My interest in the EES arose in the aftermath of the Altenberg meeting. It was clear that the notion of an extended synthesis divided the evolutionary biology community, generating both enormous excitement and strong negative responses. However, I held the view that the negativity arose primarily from the absence of a clear rationale for an EES, and the mistaken perception that the EES was a rejection of neo-Darwinism. If it were possible to harness the enthusiasm and new ideas, whilst at the same time circumventing the concerns of more orthodox evolutionists, then the EES could prove a stimulant to the field.
Love it! “Mistaken perception that the EES was a rejection of neo-Darwinism”
If not a rejection, why are we hearing this from Jerry Coyne?:
Templeton wastes $11 million in attempt to change evolutionary biology
The processes touted by EES-ers may operate in isolated instances, but, so far, they hardly seem sufficiently ubiquitous to warrant an $11 million grant. I’m not sure what Templeton was thinking when it funded this, except that it has a lot of money and was somehow convinced by the “we’re-gonna-reform-SET” palaver. One possibility that crossed my mind is that the new project directly attacks the “gene-centric” view of evolution. That could be seen as reductionist, and the “EES” as more inclusive and (if you squint hard) more numinous. Or, as a reader suggests below, perhaps the view of “organism as agent in its own evolution” is tantalizingly close to “intelligent designer as agent in evolution.”
As one of several people who sent me the links noted,
The John Templeton Foundation has just given the most muddled biologists on the planet $10m. With all the knock-on effects, this could set the field back decades. Think of all the thousands of student hours that will be wasted pursuing, discussing, promoting this stuff… ! If the JTF’s goal is to muddy the waters, and retard progress in evolutionary biology, they could hardly have found a better way.
Well, there are biologists more muddled than these, and some of the folks on the grant are good biologists; I’d call them instead “largely misguided”. But I agree that directing the $11 million in this way is a big mistake.
Educated guess: Coyne wasn’t in on the divvy. Can’t think why not.
From St. Andrew’s, which seems to have got the bulk of the money:
The multi-disciplinary team of 50 world-renowned figures will tackle the question with new perspectives on the relationships between genes, organism and environment.
A unique feature of the research programme is that scientists will team up with leading philosophers of science.
The grant from the John Templeton Foundation is one of the largest to ever be awarded to evolutionary research. It will fund 22 inter-linked projects under four umbrella themes and support a wide range of additional activities that will promote interaction and collaboration between institutions in the UK, Sweden and the USA.
The guiding principles of the projects are to identify conceptual differences between traditional and alternative interpretations of the evolutionary process, to develop theory that fills the gaps in contemporary understanding, and to devise key projects that provide critical tests of points of contention.
The work will centre on what has become known as the ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ in which the genome does not have privileged control over development and heredity. In addition to genetic influences, the organism plays active, constructive roles in its own development as well as that of its descendants. This imposes directionality in evolution that is not accounted for by natural selection, and allows for multiple routes to the adaptive fit between organisms and environment.
Droject leader Professor Kevin Laland at the University of St Andrews said: “The main difference from traditional perspectives is that the extended evolutionary synthesis includes a greater set of causes of evolution. This shifts the burden of explanation for adaptation and diversification; away from a one-sided focus on natural selection and towards the constructive processes of development.”
So they are deep-sixing Darwin (as he is understood by the Darwin-in-the-schools lobby). Well. That sure beats funding Christians for Darwin (like, by comparison, who really cares?)
What the fossils told us in their own words