Re: (Fwd) James Shapiro Article (fwd)

Loren Haarsma (
Sun, 6 Sep 1998 15:01:07 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Prof. Pun,

Thanks for posting the interesting article by Shapiro. Shapiro mentions
recent developments in understanding genome organization, cellular
repair capabilities, mobile genetic elements, and cellular information

You wrote:
> Please notice the empirical data he [Shapiro] is presenting that
> cannot be accounted for the traditional Neo-Darwinian model.

If we're going to discuss those developments and their implications for
"Intelligent Design" and "Neo-Darwinism," I'd like to nail down a little
better how those two terms are being used.
Do you mean Neo-Darwinism in the narrow sense --- as Shapiro described
it --- of macroevolution via "...localized random mutation, selection
operating 'one gene at a time' (John Maynard Smith's formulation), and
gradual modification of individual functions"? Or do you mean
Neo-Darwinism in the broader sense, as the term is often used, to
refer to the idea of macroevolution via the entire suite of natural
mechanisms, including those Shapiro describes? If your point is that
these modern developments are at odds with Neo-Darwinism in the
narrow sense, then I agree. But I'm not so sure that these new
developments are at odds with Neo-Darwinism in the broad sense.

Narrowly-defined Neo-Darwinism is generally regarded as predicting that
evolution should happen at a fairly steady, gradual pace. These recent
developments in our understanding of the cell don't fit that model;
instead, they would seem to suggest that --- once all this amazing
cellular machinery got into place (presumably sometime between 3.8 and
0.7 billion years ago), evolution could proceed at a wide variety of
speeds, from long-term stability to fairly rapid morphological and
genomic transformations. That sounds like punctuated equilibrium, and
actually seems to be an argument in favor of Neo-Darwinism in the
broad sense.

It may turn out that these new developments Shapiro mentions do NOT
open the possibility to occasional periods of "rapid" evolution.
It may turn out that they cause real barriers to the amount of change
which evolution can produce, and the speed at which it can happen.
If so, these developments may ultimately be arguments against
Neo-Darwinism in the broad sense. But at our current level of
understanding, that seems unclear.

I'm belaboring this distinction because I have often read ID advocates
quote arguments directed only against narrowly-defined Neo-Darwinism AS
IF those arguments were directed against broadly-defined Neo-Darwinism
(and therefore in favor of divine intervention). Michael Denton's
arguments against Darwinism are a prime example. You, I, Keith
Miller, and Shapiro may be open to the idea of a "guiding intelligence"
--- or even supernatural intervention --- in biological history,
Denton seems much less open to that idea. ("Guiding intelligence" is
another term which will need to be defined. "Guidance" can be subtle,
or obvious, or something in-between.) Although Denton often uses the
term "design," he is primarily concerned with arguing against
narrowly-defined Neo-Darwinism, using arguments similar to the ones
Shapiro mentions.

If we are going to discuss the implications of these developments for
Intelligent Design, do we use ID in the broad sense: that the laws of
nature were designed and intended to produce what we see, in all its
amazing complexity? Or do we mean ID in the narrower sense it is often
used these days: that there were specific interventions in biological
history to produce complexity and novelty which could not possibly have
been produced without intervention? If the argument is that these
recent developments which Shapiro mentions are points in favor if ID
in the broad sense, I most certainly agree (and I'm sure Keith would,
too). But I think it is too soon to say whether or not they are
points in favor of ID in the interventionist sense.

Loren Haarsma