Tell me about Perry Marshall and Evolution 2.0


(Christy Hemphill) #1

Sonlight homeschool curriculum, which I currently use to some degree, will be offering a History of Science course for junior high/ high school. The new product goes on sale in April. It will be a Christian version of the Bookshark 8 curriculum shown here.

One of the additions in the Sonlight version of the course is the book Evolution 2.0.

I gather Perry Marshall is an ID proponent, but what can you tell me about his perspective, or this book in particular? Supposedly, this is one of the books being included to “balance” the secular perspective of Joy Hakim whose Story of Science textbooks form the spine of the course.


#2

I haven’t read the book, but I did find Perry Marshall’s homepage and it sent up some major red flags. For example:

“Hi, my name is Perry Marshall. I’m a business consultant and Electrical Engineer.”

So, he’s not a biologist. He has no training or schooling in genetics which he seems to talk about at length. This isn’t to say that engineers can’t learn these things, but if you are looking for an authority on the subject Marshall certainly isn’t it. Also, there seems to be a strong correlation between electrical engineers and those who try to find fault in evolution. I don’t know what that is, but it seems to be a thing.

Then comes these paragraphs:

What I discovered was the untold science story of the century – the miracle of evolution. I discovered organisms cut, splice and re-arrange their DNA, performing astonishing engineering feats in real time… feats that put even the world’s smartest software coders to shame. I came to this conclusion: Darwinists underestimate nature. Creationists underestimate God.

Nature is astonishingly more sophisticated than either side was telling us. And both sides were omitting the most tantalizing parts of the story. Darwinists were deliberately “dumbing down” the science to make living things look random, purposeless and accidental. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The creation/ID movement, while pointing out many flaws in Darwinism, was creating an unsafe environment for scientists to speak openly about problems with the current theories.

He appears to have fallen for some of the “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” nonsense. Couple this with the “Darwinists are hiding the complexity” and the persecution complex and you have the beginnings of crackpottery.

On the plus side, he does seem to speak in an even and well tempered tone. Also, I haven’t read the book so I shouldn’t really be judging it, but I thought I would at least comment on some of the things I would look out for.


(Peaceful Science) #3

Perry Marshall is far more interesting that that. If you go to the ASA meeting this Summer, you will almost certainly see him. He almost always comes. This, of course, is very different than ID proponent.

Turns out he used to be an ID proponent, and still has some of the rhetoric embedded in him. That is what sets of the alarm bells. However, he actually thinks the ID arguments are wrong, and that major misrepresentations of evolutionary science were made. The biggest problem I have with him is…

He often critiques “Darwinists” and “Darwinian” evolution, without realizing that the EES is nothing more than just plain evolutionary science, and the “D”-word is not really where the science is. This is strongly his ID background coming into play. Even though he kept their vocabulary (sadly), he ended up realizing they were just wrong on the science.

That brings me to the most interesting thing about him, the evolution of the Origin of Life prize for $5M dollars, which he first announced in 2011, but recently got a ton of press in 2017.

I think he originally offered the prize very skeptical it could be won, but I think he now genuinely believes that someone will win it. He has grown very optimistic about evolutionary processes to build things. He has got funders together to put money behind it and remarkably has George Church as one of the judges. CHurch is one of the most important scientists of the genome project, and is no ID advocate.

Any how, I’ve try to explain to him to him how unlikely that prize is to be won, but he is genuinely hopeful.

I’ve tried to talk him down from the ID framing of the field that drinks the EES, but that did not have much progress. Nonetheless, at least he is accurately engaging some of the science. He will for example point to studies that successfully show evolution of organelle like symbiosis in the lab as evidence for how evolutionary processes can be saltatory. There are far worse books than his to find in a homeschool course. Though it is rather appalling that they would have a book from a non-biologist to teach students about evolution.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

…speaking as one with an electrical engineering degree, I have heard this too and can only anecdotally offer up that engineers do like tidy math with all its appropriate precisions, and working devices at the end of it all. They would probably work very hard to take all that untidy biology and try to get it all stuffed into the various boxes where it “belongs”. I seem to have survived my indoctrination, though … or perhaps it never took?

FWIW, I do have good engineering friends who are on both sides of this particular aisle. What I’m not sure I know is any engineering friends who are wishy-washy on the subject. Opinionated bunch, I guess --which isn’t surprising.


(Christy Hemphill) #5

Yeah, none of the course focuses on evolution or biology (it’s a history course), so I don’t know exactly how this book fits in. Hakim’s books focus on the historical development of math, physics and chemistry. The other supplemental history of science books deal with geometry, navigation, and the atom bomb.


#6

If anyone is looking for other suggestions I would offer the writings of Kenneth Miller as a good source. He is a devout Christian and has written and spoken about the intersection of science and faith in many arenas. His book “Finding Darwin’s God” is highly recommended by many. Miller is also a biologist and he knows what he is talking about. He and his partner Levine literally wrote the textbook on biology, so he also knows a little bit about science education.


#7

Being opinionated seems to be a common thread running through most scientific fields, so on this point I will refrain from hurling stones while standing on the front yard of my glass house.


(James McKay) #8

This reminds me a bit of what RationalWiki says about Ray Kurzweil:

Kurzweil has an unfortunate tendency to think that being brilliant at computer science means every other specialty can be treated as a special case of computer science. He thinks that the genome contains all the information needed to grow a brain, therefore it is a problem of Kolmogorov complexity and computer science, therefore we will be able to simulate one on computers by 2030.

