No one, and I mean no one, working in the field is debating whether natural selection is the driving force behind evolution.
Shermer defended his thesis honorably without resorting to any smear or ridicule of ID proponents. Nevertheless, despite his valor and commitment, Shermer fought and continues to fight a losing battle. A new book from MIT press controverts Shermer’s claims:
Natural selection is commonly interpreted as the fundamental mechanism of evolution. Questions about how selection theory can claim to be the all-sufficient explanation of evolution often go unanswered by todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neo-Darwinists, perhaps for fear that any criticism of the evolutionary paradigm will encourage creationists and proponents of intelligent design.
In Biological Emergences, Robert Reid argues that natural selection is not the cause of evolution. He writes that the causes of variations, which he refers to as natural experiments, are independent of natural selection; indeed, he suggests, natural selection may get in the way of evolution. Reid proposes an alternative theory to explain how emergent novelties are generated and under what conditions they can overcome the resistance of natural selection. He suggests that what causes innovative variation causes evolution, and that these phenomena are environmental as well as organismal.
After an extended critique of selectionism, Reid constructs an emergence theory of evolution, first examining the evidence in three causal arenas of emergent evolution: symbiosis/association, evolutionary physiology/behavior, and developmental evolution. Based on this evidence of causation, he proposes some working hypotheses, examining mechanisms and processes common to all three arenas, and arrives at a theoretical framework that accounts for generative mechanisms and emergent qualities. Without selectionism, Reid argues, evolutionary innovation can more easily be integrated into a general thesis. Finally, Reid proposes a biological synthesis of rapid emergent evolutionary phases and the prolonged, dynamically stable, non-evolutionary phases imposed by natural selection.
Robert G. B. Reid is Emeritus Professor of Biology at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He is the author of Evolutionary Theory: The Unfinished Synthesis.
This book appears unwittingly friendly to the idea of intelligently designed, front-loaded evolution even though the book argues explicitly against ID. I think evo-devo is a promising theory, and several ID sympathizers (particularly the folks at Telic Thoughts) are very favorable to ideas within evo-devo.
It is nice to see the idea of intelligent design and special creation being pondered by authors who publish through MIT press! The real news is that Darwin really doesn’t matter. Darwin’s most central idea (natural selection as the driving force of biological innovation) is inessential to modern science, and last but not least, it’s dead wrong.