Content    

EVOLUTION

 

Major Changes in Evolution Theory

INTRODUCTION

Evolution, as the science of living organisms, is a hypersynthetic field that draws evidence from a wide range ofsciences, from astronomy to systematics, biochemistry, the biosphere, ecology, genetics, informatics, paleontology,zoology and more.

Over the past three decades, advances in these sciences have introduced so many innovations in evidence and concepts that it is no longer the discipline that it was at the culmination of the Modern Synthesis.

However, our limited capacity to understand and assimilate has the result that much of the reportage, comment, and debate focused for general readers ignores the new knowledge. This is especially marked in the Creationism vs Evolution arena, which is heavily biased by the drive to refute and embarrass one’s opponent.

Perhaps nothing contributes more to the perpetuation of outdated opinion than this scientifically irrelevant sparring match.

Recognition that the Modern Synthesis is obsolete, and that a new grasp of evolution is in the making, has been agrued by numerous authors. My purpose here is to highlight some major innovations that have transformed evolution science.

MASS EXTINCTIONS

Graph of extinctions

Major Extinctions

Mass extinctions are today fundamental to understanding the earth’s life history.  Their acknowledgement is recent, dating to the early 1980s, although evidence for them goes all the way back to Georges Cuvier’s discovery of dramatic differences in fossils in different stratiagraphic levels.  The Austrian geologist Edvard Seuss added substantially to this evidence in the 1860s, but like the Austrian Gregor Mendel’s experiments on peas, it wasn’t assimilated by evolutionists because it was contrary to prevailing opinion.  The theme was resumed by the Austrian paleontologist, Otto Schindewolf (d. 1971), who argued that the gradualist/uniformitarian theory was unsustainable.  In his book Basic Questions in Paleontology (1950), he suggested that mass extinctions might have been caused by asteroid or comet impacts, or by explosions of supernova. 

Today Schindewolf’s insight prevails.  There have been five mass extinctions, meaning, the loss of more than 50 percent of species: the Late Ordovician, the Late Devonian, the Permian-Triassic, the Late Triassic, and the Cretaceous-Tertiary (when dinosaurs went extinct).  The first mass extinction to be generally accepted was the Cretaceous-Teriary, 65 million years ago.  The presumed cause was the impact of an astroid 6-15 kilometers in diameter off the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Gulf of Mexico.  The Chicxulub Crater is 180 kilometers in diameter.  An alternative hypothesis is flood basalt volcanoes, which may emit over thousands of years, as in the Deccan traps of India.  But must these hypotheses be mutually exclusive?  No, because an asteroid impact may activate volcanoes. 

In 2006, a team from Ohio State University identified, in Wilkes Land, Antartica, the largest asteroid crater to date—480 kilometers in diameter.  The impact is estimated to have occurred about 250 million years ago, in which case it is the candidate cause of the largest mass extinction, the Permian-Triassic, when an estimated 90 percent of species went under. 

The asteroid’s diameter is estimated to have been 48 kilometers, in contrast to the 9.6 kilometer diameter of theChicxulub rock. 

Why did evolutionists resist Schindewolf’s evidence for so long?  The answer is established by revisiting the controversy aroused by the evidence for the Chicxulub impact.  The hypothesis was put by Luis and Walter Avarez in 1980.  The reaction from geologists and paleontologists was immediate and loud: No! No! No!

Barrington crater arizona

Barringer crater
Arizona

A paleontologist who was on the spot, David Raup, has described this sorry, disconcerting misconduct in his study, The Nemesis Affair: A Story of the Death of Dinosaurs and the Ways of Science

In addition to Raup, Trevor Palmer’s Perilous Planet Earth: Catastrophes and Catastrophism Though the Ages is an outstanding review of the numerous jeopardies to which the complexity of the solar system subjects all of its planets and moons; indeed, even the asteroids!  For my summary of Palmer’s book, click here.

