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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:30 PM
Original message
Altenberg 16: An Exposé Of The Evolution Industry - Investigative Science Report By Suzan Mazur
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 04:30 PM by althecat


Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?


An E-Book In 6 Parts By Investigative Journalist Suzan Mazur



Kondrad Lorenz and his geese


Wellington July 11th - Today 16 rock stars of evolutionary science and philosophy are gathering at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria to remix a new theory of evolution. The meeting is closed to the public and media but exclusively here on Scoop over the last six days Suzan Mazur has published the results of her six month investigation into the work of Altenberg 16. Scoop is honoured to present an e-book in six parts... The Altenberg 16: An Exposé Of The Evolution Industry

EVOLVING STORY:


2. Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?
3. Evo Exposé: M. Pigliucci & M. Piattelli-Palmarini
4. Rare Chat W/ R. Lewontin & A. Lima-De-Faria
5. Evo Exposé: The Wizards -- Pivar, Dawkins, Salthe
6. Evolution: Except Vanity Fair Media Doesn't Get It

INTRODUCTION:



"There has never been a theory of evolution." – Cytogeneticist Antonio Lima-de-Faria, Evolution without Selection


No one knows how life began, but so-called theories of evolution are continually being announced. This book, The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? exposes the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover that elusive mechanism of evolution, as rethinking evolution is pushed to the political front burner in hopes that "survival of the fittest" ideology can be replaced with a more humane explanation for our existence and stave off further wars, economic crises and destruction of the Earth.

Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: "ham-fisted", "looney Marxist hangover", "secular creationist", "philosopher" (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), "quack", "crackpot". . .

In short, it’s a modern day quest for the holy grail, but with few knights. At a time that calls for scientific vision, scientific inquiry’s been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival.

Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species – the so-called theory of evolution by natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest, that was foisted on us almost 150 years ago.

Scientists agree that natural selection can occur. But the scientific community has known for some time that natural selection has nothing to do with evolution. It also knows that self-organization is real, that is, matter can form without a genetic recipe – like the snowflake (non-living). It does this without external guidance.

And that the Hydra (living), for example, can self-assemble its scattered cells even after being forced through a sieve. Yet, science elites continue to term self-assembly and self-organization "woo woo".

Coinciding with the 2009 Darwinian celebration, MIT will publish a book by 16 biologists and philosophers meeting in Altenberg, Austria at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in July to discuss a reformulation of the theory of evolution. That’s the mansion made famous by Konrad Lorenz’s imprinting experiments, where Lorenz got his geese to follow him because they sensed he was their mother.

The symposium’s title is "Toward an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis?", although the event is expected to be the actual kickoff of an evolution remix.

Some of the Altenberg 16 or A-16, as I like to call them, have hinted that they’re trying to steer science in a more honest direction, that is, by addressing non-centrality of the gene. They say that the "Modern Evolutionary Synthesis", also called neo-Darwinism – which cobbled together the budding field of population genetics and paleontology, etc., 70 years ago – also marginalized the inquiry into morphology. And that it is then – in the 1930s and 1940s – that the seeds of corruption were planted and an Evolution industry born.

I broke the story about the Altenberg affair last March with the assistance of Alastair Thompson and the team at Scoop Media, the independent news agency based in New Zealand. (Chapter 2, "Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?")

But will the A-16 deliver? Will they help rid us of the natural selection "survival of the fittest" mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, and on which Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are based, now that the cat is out of the bag that selection is politics not science? That selection cannot be measured exactly. That it is not the mechanism of evolution. That it is an abstract rusty tool left over from 19th century British imperial exploits.

Or will the A-16 tip-toe around the issue, appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants?

Certain things look promising. First, while most of the A-16 have roots in Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theory, they recognize the need to challenge the prevailing Modern Evolutionary Synthesis because there’s too much it doesn’t explain.

For example, the Modern Synthesis was produced when genetics was still a baby and we’ve now discovered all the human genes there are to be found. We’ve only got 20,000 - 25,000 of them, roughly what other species have, and those genes arrived on the scene a half billion years ago. So there’s a push for more investigation into non-genetic areas, for how body plans originated, for instance. Charles Darwin never said.

Second, the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis event is being hosted by Konrad Lorenz Institute, where for years there have been discussions about self-organization.

Third, one of the stars of the symposium, New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman, hypothesizes that all 35 animal phyla self-organized at the time of the Cambrian explosion (a half billion years ago) without a genetic recipe or selection (hardwiring supposedly followed).

Fourth, KLI’s chairman, Gerd Mueller has collaborated with Stuart Newman on a book about origin of form. And Newman has other allies within the group, including Yale biologist Gunter Wagner, Budapest biologist and KLI board member Eors Szathmary, as well as KLI’s science manager, Werner Callebaut – a Belgian philosopher who will deliver the non-centrality of gene paper.

I published a "first peek" at Stuart Newman’s concept (Appendix, "Stuart Newman’s High Tea") following his presentation at the University of Notre Dame in March. There has so far been a stonewalling on the science blogs about self-organization. The consensus of the evolution pack seems to be that if an idea doesn’t fit in with Darwinism and neo-Darwinism – KEEP IT OUT!

Meanwhile, Swedish cytogeneticist Antonio Lima-de-Faria, author of the book Evolution without Selection, sees any continuance of the natural selection concept as "compromise". He says Darwinism and neo-Darwinism deal only with the biological or "terminal" phase of evolution and impede discovery of the real mechanism, which is "primaeval" – based on elementary particles, chemical elements and minerals (Chapter 6, "Knight of the North Star").

Lima-de-Faria’s views are considered "extreme" by some science elites 20 years after publication of Evolution without Selection, his book about self-assembly – a phenomenon he defines as "the spontaneous aggregation of biological structures involving formation of weak chemical bonds between surfaces with complementary shapes". However, it looks like some other science elites may be warming up to concepts he laid down decades ago as evidenced by comments at June’s World Science Festival in New York.

Steve Benner, pioneer of synthetic biology and founder, Westheimer Institute for Science:

"But certainly our view of how life originated on Earth is very much dependent on minerals being involved in the process to control the chemistry. . . . So in that sense, I agree with my distinguished colleague from Lund ."

Paul Davies, theoretical physicist and astrobiologist, Director BEYOND Center, Arizona State University:

"There has to be a pathway from chemistry to biology – powerful levels before Darwinian evolution even kicks in."


Lima-de-Faria notes that when Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Alfred Russel Wallace’s essay on natural selection came out, both were criticized. He quotes Darwin quoting a Professor Haughton of Dublin "that everything new in them was false and what was true was old". Lima-de-Faria adds that "time and again, any radically new approach" in science is met with the same response.

The commercial media is both ignorant of and blocks coverage of stories about non-centrality of the gene because its science advertising dollars come from the gene-centered Darwin industry. With declining ad revenue already widespread, and employee layoffs and contract buyouts in the editorial departments of news organizations like Newsweek, Time, the Washington Post as well as the New York Times – reporting on an evolution paradigm shift could mean the loss of even more advertising and/or yet another editor’s job.

But neither will most science blogs report there’s a paradigm shift afoot because they share the same ideology as the corporate media. At the same time, the Darwin industry is also in bed with government, even as political leaders remain clueless about evolutionary biology.

Thus, the public is unaware that its dollars are being squandered on funding of mediocre, middle-brow science or that its children are being intellectually starved as a result of outdated texts and unenlightened teachers.

However, while the A-16 organizers have noted that their July symposium "could turn into a major stepping stone for the entire field of evolutionary biology," this book is not an endorsement of any attempt to "graft" novel ideas onto the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis – only of the decision to begin sorting out the mess. The real task is one of making a theory where none previously existed. That will require casting a wide net for visionaries who have political courage. And it will take some time.

Again, let’s not forget that Evolution is an industry where scientists are media stars with books to promote as well as images. The A-16 are no exception.

