Re: Adaptationism's Lessons (was Re: Evolution, "adaptation")

Bryant (
13 Sep 1996 09:40:11 -0600

In article <>,
John Wilkins <> wrote:

>See also his [Gould's] inspiration, George C Williams, in the book
that >started it all:
>"The ground rule -- or perhaps _doctrine_ would be a better term -- is
>that adaptation is a special and onerous concept that should be used only
>where it is really necessary. When it must be recognized, it should be
>attributed to no higher level of organization than is demanded by the
>evidence" _Adaptation and Natural Selection_ p 4-5, Princetion UP,
>Princeton, NJ, 1966.

I just wanted to add that Williams' reasonable constraints on the
application of adaptationist analysis was largely limited to avoiding
adaptationist explanations for the physically inevitable--like genetic
mutation. Despite his wonderful argument, several "adaptive mutation"
arguments have popped up amongst bacteriologists and cell biologists in
recent decades.

Williams has no truck against informed speculation leading to testable
hypotheses, and is squarely rooted in the adaptationist program, seeking
reasonable hypotheses to explain functionally complex traits' adaptive
significance. He would argue that for-the-good-of-the-group hypotheses,
and hypotheses explaining the inevitable (like mutation) are a waste of
time, but would not join Lenny and Paul et al here at sci.anthro in
mocking attempts to study the structure of the vertebrate eye from an
adaptationist perspective.

I find it frustraiting that neo-Darwinism's critics here are apparently
limited to their reading of Gould, and don't even understand his
"alternatives" to natural selection (such as his vaulted 'allometric
rules of development') well enough to defend them against adaptationist
attack. Describing is not explaining.