Evolutionary biology is experiencing its most serious division over the structure of evolutionary theory since the development of the Modern Synthesis nearly 100 years ago. Last November, Great Britain’s prestigious Royal Society (The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) held a conference to deliberate if evolutionary theory needs to be “extended” or even renovated to accommodate fresh ideas from new discoveries. The article Schism and Synthesis at the Royal Society in the current issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution by a conference organizer explains why “the discussion witnessed little meeting of minds.”1
The vital importance of this conference was framed in the science journal Nature in a point-counterpoint-style article, “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?”2 They note that “researchers are divided over what processes should be considered fundamental.” A division over basic processes at the core of any theory suggests that the theory is incomplete, based on misleading research, or broken.
One researcher advocating for a major revision in evolutionary theory (modestly labeled the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, or EES) is Kevin Laland of the University of St. Andrews. He said that “the data supporting our position gets stronger every day. Yet the mere mention of the EES often evokes an emotional, even hostile, reaction among evolutionary biologists. Too often, vital discussions descend into acrimony, with accusations of muddle or misrepresentation.”2 The bitterness, per Laland, is generated since “this is no storm in an academic tearoom, it is a struggle for the very soul of the discipline.”
*Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.
Image Credit: Copyright © 2017 The Royal Society. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.
Article posted on May 18, 2017.