Are we in the midst of the sixth mass extinction? So it seems. Extinction levels are high in oceans and rivers, tropical forests, and arable land. One example is ocean 'dead zones' in which marine life is exinguished by low oxygen and industrial/agricultural pollutants. There are now 400 such coastal areas around the world, which represents a doubling every decade since 1960. Another significant cause of extinction is clearing of forests for timber and creation of arable land for crops that cause habitat loss. The list of threatened and vanished species is long--an estimated 25,000 species are lost each year. Another extinction indicator, perhaps the most threatening, is world population growth. In 1950, the world population was 2.5 billion. In 2000 it was 6.1 billion. The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that in 2050 the world population will reach 9.3 billion, the U.S. population 419 million (an increase of 110 million from today). The People's Republic of China is the only nation to have imposed a legally enforced population growth limit through its one-child policy, which has been in effect since 1979. Population growth is unsustainable owing to many factors, the exhaustion of potable water and fossil fuels being perhaps the most acute. For more information, see the CNN site Planet in Peril , the Australian Government environment site , and Rhett Butler's Mongabay.com

See also:

Kenneth Hsü, The Great Dying: Cosmic Catastrophe, Dinosaurs and the Theory of Evolution. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1986
David Raup, Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? Norton, 1992.
Richard Leakey & Roger Lewin, The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind, Anchor, 1996.
Peter Ward, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They can Tell Us about Our Future.  Collins, 2007.
John Savino, Marie D. Jones, Supervolcano: The Catastrophic Event that Change the Course of Human History.  Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Jelle Zeilinga de Boor, Donald Sanders, Volcanoes in Human History: The Far-Reaching Effects of Major Eruptions.  Princeton University Press, 2004.
Vincent Courtillot, Evolutionary Catastrophes: The Science of Mass Extinctions.  Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Douglas H. Erwin,  Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago.  Princeton University Press, 2008.
Tony Hallam, Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities: The Causes of Mass Extinctions.  Oxford Univeristy Press, 2005.
M. J. Benton, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time.  Thames and Hudson, 2005.
Richard B. Alley, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press, 2002.

BACTERIA COMMUNITIES

Avwerage bacteria cell  and classification

Average bacteria cell and classification

 

Bacteria are single cell asexual microbes.  They come in many shapes and sizes.  They’re among the earliest forms of life (3.5 billion years ago) and they’re pervasive on this planet and on ourselves; 10 percent of our body weight is our bacteria.  Their habitat range is extraordinary.  Some prosper in high temperature environments, others at low temperatures.  Some thrive in petroleum, 4 miles under the surface.  Others in hot (600 degrees F) vents on the ocean floor.  Still others have been found in rocks 3000 feet below the surface.  They reproduce by dividing in half, and this they do rapidly: a petrie dish of these critters can double their number in ten minutes.  Millions will be found in one drop of saliva.  Amazing stuff. 

But there’s something more eye-catching: their sociability. 

Bacteria cluster in clumps because their aggregation is the basis for ‘intelligent’ communication involving exchange of genes and other self-modifications that make the clump a community.  Bacteria don’t store genetically all the information required for generating the patterns for all possible environments. Instead, additional information is cooperatively generated as required for the colony to grow. 

In other words, individual bacteria constantly read the biochemical signals of their neighbors and alter their composition to correlate with the changes that their neighbors are making to themselves.  This is a self- organizing system that produces new adaptation features at the intra-cellular level of the whole colony. 

Among the adjustments they make is to the exposure of antibiotics.  Antibiotics, eg, penicillin, were introduced in the Forties and for decades were effective against bacterial infections.  But in the Seventies this began to change as one after another antibiotic drug proved to be ineffective.  Research has shown that bacteria have a collective epigenetic memory enabling them to remember how they dealt with prior encounters with a given antibiotic.  It now appears that bacteria (some colonies at any rate) are capable of generating antibiotic resistance more rapidly than pharmacists can generate new drugs. 

