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Just What is Evolution? The Scientists are Still Asking Part 2

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[Originally published as the 2nd part of Consensus on Evolution]

Since the start of the twenty-first century, only two other organizations besides the  “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES)” have convened scientists to address the challenges facing the theory of evolution:

The World Summit on Evolution

The first World Summit on Evolution convened in 2005 at the Galapagos Islands and was hosted by Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), an Ecuadorian private liberal arts university. The university hosted two more events – one in 2009 and another in 2013.

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Through a series of presentations and discussions, the participants [could] ask the big questions.

Unlike Altenberg-16, the objectives of the summit did not include developing a new consensus on evolution.

Since 2013, no more meetings have been planned. A telling sign?

The Royal Society

In November 2016, using a different approach, the original science organization in western civilization, The Royal Society, hosted discussions open to the media and public to address scientific challenges facing the theory of evolution. The Society’s call to action stated:

Developments in evolutionary biology and adjacent fields have produced calls for revision of the standard theory of evolution, although the issues involved remain hotly contested.

Given the lack of new evidence, no new consensus emerged and the media scarcely reported the meeting. Huffington Post journalist, Suzan Mazur complained:

Just what was the point of attracting a distinguished international gathering if the speakers had little new science to present? Why waste everyone’s time and money?

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Mazur asked Eugene Koonin, head of the Evolutionary Genomics Group, National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institute of Health:

“Why is it so difficult to pull together the most compelling ideas in evolutionary biology and come up with an approximate understanding of how it all works?”

Koonin answered:

The public is already extremely skeptical about the value and the scientific nature of evolutionary biology… The genomic revolution… effectively overturned the central metaphor of evolutionary biology, the Tree of Life.

Science writer Carl Zimmer described the dynamics between rival cliques in his article The Atlantic titled “The Biologists Who Want to Overhaul Evolution, A half-century’s worth of scientific discoveries since the last major update to evolutionary theory has some researchers pushing for a paradigm shift”:

Both sides offered their arguments and critiques in a civil way, but sometimes you could sense the tension in the room – the punctuations of tsk-tsks, eye-rolling, and partisan bursts of applause. But no fisticuffs. At least not yet.

Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, during one of the talks commented to Zimmer:

It felt like an infomercial for the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.

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Money may have played a role since just two months earlier, in September, a consortium of scientists in Europe and the United States received $11 million in funding (including $8 million from the John Templeton Foundation) to run 22 studies on the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis.

Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago and author of the book Why Evolution is True, who was in attendance, in a surprisingly candid moment, offered insight into the evolution industry:

Maybe sometime a New Paradigm will come around, but this isn’t it. The noise we heard from London, outside of a few papers by people like Futuyma, is the noise of Templeton’s prize horses jockeying for money and fame.

The official motto of The Royal Society in Latin is Nullius in verba; meaning “take nobody’s word for it.” Founded in 1660, the society was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as “The Royal Society”. It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world.

Evolution 2.0 Consensus Initiative

To break the consensus deadlock, in 2017 the Royal Society embarked on a different approach to evolution focusing on the origin of life and titled Evolution 2.0. The Society, in collaboration with entrepreneur Perry Marshall, is offering a $10 million prize for the winner to answer the most fundamental question:

What is the origin of the first cell’s information?

As Clive Cookson, Financial Times science editor, explains:

Evolution 2.0 is a sign of a shifting emphasis in biology from regarding life primarily as a chemical system, to looking at the flow of information.

The Society’s Evolution 2.0 project is a tacit acknowledgment of the limits of life sciences to develop a consensus on a cohesive theory of evolution. The three judges are British biologist Denis Noble, of University of Oxford and the Royal Society, American geneticist George Church, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and British-born Canadian philosopher of science Michael Ruse, Florida State University.

Noble explained to the Financial Times the reason for the change of his approach:

Evolution 2.0 is a remarkably meticulous dissection of the experimental evidence on evolution. Perry Marshall and I have entered this debate from entirely different fields. He starts from information theory and practice, I started from research on the heart’s pacemaker, but we have come to almost identical conclusions.

Now more than three years later, the prize has yet to be awarded.

Without a consensus, evolution teaching standards are a matter of opinion, not science. Campaigns to eliminate the compulsive teaching of evolution as a scientific fact in public education must continue.

Evolution must only be taught as a philosophy, not as a valid scientific theory, alongside the Genesis account – the only other widely accepted explanation.

Genesis

In the wake of the genomic revolution, the theory of evolution remains a minefield of competing ideas. A scientific consensus on evolution has yet to be developed by any twenty-first century science organization. As Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti explains:

Science has taken on the great wager… and lost.

Scientific evidence, however, is compatible with the Genesis account. As Carolus Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who formalized the modern system of naming organisms, explains:

“I saw the infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful God from behind.… I followed His footsteps over nature’s fields and saw everywhere an eternal wisdom and power, an inscrutable perfection.”

The theory of evolution exists as a philosophy, not as a valid scientific fact.

Written by Richard William Nelson

Richard William Nelson earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Southern California following graduation from the University of California, Irvine, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. For more than a decade Dr. Nelson has been writing and speaking on the scientific merits of biological evolution. Dr. Nelson has spoken nationally and internationally to audiences in churches, schools, universities, and community organizations. As the author of the book entitled Darwin, Then and Now, The Most Amazing Story in the History of Science using more than 1,000 documented references, Dr. Nelson advocates using the scientific method to assess the merits of the theory of evolution.

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