I enjoyed listening to Michael Lynch's talk on Friday. Much of what he said has been covered in Sandwalk over the past few years. His main point was that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of population genetics. He laments the fact that most biologists, and even most evolutionary biologists, don't have a firm grasp of population genetics and the importance of random genetic drift.I asked him why he thought this was true. He said he didn't know why. I think he was being polite. If you read his book, "The Origins of Genome Architecture," you'll see that he attributes this phenomeon to ignorance of modern evolutionary theory.
Contrary to popular belief, evolution is not driven by natural selection alone. Many aspects of evolutionary change are indeed facilitated by natural selection, but all populations are influenced by nonadaptive forces of mutation, recombination, and random genetic drift. These additional forces are not simple embellishments around a primary axis of selection, but are quite the opposite—they dictate what natural selection can and cannot do. Although this basic principle has been known for a long time, it is quite remarkable that most biologists continue to interpret nearly aspect of biodiversity as an outcome of adaptive processes. This blind acceptance of natural selection as the only force relevant to evolution has led to a lot of sloppy thinking, and is probably the primary reason why evolution is viewed as a soft science by much of society.Not only do biologists not appreciate random genetic drift but neutral evolution should be the null hypothesis of all investigations.
A central point to be explained in this book is that most aspects of evolution at the genome level cannot be fully explained in adaptive terms, and moreover, that many features could not have emerged without a near-complete disengagement of the power of natural selection. This contention is supported by a wide array of comparative data, as well as by well-established principles of population genetics. However, even if such support did not exist, there is an important reason for pursuing nonadaptive (neutral) models of evolution. If one wants to confidently invoke a specific adaptive scenario to explain an observed pattern of comparative data, then an ability to reject a hypothesis based entirely on the nonadaptive forces of evolution is critical. (pp. xiii-xiv)
This theme was reiterated by Eugene Koonin in a recent paper [You MUST read this paper if you are interested in evolution]. That paper was summarized by Forbes writer John Farrell in "Why Biologists Waste Time Looking For Adaptations That Don't Exist. It's worth reading his article if you don't like the more difficult scientific papers and books.