….

A remarkable piece of journalism with extraordinary wide ranging implications which Scoop is very proud to be able to present to DU readers.

START READING THE 6 PART EBOOK HERE:

Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?



regards to DU

Alastair Thompson
Scoop.co.nz Co-Editor
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wtmusic Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:38 PM
Response to Original message
1. Shhh...don't tell people how easy it is to get rich
in the So-Called Evolution Industry...you'll sink the boat.

:rofl:
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Sinistrous Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:44 PM
Response to Original message
2. I do hope the rest of this e-tome has more substance than the
ad-hominems, half-truths, and misstatements of the Introduction.

If not, somebody wasted a lot of their time.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:52 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. That's the hook... it is redolent in substantive content.... a veritable treasure chest
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:06 PM
Response to Reply #4
9. Your hook is "ad-hominems, half-truths, and misstatements"? Wow
That's a bit of a damning admission for an editor. Aren't you concerned for your professional reputation, if you go around trashing yourself like that?
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:13 PM
Response to Reply #9
11. Not my hook and not my representation of it.....
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:17 PM
Response to Reply #11
14. Ah, I thought you were claiming the rest of the e-book was what was substantial
and were just admitting the hook was controversial.

So you're claiming that hook has 'substantive content', then? I can't quite see how it isn't yours - I thought you were saying you're the co-editor of Scoop.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:20 PM
Response to Reply #14
16. .... snap...
The book and the hook have substantive content.
The representation concerning the hook - that it is ad-hominem etc - was made by the previous poster and is not admitted, rather I am trying hard to ignore it.

:)

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angrycarpenter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:51 PM
Response to Original message
3. I still don't see where it matters that much
When it all comes down to it, the question of the origin of life is merely a club to beat people over the head with.

Whether we evolved or were put here by a creator changes nothing about the here and now. I personally believe in evolution but as to how the spark of life originated no one can ever know for sure. God or happenstance, that is the question. Anyone who claims to know the answer is full of it.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 04:55 PM
Response to Reply #3
5. The sharp point of this argument is survival of the fittest...
The idea that life was formed in a crucible of competition is the justification behind neo-liberal economics. This is where the rubber hits the road in the political argument about evolution. Creationism is a distraction and only really an issue in the United States.
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truedelphi Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 12:21 AM
Response to Reply #5
24. My thoughts on th esubject would be that
Edited on Sun Jul-13-08 12:21 AM by truedelphi
It is modern industrial mankind that is competitive - for the most part,
things in the natural world are more about co-operation.

Yes there is a certain amount of eat or be eaten in the animal kingdom. But
I notice the neighborhood bad boy cat settles down after he has had his fill,
and once the birds realize his appetite is sated, they all but do cartwheels
off his bulging tummy.
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Alcibiades Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 09:55 PM
Response to Reply #3
23. For scientists, the origin of life is indeed important
It's not simply a club to beat folks over the head with. Maybe that's how the folks you know understand evolution, but that's not what it is for scientists. It's not even a question of choosing between "God or happenstance," because evolution isn't really about happenstance, either. Knowing the truth about the origins of life, even if it bore no fruit, is inherently scientifically valuable.

Without getting caught up in the philosophical question of whether we can ever really know anything "for sure" (which we can, but that's my opinion), it's important to understand that evolutionary processes that govern life on our planet are important "here and how," particularly when it comes to medicine.
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:02 PM
Response to Original message
6. Well the introduction is clearly a load of
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 05:03 PM by FarrenH
crap from someone who doesn't have a clue about evolutionary biology. There really isn't any point in reading the rest. The author or authors clearly have no idea what they're talking about.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:03 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. The rest of the article consists mainly of conversations with eminent scientists
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #7
10. From one of the web's most prominent biology bloggers:
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 05:10 PM by FarrenH
PZ Myers


Altenberg meeting next week: expect evolution to simply evolve slightly

Remember Suzan Mazur, the credulous reporter hyping a revolution in evolution? She's at it again, publishing an e-book chapter by chapter on the "Altenberg 16", this meeting that she thinks is all about radically revising evolutionary biology.

I can tell that Massimo Pigliucci — one of the 16 — is feeling a little exasperation at this nonsense, especially since some of the IDists have seized on it as vindication of their delusions about the "weakness" of evolutionary theory. He's got an excellent post summarizing some of the motivation behind this meeting, which is actually part of a fairly routine process of occasional get-togethers by scientists with similar ideas to hash out the concepts. Here's the actual subject of discussion at the Altenberg meeting.

The basic idea is that there have been some interesting empirical discoveries, as well as the articulation of some new concepts, subsequently to the Modern Synthesis, that one needs to explicitly integrate with the standard ideas about natural selection, common descent, population genetics and statistical genetics (nowadays known as evolutionary quantitative genetics). Some of these empirical discoveries include (but are not limited to) the existence of molecular buffering systems (like the so-called "heat shock response") that may act as "capacitors" (i.e., facilitators) of bursts of phenotypic evolution, and the increasing evidence of the role of epigenetic (i.e., non-genetic) inheritance systems (this has nothing to do with Lamarckism, by the way). Some of the new concepts that have arisen since the MS include (but again are not limited to) the idea of "evolvability" (that different lineages have different propensities to evolve novel structures or functions), complexity theory (which opens the possibility of natural sources of organic complexity other than natural selection), and "accommodation" (a developmental process that may facilitate the coordinated appearance of complex traits in short evolutionary periods).

Now, did you see anything in the above that suggests that evolution is "a theory in crisis"? Did I say anything about intelligent designers, or the rejection of Darwinism, or any of the other nonsense that has filled the various uninformed and sometimes downright ridiculous commentaries that have appeared on the web about the Altenberg meeting? Didn't think so. If next week's workshop succeeds, what we will achieve is taking one more step in an ongoing discussion among scientists about how our theories account for biological phenomena, and how the discovery of new phenomena is to be matched by the elaboration of new theoretical constructs. This is how science works, folks, not a sign of "crisis."

...


The whole presentation of this is completely misleading. Rather get your science reporting from competent science reporters. Or even better, scientists such as Mr Myers.
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:13 PM
Response to Reply #10
12. Thanks - I knew I'd seen something about Mazur a few months ago
The earlier PZ Myers blog post about her and the meeting must have been it.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:18 PM
Response to Reply #12
15. I do not know what PZ Meyers beef is - probably professional jealousy
....

Here is a take on the discussion from a conservative periodical - published yesterday - without the ad-hominnem and including discussion of the subject matter....

 
AAAS' Science magazine/Elizabeth Pennisi 7/10/2008
 

Massimo Pigliucci is no Jimi Hendrix. This soft-spoken evolutionary biologist from Stony Brook University in New York state looks nothing like that radical hard-rock musician whose dramatic guitar solos helped revolutionize rock ‘n’roll. But to Suzan Mazur, a veteran journalist who occasionally covers science,
Pigliucci is the headliner this week at a small meeting she believes will be the equivalent of
Woodstock for evolutionary biology. The invitation-only conference, being held in Altenberg, Austria, “promises to be far more transforming for the world” than the 1969 music festival, Mazur wrote online in March for Scoop.co.nz, an independent news publication in New Zealand.
 
That hyperbole has reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community, putting Pigliucci and the 15 other participants at the forefront of a debate over whether ideas about evolution need updating. The mere
mention of the “Altenberg 16,” as Mazur dubbed the group, causes some evolutionary biologists to roll their eyes.
 
It’s a joke, says Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago in Illinois. “I don’t think
there’s anything that needs fixing.”
 
Mazur’s attention, Pigliucci admits, “frankly caused me embarrassment.” Yet Pigliucci and others argue that the so called modern synthesis, which has guided evolutionary thought and research for about 70 years, needs freshening up.  A lot has happened in the past half-century. DNA’s structure was revealed, genomes were sequenced, and developmental biologists turned their sights on evolutionary questions. Researchers have come to realize that heredity is not simply a matter of passing genes from parent to offspring, as the
environment, chemical modification of DNA, and other factors come into play as well. Organisms
vary not only in how they adapt to changing conditions but also in how they evolve.
 
