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No. 100: Jul-Aug 1995

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The watchmaker is not blind after all!

Neo-Darwinists are chained to the premise that evolution proceeds "blindly"; that is, mutations are random and unrelated to the biological needs for survival. This assumption is enshrined in R. Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker. Catchy though this title is, it looks more and more like the Watchmaker sees something.

For over a decade, experiments have hinted that those mutations that are helpful to an organism's survival occur more often than those that are not "adaptively useful." This controversial phenomenon is termed "adaptive mutation." (SF#64 and SF#96*) A recent issue of Science presents two more papers that seem to confer the gift of sight on the old Watchmaker.

Biochemist J.A. Shapiro, in a commentary accompanying the two Science papers, highlights a significant feature of adaptive mutation in bacteria: The genetic changes involved are multicellular. In other words, DNA rearrangements in one cell are actually transferred to other cells. But most profound of all for the whole science of biology is his sentence:

"The discovery that cells use biochemical systems to change their DNA in response to physiological inputs moves mutation beyond the realm of 'blind' stochastic events and provides a mechanistic basis for understanding how biological requirements can feed back onto genome structure."

(Shapiro, James A.; "Adaptive Mutation: Who's Really in the Garden?" Science, 268:373, 1995.)

Comment. Random mutation has been a linchpin of Neo-Darwinism because it is "scientific"; that is, non-supernatural. We see in adaptive mutation that other scientific mechanisms may indeed exist that make biological evolution more than just a plaything of chance. Furthermore, since some species (You know who you are!) can modify environmental forces, these species can, in principle, control their own evolution -- for good or bad -- and may in fact be doing just that.

*SF#xx = Science Frontiers #xx.

From Science Frontiers #100, JUL-AUG 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987