Darwinism Is Fracturing; Darwinist Celebrates
Here’s how to celebrate a fractured theory and forestall
a scientific revolution: look happy and excited.
Our theory is messed up, contradictory, and incomplete, admits an evolutionary biologist. Ain’t it grand?
The study of evolution is fracturing – and that may be a good thing (The Conversation, 9 Nov 2022).
In this monologue (not really a “conversation”), Eric Svensson, an evolutionary ecology professor at Lund University in Sweden freely confesses that Neo-Darwinism, which has been taught as indisputable fact for nearly a century—to the extent of censoring alternatives and punishing skeptics—is currently a hopeless mess.
Evolutionary biology today is a messy patchwork of several loosely connected subfields. This reflects the enormous diversity of phenomena that we study and the many interests of biologists.
We are united in accepting that natural selection on inheritance and random factors have jointly shaped organisms – but not by much more. Maintaining a coherent overview, either the modern synthesis or some extension to it, seems increasingly hopeless.
The fracturing today was baked in by the shortsightedness of its inventors. Svensson tells how the “modern synthesis” (Neo-Darwinism) was put together by a few specialists without considering the big picture (see our article about the Huxley conspirators, 7 Nov 2022).
The modern synthesis aimed to unify biology, but it was dominated by a few subfields, particularly genetics and paleontology, and focused on how populations change their genetic make-up over time. From this perspective, organisms are objects and the raw material for natural selection.
Notably, the modern synthesis did not incorporate all fields. The study of how embryos develop and how organisms interact with each other and their environment (ecology) were largely left out.
Since important aspects of biological change were left out, evolutionary theory has become the messy patchwork it is today. Some call for revisions and additions, such as incorporating how organisms construct their own environments (“niche construction”). Some are looking for evolution in the embryo (“evo-devo”). Some are even calling for a whole new theory, arguing that natural selection can’t do all the work.
Some go so far as to say that evolutionary theory itself is in crisis and must be replaced with something new.
Svensson isn’t worried. Isn’t this a marvelous situation? Evolution is stronger with its fractures!
That evolutionary biology is increasingly fractured does not worry me either, as long as we recognise that a plurality of approaches is not a weakness, but a strength. If physicists cannot agree upon a grand unified theory of the universe, why should biologists expect to agree on one beyond what we have already achieved? After all, organisms are much more complex than physical particles and processes.
Physics Envy and Liberation from Logic
Svensson points to how physicists can’t agree whether light is a wave or a particle. He says that cosmologists are giving up on a Grand Unified Theory. Why can’t evolutionary biologists engage in a little cognitive dissonance of their own?
Why can we not see organisms as either agents capable of modifying their environments or objects subject to natural selection, depending on the context? These are two valuable and complementary perspectives.
Important differences were not noted by Svensson: light is observable in the present, and appears wave-like or particle-like depending on the experiment performed. Light is also precisely measurable and describable in mathematical terms. The wave-particle duality is repeatable by other scientists. Evolution, contrariwise, is a narrative about the past that is unrepeatable and unfalsifiable.
So is the beaver acting as an agent of evolution by building its dam, or is evolution acting on the beaver to make it build the dam? Both! The cause is its own effect, and the effect is its own cause. This is liberation!
Giving up the search for a grand unified evolutionary theory will not hurt our field, but rather, liberate us.
But it will only liberate those inside the Darwin Castle. Svensson’s only link to the need for a whole new theory because evolution is a theory in crisis does NOT include a link to Michael Denton’s book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. It points to a 2015 paper by Denis Noble, another evolutionist. He wants to put naturalistic evolution into a “new conceptual framework” that excludes mind, teleology or intelligent causes.
This means that outsiders who have been expelled must remain outside where they cannot be heard protesting. Evolutionism may be a fractured theory, but it must remain a fractured evolutionary theory. No intelligence allowed!
Evolutionists don’t need to get uptight. They already have a Grand Unified Theory: the Stuff Happens Law. (SHL). The SHL explains everything. It even explains the necessity of keeping creationists and intelligent design advocates outside of science: the selfish genes of the powerful in elitist universities, they can say, must have increased their fitness by punishing non-cooperators.
The SHL even explains why there is no cause for fretting when Humpty Darwin falls: his fractured body in the ground “is not a weakness, but a strength.” Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darwin will be able to proclaim as he totters on the wall, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Everyone chant the evolution slogan: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Stuff is happening!”