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Monday, January 16, 2012

The Mind of James Shapiro

I recently read Evolution: a View from the 21st Century by James Shapiro. It was a very annoying and frustrating experience. I do not recommend this book. I've already posted a rebuttal of his silly claim that the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology needs to be revised [Revisiting the Central Dogma in the 21st Century ]

The really frustrating part was trying to figure out Shapiro's agenda. He clearly has one. Is it just that he's against "conventional evolutionary theory"—whatever that is? Or, is he laying the groundwork for introducing God and intelligent design?

Shapiro denies that he's a supporter of intelligent design yet he published several papers with Richard Sternberg, one of the darlings of Intelligent Design Creationism. Furthermore, he (Shapiro) uses many of the same anti-evolution arguments used by Intelligent Design Creationists.

This prompted Bill Dembski to accuse James Shapiro of "dancing in the DMZ between Darwin and design" [Is James Shapiro a Design Theorist?].
For proponents of intelligent design, James Shapiro's constant dancing in the DMZ between Darwin and design can be frustrating. On the one hand, Shapiro is as dismissive of Darwinism as any ID proponent. On the other, he constantly gives public notice that he is not on the side of ID. And yet, methinks he protests too much.
This got a response from Shapiro that has now been posted on Evolution News & Views ["Is James Shapiro a Design Theorist?": James Shapiro Replies]. Here's what Shapiro says ...

What is wrong with "dancing in the DMZ" between intelligent design (as articulated by Michael Behe and others) and neo-Darwinism? Are these two positions the only alternatives? I doubt it. That is why my 1997 article in Boston Review on evolution debates was called "A Third Way." What Dembski calls the "DMZ" (i.e. a zone free of futile conflict) is the place where the real evolutionary science is taking place. I am proud to be there, and I see that an increasing number of people are joining me when they realize that natural genetic engineering, horizontal DNA transfer, interspecific hybridization, genome doubling and symbiogenesis provide solutions to problems recognized to be intractable under the limitations of conventional evolutionary thinking.
Clear as mud. There's one thing I know for sure: horizontal DNA transfer etc. are perfectly compatible with today's evolutionary thinking. If Shapiro is wrong about this—and he is— then maybe he's also misleading us about his belief in intelligent design creationism.


  1. There are no shades of gray here. One requires supernatural intervention and one does not. Where is this DMZ of which they speak?

  2. Margulis wasn't ID, folks who want to see some sort of Lamarckism in epigenetics aren't ID, ...

    I think a lot of people have caveats with whatever they perceive as the currently ruling paradigm and wanna revolutionize it are not ID. But IDologists surely go pilfering in their grounds.

    Evolutionary theory usually absorbs the new facts and adapts to them and is thereafter still called (neo-)Darwinism.

  3. I don;t read Shapiro as being for ID. It seems much more like he thinks that Bacteria have evolved some kind of intelligence and purpose forward thinking, or if not bacteria. the whole of nature. Which I find absurd, but in the end, I think he just wants to be provocative to gain notoriety. This is why he concentrates on extremist selectionism as if that's current evolutionary theory (as he does with that straw-man of the central dogma, or whatever), as if we did not know that point mutations and selection alone are not the only factors in evolution. The strategy is one of painting something as a big problem in science then offer his solution (clear as mud). All pure and nonsensical drama, again, to gain notoriety.

    (That some IDiot worked with him means nothing really. Some ID ass-holes have pursued PhDs for the sake of showing credentials, but have ended worse, because when they have PhDs in an appropriate field we know that they should know better, thus easier to conclude that they are just dishonest pieces of crap).

    Of course, I might be wrong and Shapiro might as well be an ID supporter.


  4. Professor Moran, are you actually going to write a review on this book? I’m interested in what a proper biochemist has to say about these strange ideas regarding "natural genetic engineering" and "genome editing" I haven’t found any academic level rebuttals online. Shapiro has a tone of papers on these topics, how do they get through peer review?


  5. My PhD supervisor once said that Jim's problem is that he wishes he was Barbara McClintock.

    1. As far as science goes, who would not want to be Barbara? Very insightful, and thanks for the compliment, Rosie. Eager to see your review.

    2. Thanks for your work Jim, looked at in a larger context it all makes sense to me… don't know why the blowback. I'm sure everyone has seen "The Tinkerers Accomplice" (J Scott Turner) which goes right with your thinking. Once one wraps the mind around cells having intelligence, this is really a bid "duhh" given what you have pulled together in your lecture for example.

  6. I believe Shapiro did some well-thought-of work back in the day about signalling among bacteria in colonies that allowed cooperation on a greater scale than had generally been considered possible.

    Whether the new work is more of the same (gosh, look at what these simple life forms are capable of!), or, as Negative Entropy said, a bit of an over-the-top push toward teleology to get greater notoriety, more funding, or just to tweak "the establishment" once again, is unclear.

  7. Natural selection only explains the adaptation of species to the environment. Not enough is known about the innovations natural selection acts upon to understand how mammals evolved from bacteria in only 3.5 billion years (common descent). The only theory that attempts to explain common descent is ID, but there is no evidence for ID.

    IDiots try to make their theory look better by comparing it with natural selection. Atheists go along with this scam because they don’t want to admit that ID is a better theory than natural selection in some sense.

    A corollary of the limitations of natural selection is that the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply to evolution, just as it doesn’t apply to the evolution of stars. Nevertheless, there is scientific literature about whether evolution violates the second law. Authors on the “does not” side argue that heat energy from the sun accounts for the increase in order (decrease in entropy). Heat, of course, tends to increase disorder.

    This nonsense reached an extreme level in an article published by the American Journal of Physics (Entropy and evolution, Nov. 2008). This article actually calculates the entropy of the biosphere using the Boltzmann constant and an estimate of the thermodynamic probability of life. I’m trying to get the AJP to retract this absurd article.

  8. Me thinks the only agenda is that of Mr Moran… he's refuted nothing, probably because he can't, it all makes perfect sense. He's got is "ID" googles on and can't see properly IMHO, this has nothing to do with ID, where the intelligence is "God" and created all this way back when… this is about real time intelligence of the cells/organisms.