Daniel Brooks is has been living with controversy ever since 1982, when his ideas first appeared in an academic paper, and then when, in 1986, he co-authored with Ed Wiley a book with the title Evolution as Entropy. As well as promoting the idea that evolutionary diversification is to be understood as inevitable because it represents an increase in entropy, he also argued that the theory proposed was an alternative to Neo-Darwinism (widely known as the New Synthesis). In a commentary in Science, Lewin (1982) explained that:
"Responses to the proposal have been mixed and often quite strong. Some consider the theory to be a brilliant insight that will advance evolutionary biology immeasurably. Others vehemently reject it as an ill-founded attack on neo-Darwinism. Curiously, yet others regard it as nothing but neo-Darwinism translated into incomprehensible form. Still others contend that Brooks and Wiley's use of nonequilibrium thermodynamics is untenable in this context."
Evolutionary theories are said to be in the melting pot - but is there a place for design? (Source here)
The background to the 1982 paper was the burgeoning disquiet with Neo-Darwinism. Gould and Eldredge led the way with their assault on gradualism in the fossil record. Brooks recounts his own involvement with a small band of pioneering rebels:
"By 1982, the centenary of Darwin's death, Niles Eldredge and Steven J. Gould had catalyzed a loosely connected group of evolutionary biologists unhappy with the New Synthesis to unleash a cascade of criticisms and proposals. Emboldened by this display of the scientific community at its meritocratic best, Ed Wiley and I entered the fray. The day we finished proofreading Evolution as Entropy, David Hull presciently warned us the fun was over. Soon, I received an envelope from a friend who had seen a manuscript on a colleague's desk. Such privileged material is rarely copied and forwarded. My friend wrote, "I think you and Ed should know what you're up against." The privately circulated manuscript was authored by three academics at the University of California-Berkeley. Ed and I were stunned by its vicious tone. Why the rhetorical heat?"
Intense hostility to new ideas is often because people feel threatened. There is typically more heat than light. Brooks found this an instructive lesson in both the philosophy of science and the sociology of science.
"Hull (1988) proposed that most scientists, regardless of age, don't like new ideas, even ones that support their own worldview ("I already know that, why do I need this?"). They will fight to keep new ideas from becoming accepted unless they benefit their own careers. Ambitious scientists denounce new ideas, co-opting them once the originators have been frightened into silence or to marginal publication outlets. Eldredge's fundamental findings about the nature of the New Synthesis were equally bold - it had all the trappings of a marriage of convenience and none of the appearances of a consensual union. Thus, the status quo reaction to punctuated equilibrium and the other new ideas was a defense of a sociological arrangement, not of a set of scientific principles."
Yet, with the passing of time, with the retirement of senior figures and the entrance of young blood, the landscape of the debate has come to look rather different. Ideas once considered taboo were co-opted into mainstream thought ("we've always believed this"). A willingness to consider alternatives to Darwinism has arrived.
"Again, there are calls for changes in evolutionary theory. This time, the calls are met with celebration - we almost beg for an Extended Synthesis, some new and fresh framework that allows us to celebrate our legacy and add new findings to it. The lack of negative emotion may reflect the co-opting and rebranding of controversial concepts suggested by Brooks and Wiley, Eldredge and Gould, and many others. But again, I think this is an incomplete explanation because it does not explain the positive emotion, which I believe is linked to 1982, through a second atavistic reaction - new life from old, the continuation of life, the extension of life into the future, even notions of renewal and resurrection."
Brooks' search for a way forward led him to the view that Neo-Darwinism differs from Darwinism "on a number of important issues". He refers to the New Synthesis as the "Hardened Synthesis". Nine statements are presented to show the difference between Darwin's view (as expressed in the sixth edition of the Origin) and views held by neo-Darwinians. Brooks argues strongly that changes in evolutionary theory are overdue.
"The eclipse of Darwinism began to end in the 1980s and hangs in the balance today. We need an Extended Synthesis, using "extension" metaphorically. We must extend back in time to recover important aspects of Darwinism that were set aside, then lost during neo-Darwinism, then move forward beyond neo-Darwinism to encompass new data and concepts."
In many ways, this brings us to the beginning of a debate - one which accepts that the neo-Darwinian hegemony on evolutionary theory has to be overthrown and space created for those who are seeking to encompass new data and develop new concepts. Some of us are less optimistic than Brooks that we have reached this stage. Nevertheless, this is the stage which is needed in order to provide a framework for productive discourse about evolutionary biology. ID biologists have constructive things to say on each of Brooks' proposals about the way forward. The reason why these contributions are not welcome is that ID scholars are not materialists and they have concluded that the hallmarks of intelligent design are to be found in nature. Thus, ultimately, objections to ID are not scientific but metaphysical. Failure to appreciate this point will consign the academic world to an impoverished debate which excludes avenues of thought on ideological grounds.
The Extended Synthesis: Something Old, Something New
Daniel R. Brooks
Evolution: Education and Outreach, (March 2011) 4(1), 3-7 | DOI 10.1007/s12052-010-0304-3
Abstract: The eclipse of Darwinism began to end in the 1980s and hangs in the balance today. We need an Extended Synthesis, using "extension" metaphorically. We must extend back in time to recover important aspects of Darwinism that were set aside, and then lost during neo-Darwinism, then move forward beyond neo-Darwinism to encompass new data and concepts. The most comprehensive framework for the Extended Synthesis is the Major Transitions in Evolution. The Extended Synthesis rests comfortably within a philosophical perspective in which biology does not need to be connected with other areas of science in order to justify itself. I am attracted to an older concept in which biology needs a covering law to connect it with the rest of the natural sciences. Darwin implicated a "higher law," but did not specify it. If we can elucidate that law, the Extended Synthesis will become the Unified Theory of Biology called for by Brooks and Wiley 25 years ago.
Lewin, R. A Downward Slope to Greater Diversity, Science, 24 September 1982, 217, 1239-1240 | DOI: 10.1126/science.217.4566.1239
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