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Darwin vs. evolution

  1. Sep 27, 2007 #1

    DaveC426913

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    I've just finished reading Darwin's Origin of Species - A Biography and I realize I'm not much closer to understanding the subtleties of evolutionary theory. At least, I think I'm not. What Darwin brought to the world, while it rocked the foundations of biology, was not his alone. The concept of "change over time" was pretty well accepted by many progressive scientists, though the subtleties of what's driving the changes was in debate.

    There are some very simplistic concepts around evolution that circulate in the general public. Many of them are attributed to Darwin (such as the phrase "survival of the fittest"), as if he alone invented the whole theory of evolution.

    How much has our current understanding of evolutionary theory advanced from his initial theories? Where could I look up a current Coles Notes of evolutionary theory in a nutshell? What are the major principles? What are the myths?
     
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  3. Sep 27, 2007 #2

    mgb_phys

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    It's not so much the change over time as the 'traits which lead to more babies get passed on to those babies' which sums up darwinian evolution.

    Anything by Dawkins, you've probably read "the selfish gene"?
    In the blood + Langauge of the genes - Steve Jones describes a few interesting heridatory things in humans.
    The Ancestors tale, again by Dawkins is a great book about the evolution of life but not really about evolution as such.
     
  4. Sep 28, 2007 #3
    I would suggest you read the information in this web link by Dr. Ken Miller at Brown University:
    http://www.millerandlevine.com/km/evol/index.html

    Dr. Miller, btw, is not only a scientist, but a Christian, and he offers a reasoned approach how the two can be combined, if you have such a philosophic bent. If you read his book (Finding Darwins God) and papers you will get a good grasp of how a modern day Christian biologist views Darwin, plus an understanding of the failed attempt by a few vocal fundamentalist Christian scientists to recreate science as a field of study that by definition is outside the known laws of physics--what they coin "intelligent design", which is nothing more than pure ignorance, which is a state of mind holding to error produced by pure inference based on false premise.
     
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  5. Sep 28, 2007 #4

    DaveC426913

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    ???
    Where did I ask for a viewpoint that involves the supernatural? That's exactly the book I want to steer away from!
     
  6. Sep 28, 2007 #5

    D H

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    Ending ones study of evolution with Darwin is akin to ending ones study of modern physics with the Bohr model of the atom. Darwin had little to say about genetics. The connection between evolution and genetics is the subject of the modern synthesis developed in the 1930s. (Modern Synthesis, Huxley, 1942). Darwin of course didn't know about DNA (The Double Helix, Watson, 1980). Darwinian evolution and late 19th century geology are overly focused on gradual change. Fossil evidence points to long periods of little change with intermittent episodes of drastic changes. Steven Jay Gould developed the theory of puntuated evolution to address how comet impacts and other disasters have influenced evolution. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, Gould, 2002, challenges biologists to avoid becoming Darwinian fundamentalists.
     
  7. Sep 28, 2007 #6

    jim mcnamara

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    I think Rade may have an assumption - threads like this are often started by people trying to 'disprove' some part of evolutionary theory. I've seen your posts and know that is not the case.

    Anyway, try Stephen J Gould 'Structure of Evolutionary Theory'
     
  8. Sep 28, 2007 #7

    Chris Hillman

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    What are the Milestones of Evolutionary Biology?

    Ditto DH: a long, long way!

    (Minor correction: "punctuated evolution" is in fact due to Niles Eldridge (Curator of Invertebrates, American Museum of Natural History) and the late Steven Jay Gould, not just to Gould.)

    IMO, mgb_phys chose his words badly in expressing his proposed slogan.

    A Coles Notes? Interesting idea :wink: but I don't think that will be easy to find; this subject is too vast. The best approximation I can think of is John Maynard Smith, The Problems of Biology, Oxford University Press, 1986, which is unfortunately by now seriously out of date.

    As already hinted, the first post-Darwin revolution in evolutionary biology was the advent of population genetics, which was founded by Sewall Wright, the polymath J. B. S. Haldane, and the statistician R. A. Fisher. Around the same time, the subject of ecology arose, although this didn't become a highly developed field until much later, one which has played a key role in the development of contemporary evolutionary biology. Ditto for developmental biology, wherein another early innovation whose importance was not fully recognized or exploited until much later was the work of Turing on pattern formation. Subsequent milestones include the work of Ernst Mayr on speciation, the work of George C. Williams on adaptation, and the theory of island biogeography, which was initiated by Robert McArthur and E. O. Wilson. McArthur died young, but subsequently, Wilson played an important role in exploiting the next milestone, kinship selection, a notion introduced by W. D. Hamilton, who built upon prior discussions by Haldane and Williams. Another milestone was the introduction of game theoretic notions such as evolutionarily stable strategies into evolutionary biology by John Maynard Smith (author of the book I just recommended). The notion of punctuated equilibrium has already been mentioned by previous posters.

