Check out my review of Ken Wilber's latest book Finding Radical Wholeness

Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
If there's a singular topic Integral students need to be educated on it is evolutionary theory, given their frequent but uninformed use of the term "evolution". These short biographical chapters about evolutionary theorists have been written by different philosophy students of professor David Christopher Lane. (FV)

Glimpses into the Life and Work of Great Thinkers in Evolutionary Biology

Francis Crick

Yan Xu

Francis Crick is one of the most important biophysicists and evolutionary thinkers of the 20th century. He co-discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid with James Watson in 1953, which revolutionized our understanding of genetics.

Francis Crick
Francis Crick

Francis Crick was born in Northampton, England in 1916. In his early years, he was educated at Northampton Grammar school and Mill Hill School in London. Then, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from University College London at the age of 21. Although he decided to begin his Ph.D. project about the viscosity of the water at high temperature at University College London, he was drafted by the military in World War II. During the war, he joined British military research that studied the design of magnetic and acoustic mines in the Admiralty Research Laboratory.

After the war, under the influence of Erwin Schrodinger's book What is Life, Crick got interested in the study of life science. In the year of 1949, Francis Crick was convinced by James Watson to search for the secret of DNA structure at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. According to Crick's autobiography, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery he and James Watson used the X-ray diffraction pictures they saw to come up with different models about the structure of DNA. This led them to their great discovery and ultimately established a milestone in the study of life science, since it explains the formation of proteins and chromosomes. In the year of 1962, Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkin won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

In 1953, Francis Crick and his co-worker James Watson published the paper “Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”[1] that overthrew the previous DNA model proposed by Linus Pauling and Robert Corey. Pauling and Corey suggested that the phosphates are near the fiber axis and the bases are on the outside. However, because Francis Crick and James Watson had seen Franklin Rosalind's X-ray diffraction image of DNA, they opposed Pauling and Corey's structure in their paper for two reason:

“(1) We believe that the material which gives the X-ray diagrams is the salt, not the free acid. Without the acidic hydrogen atoms, it is not clear what forces would hold the structure together, especially as the negatively charged phosphates near the axis will repel each other.
(2) Some of the van der Waals distances appear to be too small.”

Besides these two reasons, Francis Crick and James Watson also point out that the structure of the DNA should have two helical chains each coiled round the same axis. Both chains which are twisted around each other forms a double-helical structure of DNA. The bases are inside of the helix and the phosphates are located outside, which is totally different from Pauling and Corey's hypothesis. The most astonishing breakthrough in their paper is the discovery of the four organic bases, which many scientists call the language that forms the secret of life: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). These four bases also have specific pairing order which connects two chains together: adenine with thymine, guanine with cytosine. Before the paper was published, many scientists believed that only protein contained the genetic information and ignored nucleic acid. Crick's and Watson's paper showed that DNA contains the genetic information that allows the cell to produce specific proteins, which is also the main factor that makes individuals different from each other. At that time, the discovery of DNA structure had a profound impact on the study of life and non-life. Scientists are now able to study the DNA of different species and unravel the evolutionary tree by comparing the similarity in genetic codes. It also helped establish the foundation of genetic engineering.

Although the discovery of DNA helped establish Francis Crick's reputation in the field of biology, there are some who have criticized him for not giving Rosalind Franklin more credit. According to the Science History Institution article “James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin”[2] clearly indicates that Franklin's data played a vital role in the study: “At King's College London, Rosalind Franklin obtained images of DNA using X-ray crystallography, an idea first broached by Maurice Wilkins. Franklin's images allowed James Watson and Francis Crick to create their famous two-strand, or double-helix, model.”

In 1962, Crick, Watson, and Wilkins jointly won the Nobel Prize in Physiology for the structure of DNA. Rosalind was not honored for the Nobel Prize because she was deceased and the prize is only given to those still alive. Matthew Cobb, Professor at the University of Manchester, wrote an article about the controversy entitled “Sexism in Science: Did Watson and Crick really steal Rosalind Franklin's data?”[3] which reveals that many people doubt James Watson and Crick actually stole Franklin's DNA X-ray diffraction data. Nevertheless, “they [Watson and Crick] did not tell anyone at King's what they were doing, and they did not ask Franklin for permission to interpret her data (something she was particularly prickly about).” Today, there is still debate over whether Crick and Watson intentionally neglected Rosalind's contribution to the DNA model. Be that as it may, there is no question that Crick and Watson were the first to make the necessary connections which led to their breakthrough.


[1] J. D. Watson & F. H. C. Crick, "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid", Nature, 171, 737-738 (1953).

[2] "James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin", (last updated on December 4, 2017).

[3] Matthew Cobb, "Sexism in science: did Watson and Crick really steal Rosalind Franklin's data?", The Guardian, 23 Jun 2015.

Further Reading

1. The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Scribner; Reprint edition (July 1, 1995)

2. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery, Basic Books (July 10, 1990)

3. Of Molecules and Men, Prometheus; First Edition edition (April 1, 2004)

Francis Crick books

MSAC Philosophy Group

The Evolutionary Scientists

The theory of evolution has a long history. However, it was not until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace discovered that the wide variety of species we presently see were largely the result of natural selection did evolutionary studies have a solid, scientific basis. In the past one hundred and sixty years, a number of eminent biologists have contributed to our understanding of how complex life forms emerged from simpler, more rudimentary ones.
This small book provides a glimpse into the life and work of twenty-two outstanding evolutionary thinkers, ranging (in alphabetical order) from Jerry Coyne to Edward O. Wilson. This is by no means an exhaustive list since it is designed to show the wide diversity of scientists interested in evolutionary studies.
Each entry, written by a different author, describes the life and work of the evolutionist and why he is significant and what contributions he has made to the field. (MSAC Philosophy Group)

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