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The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The New York Academy of Sciences

Presented By

Presented by the Readers and Writers Program


Speaker: Marc Kirschner, Harvard University, author

Dr. Marc Kirschner will discuss his latest book The Plausibility of Life: Resolving Darwin's Dilemma, which he co-authored with John C. Gerhart.

In the 150 years since Darwin, the field of evolutionary biology has left a glaring gap in understanding how animals developed their astounding variety and complexity. The standard answer has been that small genetic mutations accumulate over time to produce wondrous innovations such as eyes and wings. Drawing on cutting-edge research across the spectrum of modern biology, Marc Kirschner and John Gerhart demonstrate how this stock answer is woefully inadequate. Rather they offer an original solution to the longstanding puzzle of how small random genetic change can be converted into complex, useful innovations.

In a new theory they call "facilitated variation," Kirschner and Gerhart elevate the individual organism from a passive target of natural selection to a central player in the 3-billion-year history of evolution. In clear, accessible language, the authors invite every reader to contemplate daring new ideas about evolution. By closing the major gap in Darwin's theory Kirschner and Gerhart also provide a timely scientific rebuttal to modern critics of evolution who champion "intelligent design."

Marc W. Kirschner is professor and chair, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has served on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health and as President of the American Society for Cell Biology.

"Complex living systems are plausible only if evolution can plausibly generate them. The authors show how this has been achieved by providing many detailed examples to illustrate their theory of facilitated variation. They reveal what might be called the grammar of evolved systems, the flexible organization of processes which allows change by accretion and rearrangement. What emerges is the interesting consequence that it is life by design that is implausible."-Sydney Brenner, Salk Institute