From July 27, 2016, through May 24, 2017, TheBestSchools.org hosted an in-depth dialogue on neo-Darwinian evolution between scholars Denis Noble and David Sloan Wilson. The dialogue has concluded, but comments remain open.
Noble and Wilson find themselves at the center of the ongoing controversy over whether the neo-Darwinian synthesis provides a reasonably complete and adequate account of biological phenomena, especially the appearance of teleology (function, purpose, goal-directedness) in virtually all biological structures and processes.
TheBestSchools.org therefore invited them to take part in what we call a Focused Civil Dialogue. The point of such a dialogue is for both parties to advance the best case for their position as well as to refute the case of their interlocutors. We are grateful that both Dr. Noble and Dr. Wilson accepted this invitation.
In such a dialogue, each party to a controversy develops what he or she regards as the strongest points in favor of one’s own position while also defending against what the other party alleges are the weakest points in one’s position. We like to suggest that each interlocutor articulate five strong points and five weak points.
Briefly, in such a dialogue both Dr. Noble and Dr. Wilson each contributed (1) an interview, (2) a statement, (3) a response, and (4) a reply — in that order.
The plan for such dialogues is that the interviews each typically take 6,000 words, giving each the opportunity to favorably discuss one’s own life and work. The statements typically take 10,000 words and constitute the portion of the dialogue where each most forcefully advances one’s own case. The response and reply together will typically take another 10,000 words, enabling each to refute the case of one’s interlocutor.
Drs. Noble and Wilson argued the following theses:
Dr. Wilson: The neo-Darwinian framework provides a reasonably complete and adequate explanation of biological phenomena, including the appearance of teleology in living systems. No new theoretical breakthroughs are either necessary or to be expected. Neo-Darwinism is enough!
Dr. Noble: The neo-Darwinian framework, however necessary it may be, does not provide a complete and adequate explanation of biological phenomena, especially teleology. New theoretical breakthroughs are both necessary and to be expected. Neo-Darwinism is not enough!
Thus, Drs. Noble and Wilson will each provide four written contributions, all freely available and posted here at TheBestSchools.org. Our main task in overseeing this dialogue will be to ensure that it does indeed retain its focus —that the points of strength and weakness raised by both parties do indeed get squarely addressed in their statements, responses, and replies.
Dr. Noble is Emeritus Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics of the Medical Sciences Division of the University of Oxford, where he held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology, 1984–2004. A pioneer in computer modeling of biological organs and systems, Noble received his Ph.D. from University College London. He is the author of several books, including The Music of Life: Biology Beyond Genes.
Dr. Wilson is SUNY Distinguished Professor in the departments of Biology and Anthropology at
Binghamton University. His research interests focus on multilevel selection theory, human evolution, and differentiation within species, populations, and individuals. Wilson received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He is the author of several books, including Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin’s Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives.