I agree with Arlin Stoltzfus in his description of the Modern Synthesis [Arlin Stoltzfus explains evolutionary theory]. I agree with him, and with Masatoshi Nei, that mutation and mutationism were downplayed in the Modern Synthesis [The Mutationism Myth, VI: Back to the Future] [Mutation-Driven Evolution]. That's one example of why the old-fashioned Modern Synthesis should be abandoned as a description of modern evolutionary theory.
What Is Evolution? ] [Macroevolution].
I agree with Michael J. Lynch that "Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of population genetics." In fact, I pretty much agree with everything that Lynch says about evolution [Michael Lynch on Evo-Devo ] [Michael Lynch on Adaptationism ]. I do not think Lynch's view of evolutionary theory (or Koonin's) is compatible with the Modern Synthesis of Ernst Mayr and Julian Huxley. The Modern Synthesis has been substantially changed by modern population genetics and Neutral Theory so that it's no longer useful to describe modern evolutionary theory as the "Modern Synthesis."
What are some of those other concepts that have been discovered in the past two decades or so?
I disagree with the Altenberg 16 (e.g. Pigliucci, Müller et. al "Evolution: The Extended Syntesis") and their view of extending the Modern Synthesis. I have three main reasons for dismissing their arguments [see What do they mean when they say they want to extend the Modern Synthesis?].
- None of their claims about evo-devo, facilitated variation, plasticity, epigenetics, etc. have anything to do with evolutionary theory.
- All of their claims focus on only a small subset of the history of life—mostly animals. You can't reform evolutionary theory based on what you've learned about animal development because it doesn't apply to most organism and most of evolution.
- Their attacks on the Modern Synthesis are based on the hardened version of fifty years ago. They've missed the real revolution [A New View of Evolution].
On the "Yes, Urgently" side are: Kevin Laland, Tobias Uller, Marc Feldman, Kim Sterelny, Gerd B. Müller, Armin Moczek, Eva Jablonka, and John Odling-Sme. Only three of them (Müller, Jablonka, and Odling-Sme) were present at Altenberg but they are arguing the same points [Altenberg 16 controversy][The Altenberg 16 Make It into Nature]. These are the same arguments made in Evolution: The Extended Synthesis.
On the "No, All Is Well" side are: Gregory A. Wray, Hopi E. Hoekstra, Douglas J. Futuyma, Richard E. Lenski, Trudy F. C. Mackay, Dolph Schluter, and Joan E. Strassman. They defend evolutionary theory like this ...
A profound shift in evolutionary thinking began during the 1920s, when a handful of statisticians and geneticists began quietly laying the foundations for a dramatic transformation. Their work between 1936 and 1947 culminated in the ‘modern synthesis’, which united Darwin’s concept of natural selection with the nascent field of genetics and, to a lesser extent, palaeontology and systematics. Most importantly, it laid the theoretical foundations for a quantitative and rigorous understanding of adaptation and speciation, two of the most fundamental evolutionary processes.I'm in the strange position of being very uncomfortable with either position.
In the decades since, generations of evolutionary biologists have modified, corrected and extended the framework of the modern synthesis in countless ways. Like Darwin, they have drawn heavily from other fields. When molecular biologists identified DNA as the material basis for heredity and trait variation, for instance, their discoveries catalysed fundamental extensions to evolutionary theory. For example, the realization that many genetic changes have no fitness consequences led to major theoretical advances in population genetics. The discovery of ‘selfish’ DNA prompted discussions about selection at the level of genes rather than traits. Kin selection theory, which describes how traits affecting relatives are selected, represents another extension.
What do you think?
Laland, K., Uller, T., Feldman, M., Sterelny, K., Müller, G. B., Moczek, A., Jablonka, E., Odling-Smee, J., Wray, G. A., Hoekstra, H. E., Futuyma, D. J., Lenski, R. E., Mackay, T. F. C., Schluter, D. and Strassmann, J. E. (2014) Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Nature 514, 163-165. [PDF]