Friday, November 26, 2010

Was Darwin Wrong?

I understand, and agree with, the basic sentiment behind this poster but I wish they'd chosen better examples. Charles Darwin was wrong about lots of things.1

1. But he's still the best scientist who ever lived.



  2. Zack is referring to the rather stupid New Scientist issue that had Darwin on the cover with that exact headline. The argument ran: because there is lateral transfer, the evolutionary tree is not a tree, while all the evidence cited showed that Darwin's actual claims (that animals and plants each had a tree structure) were not under challenge by this new data. Since Darwin did not make the claim that all life necessarily had only a tree structure, the fact that lateral transfer is rampant among bacteria, for example, is hardly showing that he is wrong.

    Now, if they had said "Mayr is wrong", that might be a different matter.

  3. No doubt Mayr admitted his error a few years before his death. Take his 2003 interview to Netzeitung ( ) where he says:

    Netzeitung: Er (Woese) ist im vergangenen Jahr noch einen Schritt weiter gegangen und hat das darwinistische Konzept von der einen Urzelle infrage gestellt. Aus seiner Sicht muss es für Bakterien, Archäen und Eukaryonten jeweils eine solche Ur-Zelle gegeben haben. Vorher gab es demnach kaum Evolution im darwinschen Sinne, sondern nur eine Suppe aus vielen Zellen, die ständig Gene mit einander austauschten.

    Mayr: Da hat er wahrscheinlich vollkommen Recht. Man hat früher nicht gewusst, wie viel horizontalen Gentransfer es bei Bakterien gibt.

  4. John Wilkins says,

    Zack is referring to the rather stupid New Scientist issue that had Darwin on the cover with that exact headline.

    Darwin Was Wrong?

  5. To provide a translation of the above comment from RaulFelix,

    Netzeitung: He (Woese) went further this last year and called into question the Darwinian concept of the single original cell. In this view, there must have been an ancestral cell for each family – Bacteria, Archaeia and Eukaryotes. Before they arose, there was little evolution in the Darwinian sense. Instead there was a soup made of many cells that continually swapped genes.

    Mayr: And he was probably fully right to question that view. It wasn’t known until recently just how much horizontal gene transfer there is in Bacteria.

  6. Isaac Newton..... Albert Einstein...