Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

“They really fear that, so they are prudent, some in good faith, some for calculated fear of being cast out of the scientific community.”


Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Journalist Susan Mazur continues her series of remarkable articles about dissenters from neo-Darwinism with a compelling interview of Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, professor of cognitive science at the University of Arizona, and co-author (with Jerry Fodor) of the forthcoming book What Darwin Got Wrong.

In the interview, Piattelli-Palmarini points out that many academic biologists muffle their unhappiness with the received neo-Darwinian theory, either out of fear of being ostracized, or from worries about being exploited by intelligent design advocates. Jerry Fodor’s quips about having to join the federal Witness Protection Program, because of his public dissent from neo-Darwinian theory, lend some humor to this reality. If Expelled could be expanded to a multi-part television series, interviews with non-Darwinian evolutionary theorists such as Piattelli-Palmarini — who makes his loathing of ID explicit (see the interview) — would add richness to the complex landscape of opinion, circa 2008.

Piattelli-Palmarini argues that the role of natural selection is limited by the logic of complex developing systems, such as seen in the animal phyla. While selection clearly operates, he says, its power is confined to minor adjustments:

Of course, there is natural selection all around us (just think of the flu virus, mutating and adapting every year, to our detriment) and inside us (just think of our antibodies and our synapses and the pancreas cells and the epithelial cells). The point is, however, that organisms can be modified and refined by natural selection, but that is NOT the way new species and new classes and new phyla originated.

It’s a stimulating interview; check it out.

Thanks for the link Patrick. :) "Engines of variation", eh? Thanks for the tip. JJS P.Eng.
the ideas that came from the modern synthesis (yes, concerning microevolution) are as valid and as settled as any scientific ideas
Agreed 100%. I should have clarified my assertion was only in relation to macroevolution. But in general macroevolution is the main topic of interest on UD, so I generally assume the other person is speaking of it. As to your example from Sean's book, even if we assumed what was stated is correct how would that contradict ID? BOTH ID and the “evolving holistic synthesis” could turn out to be true. In order to function, the “evolving holistic synthesis” requires OOL, which is its own separate question. Besides “directed front-loading” (what I’m calling Behe’s hypothesis in order to differentiate it from other variants) there is the potential that ID only holds true in regards to the OOL. Dembski’s recent work shows that in order to find the targets in search space active information is required. This active information IS the design of the system (code, error correction, self-replication, modular components, plasticity in the language conventions, etc), which allows the “evolving holistic synthesis” to function without there being a directly embedded plan. Thus, it's the initial design of the system that requires intelligent design, not necessarily every step of evolution (although that may be a possibility, via intervention or front-loading). I haven't had a chance to read Mike Gene's book but I believe he has the same or similar hypothesis. Dave described it as the design of the system being "transformer-like". Now here is the real question: would the majority of Darwinists find such a hypothesis acceptable? As in, is it even possible to have a middle ground where both ID and Darwinism hold true? Can’t we just all get along? Even though I’m suggesting this idea I’m not convinced of it myself. I just think it a good starting point where both sides could potentially stop the arguing, the hating, and the career-busting and work toward finding the truth. Also, as you rightly pointed out comparing similarities is not the same as providing positive evidence that Darwinian processes are capable of producing such change. But I'll reiterate myself: "So now the real question is whether ID holds true in regards to the “evolving holistic synthesis” (MacNeill’s term). I don’t think anyone could say for certain at this point; it’s too early. It’s a different question with a potentially different answer."
Could I please get the link to Allen MacNeil’s list of RVs. I’ve been searching for it with no luck.
