The essence of Charles Darwin’s theory, natural selection, is reflected in the title of his book—The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Natural selection, Darwin argued, is the architect of evolution, “As square stone, or bricks, or timber, are the indispensable materials for a building, and influence its character, so is variability not only indispensible but influential. Yet in the same manner as the architect is all important person in a building, so is [natural] selection with organic bodies.”
Charles Lyell and Asa Gray, Darwin’s closest confidants, solidly disagreed. Lyell argued that natural selection can only preserve or eliminate; natural selection cannot create: “The destroy[ing] force is selection, the sustaining [force] preserves things … but in order that life shd. Exist where there was none before… this is not [natural] selection, but creation.”
In 1860, Gray opposed Darwin’s “deifying” natural selection and argued that variation is the architect of evolution: “[A]t least while the physical cause of variation is utterly unknown and mysterious, we should advise Mr. Darwin to assume, in the philosophy of his hypothesis, that variation has been led along certain beneficial lines.”
Darwin advanced the battle of the architects further by 1868, re-stating natural selection as the “Means” for evolution: “Let the architect be compelled to build an edifice with uncut stones… which is slowly built up thought the power of selection… variability sinks to a quite subordinate position in importance in comparison with [natural] selection.”
In Darwin’s analogy, variation is not the architect since evolution is directed entirely by natural selection. Natural selection is the creative process as the environment changes—selection alone creates.
By the early twentieth century Darwin’s battle advantage waned with the re-discovered of Gregor Mendel’s genetics. Natural selection was de-deified and variation through genetic mutations emerged as the new architectural deity.
The0retial geneticist Ronald A. Fisher, ironically dubbed “the greatest of Darwin’s successors” by Richard Dawkins, advanced against Darwin’s philosophy in 1930, “It has been remarked, and truly, that without mutation evolutionary progress whatever direction it may take, will ultimately come to a standstill for the lack of further improvements.”
In 1937, American geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky defined the fundamental tenet of the new Modern Synthesis of evolution, “Mutations and chromosomal changes … constantly and unremittingly supply the raw materials for evolution.”
Jacques Monod, awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, declared in the 1965 book entitled Le Hasard et la necessite (Chance and Necessity), “The mechanisms of Darwinism [are] at last securely founded.”
Variation by genetic mutations remained the chief architect of evolution late into the twentieth century. Douglas J. Futuyma, from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1983 declared, “By far the most important way in which chance influences evolution is the process of mutation. Mutation is, ultimately, the source of new genetic variations, and without genetic variation, there cannot be genetic change. Mutation is therefore necessary for evolution.”
John Beatty, philosopher at the University of British Columbia and Alternberg-16 participant, highlights in Evolution-The Extended Synthesis (2010) published by MIT Press how the theoretical battle lines started shifting back in favor of natural selection: ”It came to be believed by the major architects of the Modern Synthesis that natural selection does not wait for variation to appear. Nothing hinges on input [genetic mutations].”
Even ardent evolution and atheist Richard Dawkins word-crafted similar sentiments – “For simplicity we speak of mutations as the first stage of the Darwinian process, natural selection as the second stage. But this is misleading… as a matter of fact on this planet it usually isn’t like that. ”
Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, while Futuyma has remained on the side of variation, argued that natural selection is the chief architect: “Variation is ubiquitous and random in direction. It supplies the raw material only. Natural selection directs the course of evolutionary change.”
The battle of the architects continues. Beatty enters the center of conflict by noting –
How can variation be ‘necessary’ and ‘required’ and at the same time ‘trivial’?… It will not be easy to disentangle the overall importance of chance variation from that of natural selection.
The evolution industry continues to promote evolution as a “fact” even though a consensus on the real mechanism of evolution remains only imaginary—after 150 years.
When will the architect of evolution ever stand up? Evolution continues as a theory in crisis.