As we near the end of 2016 a discontent grows among the practitioners of evolution theory.
Research results keep outrunning the theory’s capacity to herd them—the results, that is, but the practitioners, too—and corral them inside the Modern Synthesis.Evidence of this discontent keeps piling up. For example, in July 2008 researchers from various fields of biological science convened in Altenberg, Switzerland, to formalize a so-called Extended Synthesis of evolutionary theory. MIT Press published the conference papers as a sourcebook, Evolution - the Extended Synthesis.
The book's contributors reassure readers that the findings presented pose no fundamental threat to the Darwinian model. The collective attitude seems to be that new discoveries in genomics, epigenetics, ecology and related fields merely complicate—without undermining—the natural selection model of evolution. These reassurances reek of cover, of maneuvering to avoid the label, “fringe” or the academic equivalent. Maybe, “Traitor.”
More recently, some of the Altenberg attendees, among others, launched a web site, The Third Way, as an organizing tool for scientists working on a model of evolution that accommodates the research findings that are stretching the Modern Synthesis. More recently the The John Templeton Foundation has awarded a major grant (£5.7m or $8m) to an international team of leading researchers for a three-year research program “to put the predictions of the extended evolutionary synthesis to the test.” The Royal Society in 2015 published an article, The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions that provides additional background information. And in November 2016 the Society hosted a scientific meeting on the topic, entitled, “New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives”.
A discontent among those working in the evolution biz is brewing if not already boiling over.
It seems that the evolution theory we learned in school is getting an earnest retooling. The breadth and depth of that retooling divides scientific opinion. It might involve tightening a few knobs, or it might involve a fundamental rebuild—a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Which way things shake out remains to be seen.