A colleague walking the halls at Discovery Institute in Seattle offers a blunt assessment of the proceedings at the Royal Society in London: “It sounds like it was a dud.” Another comments by email, “Except for an occasional outburst (such as [Eva Jablonka’s] “Not God — we’re excluding God”), it sounds as though it was quite boring.” Well, that’s admittedly second-hand.
As I began receiving reports from friendly scientists in the crowd, I had been expecting news of orthodox neo-Darwinists and Extended Synthesis advocates throwing chairs at each other as the ID contingent ran for cover behind the sacred Isaac Newton relics. That didn’t happen.
Again let’s turn to our confidential scientists on the scene. The RS meeting, examining “New Trends in Evolutionary Biology,” was supposed to be an opportunity for the high-placed “Third Way of Evolution” community to display their wares in direct competition with the standard Darwinist offering. Both crowds were on hand, along with the minority sympathetic to intelligent design. You could tell the ID folks because they were the ones not invited to speak.
A European scientist who participated writes:
This was a meeting filled with excellent science and fascinating biology. As an ID biologist, I welcome these great achievements on which my colleagues reported, whether they adhere to neo-Darwinism or to the Extended Theory of evolution. Actually, I believe that understanding all evolutionary mechanisms active in nature is fundamental for all biologists, irrespective of their personal or scientific background.
This meeting has convinced me that we indeed need a substantial extension of the Modern Synthesis (neo-Darwinism) and that the Extended Synthesis helps to better understand the evolutionary process. In addition, the discussions convinced me that the resistance of some biologists to welcoming new ideas may be of a psychological rather than scientific nature.
However, after listening to all these great lectures, I still do not see that one of the fundamental questions of evolutionary biology has been tackled: How do fundamental novelties arise during the evolutionary process? So far I cannot see whether the Extended Synthesis has the potential to solve this problem and I would wish that future conferences will go on to openly discuss this matter. If I could, I would suggest that the Royal Society organize a meeting on “Unsolved Problems of Macroevolution.”
Yes, that would be interesting. Macroevolution is the real problem evolutionary biology needs to turn to.
Back in the U.S., Discovery Institute biologist Jonathan Wells has been following the action, or lack of it, at the Royal Society. He zeroes in on the main point:
The bottom line is that everything being proposed by advocates of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) bears only on microevolution, which has never been what the real controversy is about. (Nobody, as far as I know, doubts that microevolution happens.) And the defenders of standard neo-Darwinism are right: There’s nothing fundamentally new in the EES; it’s just a matter of emphasis.
And so now our own focus shifts north in England, up the M11 to Cambridge University where the “Beyond Materialism: Biology for the 21st Century” conference opens at Hughes Hall on Saturday at 9 am.