by Nidhal Guessoum:
The Double-Anniversary Year of Darwin is certainly not over, not in France at least! As in the (most of) the rest of the world, throughout 2009 France had its share of magazine cover stories, newspaper articles, and “dossiers” (special sections) in various publications. But what seems to have characterized the discussions around Evolution in France is not the clash with creationism that manifested itself in other parts of the world (the US, the Muslim world, and to a lesser extent the UK), but rather a new, more technical and nuanced debate about Darwinism (the current standard theory of evolution) vs. non-Darwinian Evolution (other theories, sometimes small variations and other times radically different ones).
First, Jean Staune, the multi-faceted thinker (philosopher of science with a degree in paleontology, among several others), published “Beyond Darwin – for a new vision of life” in October, wherein he argued that new evidence, and new work published in Nature and Science, from the past few years seem to have given an impetus to the theories of biological organisms advocating either adding new factors to Evolution besides natural selection or viewing things in a fresh new way, particularly the fact that there may be (so-far hidden) laws of nature which push for the emergence of particular biological features or organisms. People interested in the whole subject of Evolution should remember the new buzz word “structuralism”, which succinctly represents the idea that forms are more important than “functions” in determining which organisms will emerge and have a chance to prosper and which will be disfavored (in an inherent manner).
A one-day conference was organized on this theme at (but not by) the UNESCO (the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in Paris in late November 2009. In it took part some important Non-Darwinian Evolutionists, including Michael Denton, the British-Australian geneticist at New Zealand's University of Otago, who is quite famous with his book “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” (and others) but is somewhat controversial (wrongly, in my view).
Last but not least, ‘Avatar’ came out and gave a new impetus to these discussions. Why? Because the Na’vis (the aliens) looked “structurally” very similar to humans, though they had other features that were quite different (their abilities to “connect” and interact with other life forms through their threads), and their biology was perhaps different too (Sigourney Weaver’s character said “there’s something biologically very interesting down there…”). Now the fact that aliens are portrayed as very similar to humans is nothing new in Science Fiction. But in the case of ‘Avatar’ there was a twist: most other animals had six limbs instead of four, which seemed to make the Na’vis fundamentally different.