Evolution is much more nuanced than the founders of the modern synthesis fully appreciated, says Pigliucci.  That doesn't mean that the overall theory of evolution is wrong, as some intelligent design proponents have tried to assert using Mazur's story as support, but rather that the modern synthesis needs to better incorporate modern science and the data revealed by it.   More than genes pass on information from one generation to the next, for example, and development seems to help shape evolution’s course.
 
"Many things need fixing," emphasizes one invited speaker, Eva Jablonka of Tel Aviv University in Israel.  I think that a new evolutionary synthesis is long overdue. ”Modern tradition The modern synthesis essentially represents a marriage of the 19th century concept of evolution with Mendelian genetics, which was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century; the birth of population genetics in the 1920s added to the intellectual mix. By the 1940s, biologists had worked out a set of ideas that put natural selection and adaptation at evolution’s core.
 
Julian Huxley’s 1942 book, Evolution: The modern synthesis, brought together this work for a broad audience. Simply put, the modern synthesis holds that organisms have a repertoire of traits that
are passed down through the generations.
 
Mutations in genes alter those traits bit by bit, and if conditions are such that those alterations
make an individual more fit, then the altered trait becomes more common over time. This process is called natural selection.
 
In some cases, the new feature can replace an old one; in other instances, natural selection also leads to speciation.
 
However, several concepts have arise since then that make the modern synthesis seem too simplistic to some, Pigliucci among them.
 
In a 2007 Evolution paper, he called for the development of an "extended evolutionary synthesis."  His plea coincided with a similar one made that year by Gerd Muller, a theoretical biologist at the University of Vienna. Together, with support from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research in Altenberg, they organized this  week's conference, inviting many who share the view that the modern synthesis is incomplete.  "What's happening now in evolutionary theory is as exciting and foundational as during the early days," says David Wilson of Binghamton University in New York, another attendee.

 
Beyond genes
 
Insights from ecology, developmental biology, and genomics in particular are nudging evolutionary biology away from a focus on population genetics---how the distribution of genes changes across groups of individuals---and toward an understanding of the molecular underpinnings of these changes. Better family
trees that give researchers greater confidence about the relatedness among organisms have helped promote a credible, comparative approach to these mechanisms, says invitee Günter Wagner, an evolutionary developmental biologist at Yale University.
 
Some studies, for example, indicate that development constrains evolution. From the modern synthesis perspective, Wagner explains, "the body plan is a historical residue of evolutionary time, the afterglow of the evolutionary process" such that more closely related organisms share more features.  The alternative view, he says, is that "body plans have internal inertia," and evolution works around this stability. 
 
Austria’s Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research is hosting a much-discussed evolutionary biology meeting.
 
Massimo Pigliucci (right) and Gerd Muller want to update the modern synthesis. 
 
Daring Duo
 
This perspective fits in well with that of Stuart Newman, another invitee to the conference.  A developmental biologist at New York Medical College in Valhalla, Newman and Müller have focused on physical processes that guide how cells organize limbs, livers, hearts, and other tissues. The stickiness, elasticity, and chemical reactions within and between cells, for example, all influence where cells wind up in an organism.
The duo thinks these processes helped define early multicellular life, a time when genetic systems were still quite primitive and body shapes were presumably more plastic than now. Their work suggests that body plans with interior spaces, segments, appendages, and multiple layers of tissue are inevitable. That's "heresy for the modern synthesis but inescapable if you incorporate physics into the picture," says Newman.

Studies of development that suggest how evolution proceeded—the so-called evo-devo approach—have yielded other insights, among them that genes and proteins are arranged in networks that have their own set of properties. "There are lots of interdependencies that allow only certain patterns of evolution to happen," says Wagner.
 
Much like networks, “regulation” is a new buzzword in biology circles; yet it’s another concept virtually ignored in the modern synthesis. Scientists now grasp that gene activity, RNAs, and proteins are all under regulatory controls and that shifts in those controls likely drive evolution as much as traditional gene
mutations that alter a protein’s form. Harvard University’s Marc Kirschner, for example, contends that organisms have long possessed “core” components—the machinery for energy metabolism, pattern formation during development, making cytoskeletons, or cell signaling—that have persisted relatively
intact through time. But he proposes that genetic changes that alter when and where in the developing body these components are used have helped create modern diversity.
 
Wagner thinks that by virtue of the breadth of genes they influence, transcription factors may be central to the type of evolutionary shifts Kirschner proposes.  Changing the regulation of a few factors, even one, could help coordinate the systemic changes needed to make a new trait, helping to ensure that larger muscles
coevolve with bigger jawbones for a more powerful bite, for example. Bottom line: “New traits contain very little that is new in the way of functional components, whereas regulatory change is crucial,” Kirschner
and John Gerhart of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in a supplement to the 15 May 2007 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
The modern synthesis also doesn’t take into account epigenetics A small chemical modification of a DNA base—the addition of a methyl group, for example—can turn a gene off or on as easily as a mutation. Molecular biologists have long known about such epigenetic effects, but only recently have they demonstrated that methylation tags and other epigenetic marks that silence or activate genes can travel from
one generation to the next. That potentially creates a "bewildering increase in the complexity of the entire inheritance system," Pigliucci asserted in his 2007 call to arms.
 
Certain environmental conditions, such as diet during gestation, can alter the epigenetic patterns of the resulting offspring, and new traits that result can last for generations, says Jablonka, who has been striving to get recognition for this mode of inheritance for years. For example, in a study conducted several years
ago, pregnant mice injected with an endocrine disrupter gave birth to males with reduced fertility,
whose subsequent sons, grandsons, and even great-grandsons were likewise affected.
 
Each generation had inherited the same altered methylation pattern of DNA (Science, 3 June
2005, p. 1466). "It's beginning to be accepted that may actually have something to contribute to evolution," says Jablonka. She argues that because these chemical modifications change how tightly wound DNA is, they also influence other properties of a genome that are relevant to evolution. The coiling of a DNA strand, she points out, can alter the rate of mutation, the ease by which mobile elements can move around, the duplication of genes, and even how much gene exchange occurs between matching chromosomes.
 
Beyond reason?
 
As the Altenberg 16 seek to modernize the modern synthesis, other unconventional ideas will be on the table. One is evolvability, the inherent capacity of an organism or a population, even a species, to respond to a changing environment. Introduced about 20 years ago, the concept can help explain why certain groups of organisms readily and rapidly diversified. Consider vertebrate toes: Amphibians have a wider range in digit number than, say, reptiles, which may indicate that the former are more evolvable for that trait, Pigliucci points out. But the question remains whether natural selection favors more evolvable organisms. If the idea of
evolvability wasn’t radical enough, a few researchers have proposed that organisms can stock up mutations whose effects manifest themselves only when the right circumstances arise.
 
Both ideas have their skeptics. “I don’t believe organisms have a closet where they maintain all this genetic variation,” says Douglas Schemske, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Even among those coming to Altenberg, there’s far from universal agreement.
Wagner finds epigenetic inheritance hard to swallow.  "I haven't been convinnced," he says. And some
outside the Altenberg 16 don’t see what all the fuss is about.
 
“I’m happy” with the modern synthesis, says George Weiblen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Others note that some of the items on the meeting’s agenda, such as the role
of plasticity in looks and behavior in evolution, have fallen in and out of favor for decades. “It’s like selling old wine in new bottles,” says Thomas Flatt of Brown University.
 
But these criticisms don’t faze Altenberg’s organizers. The modern synthesis emerged from at least a decade’s worth of discussions. “The crucial point of the workshop is bringing these concepts together,” says Müller. And no one truly expects a scientific Woodstock.
 
