In Christopher Stephens & Mohan Matthen (eds.), Elsevier Handbook in Philosophy of Biology. Elsevier (2004)
In 1968, Motoo Kimura submitted a note to Nature entitled “Evolutionary Rate at the Molecular Level,” in which he proposed what has since become known as the neutral theory of molecular evolution. This is the view that the majority of evolutionary changes at the molecular level are caused by random drift of selectively neutral or nearly neutral alleles. Kimura was not proposing that random drift explains all evolutionary change. He does not challenge the view that natural selection explains adaptive evolution, or, that the vertebrate eye or the tetrapod limb are products of natural selection. Rather, his objection is to “panselectionism’s intrusion into the realm of molecular evolutionary studies”. According to Kimura, most changes at the molecular level from one generation to the next do not affect the fitness of organisms possessing them. King and Jukes (1969) published an article defending the same view in Science, with the radical title, “Non- Darwinian Evolution,” at which point, “the fat was in the fire” (Crow, 1985b). The neutral theory was one of the most controversial theories in biology in the late twentieth century. This chapter will review the debate over the netural theory subsequent to Kimura.
Keywords neutralism  evolution  Non-Darwinian evolution  Kimura
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