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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I am woman? I am invincible?: I am having a hard time keeping a straight face, actually

Regular readers with the time to spare for this space may recall that we had a little ID conference at the University of Toronto a couple of weekends ago, and there I ran into an interesting biochem textbook author named Larry Moran, an evolutionary biologist who does not seem to be a Darwinist or a Darwinian evolutionist. (See below.)

He wants to be called an evolutionary biologist , which is fair enough to describe what he does for a living, but virtually every colleague who is a fanatical Darwinist on the issues under discussion will want the same thing.

Larry thinks (see the Comments box) that I somehow benefit from the busload of cranks prophesying in Darwin's name because I want to impugn "real scientists":
With all due respect, I think you're getting a lot of mileage out of lumping the kooks in with real scientists and covering them all with the "Darwinist" label. It allows you to attack and make fun of the kooky non-science in "The Universal Darwinism" while impugning real scientists by implication.

Well, of course, blowing off silliness about the infidelity genes or the God meme is certainly easier than slogging through actual news but - call me unlucky, I've always preferred the news beat. I send up the folly in my spare time, of course, but there would still be plenty of folly if the Darwin cranks packed themselves off to Quaoar for a very long vacation, and I'd still have to make a living on the side.

Larry, who apparently believes that all things work together for good for me, has sent me a link to one of his essays "Evolution by Accident", and I have now read it. He seems to be far more of a Gouldian than a Dawkins-ite.

He writes, in part,
Excellent arguments have been advanced to prove that most of evolution is due to random genetic drift and that's the position I take. Thus, in a discussion about the role of chance and accident in evolution I would say that most of evolution is accidental because of the frequency of drift vs. selection. Note that this says nothing about the perceived importance of these mechanisms. That's a value judgement. Some evolutionists think that adaptation, or evolution by natural selection, is the only interesting part of evolution. These evolutionists don't deny that random genetic drift occurs; instead, they simply relegate it to the category of uninteresting phenomena. Others, like me, think that random genetic drift is far more interesting than natural selection because drift is responsible for junk DNA, molecular phylogenies, molecular clocks, and DNA fingerprinting.

On Darwinism, he writes,
Technically, Darwinism can be construed to mean only evolution by natural selection so this is an acceptable way of avoiding the topic of drift. However, if you read closely, you'll see that these writers are often very sloppy about using ""Darwinism" to describe their interests. The term often fills in for all of evolution in a sort of rhetorical sleight of hand. Thus, this group of chance-deniers tends to eliminate chance from evolution by re-defining evolution so that it only applies to natural selection. As you might expect, those who choose to eliminate chance by redefinition are usually the same people that are only interested in natural selection (see above).

All of which reminds me of the huge uproar last year when Stu Pivar, a friend of the late Steve Gould, told me that Gould was rather an indifferent Darwinist, and Darwinists charged in to protect Gould's reputation from the imputation of heresy.

I wonder if some evo bios can only allow themselves the luxury of questioning a given dogma as long as they all close ranks when attacked. A sort of angry religion without God or good music or Jesus kitsch? Sounds like Hull to me.

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