Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Science journalist Suzan Mazur remembers Richard Lewontin


At her blog, Oscillations, science writer Suzan Mazur remembers the late Richard Lewontin (died July 4 of this year):

I asked Richard Lewontin—who some consider the most important evolutionary biologist of the 20th century—during a 2008 book interview for his perspective on Darwinian natural selection.

Lewontin hesitated in dismissing natural selection at the time, telling me: “The problem for the biologist is that natural selection is not the only biological force operating on the composition of populations.” 

But by 2010, following publication of assorted evolution books (including my own) and particularly, the Jerry Fodor/Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini book, What Darwin Got Wrong and ensuing controversy “throughout the evolutionary biology community”—Richard Lewontin would finish what Steve Gould, his friend and collaborator, set out to do. Lewontin would demolish natural selection.

Suzan Mazur, “Richard Lewontin Remembered for Decommissioning Darwinian Natural Selection” at Oscillations (July 6, 2021)

Note: Mazur is the author of a number of books on evolution controversies, including Royal Society: Public Evolution Summit.

Other remembrances of Lewontin:

Richard Lewontin (1929 – 2021) has died

The Scientist’s obit on Harvard evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin (1929–2021) notes his takedown of the notion of “race” At The Scientist: “He also wrote a seminal 1972 paper in which he argued there is more genetic variation within members of a population of humans than there is between members of different groups, undermining the idea that there is a genetic basis for the idea of race. “


Tributes to Richard Lewontin (1919 – 2021) Paul Nelson: Lewontin opposed the facile storytelling of much of sociobiology, with its invocation of hypothetical genes for equally hypothetical behavioral traits. The fact that his opposition stemmed in part from his politics is no indictment; his evidential critique holds its value, or stands on its own two legs, independently of the Marxism. Show me the actual data, he would say, or stop the storytelling.

The response of the intelligent design community to Lewontin's death is odd. While critical of sociobiology (which was met with criticism throughout the biological community) and aspects of evolutionary psychology, Lewontin never rejected natural selection as Mazur suggests. Like any good evolutionary biologist, he understood that biology has found many interactive mechanisms for speciation and adaptation, including natural selection, and that the process is more complicated than Darwin's original thesis. Lewontin's two major contributions are recognizing the role of the environment in creating selective pressure and the role of genetics in selection. He was primarily a geneticist and his important work was in the areas of genetic drift and isolation as mechanisms of speciation. But, along with his lifelong friend SJG, he recognized the importance of natural selection and Darwin's historical place in biology. As for his (and SJG's) "take down of race," those works , especially Gould's "The Mismeasurement of Man" were clearly politically motivated and a direct response to the ongoing IQ debate attendant to Arthur Jensen's research, published in the Harvard Education Review in 1969 on persistent group (racial) differences in IQ distributions, differences that persist to this day. Perhaps more relevant to this venue, given the weird adulation found at UD and Evolution News, Lewontin never advocated intelligent design or any other teleological process behind evolution.chuckdarwin
July 10, 2021
07:28 AM

Leave a Reply