In “Why Darwinism is failing,” I noted that genome mapping changed the way we look at evolution: We are now much closer to the world of mechanism, not theory—closer to Popular Mechanics than to Philosophical Quarterly. The “single greatest idea anyone ever had” gives way to descriptions of mechanisms few expected or predicted—each of which might account for some evolution, though most of the picture is still missing.
Darwin’s defenders, apart from endless terminology quibbles, respond by insisting that natural selection acting on random mutation (Darwinism) can find room for all of it somehow. They seem not to have noticed that all useful theories are bounded. A theory that explains everything explains nothing.
By contrast, no one claims that horizontal gene transfer is so vast as to include epigenetics, genome doubling, and endosymbiosis. Each is a distinct, demonstrable mechanism in its own right.
But there is something else: Evolution has become a history. Histories are specific, and resilient in the long run to grand theories of the sort that produce accolades like ”most influential academic book” ever.
As noted here:
The more we learn about the history of life on earth, the less evolution is theory and the more it is history. It is less like Epicureanism and more like World War II. That cannot be good for Darwinian thinking, which fills in large gaps in history by the exercise of theory. Things that “must have” happened if the theory is correct are assumed to have happened.
But history is not like that. Consider, for example, Pearl Harbor, when the Japanese crippled the U.S. Pacific fleet in a surprise attack, though the United States was not at war with Japan. Assume that the account broke off there. Maybe a theory can fill in the blanks for us and tell us what “had to” happen.
But then, what if we later discover more and more evidence for what actually happened? It will be bad news Tuesday for some theories developed in the absence of evidence — maybe for quite a few theories. More.
After a while, gerrymandering a grand theory to “account for” unexpected evidence seems like a waste of time to anyone but true believers.
Darwinism is not, of course, failing in the popular imagination, or at least, not yet. Bimbette’s vast TV audience still believes, as does the “breath of fresh air” theology prof, and Zack Kopplin. But increasingly, the impetus comes less and less from keen minds like Collins and Venter, more and more from celebs, zealots, and lobbyists.
The history of life just cannot sustain the weight of so grand a theory.
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