Templeton Foundation funds search for 'evolutionary rethink'

by Dick Peterson
Posted 5/20/16, 10:58 am

It’s not just creationists and proponents of intelligent design chipping away at the Darwinian evolutionary model anymore. With help from an $8.7 million Templeton Foundation grant, 49 researchers from various fields and 22 collaborations across eight institutions are in search of an “evolutionary rethink,” according to an announcement in Science Magazine.

The Discovery Institute’s David Klinghoffer ponders the last time he heard the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s official publication announce a “gravity rethink” or a “heliocentrism rethink.” It hasn’t happened, but the publication’s April 22 report created a dust-up as if it had.

“For many evolutionary biologists, nothing gets their dander up faster than suggesting evolution is anything other than the process of natural selection, acting on random mutations,” Elizabeth Pennisi wrote in the Science article. Nevertheless, the Templeton grant, offered to British, Swedish, and American researchers, intends to “put a revisionist view of evolution, the so-called extended evolutionary synthesis, on a sounder footing.” Probing the evolution of plants, animals, and microbes, investigators will “study the possibility that organisms can influence their own evolution and that inheritance can take place through routes other than genetic material.”

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, said his colleagues shouldn’t accept the money. Linking science and religion—what he claims Templeton is doing—“slants the way science is done,” he told the magazine.

But Templeton isn’t the only organization exploring alternative explanations for the origins of life. In November, Britain’s Royal Society will hold a conference at which biologists and mainstream scientists from other fields will try to reach an agreement on the merits of a Third Way for evolution—not Darwinism nor intelligent design, but another, more palatable, model.

And this call for a Darwinian rethink is not new. An early call for a revision of the standard Darwinian paradigm came 50 years ago at the opening of the Wistar Institute conference on “Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution.” Scientists at the conference felt there was something missing in the current theory—a failure of the math to cooperate. Transcripts of the conversations reveal the controversial nature of the conference.

“One can all but hear the attendees tossing chairs at each other,” said Discovery’s Paul Nelson.

Any challenge to neo-Darwinian evolution is a challenge to its advocates, who dismiss doubters as Genesis truthers and scientifically ignorant. They claim any scientific controversy about evolutionary theory has faded by now.

What they refuse to admit is that the first scientific challenge to evolutionary theory came on April 25, 1953, when Watson and Crick published “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid” in the journal Nature. Subsequent DNA research and discovery, far from erasing doubt about modern evolutionary theory, has only served to stimulate calls for something else.

Dick Peterson

Dick lives in Summerville, S.C., is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and is now a freelance writer and caregiver for his wife with multiple sclerosis.

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