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July 21, 1997

Evolution

Reservations re. Darwinism

Some people have asked why I'm less persuaded these days by natural selection as the driving force behind evolution. The short answer is that the evidence for its being so just isn't there, and the numbers don't work: even with the age of the Earth stretched to the maximum that can be postulated to give natural selection a chance, it just hasn't got the innovative power to produce the things we see. The main reason for continuing to cling to it, it seems to me, is at root just as "religious" as literal Biblical fundamentalism: It's the only explanation that the mechanistic/materialist school has to offer.

The only one, that is, while it persists with its dogma of gradualist uniformatarianism--i.e. that the only processes permissible to think about as operating in the past are those observed today.

But the Catastrophist view, which seems to be regaining respectability after being overruled in the 19th century, avoids the extremism of both camps. Its basic tenet is that the diversity of life originated rapidly in a series of massive, cataclysmic events occurring on a global scale--for which abundant evidence exists, but is ignored. Natural selection comes into play afterward, winnowing out the less fit and reducing overall diversity, which is again what the fossil record shows. This would explain why the profusions of expected ancestral and transitional forms don't seem to be there. And what is the mechanism that generates all this variety? That's the unacceptable part: the answer just at the present seems to be, nobody really knows.

 
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