This paper was originally delivered at a plenary session of the Southwestern Anthropological Association in Berkeley, California in April, 1992. It was subsequently published in the California Anthropologist and in Rivista di Biologia (1994) (in Italian and English). A similar lecture is included in the collection Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?(Buell & Hearn ed. 1994).
The genic differences noted between separate populations of the same species that are so often presented as evidence of ongoing evolution are, above all, a case of the adjustment of a population to its habitat and of the effects of genetic drift. The fruitfly (drosophila melanogaster), the favorite pet insect of the geneticists, whose geographical, biotropical, urban, and rural genotypes are now known inside out, seems not to have changed since the remotest times.(2)
Any living being possesses an enormous amount of "intelligence," very much more than is necessary to build the most magnificent of cathedrals. Today, this "intelligence" is called information, but it is still the same thing. It is not programmed as in a computer, but rather it is condensed on a molecular scale in the chromosomal DNA or in that of every other organelle in each cell. This "intelligence" is the sine qua non of life. Where does it come from?... This is a problem that concerns both biologists and philosophers, and, at present, science seems incapable of solving it.... If to determine the origin of information in a computer is not a false problem, why should the search for the information contained in cellular nuclei be one?(3)
Through use and abuse of hidden postulates, of bold, often ill-founded extrapolations, a pseudoscience has been created..... Biochemists and biologists who adhere blindly to the Darwinist theory search for results that will be in agreement with their theories.... Assuming that the Darwinian hypothesis is correct, they interpret fossil data according to it; it is only logical that [the data] should confirm it; the premises imply the conclusions.... The deceit is sometimes unconscious, but not always, since some people, owing to their sectarianism, purposely overlook reality and refuse to acknowledge the inadequacies and the falsity of their beliefs.(4)
Dobzhansky's review summarized Grassé's central thesis succinctly:
The book of Pierre P. Grassé is a frontal attack on all kinds of "Darwinism." Its purpose is "to destroy the myth of evolution as a simple, understood, and explained phenomenon," and to show that evolution is a mystery about which little is, and perhaps can be, known.
Now one can disagree with Grassé but not ignore him. He is the most distinguished of French zoologists, the editor of the 28 volumes of Traite de Zoologie, author of numerous original investigations, and ex- president of the Academie des Sciences. His knowledge of the living world is encyclopedic.
The mutation-selection theory attempts, more or less successfully, to make the causes of evolution acces- sible to reason. The postulate that the evolution is "oriented" by some unknown force explains nothing. This is not to say that the synthetic...theory has explained everything. Far from this, this theory opens to view a great field which needs investigation. Nothing is easier than to point out that this or that problem is unsolved and puzzling. But to reject what is known, and to appeal to some wonderful future dis- covery which may explain it all, is contrary to sound scientific method. The sentence with which Grassé ends his book is disturbing: "It is possible that in this domain biology, impotent, yields the floor to metaphysics."
Although many details remain to be worked out, it is already evident that all the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained by purely naturalistic or, in a proper sense of the sometimes abused word, materialistic factors. They are readily explicable on the basis of differential reproduction in populations (the main factor in the modern conception of natural selection) and of the mainly random interplay of the known processes of heredity. ...Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind."(7)
Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view. Yet the living results of natural selection overwhelmingly impress us with the appearance of design as if by a master watchmaker, impress us with the illusion of design and planning.(9)
We might therefore say that the watchmaker is not only blind, but unconscious.
Two different kinds of explanations for the absence of Precambrian ancestors have been debated for more than a century: the artifact theory (they did exist, but the fossil record hasn't preserved them), and the fast-transition theory (they really didn't exist, at least as complex invertebrates easily linked to their descendants, and the evolution of modern anatomical plans occurred with a rapidity that threatens our usual ideas about the stately pace of evolutionary change).(13)
If evolution could produce ten new Cambrian phyla and then wipe them out just as quickly, then what about the surviving Cambrian groups? Why should they have had a long and honorable Precambrian pedigree? Why should they not have originated just before the Cambrian, as the fossil record, read literally, seems to indicate, and as the fast-transition theory proposes?(14)
We are the offspring of history, and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes -- one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximum freedom to thrive, or to fail, in our own chosen way.
Through certain vagaries of history, ...we have managed to conflate two quite distinct questions: What makes a belief well founded (or heuristically fertile)? And what makes a belief scientific? The first set of questions is philosophically interesting and possibly even tractable; the second question is both uninteresting and, judging by its checkered past, intractable. If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like "pseudo-science" and "unscientific" from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us.... Insofar as our concern is to protect ourselves and our fellows from the cardinal sin of believing what we wish were so rather than what there is substantial evidence for (and surely that is what most forms of "quackery" come down to), then our focus should be squarely on the empirical and conceptual credentials for claims about the world. The "scientific" status of those claims is irrelevant.(16)
1. Pierre P. Grassé, L'Evolution du Vivant (1973), published in English translation as The Evolution of Living Organisms (1977) (hereafter Grassé). The review of the original French edition by Dobzhansky, titled "Darwinian or `Oriented' Evolution?" appeared in Evolution, vol. 29, pp. 376-378 (June 1975).
2. Grassé, p. 130.
3. Grassé, p. 2.
4. Grassé, pp. 7-8.
5. Grassé, p. 208. See also p. 71: "We are certain that it [evolution] does not operate today as it did in the remote past. Something has changed.... The structural plans no longer undergo complete reorganization; novelties are no longer plentiful. Evolution, after its last enormous effort to form the mammalian orders and man, seems to be out of breath and drowsing off."
6. Grassé, p. 168.
7.George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution, pp. 344-45 (rev. ed. 1967).
8. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (Longman, England 1986, p. 1. (Hereafter Dawkins)
9. Dawkins, p. 21.
10. Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (Addison Wesley, 1982), p. 280.
11. Ruse, supra, p. 328-329.
12. Dawkins, p. 229.
13. Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life (1989), pp. 271-273.
15. Stephen Jay Gould, "Is a New and General Theory of Evolution Emerging?", Paleobiology, vol. 6, pp. 119-130 (1980), reprinted in the collection Evolution Now: A Century After Darwin, (Maynard Smith ed. 1982).
16. Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," reprinted in the collection But Is It Science? (Ruse ed. 1988).