http://evolutionlist.blogspot.com/2007/10/rm-ns-creationist-and-id-strawman.html On “random mutations” and Allen's claim that ID is using a strawman for evolutionary biology: ID proponents are using the term in reference to everything. For example, in Behe’s new book he lists all the mechanisms on one page but in general he uses “random mutations” unless a distinction needs to be made. Given that definition, these "engines of variation" would all be encapsulated under "random mutation". But I agree that a better term should be adopted, since "random mutation" is often conflated with the over-simplification of the modern synthesis. Personally I think discussing RM+NS is like beating a dead horse even though there’s still many Darwinists that support it as the primary method for producing macroevolution. I’d rather move onto discussing these supposed “engines of variation”. I have a feeling they’ll get more popular so think of it as a pre-emptive strike. ;) Other UD pages where this was discussed: https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/we-is-junk/ https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/evolution/golem-genetically-organized-lifelike-electro-mechanics/ https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/intelligent-design/future-risk-assessment-in-the-genome/ https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/evolution/the-groupthink-syndrome/ Patrick
One thing I dislike about those stories I'm seeing on the scoop site - while I'm glad to see so many issues explored from interesting angles, the hostility towards religion is baffling. ID is one thing, but such anger at even the Templeton organization, which is pretty delicate and vague with what they fund. So much for keeping science from being politicized, with or without ID. nullasalus
magnan, Could I please get the link to Allen MacNeil's list of RVs. I've been searching for it with no luck. In general, I think the upcoming book, What Darwin Got Wrong, and the Altenberg 16 meeting have the potential to really stir things up in the evolutionary biology world (as if they aren't already!). It sounds like a "new evolutionary synthesis" (I sort of like gpuccio's "Neo-Neo-Darwinism" tag - We'll keep adding "neo"s until we get it right!) will likely contain less "gradualism" and more "saltation". Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the reason "saltation" is resisted so much is because it is too close to "creationism"? JJS P.Eng.
Patrick, Until ID's ideas are rigorously vetted by the scientific community through the long-established process of peer review, it will be no more a theory than something scribbled on a napkin at a bar.If you're confident in it, submit it and let the chips fall where they may. with thick skin, persistence and a willingness to listen and adjust to criticism on the part of the authors, almost all good science will wind up being published.. as for bad science, some of it winds up getting published anyway (see any given issue of Nature or Science for at least one good example), but I'd like to think that the majority deservedly does not. anyway I have real publications that urgently need to be tended to, so I will keep this brief. the ideas that came from the modern synthesis (yes, concerning microevolution) are as valid and as settled as any scientific ideas.. I'll add "as far as I am aware" bc I honestly don't keep close tabs on modern synthesis ideas bc I find them boring.. a personal opinion that has nothing to do with their validity.. so i was surprised that you would say flatly state it has been refuted when I had heard nothing about this incredible paradigm shift that would surely and deservedly earn its fathers a Nobel Prize. As for Sean's book, I suggest figure 7.5 as a starting point.. changes from gill-like appendages in primitive aquatic nymphs to two pairs of wings in modern insects are tightly correlated with addition of receptors for the same conserved Hox proteins.. so you get phenotypic subtraction of number but elaboration of form by genotypic addition. here are your two first criticisms: 1) it's just a rearrangement of existing parts. true, but quite an impressive rearrangement that has given arthropods what no one would doubt is a useful ability, flight. 2) how did those new binding sites get there? as far as i know, that's not known yet, but here are a few potential ways: gene duplication, frameshift mutation, exon shuffling. Each of these mechanisms is a specific hypothesis that can be tested by comparative genetic methods. How would you test if they were intelligently designed? forgive me if i am lax in participating in any resulting discussion.. dmso74
gpuccio: I agree with most of what you said. However, I defined "evolution" as the apparently progressive change of biological organisms with time, not as common descent. An "evolutionst" to me is someone admitting to the fact of this and that common descent is very strongly implied by the evidence, but certainly not proven. I agree with your assessment of "neo-neo Darwinism", evo-devo, Allen MacNeill's excellent but fundamentally limited list of sources of variation. These deliberately or unconsciously obfuscate the basic issue of the source of CSI. For those advocates of these new models that reject selection as the important mechanism accumulating CSI, their ideas are incoherent. magnan
