Science | History | Geography

Current story of life on Earth is ‘wrong’

Do we need a new theory of evolution? A battle royal is raging between a new wave of scientists who believe we do, and their opponents who dismiss them as misguided careerists. How did the elephant get its trunk? Or the leopard get its spots? We think scientists know the answers to these just-so stories: millions of years of natural selection. But what about the bichir? A fish with gills and lungs. On land, it grows long sharp fins to pull itself along. A giant leap of evolution in one lifetime. Dung beetles and spadefoot toads make similar changes. This research questions the current story of life. Now a group of biologists have declared war on the theory of evolution. In 1859, Charles Darwin explained why there are so many species on Earth. Over 3.7 billion years, nature selected life best adapted to its environment. The discovery of genes showed other forces at work: inheritance, random chance and mutation. But natural selection was the most important. Not everyone agrees. Some scientists think we need to pay more attention to culture. We should consider how dolphins learn to hunt and birds copy songs. Others study how illness or injury can affect DNA. The theory of evolution does not explain the first eye or the first wing, says biologist Armin Moczek. "This idea of slow change, one accident at a time, has fallen flat." We need to rethink it. The biologist Jerry Coyne says this is not serious science and just a way for "revolutionaries" to make their name. Others argue a theory must work for all living things. Only natural selection can do this. We often say evolution is the "survival of the fittest". This does not mean the most selfish triumph. "Fitness is just your ability to reproduce," says science writer Vanessa Woods. Sometimes, you need to work together. These scientists are joining forces to take on the rulers of biology. They think their ideas are as important as natural selection. Others say this war threatens the future of biology itself. Do we need a new theory of evolution? Biological warfare Yes: The traditional theory is an old fossil. Biologists no longer find it helpful to explain their research or to communicate with each other. It harms scientific cooperation and the future of knowledge.

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