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Everything is not because of evolution

  1. Aug 14, 2013 #1
    Evolution answers most of the questions like - "Why are we social animals", "Why do we have nose, eyes etc".
    Because they were evolutionary advantageous.

    But I have seen this argument being used in wrong places. For eg: - In some book (sorry, I don't remember it now), the author said that we read and write because it was evolutionary advantageous.
    I think this is just wrong. We don't read and write because of evolution. Reading and writing perhaps was a natural consequence of our intelligence.
    I find the evolution argument is being used incorrectly in this case and in many other cases. Am I right?
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  3. Aug 14, 2013 #2


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    Yes, people like to take spandrels and make something of them where there is no molecular story (and thus no concrete evidence). Evolutionary psychology is a field who's contributions are often criticized for this. Gary Marcus is one such critic.
  4. Aug 14, 2013 #3


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    It's very common to see people attempt to explain traits as though they must be the product of natural selection, even of cultural traits. It's not only bad science but its often used to attempt to justify a prejudice belief. Be wary of it.

    PZ Myers is as well. I found this post of his on the topic and its example of learned behaviour in zebras use particularly interesting:
  5. Aug 14, 2013 #4


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    As Pythgorean and Ryan_m_b have said, natural selection is not always the explanation, so I just want to make a quick note on terminology that "evolution" should not be equated with "natural selection".

    Evolution per se does not necessarily involve concepts like the evolutionary advantage of an adaptation. Evolution is essentially the history of changes in genes, and who inherits which genes. Classically, this history is described on the level of populations of organisms, and is termed "phylogeny". Evolution is fundamentally about what happened, rather than why something happened.

    The explanations for particular evolutionary events is extra and not as general as the concept of evolution. These involve theories like natural selection, which you mentioned ("evolutionarily advantageous"). Mechanisms other than natural selection are sexual selection and random drift. These "explanations" are not as fundamental as the history of gene changes and inheritance.

    Evolution Is Change in the Inherited Traits of a Population through Successive Generations
    Sexual Selection
    Natural Selection, Genetic Drift, and Gene Flow Do Not Act in Isolation in Natural Populations
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2013
  6. Aug 15, 2013 #5


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    I agree with Atyy. It needs to be noted that all biological differences are because of evolution. Remember evolution just refers to change in allele frequencies in a population over time. The theories of evolutionary change explain how those allele frequencies change. I think what you mean to say is that not everything is the result of natural selection (or maybe call it adaptive evolution), in which case I would agree with you.

    Natural selection =/= evolution

    It is a bad habit and incorrect to use the two interchangeably.
  7. Aug 23, 2013 #6
    This is a great thread for several reasons including content and character. Thank you. I am particularly impressed with the precise meanings given to concepts like evolution, natural selection, adaptive - related concepts are not synonyms and this thread shows that. I've yet to meet an evolution opponent who could accurately describe natural selection or knew what an allele was. Evolution is a paradigm because of genetics and molecular biology. I enjoyed the "spandrel" metaphor - it fits perfectly - necessary and sufficient - architecture and evolution are great poetic comparisons.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2013
  8. Aug 26, 2013 #7
    People will start to attribute everything to evolution. A lot of things happen because of common sense. Necessity is the mother of all invention.
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