“However, while the Altenberg 16 organizers noted that their July symposium ‘could turn into a major stepping stone for the entire field of evolutionary biology,’ this book is not an endorsement of any attempt to ‘graft’ novel ideas onto the Modern Synthesis—only of the decision to begin sorting out the mess. The real task is one of making a coherent theory of evolution, including pre-biotic evolution, where none previously existed. That will require casting a wide net for visionaries who have political courage.”—Suzan Mazur, The Altenberg 16, An Exposé of the Evolution Industry
A decade ago I published a ground-breaking story about an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), four months in advance of the first scientific symposium on that subject in Altenberg, Austria. The meeting in July 2008 at Konrad Lorenz Institute held great promise and featured then-lively themes like epigenetics, punctuated evolution, niche construction and theory of form. However, personal pettiness and political timidity on the part of event organizers took their toll on the scientific reach of the conference proceedings, despite a book being published by MIT two years later about the event.
In October 2015, there was an attempt by scientists to resuscitate EES in a Royal Society article with no attention to the biggest part of the biosphere—viruses and microbes. The following April they succeeded in securing $8 million in funding from the Templeton Foundation, a deep-pockets, non-transparent organization that has a soft spot for supporting projects that pursue a science & religion theme—which, unfortunately, taints scientific results. Then in November 2016 there was a public Royal Society evolution summit with almost half the presenters related to the EES project, where we heard about natural selection ad nauseam until Sir Patrick Bateson, an organizer of the event, cautioned from the stage that the term was a metaphor only and its use should be kept to a minimum.
A week or so ago an essay defending the EES project but offering no new science was featured in an online magazine called Aeon, written by Templeton-funded EES principal investigator Kevin Laland—an animal behavioralist at St Andrews University in Scotland.
Aeon, whose publisher has a Master’s degree in the psychology of religion, accepts funding from Templeton World Charity Foundation, among other charities, so it is not surprising to see the Laland story appearing there.
In the unconvincing Aeon article, “Evolution unleashed,” Laland asks the question: “If the extended evolutionary synthesis is not a call for a revolution in evolution, then what is it, and why do we need it?
Good point. To answer Laland’s question—We don’t need it.