True or False: Darwinian evolution is random - Evolution News & Views

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True or False: Darwinian evolution is random

Newsweek has a Global Literacy Quiz testing general knowledge, based, of course, on their reporting. The questions under the Science heading are bold, ranging from the age of the universe to stem cell research to Darwinian evolution:

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Anyone want to guess the answer?

"Correct: False. Although mutations arise at random, those that survive and persist are determined by natural selection, which is not random."

When I first saw the question, I was a little confused. While I know, according to Jonathan Wells, that "Darwinian evolution is not random but is 'undirected,'" I had been taught from high school biology (and again in college) that "evolution is random and undirected." (Thank you, Ken Miller.)

Surely I'm not the only student who has ever been told that Darwinian evolution is a random process. In fact, a new textbook devoted to evolution out this year (Evolution, Nicholas Barton et al., 2007) claims that there is "extreme randomness [in] the evolutionary process" (p. 435). The point is reiterated, time and again:

Seen in detail, however, the evolutionary process is fundamentally random. (p. 413)

. . . we begin our consideration of the processes responsible for evolution by emphasizing the randomness of evolution. (p. 413, emphasis mine)

Mutation randomizes genetic information, genetic drift randomizes genotype frequencies, and gene flow randomizes the positions of genes in space. (p. 439)


So Newsweek disagrees with these textbooks over the randomness of evolution, and they've chosen to make a point of it. Whether this is to correct what we were taught in high school (and beyond) or for some other reason, only they know... but we can speculate, as with this next question:


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At this point, I felt like I was spinning the Wheel of Morality from Animaniacs. Quiz of Morality, turn, turn, turn / Tell us the lesson that we should learn / And the moral of today's story is...