Typical. As usual, Darwinists like dmso74 dodge the opportunity to provide positive evidence for Darwinism and instead attack the weaknesses of the ID community, which should not be conflated with ID theory itself, and has more to do with politics than science. I think it interesting his initial reaction is to defend the modern synthesis despite also claiming it's been superseded. Why defend what he knows to be wrong? Although, to be fair, I also think it weird that ID proponents are often preoccupied with attacking Darwin himself and/or outdated ideas. dmso74, you could raise one example from Carroll’s book as a discussion point. Please pick something you feel is the best example of the capability of Darwinian processes to produce constructive positively-selected beneficial mutations. Patrick
magnan: No, it's very simple. If you use the world evolution as a synonim of common descent, my position is clear: I accept common descent as the best theory at present, and I am fully available to assume it as a premise in all discussions about causal mechanisms. Yet, I don't believe that it is a fact: it is not observable. So, what is it? A good theory, supported by many observations (homologies, both morphological and molecular, ERVs, and so on). And I do think that there are observable data which do not fit perfectly with common descent: indeed, all the aspects against gradualism, while not excluding common descent, make it less necessary. Moreover, many of the facts supporting common descent, for instance the homologies, can admit different explanations (for instance, common design). So, my proposal is: let's accept common descent as our favourite theory, but please let's avoid transforming it into a fact, and let's remember that any theory should be open to continuous discussion (including, obviously, ID). In other words, let's avoid the epistemological nonsense so common in the darwinist field. Having clarified that aspect, what remains? Indeed, the most important problem remains, which is the causal mechanism responsible for the generation of biological information. Here again, it's very simple. It seems that we have grossly three positions: 1) ID: biological information is a form of design, the product of one or more conscious and intelligent deigner(s). IMO, obviously, this is at present the best, if not the only acceptable, theory. It does not explain everything, and it does open the way to a lot of future research and speculation. But it is simple, powerful, appropriate and consistent, both logically and empirically. 2) Traditional neo darwinism: let's call it the modern synthesis. In other words, RV + NS. That is a very unsatisfactory theory, it explains practically nothing, and is inconsistent both logically and empirically. But, in a way, it does attempt to give a causal mechanism for biological information generation. 3) Neo-neo darwinism: let's call it the ultra modern synthesis. Put here everything you want, from evo-devo to self-anything, to mysterious organizing principles, to multiverses, and so on. The sky is the limit. The common denominator of this new, apparently smart, and often irritating attitude is: traditional darwinism is no more valid, but we have many fancy alternatives. Not ID, obviously, that is always loathed by some passer by, but many new and beautiful ideas. Only, when you try to ask these people what is the causal mechanism behind biological information, they immediately become elusive, and start treating you with philophical disdain, as though you weren't able to glimpse the new depths and beauties of the ultramodern biological thought. What a pity that, in those depths, there is never a trace of any explanation, of any explicit theory for what they give for granted. So yes, I don't understand. And I am afraid that there is nothing to understand. I can't understand how evolutionists can deny the power of NS, when they think it's fashionable, and propose to substitute genetic drift (a purely random mechanism) for it. I can't understand how Allen MacNeill can make long lists of so called engines of variation, without ever explaining how they work, and without ever computing the mathematical and logical difficulties they imply. I can't understand how all these people can boldly ignore the fundamental problems of CSI and IC, and still affirm that things have come into existence neither from design nor from traditional darwinian mechanisms. So, just to conclude, I accept nothing as a fact, except facts themselves (observable events). For the rest, I compare available theories. As far as I know, there are only two theories which try to offer some kind of logically acceptable mechanism for biological information: one is traditional darwinism, the other is ID. No need to add which is best one... gpuccio
gpuccio (#18): Frankly, non darwinian evolutionists are beyond my comprehension, almost as much as the renowned TEs....if they reject natural selection as a causal principle for macroevolution, and if they recognize that random variation can never have the power to generate the desired information, and if they reject design, what are they left with? There seems to be a logical disconnect here. Or maybe it's just semantics. Are you claiming that "evolution" as defined as apparently progressive change with time, a matter of historical record, is not a fact? Many if not most ID advocates (like myself) accept evolution as a fact and at the same time see that natural selection of random variations can not explain this historical record. Meaning that some form of "design" must necessarily have contributed to the process. magnan