Stephen Jay Gould, Planet of the Bacteria, Washington Post Horizon, 1996

Elizabeth Pennisi,  The Secret Language of BacteriaNew Scientist, Sept 1995 

James A. Shapiro and Martin Dworkin, eds.  Bacteria as Multicellular Organisms.  Oxford University Press, 1997

Eschel Ben-Jacob, Social behavior of bacteria: from physics to complex organization, Eur. Phys. J. B (2008)

A New Energy Source: Bacteria Convert Hydrocarbons to Natural Gas

Julie C. Dunning Hotopp, et al., Widespread Lateral Gene Transfer from Intracellular Bacteria to Multicellular Eukaryotes, Science July2, 2007

Nicholas H. Barton, et al., Evolution, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2007

EVOLUTION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: James A. Shapiro

James A Shapiro

James A Shapiro

Epigenesis, horizontal gene transfer, soma to germ line transfer, endosymbiosis: these startling phenomena have transformed the study of life based on the Central Dogma (DNA-->RNA-->Protein). 

James Shapiro’s long study of bacteria has culminated in a concise statement of the new theory of life and of evolution.  His basic principles are these: 

  • All genome functions are interactive: the genome is always in communication with rest of the cell
  • Every genome component operates as part of a complex information-processing system (no ‘one gene-one trait’correlation)
  • Genome systems are organized and integrated into cell networks by repetitive DNA (there is no ‘junk’ DNA)
  • Genome change is a regulated biological function
  • Natural genetic engineering processes are subject to biological feedback at multiple levels
  • Sensing, computation and decision-making are central features of cellular functions
  • The cell is an active agent utilizing information stored in genome
  • Information flow is multidirectional and all genomic functions are interactive.
  • Genome change as a biochemical process subject to regulation
  • Cell function is controlled by informatic rather than mechanical processes
  • Signals play the critical role in the revamp of cell and organismal phenotypes

Shapiro argues that current knowledge of cellular activity contradicts the basic principles of neo-Darwinism, which assumes that the genome is constant, subject only to random, localized changes at a constant mutation rate.  But it is now known that the genome is subject to episodic, massive, and non-random reorganization that may produce new functions. 

Shapiro has set forth his position in his essays: A 21st Century View of Evolution, Revisiting the Central Dogma in the 21st Century, Why Repetitive DNA is Essential Genome Function, and, Natural GeneticEngineering and Adaptative Mutation, all available online here. 

OTHERS

Eschel Ben-Jacob 

Ben-Jacob is a physicist at Tel Aviv University.  Like Koza, he has helped develop genome cybernetics, and like Shapiro,this he interprets as a kind of cognition.  His creation of an organic memory chip was rated by the Scientific American asamong the 50 most significant discoveries of 2006. 

John R. Koza

Koza, located at Stanford University, is among the leaders in genetic programming for computers.  Shapiro identifies genetic programming as tool for simulating cellular functions.  Koza’s website provides an exposition of genetic programming together with a list of pdf publications and graphics of programs. 

Lynn Margulis

Symbiosis as a Source of Evolutionary Innovation  

Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution 

Santa Fe Institute

The Institute was established in 1984 to promote the study of nonlinear, interactive systems from which interesting and unpredictable behavior emerges.  This includes examining the dynamics of complex systems and how they evolve. 

Mary Jane West-Eberhard 

West-Eberhard, a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, made her mark with her studies of the social biology of the tropical wasps.  This lead to attention to animal communication and developmental plasticity, and then to a major exposition of condition-sensitive switches in structuring organic development, published by the Oxford University Press (2003) as Developmental Plasticity and Evolution.

