Peter Saunders: What do I think will happen to the Modern Synthesis? You have to think of it not as a theory, which can be modified or superseded, but as a paradigm, in the sense of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It’s a body of shared knowledge, understanding and experience, generally with some theory at its core. One of Kuhn’s points is that work within a paradigm is judged in terms of its contribution to the paradigm, not in some difficult to define sense of contribution to science.
Thus for example, I’ve often heard neo-Darwinists say how important Bill Hamilton was because of his theory of kin selection. Kin selection is very important within neo-Darwinism because they see it as a solution to what I have called the “problem of good” (by analogy with the “problem of evil” in Christian theology). If you believe that the only significant force in evolution is natural selection, this is a serious problem, possibly even a threat to the whole theory of evolution. So finding a solution was a major advance. To anyone outside the paradigm, it’s an interesting idea but not all that important.
There won’t be a crucial test, like the 1919 observations that supported General Relativity over Newtonian gravitation. There can’t be, because neo-Darwinism isn’t falsifiable, which is one of the ways we can tell it’s a paradigm rather than a theory. But in all sorts of different ways, the paradigm is gradually losing its dominance.
I think it will be one of those cases that it dies because its supporters die. The thing that would make the biggest difference would be if developmental biologists suddenly decided they had something to contribute to evolution and started doing the work. . . .