Shapiro seminar summary

Joel Duff (
Sun, 27 Sep 1998 20:47:49 -0700


I had several comments to make on my previous notes regarding Shapiro's
seminar at SIU. I had a chance to meet with him later in the day and I
asked him several questions.

One question (shortened dramatically here) I asked was how he felt his
particular views of genomic evolution related to the current understanding
of the origin of life? His answer was very short and I guess to me
unexpected. He said he thought that the origin of life question was beyond
science at this time. From his tone I wasn't real sure what he meant and I
could not get him to elaborate even when I asked him what he thought of
Carl Woese's recent ideas published in PNAS.

In a meeting with several other students we talked at length about adaptive
mutation and I was quite surprised at the inability of nearly every student
(MS and PhD) to grasp what he was saying. They continued to think that he
was saying that cells could target change such that they could create the
new gene that they needed as if they could direct a mutation to occur at
exactly the spot they needed. Even after explaining that the organism
doesn't have to "know" what exactly it needs just that it needs to increase
variability I sensed that most of the students just plain didn't get it and
it revealed to me for the first time just how trapped even evolutionist are
in their own training in the field. I thought he did an excellent job at
catching several students thinking in "units" not in "systems" as he wants.

Overall a very stimulating seminar and discussion. Obviously there is no
love on Shapiro's part for neo-Darwinism and I thought he was over
stressing his position to make his points but I thought, for the most part,
he was a very effective speaker.