Monday, June 30, 2008

Terminal Moran

It’s all too typical to see Larry Moran getting uptight in this blog entry about the Darwin symposium held at the Royal Ontario Museum. Apparently an inordinate amount of time was given to the adaptionist view of evolution and other mechanisms of evolution were all but ignored. He called it an adaptionist lovefest. Now, I have favoured Prof Moran’s ‘pluralist’ view on evolution from day one - in particular the notion that ‘genetic’ drift is a factor in evolutionary change. Genetic drift reminds me of the tendency of a language to drift over time – random changes in the language move it along a line of possibility where functionality is neither impaired nor enhanced and this constitutes a ‘neutral’ change. The abstract construction I have in my mind is of morphospace being laced with contours of structural stability and a kind of diffusion motion exploring these morphological ‘isobars’ in a cosmos that is in morphological disequilibrium. The conjectured fibril/spongey structure of functionality in morphospace may have a diversity of regions displaying equilbria, instabilities and non-linearities, and these might provide a way to explain the vagaries, surprises and starts and stops of evolutionary change.

Larry gets uptight about a non-pluralist view because an exclusively adaptionist view weakens the explanatory power of evolutionary theory. And Larry needs a strong theory of evolution because it defers or even obscures the deep questions over ultimate ontology that are waiting in the wings and which might threaten a vanilla atheism. Anyone like myself who so much as conjectures about the outer theoretical context framing our cosmos and the possibility of a God like object is likely to be looked at askance, if not accused of superstition.

On the other hand perhaps the emotional investment here is needed, needed to propel the investigation down a particular avenue of research. People like myself who are under motivated about whether or not evolution is a ‘fact’ perhaps will lack the focus on a particular theoretical outlook. What better person to the drive evolutionary option than someone who has backed themselves into an ontological corner because their world view and everything they stand for is threatened if evolution doesn’t stand up?

But by the same token we need those of an opposite persuasion. The theoretical notion of a morphospace with connected domains of functionality requires adversaries to generate contra evidence. Hence I have turned to the ID people on Uncommon Descent. They are delighted with a question like ‘Is Darwin past its sell by date’, a question, which was bandied about at the symposium much to Larry’s annoyance. Such phrases hint that evolutionary theory is not as robust as Larry, with his atheism or bust weltanschauung, would like. For me the input from ID theorists is not only respected but is vitally important to test this vague notion of a connected morphospace probed by the requisite motions. Given my state of knowledge there is the possibility that the ID contention about the unevolvability of biological structures is right and therefore it needs to be investigated. However, to so much as take their efforts seriously will upset people like Larry; he - necessarily in order to protect his world view – regards them all as ‘IDiots’, because that excuses him from giving them countenance! Trouble, is some of the ID people have also backed themselves into a corner and like Larry are effectively partisan and crusading converts to their cause. They are all liable to shoot first and asked questions afterwards, or even worse not bother with the questions at all. If you go in make sure you’ve got a skin as thick as a rhinoceros. Both are at the end of the line with no way out.


Larry Moran said...

Let's get a few things straight. I agree with the IDiots that there are serious debates going on within evolutionary biology.

What I objected to at the symposium was that the speakers all but ignored those controversies. There's much more to evolution than just Darwinism. That's a lesson that the IDiots could learn as well.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Thanks for turning up Larry: this is a nice quiet and cosy corner of the Internet that doesn’t often get celebrity visits, so I’m honored.

Yes, the symposium seems to have passed on that greatest of human insults: that of ignoring the work of others (ignoring people certainly isn’t one your faults!)

Let me be frank Larry: I try hard to face my demons and worst nightmares, particularly that of being radically wrong in my guesses as to the fundamental nature of the cosmos. A theist? Then face the possibility that the outermost ontological explanatory framework may be utterly impersonal. An atheist? What if aseity only works if that outer framework has a priori intelligence and personality? (if so I don’t fancy ignoring the work of that Person!) An evolutionist? What if there are hidden ‘bugs’ in the complex object of evolutionary theory that causes the putative evolutionary ‘change’ to ‘lock up’? An ID theorist? Isn’t intelligence itself a trial and error process akin to evolution?

Some people aren’t facing their demons. But it is easy for me to say that – I’m not being hassled by a following or benefactors I’m trying to be answerable to. (Apart from the wife!)