“Woodstock was an immensely popular event celebrating a new musical mainstream,” says Newman. “I imagine this will be more like a jam session circa 1962.”
–ELIZABETH PENNISI

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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:44 PM
Response to Reply #15
18. PZ Myers beef is the way very powerful and useful theory
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 05:58 PM by FarrenH
is mixed up with this kind of stuff

In his new book, Reinventing the Sacred, legendary complexity pioneer Stuart Kauffman continues to challenge the view of most biologists that natural selection is the only source of order. However, Kauffman is more charitable than hundreds of other evolutionary scientists (non-Creationists) who contend that natural selection is politics, not science, and that we are in a quagmire because of staggering commerical investment in a Darwinian industry built on an inadequate theory.

True to his research roots in self-organization, Kauffman says life is not based on the replication of DNA and RNA. He also questions whether biology can be reduced to physics, writing that lovers walking along the Seine are not just particles in motion.

He thinks the biosphere constructs itself using sunlight and free energy and that the universe is "ceaselessly creative." And because the future is not really predictable, Kauffman (writing from the Canadian Rockies) recommends we all calm down, remix science with the ancient Greek model of "the good life, well lived," and treat ALL in our global culture as sacred. ...


... that basically has zero currency in mainstream biology, along with the other signposts that the modern synthesis is "severely" deficient and - Oh My God this is asinine - basically only owes its popularity among academic because of commercial interests. That is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now it seems Kaufman is a fellow at the Santa Fe institute with a lot of genuine cred in complexity theory, so I assume he's trying to say something significantly more sophisticated than "selection is a poor explanation". I suspect its more along the lines of "this is the top down view to selection's bottom-up view" - the universe is a kind of iterative fractal, growing more complex by acting on itself. But while this kind of stuff is interesting in the realm of philosophy, it certainly doesn't have the contemporary explanatory and predictive power that conventional ideas about selection do.

What grates especially though, is that the ideas of Kaufman and others are cited in a manner that gives the appearance of a major crisis in evolutionary biology, when in fact there simply is not.

Myers is annoyed, as I think most people interested in the subject would be, because it distorts the public's perception of science by giving them the impression that weak, untested and/or purely speculative ideas have the same value in science as coherent and useful ideas for which there is an enormous amount of evidence. Its like someone throwing tachyon drives from Star Trek into a discussion about internal combustion engines and pretending that the Theory of Cars is in crisis because of our insights into hypothetical tachyon drives. Lewontin is clearly perplexed by the journalist carrying on in this fashion in his interview.

Its not that there isn't some interesting material in the e-book. Its the fact that it is composited and presented in a misleading manner. This is bad science reporting.
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 06:03 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. There are lots of strong viewpoints juxtaposed in this article
And yes some of them express views that some people find objectionable - others less so. I would encourage you to read the views in Chapter 8 of the Swedish scientist Antonio Lima-de-Faria on Autoevolution.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0807/S00077.htm#chapte...

This stuff is very interesting and based in science not new age spirtuality.

As for Lewontin don't you think he is a little bit too touchy in that interview - too quick to say in effect "there is nothing to see here - move on". My response to that interview is to think that Lewontin - a giant in the field - is remarkably nervous about discussing these issues for the same reason that everybody else finds them tricky. If the giants of the field can't even talk about whats going on publicly what hope for open scientific debate and public discussion.

So far as Myers is concerned - yes because of the religious right wing's influence on education in the US this area of discussion arouses strong view points. However name-calling and simply shutting your eyes to these scientific discoveries is in effect playing the very same game that "scientists" accuse the IDers of.

Moreover, and this is the nub of the point that Mazur is making, the traditionally held notion of random mutations accompanied by survival of the fittest - i.e. natural selction - is no longer the only place that the science is suggesting evolution comes from. The mechanisms of evolution are now considered to be considerably more complex and less gene-centered than they were. This is worthy of discussion.

But as the discussion in this thread indicates - the willingness of people to even entertain this discussion is very limited. And I think that prooves the point that Mazur makes. I.E. There are some vert interesting new ideas in the field of evolutionary science that deserve our attention.
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 01:59 PM
Response to Reply #19
31. You're correct in saying that a simple "selfish gene" principle
Edited on Sun Jul-13-08 02:01 PM by FarrenH
is not the sum of evolutionary theory - and this is why we have something called "the Modern Synthesis", which already incorporates far more than that. So if that is the nub of the contention in this work then this work is very obviously misrepresenting science by claiming such a controversy.

Richard Dawkins, for instance, long ago coined the term "meme" to account for the fact that a highly intelligent species such as humanity may have their mating strategies determined by ideas learned after conception, rather than simple genetically informed strategies. Since the mating strategies of individuals add up to the characteristics that survive in the species, these ideas would constitute a kind of phenotypic gene, or "meme". That idea alone goes back to the sixties.

Then there are possible mechanisms that have evolved out of earlier and simpler selfish mechanisms which lead to a kind of altruism, where individuals will even favour strategies that lead to the extinction of their own line, because it increases the survival chances of their close relatives (kin selection).

In any event, mischaracterising the Modern Synthesis to create the appearance of fundamental cracks in its architecture, rather that simply the arrival interesting and new ideas which may enrich it, is misleading. And that is exactly how this series is written.

From Wikipedia

Modern Evolutionary Synthesis


Further advances

The modern evolutionary synthesis continued to be developed and refined after the initial establishment in the 1930s and 1940s. The work of W. D. Hamilton, George C. Williams, John Maynard Smith and others led to the development of a gene-centric view of evolution in the 1960s. The synthesis as it exists now has extended the scope of the Darwinian idea of natural selection to include subsequent scientific discoveries and concepts unknown to Darwin, such as DNA and genetics, which allow rigorous, in many cases mathematical, analyses of phenomena such as kin selection, altruism, and speciation.

A particular interpretation most commonly associated with Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, asserts that the gene is the only true unit of selection.<22> Dawkins further extended the Darwinian idea to include non-biological systems exhibiting the same type of selective behavior of the 'fittest' such as memes in culture. The synthesis continues to undergo regular review.<23>
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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 06:44 PM
Response to Reply #15
21. I saw the article in Science yesterday...
first I had heard of this. But, just from paying atttention to what is going on in bio, its clear that the old "Modern Synthesis" needs an update. In the last ten years, we have had:

1) proof that Horizontal (between species) Gene Transfer (Nobel Prize to Barbara McClintock) is very important.

2) We have discovered that the so-called "junk DNA" in introns is really coding for RNA interference molecules that regulate gene transcription.

3) We have decoded the "histone code", which shows that information is passed between generations by "epigenetic" means.

4) We have counted the number of genes and realized that obscure stuff like "alternative splicing" of exons destroys the "one gene, one protein" dogma of the Modern Synthtesis.

BOTTOM LINE: there are a huge number of Nobel-prize-winning reasons to revisit the Modern Synthesis. This is not just New Age crapola.

----

As for Stuart Kaufmann, he is a complex case. He was instrumental in founding SFI and bringing complexity theory to the forefront. He and Brian Goodwin brought D'Arcy Thomson's work on morphology back from the dead. He is the real deal. That said, he is a windy, vague, speaker. Its easy to blow him off because he is a space cadet. But, he did some good work.

----

I, personally, find this whole cult-like take on 16 people as typical of media feeding frenzies. I doubt these folks are the only ones who think this way. I doubt that there thinking is completely disjoint from mainstream thinking. But, the fucking media always has to turn everything into a confrontation.

This is just science happening. This is just Thomas Kuhn's "paradigm shift" playing itself out in real time.

I am watching this with some interest, as a scientist. This whole argument about the "Darwin industry" seems to me to be overblown. It is for people who want controversy instead of progress. Maybe if I had had to get a grant for A16-style work, and I kept getting shot down by entrenched Modern Synthesis folks, I would buy into this "confrontation" scenario; but I haven't', and I don't.

