From time to time TOF has touched upon the peculiarities of the various theories of evolution: Lamarck, Blythe, Darwin/Wallace, Mendel, Kimura, Shapiro, et al. Prior posts include:
- De evolutione evolutionis
- Happy Birthday, dear Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de la Marck, Happy Birthday to you!
- The End of Darwinism Evolution
- the persistence of teleology in evolutionary thought (apparently tworked off Fodor, who dissed natural selection precisely because it was inescapably teleological)
- the importance of the environment, including the organism's own behavior at shaping evolution
- that genetics and molecular biology may be more important than natural selection
In listening to the talk, you can let most of the technical jargon wash over you. You can still grok the sense of it from the plain English. The technolalia is by way of illustrative example.Dr. Shapiro's point is that the usual model of slow, gradual mutations driven by natural selection is simply not the way evolution actually takes place in practice. Researchers, he points out, have never managed to create a new species by selection; but they have created many new species by hybridization. Selection, he says, is good for fine-tuning a species, but cannot account for the sudden appearance of new forms and structures. It is not "natural selection," but "natural genetic engineering" that accounts for the biggies.
Species, also, that are new, if any such appear, existed beforehand in various active powers; so that animals, and perhaps even new species of animals, are produced by putrefaction by the power which the stars and elements received at the beginning.The organism's response to the environment, especially to the environment in stress, calls upon the natural genetic engineering powers of the genome. These are neither random nor deterministic. In fact, the famous random mutations upon which so many have relied are quite often repaired by natural "proofreading" functions of the genome itself.
-- Summa theologica, Part I Q73 A1 reply3
If fortuitous mutations were the basis, the development of resistant bacteria would be hard to account for. We would have to believe that a fortuitous mutation just happened to pop up following the invention of a medicine and then was naturally selected by surviving the treatment regimen. But if we allow that (in Shapiro's words) the genome is not a read-only memory, but a read-write memory, it is the organism's encounter with the medicine that evokes an immunizing response. That is, the mutation is not random.
Starting about 0:53:00 Shapiro makes the interesting statement that specific mutations are "drawn to" specific loci in the genome by intercellular signals within the genome itself. Physicists may perk up and think "attractor basins," though Shapiro himself does not commit during the Q&A when someone brings it up. But it is certainly an example of natural teleology at work: there is an end toward which this mutational process works as an arrow toward a target. Genetic change is therefor often specific and targeted.
Those who do not understand what telos means tend to raise hackles at this point, since they assume the connection between natural telos and deity is simple and direct. Discomfort with the conclusion leads them to deny the premise (as they oft deny the Big Bang, the freedom of the will, the consciousness of the self, and sundry other matters for similar reasons.) But Thomas did not think the connection simple and direct. He thought telos in nature was obvious, but that to get from there to deity required difficult reasoning.
Starting around 0:56:20, Shapiro explains how macro-evolutionary change can be accounted for. Apparently, the original ID claim (by Michael Behe, also a molecular biologist) that there are biomolecular structures that cannot be accounted for by incremental natural selection is not especially controversial. Shapiro contends that these structures can be accounted for instead by natural genetic engineering and explains in this section of the talk how genetic change can be massive as well as targeted.
Broad-scale change, all of a sudden... IOW, "punctuated equilibrium is the default." Creativity in evolution occurs through natural genetic engineering, after which fine-tuning takes place through natural selection. Around 1:05:00, Shapiro mentions a biologist who disagrees with the new theory of natural genetic engineering and punctuated equilibrium and who claims per Darwinian orthodoxy that small, gradual changes can still account for everything, even crossing a chasm. This is a fellow named Jerry Coyne, whom we have encountered before denying free will.
Creation and Evolution: A Conference with Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo. )
Behe's mistake was to deduce deity from the incompleteness of one natural law. This does not follow. In the first place, it is bad theology. Thomas reasoned to deity not from the apparent failure of natural laws but from the very existence of natural laws themselves. As noted above, he expected the origin of new species to be accountable by the natural powers given to nature in the beginning. But then Behe even tried to instruct Cardinal Schoenborn on this matter!
Summary for SF
|Wall lizard among the wall flowers|
We may suppose that for complex organisms such as human beings this may take longer -- however many generations 20 years represents for finches and lizards. But it is not beyond reasonable science to say that of an environment "that which does not kill me makes me stronger."