Saturday, 16 January 2016

Critics of the evolution revolution

I'm a proponent of the idea of a modern evolution revolution. I think that the modern changes required to evolutionary theory amount to a paradigm shift. In particular, the expansion of the domain of Darwinian evolution as described by universal Darwinism represents a revolution of significant size. For example, it requires extensive revisions to the evolution textbooks.

However, I notice that there are naysayers. One is Razib Khan. Here are some of his articles on the topic:

Razib says: "There is no revolution in evolution" ...and: "I would argue there hasn’t been a true revolution in evolutionary biology since Mendelian genetics and classical Darwinism were fused in the 1920s and 1930s".

The problem with Razib as a critic is that he doesn't really address universal Darwinism. I don't think "epigenetics" is much of a revolution either. In fact I would describe "epigenetic inheritance" as being an oxymoron ( e.g. see here and here).

Razib does have some knowledge of cultural evolution. Why doesn't he consider it to be a revolution? The answer isn't clear to me. Razib says: "Genetics began as inferences about the nature and character of inheritance from observed patterns, not by understanding molecular biological mechanisms." The implication seems to be that more types of inherited character are no big deal and that genetics implicitly has them covered. That's a position that I understand and am sympathetic to - but I don't think it means that there's been no revolution.

Is Universal Darwinism really a revolution? Because it has taken so long perhaps it could be described in terms of evolution - rather than revolution. Or maybe it is a revolution that hasn't fully happened yet - and so people don't recognize or understand it. I tend to favor the latter hypothesis. For the most part, the revolution naysayers haven't shown that they understand the post-revolution perspective. Obviously, if you are on the wrong side of the paradigm shift, you don't see any revolution. Let's see the critics write some articles about Darwinian physics or the incorporation of observation selection effects or intelligent design into Darwinism - to prove that they understand the subject - before denigrating the significance of such developments.

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