It’s official. A press release announces a new scientific volume, Biological Information: New Perspectives, published by World Scientific Publishing:
World Scientific Publishing has just released the proceedings of a symposium held in the spring of 2011, where a diverse group of scientists gathered at Cornell University to critically re-examine neo-Darwinian theory. This symposium brought together experts in information theory, computer science, numerical simulation, thermodynamics, evolutionary theory, whole organism biology, developmental biology, molecular biology, genetics, physics, biophysics, mathematics, and linguistics.
Discovery Institute did not organize or fund this conference. In fact, until now, we have deliberately said very little about the resulting volume — even as anti-ID activists were working hard to prevent its publication. The reasons for our temporary silence may or may not be obvious — I’ll say more about it later. For today, let me simply describe a little bit about the book.
The volume Biological Information: New Perspectives is an interdisciplinary volume. For the most part, it comprises papers presented at the aforementioned Cornell conference. The papers are divided into four main sections. The first is on information theory and biology, and was edited by Robert J. Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University. The second, on biological information and genetic theory, was edited by John C. Sanford, Courtesy Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell, and notoriously the primary inventor of the gene gun. Sanford hosted the conference; were it not for his efforts and contributions, the conference probably would not have taken place, and the volume wouldn’t have been published. The third section is on theoretical molecular biology, edited by Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University. The final section, on biological information and self-organizational complexity theory, was edited by Bruce L. Gordon, Associate Professor in History and Philosophy of Science at Houston Baptist University.
The book contains contributions from some prominent proponents of intelligent design, such as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Douglas Axe, Ann Gauger, and others. However, while some of the papers do expressly advocate intelligent design, it isn’t entirely, or even mostly, about ID. In fact some of the contributors are explicitly anti-ID.
For example, the fourth main section of the book, “Biological Information and Self-Organizational Complexity Theory,” contains contributions by scientists who are critical of Darwinism but believe the solution to the problem of origins is a materialistic form of evolution along the lines of self-organization. In the introduction to that section, editor Bruce Gordon explains the difference between ID and self-organization:
Both self-organizational theorists and intelligent design (ID) theorists believe that natural selection operating on random genetic mutation is an insufficient basis on which to explain the origins of biological complexity and irrelevant to the origin of life. ID theorists also believe that the self-organizational capacities of physical systems are limited, falling far short of the order we observe, so the ultimate source of information for the origin of life and hierarchically integrated morphogenesis in both organismal development and speciation must be extrinsic to biological systems and their physical environments. In contrast, self-organizational researchers argue that global pattern development, including the highly complex hierarchical information structures characteristic of life, can emerge solely from the interactions of lower-level components and part-whole dynamics without ultimate or proximate goal-directed input. Whether biological information is somehow self-originating is thus a central point of disagreement between intelligent design theorists and self-organizational complexity theorists.
There are also some scientists who contributed to the volume who would probably reject eschew both the “ID movement” label, as well as materialistic accounts of life’s origins. To be blunt, some of them are creationists of one stripe or another — not in the way that Darwin-defenders abuse the term, but actual creationists. (For the record, no one is promoting creationism in the book — the book is scientific in its content, and all about critiquing neo-Darwinism and has nothing about a “young earth” or anything like that.) That some contributors are creationists, however, doesn’t make ID the equivalent of creationism any more than it makes self-organization the equivalent of creationism.
So what’s the book about? It’s a critical analysis of the ability of standard evolutionary models, particularly neo-Darwinism, to explain the origin of biological information. It is written from a variety or perspectives, including ones that are friendly and others that are hostile to ID. What all the contributors have in common are (a) credible academic backgrounds, and (b) scientific and scholarly views, often grounded in original research and argument, that (c) neo-Darwinian theory cannot explain how biological information arises. The good news for those who want to read the chapter contributions to the book is that the entire book is open access and available online for free.
One final note in this introduction: There has been some speculation that World Scientific is a vanity publishing house. That is false. It’s a respected academic and scientific publishing house based in Singapore that publishes many other respectable scientific publications, including over 150 scientific journals, literally thousands of academic books, and many scientific textbooks.
Because the book challenges neo-Darwinism, no doubt World Scientific will be harshly attacked simply for publishing Biological Information: New Perspectives. That is all the more reason the publisher should be commended for supporting the academic freedom of scientists to disseminate research that challenges mainstream Darwinian theory. You see, originally Biological Information: New Perspectives was set to be published by Springer, but Springer illegally violated the book’s publication contract by cancelling it late last year under pressure from Darwin lobbyists. Do what you can to support World Scientific for not caving into the censors.
In fact, attacks on academic freedom are a very important part of the story behind the publication of Biological Information: New Perspectives, and it’s a story that now deserves to be told truthfully. This I will do in forthcoming articles.