dmso74, I have read Sean Carroll's book and found nothing in it that supported any version of a naturalistic view of evolution, and certainly not the modern synthesis. The modern synthesis supports micro evolution but nothing to do with macro evolution. jerry
"BTW, I would agree that focusing on the modern synthesis is a waste of time. ID successfully refutes it." Really? Can you point me to a peer-reviewed publication to back up this claim? And, in response to your question, Sean's book ,as I mentioned, is an overview of an exciting new area in evolutionary biology (mostly summarizing peer-reviewed literature in simpler terms), not a grand tome explaining life, the universe and everything. dmso74
I don't see why anyone would think that ID explicitly needs some evidence of the supernatural to be valid (It's implicit in the constant reassurances that 'Okay, maybe a whole lot of these popular views are wrong, and evolution needs to undergo a large conceptual change on a number of levels - but all the processes are natural!) At least not if supernatural is something like 'evidence of the ghost of Christmas future having a hand in species development'. The point is that some (many?) ID proponents see natural mechanisms as evidence of design, while having a criticism of an overarching view of all of evolutionary development as unguided. As Patrick says, it'll be interesting to see where this goes. nullasalus
i suggest “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” by Sean Carroll for a nice overview of where evolutionary biology is headed
And what exactly in that book do you think props up the grand claims of Darwinism--that such processes are fully capable of providing the full extent of biology and no Design was involved at all? There's also Jablonka and Lamb’s new book "Evolution in Four Dimensions", Elliot Sober and David Sloan Wilson’s book "Unto Others: The Evolutionary Psychology of Unselfish Behavior", and Lynn Margulis’s book "Acquiring Genomes". BTW, I would agree that focusing on the modern synthesis is a waste of time. ID successfully refutes it. But even if ID is rejected at the outset or is not included in considering the evidence it should now be obvious that the modern synthesis is an inadequate model of biological reality. So now the real question is whether ID holds true in regards to the “evolving holistic synthesis” (MacNeill's term). I don’t think anyone could say for certain at this point; it’s too early. It’s a different question with a potentially different answer. Patrick
Frankly, non darwinian evolutionists are beyond my comprehension, almost as much as the renowned TEs. I may be stupid, but if they reject natural selection as a causal principle for macroevolution, and if they recognize that random variation can never have the power to generate the desired information, and if they reject design, what are they left with? Apart from a lot of vague smart talking, apart from inappropriate references to self-organizations, self-assemblies, and self-whatever you guess, apart from completely abstract references to variations in regulatory genes, which seem to happen by virtue of nobody knows what, but obviously not of a designer, what can the new "synthesis" offer in terms of causal explanations? Maybe Allen MacNeill is right: the neo-neo-darwinists have practically renounced to explain anything, and they are dedicating themselves to build up some new, and smart, natural history, leaving to their unfashionable and dogmatic prejudices the old "Rip Van Winkles" who, both on this site and elsewhere, still believe that science should build logico-mathemathical causal theories to explain facts. gpuccio
Frost, hm, well i am an academic biologist and i am socially liberal but fiscally conservative.. i guess close to libertarian, actually.. i had never thought of evolution as impacting my political views at all.. science is science and politics is politics..and i must say it's funny to think about my colleagues or I sitting in the rainforest setting a trap for a bird or hovering over a PCR machine in the lab, waiting for the latest piece of evidence to further our political agenda.i would say that most of us are motivated by curiosity and the thrill of discovery (plus the chance to play with cool hi-tech toys, visit exotic places and handle animals).. and as far as the interview goes, i thought it was really neat.. i am writing a review paper on self-assembly processes in development of sexual ornaments that argue against the traditional view of sexual selection.. but, as in the interview, the processes are completely natural..so I don't think he's saying anything particularly radical.. since we're suggesting reading material, i suggest "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" by Sean Carroll for a nice overview of where evolutionary biology is headed (and it's not back to the modern synthesis (yawn), despite what some Rip Van Winkles on this site appear to believe... dmso74
joseg re; Scott Adams Sounds like Adams' affirmation theory. I read it in one of his books. Here's a description of it: http://www.graxdomain.co.uk/comments/affirmation;_the_power_of_positive_thinking/184.php DaveScot
