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Landmark Work: What’s Wrong with ‘Survival of the Fittest’

An exciting new book was published in the fall of 2017. The author, Nathaniel Jeanson, is a specialist in molecular biology and bioinformatics with a Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Harvard University. With such fancy credentials, one might expect his new book to be very difficult and full of technical mumbo-jumbo! Well, Dr. Jeanson does present some very interesting information, but he does undertake to make the discussion accessible to interested readers. Excellent illustrations (some in colour) really help. Nevertheless for reading this book a good background in high school biology at least would be a big help.

As the title (Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species) indicates, this volume does undertake to evaluate Darwin’s theory. Obviously the author finds Darwinism wanting. He declares that the biological information available at the time of Darwin was extremely limited compared to what we know today. Darwin in his time was entitled to speculate about origins if he wished, but the relevance of his ideas for science today is entirely lacking. Nevertheless when it comes to population genetics, biologists since the early 20th century have been asking how their observations can fit into Darwin’s idea of evolution. The answer the secular biologists developed was called the new synthesis and it interpreted most observations in terms of random mutations and natural selection.

Of course, arguments against the neo-Darwinian synthesis are not new among those critical of evolution. What Dr. Jeanson provides however is a lot of recent technical data with which to evaluate how well evolutionary expectations explain nature. He firstly examines the question of common descent versus separate ancestry of created kinds. He discusses hybridizing experiments and other studies which shed light on this issue. In addition, he examines the question of what insights geographical distribution of creatures provides for these questions.

Turning to cell biology, he focuses his attention on the DNA in the cell nucleus compared to a small ring of DNA in the mitochondrion (tiny powerhouses of the cell). Since the short mtDNA lasts much longer after death than the nuclear DNA, there is a lot more information available in mtDNA from organisms that lived previously. There is an added advantage to DNA from the mitochondrion. In any given population, the only source of differences between generations comes from mutations.  Dr. Jeanson then examines mutation rates in mtDNA in many different populations. He compares evolutionary expectations with creation-based expectations. He provides page after page of graphs along with a discussion of the significance of the data.

This book is a challenging read. However just as you cannot make an omelet without cracking eggs, so you cannot argue that modern science rejects neo-Darwinism without examining some actual data, especially from genetics. This book is a landmark in the study of the origin of animal kinds. The main ideas can be appreciated by all even if the details are more technical. It is beautifully produced. Enjoy!

Nathaniel Jeanson. 2017. Replacing Darwin: the new origin of species. Master Books. 335 pages (hardcover with some full colour illustrations).

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Margaret Helder
April 2018

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