MetaDarwinism

Fowler and Kuebler[i] apply the term to a heterogeneous group of scientists who think that Neo-Darwinism does not include and/or adequately explain phenomena such as the following:

  1.     Punctuated equilibrium, the rapid appearance of a variety of new species in the fossil record, as opposed to Darwin’s idea that evolutionary change is very gradual.
  2.  The utilization of old structures to produce something novel or new.
  3.   Morphogenetic fields, where, in embryonic development, cells interact in the genesis of structures.
  4.  Self-organization and complexity, where molecules and cells by themselves create highly ordered networks.
  5.   Endosymbiosis, where organisms can merge or integrate to produce new forms.
  6.   Epigenesis, where organisms can alter their form with heritable changes outside the genome.

In my opinion, these six items have in common a dynamic quality; words like rapid, produce, interact, create, merge, and alter don’t connote passivity. Throughout this work, I shall refer especially to seven scientists and authors whose work suggests the Meta-Darwinist view: Franklin Harold,[ii] Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb,[iii] Lynn Caporale,[iv] Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan,[v] and Anthony Trewavas.[vi] I shall interpret their works and opinions and the findings of a number of other scientists as intimating a worldview of Life as agentive (i.e., having agency). This implies that Life’s plasticity, its ability to transform itself to cope with changing circumstances, is an active capacity. Life has more going for it than just the strategy of random variation. That is, Life possesses intelligence, the ability to learn, and the capacity to modify itself.[vii] It has at hand the strategy of random variation, but it also has numerous other means of self-modification.

For example, Lynn Caporale notes that the assumption that evolution “depends upon random mutation for the generation of new variations” has made it hard for many to accept the theory. But there is research that “leads to the conclusion that mutations are not all accidents and that mutations are not always random.” The genomes of life forms, including ours,have evolved mechanisms that create different kinds of mutations in their DNA, and they reuse and adapt useful pieces of DNA, even to the point that there are genomic ‘interchangeable parts.’”

Randomness fades in a world that rewards each step of getting better at finding food, avoiding predators, or adapting to recurring challenges. . . . Over time, there emerged something that, viewing the effects now, we might call strategies—such as the ability to actively generate diversity . . . [making] genomes more efficient at adapting and evolving. . . .

 . . . Natural selection acts not only on fins and wings, but also on the mechanisms that change a genome. . . . “Successful” genomes—the ones that survive—are the genomes that evolve what here I will call mutation strategies. . . . the molecular mechanisms I will describe . . . have the effect of anticipating and responding to challenges and opportunities that continue to emerge in the environment.[viii]

Note the agency implicit in Caporale’s choice of words and phrases: create, the ability to actively generate diversity, strategies that have the effect of anticipating and responding to challengesIt is in the thoughts of MetaDarwinist thinkers that I find ideas truly useful to Christianity, and vice versa.



[i] Fowler TB and Kuebler D. The Evolution Controversy, pp. 227–326.

[ii] Franklin Harold is emeritus professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Colorado State University and author of The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms, and the Order of Life (London: Oxford University Press, 2001).

[iii] Eva Jablonka is professor at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University. She is a microbiologist. Marion Lamb was senior lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, before her retirement. They have authored Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005).

[iv] Lynn Caporale is a molecular biologist who has taught and done research at several American universities. Currently, she is an independent consultant in drug discovery and functional genomics. The book reviewed here is Darwin in the Genome: Molecular Strategies in Biological Evolution (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003).

[v] Lynn Margulis is a biologist and professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts. Dorion Sagan is a science writer who frequently coauthors with his mother, Dr. Margulis.

[vi] Anthony Trewavas is a plant biologist and Professor at the University of Edinburgh.  He is pre-eminent in his field, having published over 220 papers and two books on plant-cell signal transduction and plant behavior.

[vii] Another way of saying this is that Life is plastic; its active plasticity is on a timescale of hundreds of thousands to millions of years.

[viii] Caporale, Darwin in the Genome, pp. 4–5.

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One thought on “MetaDarwinism”

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Exploring how evolution, Christianity, and the sciences inform each other, and us.