Thanks for an interesting post.

arendt
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 12:38 AM
Response to Reply #21
25. Thanks for a thoughtful response...
Loads of sensible insight there.
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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 10:13 AM
Response to Reply #25
27. Thanks for an interesting topic.
I posted the "U.S. Graduate Training" story from the same issue of Science in LBN.

Such is my intrinsic estimate of the popularity of science topics (outside the science ghetto) at DU that I never even considered posting this.

If the only science DUers talk about is global warming, pollution, and peak oil, we are adopting the "science without immediate application (i.e., engineering) doesn't matter" attitude of our opponents.

Thanks again,

arendt
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 04:03 PM
Response to Reply #27
33. My pleasure.... n/t
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RainDog Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 05:24 PM
Response to Reply #6
35. exactly. the same person was trying to peddle this b.s. in another forum
the real tip off is the contention that natural selection and survival of the fittest have an ideological goal. this is a misunderstanding by society at large, a misunderstanding by those who do not understand the actual concept of evolution. The author of this load of crap also does not understand evolution.

This is the left wing version of snake handlers. The author of this piece is perverting real science to fit an ideological view. As I noted on the other thread, it is also the very same thing as Lysenkoism, which was an ideological approach to natural selection that also ignored basic understandings of botany and led to the starvation of millions in Stalin's Russia.

Too bad this person can post this crap over and over. I wouldn't bother to continue to say anything (and won't on the other thread) but since I see it's here, too, I think it's imperative that ppl point out the author of this e-book is ignorant about the most basic issues of evolutionary theory.
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Ian David Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:03 PM
Response to Original message
8. If you want to live in the Stone Age, unplug your computer and go live in a cave. n/t
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althecat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:13 PM
Response to Reply #8
13. This is not a about creationism. It is about cutting edge physics mathematics and biologgy.
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Ian David Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 05:35 PM
Response to Reply #8
17. Will the REAL Christianity please stand up?
Meta-groups, wings, families, denominations,
faith groups, and belief systems

<snip>

Sorting Christian faith groups:

Except perhaps for a few years between the execution of Yeshua of Nazareth (circa 30 CE) and the start of Paul's ministry (circa 36 CE), the Christian religion has never been unified.

- Throughout the second half of the first century CE, the Christian religion was divided into three main main religious movements: the Gnostics, Jewish Christians, and Pauline Christians. Gnostic Christians still survive today. All of the rest of today's Christian faith groups trace their history back to the Pauline Christian movement.

- Currently, there are over 1,200 Christian denominations in North America. 1
- According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 34,000 separate Christian groups in the world. 2

Sorting them into categories is a difficult task. Six ways of classifying them are into:

1. Many thousands of denominations:
- There are on the order of 1,200 Christian organizations in North America, and over 30,000 in the world.
- Their names range from the Amish to The Way.
- We have essays describing some of them.

2. Four to eight meta-groups: Most of the Christian denominations and sects in the world can be sorted into about eight segments or branches:
- Roman Catholicism,
- Eastern Orthodoxy,
- Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Churches,
- Protestantism
- Restorationists
- Anglican Communion
- Pentecostals
- Others

Unfortunately, there is no consensus about which faith groups should be embraced by the term "Protestantism." For example:

- Some theologians split out the Anglican Communion from Protestantism.
- Others consider Pentecostalism to be separate from Protestantism.
- Others separate the European Free-Church Family out as a separate group.
- Some include the Restorationist denominations, which includes the Mormon church (a.k.a. LDS) within Protestantism. Some consider them to be a separate Christian group. Still others consider them to be non-Christian.


More:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/christ7.htm


So, I guess the whole Christian thing is all a bunch of hog-wash, since they don't all agree on every single detail.

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Joe Chi Minh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 06:14 PM
Response to Original message
20. The sole interest in Truth of the Selection-by-Nature, scientismificist hirelings
Edited on Sat Jul-12-08 06:50 PM by KCabotDullesMarxIII
is the furtherance of their wretched careers. Scant wonder they appear to feel a curious affinity with the notion of Unintelligent Design by an even more curious Mother Nature, whom I think we should dub, The "Dynamic Mineralist".

I think the Dynamic Mineralist employed the Blind Watchmaker in a moment of absent-mindedness... from which, of course, all this Unintelligent Design sprang forth. Wonderful stuff! Lovely jubbly! Stuff for your intellect to really grapple with. It doesn't get better than this. An absent-minded Prime Mover commissioning a Blind Watchmaker to design a living breathing cosmos without the application of the least intelligence: as an insect might, perhaps? Nah... Mother Nature's got to be mineral. Completely mineral.

In fact, after lengthy computations on my super-computer, I can say definitively that it is either a piece of igneous (lovely word, that) igneous rock or a carbuncle, this latter no more than 2 centimeters across. Although matey called it "the Great Giant Head".
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dixiegrrrrl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Jul-12-08 07:58 PM
Response to Original message
22. Well , I got it directly from a REAL expert about the Universe
The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whiz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light you know
Twelve million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space
Because there's bugger all down here on Earth

(Eric Idle)

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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 01:53 AM
Response to Original message
26. Evolution definitely needs to get out of a couple of jam-ups
About a century back, there was a major dust-up between the mechanists and the vitalists, with the mechanists coming out on top.

The vitalists believed there was some sort of vital principle informing life, guiding both the growth of the individual and the further evolution of the species, acting as both the motivating force and the source of order.

The mechanists thought the universe was nothing but atoms randomly bumping together, and explained the existence of life with a lot of hand-waving and metaphors about monkeys on typewriters producing the works of Shakespeare.

The mechanists never did come up with a proper explanation of how order could grow out of disorder through random permutations -- or how doing significant damage to existing, well-functioning genes could lead to individuals of superior fitness. But at the time that didn't really matter. The real argument was between the those who claimed that science could explain everything and those who insisted science must break down at a certain point and fail to explain life, or consciousness, or whatever other sticking-point seemed handy.

The mechanists decisively won that argument back about 85-90 years ago -- because the 20th century was determined to throw its lot in with science, and the mechanistic view of evolution seemed to be the purest and most scientific available. But it was also narrow, limited, and dehumanizing -- which is why the creationists and IDers are still around. Mechanistic evolution just left too much out of the equation to provide a satisfactory explanation of the abundance and potential of life.

Much of the new evolutionary thought today harks back to the vitalistic ideas that got tossed in the dustbin during the 1920's. Form, for example. In everyday experience, you know that if you're going to cook, say, an apple pie, you'll do best if you have both an idea of what an apple pie should look like and taste like and also a set of detailed step-by-step instructions. However, mechanistic evolution insists that the instructions are all that's needed -- and if they're perfectly written and perfectly adhered to, the result will be an acceptable apple pie. But that sort of perfection doesn't exist anywhere in real life. It's not the way cooking works -- and it's unlikely to be the way evolution works, either.

The problem, of course, is that at this point we have a fairly good idea of how DNA might encode the instruction set for making certain proteins in a certain sequence until you get a certain result. We're a lot less certain of how form could be encoded. But that just means science still has a lot to learn -- it doesn't mean that science itself is inadequate, that "God" is necessary to monitor the kitchen, or that evolutionary theory is a racket.

Another issue is that Darwin's survival of the fittest has been interpreted too narrowly. It has been taken to mean that the survival of the individual always takes precedence over that of the community or the ecosystem. It has also been taken to mean that individuals strive to stay exactly as they are and have offspring that are just like them, instead of incorporating any impulse to improve and evolve. And because of that mechanistic image of living things as the biological equivalent of atoms blindly bumping together, anything that benefits the larger community or leads to further evolution has had to be considered an accidental by-product of fundamentally selfish behavior. Even human beings have to be interpreted as blind to the consequences of their own actions, or the mechanistic model won't work.

