Reply to James Shapiro: Further Thoughts on Natural Genetic Engineering and Vitalism

drieschsexperimentIn his occasional series on Huffington Post, James A. Shapiro---a distinguished bacterial geneticist at the University of Chicago---responded to a recent column of mine about his work (originally published on 5/3/2012).

Shapiro's reply was called "Natural Genetic Engineering and Vitalism: What's the Difference?" (5/15/2012).

I have the impression that Professor Shapiro and I are in broad agreement and that the apparent difference of opinion between us is largely verbal. Moreover, I do not wish to appear to be gratuitously manufacturing controversy.

Seeing Past Darwin II: James A. Shapiro

james a shapiroA molecular biologist at the University of Chicago by the name of James A. Shapiro (left) recently published a masterly synthetic work which constitutes the most substantial contribution to date to post-Darwinian thinking in contemporary biology.(1)

The volume in question is entitled Evolution: A View from the 21st Century (FT Press, 2011), and it is simply stunning in every respect.

However, Shapiro's masterpiece is packed with technical detail, and for that reason it may not be as widely read as it ought to be outside of academia. That is why it is so encouraging that Professor Shapiro has decided to publicize the core insights of his work through an ongoing series of short essays---comprising some 15 pieces to date---on Huffington Post's science blog.

Seeing Past Darwin I: The Machine Metaphor

wattsteamengineThe gradual crumbling of the Darwinian consensus, and the rise of a new theoretical outlook in biology is one of the most significant but under-reported news stories of our time.*

It's a scandal that science journalists have been so slow to pick up on this story. For, make no mistake about it, the story is huge. In science, they don't come any bigger.

The story is this:

The official explanation of the nature of living things---and therefore of human beings---that we've all been led to believe in for the past 60 or 70 years turns out to be dead wrong in some essential respects.

What have we been so wrong about? It's complicated, but in a phrase, it's this:

The machine metaphor was a mistake---organisms are not machines, they are intelligent agents.