticism of Neo-darwinism based on the “Baldwin effect”. That is the fact that organisms can push evolution by choosing new niches and causing changes in their phenotypes without changing DNA. Phenotypic plasticity is another inconsistency of Neo-darwinism gene-centric view. (pp 222-223)

    That’s strange – I don’t think I’ve met an evolutionary biologist who’s had any problems with the idea of phenotypic plasticity. Even under an extreme gene-centric view, phenotypic plasticity is fine as long as it’s under genetic control.

  3. 3
    Larry Moran says:

    Back in 1970 Francis Crick addressed the discovery of reverse transcription by pointing out it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology that he proposed in 1957. Crick was correct in 1970 and Popper (and Denis Noble) are dead wrong in 1984 and 2017).

    Basic Concepts: The Central Dogma of Molecular Biology

    Proponents of extended evolutionary theory promote a false view of the Central Dogma in order to bolster their case that there’s something wrong with modern evolutionary theory.

  4. 4
    Origenes says:

    Whatever Larry. Today, we all know, or should know, that the information stored in DNA is only a tiny portion of the total, and that the overall picture is way more complex than the one outlined by the dogma.

  5. 5
    rvb8 says:

    Origenes,

    for years Dembski and co have halled out the ‘improbability’ argument. That is the complexity of DNA itself negates evolution, because chance and luck can never produce such a complex molecule without an outside designer; whatever!

    Now you, in two poorly thought out ID lines, are saying the DNA molecule is, “only a tiny portion of the total, and that the overall picture is way more complex..”?

    Please explain why you are moving away from IDs central, (and only) argument of, ‘complexity can not be generated by randomness?’

  6. 6
    HeKS says:

    rvb8,

    Please explain why you are moving away from IDs … argument of, ‘complexity can not be generated by randomness?’

    As usual, you have not correctly represented what you try to critique. The claim is not that complexity cannot be generated by randomness. Rather, the claim is that large amounts of specified complexity cannot be generated by randomness on realistic timescales or anything even remotely resembling realistic timescales.

  7. 7
    critical rationalist says:

    I fail to see how this conflicts with, well, what I’ve been suggesting here all along.

    From an introduction to “Karl Popper and the Two New Secrets of Life – Including Karl Popper’s Medawar Lecture 1986 and Three Related Texts”

    Twenty years after Popper’s death, the last chapter looks back on his biological thoughts in the light of new results of molecular biology. His attack at that time on long-lasting dogmas of evolutionary theory turned out to be largely justified. The new biology seems even well suited to support Popper’s endeavour to overcome the gloomy aspects of Darwinism that have made organisms passive parts of a machinery of deadly competition. Neither blind chance nor natural selection are the creative forces of all life, but rather knowledge and activity. How they came into existence is still a secret and a worthwhile research programme.

    Organisms create knowledge to solve problems. That this is not reducible to mere chemistry doesn’t mean there must have been a knowing subject or some conscious recognition of a problem, etc. We are not just atoms but atoms in a configuration that allow us to create new knowledge.

    This is why I keep asking for an explanation for how human designers design things. Popper rejected induction and authoritative sources of knowledge. Furthermore, his explanation for the growth of knowledge was universal in that it was applicable for the knowledge in brains, books and even the genome of organisms.

    Given that Popper’s world 3, independent of knowing subjects and authoritative sources was one of his key points, apparently it’s ID proponents that want Popper’s name but not his game.

  8. 8
    critical rationalist says:

    Knowledge is information that plays a causal role in being retained when instantiated in a storage medium. it solves a problem. In the case of biology, this problem is being copied into the next generation. It’s unclear how this universal explanation being applicable in genomes of organisms, as well as books and brans, supports ID.

    If anything, the idea that knowledge is genuinely created over time by variation and criticism of some kind, as opposed to coming from authoritative sources, seems to be something ID proponents would like to ignore as it provides a genuine alternative to intentional design.

  9. 9
    LocalMinimum says:

    CR:

    the idea that knowledge is genuinely created over time by variation and criticism of some kind

    Pretty sure where “knowledge” comes from and doesn’t come from is the whole of the field of ID. That idea is their obsession. That it provides a genuine alternative to intentional design is an a priori that defies common understanding and lacks any analytical or experimental proof.

    However, even your analogy is loaded with teleology. “Criticism” would suggest some feedback beyond simple failure. Natural selection merely offers differing degrees of denial, compressed into a single metric of reproduction rate from the entire set of selective pressures (that’s everything that can affect reproduction rate, in one number).

    Handing that rather ambiguous answer to a process that has less sense than a bag of shaken rocks and no memory apart from the present state, doesn’t sound like the promise of a particularly useful investigative process.

  10. 10
    critical rationalist says:

    Pretty sure where “knowledge” comes from and doesn’t come from is the whole of the field of ID. That idea is their obsession.

    Where knowledge comes from? So ID is about sources of knowledge? But that’s authoritative in nature. And an explanation for that knowledge doesn’t seem even remotely an interest.

    That it provides a genuine alternative to intentional design is an a priori that defies common understanding and lacks any analytical or experimental proof.

    Proof? If you’re appealing to proof, what designers have you observed that were around millions of years ago when needed to create our biosphere? Where are they now? Furthermore, human beings couldn’t have designed themselves. Not to mention that every designer we’ve observed was a complex, knowledge laden entity with a material brain and labeled by ID proponents so improbable that they themselves need a designer. So, it’s unclear how you can say design is probable or an inductive inference from human designers. This is what I mean when I say induction is impossible or that you can’t just follow the evidence where it leads because it’s not out there for us to observe. Nor does the content of our theories come from observations.

    Handing that rather ambiguous answer to a process that has less sense than a bag of shaken rocks and no memory apart from the present state, doesn’t sound like the promise of a particularly useful investigative process.

    Except Popper’s position was that Darwinism creates knowledge in the absence of an intelligent agent or knowing subject and that genuine creation of knowledge is unpredictable despite being deterministic. So, why all the hubbub about Popper and Darwinism?

    Apparently, News just posts articles in which she thinks supports her position without actually understanding them. Go figure.

  11. 11
    Origenes says:

    If there were no knowers, there would be no knowledge. It is self-evident that knowledge cannot float free of minds. Knowledge exists only in knowers.

  12. 12
    LocalMinimum says:

    CR @ 10:

    So ID is about sources of knowledge? But that’s authoritative in nature. And an explanation for that knowledge doesn’t seem even remotely an interest.

    I was using your definition of “knowledge” as you applied it to biological systems, which, as far as I can tell, is equivalent to the concept of “functional information”, which is indeed what ID is about. The explanation of that knowledge is irrelevant to the field, just as “who threw that ball at me” is irrelevant to mechanics; though in both cases they could be used to make inferences.

    Proof? If you’re appealing to proof, what designers have you observed that were around millions of years ago when needed to create our biosphere? Where are they now?

    I was simply saying that the alternative you reference is hypothetical, and has been quite successful thus far in its resistance to becoming theoretical. Perhaps you weren’t contending otherwise?

  13. 13

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