Evolution Icon Evolution

Recommended Viewing: A Great Talk by Michael Lynch

Larry Moran, the University of Toronto biochemist and maverick “non-Darwinian” evolutionist, is an admirer of Indiana University evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch. The latter is an often-scathing critic of the abuse of natural selection in biological explanation. See, for instance, his open-access paper in PNAS, “The frailty of adaptive hypotheses for the origins of organismal complexity.”

Today at his blog Sandwalk, Larry posted a link to a YouTube talk by Lynch (above).

I watched the talk just now (as I’m cleaning up my office) and wanted to recommend it highly. Lynch actually measures things like mutation rates from direct observation in a variety of species. If more evolutionary theory were done with this sort of meticulous care, the debate pitting ID versus neo-Darwinism would be a lot more tractable.

By the way, Lynch’s own ideas are covered in Chapter 16 of Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt. By downplaying the causal role of natural selection (on the grounds of powerful arguments and data), Lynch is forced by the limited toolkit of materialism/naturalism to rely on neutral processes such as drift, and to argue that complex molecular machines such as the ribosome or the eukaryotic spliceosome are unnecessarily complicated.

Indeed these molecular entities just cannot help being so, given the blind forces of undirected evolution. As a consequence, Lynch is unlikely to look for new functions or functional roles, subtle or not, because in the end, everything was cobbled together by randomness anyway.

But biology is function. So, as much as I admire his analytical precision and unsentimental dismissal of natural selection as a magic wand, I find his overall case woefully deficient. The explanatory toolkit of materialism is too limited.