THE THIRD DOMAIN: Carl Woese’s Discovery of Archaebacteria Theory Challenges Darwin Doctrine Of Common Descent

© Daily University Science News  

Woese bacteria

Woese Archaea

The driving force in evolving cellular life on Earth has been horizontal gene transfer, in which the acquisition of alien cellular components, including genes and proteins, works to promote the evolution of recipient cellular entities. This is the theory of Carl Woese, a microbiologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Woese presents his theory of cellular evolution, which challenges long-held traditions and beliefs of biologists, in today's [18 June 2002] issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Life did not begin with one primordial cell, Woese's theory holds. Instead, there were initially at least three simple types of loosely constructed cellular organizations. They swam in a pool of genes, evolving in a communal way that aided one another in bootstrapping into the three distinct types of cells by sharing their evolutionary inventions.

Cellular evolution, Woese argues, began in a communal environment in which the loosely organized cells took shape through extensive horizontal gene transfer.

Such a transfer previously had been recognized as having a minor role in evolution, but the arrival of microbial genomics, Woese says, is shedding a more accurate light. Horizontal gene transfer, he argues, has the capacity to rework entire genomes. With simple primitive entities, this process can "completely erase an organismal genealogical trace."

His theory challenges the longstanding Darwinian assumption known as the Doctrine of Common Descent--that all life on Earth has descended from one original primordial form.

"We cannot expect to explain cellular evolution if we stay locked in the classical Darwinian mode of thinking," Woese says. "The time has come for biology to go beyond the Doctrine of Common Descent."

"Neither it nor any variation of it can capture the tenor, the dynamic, the essence of the evolutionary process that spawned cellular organization," Woese writes in his paper.

Going against traditional thinking is not new to Woese, a recipient of the National Medal of Science (2000), and holder of the Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair at Illinois.  In the late 1970s, Woese identified the Archaea, a group of microorganisms that thrive primarily in extremely harsh environments, as a separate life form from the planet's two long-accepted lines -- the typical bacteria and the eukaryotes (creatures like animals, plants, fungi and certain unicellular organisms, whose cells have a visible nucleus).  His discovery eventually led to a revision of biology books around the world.

The three primary divisions of life now comprise the familiar bacteria and eukaryotes, along with the Archaea. Woese argues that these three life forms evolved separately but exchanged genes, which he refers to as inventions, along the way.

He rejects the widely-held notion that endosymbiosis (which led to chloroplasts and mitochondria) was the driving force in the evolution of the eukaryotic cell itself or that it was a determining factor in cellular evolution, because that approach assumes a beginning with fully evolved cells.  His theory follows years of analysis of the Archaea and a comparison with bacterial and eukaryote cell lines.

"The individual cell designs that evolved in this way are nevertheless fundamentally distinct, because the initial conditions in each case are somewhat different," Woese writes in his introduction. "As a cell design becomes more complex and interconnected a critical point is reached where a more integrated cellular organization emerges, and vertically generated novelty can and does assume greater importance."

Woese calls this critical point in a cell's evolutionary course the Darwinian Threshold, a time when a genealogical trail, or the origin of a species, begins. From this point forward, only relatively minor changes can occur in the evolution of the organization of a given type of cell.

To understand cellular evolution, one must go back beyond the Darwinian Threshold, Woese said.

His argument is built around evidence "from the three main cellular information processing systems"--translation, transcription and replication -- and Woese suggests that cellular evolution progressed in that order, with translation leading the way.  The pivotal development in the evolution of modern protein-based cells, Woese says, was the invention of symbolic representation on the molecular level--that is, the capacity to "translate" nucleic acid sequence into amino acid sequence.

Human language is another example of the evolutionary potential of symbolic representation, he argues. "It has set Homo sapiens entirely apart from its (otherwise very close) primitive relatives, and it is bringing forth a new level of biological organization," Woese writes.

The advent of translation, he says, caused various archaic nucleic-based entities to begin changing into proteinaceous ones, emerging as forerunners of modern cells as genes and other individual components were exchanged among them.  The three modern types of cellular organization represent a mosaic of relationships: In some ways, one pair of them will appear highly similar; in others, a different pair will.  This, Woese says, is exactly what would be expected had they individually begun as distinct entities, but during their subsequent evolutions they had engaged in genetic cross-talk--a commerce of genes.