In addition to the harm it does to our scientific understanding of evolution, this narrow, individual-centered concept has also served as the justification for free-market economics. The assumption has been that individual selfishness is the only "natural" behavior -- that we resist it at our peril -- but that larger social and evolutionary benefits will inevitably arise as natural by-products of selfishness.

That's an assumption which is clearly false and which we very much need to get away from. Luckily, as with form, it turns out that there's nothing "unscientific" about assuming that these larger values can be hard-wired into us. Quite simply, over millions of years, those organizations which optimize their environment are more likely to survive than those which degrade it, and those which readily evolve to meet new challenges are more likely to survive than those who do not. We don't yet know all the mechanisms -- some of it may involve certain genes operating differently under conditions of stress -- but we can be confident they exist.

In recent years, the creationists have been quick to pounce on any sign of weakness or self-doubt in evolutionary theory as proof that the whole thing is about to crumble -- and evolutionists have tended to dig in their heels and hold onto the old mechanistic formulations in self-defense. But that's been changing around the edges, and hopefully this conference means it's starting to change more publicly.

We desperately need a *real* theory of evolution -- one that would unify our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe and give us a sense of direction in our undertakings. Religion no longer does that the way it did once upon a time. Progressivism originally grew out of the 19th century idea of social progress, but since that collapsed under the weight of mid-20th century disillusionment, liberals haven't had a solid justification for their policies.

Merely insuring a decent quality of life and opportunity for everyone is not enough. We need to be about something larger -- and that has to be grounded in a sense that we and our society are capable of genuine evolution. For that reason, if no other, evolutionary theory desperately needs to get its act together.


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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 10:24 AM
Response to Reply #26
28. Yes. This "long view" fills in around the "short view" I gave in #21
D'Arcy Thomson was the original "form" guy of the 1920s.

And, I completely agree that the Darwinists are dug in because of the creationsists, not because they are "an industry".

Mechanistic explanations just don't cut it at the atomic level. There is too much quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics (can you say "entropy", as in one part of "free energy"?) involved in biochemistry for Newtonian simplicity to work. For example, to figure out which water molecules are tightly bound to a protein (and therefore are effectively part of its shape and electrostatics and van der Walls energy) requires a full-blown statistical mechanics calculation that takes weeks to run and doesn't give the world's most precise answer.

Also, while we have deduced the structures of over 30,000 proteins, and decoded the entire genome, we still don't understand how either one works. So much for Newtonian mechanics.

You brought up that Darwinism justifies Spenceristic economics. But, a lot of people believe that Darwin got his ideas from the economic ideologues of free enterprise in England during his lifetime. Whichever is true, the Social Darwinism lobby is going to push back hard against A16.

So, there are two examples of why this may turn into a fight. In both cases, the people who want to fight are PSUEDO-scientists. Real scientists know the Modern Synthesis needs to include the new facts of this new scientific era.

Thanks for an interesting comment.

arendt
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Joe Chi Minh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 11:22 AM
Response to Reply #26
29. "But that just means science still has a lot to learn -- it doesn't mean
that science itself is inadequate....".

In view of the impenetrable, indeed paradoxical, barriers being thrown up, the deeper the physicists penetrate the subatomic world, that is just half-baked.

The macrocosm has always showed up the empirical scientific Establishment as a bunch of egregiously pretentious "fundies", and always will, as long as they fail to recognise the possibility, even arguably, the probability, of the Peculiarity's being the interface with an unknown super-being, very akin to man's notions of God, failing, as they do so signally, to explain the medium into which the universe is expanding; failing to acknowledge the brutal limitations now being imposed upon physics.

They know that even expressing sufficient interest in it, to acknowledge their helplessness in the face of one of the most fundamental of all paradoxes - which even cavemen would have have been able to see, had they been aware that the universe was expanding, would cut the ground from under their feet in a particularly savage way. As it will. Be sure of that.

The venal, scientismificist myrmidons are not trusted by the bulk of mankind now, but when the "cat's let out of the bag", they will be exposed to a level of ridicule and contempt few people in history could have managed.
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 01:37 PM
Response to Reply #26
30. I'm sorry, I really don't want to come across as insulting
Edited on Sun Jul-13-08 02:03 PM by FarrenH
but this

The mechanists never did come up with a proper explanation of how order could grow out of disorder through random permutations -- or how doing significant damage to existing, well-functioning genes could lead to individuals of superior fitness. But at the time that didn't really matter. The real argument was between the those who claimed that science could explain everything and those who insisted science must break down at a certain point and fail to explain life, or consciousness, or whatever other sticking-point seemed handy.

The mechanists decisively won that argument back about 85-90 years ago -- because the 20th century was determined to throw its lot in with science, and the mechanistic view of evolution seemed to be the purest and most scientific available. But it was also narrow, limited, and dehumanizing -- which is why the creationists and IDers are still around. Mechanistic evolution just left too much out of the equation to provide a satisfactory explanation of the abundance and potential of life.

Much of the new evolutionary thought today harks back to the vitalistic ideas that got tossed in the dustbin during the 1920's. Form, for example. In everyday experience, you know that if you're going to cook, say, an apple pie, you'll do best if you have both an idea of what an apple pie should look like and taste like and also a set of detailed step-by-step instructions. However, mechanistic evolution insists that the instructions are all that's needed -- and if they're perfectly written and perfectly adhered to, the result will be an acceptable apple pie. But that sort of perfection doesn't exist anywhere in real life. It's not the way cooking works -- and it's unlikely to be the way evolution works, either.


Is simply wrong. Its a false history of science. Its basically the logic employed by creationists, whether you believe in creationism or not. It shows a complete misunderstanding of the Modern Synthesis, which does not posit that "order grew out of disorder through random permutations" and in fact quite neatly explains, instead, how very ordered (at a molecular level) species of organisms change over time into other species. In fact the modern synthesis relies on the fact that the universe is very ordered. It is because DNA molecules and cells behave in a particular, ordered manner that species evolve. There is no resurgence of "vitalism" in biology. There is no recipe. No higher guiding principle. And there are no serious evolutionary biologists who entertain such ideas.

There is a lot of misunderstanding on this thread. Some of the posts are indistinguishable from Christian or Muslim creationist drek. I recommend reading the following web sites:

Evowiki
Panda's thumb
Richard Dawkins' Website
The unofficial Stephen J Gould Archive

ETA: Some of the handwaving about Quantum Physics on this thread is similarly misinformed. A lot of stuff at a quantum level is mysterious because it is difficult to see how it coheres with the behaviour (of atoms and molecules) that we see at larger scales. It is because what happens at larger scales of reality (which evolutionary biology examines) is very ordered that it neatly fits into the modern synthesis. Absent some need to examine quantum effects to account for particular outcomes in, say, protein synthesis, there is no compelling reason to bring quantum physics into the discussion, just as there is no compelling need to understand quantum effects to predict that a ball will fall to the ground if dropped from a tall building.
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starroute Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 02:18 PM
Response to Reply #30
32. Then explain the title of Jacques Monod's "Chance and Necessity"
Full title "Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology." Published in 1970, it provides an epitomal example of the mid-20th century belief that evolution could be explained by a combination of random mutation and inexorable natural forces and that any impression of purpose was merely an illusion created by natural selection choosing certain solutions over others. (See more extensive description quoted below.)

It's true that after the adaptation of the modern synthesis in the late 30's-early 40's, science became somewhat less enamored of the idea of pure chance than it had been in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of genetic mutation at the start of the 20th century. But the modern synthesis was never able to do without the element of random mutation to provide the raw material for later selection -- or explain how randomly kicking the shit out of a well-functioning system could provide the starting point for achieving a better-functioning system with anything like the efficiency displayed by actual evolutionary processes.

