I will be attending the Royal Society Meeting on New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. I'll post each of the abstracts and ask for your help in deciding what question to pose to the speakers. Here's the abstract for Douglas Futuyma's talk on The evolutionary synthesis today: extend or amend?
Evolutionary theory has been extended almost continually since the Evolutionary Synthesis, but the principal tenets of the Synthesis have been strongly supported, the single most important exception being the greater importance accorded genetic drift, especially in molecular evolution. The calls for an extended synthesis today are largely a continuation of this process. Some elements of the EES movement, such as the role of niche construction, are welcome emphases on long recognised but perhaps under-studied processes. The union of population genetic theory with mechanistic understanding of molecular and developmental processes is a potentially productive conjunction of ultimate and proximal causation; but the latter does not replace or invalidate the former. Newly discovered molecular genetic phenomena have been easily accommodated by orthodox evolutionary theory in the past, and this appears to hold also for phenomena such as epigenetic inheritance today. In several of these areas, empirical evidence is needed to evaluate enthusiastic speculation. Evolutionary theory today will continue to be extended, but there is no sign that it requires emendation.Here are two possible questions for Futuyma.
Why do you think that most participants at this meeting seem to be unaware of random genetic drift and the evolution of structures and phenotypes by nonadaptive processes? Doesn't this strike you as bizarre for a group that's so concerned about evolutionary theory?
As you explain in your textbook, describing the pathways to modern species contributes to the FACT of evolution and the FACT of descent with modification but how those genetic changes actually occur and become fixed is part of evolutionary theory. Do you distinguish between evolutionary theory and the actual history of life?