Carl Woese, Archaebacteria, Scientific American, June, 1981: 98-122.

Carl Woese, A New Biology for a New Century, review by Freeman Dyson

David Morrison, Carl Woese and New Perspectives on Evolution, NASA Astrobiology Institute

Tim Friend, The Third Domain. The untold story of Archaea and the future of biotechnology, Joseph Henry Press, 2007. Review by Gert Korthof 

New ribosome evidence for the three domains

Introduction to Extremophiles   

Eukaryotes in extreme environments 

John L. Howland. The Surprising Archaea, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Jan Sapp, ed, Microbial Phylogeny and Evolution: Concepts and Controversies.  Oxford University Press, 2005.

Roger A. Garrett and Hans-Peter Klenk, eds., Archaea: Evolution, Physiology, and Molecular Biology, Wiley 2007.

PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM

Stephen J Gould

Stephen Jay Gould

‘Punctuated equilibrium’ is a puzzling term if you come from physics or economics: how are commas and colons expressed in thermodynamics or market exchange?  But never mind, punctuated equilibrium is an alternative model to phyletic gradualism, which has been the dominant model of evolutionary change over the past two centuries.  Eldredge and Gould argue that most species don’t change over long periods or else fluctuate but mildly in morphology, with no apparent direction.  Gradualism is rare, and much too slow to produce the major events in evolution.  Evolution trends are produced by slow directional transformation within lineages, representing the differential success of some species with a clade.  Speciation, they believe, is random with respect to the direction of a trend.  The authors emphasize that their model treats stasis, that is, lack of change, as data.  The gradualist model unfortunately does not, and as a consequence, is inattentive to the tempo and modes of evolutionary change. 

The author stress, in both articles, that gradualism and punctuated equilibrium are high level models needed for organizing research.  But both models may be tested empirically.  In the second article, Eldredge and Gould discuss numerous proposed rebuttals of PE and find them to be at fault.  They even contend that gradualism ‘has never been observed’.  They go further: gradualism, they say, expresses the political bias of 19th century liberalism’s belief in gradual social improvement, as opposed to socialist belief in sudden transformations (‘revolution’).  They alas ignore the fact that ‘revolution’ was a trendy term much used by 19th century liberals to herald dramatic change; even Darwin’s theory was styled ‘revolutionary’. 

Niles Eldridge

Niles Eldridge

In these two articles Eldredge and Gould don’t discuss the most dramatic explosion of life known: the Cambrian, a ten million year burst that commenced about 540 million years ago.  The major site is the Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada.  Gould devoted a book, Wonderful Life, to a study of this extraordinary and rapid diversification of life. 

The authors also do not discuss major extinction events.  There have been five major extinctions over the past 400 million years: the Ordovician, the Devonian, the Permian-Triassic, the late Triassic, and the largest of all, the Cretaceous-Triassic, in which an estimated 90 percent of species perished.  To all appearances, mass extinctions are a major blow to the gradualist model.

Punctuated equilibrium provoked an extensive debate among paleontologists, reviewed by Donald R. Prothero.  At the philosophical level, it was extensively criticized by Daniel Dennett in his book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.  Gould responded in his New York Review of Books article, The Pleasures of Pluralism.

Selected articles by Gould are:

1977. Evolution's erratic pace. Natural History 86 (May): 12-16.

1977. The Return of Hopeful Monsters. Natural History 86 (June/July): 22- 30

One more thing.  I have attended to only two articles, but Eldredge and Gould have written much more about it. 

Niles Eldredge and S. J.  Gould, Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism, 1972;  
S. J. Gould and. Niles Eldredge, Punctuated Equilibria: The Tempo and Mode of Evolution Reconsidered, Paleobiology, 1977;

S. J. Gould and Niles Eldredge, Punctuated Equilibrium Comes of Age, Nature, 1993;
Donald R. Prothero, Punctuated Equilibria at Twenty: A Paleontological Perspective, The Skeptic, 1992   

Simon Conway Morris, The Crucible of Creation, Oxford University Press, 1998  (On the Burgess Shale)

Stephen J Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Norton, 1989.

