New vs. Old Views of Evolution

If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check out this video. I especially enjoyed the comments from Sean Carroll (author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful):

So what this means is in some ways, some sense, evolution is a simpler process than we first thought. When you think about all of the diversity of forms out there, we first believed this would involve all sorts of novel creations, starting from scratch, again and again and again. We now understand that, no, that evolution works with packets of information and uses them in a new and different ways, and new and different combinations, without necessarily having to invent anything fundamentally new, but new combinations.

That’s a fairly radical change in the way we view evolution and this change has enhanced the plausibility of front-loading. What should catch your interest is that the old perspective of evolution was far more unfriendly to teleology than this new perspective.


1. We’ve always known evolution has occurred thanks to the fossil record, sequence data, etc. Take the old view that the eye evolved 40 times independently. This was a great illustration of the minimal needs and power of natural selection. All you needed was some type of generic, vague, function (vision) and random variations working with natural selection, which care only if something, anything, “works,” would find a way, any way, to bring something into existence that would elicit the function. But now, what happens, for example, if we take the highly conserved protein Pax6, which is need for eye development, away? Without it, is there good reason to think the blind watchmaker would easily craft eyes? If not, Pax6 becomes pretty important to eye evolution.
2. The “genetic toolkit” is what facilitates evolution, meaning that the toolkit itself must be explained in a way where evidence of evolution-made-possible-by-the-toolkit is questionably extrapolated to explain the toolkit.
3. The new view of evolution is already beginning to import engineering concepts and terminology, helping us to better visualize evolution as programmed and programming.
4. The new view of evolution would much easier to guide/channel via front-loading, rendering front-loading increasingly plausible, as the toolkit imposes some form on evolution.

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2 responses to “New vs. Old Views of Evolution

  1. Those guys jump to conclusion too quickly. Fact that removal of given gene blocks eye development deosn’t mean that this gene contains all data necessary to make an eye. If swapping eye gene with the one of another animal would result in producing an eye like the other animal has we would be sure it has all the information.
    Maybe identified gene has a triggering function (mostly/only)?

  2. You are correct. Pax6, for example, is a transcription factor that brings eye-development online. Mouse Pax6 can substitute for fly Pax6, but when it is expressed in flies, it causes fly eyes to develop.

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