Intelligent Design

How many evolutionary biologists are really Dawkins-ites?

Spread the love

Non-Darwinian evolutionary biologists may start to speak up in greater numbers as more ID conferences are held. An ID conference sometimes spotlights those who do not want to be called Darwinists or Darwinians, irrespective of their views on ID.

Readers may recall that at our University of Toronto ID conference a couple of weekends ago, I ran into an interesting biochem textbook author named Larry Moran, an evolutionary biologist who does not seem to be a Darwinist or a Darwinian. He proposes an alternative.

He wants to be called an evolutionary biologist , which is fair enough to describe what he does for a living, but I suspect that virtually every one of his colleagues who is a fanatical Darwinist on the issues under discussion will want the same title.

Meanwhile, many people mean by “evolution” Richard Dawkins’s ultra-Darwinism. That is, Dawkins has come to define what evolution means. No mean feat for Dawkins, especially if he is wrong.

As I noted in By Design or by Chance?, one of Dawkins’ editors has commented on his status as a cultural icon:

If you’re an intelligent reader, and you read certain literary novels that everybody has to read, along with seeing Taratino movies, then reading Richard Dawkins has become part of your cultural baggage. (p. 104)

Larry thinks (see the Comments box there at the Post-Darwinist) that I somehow benefit from the busload of cranks prophesying in Darwin’s name because I want to impugn “real scientists”:

With all due respect, I think you’re getting a lot of mileage out of lumping the kooks in with real scientists and covering them all with the “Darwinist” label. It allows you to attack and make fun of the kooky non-science in “The Universal Darwinism” while impugning real scientists by implication.

Well, of course, blowing off the silliness about the infidelity genes or the God meme is certainly easier than slogging through actual news but – call me unlucky, I’ve always preferred the news beat. And there would still be plenty of folly to send up if the Darwin cranks packed themselves off to Quaoar for a very long vacation.

I think Larry needs to face up to the role he and his colleagues have played in this state of affairs. It’s no good telling me he disowns the Darwin cranks. He should go tell them.

Meanwhile, Larry has sent me a link to one of his essays “Evolution by Accident”, and I have now read it. He seems to be far more a Gouldian than a Dawkins-ite. Gould’s misfortune was to die in 2002, and his more Dawkinsian colleagues lost no time in telling the world his failings (See By Design or by Chance?, pp.108–13.)

Larry writes, in part,

Excellent arguments have been advanced to prove that most of evolution is due to random genetic drift and that’s the position I take. Thus, in a discussion about the role of chance and accident in evolution I would say that most of evolution is accidental because of the frequency of drift vs. selection. Note that this says nothing about the perceived importance of these mechanisms. That’s a value judgement. Some evolutionists think that adaptation, or evolution by natural selection, is the only interesting part of evolution. These evolutionists don’t deny that random genetic drift occurs; instead, they simply relegate it to the category of uninteresting phenomena. Others, like me, think that random genetic drift is far more interesting than natural selection because drift is responsible for junk DNA, molecular phylogenies, molecular clocks, and DNA fingerprinting.

On Darwinism, he writes,

Technically, Darwinism can be construed to mean only evolution by natural selection so this is an acceptable way of avoiding the topic of drift. However, if you read closely, you’ll see that these writers are often very sloppy about using “”Darwinism” to describe their interests. The term often fills in for all of evolution in a sort of rhetorical sleight of hand. Thus, this group of chance-deniers tends to eliminate chance from evolution by re-defining evolution so that it only applies to natural selection. As you might expect, those who choose to eliminate chance by redefinition are usually the same people that are only interested in natural selection (see above).

All of which reminds me of the huge uproar last year when Stu Pivar, a friend of the late Steve Gould, told me that Gould was rather an indifferent Darwinist, and Darwinists charged in to protect Gould’s reputation from the imputation of heresy.

Larry seems to think I benefit from the Darwin cranks but seems unwilling to confront the role that he and his colleagues play in giving them a social power they haven’t really earned.

I wonder if evo bios can only allow themselves the luxury of questioning a given dogma, as long as they all close ranks in that way when under threat. A sort of angry religion without God or the church kitchen? Sounds like Hull to me.

Anyway, a commenter at the Post-d, wants to know, what about ID and genetic drift?

