Denis Noble

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Denis Noble in 2013.
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Denis Noble (16 November 1936–) is a British biologist known for his criticism of genetic reductionism and neo-Darwinism.


He held the Burdon Sanderson Chair of Cardiovascular Physiology at Oxford University from 1984 to 2004 and was appointed Professor Emeritus and co-Director of Computational Physiology.

Noble was educated at University College London where he obtained his PhD in 1961. He was the first scientist to model cardiac cells (in two papers in Nature in 1960) and has published over 350 research papers. He is leading researcher in the field of Systems Biology.[1]


Noble has written that there is a current revolution in evolutionary biology, that the central assumptions of neo-Darwinism have been disproven. He is a critic of the gene-centered view of evolution and calls for an extended evolutionary synthesis.

In his book The Music of Life (2006) he examined some of the basic aspects of systems biology, and is critical of the ideas of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. He has written that there are many examples of feedback loops and "downward causation" in biology, and that it is not reasonable to privilege one level of understanding over all others. He also explains that genes in fact work in groups and systems, so that the genome is more like a set of organ pipes than a "blueprint for life."

He has openly criticized the selfish gene idea of Richard Dawkins as non-testable.[2] According to Noble, the idea that genes are selfish is completely unnecessary to an understanding of how they work.[3]

In 2013 Noble at a major international Congress held in Suzhou China lectured his views on evolution.[4] In his recent paper Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology (2013) Noble has written that the central assumptions of neo-Darwinism have been disproven as there is evidence that acquired characteristics can be inherited, DNA is not the sole transmitter of inheritance, genetic change is far from random and often not gradual and the central dogma of molecular biology has been broken, genomes are not isolated from organism or the environment.[5]

Noble has been quote mined by intelligent design proponents, but Noble soundly rejects intelligent design.[6] Despite his criticism of neo-Darwinism, Noble is still a Darwinist as he accepts natural selection. He is not anti-evolution, he is only debating the mechanisms of evolution. Similar to Stephen Jay Gould, he has called for an extended evolutionary synthesis.

Noble believes selection is multilevel. According to his website, his view of evolutionary theory is more in keeping with Darwin’s own ideas than the neo-Darwinist view. His views on evolution are similar to Eugene Koonin.


Noble's ideas about non-random mutation and the inheritance of acquired characteristics have been criticized by proponents of the modern synthesis. For example, Jerry Coyne has disputed Noble's views about evolution moving beyond the modern synthesis, stating that all his claims are wrong. According to Coyne "he fails to show a convincing case of long-term evolution induced by an environmental modification of the genetic material... However famous Noble may be in physiology, he’s a blundering tyro when it comes to evolutionary biology."[7]

PZ Myers has written that Noble is a "disgraceful dingleberry who believes that mutations are non-random and that acquired characteristics can be inherited and that evolutionary change is entirely saltational. He’s nuts."[8]

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