Scientific fight over Darwinian evolution goes public

Science
by Dick Peterson
Posted 10/31/14, 10:15 am

Doubts about the adequacy of modern evolutionary theory to explain how living organisms change over time have increased in recent years, but mostly behind lab doors and among like-minded scientists. An Oct. 8 article in the weekly science journal Nature dares to raise the question publicly: “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?”

At issue is a division over fundamentals. Biological processes that for standard evolutionary theorists are outcomes of evolution are also causes of evolution, say those who urge a rethink.

Such struggles are nothing new to molecular biologist and author Jonathan Wells, who in 1980 overheard “a prominent Ivy League biologist say that all the basic features of living cells had been discovered; we just need to fill in the details.” Wells cites the several cell structures discovered since 1980 to cast doubt on the notion that a DNA to RNA to protein process alone determines the basic features of living cells and the multi-cellular organisms they compose: “[It is not true that] Darwinian evolution is a settled scientific fact.”

But evolutionary biologists are so deeply invested in Darwinian evolution that they refuse to consider other explanations for the life processes they observe.

So why do they turn a blind eye? Kevin Laland, professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews, speculates that evolutionary biologists, haunted by the specter of intelligent design, may wish to present a united front to those “hostile to science.” Some may even fear loss of funding and recognition. He notes in the Nature article that scientists who stray from the dogma of standard evolutionary theory often evoke an angry reaction among evolutionary biologists, driving vital discussions into a fog of animosity.

That scientists would self-censor and marginalize colleagues bodes poorly for the present state of scientific research. But the Nature article did ask the question, and as more questions are asked, it may open an opportunity for those with a different explanation for the origin of life and how living organisms change over time.

Dick Peterson

Dick lives in Summerville, S.C., is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and is now a freelance writer and caregiver for his wife with multiple sclerosis.

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