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of “random” that is most significant for understanding the evolutionary process is (iii) that mutations are unoriented with respect to adaptation; they occur independently of whether or not they are beneficial or harmful to the organisms. Some are beneficial, most are not, and only the beneficial ones become incorporated in the organisms through natural selection.

The adaptive randomness of the mutation process (as well as the vagaries of other processes that come to play in the great theater of life) is counteracted by natural selection, which preserves what is useful and eliminates what is harmful. Without hereditary mutations, evolution could not happen because there would be no variations that could be differentially conveyed from one to another generation. But without natural selection, the mutation process would yield disorganization and extinction because most mutations are disadvantageous. Mutation and selection have jointly driven the marvelous process that, starting from microscopic organisms, has yielded orchids, birds, and humans.

The theory of evolution conveys chance and necessity jointly enmeshed in the stuff of life; randomness and determinism interlocked in a natural process that has spurted the most complex, diverse, and beautiful entities that we know of in the universe: the organisms that populate the Earth, including humans who think and love, endowed with free will and creative powers, and able to analyze the process of evolution itself that brought them into existence. This is Darwin’s fundamental discovery, that there is a process that is creative although not conscious. And this is the conceptual revolution that Darwin completed: the idea that the design of living organisms can be accounted for as the result of natural processes governed by natural laws. This is nothing if not a fundamental vision that has forever changed how mankind perceives itself and its place in the universe.



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