Michael B Shermer, This View of Science: Stephen Jay Gould as Historian of Science and Scientific Historian, Popular Scientist, and Scientific Popularizer, Social Studies of Science, 2002 

A NEW ORIGIN OF OUR SPECIES: AARON FILLER'S THE UPRIGHT APE

evolution chart

The Evolution of the Ape to Human - Peabody Museum, Yale University

gibbon balancing

Click to enlarge

This image is probably the best known icon of our species’ place in evolution.  It shows our humble origin, yet because we’re the only species with an upright bipedal posture, we transcend nature and are destined for the higher things of civilization.

Now let’s visit a zoo that simulates the habitats of its creatures. Watch the gibbons.  Notice anything unusual?  Why yes, the gibbons strut deftly across vines, much as the Cirque du Soleil acrobats walk tightropes, except that the gibbons don’t need a balancing pole! 

 As you see, the entrenched belief that we’re the only species with an upright bipedal locomotion is wrong.  

According to textbook theory, the upright gait originates with Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) who appeared about 3.5 million years ago.  Not so according to Dr. Aaron Filler, a spinal neurosurgeon and a Harvard trained evolutionary biologist, who has created a fascinating, well-documented new story.  His story begins with the discovery of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, in Chad in 2002.  It created quite a stir because it was evidence that upright bipedalism occurred seven million years ago—a million years prior to the human-chimpanzee split.  Nature published the original article , the National Geographic  featured it.  Filler takes the story much further: bipedal locomotion evolved 21.6 million years ago with the emergence of a human-like bipedal ancestor, Morotopithecus bishopi (found in Moroto, Uganda in 2004).  (Click here to see the Moroto lumbar vertebra).  Its lumbar vertebrae are almost identical to our own. ‘Every textbook’, he confidently declares, ‘is now totally obsolete’. 

Filler innovates again in his account of Morotopithecus’s beginnings.  It did not evolve in standard neo-Darwinian manner as adaptation to a changed ecology.  Instead it arose suddenly from a morphogenetic mutation in the Pax genes.  It was a sudden dorso-ventral transformation of the body axis in which some parts moved forward and others backward.  Descendant forms lived in diverse arboreal and terrestrial environments with variously optimized versions of primary upright bipedalism on large horizontal arboreal supports and on the ground.  These changes are abudantly illustrated in his book and on his website. 

The cause of the rapid change Filler attributes to cationic manipulation of the fidelity of DNA and RNA copying.  This is complex molecular biology beyond the reach of non-specialists (such as myself).  But if his evidence is valid, he’s made a major evolutionary break-through because he can explains the sudden explosion of new species, e.g., the Cambrian Big Bang and mammals in the mid-Triassic.  Filler locks into G.G. Simpson’s acknowledgement of the absence of transitional forms among the thirty-two mammalian orders.  Cationic processes have solved the problem; neo-Darwinism has been superseded. 

Finally, mention must be made of Filler’s attention to history.  He discusses the evidence of Goethe, Oken, Richard Owen, and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire that the vertebrae were the archetype for the entire anatomy of vertebrates. 

