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AmericanGodless's Avatar Jump to comment 185 by AmericanGodless

It's too bad that the review of Coyne's book is being upstaged by someone who thinks it is all unimportant nonsense.

From Dawkins' review:
Coyne is right to identify the most widespread misunderstanding about Darwinism as the idea that, in evolution, “everything happens by chance”.

This is correct as it stands, but is an invitation to yet another common misunderstanding among those who "believe" in evolution and think they understand it, but don't. This is why I want to read this book -- to see if Coyne can actually explain the role of chance in genetic mutation and evolution without repudiating it, as so many popular books seem to do (starting with Philip Kitcher's much praised, but awful book (at least on this point), "Abusing Science" so many years ago -- and abuse it he certainly did!)

Chance is ubiquitous in physical (and hence biological) processes; the trick is in overcoming it and taming it, as evolving DNA does so well. Even Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" has a tedious section where he debates where the randomness called for by the "libertarian" position on free will (not to be confused with political libertarianism) might be "inserted" into neural activity. Dennett is right, I think, that whether the randomness is pseudo-random, or "true quantum" randomness is inconsequential; but "inserting" it is not the problem -- getting it out (or doing useful things in spite of, or with it) is the trick.

All together now: It is chance and necessity, random mutation and natural selection. If natural selection is the wings of evolution, then randomness is the engine. Neither one is going anywhere by itself. Biologists and philosophers who try to pretend that randomness is eliminated in biology are presenting a fiction that will neither fly nor evolve.

Wed, 11 Feb 2009 17:33:00 UTC | #323245