2007

Comments: My first triumphant published letter, which I thought might provoke sufficient reaction to make my name, was in The Guardian, but it provoked no reaction at all.

Once again, we have a piece of scientific evidence in unequivocal favour of Lamarckian inheritance being reported (Motherly love may alter genes for the better, February 14), without the name of Lamarck being mentioned.
I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist, but it does seem as if the scientific establishment have decided that they cannot acknowledge publicly that the man they have vilified for two centuries was right after all.
Hugh Dower
 
Comments: The following letter to The Guardian was not published, but a similar letter from Milton Wainwright was, and my subsequent letter three days later was published.

There are far worse myths concerning Charles Darwin than the delayed publication due to fear (Darwin’s Origin of Species was delayed by work overload, March 28).
First, there is the myth that he originated evolution theory – he most certainly didn’t; there were numerous evolutionists in France, Germany and Britain before him, of whom the best known is Lamarck.
Second, that the Galapagos Islands inspired his theory of evolution – he was well aware of the existence of (Lamarckian) evolution theory before he went there, and he didn’t hit upon Natural Selection till after he got back to England.
Third, that he invented the concept of Natural Selection – he certainly didn’t; many breeders and ornithologists (e.g. Edward Blyth) were aware of it.
Fourth, that he pioneered Evolution by Natural Selection – he didn’t; the little-known Patrick Matthew did.
Compared with those myths, the notion that fear didn’t play a part in his delay is unprovable, unlikely and completely unimportant.
Hugh Dower
 
Dr Milton Wainwright quite rightly points out that Darwin was not the originator of the theory of natural selection (Letters, March 31). A more serious myth about Darwin is that he originated evolution theory. In reality, there were numerous evolutionists in France, Germany and Britain before him. The most significant of these, Lamarck, deserves to be on a pedestal every bit as tall as Darwin's, not unappreciated as he has been.
Hugh Dower
 
Comments: Later in 2007, I read two articles by the scientifically-trained, spiritual guru, Deepak Chopra, in the Environmental magazine, Resurgence, in which Chopra criticised neo-Darwinism (and Richard Dawkins in particular) for being too materialistic and dismissive of spiritual issues. I wrote the following unpublished letter.

The trouble with moderate, religious scientists like Deepak Chopra (Deconstructing Dawkins, May/June, and Evolution of Wisdom, July/August) is that they ultimately seem to be defining God as “that which we don’t yet understand”. On that basis, even Richard Dawkins would have to believe in God, albeit in faith that it would eventually be understood. As far as most people are concerned, any meaningful definition of God must include the idea of its being an intervening entity that is purposeful and prayable to. On that basis, most scientists probably would dismiss both the concept of God, as being inexplicable, and Chopra’s evolutionary views, as being straight from the intelligent design school.
What most surprises and disappoints me is that Chopra can write an article about alternative evolutionary views, complete with the sentence, “A field that can create something and then remember it would explain the persistence of incredibly fragile molecules like DNA....”, without mentioning either Lamarckism or Rupert Sheldrake.
Lamarckism was the predominant pre-Darwinian evolution theory, which is currently enjoying a revival amongst dissident scientists and philosophers, in the light of increasing scientific evidence. Put very crudely in modern terms, Lamarckism holds that there is experience passing down the generations as well as genes. In itself, that does not even imply the existence of a teleological, intervening God, and Lamarck himself was effectively an atheist, but it does permit the accumulation of wisdom and the idea that there is much more to life and evolution than random chance and natural selection.
Hugh Dower

Comments: The following letter to The Guardian was not published.

“I am creating artificial life,” declares your needlessly sensational headline (6 October), whilst the article itself explains how Craig Venter has created an artificial chromosome which he is inserting into a living bacterium. Chromosomes are toolkits. They are not living and they are certainly not life. As long as his chromosome contains all the necessary tools (genes), there is no reason why it shouldn’t work within an existing organism. Even Venter admits in the later article, Gene genie, that “We’re not creating life...”  The understatement of that article comes where it says, “Our understanding of how gene sequences translate into life experiences is still primitive....”
What will be much more interesting, if his experiment succeeds, is whether his chromosome changes over the generations, and, if it does, whether the changes are epigenetic overwriting or genetic mutations. I hope that you will report the results.
Hugh Dower

Comments: See May 2010

Continue to 2008

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