dmso74- If you look at who is supporting DE and opposing ID they are by far leftists. The reason is that ID, while not a religion because it makes no moral or dogmatic claims about the way humans are to live- still supports most popular western religions. The NAS and the teacher's unions prefer a more powerful state because they are state run institutions - and if you know any history it is the left that wants a larger more powerful state/ government. The left doesn't like ID because it touches on what science cannot directly get at. Issues of free will and such which undermine the need for a powerful state. I need not make this case because it is totally obvious to anyone who has honestly and open mindedly studied the ID controversy. By supporting Darwinism you need not “support” survival of the fittest. In fact most supporters of DE actually cling to “the philosophy” insidiously imbedded in it such as those "random" mutations. That (random) implies a purposeless universe which is a qualitative view that undermines any reason for belief in anything larger that materialism-- but we know from observations of backward calculations of probabilities as well as natural laws that the mutations are not random. They are strangely symmetrical-- look up evolutionary “modularity” and such. The random part is used to get design out of the question and make the science class room or laboratory an atheistic bastion. You need not read Marx and the like to know that they saw God, religion, spirituality, in any form as merely “the opiate of the masses.” The left looks at design and anything bigger than materialism as being a road block to their utopia. Materialism is a “belief” that almost transcends even the bounds of philosophy- masquerading as impartial science. Another reason DE is a left wing thing is that the teachers in schools like it because it's such a simple theory-- "NS and RM are responcible for everyhting." THis is not science and it is not where origins sceince should be. That is what the article and the interview featured on this thread is all about. Please read David Berlinski’s The Devil's Delusion,- The politically Incorrect Guide to Science- and other tracks like that. Frost122585
Frost, i can ask my question again. what political agenda do biologists have? I suggested capitalism bc the ruthless version of it practiced by eg the Rockefellers seems to be most closely aligned w a pop-culture "survival of the fittest" view of evolutionary theory. dmso74
"it just cannot be the result of natural selection that biological forms show the same forms we also witness in spiraling minerals and in spiral galaxies." Prior to origin of species, we had the very interesting book on Design by McCosh Typical Forms and Ends in Creation (1857) which makes this point many times over. If Piattelli-Palmarini is correct, it is yet more evidence that Darwinism caused a 150 year long retardation of science. Vladimir Krondan
On a lighter note, I'd like to point you guys to a post by Scott Adams on his old Dilbert blog: http://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2008/04/evolution-dmd.html "Recently I read that certain environmental conditions can increase the odds that women will give birth to boys. So we know that external conditions can influence body chemistry which in turn can influence the genetic makeup of the kid. So I wonder about the giraffe with its long neck, to pick an easy example. The classic explanation is that giraffes with longer necks could reach leaves higher in trees, and had a survival advantage when food was scarce. That seems reasonable enough. But I wonder if the giraffes that strained and wished they had longer necks experienced some sort of stress, and giraffe-style wishfulness, that released any chemicals that could influence the odds of producing a long-necked child. In other words, do creatures guide their own evolutionary path through their desires?" I think he may be on to something. joseg
One thing I love about ID is that conversations like this happen. I wonder if Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini realizes that even ID proponents are interested in claims like his, despite his 'hate' for them. Many are fine with evolution, but something seems wrong with the picture as presented. Or notice that some things don't add up. But again - I just like that ID is, oddly, committed to seeing things from more perspectives than the mainstream alternative. He may hit ID, but IDers will listen to him without pulling their knives out. nullasalus
...Piattelli-Palmarini -- who makes his loathing of ID explicit... No scientist in contemporary academia may state or defend the obvious, without fear of inevitable ridicule and excommunication -- the obvious being that the universe and living systems give every evidence of having been designed for a purpose. GilDodgen
Not so fast Francis Collins?.. Frost122585
Yes dmso74. We must stop those evil capitalistic Darwinists at all costs. On an intelligent note, I found this article and think that people at this site in particular might find it very interesting http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=are-there-missing-pieces Frost122585
"No, to speak of Darwinian Evolution is to speak of a false theory that is being forced on people because of it’s usefulness as a philosphical back drop to certain political agendas." What political agendas? Capitalism? dmso74
Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini makes the fascinating comment:
. . .Look, when Sherman stresses that the sea urchin has, in-expressed, the genes for the eyes and for antibodies (genes that are well known and fully active in later species), how can we not agree with him that canonical neo-Darwinism cannot begin to explain such facts?
