The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, Marc Kirschner

Darwin struggled with questions about mechanisms doing the dirty work of evolution. Mind you, he wrote a generation before genetic and hereditary mechanisms were understood and any insight he had was prescient. Once on the trail, though, biologists explored genetics and the molecular basis of heredity, and Darwin’s ideas were bolstered and examined in new light. This modification and expansion of ideas under the light of new work is one of the most powerful elements of science and differentiates it from other realms of knowledge where rules are pre-set by fiat.

The authors of The Plausibility of Life argue that molecular mutations cannot rise in such a way as to drive genetic change. They observe here that genetics works in blocks, like Legos, that can be rearranged anytime needed to meet the requirements of a new environment. This is close to the ideas of classical Darwinism and attempts to address putative questions about mutations and new functions and new genes.

That Creationists and ID proponents have glommed on the research is not surprising. The authors spend a chapter outlining why their work shouldnt be considered Creationist, but I’m confused at the selection of the word facilitated. The first thing I wondered is ‘who is doing the facilitating?’

The book is thorough and the prose can be a bit heavy. The authors go into depth concerning molecular biology and this can be hard going for those unfamiliar with its terms and concepts.  To help the lay reader, they provide a useful glossary that covers many pages.

Even so, it’s an excellent and profitable read. Not quite mainstream but you’ll learn much will have a few sacred cows challenged. And that’s always worth the price of admission.

The Plausibility of Life, Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma, Marc Kirschner & John Gerhart

For other books on evolution see Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True and the classic The Selshish Gene by Richard Dawkins.