May 13, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin and Malthus Were Wrong: Cooperation Is Key to Evolution

The statements in a new conceptual model of evolution undermine the whole rationale for Social Darwinism.

Darwin’s intellectual heirs sure got the message: competition and survival of the fittest are laws of nature. There isn’t enough food to go around, so you have to be strong to survive. Isn’t it obvious when you see rams butting heads and wolves pushing for dominance at the kill? Humans had better get used to this uncomfortable idea; the law of the jungle favors the strong.

The deadly results of this concept of evolution are described in a new book by historian Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity (see Evolution News & Views for information). From Oliver Wendell Holmes to Richard Dawkins, Weikart presents examples of movers and shakers who shared this view that emanated from the master himself, Charles Darwin. Weikart explains,

Darwin’s theory was, from the start, a doctrine that extolled death as an engine of progress. In the conclusion of The Origin of Species, Darwin stated, “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” According to Darwin’s concept of natural selection, organisms better adapted to their environment would survive, while a much larger number of the “unfit” would perish in the struggle for existence. Evolutionary progress was predicated on mass death. In The Descent of Man he applied natural selection to people by arguing that humans are not qualitatively different from animals. He argued that humans were in an intense struggle for existence with their fellow humans, which inevitably resulted in the death of the vast bulk of humans before they can reproduce.

My, what would they think of professors at a British Columbia university tossing that out as outdated? How would they respond to the notion that Darwin’s competitive view is outmoded and simplistic? A press release from Tomsk State University begins,

Many theories and hypotheses suggest that competition tends to differentiate ecological requirements after repeated interactions and allows biodiversity. Even if the mechanisms that allow species to evolve, coexist, compete, cooperate, or become extinct are becoming more and more understood, the factors that allow species to coexist in a given time within the same environment are still debated. From Gause’s principle of competitive exclusion to Connell’s ghost of competition in the past, the importance of intra- and interspecific competition for the evolution of biodiversity has been stressed. Recently, the principles based on competitive interactions for the explanation of biodiversity have been criticized from both theoretical and empirical approaches. Since Hutchinson proposed the provocative “paradox of plankton” a series of alternative hypothesis has been proposed to explain why the principle of competitive exclusion is not found in ”real nature”. The reason probably lies in the fact that ecologists have not questioned some of the principles of evolution. In fact, most ecological models are too simplistic and are often considered outdated.

Trending now is the role of cooperation to explain biodiversity. It’s a polar opposite perspective from nature red in tooth and claw. That’s why the headline reads, “Cooperation, not struggle for survival, drives evolution.” The professors are still evolutionists, and still believe in millions of years. But how radical is their perspective?

A new conceptual evolutionary model first proposed in 2015 in bioRXiv and then published this year in the journal Biologia by Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, associate professor of ecology and biodiversity at Tomsk State University (Russia), reviewed the debated mechanism of speciation, suggesting that competition and a struggle for the existence are not the main drivers of evolution. This research points out the importance of avoidance of competition, biological history, endogenosymbiosis, and three-dimensionality as the main forces that structure ecosystems and allow the evolution of biological diversity.

Some of these concepts are as new as 2015 and are just now getting noticed in publications. How would the 20th century have changed course if the totalitarian dictators saw the “avoidance of competition” as the law of nature driving evolutionary progress?

More Revisionism

The “Evolution 2.0” revised theory of Neo-Darwinism, too, is taking heat. Scientists in Spain found that mutations are hardly good candidates for evolutionary progress. Science Daily reports on experiments studying the combined effect of single point mutations to explore the “fitness landscape”. Watching the effect of mutations on fluorescent proteins in jellyfish, they were surprised:

Surprisingly, they found that some combinations of mutations had a more pronounced effect on the fluorescence than might have been predicted from the effect of each single change by itself….

Postdoctoral researcher Karen Sarkisyan, first author on the paper, says, “We were really surprised when we finally had a chance to look at exactly how the interactions between mutations occur. We also did not expect that almost all the mutations that are only slightly damaging on their own can destroy fluorescence completely when combined together.

This would imply that the “fitness landscape” is mined with hidden explosives that only become activated by other mutations. The likelihood of beneficial traits arising in such a battlefield seems increasingly slim.

Just thought you’d like to know. Apparently 148 million deaths in the 20th century (Darwin’s Century) were based on a false premise. Let’s hope we do better this time around.

For you Darwinists reading this, we know that the new model is evolutionary too, so you don’t have to say it. What it shows, though (contrary to the claims of the NCSE), is that there really exist wide differences of opinion about evolutionary theory – including nearly opposite views. Consider the possibility that they are all simplistic and outdated.





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