8 Replies to “How many evolutionary biologists are really Dawkins-ites?

  1. 1
    tribune7 says:

    So what’s the connection between Taratino films and Dawkins’ writings? Pulp Fiction?

    OK, maybe Kill Bill 🙂

  2. 2
    jerry says:

    Denyse,

    I made this point several times and I have never had anyone dispute it. I think Dembski, Behe, Wells etc would also endorse it. If they don’t then they should say why.

    ID subsumes or encompasses any naturalistic mechanism that produces a different allele frequency in the population.

    The definition of evolution that evolutionary biologists use is “a change in the allele frequency in the population.”

    Thus, NDE which includes genetic drift is part of ID and is in sync with ID. So are any of the other naturalistic mechanisms that Allen MacNeill has proposed in his recent posts. They all would fall under ID.

    All ID says is that some of the changes in life forms or allele creation is best explained as the result of intelligence. It does not say that these other mechanism never work.

    From what I understand genetic drift is the major cause or allele frequency changes and thus the major cause of evolution using the evolutionary biologist definition of evolution. But it is all micro evolution and nothing interesting ever happened because of genetic drift.

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Until Larry Moran and others who say they are not Darwinists either come out and insist that Darwin’s ideas should not be taught in schools or that they should be sharply criticized then they deserve the epithet “Darwinist.”

  4. 4
    Gene says:

    Nice blog. Links to non-ID evolution-as-fact proponents are appreciated.

    Moving the discussion forward:

    I can’t improve on Darwin Catholic’s dissection (http://darwincatholic.blogspot.....-step.html) of “irreducible complexity”, an unfortunate term which feeds into the “anti-science” propaganda of the Dawkins’ machine. DC’s elaborations on K Miller’s original refutation reinforce the point that an investigator can most certainly abstract from a complex system. Better term, “subsystem inscrutability”, from algorithmic information theory, which supports “process models” of evolution-as-fact. See August 2006 Technology Review, pgs 26 and 24 – Seth Lloyd, “information for free” based on quantum decoherence, and the extended PCW Davies excellent review – available on-line – Quantum Fluctuations and Life.

    As far as Dawkins, I can only say, carry on. Obviously, his “selfish genes” have been superceded by post HGP regulatory genomics. He is an example of all too many “institutionalized” hacks who once made serious contributions but don’t know when to get out of the way. It turns out that “genetic drift” may also be headed for that famous dustbin, since “junk genes” are information rich (e.g. retrotransposons), and capable of producing novel genes as well as lateral transfer between cells and organisms. More information for free; perhaps analogous to Waddington’s developmental “canalization” in the molecular/subatomic ranges. See also Acquiring Genomes by Lynn Margulis, (no pal of Dawkins).

    It appears to me that WD’s equations (no doubt great contributions to probability theory), do not take above-outlined process and algorithmic information models into account, (e.g. A Patel and L Grover). Given the consensus understanding of investigative methodologies, the Design Inference will (and should) be pushed into the future pending completion of these projects. In retrospect, Newton should have done the same thing, right?

    The terminological debate strikes me as “tail-chasing”, (again, see DC’s discussion of nominalism) and a hyper response of the Creationist Wing to get Darwin out of schools. This strikes me as a ludicrous strategy, guaranteed to lose an ally like me who sees no constitutional problem in teaching ID as part of a philosophical (broadly construed to include indigenous creation myths), history of the universe.

  5. 5
    bFast says:

    Dr. Moran seems very focused on genetic drift. He says, “Others, like me, think that random genetic drift is far more interesting…” I, for one, see genetic drift as a core phenomenon of neo-Darwinian evolution. I hardly suspect that Dawkins, for instance, has any trouble with genetic drift. I therefore do not see how Dr. Moran can in any way be presented as a “non-Darwinian”.

    At some point I see that we are claiming people as allies when they really are not.

  6. 6
    scordova says:

    How many evolutionary biologists are really Dawkins-ites?

    Actually, at first glace I thought it said “how many evolutionary biologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

  7. 7
    idnet.com.au says:

    Denyse, I believe you are debating Robyn Williams of the Australian ABC science team. He loves Dawkins.

    For a summary of Dawkins in his show go to

    http://search.abc.net.au//sear.....%2Fstories

    I will be listenning.

  8. 8
    scordova says:

    how many evolutionary biologists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    Answer: the number is unimportant, what is important is that it was the result of Natural Selection.

Leave a Reply