Sunday, December 16, 2012

Kudos for Larry Moran

It's not often that people who are diametrically opposed to certain views come to the defense of the people who hold those views. That requires a level of intellectual honesty that we all too often lack. So when we see that type of honesty being displayed, we should go out of our way to praise it. I found such an example. Jerry Coyne recently attacked ID proponent Paul Nelson, which should shock nobody.  What did come as a surprise is that the atheist professor of biochemistry, Larry Moran, who typically refers to most ID proponents as "IDiots,"  did come to Nelson's defense.  In the combox, past the halfway mark, Professor Moran chimes in:

Larry Moran Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

" In his letter to Jerry, Paul Nelson said, Readers who already know about the thinking of workers such as Eric Davidson, Michael Lynch, Andreas Wagner, John Gerhart & Marc Kirschner, or Scott Gilbert (all of whom, among many others, have recently expressed frank doubts about selection) must discount what you say about the centrality of natural selection to evolutionary theory — because they know that just isn’t so. I think this is basically correct. All of these authors question in some way or another the “centrality” of natural selection to evolutionary theory. We can quibble about the exact meaning of words and sentences but I, for one, don’t think Nelson is way off base here. Perhaps Nelson shouldn’t have said “expressed doubts about selection” because it could be taken to mean that the authors deny that positive natural selection exists. I don’t think that’s what Paul Nelson meant. He may be an IDiot but he’s not that stupid. (Shapiro, on the other hand, may be that stupid.) Jerry wrote to the authors stating … I have read the papers of many of you, and while I know that several of you question aspects of modern evolutionary theory, I wasn’t aware that any of you denied the efficacy of selection in accounting for adaptations. I’m not speaking here of the prevalence among episodes of evolutionary change of selection versus other mechanisms such as drift, but of the prevalence of selection in explaining obvious adaptations like mimicry, the speed of cheetahs, and so on. I don’t think Jerry’s question is fair. Paul Nelson was not accusing these authors of denying a role for natural selection in “obvious adaptations.” The irony here is that Jim Shapiro is completely oblivious to the ideas of Kirschner, Gerhart, Lynch, et al. He acts as though he’s the only person in the entire world who ever came up with a criticism of the hardened version of the Modern Synthesis. (Anyone ever heard of Stephen Jay Gould?) Sometimes he even “borrows” the ideas of others—like when he talks of his version of facilitated variation but doesn’t bother referencing Kisrchner & Gerhart."

And then after a brief exchange where Moran asked Nelson to clarify his views, Larry concluded:

 Larry Moran Posted December 13, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

" Thanks, Paul. I interpreted your letter the same way you describe it but you must admit that you could have worded it better. Jerry Coyne jumped to the conclusion that you were saying something different about the views of those authors. I think your views have been unfairly represented in this thread. That does NOT mean I agree with your conclusions, as you well know."

After showing such gallantry in the face of overwhelming opposition at Coyne's blog, Professor Moran deserves to be held in high esteem. I now consider his use of the term "IDiots" as almost a term of endearment.

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