John Davison’s Evolutionary Manifesto

Professor John A. Davison (1928-2012), American biologist. His “Evolutionary manifesto: A new hypothesis for organic change” (2000) is one of the most inspiring works concerning evolution. The treatise is dedicated to the memory of six great scientists: William Bateson, Leo S. Berg, Robert Broom, Richard B. Goldschmidt, Pierre Grassé and Otto Schindewolf. Professor Davison continues in the tradition founded by these great scholars. He not only sumarizes their main evolutionary ideas that oppose (neo)darwinism, but proposes his own evolutionary mechanism: semi-meiotic hypothesis. Far from being able to reproduce all arguments and details of his work I recommend everyone study it for themselves. His work is available on his blog (1), on his old home page at University Vermont (2) as well as on Uncommon descent (3).


Just a small taste of professor Davison´s thoughts on evolution from concluding parts of his “Evolutionary Manifesto”:

 There is no question that all of the information necessary to produce a unique human being is contained in a single cell, the fertilized egg, a mere tenth of a millimeter in diameter.  While the information is preformed, the development of the individual is largely epigenetic. I now suggest that precisely the same relationship may exist with respect to phylogeny (evolution).  Viewed in this manner, both development and evolution result from the organized and progressive activation (derepression) of an incredibly enormous storehouse of potentialities.  I realize that this suggestion seems ludicrous at first sight when applied to the evolutionary process, yet I feel it is necessary as it can offer an explanation for a number of otherwise baffling realities.  Of cardinal importance is the question — Where did all the information come from?  If, as is so obvious at the onset of ontogeny, the information were also present from the start of the evolutionary process, someone or something had to put it there.  That same someone or something apparently produced the inanimate world with all its rules, laws and precise mathematical relationships.  It is my understanding that information does not arise de novo, but must have a source.  In that sense I agree with Grassé as quoted above. It should also be noted that Schindewolf, Goldschmidt, Berg and Grassé all subscribed to preadaptation during evolution, a consideration that demands the presence of meaningful information prepared in advance, i.e. preformed.  These conclusions are nothing more than the extrapolation to the living world of Albert Einstein’s conviction — “I shall never believe that God plays dice with the world.” Once again, I insist that the only alternative to chance is design, which in turn implies purpose.  Let me also add that I fail to see how this perspective can in any way interfere with the search for ultimate truth.  On the contrary, I have come to regard it as a liberating asset in that endeavor



There is just one thing I would like to add, paraphrasing a poet: The encouter with the  “Evolutionary Manifesto” ranks among the most beautiful strokes of fortune that have come my way.

In 2011 John Davison published his work in the book:

Professor John Davison’s blog

Uncommon descent link to papers by professor John Davison

In the Czech republic professor Jaroslav Flegr, UNI Prague, the author of the theory of “Frozen evolution” has made reference to John Davison’s work recently in his paper “Elastic, not plastic species: Frozen plasticity theory and the origin of adaptive evolution in sexually reproducing organisms.”, Biologic Direct (2010):

“The search for a mechanism of decreasing rate of macroevolution and decreasing variability of species in macroevolutionary time-scale, i.e. the third part of frozen plasticity theory, was inspired by the existence of phenomena described by Stephen J. Gould, Mark Webster and John A. Davison. ”

J.Flegr: Elastic, not plastic species…


113 responses to “John Davison’s Evolutionary Manifesto

  1. Hello Dogmas,
    Epigenetic processes are indeed interesting. But are you suggesting that this means so-called Darwinian processes now don’t exist because of this?

    You must be careful not to create false dichotomies – it is not “Darwinism” vs. “Epigenetics”! Darwinian mechanisms (which of course in a classical sense actually predate our understanding of inheritance in any evolutionary context) can exist side by side with other mechanisms for evolution. Take genetic drift for example. Indeed, in the paper you linked to, this is actually the final line:

    “…need a new evolutionary theory, one that acknowledges Darwinian,
    Lamarckian and saltational processes.”

    This is hardly a stunning rejection of natural selection and Darwinian processes; it is simply asking that we better integrate what we now know. So perhaps your reading of this work has been biased by your desire to get rid of natural section for non-scientific (religious?) reasons. If you have such an agenda, speak up now.

  2. the dogmas of neo-Darwinism challenged

    “Saltation was originally denied by the “modern synthesis” school of neo-Darwinism which favoured gradual evolution but has since been accepted due to recent evidence in evolutionary biology.”

    “Examples of saltational evolution include cases of stabilized hybrids that can reproduce without crossing (such as allotetraploids) and cases of symbiogenesis. Evidence of phenotypic saltation has been found in the centipede and some scientists have suggested there is evidence for independent instances of saltational evolution in Sphinx moths. Some processes of epigenetic inheritance can also produce changes that are saltational. There has been a controversy over if mimicry in butterflies and other insects can be explained by gradual or saltational evolution. According to (Norrstrom et al. 2007) there is evidence for saltation in some cases of mimicry. The endosymbiotic theory is considered to be a type of saltational evolution.

