Darwinism for today

May 26, 1995

Those who know anything about evolutionary biology (aka Neo-Darwinism) are invariably dismayed by the tiresome claims that Brian Goodwin ("Neo-Darwinism has failed as an evolutionary theory", THES, May 19 ) and Steven Rose ("Is natural selection the sole driver of evolution . . .? ") persist in making, all counter-evidence apparently notwithstanding.

Is there any reason, for example, why 55 years after Julian Huxley's careful dissection of the issues, Goodwin should still be confounding developmental (his own field theories) and functional (ie evolutionary) explanations? Or why he should suppose that Neo-Darwinism is in any way connected with the Human Genome Project (a project that is almost entirely driven by the interests of molecular biologists, whose own understanding of evolutionary theory is all too often depressingly vague)?

Does he seriously think that Darwinians do not accept most of the points he makes about development, about the systemic nature of organisms and about the constraints that these place on their evolutionary history? And, above all, why on earth should he resort to a popular book for evidence that Darwinian biologists perpetrate Just-So Stories when trying to explain human behaviour? And as for Rose's caricature of sociobiology as genetic reductionism - what can one say when most sociobiologists are concerned with explaining organisms' phenotypic flexibility of response to environmental circumstances? Come on, guys - where have you been all this while? Don't you bother to read the literature that we take so much trouble to write?


Professor of Psycholoogy,

University of Liverpool

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