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Friday, October 28, 2005

Structuralism a growing challenge to Darwinism? Gould's friend's book to be reviewed in biology journal

When Stuart Pivar, a friend of the later Stephen Jay Gould, recently asked NCSE to change the wording of the statement for the Steve list - downplaying the role of natural selection in evolution - he sure spazzed out a lot of Darwinists.

I find the whole thing both revealing and, in its own way hilarious. In his lifetime, Gould was often suspected as an indifferent Darwinist, tugging the forelock now and then to help ward off the creationists and ID people. Now friend Pivar comes along and says, yeah that's right - and a whole herd of independent Darwinist minds rushes off a cliff - some landing in the briars of obscenity and abuse.

Darwinists often behave as if their favorite belief is a religion. It makes sense then that once Gould was canonized as St. Stephen Jay, he had to be a good Darwinist. Right?

Meanwhile, I've had a chance to read a bit more about structuralism, a point of view Pivar says Gould fancied and that he himself certainly does. Essentially, Pivar argues that change in life forms can be best understood as governed by the laws of physics, rather than by natural selection. He provides a model for the development of the eye by a process of this type.

Structuralism does not deny that natural selection occurs, but does deny that it is a creative force. In structuralism, the heavy lifting is done by physics.

Pivar also talks about Gould's interest in heterochrony (organs and systems develop at different rates in a life form, producing major changes) and neoteny ( a life form keeps juvenile characteristics instead of outgrowing them, again enabling major changes). Indeed, Pivar suggests that heterochrony was "Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of evolution."

I hear that Pivar's book Lifecode will be reviewed in a special issue of International Journal of Developmental Biology (IJDB) Morphodynamics: Bridging the Gap between the Genome and Embryo Physics.

Well now, where does structuralism fit in the evolution wars? If structuralist explanations are cogent, one problem with evolution disappears - the vast improbability that natural selection really does all that Darwinists claim. Thus, structuralism would be good news for evolutionists, but not for the Darwinists who have long behaved as though they own the whole idea of evolution.

How structuralism affects intelligent design theory will depend on whether structuralist explanations account for Behe's concept of irreducible complexity or Dembski's concept of specified complexity.

I'm going to take a flyer on calling some winners here:

1. The structuralists will provide the best explanation for the Cambrian explosion (when most of the general types of life forms arose rather suddenly 525 million years ago).

2. However, some structures will elude a structuralist explanation and be accepted as irreducibly complex. That one goes to ID, along with the origin of life.

3. The Darwinists will demonstrate a number of non-trivial examples of speciation that definitely occurred through natural selection, thus showing that it does happen regularly and frequently.

If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.


Are you looking for the following stories?

Stephen Jay Gould's friend Stuart Pivar says that Gould did not really think natural selection counted for much, and wants NCSE to change the wording of its “Steve” statement, launched in Gould’s memory.

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. It will be interesting to see the line that the “separation of church and state” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Christoph, Cardinal Schonborn is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.
Blog policy note: This blog does not intentionally accept fully anonymous Comments, Comments with language unsuited to an intellectual discussion, URLs posted without comment, or defamatory statements. Defamatory statement: A statement that would be actionable if anyone took the author seriously. For example, someone may say "O'Leary is a crummy journalist"; that's a matter of opinion and I don't know who would care. But if they say, "O'Leary was convicted of grand theft auto in 1983," well that's just plain false, and probably actionable, if the author were taken seriously. Also, due to time constraints, the moderator rarely responds to comments, and usually only about blog service issues.

Announcement: Regrettably, I must now close the Comments box once again. A person identified only as MC Hawking persists in leaving obscene comments. I am partial to the graffiti theory of forensics: If you do not remove graffiti promptly, its unprotested presence leads to further disorders. I have not yet discovered a way to review the comments before they are posted. If anyone knows how to do this in Blogger, do e-mail me at oleary@sympatico.ca Meanwhile, if any gentle blog readers know who this person is, you might suggest online biker bars. No doubt some Darwinists and non-Darwinists want to register their comments in a civilized atmosphere, and people like MC prevent that.

While I am on this subject, one thing I learned at the recent bloggers' conference is that the Internet is intended to be a permanent archive, more or less. A reasonable rule of thumb for bright-eyed young persons hoping for advancement is - before hitting the Send button, ask yourself: Is the manner in which I have chosen to express myself suited to a MORE responsible position than the one I have now?

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