Remember -- the people who arrived at the modern synthesis had no actual examples of evolution to study. Genuine evolution is normally an infrequent process, and it's only now, after years of patient bacteria-watching, that we're finally seeing documented cases of it. The modern synthesis described certain processes very well, but it never provided a satisfactory explanation of how evolutionary leaps could arise, and it's starting to appear increasingly unlikely that it can ever be tweaked to do so.

From a review of <i>Chance and Necessity</i> at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Necessity-Natural-Philosop...

Jacques Monod, the Nobel Prize winning biochemist, allies himself, in the title of this admirable treatise, to the atomist Democritus, who held that the whole universe is but the fruit of two qualities, chance and necessity. Interpreting the laws of natural selection along purely naturalistic lines, he succeeds in presenting a powerful case that takes into account the ethical, political and philosophical undercurrents of the synthesis in modern biology. Above all, he stresses that science must commit itself to the postulate of objectivity by casting aside delusive ideological and moral props, even though he enjoins, at the same time, that the postulate of objectivity itself is a moral injunction. He launches a bitter polemic against metaphysical and scientific vitalisms, dismissing them as obscurantist, as well as the animist projection in history and evolution, as represented by Teilhard de Chardin and, especially, the Marxist doctrine of dialectical materialism. He refutes teleological explanations of nature as being contrary to the postulate of objectivity, drawing attention to self-constructing proteins as teleonomic agents, followed by an explanation of the role of nucleic acids, reproduction and invariance. This leads him to dismiss Judaeo-Christian religiosity, which accords man a significant role as being created in God's image, as a nauseating and false pietism and he even goes so far as to recommend eugenic reform.


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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 04:50 PM
Response to Reply #32
34. The modern synthesis is exceptionally good at
Edited on Sun Jul-13-08 05:11 PM by FarrenH
explaining how evolutionary "leaps" can be achieved. In fact, evolutionary algorithms are extremely good at adapting form to circumstance. As a programmer, I'm quite convinced of this, as I'm sure is anyone else who's watched such algorithms at work. I find claims to the contrary quite strange. Watch some of these videos:

Evolving creatures in block world

Evolving clocks

In fact, very simple evolutionary algorithms can be applied to just about anything and yield useful and significant adaptations with only the simple requirement of some random change (not necessarily truly random but noisy enough to cover a lot of possibilities) being applied to each generation of a self-replicating assembly in the context of some challenge, from chess-playing scripts to block creatures. What's critical here is that these algorithms yield an explosion of adaptations for any self-replicating units with sufficient degrees of freedom in exactly the manner the Modern Synthesis claims life did

Significant adaptation falls so naturally out of the most basic modify-and-select model in a challenging environment that its simply bizarre to challenge the elegance of the primary pillar of modern evolutionary biology. Their efficacy is such that I've heard of them being applied to large network design and even, via a professor from the University of Athens I once spoke to, to permutations of physical laws in bubble universes (if I understood him correctly).

Whether there is epigenetic inheritance or transfer of genetic material between individuals has no impact on this underlying fact (although inter-individual transfer may accelerate the process). The algorithmic pattern, quite apart from any biological considerations, produces an explosion of forms for even simple challenges. These are interesting additional considerations in the examination of biological evolution, but are not necessary mechanisms. Evolution would happen without them.

The fact that we've actually recorded selective pressure at work in bacteria in such short time periods (the study I'm thinking of was a decade I think) should clue people in to the enormous possibilities (the probability, in fact, of an explosion of forms) when billions of years and the whole of the earth's surface are involved. Its not a "problem" for the modern synthesis. It is the very reason it has such currency.
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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Jul-13-08 10:11 PM
Response to Reply #30
36. I don't really want to come across as insulting, but...
this

A lot of stuff at a quantum level is mysterious because it is difficult to see how it coheres with the behaviour (of atoms and molecules) that we see at larger scales. It is because what happens at larger scales of reality (which evolutionary biology examines) is very ordered that it neatly fits into the modern synthesis. Absent some need to examine quantum effects to account for particular outcomes in, say, protein synthesis, there is no compelling reason to bring quantum physics into the discussion, just as there is no compelling need to understand quantum effects to predict that a ball will fall to the ground if dropped from a tall building.


is "misinformed" as well.

I am so sick of scientific reductionists who seem to never have heard of Godel's theorem. Biology is not reducible to chemistry and chemistry is not reducible to physics. That said, there are quantum effects that make a difference in biology. People have spent the last 50 years trying to understand how chlorophyll keeps the charges created by light separated, collect them, and turns them into ATP energy. This utterly non-trivial QUANTUM process is at the heart of plant life. Tell me again how you don't need quantum mechanics.

The world has rightly moved on from the 19th century "Laplacian Dream" that if we just knew initial conditions, we could solve everything exactly. Right now, when people try to make molecular dynamics calculations of the shape and movement of proteins (which is a very important branch of structural biology - the study of exactly how enzymes work) they are forced to use approximate molecular orbitals that have been cobbled together from ab initio calculations that take weeks. The approximations are plugged into further approximations which take more weeks of runtime on large clusters. Tell me again how you don't need quantum mechanics in biology.

Bottom line, without atomic level understanding of enzyme mechanism, all the modern synthesis stuff is zoology - cataloging interactions without being able to predict or explain them. Reductionism has not been very helpful in all of this.

Just because someone opposes reductionism does NOT make them a creationist. You are making enemies with that kind of rhetoric.

arendt
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eridani Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 03:02 AM
Response to Reply #36
38. Biology is not reducible to chemistry, but it is constrained by chemistry
That is, there is no biology that violates basic chemical principles, but you need a number of extra principles for biological models. Same goes for the relation of chemistry to physics.

The best analogy I ever heard was that physical laws constrain the sounds that a piano can make (it won't ever sound like a trumpet), but there is no limit to the number of musical compositions that you can play on it, and no physical law can predict them.
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 03:12 AM
Response to Reply #36
39. Arendt,
Edited on Mon Jul-14-08 04:12 AM by FarrenH
I'm intimately acquainted with Godel's incompleteness theorem and quite familiar with complexity theory and chaos theory. I have both professional and personal interest in these subjects. I certainly don't believe every possible computation is tractable. I've also got a lay exposure to, for instance, evidence for epigenetic inheritance (via Goodwin's popular work) and the transference of genes between organisms, so I'm not inured in the idea that all inheritance is effected via DNA along a vertical path.

I'm sorry, when I wrote the offending paragraph I was in a cranky mood and conflating your earlier post up with someone else's - yes - thoroughly misinformed post, leading me to the mistaken belief that another poster was doing the woo-woo thing of yelling "Quantum! Quantum! Mystery Theatre!" in the same manner as most new age mystics who don't know a God-damn thing about quantum physics. Yes, quantum effects must obviously feature in biological activities. My post wasn't a denial of that. It was questioning whether the understanding of quantum effects is required before we can safely conclude that inheritance, modification and selection are responsible for most of the biological diversity we see around us.

And the truth is it is not. In fact we didn't even need to know about the role of DNA to recognize and accept the centrality of Darwin's insight to biological evolution, which is why his ideas got so much traction long before we had such intimate understanding of cellular biology. The ratcheting effect of inheritance, modification and selection are evident in every system that has these features, biological or otherwise. Logic alone - simple statistical necessity - dictates that a profusion of roughly adapted forms arises from such a mechanism, without extensive evidence of that explosion of forms even being required. It just falls out of the math.

And whether or not you feel that the modern synthesis is just "cataloging interactions without being able to predict or explain them", some general characteristics of organisms are incontrovertible and clearly evident from their phenotypes. Organisms inherit characteristics from their ancestors. Organisms occasionally deviate from prior generations in the characteristics they inherit. Some of those deviations allow viable offspring and are inheritable. We can say these things with certainty from a vast surplus of macroscopic evidence, without any understanding of cellular components. Therefore, we can say with certainty that, given an entire planet of organisms and billions of years, an enormous amount of speciation and diversity will occur. Its a simple mathematical necessity.

