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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 21: What if Darwin’s theory only works 6 percent of the time?

Here’s an interesting article in New Scientist by Bob Holmes on a new approach to how animals become separate species (“Accidental origins: Where species come from”, March 10, 2010):
Everywhere you look in nature, you can see evidence of natural selection at work in the adaptation of species to their environment. Surprisingly though, natural selection may have little role to play in one of the key steps of evolution - the origin of new species. Instead it would appear that speciation is merely an accident of fate.

So, at least, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK. If his controversial claim proves correct, then the broad canvas of life - the profusion of beetles and rodents, the dearth of primates, and so on - may have less to do with the guiding hand of natural selection and more to do with evolutionary accident-proneness.

[ ... ]

"When it works, it works remarkably well," he says. "But it only works in about 6 per cent of cases. It doesn't seem to be a general way that groups of species fill out their niches."
Then Darwin’s theory just barely makes it to statistical significance, conventionally given as 4 per cent.

The otherwise most informative article is marred by the constant need to claim that Darwin was not wrong - but obviously, if Pagels is right, Darwin was indeed wrong, and so are all the people fronting his cause. Natural selection acting on random mutation was, precisely, Darwin’s proposed mechanism.

No one supposes that natural selection doesn’t occur. But is it the main driver of new species, as Darwin thought, and Pagels doubts?

Pagels dances very nervously indeed around that point (presumably from fear of joining the Expelled, given that his genome research has failed to back Darwin up.

So, for a free copy of Expelled, which details what happened to a variety of people who questioned establishment Darwinism, based on its failures of evidence, read the article and provide the best answer to this question: What do you think of Pagels’ evidence? Is it critical? Is he just blowing smoke? Will he be forced to recant?

Here's where you enter, which you do by posting a comment, 400 words or less. If you are new to Uncommon Descent, you will need to sign up.

Here are the contest rules, not many or difficult. The main thing is 400 words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner's name is never added to a mailing list. There is no mailing list. Have fun!

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