    (Somewhere in the preceding paragraph, I could have mentioned the flawed but influential book by Ernst Schroedinger, What is Life?, among others. In our own time, the book by Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, is essential reading, although I'd caution against making too much of "memes", the silliest of Dawkins's innovations and also the one which has had the greatest "penetration" into popular culture--- probably no coincidence there! Less happily, I might mention influential books by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, the mystic Teilhard de Chardin, the playwright Robert Ardrey, the novelist Arthur Koestler, the Nobel Laureate ethologist Konrad Lorenz, and legions of anthropologists, all of which present seriously misleading views of biological evolution, and all of which should be viewed as obstacles rather than milestones; all of these books described ideas which have been discarded within evolutionary biology, in some cases even before they were written! And Wilson's Sociobiology is without doubt one of the "great books" of science, save for the inflammatory last chapter, the shortcomings of which have unfortunately completely overshadowed the value of the preceding chapters. Darwin showed far more wisdom by severing The Descent of Man from The Origins of Species, if only because, to a biologist, ants and barnacles are no less fascinating and important than hominids.)

    And to state the obvious: the work of Watson and Crick which uncovered the genetic code is central to modern science. And while it is difficult to cite milestones in the development of the appreciation by molecular biologists of the notion that the living cell is a kind of bag full of nanoscale machinery, without going back to the essay of La Metrie, l'Homme Machine, this notion is of course fundamental to modern biology. See David S. Goodsell, The Machinery of Life, Springer, 1993.

    I have been discussing primarily theory; turning to observation and experiment, perhaps the most important post-Beagle milestone has been the work of Peter and Rosemary Grant, which is very well described in Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch. Although it is hard to choose between this and the development of DNA sequencing as a practical tool. Here, going back to theory, Eric S. Lander has been particularly prominent in recruiting mathematical talent into the new field of bioinformatics, which offers much opportunity for gifted algorithmicists to make their mark.

    I should also mention the advent of nonequilibrium thermodynamics and information theory and their application to evolution and ecology (and bioinformatics), and the advent of the modern theory of dynamical systems, among whose founders is the biologist Robert May, who popularized the logistic map, which is now commonly recognized as one of the "four icons of chaotic dynamics", and which brings us back to population biology. With some hesitation, I add the work of Jaynes and his followers on the principle of minimal discrimination, which is related to the role of minimizing free energy in chemistry and physics and which has implications for biology which have not yet been widely recognized within biology. Similar remarks hold for the work of the late Rolf Landauer and Charles H. Bennett on the "physics of information" (IMO this theory has not yet matured).

    (Some would cite the advent of so-called "systems theory", although I feel this field is too diffuse to yet rise to the level of a coherent theory (you can find several recent books stating the opposing case in any good university library), and even worse, some variants such as "process theory" are IMO cranky. I need hardly add that "specified complexity" is a pseudomathematical pseudoscience which is utterly without foundation in ergodic theory, contrary to claims by its proponents; similar remarks hold for "intelligent design". I might add that IMO the so-called "Gaia hypothesis" is either vapid or absurd.)

    Hmm... I see that I have said far too little about observation and experiment. Here I could have mentioned the classic work of Barbara McClintock, Thomas Eisner, Ron Hoy, and many others. (Ha! Ron Hoy is a very modest man; in a telling illustration of an often-mentioned systemic flaw of the Wikipedia [the lack of editorial oversight and consequent wildly imbalanced coverage], at the time of my posting he has no wikibiography, yet so many mentally microscopic :rolleyes: figures have written, as IP anons, panegyrics to themselves there! Well, he probably prefers it that way, so I am not suggesting that anyone rush over there and try to write one!)

    It might not be much of an exaggeration to say that one litmus test for whether a biological paper is important is whether or not it adds in some way to our fund of information about biological evolution. If so, the division between the milestones of biology and the milestones of evolutionary biology is indistinct.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  9. Sep 28, 2007 #8

    DaveC426913

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    Hm. Good point. Revisiting my post I can see how that might happen.

    Exactly. Well said. While reading the book, I had to continually remind myself that it was more biography than textbook (since the science has been surpassed.) It is these new models that I want to understand.

    Yes, I was thinking, jeez Charles, you want to to talk to Watson & Crick! Darwin proposed "gemmule" particles that are emitted by every part of the body. DNA would have hit him like a flash of lightning.

    Ye, I'm familair with the concept of punctuated evolution. I guess that's one thing I was looking for - as you point out: gradual change is one way his theory is out-of-date.


    But I'm also sort of expecting responses that highlight factors like mutation, geographic isolation, speciation etc.
     
  10. Sep 28, 2007 #9

    Chris Hillman

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    Didn't I do that in my post # 7 above?
     
  11. Sep 28, 2007 #10

    DaveC426913

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    Yes. Thanks.

    Mostly though, you've listed references for books I should read (and an impressive list it is!). But I'd like to put that in some context of understanding the main mechanisms for evolution.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2007
  12. Sep 28, 2007 #11

    Chris Hillman

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    I reiterate my suggestion that you start by reading the short book by Maynard Smith, then the fairly short book by Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, then ask a more focused question.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
  13. Sep 29, 2007 #12
    No, you misunderstand what I am saying--Dr. Miller is a biologist--he provides up-to-date examples of Darwinian natural selection in action. His book (Finding Darwins God) is well worth your time. In your OP you indicated you look for information on "What are the major principles? What are the myths?" of Darwinian theory--well a BIG myth in 2007 is that the hypothesis of intelligent design has now replaced natural selection as being factually true--that Darwinian theory is the myth. I think it important you grasp the importance of this issue if you wish to understand contemporary evolutionary theory, hence the reason for my input to the thread.
     
