In The Paradox of Evolution, physiologist Stephen Rothman exposes a major, though remarkably almost completely neglected problem with Darwin's theory of evolution. Its two essential elements, natural selection and reproduction, are in important respects contradictory. In considering their relationship, he makes the revolutionary claim that the evolution of life's complex and diverse reproductive mechanisms is not the consequence of natural selection. In so doing, he exposes the deepest question possible about life's nature – its reason for being.
In meticulously detailed but accessible terms he lays out the crux of the paradox and offers an intriguing solution within a naturalistic framework. In an ostensibly purposeless universe, somehow purposeful life has evolved. For all living things there are two overarching purposes: survival and the creation of new life. Natural selection is about the survival of existing life but has no interest in life's future, whether it persists or perishes. By contrast, reproduction is only about the future of life and has no interest in existing life except as a means to that end.
Where do these purposes come from? As Rothman demonstrates, at every level life is wired to react to danger. Counterintuitively, without danger life would neither have come into being nor evolved. In the same way, death drives the creation of new life and has propelled the evolution of the mechanisms of reproduction.
Written with great clarity and informed by deep learning, this elegant, thoughtful work tackles some of the most challenging questions raised by the theory of evolution.
"Science thrives on penetrating questions of even its theoretical pillars. In this book, Rothman tackles a central pillar of evolutionary theory, reminding us that while we know evolution is a fact, there remains plenty to learn about this fascinating and universal process."
– Cameron M. Smith, PhD, professor of anthropology, Portland State University; author, The Fact of Evolution; and coauthor, The Top 10 Myths about Evolution
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Stephen Rothman, Ph.D., is professor emeritus in physiology, cell and tissue biology at the University of California, San Francisco. He is the author of seven previous books, including Life Beyond Molecules and Genes and Lessons from the Living Cell.