Evolution News & Views, a leading news source on evolution and intelligent design, lists all of its Top-Ten Evolution Stories of 2013 here, except story #1, which is posted here. This top-ten list should be familiar to my readers at CP, because I have reported on all of them when they were happening, except for a few which I shall mention below. I encourage you to read all of those stories unfamiliar to you as we reflect on the year 2013 with hindsight. To read all the top-ten stories, use the two links above.
- Responding to Charles Marshall's Review of Darwin's Doubt
- What George Church, Famed Harvard Geneticist, Says About Darwin's Doubt
- Darwin's Doubt Debuts at #7 on New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List
- Ball State President Imposes Gag Order on Intelligent Design
- Introducing a New Intelligent Design Curriculum, Discovering Intelligent Design
- How "Freethought" Bullies Threatened College into Cancelling Intelligent Design Course
- New Scientific Volume Challenges Neo-Darwinism, Survives Censorship Attempt
- Lenski's Long-Term Evolution Experiment, 25 Years and Counting
- Science Nationalized: Unleashing the Next Generation Science Standards
- Michael Denton's Peer-Reviewed Paper on the Fitness of the Biosphere
Here are the stories that I did not report here at CP:
The project of developing the theory intelligent design encompasses not only an exploration, free of presuppositions, of the evidence of purpose in life and nature. It also includes an element of intellectual and historical recovery. As Darwinism and then neo-Darwinism achieved dominance in scientific and general culture in the course of the past century and a half, strains of thought that preceded and coincided with this rise, representing truer understandings of nature, were left behind and forgotten.
It's been one of Professor Michael Flannery's wonderful contributions to reintroduce the world to the forgotten legacy of Alfred Russel Wallace -- how Wallace not only formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection simultaneously with Darwin but how he came to revise his "Darwinism" and articulate a version of proto-intelligent design that Flannery calls "intelligent evolution."
Another scholar with Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, biochemist Michael Denton, is currently in the act of recovering a lost legacy of no less significance. In a new peer-reviewed article in the journal BIO-Complexity, "The Place of Life and Man in Nature: Defending the Anthropocentric Thesis," Dr. Denton revives and extends the thought of a leading biochemist of the early 20th-century, Harvard University's Lawrence Henderson. Read more.
In the context of scientific controversies from climate change to Darwinian evolution, the buzz phrase of the moment is "science denial." It's an all-purpose insult term intended to call up images of Holocaust denial, being "in denial" about a range of painful personal issues, or flat-out "denying" an evident reality that's right in front of you. You're supposed to picture a red-faced, intransigent person -- I see in my imagination a little fat balding man with a mustache -- his armed folded across his chest in angry defiance, mouth set in a grim, truculent pucker.
What's so useful about accusing opponents of being science "deniers" is that it excuses you from having to say anything of any substance in answer to their arguments. You'll find the technique on display in a New York Times op-ed by University of Rochester physicist Adam Frank, "Welcome to the Age of Denial," in which Dr. Frank conflates every kind of skepticism on scientific issues, and of course offers no response to any of them beyond the blanket charge of "denying scientific fact."
Today... it is politically effective, and socially acceptable, to deny scientific fact. Narrowly defined, "creationism" was a minor current in American thinking for much of the 20th century. But in the years since I was a student, a well-funded effort has skillfully rebranded that ideology as "creation science" and pushed it into classrooms across the country. Though transparently unscientific, denying evolution has become a litmus test for some conservative politicians, even at the highest levels.
Notice the skilled sowing of confusion here. I'm not aware of "creation science," a/k/a Biblical creationism -- indefensible on Constitutional grounds quite apart from the scientific or other merits -- being "pushed into classrooms across the country." Read more.
The current issue of Science carries a four-page panegyric (Pennisi 2013) highlighting the career of Richard Lenski on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the beginning of his long-term evolution experiment. In 1988 Lenski started what then seemed a slightly wacky project -- to let cultures of the bacterium Eschericia coli grow continuously under his watchful gaze in his lab at Michigan State University. Every day he or one of a parade of grad students and postdocs would transfer a small portion of the culture into fresh media in a new test tube, allowing the bacteria to grow 6-7 generations per day. Twenty-five years later the culture -- a cumulative total of trillions of cells -- has been going for an astounding 58,000 generations and counting. As the article points out, that's equivalent to a million years in the lineage of a large animal such as humans. Combined with an ability to track down the exact identities of bacterial mutations at the DNA level, that makes Lenski's project the best, most detailed source of information on evolutionary processes available anywhere, dwarfing rival lab projects and swamping field studies. That's an achievement well worth celebrating.
Still, the important question to ask is, what exactly has this venerable project shown us about evolution? Read more.
Harvard geneticist George Church has said some fascinating things on the theme of intelligent design. He's particularly interested, if I'm summarizing correctly, in the idea of biology as engineering. So is Discovery Institute's Stephen Meyer. Which is why, having read some of his published remarks, we sent Dr. Church an advance copy of Darwin's Doubt asking that he look in particular at the middle section of the book, "How to Build an Animal," which deals precisely with the massive engineering problems facing Darwinian evolutionary theory.
We were grateful to get back this gracious comment, which appears on the dust jacket.
Stephen Meyer's new book Darwin's Doubt represents an opportunity for bridge-building, rather than dismissive polarization -- bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialog -- and bridges to span evolutionary gaps.
While very gratifying to have his warm wishes, it's not shocking that Dr. Church would share them with us. Back in 2008 he participated in a recorded seminar, "Life: What a Concept!," with Freeman Dyson, Robert Shapiro, J. Craig Venter [I reported on Venter's new lab here], and others. He said:
As a scientific discipline, many people have casually dismissed Intelligent Design without carefully defining what they mean by intelligence or what they mean by design. Science and math have long histories of proving things, and not just accepting intuition -- Fermat's last theorem was not proven until it was proven. And I think we're in a similar space with intelligent design.
An increasing number of scientists are learning to respect intelligent design as a scientific theory, even if many of them are still unconvinced that it is well established. Harvard geneticist George Church is good reminder of this group as we enter into 2014.
In 2014 I shall not blog as often as I had in 2013, but shall focus on the most important stories. My physical therapist, who is attempting to help me unlock some muscles in my back, has called for a reduction in keyboard use.