Evolution is weird – far weirder than Darwin ever imagined. But does that mean that Darwinism itself should go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo? That’s the question that Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini pose in What Darwin Got Wrong.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection rests on three elements: the existence of variation in a trait; the differential effects of such variation upon reproductive success; and a mechanism by which the trait is inherited. Little was known in Darwin’s time of the principles underlying heredity and variation. It was the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel who started unravelling the story of genetic inheritance. His ideas were eventually fused with those of Darwin to create the ‘Modern Synthesis’, the foundation stone of contemporary evolutionary theory.
Only over the last twenty years, however, have we begun to understand in greater detail what genes are, how they express themselves and how variation in the genotype relates to variation in the phenotype (observable characteristic). Most biologists working within the Modern Synthesis had assumed that an organism