The (ongoing) evolution of evolutionary theory
on November 10, 2014 • ( 65 )
by Massimo Pigliucci
After all this time the realm of darwinism is still hopelessly stuck. I reviewed The Extended Synthesis over two years ago at Amazon, and nothing has changed. I simply can’t understand the tenacity of the standard view. It should be obvious to the point of thunderation that the whole game of natural selection was in error, but still, as in this article, the hemming and hawing continues.
This situation is dangerous. Creationists apart, the critiques of the Intelligent design gang have simply reduced darwinists to near laughing stock. The whole reputation of science is up in the air at this point. If Big Science gets evolution wrong, and gets corrected by ID groups (without any issue of ID even entering the discussion) something is seriously wrong with the science world. The issue of ID is irrelevant: the core of darwinism is wrong because natural selection theory is wrong. We didn’t even mention ID. The whole critique of darwinism can be done without the ID angle.
The basic framework of evolution was glimpsed at step one by Lamarck who saw the overall solution, something that is relatively crude in a first statement, alienating the attempts at hard science.
WATCH OUT: the impulse to ‘hard science’ convinced a lot of scientists to defend natural selection to the death, it seems.
What did Lamarck glimpse? Evolution on two levels: a drive toward complexity, the higher level, and an environmental process, at the lower. The latter looks a lot like adaptation to the environment, by the ‘forms’ given by the first level.
Now, you can scientize this perspective out of existence in two snorts, the first as to ‘complexity’ and the second as to ‘drives’. All in vain. Lamarck’s point is clear and reversed at your own risk. His fuzzy language penetrated the mystery at the level of common sense, before it was sunk to the Davy Jones by reductionism, which reduced evolution to the second level, adaptation. We can’t easily get specific with Lamarch’s intuition, but one way or the other he is right: there is a something that is setting direction, and producing abstract forms that respond to a second process of reification. That makes no sense to hardnosed biologists. But the logic is close to obvious, if seen rightly. The record in deep time, if you look plainly, is equivocal: it can show random or nonrandom evolution: it isn’t clear. That’s because you can’t distinguish the overlay of the higher and the lower.
It helps to see a specific example of the high/low in action: Presto, the world of WHEE, which I would recommend reading closely over time, (history-and-evolution.com) gives you a specific set of examples of the higher level and the lower level in visible world history. You can perhaps infer something analogous for deep time. But the ‘metaphor’ of punctuated equilibrium fits this fairly well. Which explains nothing. ‘Punctuated equilibrium’ is really a form of the ‘principle of sufficient reason’ (everything has an explanation), and in a way the same is true of Lamarck’s intuition, more or less, but taken closer to something specific: the process of evolution has a ‘force’ factor, and an ‘equilibrium’ of ‘force off’ factor. This should alert us to the way any statement of a principle of sufficient reason resembles Newton’s first and second laws on the level of ‘almost garbled’ jargon. The point is that evolution has to have a driving factor, and a second factor without that. The attempt therefore to reduce everything to natural selection, the lower level, has always produced distorted thinking. This was justified in the name of science done right, but it has always been science done wrong, as generations of religiously oriented yahoos have gleely pointed out.