  14. Sep 29, 2007 #13

    Evo

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    I have never heard that one, but I'm not religious. I would assume that myth is circulated among a small percentage of American Christians, it wouldn't be surprising. I'm not intending to start off a discussion of religion or ID, just stating what I have observed.
     
  15. Sep 29, 2007 #14

    Chris Hillman

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    Torturing a geological metaphor

    Hi, Rade,

    I presume you mean, among some (much?) of the "fundamentalist" portion of the general public?

    Scientists (and the educated public in Europe, but apparently, not in the U.S., Turkey, and various other countries where fundamentalism has long been a major feature in the political landscape and has recently experienced marked geological uplifting) certainly are not adopting the attitude that ID or other extra-scientific political movements should replace science in public education, still less in nationally funded research labs.

    I am currently confused about whether you are yourself advocating "combining" religion and science, or accusing "Dave" of doing so. I trust it is clear that I myself certainly do not advocate "combining" the scientific method with other purported means of acquiring information about the natural world (such as studying allegedly "revealed" scriptures).
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
  16. Sep 29, 2007 #15
    I assume you are aware of the recent court case in PA where a judge ruled on whether or not ID was a scientific alternative to Darwinian evolution:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10545387/ and http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1142625,00.html. So yes, my comments were that there is within the general public a belief that Darwinian evolution is a myth--not within the scientific community.

    As to your question about the relationship between religion and science--there is no relationship--neither does science contradict religion nor religion contradict science. Are you suggesting that a scientist cannot be religious ? I agree with you that one cannot combine the scientific method with "other" means of acquiring knowledge, since by definition "science" is derived from Latin scire = "to know" and there is no other way to know anything except via science. If you have belief of some thing then you have 0.0 % knowledge of it. I hope this helps clear any confusion you may have about my previous posts--if not, let me know.
     
  17. Sep 29, 2007 #16

    Chris Hillman

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    Urk...

    Of course, but I don't see how you get from A to B. Unless you simply meant that some segments of the public hold anti-scientific beliefs such as these:

    1. "natural selection is incorrect",

    2. "humans and apes did not have common ancestors millions of years ago",

    3. "so-called paranormal phenomena are genuine",

    4. "extraterrestial beings are regularly visiting the Earth and kidnapping humans for purposes of sexual experimentation".

    The fact that these are indeed popular beliefs in the U.S., as is confirmed by various major national surveys conducted by reputable public opinion polling organizations. But this is not the same thing at all as saying that they are universal beliefs, even among non-scientists! See for example http://pewforum.org/surveys/origins/

    You do know, don't you, that in the ruling you cite, in the case often abbreviated "Kitzmiller vs. Dover School District", Judge Jones barred the school district from teaching ID as an alternative to natural selection in science classes? IOW, the creationists lost this case. See http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf

    Er no, I am more confused than ever about what you are trying to say, but at this point I am beginning to regret that I ever posted in this thread. This getting pretty weird and OT, IMO, Rade.
     
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
  18. Sep 29, 2007 #17
    I just found this thread, I really appreciate your long posts Chris Hillman. I've learned a lot from them.

    I'm wondering why you caution the reader against the idea of a meme. I've read Dawkin's book and several others that use the concept. I agree that it is often misapplied, but I think the concept on the whole is consistent.
     
  19. Sep 29, 2007 #18

    Chris Hillman

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    :smile:

    I think you've just partially answered your question!
     
  20. Sep 29, 2007 #19

    D H

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    I'm amazed by how quickly he rattles them off. He can type a mile a minute with nary a typo and multiple references. Hats off!
     
  21. Jan 30, 2008 #20

    Astronuc

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    There are perhaps multiple factors driving evolution. The environment changes, which could mean climate, temperature, precipitation, oxygen levels, pathogens, radiation, a more successful competitor, food, . . . . Then there is migration.

    Traits which make a species more successful at breeding and/or survival are passed on from generation. Traits which make a species less successful may disappear with the species.

    That is perhaps because like much of history, students are presented with a name, a date, and some simple facts about the person, e.g. Einstein and relativity, and Darwin and evolution. In Einstein's case, some believe that he invented the atomic bomb based on E=mc2, and that is as far as it goes. The actual history is far more complex and involves hundreds and thousands of scientists and technicians.

    Well, the knowledge has increased dramatically, especially with the research on DNA and RNA.


    I heard an interview with Dr. Michael Ruse the other day. He discusses the issues of understanding evolution and he makes some interesting points about the public perception and understanding of evolution.

    The Best of Our Knowledge # 906
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wamc/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1215654

    Also on the same program



    One can download the MP3 of the interview.
     
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