What Does James Shapiro Think?

James Shapiro is one of those scientist who think that evolutionary theory is due for a "paradigm shift." His schtick is that mutations often involve genome rearrangements and that reorganization of the genome may be a sort of "natural genetic engineering" that cells use to direct evolution. It's hard to figure out what Shapiro actually means and even harder to figure out his motives. I posted an earlier comment from him that suggests he is looking for a middle ground between science and Intelligent Design Creationism. Here's part of that earlier post: The Mind of James Shapiro

What is wrong with "dancing in the DMZ" between intelligent design (as articulated by Michael Behe and others) and neo-Darwinism? Are these two positions the only alternatives? I doubt it. That is why my 1997 article in Boston Review on evolution debates was called "A Third Way." What Dembski calls the "DMZ" (i.e. a zone free of futile conflict) is the place where the real evolutionary science is taking place. I am proud to be there, and I see that an increasing number of people are joining me when they realize that natural genetic engineering, horizontal DNA transfer, interspecific hybridization, genome doubling and symbiogenesis provide solutions to problems recognized to be intractable under the limitations of conventional evolutionary thinking.
Now Susan Mazur has gotten into the game of trying to figure out James Shapiro. You may recall that Susan Mazur has made a minor career out of touting the upcoming revolution in evolutionary theory. Here are some excerpts from her interview with James Shapiro on a website called Counterpunch: The Evolution Paradigm Shift.
Suzan Mazur:... Are Coyne and his pal Richard Dawkins, by not publicly recognizing that a sea change has occurred, milking lucrative performances and book deals? And if so, isn’t this a disservice to science?

James Shapiro: Well that’s a loaded question.

I’ve gone on record in my blog as saying that I thought that Dawkins and his ill-conceived atheist crusade hurts science education and hurts evolutionary science. I’ve criticized Jerry Coyne for making statements that he can’t support. Both Coyne and Dawkins have been characterized as having a neo-atheist agenda in attacking religion. And it is true that many of the comments on my blog reflect a deep reservoir of anti-religious sentiment. I’ve noted in the blog that we should get out of the business of attacking supernaturalists. It’s not in science’s interest to make a war with religion or religious belief.

Suzan Mazur: And get on to the science.

James Shapiro: And get on with the science. And also to have a little bit of humility. Science never provides ultimate answers.

Both Coyne and Dawkins are doing well for themselves by being vitriolic and vehement in their campaign against religious belief and against some of the more foolish things that religious fundamentalists do. But I suspect ego gratification is the major driver more than financial gain. Obviously it’s nice if you make money at the same time.
This appears to be a typical accommodationist position, assuming that Shapiro is an atheist. I just wish he'd be a little more up front about his stance.

James Shapiro: ...The moth cover was ultimately chosen because the kind of exquisite mimicry it represents is an evolutionary puzzle.

How does that come about? I think gradualist explanations are difficult to sustain in the case of mimicry. Recently it’s been discovered that there are master control regions, sort of like Hox complexes but more complicated, that control wing patterns in butterflies. I suspect as people analyze those we’ll know more about how the mimetic patterns evolved.

The book hasn’t been reviewed by any of the major journals yet. Nature and Science have not reviewed it. The National Center for Science Education is reviewing it in June. I’m interested to see whether they want to show that evolution science is alive and doing novel and controversial things.

As I said in my blog, science is not doing very well in this evolution vs. religion dispute. I think part of the reason why we’re doing poorly is that the most recent and exciting science is not being presented to the public. Clearly, the issues are not being presented in a way that shows evolution science isn’t stuck in ideas from the last century and the last century before that.
I wrote the review that will soon appear on the NCSE site. I can assure him that I'm well aware of many exciting developments in evolutionary theory. The ones that are important (population genetics, random genetic drift, Neutral Theory, punctuated equilibria, speciation) are ones that Shapiro doesn't understand or mention in his book. (Gould isn't even in the index!) The ones that are trivial and were dismissed as minor embellishments decades ago are the ones that, in his mind, are going to cause a paradigm shift.

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