REFERENCES

Aaron G. Filler, The Upright Ape: A New Origin of the Species, New Page Books, 2007.
Brian K. Hall, ed., Fins into Limbs: Evolution, Development, and Transformation.  University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Kenneth Kardong, ed., Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution.  4th ed., McGraw-Hill, 2005
Michel Brunet, et al., A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa, Nature 418, 145-151(11 July 2002).
Russell L. Ciochon, John G. Fleagle, Primate Evolution and Human Origins, Aldine, 1987.
M. H. Wolpoff, et al. (2006), An Ape or the Ape: Is the Toumaï Cranium TM 266 a Hominid?, PaleoAnthropology 2006: 36–50.
Thomas Geissmann, Gibbon Systematics and Species Identification  

SOCIOBIOLOGY

eo wilson book

The Harvard Upheaval.  In 1975. the Harvard University Press published the Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, a comprehensive study of the sociability of animals at all levels, from phenotype variation across habits to physiological variation to genetics.  He discussed the place our species is the world of selectionist determinism and indicated that some traits related to sex, race, and age are determined or partially determined.  Wilson was hardly the first to express this view; biological materialism is a deeply set metaphysical position.  But there are rival determinisms, e.g, cultural determinism, behaviorism, and Marxism.  By pulling the trigger on these rival positions, Wilson touched off an enormous controversy.  Among its leaders were two fellow members of Wilson’s own department at Harvard, Richard Lewontin and Stephen J Gould.  Lewontin was active in the Marxist group, Science for the People, and brought agitprop pressures to bear on their colleague.

A Harvard sociology student, Ullica Segerstrale, wrote her doctoral thesis on the controversy and eventually published her outstanding study as Defenders of the Truth: The Battle for Science in the Sociobiology Debate and Beyond (Oxford University Press, 2000).  For an interview with Ullica, see Lila Guterman, Why the 25-Year-Old Battle Over Sociobiology Is More Than Just an Academic Sideshow  .

Val Dusek, a philosophy professor and Science for the People ally, penned a perceptive critical digest of the defense of Wilson over the years, in his essay Sociobiology Sanitized: The Evolutionary Biology and Genetic Selectionism Debates .

The sociobiology debate was watched by Australia.  One observer was Derek Freeman.  Despite his critical assessment of Margaret Mead’s cultural determinism, he contributed a highly critical essay, ‘Sociobiology: The ‘antidiscipline’ of anthropology’ to Ashley Montagu’s Sociobiology Examined (1980).  Freeman’s study is unfortunately not in electronic format.  Another observer was myself, who contributed an essay to Elliot White’s edited volume, Sociobiology and Human Politics (1981).  The book consists of Robert Trivers’ exposition of reciprocal altruism as an explanation of sociability among completely selfish individuals (selfishness is defined as reproductive advantage).  For me this was a rewarding occasion to assess the potential contribution of sociobiology to the analysis of modern politics in an essay Domesticating Nature: Thoughts on the Ethology of Modern Politics. 

A curiosity of this adventure is that Wilson postponed talking about his harassment by colleagues until 1995--two decades after the event.  Another curiosity is that Segerstrale didn’t follow up Wilson’s disclosures.  Still another curiosity is that when Wilson finally decided to speak, he did so not in a leading magazine, but in the respectable conservative publication Academic Questions.  Wilson’s article is titled Science and Ideology

In this account I have not dealt with the enormous diffusion of sociobiology across a broad band of biologists, behavioral scientists, and social scientists.  For an introduction, see the Human Behavior and Evolution Society website and the Politics and Life Sciences website 

 

DONALD R. FORSDYKE and WOLF-EKKEHARD LÖNNIG

The websites of these two scientists are rich in contemporary research and historical studies of evolution’s history.  Forsdyke is a biochemist and bioinformatics expert at Queens University, Kingston, Ontario.  Lönnig is plant geneticist at the Max-Planck-Institute for Heredity, Cologne, Germany. 

Exploring their websites has been rewarding to me.  I recommend the following publications on their sites.

