Posts Tagged ‘science’

Evolution’s Science Status

Ellis & Silk II
Evolution’s Science Status

The status of evolution as a science is verging closer to extinction following a work shop in Germany last month. The essence and definition of science was on center stage at this historical convening of the leading physicists and philosophers of science last month. The meeting convened in the Romanesque-style Ludwig Maximilian University lecture hall. Science writer Natalie Wolchover covered the story for Quanta Magazine entitled “A Fight for the Soul of Science” and later reprinted by on TheAtlantic.com entitled “Physicists and Philosophers Hold Peace Talks.”

The fundamentals of physics currently face a critical problem, explained Nobel laureate David Gross to the three-day work shop attendees – a watershed moment for science. Wolchover explained, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Specifically, at stake is whether the new concepts in emerging in physics – specifically, the string and multiverse concepts – is true science or just a philosophy. The pivotal issue centers on whether empirical evidence is still required to establish a scientific theory. Since science standards apply across the spectrum of the natural sciences, the outcome also determines the evolution’s science status.

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Darwin Day, the Ultimate Science Paradox

Darwin Day Paradox IIDarwin Day, the Ultimate Science Paradox

A “Darwin Day” resolution by Democratic New Jersey U.S. Representative Rush Holt was re-introduced on the house floor in late January. The proposed legislation attempts to again designate Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12th as a day for the nation to honor Darwin. In a Huffington Post interview, Holt explained that Darwin’s birthday should symbolize “the importance of science in the betterment of humanity.”

“It was his thirst for knowledge,” Holt elaborated, “and his scientific approach to discovering new truths that enabled him to develop the theory of evolution.” Science historians, however, will undoubtedly challenge Holt’s “science” assertion and Holtz’s “betterment of humanity” assertion.

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The Great Newton Darwin Divide

Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are similar up to the point of the great divide.

Although born nearly 200 years apart, Newton and Darwin were both Englishmen born into wealthy families, Newton was the son of a wealthy farmer, and Darwin was the son of a wealth physician.

Newton and Darwin were abandoned by their mother early in life: Newton’s mother went to live with her new husband at the age of three and Darwin’s mother died when he was just eight years old. Neither Newton nor Darwin gained respect from their fathers.

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Vestiges: Evidence for Evolution? Part II

 

Charles Darwin attempted to avoid the use of the term “vestiges” largely because the term had been associated with the “erroneous” Larmarckian concept of “use and disuse” that was only “veritable rubbish.”

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744 – 1829) was a member of the French Academy of Sciences and was appointed to the Chair of Botany in 1788. When the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle was founded in 1793, Lamarck was appointed professor of zoology. In 1801, he published Système des animaux sans vertèbres, a major work on the classifications and coined the term invertebrates. Lamarck is thought to be the first use the term biology in its modern sense. Lamarck continued his work as a premier authority on invertebrate zoology.

Darwin did credit “Lamarck as the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention.… In these works he up holds the doctrine that all species, including man, are descended from other species.”

Lamarck’s theory of evolution, which he referred to as “transformism,” was based on the idea that individuals develop new traits during their own lifetimes by “use and disuse” and transmit them to the next generation. Larmack writes – “Progress in complexity of organization exhibits anomalies here and there in the general series of animals, due to the influence of environment and of acquired habits.”

The giraffe served as Lamarck’s classic example of evolution through “use,” acquiring longer necks in successive generations in competition to reach the ever-scarcer leaves higher in the trees. In illustrating Lamarck’s views on adaptation, Darwin wrote, “To this latter agency he seems to attribute all the beautiful adaptations in nature; such as the long neck of the giraffe for browsing on the branches of trees.”

For Darwin, however, this explanation was simply not scientific – “Lamarck, who believed in an innate and inevitable tendency towards perfection in all organic beings, seems to have felt this difficulty so strongly that he was led to suppose that new and simple forms are continually being produced by spontaneous generation. Science has not as yet proved the truth of this belief.”

One of the most eminent pre-Darwinists was Charles Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802). Erasmus discussed his ideas at length in a two-volume work, Zoonomia, published in 1794. Erasmus wrote that “all … have risen from one living filament.”

Erasmus’ book was widely popular in Western Europe- even translated into German, French, and Italian. Erasmus envisioned that the driving force behind species modification was a result of “lust, hunger, and danger.” In line with Greek philosophy, Erasmus envisioned changes by “continuing to improve its own inherent activity.”

Actually how these “improvements” developed was completely unknown to Lamarck and Erasmus—evolution was a philosophy, not a science. The unknown cause of “improvements” is what drove Darwin to discover the underlying laws of nature—scientifically. Writing in the preface of The Origin of Species, Darwin suggests how Erasmus’s work, although “erroneous,” may have influenced Lamarck: “It is curious how largely my grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, anticipated the views and erroneous grounds of opinion of Lamarck in his Zoonomia.”

For Lamarck, new characteristics are acquired through the process of “use and disuse.” Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a Lamarckian evolutionist. Charles Darwin, however, in pursuit of a “scientific theory” of evolution, initially opposed Lamarckian evolution, only granting the theory marginal support.

In a letter written to J. D. Hooker in 1844, Darwin wrote, “Heaven forefend me from Lamarck nonsense of a ‘tendency to progression.’ … But the conclusions I am led to are not widely diff erent from his, though the means of change are wholly so.” “With respect to books on this subject,” Darwin continues, “I do not know any systematic ones, except Lamarck’s, which is veritable rubbish.”

Although attempting to distance himself from Lamarck’s concepts of “use and disuse” and “vestages,” Darwin distain for “use and disuse” eventually waned as causes for the origin of variation required for the actions of natural selection remained Darwin’s largest unsumountable enigma.

Since then, the term, “vestiges” has once again gained prominence over “rudiments,” as has Larmarckian concepts of evolution. The question remains, however, are structures classified as “vestiges” evidence of evolution? Specifically, have vestiges seemingly lost all or most of their original function in a species through evolution?

To address answers to these questions, we will be examining the most popular example of vestiges—the mammalian appendix in the up-coming posts.   

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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

With over 1,000 references, Darwin Then and Now is a historical chronicle of the rise and fall of the once popular theory of biological evolution.

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