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If geneticist James Shapiro is never respectable again, philosopher James Barham is not to blame


/Laszlo Bencze

Doubting Darwin is.

Here, we reported on how philosopher James Barham got himself criticized by Darwin questioning bacterial geneticist James Shapiro (himself a target of Darwinists like Jerry Coyne for his doubts about Darwin?)

Barham has replied to Shapiro, saying that he thinks that Shapiro and he are in broad agreement, here.

The arguments (which centre around concepts of “vitalism”) should interest those who wish to study evolution as if evidence mattered.

Meanwhile, it strikes me that the difficulty Shapiro faces is this: Standing up to the entrenched institutional power of Darwinism, as he has, doesn’t solve any problem beyond getting free of obsessive demands to support a view of life untenable by intelligent – and free – people (cf the Ben Carson controversy).

Leaving Darwinism simply means giving oneself permission to think. And that includes patiently rethinking a number of questions, like the very one Barham revisits, around “vitalism” or emergent properties.

It feels as if Shapiro wants both the institutional safety and respectability of a creed like Darwinism and the freedom to think. But these are two poles of a continuum built into the fabric of our current reality, so he cannot have both.

If squelched issues like vitalism – in the careful form that James Barham raises it – reappear, then they just do. That is not Barham’s fault. He did nothing except live with the freedom to consider new ideas and reconsider old ones.

I'm not sure of the point being made here. If Barham is criticized, it will be because of what Barham says. I doubt that Barham is going to cause any trouble for Shapiro, beyond a possible need for Shapiro to respond. What Shapiro's idea lack, at present, is a comprehensive theory that could replace Darwinism and be at least as useful as a guide to research. He might get some heat for taking his ideas to the popular press instead of keeping the discussion within the research journals. Neil Rickert

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