As a software developer, I understand that entirely. I find it much easier to conceptualise DNA and RNA and all the rest of it in terms of Turing machines than messy proteins and all the rest of it. I also find it easier to understand evolution in terms of computer-based genetic algorithms than anything else. But biologists tell me that such a view isn’t entirely accurate, so I guess it’s probably the computer science equivalent of the physicist’s spherical horse racing in a vacuum.

(Fun fact: when I was fourteen I had to write an essay in a biology class on the difference between instinct and learned behaviour. I spent almost the entire essay describing the difference between read-only memory and random-access memory on a computer. My biology teacher described it as “some interesting points of view.”)


#9

I don’t know that much about Perry Marshall, but I do know that he is a businessman, and that his sponsored ads show up on my facebook feed. So I don’t see how he could balance any secular perspective.


#10

I’m not expert in computer science, but from what I know of neurobiology it is a very analog system instead of digital. It takes a certain amount of stimulation to initiate a nerve impulse, and the amount of stimulation can differ over time and through the use of the same neural pathways. A lot of psychotropic drugs mess with serotonin which is one of the molecules responsible for attenuating the sensitivity of neural cells. I don’t know how well computers can model this, but it would seem to be another layer of complexity that they would have to consider.


#11

See also: Salem Hypothesis (or Conjecture) with the original talk.origins post here


(Jay Johnson) #12

If you want a middle-school literature tie-in to the science of the atom bomb, you could read The Green Glass Sea. From the description:

Grade 5-8–Two girls spend a year in Los Alamos as their parents work on the secret gadget that will end World War II. Dewey is a mechanically minded 10-year-old who gets along fine with the scientists at the site, but is teased by girls her own age. When her mathematician father is called away, she moves in with Suze, who initially detests her new roommate. The two draw closer, though, and their growing friendship is neatly set against the tenseness of the Los Alamos compound as the project nears completion. Clear prose brings readers right into the unusual atmosphere of the secretive scientific community, seen through the eyes of the kids and their families.

Edit: Also a good book for giving young girls some STEM role models in literature.


(Christy Hemphill) #13

That one is on my Amazon list already. It was highly recommended on one of my go to sites for children’s book reviews. It is also part of Sonlight’s Lit 300 course.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

@Christy
@Swamidass
@jammycakes
In my observation Perry Marshall disagrees with Dawkins who says that evolution works by random changes. I really do not think that means that he is ID, because he thinks that science works by natural rational laws. That is why he supports EES because it thinks that the Darwinian/Dawkins view is too simplistic.

I think Dawkins is wrong also, but for a different reason. I think Dawkins is wrong because he fails to understand the role of ecology in natural selection. At least some of EES do seem to understand this, so there is hope for the science.


#15

It is impossible to know what is in a person’s heart, so we should probably leave Marshall’s motivations alone unless he specifically spells them out. However, we can judge the book on its scientific merits, especially if it is being suggested as educational material for Christian based home schooling. Much of EES is bad science, and I would strongly speak against using EES when teaching young students about evolution for the first or even second time. If anything, it might be educational in showing how Marshall and the EES crowd gets it all wrong.

For example, EES tries to redefine “random” as it applies to evolution. In the very earliest days of the modern theory of evolution (1940’s) “random” has been defined as “random with respect to fitness”. Random has never meant random with respect to a specific base, random with respect to time, or random with respect to rate. It has meant that the processes that produce mutations are blind to what will increase or decrease fitness. We have discovered some very complex systems that produce different types of mutations, but they are still shown to be blind to what the organism needs which makes them random. This is one topic that EES gets wrong all of the time.

If one so chose, they could use this one example of EES and Marshall getting things wrong. Students could learn about the two classic experiments which demonstrated the randomness of mutation: The Lederberg plate replica experiment and the Luria-Delbruck fluctuation assay. These are a little advanced, but I think a high school student could grasp the concepts of these experiments with a little bit of help. The point of these experiments is that scientists determined mutations were random before we even discovered what DNA looked like, how it worked, or the specific mechanisms that produces sequence changes in the genome.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #16

@T_aquaticus

Please explain why the mutation that produces sickle cell anemia appears uniquely in the part of Africa where malaria is a serious problem and this mutation provides those who have it protection against this dread disease.


#17

First, the chances of getting the sickle cell allele by a new mutation is the same for everyone, in or outside of Africa. The prevalence of sickle cell anemia in Africa and other areas with endemic malaria is due to inheritance, not new mutations.

The reason that the allele for sickle cell is more common in regions with endemic malaria is that the allele offers some protection against malaria which is one of the leading causes of childhood death in those regions. If you carry one copy of the allele you are largely unaffected but are still resistant to malaria. However, if you carry two copies then you can have sickle cell anemia which does cause complications. However, the selective pressure for malaria resistance outweighs the downsides of the complications in homozygous individuals which is why it is selected for in regions with endemic malaria.

Interestingly, there is another hemoglobin allele (hemoglobin C) that some have proposed will replace the sickle cell allele (hemoglobin S) over the next 50 generations in certain areas with endemic malaria. It also confers malarial resistance, but it doesn’t have nearly the same problematic downside in homozygous individuals compared to the sickle cell allele.

Epidemiological studies of genetic differences in disease susceptibility often estimate the relative risks (RR) of different genotypes. Here I provide an approach to calculate the relative fitnesses of different genotypes based on RR data so that population genetic approaches may be utilized with these data. Using recent RR data on human haemoglobin b genotypes from Burkina Faso, this approach is used to predict changes in the frequency of the haemoglobin sickle-cell S and C alleles. Overall, it generally appears that allele C will quickly replace the S allele in malarial environments. Explicit population genetic predictions suggest that this replacement may occur within the next 50 generations in Burkina Faso.
Hedrick (2003)

It is also interesting to see the overlap between regions with malaria and incidence of the sickle cell allele: