Sunday, October 23, 2005

Schools of evolution ...

In the Oct. 8 edition of the British magazine The Spectator, historian Paul Johnson made a most interesting point in a column headlined "Increasingly it is historians who have the answers in science" (available online only to subscribers). Here's the money quote:
Evolution is ... a matter of history. When biologists tell me, as a historian, to get off their turf, my reply is that I have at least as much right to be there as they do. No one disputes that the evolution of life forms took place. But how? Darwinian fundamentalists -- by which I mean those who claim natural selection is the sole and exclusive form of evolution -- have an obligation to produce a chronology showing how their theory fits into the chronology of life on earth. So far as I can see, it does not fit -- natural selection is too slow to be the evolutionary matrix in all cases. It is on this point that Darwinian theory crumbles. And it is a historical point. Clio knows best.
Please, before criticizing me -- or Johnson -- for espousing creationism, read that passage carefully. Note the phrases "sole and exclusive" and "all cases."
I noticed that, last week, at the trial taking place in Harrisburg regarding the Dover Area School District's requirement that students be made acquainted with intelligent design theory, biologist Michael Behe, author ofDarwin's Black Box, testified. I read Behe's book some years ago and interviewed Behe. The book, as I recall, was strictly about biology -- by which I mean there was no discussion of religion in it -- and Behe seemed a very reasonable fellow when I talked to him. I can't see why Behe's book wouldn't be suitable to a reading list for science students. But, presuming I'm wrong, and it wouldn't be appropriate, what about Evolution in Four Dimensions : Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, by Eva Jablonka and Marion C. Lamb? This posits that not all evolutionary change can be attributed to selection among random genetic mutations; acquired changes, as well as induced changes, also play a part. If anyone out there catches a whiff of Lamarckianism, well, Jablonka and Lamb previously authored Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution: The Lamarckian Dimension. And speaking of Lamarck, what about Lamarck's Signature : How Retrogenes Are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm by Edward Steele, Robyn A. Lindley, and Robert V. Blanden? This shows how at the molecular level characteristics acquired by the immune system can be inherited.
If other factors, besides natural selection, can be shown to figure in the process of change known as evolution, that is something worth knowing. Or shall books such as these not be allowed in the classroom either, because they challenge what Johnson calls Darwinian orthodoxy? (None of these books, by the way, so far as I know, has any bearing on, or in any way makes a case for, intelligent design theory.)

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