I will be attending the Royal Society Meeting on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. I'll post each of the abstracts and ask for your help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. Here's the abstract for Denis Noble's talk on Evolution viewed from medicine and physiology.
Medicine and physiology are multi-level disciplines. So is physics. From physics we learn that ordered properties at high levels co-exist with randomness at lower levels. Molecules in organisms must obey the same principles. Stochasticity at low levels does not therefore exclude order at higher levels. Organisms enlist stochasticity in their development of functional behaviour, through restraints exerted by higher over lower levels. The physics of organisms must therefore interact with their genomes to produce the phenotype1,2. Reverse engineering from physiological models is then required to understand genotype-phenotype relations3. There is no privileged level of causality4, nor privileged level of selection5. Evolution involves interaction between several processes at multiple levels, as Charles Darwin also believed5,6. Without understanding these interactions, gene-centred approaches will continue to produce disappointing results in healthcare7,8, including trans-generational disease risks.I have heard Denis Noble speak and I've read some of his papers [Physiologists fall for the Third Way; A physiologist thinks about evolution]. Denis Noble is a physiologist who worked on hearts and circulation in complex mammals (humans). He's very annoyed at biochemists and molecular biologists for getting so much attention (and money) over the past few decades. He has constructed in his mind a false image of evolution. He thinks it's entirely adaptationist and gene-centric and that's what he rails against. He doesn't like Richard Dawkins. He's a prominent member of The Third Way.
You can see for yourself by watching a video of a talk he gave a few years ago.
I agree completely with Jerry Coyne's analysis of this talk [Famous physiologist embarrasses himself by claiming that the modern theory of evolution is in tatters]. Jerry says ....
I’m writing this post in a bit of anger, as Noble’s attacks on the modern synthesis are both poorly informed and clearly motivated by his ambition to make physiology a central part of evolutionary biology. Although he’s an FRS and famous, he wants more: he wants his field to be central to evolution. But such misguided hubris is not the way science is supposed to be done. And physiology is already important in evolutionary biology. It’s the reason why we look at the effects of a gene substitution, for example, not as a simple one-gene-produces-one-trait issue, but as a the gene’s overall effect on reproductive output through its effects ramifying through the complexities of development. Noble says that evolutionists are guilty of this “one-gene-one-trait” error, but he’s just wrong: I don’t know a single person in my field who holds this simplistic view.I'm not going to ask any questions after this talk. I'll report back on how many people seem to agree with him.
None of the arguments that Noble makes are new: they’re virtual tropes among those people, like James Shapiro and Lynn Margulis, who embarked, at the end of their careers, on a misguided crusade to topple the modern theory of evolution.
However famous Noble may be in physiology, he’s a blundering tyro when it comes to evolutionary biology. He might try discussing his ideas with other evolutionists and listening to their responses. He obviously hasn’t done that, and yet travels the world trading on his expertise in physiology to show that the edifice of modern evolutionary biology is rotten. And he writes papers to that effect, including the dreadful piece referenced below.
But what’s really rotten is Noble’s knowledge of the field and his claim that virtually every assumption of neo-Darwinian evolution is wrong. In fact, his arguments are so rotten that they stink like old herring.
They’re not even wrong.