THE GREAT EVOLUTION MYSTERY by Gordon Rattray Taylor

THE GREAT EVOLUTION MYSTERY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The late English author of The Natural History of Mind (1979), and other quirky science popularizations, here raises old and new arguments against evolution--in its neo-Darwinian form--and natural selection. These include: imperfections in adaptation, evolutionary over-and undershoots (the peacock's tail, the shark's failure to change), evolutionary arbitrariness, how and why such perfect organs as the eye develop. And of course Taylor is alert to the current gradualism-vs.-punctuated equilibria dispute. The outcome, however, is a book that exaggerates confusions and uncertainties, gets some things wrong, and injects pet theories; for all its homage to the age of the earth, the general principle of evolution, and the genius of Darwin, it may also serve the cause of creationists. Certainly there are gaps in knowledge (e.g., an imperfect fossil record), along with uncertainty as to how life arose. There are also interesting new theories of gene-environmental interaction that could explain dramatic changes in species on the basis of mutations in regulatory genes or the release from suppressors of various segments of the DNA chain. To the extent that Taylor discusses these possibilities, he's in line with current investigations. When he implies that natural selection is inadequate, implausible, or wrong, and that some sort of organizing (but non-mystical) principle will have to be found, he not only confuses, he treads in quicksand. For a reliable yet lively view of the infighting among scholars of evolution, see Francis Hitching's The Neck of the Giraffe (1982).

Pub Date: March 20th, 1983
Publisher: Harper & Row