THE ALTENBERG 16
Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?
By SUZAN MAZUR
No one knows how life began, but so-called theories of evolution are continually being announced. This book, The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? exposes the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover that elusive mechanism of evolution, as rethinking evolution is pushed to the political front burner in hopes that “survival of the fittest” ideology can be replaced with a more humane explanation for our existence and stave off further wars, economic crises and destruction of the Earth.
Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: “ham-fisted”, “looney Marxist hangover”, “secular creationist”, “philosopher” (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), “quack”, “crackpot”. . .
In short, it’s a modern day quest for the holy grail, but with few knights. At a time that calls for scientific vision, scientific inquiry’s been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival.
Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species – the so-called theory of evolution by natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest, that was foisted on us almost 150 years ago.
Scientists agree that natural selection can occur. But the scientific community has known for some time that natural selection has nothing to do with evolution. It also knows that self-assembly is real, that is, matter can form without a genetic recipe – like the snowflake (non-living). It does this without external guidance.
And that the Hydra (living), for example, can self-organize its scattered cells even after being forced through a sieve. Yet, science elites continue to term self-assembly and self-organization “woo woo”.
Coinciding with the 2009 Darwinian celebration, MIT will publish a book by 16 biologists and philosophers meeting in Altenberg, Austria at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in July to discuss a reformulation of the theory of evolution. That’s the mansion made famous by Konrad Lorenz’s imprinting experiments, where Lorenz got his geese to follow him because they sensed he was their mother.
The symposium’s title is “Toward an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis?”, although the event is expected to be the actual kickoff of an evolution remix.
Some of the Altenberg 16 or A-16, as I like to call them, have hinted that they’re trying to steer science in a more honest direction, that is, by addressing non-centrality of the gene. They say that the “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis”, also called neo-Darwinism – which cobbled together the budding field of population genetics and paleontology, etc., 70 years ago – also marginalized the inquiry into morphology. And that it is then – in the 1930s and 1940s – that the seeds of corruption were planted and an Evolution industry born.
I broke the story about the Altenberg affair last March with the assistance of Alastair Thompson and the team at Scoop Media, the independent news agency based in New Zealand. (Chapter 2, “Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?”)
But will the A-16 deliver? Will they help rid us of the natural selection “survival of the fittest” mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, and on which Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are based, now that the cat is out of the bag that selection is politics not science? That selection cannot be measured exactly. That it is not the mechanism of evolution. That it is an abstract rusty tool left over from 19th century British imperial exploits.
Or will the A-16 tip-toe around the issue, appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants?
Certain things look promising. First, while most of the A-16 have roots in Darwinian and neo-Darwinian theory, they recognize the need to challenge the prevailing Modern Evolutionary Synthesis because there’s too much it doesn’t explain.
For example, the Modern Synthesis was produced when genetics was still a baby and we’ve now discovered all the human genes there are to be found. We’ve only got 20,000 – 25,000 of them, roughly what other species have, and those genes arrived on the scene a half billion years ago. So there’s a push for more investigation into non-genetic areas, for how body plans originated, for instance. Charles Darwin never said.
Second, the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis event is being hosted by Konrad Lorenz Institute, where for years there have been discussions about self-organization.
Third, one of the stars of the symposium, New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman, hypothesizes that all 35 animal phyla physically self-organized by the time of the Cambrian explosion (a half billion years ago) without a genetic recipe or selection (hardwiring supposedly followed).
Fourth, KLI’s chairman, Gerd Mueller has collaborated with Stuart Newman on a book about origin of form. And Newman has other allies within the group, including Yale biologist Gunter Wagner, Budapest biologist and KLI board member Eors Szathmary, as well as KLI’s science manager, Werner Callebaut – a Belgian philosopher who will deliver the non-centrality of gene paper.
I published a “first peek” at Stuart Newman’s concept (Appendix, “Stuart Newman’s High Tea”) following his presentation at the University of Notre Dame in March. There has so far been a stonewalling on the science blogs about self-organization. The consensus of the evolution pack seems to be that if an idea doesn’t fit in with Darwinism and neo-Darwinism – KEEP IT OUT!
Meanwhile, Swedish cytogeneticist Antonio Lima-de-Faria, author of the book Evolution without Selection, sees any continuance of the natural selection concept as “compromise”. He says Darwinism and neo-Darwinism deal only with the biological or “terminal” phase of evolution and impede discovery of the real mechanism, which is “primaeval” – based on elementary particles, chemical elements and minerals (Chapter 6, “Knight of the North Star”).
Lima-de-Faria’s views are considered “extreme” by some science elites 20 years after publication of Evolution without Selection, his book about self-assembly – a phenomenon he defines as “the spontaneous aggregation of biological structures involving formation of weak chemical bonds between surfaces with complementary shapes”. However, it looks like some other science elites may be warming up to concepts he laid down decades ago as evidenced by comments at June’s World Science Festival in New York.