6 November 2007
Trends in Ecology and Evolution follows the trend, Part III
Michael J Behe
The latest issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (TREE) carries a tediously disdainful review (1) of The Edge which revisits the blunders of previous reviews while adding new ones. This is the third of a three part series concerning the review.
At the end of his essay our reviewer suddenly reveals his skill at mind reading: “It is clear that Behe is driven not by a truly scientific investigation, but instead metaphysics.” And this: “He is obsessed with ‘randomness,’ which he incorrigibly associates with ‘Darwinism’ and cosmic purposelessness.” Now, wait a darn second. Wasn’t it Darwin himself, we are constantly assured, who based his theory on “random” variation? So it’s “incorrigible” to associate with Darwin’s theory something which Darwin himself associated with it? And isn’t there a rather well-known evolutionary biologist with the initials Richard Dawkins currently traveling the world to tell us exactly that Darwinism means purposelessness?
Don’t ask for consistency or fairness here; the reviewer is just setting the stage for the de rigeur condemnation of “blindly held assumptions common with creationists.”
National Center for Monopolizing Reviews
The reviewer of The Edge of Evolution for TREE is a man named Nicholas Matzke, until recently employed as a staff member of the National Center for Science Education. As its website proclaims, the NCSE “is a not-for-profit, membership organization … working to keep evolution in public school science education.” In other words, the NCSE is an organization dedicated to actively fighting concepts like ID. Folks who associate with the Center, both staff and volunteers, are self-selected to be antagonistic toward those who challenge evolutionary theory. Listed on its website as official “supporters” of the NCSE are Sean Carroll, who reviewedThe Edgefor Science; Kenneth Miller, who reviewed the book for Nature; and Michael Ruse, who reviewed it for the Globe and Mail. About the only reviewer for a major publication who isn’t associated with the NCSE is Richard Dawkins!
So, dear reader, a closing point for this post. Out in the real world there are actually many scientists who think deeply about evolutionary theory, who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, and who think neo-Darwinian explanations are missing quite a bit. (I discuss several of these folks in the book.) For example, bioinformatician Eugene Koonin recently proposed that the origin of life might be explained by appeal to the multiverse hypothesis (10) and has compared events in evolution to the Big Bang (11). When warned by reviewers of his paper that he might be giving aid and comfort to ID proponents, Koonin (no well-wisher of ID) in effect remarked, who cares? He is after the truth and won’t tiptoe around worrying about what someone else will say about his ideas.
Good for him! I wish that reviewers of The Edge were like Koonin. Many of them could have engaged the arguments of The Edge of Evolution critically but constructively, and discussion would have been the richer for it. Instead, in my estimation, the NCSE reviewers, true to the organization’s aims of battling evolutionary unorthodoxy wherever it may be found, wrote hatchet jobs. Rather than engaging the book, they wanted it to just go away as quickly as possible. That’s an intellectual shame, but doesn’t affect the reality of life and the universe, both of which, we increasingly realize, are much more finely-tuned and much more elegantly arranged than previous generations of scientists ever knew.
References for Parts I-III
1. Matzke N. J., The edge of creationism, Trends Ecol. Evol. (2007), doi:10.1016/ j.tree.2007.09.004
2. Council of Europe votes against creationist teaching, 10 October 2007, Nature449, 649 (2007), doi:10.1038/449649c
3. Carter,R. and Mendis,K.N. 2002. Evolutionary and historical aspects of the burden of malaria. Clin. Microbiol. Rev. 15:564-594.
4. Mittra, P. et al. (2006) Progressive increase in point mutations associated with chloroquine resistance in Plasmodium falciparum isolates from India. J. Infect. Dis. 193, 1304–1312.
5. Lim,P., et al. 2003. pfcrt polymorphism and chloroquine resistance inPlasmodium falciparum strains isolated in Cambodia.Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 47:87-94.
6. Volkman,S.K., et al. 2007. A genome-wide map of diversity in Plasmodium falciparum. Nat. Genet. 39:113-119.
7. Wootton,J.C., et al. 2002. Genetic diversity and chloroquine selective sweeps inPlasmodium falciparum. Nature 418:320-323.
8. White NJ. 2004. Antimalarial drug resistance. J Clin Invest 113:1084-1092.
9. Roper,C., et al. 2004. Intercontinental spread of pyrimethamine-resistant malaria.Science 305:1124.
10. Koonin,E.V. 2007. The cosmological model of eternal inflation and the transition from chance to biological evolution in the history of life. Biol. Direct. 2:15.
11. Koonin,E.V. 2007. The Biological Big Bang model for the major transitions in evolution. Biol. Direct. 2 :21.