Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Responses from Denis Noble

Denis Noble at the BNF
Denis Noble has sent me a link to a pdf on his website in the form of questions and answers about his seminal paper Physiology is Rocking the Foundations of Evolutionary Biology.

He makes it very clear (of course) that he is not criticising the idea of Evolution, or indeed anything that could properly be called Darwinsim - since Darwin was extremely clear that his theory of Natural Selection was not the whole story.  However he is very critical of so-called "neo-Darwinism" or as he prefers to call it the "Modern Synthesis" because it is far too simplistic and dogmatic.
As Denis says:
The dogmatic claims (a) that the inheritance of acquired characteristics is impossible, (b) that all evolutionary change is incremental accumulation of ‘random’ mutations, (c) that the tree of life does not include lateral transfer to form a network of life, have quite clearly been dis-proven by experimental work. I can’t understand why neo-darwinists cannot accept this. But we must al so avoid the reverse dogma: the neo-darwinist view of evolutionary mechanisms has not been dis-proven. It has simply become one of several mechanisms of evolutionary change. 
He points out that:
Despite the great influence of Popper, single contrary observations rarely destroy a strongly established theory. The tendency is to fix theories, extend them, even to redefine their entities, in ways that allow the contrary observations to be absorbed. This is what happened to Waddington’s work. If they can’t be absorbed in this way, they are sidelined as anomalies. This nearly happened to McClintock until she was awarded the Nobel Prize.
He also explains in some detail what is wrong with The Selfish Gene. He says it is:
colourful, convincing and unforgettable – until one tries to analyse it by the standard philosophical and scientific criteria. Then it unravels.
He points out that: "[Evolution] can’t be reduced to a simple formula with one paradigmatic mechanism." and gives a telling vingnette of a 2009 debate involving Margulis and Dawkins where:
Dawkins challenges Margulis with the simplicity of a single neo-darwinist mechanism: “It's highly plausible, it's economical, it's parsimonious, why on earth would you want to drag in symbiogenesis when it's such an unparsimonious, uneconomical [theory] ? ” Margulis replied: “Because it 's there.” That’s it in a nutshell. What is there, what exists, which is the starting point of all science. 
(video here - commentary here)

{BTW I didn't realise that Caroline Humphrey was Waddington's daughter!}

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