The now-famous Wistar evolution conference took place exactly 50 years ago at the University of Pennsylvania. An all-star panel of mathematicians, biologists and engineers debated the merits of Neo-Darwinism… based on MATH.
The engineers and mathematicians said, “No way Jose.”
The biologists said, “You guys are ignorant. You don’t understand.”
OK, it wasn’t a fist fight… but it was intense. Fascinating to read even 50 years later. MIT and ivy-league guys duking it out over evolutionary theory.
The papers and transcripts are published in a book called “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution.” You can still get copies, if you don’t mind dropping a couple hundred bucks. (It’s good, but I don’t recommend you pay $200 for it.)
I secured a copy through my local library. Fascinating stuff, especially considering people have now been arguing about THIS conference for 50 years.
The math guys insisted, “This dog don’t hunt. The numbers are impossible. Your model doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board.” But the biologists fired back: “The model works just fine. Look, stuff obviously evolves. What part of this don’t you understand?”
The biologists couldn’t make the numbers work, and mostly dodged the question. The two sides talked past each other for most of the conference.
The question is not whether evolution happens. It does and we can plainly observe it: new structures and species in days, weeks or months. The question is: Where the do the innovations come from? Are they random and accidental? Or are they produced by systems?
None of this was arguments about creationism or whatever. It was simply a study of whether the Neo-Darwinian model actually works. Well, it doesn’t because it’s mathematically impossible. The actual statistics for the idea that random events can improve codes are absurd.
Nowhere in the literature will you find a sound statistical case FOR the assertion that random copying errors, combined with natural selection, can actually generate new species. Run the numbers and you’ll find they’re the worst odds to be found in all of science. Old-school Darwinists are trained early and often to dodge these discussions about probability.
If you have a scientific model and the math doesn’t work, your model is broken. Period. End of story. You need another model.
Most of the biologists were unwilling to accept this. They seemed to feel personally threatened. You hear vitriol and bickering in the transcripts.
New Paradigm for Evolution
The thing they lacked then – that we do have now – was a Post Modern Synthesis. A new model for evolution. When the Wistar conference was held, Barbara McClintock was still 15 years away from winning her Nobel Prize. Symbiogenesis theory had been nearly lost to Russian history, and Lynn Margulis was just starting her crusade to resurrect and popularize it in the west.
Horizontal Gene Transfer was barely understood. Genome Duplication via Hybridization was vastly underrated. We couldn’t sequence genomes and there were no Craig Venter type guys hacking cells and rebuilding their genomes.
Today we know organisms respond to threats in real time and systematically re-arrange their DNA. Cells perform feats in minutes that chance could never achieve in a trillion years. Evolution defies entropy and randomness – through Natural Genetic Engineering.
Old-school Darwinism has been hacking and wheezing for decades. But now it’s dying of emphysema. Meanwhile a promising new synthesis is upon us, one that restores live, results-based experiments to the evolution debate.
Landmark New Conference
The Royal Society of London is hosting a conference November 7-9 called “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives.” If you have any means of getting there, you should register and go.
I will be attending, as will many leaders of the “Third Way” movement. One of the leading lights is biologist Denis Noble of Oxford, who will be presenting his latest findings. For a preview of Noble’s approach, watch his video “Rocking the Foundations of Evolutionary Biology” above. It is well worth your time.
The London event promises to be a lively exchange. I predict it will cripple the twilight efforts to sustain Darwinism by its last holdouts. Folks like Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins, who continue to propagate a version of science that practicing scientists abandoned long ago.
Long live the revolution.
[See my in-person report from this landmark conference here]