My objection here is not to new ideas that may enrich the model, but to the hyperbole that the foundations of evolutionary biology are shifting - a "paradigm shift" is occurring in the same sense that physics has shifted in the last century.

This post has been truncated because I don't want to write an entire essay, but I have to say the following for completeness lest I be misrepresented again. Obviously, the brief descriptions used here give the appearance of only considering individual organisms in an unchanging environment, whereas in reality the environment is largely made up of other organisms undergoing the same process. I recently read some old commentary by Lovelock where he pointed out that both the composition of the Earth's outermost surface and the composition of its atmosphere is entirely driven by the presence of life, so that even the nature and proportion of non-living components of our environment are largely determined by other living things.

I appreciate this. A more elegant description of the evolutionary process would actually be a description of a point (representing the entire biological sphere) traversing positions representing coherent states in an n-dimensional phase space, but that description doesn't lend itself to easy discussion of the issues being examined here.

I suspect you recognise the fact that the e-books in the OP are sensationalist in their approach, but believe engaging the admitted substance embedded therein will be more fruitful that attacking the obviously wild-eyed and hyperbolic packaging. If so, I have to disagree. Many of the people reading the e-books will take more away from the hyperbole around the interviews than the at times difficult subject matter of the interviews, in much the same way that I took a great many misinterpretations of quantum physics away from books like The Dancing Wu Li Masters in my youth.

And considering we're in the age of the Internet, where people can get far clearer and less fluff-ornamented articulation of this material from the blogs of actual scientists, I think its better to simply steer people to such material. I'm sorry that that may involve stepping on some people's toes, but its better to bruise a few egos than support the dissemination of misinformation.
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arendt Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 07:58 AM
Response to Reply #39
41. Yeah, I was cranky too. Just got done mixing and pouring a ton of concrete, tired...
Edited on Mon Jul-14-08 07:59 AM by arendt
I was reading your post as defending the 1920s version of Darwinism as complete. I felt trapped between two extreme stances. Your current post gives me a clearer idea of where you are at. I'm writing this between breakfast and leaving for work; so I must be brief.

Yes, I agree that you can talk about the mechanism of evolution by selection without invoking QM. I'm glad you appreciate that new discoveries (HGT, RNAi, histone code, etc.) disclose mechanisms far beyond what the 1920s folks had to work with.

The heart of the discussion here is the sensationalism with which this A16 conference has been presented. Science has always been full of prima donnas; and the press has always gone for personality over substance when trying to convey the complexities of science to a less educated public. That said, I do not expect to find this kind of sensationalism in Science Magazine, the lead publication of the AAAS. It is irresponsible to put such a burden on this tiny conference. It could sink a nascent new synthesis, the same way that the Rolling Stone reporter who said "I have seen the future of rock and roll, and his name is Bruce Springsteen" almost sank "the Boss's" career.

Yes, I am sick of New Age shlock pretending to be science. Its like UFOlogy - pointing to the unexplained stuff at the edge and saying that therefore the whole corpus is bunk. Bottom line, the Modern Synthesis has been useful; and it is long overdue for an upgrade. This can and will happen. When it does, it will be a paradigm shift. Meanwhile, we need both sides of this debate. Let me quote from Richard Dawkins' response to Susan Mazur on A16, posted on The Scoop website:

Richard Dawkins:I gather that it's an attack on the gene-centered view of evolution and a substitution of the theory of form.

The theory of form I presume dates back to D'Arcy Thompson , who was a distinguished Scottish zoologist who wrote a book called On Growth and Form and who purported to be anti-Darwinian. In fact, he never really talked about the real problems that Darwinism solves, which is the problem of adaptation.

Now D'Arcy Thompson and other people who stress the word form emphasize the laws of physics. Physical principles alone as on their own adequate to explain the form of organisms. So for example, D'Arcy Thompson would look at the way a rubber tube would get reshaped when crushed and he would find analogies to that in living organisms.

I see a lot of value in that kind of approach. It is something we can't as biologists afford to neglect. However, it absolutely neglects the question where does the illusion of design come from? Where do animals and plants get this powerful impression that they have been brilliantly designed for a purpose? Where does that come from?

That does not come from the laws of physics on their own. That cannot come from anything that has so far been suggested by anybody other than natural selection. So I don't see any conflict at all between the theory of natural selection -- the gene-centered theory of natural selection, I should say -- and the theory of form. We need both. We need both. And it is disingenuous to present the one as antagonistic to the other.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0803/S00270.htm

----

Got to run. Maybe more later.

arendt
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FarrenH Donating Member (485 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 05:26 AM
Response to Reply #36
40. Here's some more from Myers,
with substantially more detail about what is wrong with Mazur's efforts at science reporting:

Journalistic flibbertigibbet


...
I get the impression that Mazur is journalist with no sense of proportion and a rather distressing lack of skepticism. This meeting will not revolutionize science. If we're lucky, a few good ideas will emerge from it. More likely, some people will have a good time, they'll learn a few things, and they'll fly back to work and we won't hear about it ever again.

Mazur desperately needs a tranquilizer, because she has struck again with another exceptionally silly article on this non-story, Theory of Form to Evolution Center Stage. It's a disjointed mess, this amazingly rambling collection of credulous nonsense that mixes up entirely reasonable statements from some participants with flakiness from a few notorious weirdos, with no sense that she's even trying to distinguish the two.
...

I'm not even going to try to wade into the chaos. Let's just bring up a few points that involve me.

University of Torono biochemist Larry Moran, who runs a popular website called Sandwalk, which considers itself the rival to SEED blogger PZ Myers' Pharyngula, asked me: "Why was Doug Futuyma not invited?"

Larry is my rival? That isn't how it works — this is not a zero-sum game. There is no competition. It's rather symptomatic of Mazur's whole approach that everything is viewed as a conflict between everything else.

...

And this is just funny:

Pivar is the independent scientist whose work has been skewered on the blogosphere for not being a complete theory of evolution.

No, no, no — wrong on every count. Pivar is a wealthy art collector who makes millions selling septic tanks — he is not a scientist. Nobody (well, other than creationists, that is) argues against theories because they're incomplete; every theory is incomplete. I don't even know what a complete theory would look like. No, Pivar got mocked because his theory is divorced from reality, built on fantasies instead of evidence. So far, the only person who seems to take Pivar at all seriously is Mazur.

...

Mazur gets even wackier and more dishonest in this article: Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism As Religion And Embraces Form. I hear Dawkins has also stopped beating his wife. Anyway, all she got him to say is that there's good stuff in developmental biology that complements evolutionary biology, and from that obvious and sensible conclusion she spins a bizarre thesis that he has somehow been converted from a religious view.

...


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struggle4progress Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jul-14-08 12:15 AM
Response to Original message
37. Science, properly practiced, is not concerned with philosophical/ideological
issues

It is, of course, true that individual scientists may not be immune from the ideological posturing and that fashion may play a role in funding. It is also true that various philosophical and political pretenders will imagine "ideological consequences" of scientific theories. But the theories themselves ultimately succeed or fail on an entirely different basis, which is really quite different -- and it is completely unclear to me how to explain the matter to a person who wants to evaluate scientific theories on the basis of their ideological implications

It is simply idiotic to attribute "wars, economic crises and destruction of the Earth" to the Darwinian notion survival of the fittest. "Wars, economic crises and destruction of the Earth" are serious problems: they are also as old as civilization. It is true that these problems may now threaten the very existence of our species, and that the problems require real attention, but the problems are real and material in nature -- and they must solved by attention to real material details. Pure philosophical analysis can be of no help here: philosophy can help us make our ideas clearer, but it cannot help us distinguish which ideas reflect the facts of the world and which ideas do not

I started to try to read this "book," but frankly, I can't stomach it: it's fluff. Considerably less ambition and considerably more focus might produce a shorter and much more meaningful text
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