Evolution: like any other science it is predictable

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Jan 12;365(1537):133-45. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0154.

Abstract

Evolutionary biology rejoices in the diversity of life, but this comes at a cost: other than working in the common framework of neo-Darwinian evolution, specialists in, for example, diatoms and mammals have little to say to each other. Accordingly, their research tends to track the particularities and peculiarities of a given group and seldom enquires whether there are any wider or deeper sets of explanations. Here, I present evidence in support of the heterodox idea that evolution might look to a general theory that does more than serve as a tautology ('evolution explains evolution'). Specifically, I argue that far from its myriad of products being fortuitous and accidental, evolution is remarkably predictable. Thus, I urge a move away from the continuing obsession with Darwinian mechanisms, which are entirely uncontroversial. Rather, I emphasize why we should seek explanations for ubiquitous evolutionary convergence, as well as the emergence of complex integrated systems. At present, evolutionary theory seems to be akin to nineteenth-century physics, blissfully unaware of the imminent arrival of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Physics had its Newton, biology its Darwin: evolutionary biology now awaits its Einstein.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biology
  • Genetic Variation
  • Philosophy*