Evolution is destiny unfolding, progressively
Another prominent misunderstanding about evolution—which can be understood as a form of bad adaptationism at the level of species or the biotic system—holds that evolution inevitably leads to order and more elaborate systemic integration. As such, evolution is essentially “destiny unfolding” or “progress.” In short, evolution is directional toward a higher plateau, if not perfection, and thus “progressive.”The godfather of all these notions of“ evolution as progress” has been Herbert Spencer.”
Yet, neither a species as a whole nor the biotic system can think as humans do and thus cannot possibly have a sense of directionality. Without the possibility of conscious adaptation, whether by organisms or the environment, evolution cannot be directional, whether uni-linear or multi-linear. Evolution merely looks directional in our hindsight, but the seeming “directionality” is merely the unintended consequence of the central mechanism ofVSI. Biological evolution does not have a sense of direction at any level.
Finally, although biological evolution produces adaptations, adaptations as product of biological evolution cannot be understood as “progress” in any moral or normative sense. Because in biological evolution, variation is undirected and natural selection is blind, there can he no progress in biological evolution.The notion of progress in biological evolution essentially reflects either our inclination to label adaptation as good/progressive or our (anthropocentric) concern about our species’ position in the “Tree of Life” rather than the facts of biological evolution (Williams 1966 , 35; Levins and Lewontin 1985,12-29;see also the discussion in Chapter 3).40
"Self-organization" can replace or subsume evolution
A misperception that is somewhat related to the misperception that evolution is complexity unfolding is that self-organization can somehow replace or subsume evolution (Foster 1997; Witt 1997). As Weber and Depew (1996); Hodgson (2002, 264-266); and Hodgson and Knudsen (2010, 51-57) have convincingly argued, however, evolution works together and ultimately subsumes self-organization, not the other way around. Self-organization merely generates templates or substrates for selection, and only those templates or substrates that confer some kind of adaptation to organisms will survive. Indeed, leading theorists of self-organization themselves have explicitly denied that self-organization is to replace evolution via natural selection (e.g., Kauffman 1993, 644; see also Hozeler, Smith, and Pepper 2006).41 Self-organization and selection are not alternatives, but rather a “natural marriage”
(Kauffman 1993,465; see also Weber and Depew 1996,51; Hodgson and Knudsen 2010,51-57).
Biological evolution is all (Neo-)Darwinian
As noted earlier, for a while (from the 1940s to 1990s), it was tacitly if not explicitly accepted that biological evolution is all (Neo-)Darwinian. Since the 1990s, however, several key new discoveries have completely changed the landscape, and these new discoveries have been confirmed in a wide variety of species, although the exact mechanisms behind some of them (e.g., parental effects, genetic or non-genetic) are not clearly understood yet. These discoveries have made it abundantly clear that (Neo-)Darwinian Modern Synthesis does not capture the full complexities and wonders of biological evolution.
As such, it is no longer tenable or useful to label biological evolution (or social evolution) as a whole as Darwinian or Lamarckian. Put differently, terms such as Darwinian and Lamarckian are simply too blunt to be useful for describing the overall processes of evolution, biological or social, most critically because variation, selection, and inheritance all have (Neo-) Darwinian and (Neo-)Lamarckian variants. These labels may be useful for specific components of evolution but not the whole of evolution. When this is the case, it is never enlightening to describe the whole process of biological evolution and social evolution as purely Darwinian or Lamarckian (Tang 2017;see also Kronfeldner 2007,2010). Perhaps Darwin was prescient when he said “natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification” (Darwin 1859, 6; emphasis added; see also Gould and Lewontin 1979).42 Certainly, genetic variation and natural selection have not been the only means for generating non-genetic modifications that can also be heritable (see Section V).
"Evolutionism needs major corrections" or "there must be some exceptions"
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the more “sophisticated” challenges against evolutionism come from scientists, both natural and social.These scientists have asserted that evolutionism needs major corrections (usually at the micro- or meso-level) to explain certain new discoveries. Looking closely, however, these so-called “major” challenges and corrections represent only minor corrections to evolutionism at best and rhetorical stunts at worst. Evolutionism has proven to be readily capable of explaining those phenomena that it supposedly cannot explain, with minor modifications at most. In other words, evolutionism is extremely accommodating and thus resilient.
For instance, the phenomenon of genetic assimilation or rapid phenotypic shift known as “the Baldwin effect” (Baldwin 1896) was initially thought to be some sort of Lamarckian adaptationism.Yet, as Dennett (1995, 77-80) noted, the central mechanism ofVSI can easily explain genetic assimilation. In fact, several different but related observations can all be accommodated under “phenotypic and genetic accommodation” or “phenotypic plasticity” (West-Eberhard 2003; for a concise discussion, see Pigliucci 2010).
The eminent evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould launched a more sustained attempt to modify evolutionism. Gould popularized the concept of “punctuated equilibrium” and touted it as an important correction to Darwin’s original theory (Eldredge and Gould 1972; Gould and Eldredge 1977). Gould charged that evolutionism is strictly gradualism, yet fossil records have shown that biological evolution has often been a process of general slow changes punctuated by abrupt explosions (i.e., emergence of numerous new species within a “short” geological timeframe). Hence, evolutionism needs to be corrected or at least complemented by the notion of “punctuated equilibrium.”Yet looking closely, even Darwin’s original theory was never strictly gradualism, and evolutionism has always incorporated “punctuated equilibrium.” Darwin just did not use the phraseology'; he used the dichotomy of“slow” versus “abrupt” evolution, and “abrupt” evolution is “punctuated equilibrium.” Moreover, as Darwin recognized long ago, the applicability of these terms critically depends on the timeframe with which we look at history. Once we adjust the timeframe, punctuated equilibrium disappears (Darwin 1859, 302-311; see also Dawkins 1983, 412-418,1986 11996], Chapter 9; Dennett 1995, 282-312).43
In the end, unwarranted claims that evolutionism needs some major corrections have served no major purpose other than causing confusion among the general public, because opponents of evolutionism readily take these misinformed attacks against evolutionism as evidence that evolutionary theory is no better a theory than Creationism and that evolution is far from a fact.