Sounds like "front-loading" ID to me. DLH
correction: "magnan" says... Frost122585
Megan says,
"Therefore to speak of “Darwinian Evolution” is to confuse that fact with a present theory that explains it."
No, to speak of Darwinian Evolution is to speak of a false theory that is being forced on people because of it's usefulness as a philosphical back drop to certain political agendas. You can try and push off the diversity of life on an imaginary process of mutations and fitness landscapes but there is nothing in the theory of DE-- actually in ANY theory of evolution, that explains why the fitness landscapes work to progress life forms instead of destroying them or being too hostile for them to exist in the first place. DE is is not much of a theory - but the SC that DE cannot purchase can be by ID. Frost122585
One of the very notable passages in the article reads-
"Now, it just cannot be the result of natural selection that biological forms show the same forms we also witness in spiraling minerals and in spiral galaxies. And when we find a “solution” in living beings that turns out to be optimal with respect to many millions of conceivable (and computable, these days, with fast computers) alternatives, it cannot have been selected out of random trials. There have not been dozens of millions of generations of macaques trying out all sorts of cortical patterns of connections, such that only the best survived. That’s ridiculous."
This is the essence of the DE/ID debate. When is the other side going to learn that RM and NS cannot even imaginarily account for the complex specified diversity of life? Frost122585
The Jean Staune paper on non-Darwinian evolutionary theory is very good. The following are some quotes that I think represent the key ideas presented in the paper. I agree with most of them. Evolution is a fact. One must say it aloud and repeat. Darwinism is a theory that presents a possible explanation of this fact. Therefore to speak of “Darwinian Evolution” is to confuse that fact with a present theory that explains it. It is as absurd to speak of “Darwinian Evolution” from an epistemological point of view as it is to speak of “Newtonian” planetary systems. The existence of planetary systems is a fact, and their formation and movements could be explained by diverse theories (Newtonian theories, Einsteinian theories). “The Strong non-Darwinians”: Whether they are members of the self-organization school, or they align themselves with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, they all consider that the Darwinian factors explain micro-evolution (the transition of one species of dog to another) but not macro-evolution (the transition from one genus to another).....The phenomena responsible for evolution over extensive periods of time are not, in their opinion, the same as those that are responsible for small evolutionary changes than the ones we see begin before our eyes. If Intelligent Design rejects the idea of common ancestry, or even if, Intelligent Design is “agnostic” concerning this idea, it would be a catastrophe for any sort of non-Darwinian way of thinking. Recent history fully demonstrates that if you deny the existence of common ancestry, the concluding result of your action will be the reenforcement of Darwinism. The existence of common ancestry is a thing of the past and not of the present. Evolution cannot be established as much as for example, the fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun but evolution is as well established as possible for a phenomenon that belongs to the past. To deny it is to re-enforce Darwinism and to discredit the non-Darwinian school of thought. It seems that the majority of Intelligent Design theorists do not believe in the idea of a common ancestry (fortunately it is not the case of Michael Behe, the historical stronghold of the Intelligent Design movement). It is a very disturbing situation. This is why, if the keepers of Intelligent Design are (like myself) persuaded that Darwinism is false, not for religious and political reasons but scientific, and if, as Christians (like myself) they are committed to the search for the truth; I suggest that they climb onto the nearest tabletop straightaway and yell at the top of their lungs: “Yes! Evolution is a fact!” When young Earth creationists say that the Earth is not older than 10,000 (years) and that mankind existed during the time of dinosaurs, I tell them that if they really want to do something against Darwinism, that they should commit suicide as soon as possible! All the ideas, theories and facts presented here bring us to a conclusion. ...... We have many reasons to believe that something fundamental escapes in our understanding of evolution if we look at it on a wide scale of time, and that a new paradigm is necessary in biology. magnan
Hi Paul. This article reminded me of something we used to have on the sidebar here "Jean Staune - Non-Darwinian Evolution". I added it back. We lost it a year or two ago in a reorg and I didn't put it back at the time. It's a survey of non-Darwinian evolutionary hypotheses in Europe. https://uncommondesc.wpengine.com/jean-staune/ DaveScot

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