August 7, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Neo-Darwinism Inadequate; Needs "Extension" and "Expansion"

A biologist and international collaborators want to change the assumption that neo-Darwinism explains biology.

We just want to “extend” evolutionary theory, Arwin Moczek (Indiana U) says in PhysOrg. It sounds, though, like his dissatisfaction with traditional evolutionary theory is more deep rooted:

The concepts originally laid out in Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in 1859 continue to serve as a major foundation for the modern theory of evolutionary biology.

In recent decades, however, biologists in previously overlooked fields such as developmental biology and ecology have made discoveries that extend the basic principles upon which Darwin’s theory was founded.

Yet many scientists—and science textbooks—regard these modifications merely as “proximate considerations,” not as core aspects of evolution. Indiana University biologist Armin Moczek and a team of international collaborators want to change these assumptions.

Their new approach, dubbed the “extended evolutionary synthesis,” appears in the Aug. 5 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

“Our long-term goal is to lay out an extended conceptual framework for evolutionary biology that delivers answers to questions that traditional methods have been unable to provide,” said Moczek, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, who is an author on the paper.

Other collaborators include distinguished scientists from the the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, Austria, Sweden and the United States. The work is the journal’s 2015 “Darwin Review,” an honorary name given each year to a single paper judged highly significantly [sic] by the journal’s editors.

With a play on words, Moczek says that theories need to evolve in response to new data; otherwise, “habits of thought and practice can grow deeply entrenched.

Moczek is in the controversial evo-devo camp. His group also seems to lay weight on niche construction (organisms ordering their own environment) and “plasticity” (“the ability of many organisms to adjust their growth and development in response to environmental changes over their lifetime”). These aspects, they feel, have “been overlooked in evolutionary theory.” That’s odd; neo-Darwinism postured itself as the explanation of everything in biology.

The old theory has been too narrow, Moczek’s group thinks. “Traditional evolutionary biology emphasizes a single direction: Genes give rise to observable traits, such as its physical characteristics, biological processes or behaviors. The environment may favor certain traits but in the process remains external from the organism.” They think their new “reciprocal theory” is more expansive, in which “an organisms’ own traits, behaviors and actions significantly impact the rate and direction of evolutionary change.” Whether their ideas get traction remains to be seen. Some of these concepts have been strongly resisted by traditional neo-Darwinists.

So are there controversies in Darwinism? Sure. In fact, there’s another group of renegades called the Altenberg 16. Susan Mazur wrote a book about them and the “evolution industry” that fights them. Like this group (but more strident), they find traditional neo-Darwinism inadequate and stifling. The solution offered above is no more plausible, though. It’s still unguided, purposeless, and blind. These blind guides are telling the other blind guides they are going the wrong direction. We can ditch them both.

If a theory evolves, it is not a truth. Some day, it might evolve into its opposite. The Creator God does not change. For those adrift blindly in the seas of evolutionary speculation, He is an Anchor for the soul.

 

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