November 19, 2009

The Evolution of Evolution

Poor Darwin: after a sanguine year of celebration to honor the 200th anniversary of his birth, the unconditional love he's enjoyed in the scientific community is starting to fade. Every theory, including that hallowed idea of natural selection, is subject to inquiry; it's the beauty of scientific progress. Next year, Gary Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini will release What Darwin Got Wrong, a book that takes the controversial stance that the notion of natural selection--that traits are selected for their ability to ensure a creature's survival--is provably false, even though the related theory of the genealogy of species is very likely true. Their thesis rests in two parts: one, that when biologically broken down and analyzed, natural selection cannot explain evolution, and two, that the conceptual core (especially related to trait selection) of natural selection is inherently weak (and, in fact, implies 'intelligent selection,' which to us non-creationists, is inherently false). This is not a book that purports the answer, but is an attempt to present a cogent argument to dispute the Darwinian theory of phenotype evolution and to offer theories that differ from the "current adaptationist consensus."

Clearly, the argument that phenotypes evolve in ways that seemingly do not support the idea of "survival of the fittest" is apt: just look at these evolutionary oddballs, never mind the persistent presence of Sarah Palin. But still, it's eerie to question what, for most, is the bedrock of molecular biology--and anytime a door is opened to the ardent adherents (are there any other kind?) of intelligent design, we're all in trouble. Check out former child star Kirk Cameron's latest endeavor, a "150th anniversary edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, complete with 50-page creationist introduction" that explains why the banana--in all seriousness--is "the atheist's worst nightmare" because it's just so damn easy to eat, it must have been crafted especially to fit in human hands. Amanda Gefter does a glorious job of undercutting the creationist claims on New Scientist's CultureLab blog.

Moral of the story: the evolution of the theory of evolution takes some getting used to, but we should be thankful for it. The theory of a virgin birth hasn't changed an iota in two thousand years, and it's getting us nowhere but in the fast lane to crazytown.

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