A close-up of infighting between ""ultra-Darwinians"" and naturalists. Paleontologist Eldredge (The Miner's Canary, 1991,...


REINVENTING DARWIN: The Great Debate at the High Table of Evolutionary Theory

A close-up of infighting between ""ultra-Darwinians"" and naturalists. Paleontologist Eldredge (The Miner's Canary, 1991, etc.), curator of the American Museum of Natural History's department of invertebrates, argues that until recently geneticists -- the ultra-Darwinians -- have excluded naturalists from the ""high table"" of acknowledged experts in biology. The geneticists' folly, he avers, is their allegiance to reductionism, which in the case of evolutionary biology means a glorification of genes as the be-all and end-all of everything that happens in evolution, with such subjects as the organization of living forms, ecosystems, and social structures reduced to the level of epiphenomena. By contrast, paleontologists/naturalists like Eidredge and Stephen Jay Gould paint a hierarchical picture of evolution. They define species as reproductively isolated groups existing in discrete times and spaces; they look at factors that affect speciation and, in the case of Eldredge-Gould, argue against Darwinian gradualism in favor of punctuated equilibria: Species are characterized by long periods of stasis interrupted by events (including climatic upheavals) that cause relatively rapid change. For them, the machine of evolution is not driven exclusively by reproductive rivalry, but by economic and ecological factors that involve complex interactions of populations in nature. Eldredge's omission of any serious discussion of the role of sexual selection in evolution is a weakness, but he does describe the leading contributors to both sides of the debate, and his discussion of human culture, while brief, presents good arguments against group selection and sociobiologists' genes-for-everything cant. His frequent mentions of friendly associations and interchanges among rivals remind us that the debate is open and healthy -- ensuring that science itself can evolve. In the meantime, stay tuned for rebuttals. Eloquent and persuasive argument for the ""messy"" historical long view, but fair to all sides.

Pub Date: May 12, 1995


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995