Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pierre-Paul Grassé, French biology, and mechanism

Pierre-Paul Grassé is the past President of the French Academie des Sciences and editor of the 35 volume "Traite de Zoologie" published by Masson, Paris. [+]
I think it was Berlinski that hypothesized that the French identification of Darwinism as an inherently Britannic idea allowed their biology to be free of the Darwinian stranglehold.  I almost love the avant-garde stubbornness of it.  Read here about Pierre-Paul Grassé.  He could make you become a Francophile.  
"The opportune appearance of mutations permitting animals and plants to meet their needs seems hard to believe. Yet the Darwinian theory is even more demanding: a single plant, a single animal would require thousands and thousands of lucky, appropriate events. Thus, miracles would become the rule: events with an infinitesimal probability could not fail to occur .... There is no law against day dreaming, but science must not indulge in it."
I would like to sit at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, sip some good coffee (okay, the French do that really well), and talk to Grassé.  Or listen, mostly. "Dr. Grassé, what do you think of the fact that most American biologists think that you can't actually do biology without a commitment to the truth of the Modern Synthesis?"  

Alas, it is too late to have such a conversation with Dr. Grassé. much as it is with Dr. Marcel Schutzenberger.  Though perhaps Dr. Schutzenberger may have said similar sorts of things.

This all reminds me of a Chinese researcher quoted by Dr. Jonathan Wells:
"In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin." [+]
Hey, something has to be sacred.

I just saw that there is a TalkOrigins article that tries to address the anti-Darwinism of the French, which they write off as mere cultural bias (and how much pro-Darwinism in England and America circa 1880-1920 was motivated by trends of atheism and scientism in university culture?) They clarify that it was Prof. Louis Bounoure who said:
That, by this, evolutionism would appear as a theory without value, is confirmed also pragmatically. A theory must not be required to be true, said Mr. H. Poincare, more or less, it must be required to be useable. Indeed, none of the progress made in biology depends even slightly on a theory, the principles of which are nevertheless filling every year volumes of books, periodicals, and congresses with their discussions and their disagreements.
while it was biologist (and atheist, for what it's worth) Jean Rostand of the Académie Française who said, "Evolution is a fairy tale for adults." French atheist and scientist Paul Lemoine who was director of the National Museum of Natural History, wrote in the Encyclopedie Francaise:
Evolution is a kind of dogma which its own priests no longer believe, but which they uphold for the people. It is necessary to have the courage to state this if only so that men of a future generation may orient their research into a different direction.
TalkOrigins explains that Paul Lemoine believed in descent with modification, and so, like Michael Behe presumably, was only referring to a theory about actual evolutionary mechanism, not to the theory that some sort of change over time occurred.  Of course, so rendered, such a theory devoid of mechanism doesn't fit with the umbrage taken over describing neo-Darwinism as "just a theory."

For the sole purpose of false economy of explanation, if there is some evidence of change over time, that is, a presumed relationship of organism A at time X and organism B at time Y, it is presumed that NaturalSelectionDidIt, and any diachronic difference between otherwise similar organisms becomes prima facie evidence of the power of natural selection.

Consider Dr. Paul Nelson's 1995 recollection of an exchange with ardent neo-Darwinist Kenneth Miller (the guy with the mouse-trap tie-clip).
The critical question is one of mechanism. Is it possible for mammals to vary sufficiently for - to take the case of whales - their skulls to be completely remodelled, so that the nostrils (nares) move all the way up to the top of the head? (Indeed, all the other cranial bones must change their size and shape as well.) If not, we're looking at an apparent, not actual, continuum. The designed forms are transformationally discrete, with independent histories. 
That's what I said to Ken, as he was putting away his slides. He replied, "Yeah, Paul, I know, with you it's always 'mechanism, mechanism, mechanism.' But there's more to it than that." 
What the "more" is ain't clear to me.
It isn't clear to a lot of us.  Especially after Eugenie Scott's highly publicized "theometer" comments and the desperate, desperate plea for a mechanism for intelligent design.  Tu quoque?

Back to Prof. James M. Tour:
Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”? 
…I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? … Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me.
How about Dr. Robert Hazen?  Dr. Hazen co-ao-authored an article with Dr. Jack Szostak on "Functional Information" which had a formula that reminds me wuite a bit of some of Dr. William Dembski's formulas.  Dr. Hazen states:
A fundamental law of nature, the law describing the emergence of complex ordered systems (including every living cell), is missing from our textbooks. 1
Why do Robert Hazen and Stuart Kaufman and so many others think we need to specify another fundamental law of nature when we have a perfectly adequate, fully specified mechanism in NaturalSelectionDidIt?

No comments:

Post a Comment