Jason Rosenhouse has posted some comments on a recent book review by Richard Lewontin. In that book review, Lewontin—who along with Gould is the co-author of the spandrels paper—questions the emphasis on natural selection and the use pf "Darwinism" as a synonym for evolution. Read Lewontin on Darwin to see what Jason thinks of the book review.
I want to focus on a specific question that Jason Rosenhouse asks.
I've never really understood what it is exactly that anti-selectionists are complaining about. If they agree that complex adapations arise as the result of gradual accretion mediated by natural selection, then I fail to see how they are really so different from people like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett (two people often described as being beknighted uber-selectionists). If they do not agree then I would like to hear their proposed alternative mechanism.The original paper by Gould and Lewontin, The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme, explains the problem very well. The authors begin their criticism with ...
We wish to question a deeply engrained habit of thinking among students of evolution. We call it the adaptationist programme, or the Panglossian paradigm. It is rooted in a notion popularized by A.R. Wallace and A. Weismann, (but not, as we shall see, by Darwin) toward the end of the nineteenth century: the near omnipotence of natural selection in forging organic design and fashioning the best among possible worlds. This programme regards natural selection as so powerful and the constraints upon it so few that direct production of adaptation through its operation becomes the primary cause of nearly all organic form, function, and behavior. Constraints upon the pervasive power of natural selection are recognized of course (phyletic inertia primarily among them, although immediate architectural constraints, as discussed in the last section, are rarely acknowledged). But they are usually dismissed as unimportant or else, and more frustratingly, simply acknowledged and then not taken to heart and invoked.The anti-selectionists—I am one—do not question the fact that adaptations are produced by natural selection. What we question is whether everything in evolution is an adaptation. We question those who think that "evolution" and "natural selection" are synonyms. And since "Darwinism" is equivalent to evolution by natural selection we question whether evolution is the same as Darwinism.
We pluralists like to point out that much of evolution is due to random genetic drift. Since Darwin's name is not associated with the theory of evolution by random genetic drift, it is inappropriate to say that all of evolution is Darwinist.
It's not that complicated. It was all explained in the classic spandrels paper published 30 years ago. Complex biological structures may be due entirely to adaptation, or they may be mostly an accident that's arisen by random genetic drift, or they may be due to combinations of drift and selection.