Soma to germ line transfer: the molecular basis of Lamarckian inheritance

Edward J (Ted) Steele

Ted Steele

.....After two decades of research my colleagues and I now have good evidence that the tell-tale signs of soma-to-germline genetic impact events have been etched into the very fabric of our chromosomes. This conclusion is quite the opposite to that expected under the ruling neo-Darwinian genetic paradigm based on Weismann's Doctrine. The data have arisen from our research on the molecular genetics of the immune system, the system which allows our body to produce disease-fighting antibodies in the bloodstream. The quality of this evidence is now as strong as our confidence that the origin of craters on the surface of the moon or earth are the impact sites of large cosmic bolides such as comets and asteroids. Thus the molecular genetic evidence derived from the immune systems of higher animals point to "Lamarck's Signature", identified as the imprint of numerous soma-to-germline genetic impact events written into the DNA of our chromosomes encoding antibody genes. Such events which have repeatedly occurred over 400-million years of evolutionary time. E.J. Steele, Evidence for Lamarck, Quadrant Magazine.

Ted’s Evolution A 2003 documentary about Ted Steele's quest to establish Lamarckian inheritance.

Edward J. Steele, Robyn A. Lindley, Robert V. Blanden, Lamarck's Signature: How Retrogenes are Changing Darwin's Natural Selection Paradigm. Perseus, 1999.

Ross Honeywill, Lamarck's Evolution: Two Centuries of Genius and Jealousy. Pier 9, 2008.

A popular biography of Ted Steele. 'In this book Ross is the knowledgeable, humane, enthused man of letters interested in awakening the wider reading public to some big moves in the world of science, and doing it, as many earlier disseminators did, through the story of a particular hero: as Huxley to Darwin; and Playfair to Hutton; Gamow to Einstein, so, perhaps Honeywill to Steele'. Dr John Schuster, Science Historian, University of NSW

COMING SOON

  • Kimura’s neutral theory
  • Evo-Devo
  • Endosymbiosis
  • Spandrels of San Marco
  • Gaia Hypothesis Updated

History of Evolution

History, especially our own, is a pain in the butt when it reminds us of the missteps of our beloved ancestors. The titles and websites listed below are but a few that reveal a past often ignored by significant sectors of evolutionary thought and research. One such sector, prominent today, is the celebrations of Darwin's bicentennial (see my Darwin Legend website). As an illustration of our painful past, consider the following assessment by Alfred Russel Wallace of the historical dynamic, past and future, of human races. Wallace was atuned to the attitudes of Victorian England. He espoused progressive change, including extension of full equality to women and improvement of social contitions of the lower classes. Indeed, from 1890 he styled himself a socialist. He was also eloquently opposed the aggressive scientific materialist smash of religion championed by Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel, among others. Here is what Wallace said about the human races in an 1867 article, Natural Selection Applied to Anthropology:

 

The most extreme forms [of man], the native American, the New Zealander, the Australian, and the Polynesian races, are all doomed. It is a mere question of time as to when these will become extinct. And when I see how Europeans have spread over tropical South America, when I contemplate the rapid increase of that energetic race which in three centuries has changed the vast continent of North America from a waste of forest to a hive of industry and high civilisation, when I think of the possible advances of science in making the forces of nature subserve the wants and supplement the energies of this dominant race, I cannot believe that the resistance of lower races and lower civilisations will permanently avail them, or that climatal influences will for ever prevent the tropics from being the home of the civilised man armed with ever-increasing insight into nature and nature's laws. This is the "struggle for existence" on the grandest scale; and I believe the next few centuries will see it go on at such a rate that even the great races hitherto dominant in their own areas--the Negroes, the Hindoos, and the Mongols--will begin to suffer from it. I cannot believe that the progress of civilisation and science will stop, and I can see no end to such progress, but the absorption and displacement of lower races by higher, till the world again become inhabited by a "homogeneous race," whose command over nature and whose powers of intercommunication will be such as to prevent local conditions affecting, to more than a very slight degree, its external characteristics.

 

 

 

 

Arthur J. Balfour, Naturalism and Ethics
Alfred Russel Wallace, The Scientific Aspect of the Supernatural (1866)
Charles H. Smith, The Alfred Russel Wallace Page
David Blinderman and David Joyce, The Huxley File

Hiram Caton, The Darwin Legend

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