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Non-supernatural ID?: University of Chicago microbiologist James Shapiro works with ID guys, dismisses Darwinism, offers third way

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Evolution: A View from the 21st Century

And people are talking about it. In this vid and pdf from his lecture at the university’s Graham School (October 2010), he lays out his thinking:

4. The DNA record tells us that major steps in genome evolution have involved rapid genome-wide changes.5. We know of molecular processes that allow us to think scientifically about complex evolutionary events – particularly about the rapid evolution of genomic circuits
and multi-component adaptations.

As author of Evolution: A view from the 21st century, he has also said at Fermilab (2010) that arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins “lives in a world of fantasy,” stressing as above that “evolutionary theory needs mechanisms for very rapid, coordinated change.”
In other words, we know Darwinism doesn’t work and gets in the way of a solution. (Some would also add that it has accumulated a huge baggage train, including Darwin’s broomsticks and Darwin’s circus.) Shades of Altenberg 16. A friend of UD writes to say that he

is a thoughtful man who has becomes increasingly critical of neo-Darwinism, and is willing to work with ID guys. For instance, Rick Sternberg and Shapiro have collaborated on a pair of papers* looking at functional roles for non-coding DNA.

Non-coding DNA is “junk DNA.” If DNA has functional roles, it isn’t junk. But the existence of large quantities of junk DNA is an article of faith for Darwinists such as Michael Shermer and Jerry Coyne. It proves their theory.

The friend goes on to say that Shapiro positions his ideas in the context of “ID and evolution,” offering a third way.

While he insists that science “always looks for the natural explanation,” he sympathizes with ID critiques of neo-Darwinism in the linked lecture. At about 21:00, for instance, Shapiro endorses the ID point that neo-Darwinism fails to explain the origin of complex systems. “I think the critique is right,” he says, “although I don’t agree with the solution.” He then explains his commitment to methodological naturalism, and says that science looks for naturalistic solutions.

But considering that himself entertains the possibility that bacteria have cognitive powers, whatever he means by that will take us very far from Darwinism. Don Johnson, author of Probability’s Nature and the Nature of Probability calls his view non-supernatural ID.

Anyway, he’s getting very good reviews, and many see his prominence as a hopeful sign. Here’s an even-handed review of his book, citing it as a “third way:”

It’s hard to imagine that traditional neo-Darwinism can survive the onslaught much longer. James A. Shapiro might someday be regarded as one of the great researchers of our time. May his tribe increase.

* Here’s one (2004).


James Alan Shapiro
General discussions of evolution, especially in the context of the "Intelligent Design" controversy, suffer from an unfortunate conflation in the minds of the lay public (and also of scientists) of three distinct questions: - The origin of life - The evidentiary basis for an evolutionary process - The nature of evolutionary change Almost universally, the term Darwinism is assumed to be synonymous with a scientific approach that has provided satisfactory answers to all three questions. It is to be hoped that, by now, you realize that these three questions are individually complex and that two of them are quite far from having coherent scientific explanations. We have little solid evidence on the origin of life... As to the actual nature of evolutionary change processes...the simplifying assumptions made in the 19th and early 20th Centuries are plainly wrong. The one issue that has effectively been settled in a convincing way is the evidence for a process of evolutionary change... However, little evidence fits unequivocally with the theory that evolution occurs through the gradual accumulation of "numerous, successive, slight modifications." On the contrary, clear evidence exists for abrupt events of specific kinds at all level of genome organization. - James A. Shapiro Mung
A major assertion of many traditional thinkers about evolution and mutation is that living cells cannot make specific, adaptive use of their natural genetic engineering capacities. They make this assertion to protect their view of evolution as the product of random, undirected genome changes. But their position is philosophical, not scientific, nor is it based on empirical observations.

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