    Specific cases of homeosis in flowers can be caused by saltational evolution. In a study of divergent orchid flowers (Bateman and DiMichele, 2002) wrote how simple homeotic morphs in a population can lead to newly established forms that become fixed and ultimately lead to new species.

    They described the transformation as a saltational evolutionary process, where a mutation of key developmental genes leads to a profound phenotypic change, producing a new evolutionary linage within a species.

    Polyploidy (most common in plants but not unknown in animals) is considered a type of saltation. Polyploidy meets the basic criteria of saltation in that a significant change (in gene numbers) results in speciation in just one generation. Mammalian liver cells are typically polyploidal, but they are not part of the germ line.”

    It’s look like Darwin has been proven wrong. (Darwin wrote evolution can only be gradual) also neo-Darwinism has been proven wrong for denying saltationism, as saltational evolution has proven to be a fact, large quick changes can occur.

  3. Dogmas: That’s a great quote from wikipedia, well done.

    There are, again, two problems with your argument: First, you are wrong to polarise the issue – the notion that alternative processes can be operating in evolution seems to be completely incomprehensible to you. The “saltational” processes you invoke are not incompatible with evolution by natural selection, nor is macroevolutionary change in general. Darwin himself came to apprecate the role of “saltational” processes such as hybridisation for example. Maybe you should check out the wikipedia page on macroevolution. LIkely to your chagrin, you will find examples listed of speciation driven by natural selection (try googling “Ecological Speciation” for more examples).

    Happy reading.

  4. the dogmas of neo-Darwinism challenged

    The “saltational” processes were originally denied by neo-Darwinism, but they have now discovered to exist. So neo-Darwinism has been proven wrong. You either be honest and accept this, or you deny it. End of story. Cheers.

  5. the dogmas of neo-Darwinism challenged

    Cornell University have been informed about your online trolling.

  6. the dogmas of neo-Darwinism challenged

    Just joking 🙂 but in all seriousness you should find a hobby instead of trolling non-Darwinian blogs Stuart.

    Eugene Koonin wrote neo-Darwinism is dead, and so did Todd Oakley and Eva Joblonka. In response all you do is flick through their papers and claim they accept natural selection without reading their claims on the outdateness of neo-Darwinism. Nowhere did I claim they were denying natural selection, they have written other mechanisms are just important as natural selection that is all (something that yourself rejects). Eugene Koonin wrote that neo-Darwinism has crumbled beyond repair. Why do you think he wrote that. No need to ignore papers due to your personal beliefs. 🙂

  7. Ahh, Dogmas. No, you are wrong again I think: I am making informed comments on an open blog (as I have done before here). This is not trolling. The manager of this site is of course able to exclude me from this site, though I personally feel the discussions have been interesting (and I, for one, am interested in these issues Nor does my present institution have anything to do with my online activity. But well done for finding out where I work! I wonder, who did you inform, exactly? 😉

  8. Dogmas:
    “Neo-Darwinism” describes an historical period in the development of evolutionary biology, prior to the modern synthesis, and in fact just at the turn of the 20th century. Having a debate about whether science at that time is still valid today seems a little silly, unless it is purely for historical interest.

    Moreover, you seem to think it’s a valid argument to use current research and opinion to “disprove” this historical period. That is also very weak, since you have selectively picked a few rhetorical examples (without, I think, really understanding the work of the three scientists you have cited), and ignored over 100 years of research, much of it supporting evolution by natural selection.

    To paraphrase you, Dogmas: no need to ignore 100 years of papers and books just because of your personal beliefs.

  9. Please watch the video below by Denis Noble on the current changes in evolutionary biology.

    Interesting things explained in the above video by Noble:

    1. Mutations are not random
    2. The selfish gene of Dawkins is metaphysics not science
    3. DNA is not the sole transmitter of inheritance
    4. There are modern studies showing how epigenetics is important in evolution. Inheritance of acquired characteristics is not impossible like neo-Darwinism claimed
    5. Cytoplasmic changes can be inherited
    6. The central dogma of molecular biology has been broken, genomes are not isolated from organism or the environment. Transmission of information is not one way.
    7. Gradual accumulations of mutations is not the cause of speciation
    8. Proteins did not all evolve via gradual mutation
    9. The central claim of neo-Darwinism is not even falsifiable
    10. After 120 years natural selection has never led to a formation of a new species as Darwin postulated. Natural selection is not creative

    Physiology is rocking the foundations of evolutionary biology

    Denis Noble

    The “Modern Synthesis” (Neo-Darwinism) is a mid-twentieth century gene-centric view of evolution, based on random mutations accumulating to produce gradual change through natural selection. Any role of physiological function in influencing genetic inheritance was excluded. The organism became a mere carrier of the real objects of selection: its genes. We now know that genetic change is far from random and often not gradual. Molecular genetics and genome sequencing have deconstructed this unnecessarily restrictive view of evolution in a way that reintroduces physiological function and interactions with the environment as factors influencing the speed and nature of inherited change. Acquired characteristics can be inherited, and in a few but growing number of cases that inheritance has now been shown to be robust for many generations. The twenty-first century can look forward to a new synthesis that will reintegrate physiology with evolutionary biology.

    More evidence against the “restrictive” neo-Darwinism view of evolution.

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