..with respect to Evolution and Creationism.
Firstly, the subject has been around for a long time, and in that time a lot of ground has been covered, often quite authoratatively and thoroughly,
and much of what we do in the hear and now is redundant. If we want to Deny Ignorance, we need, above all, to be educated on the topic.
So lets take a look at a very sketchy and breif outline of the topics.
Evolution is a Fact, and a Theory
When one is talking about biological evolution, there is the fact that it occurs, and the theory that seeks to explain it. Evolution, defined simply
as the change in allele frequencies over time, is a fact
. We can physically (more or less) observe the frequencies of different genes in a
population changing over time.
When scientists and others talk about a Theory of Evolution, they are talking about something completely seperate from the factual existence of
evolution. They are usually talking about Darwin's hypothesis that evolution occurs thru a mechanism of natural selection and leads to adaptations
Darwin, importantly, made a few generally agreed upon observations:
- Organisms within a population are variable
- An individual's characteristics are largely inherited
- More offspring are produced each generation than can and will surive
- An individual's characteristics can affect their survivability and fecundity
Given these observations, the evolution of populations thru a mechanism of natural selection is practically a logical requirement. If having, say, a
thicker beak allows a bird to eat the hard to crack nuts that are nearly all that are available in a drought season, then obviously having a thicker
beak is a benefit. And given this benefit, and the fact that characteristics are inheritable, thick beaked birds are going to tend to have lots of
thick beaked offspring. And the small beaked birds are going to have very few, if any, offpsring. So in the next generation, most of the population
is birds with thicker beaks. The population, as a whole, has come to resemble this favoured 'type'.
And yet, the above observations apply, and there is still variation within the population. So just as previously some birds had thicker beaks than
others, so too now some birds have thicker beaks. And this allows them to more easily crack up thick shelled nuts and seeds and get more food and
produce more offspring, and the whole process repeats. This can go on as long as the conditions (here a drought limiting the food source to thick
shelled nuts that require big beaks to crack) persist. If this continues for a number of generations, we end up with a population that has beaks that
are far beyond the 'original' variation, beaks that are thicker and bigger than any beaks in the population have ever been.
That, simply, is
evolution. It can occur with almost any trait. Almost anything can be modified in a small, sensible, easy to understand way,
and then continually modifed thru generational 'time'. This is way biologists say that evolution builds upon smaller, previous, steps.
Darwin deserves special recognition. He was a great scientist, from a time when there weren't really science programs, science degrees, and science
research groups, or anything that is normally thought of when one thinks of the process of science today. Darwin didn't even have much of a fossil
record to work with in his studies, even tho usually today we think of paleontology as the 'big' evolutionary field.
Darwin came up with his hypotheses over a long period of time and thru actually studying nature, often going places where no european had ever been
before, seeing ecoystems that were completely alien to England and Europe. He meticulously studied nature as he travelled across the globe (primarily
on the famous HMS Beagle). He came up with his basic big ideas before long. But here is the spectacular thing. He didn't publish them. Instead,
about them, thought about all the variable ways in which his ideas conflicted or agreed with lots of the science and beleifs that
were already out there. He spent years considering the full rammifications and implications of the things he had seen and thought about, often
communicating with other luminaries in biology of the time, receiving positive and negative feedback from them. He, basically, becomes a model
scientist from a time when science itself was just really getting going.
While voyaging on the Beagle to some of the most abundant and some of the most desolate places on the planet, Darwin was also studying some of the
latest advances in the scientific community of his day. He received a copy of Charles Lyell's "Principles of Uniformitarianism", which influenced
him heavily with its revlation that small processes, currently active in the world, can explain spectacular geological formations, like mountians,
gorges, valleys and deltas, with the mere addition of long spans of time. This is probably why Darwin's hypothesis has a definite 'gradualist'
slant to it, why he is impressed by and emphasises that small changes can lead to great differences given time. Its noteworthy to mention that Darwin
was also influenced by the population and resources thinking of Malthus, who famously noted that (to paraphrase) "Population size will be controlled,
if not by anything else, by famine, disease, or war"
Around the time of Darwin, many scientists were creationists. Often they were said to be studying "Natural Theology", and one of the goals of this
research was to learn more about the nature of god by examining that which he was wrought. So theologians would notice that a certain type of wasp is
specifically adapted to crawl into the tiny opening of a fig, and find therein an environment that will protect and nuture its offspring, while at the
same time the wasp spreads pollen from fig to fig and fertilizes them. Harmony and benevolent planning, it looks like, thus the creator is harmonious
and benevolent. This sort of irrational thinking however didn't really lead anywhere, it couldn't answer any questions about nature, and of course,
it just didn't seem to be true. If the wasp and the fig indicates benevolence and goodness, what did the wasp and the worm indicate, where a wasp
would sting a particular type of catepillar, inject it with an immobilizeing agent, and then lay its eggs in it, eggs which would eventually hatch in
the still living catepillar and gnaw their way thru it into the world?
So many researchers were unsatisifed with natural theology, and there were many 'evolutionists' that were around, before darwin. They recognized
that animals, rather than being created as they are and being unable to change, had infact changed greatly, and that the world as it once was was very
different as it is now. Many of them realized that organisms could change drastically, such as the Chevalier d'Lamarck. Lamarck is often parodied in
science classes, and his ideas were far more complex than they are unfairly portrayed, but essentially, he didn't have a good explanation for the
mechanism of change. Change, evolution, was recognized, but its mechanism was not understood.
So by the time Darwin published Origin
, there was already a large body of scientists dissatisfied with natural theology and trying to figure
out what was the real cause for these things.
In modern times, that is times since darwin's research, creationism has been somewhat different. Whereas the natural theologians of the past
investigated nature and tried to explain it systematically (albeit religiously), modern popular creationism, as a movement (ie not all individuals),
tend to merely take the bible, interpret it rather literally, and try to explain things as having been caused by events in the bible or re-interpret
scientific findings in a similar way. So called "Intelligent Design" is more of a revivial of the old school of Natural Theology, with researchers
doing actual research and sometimes trying to test and challenge their own ideas. In that way it is somewhat distinct from other types of
creationism, but in the end, it's all covered by the "Big Tent" of Creationism.
As I noted earlier, many of the claims one hears today have been covered in the past. Indeed, when Darwin first published Origin
, there was a
great deal of debate. And for decades afterwards there was debate, all across the globe, in Universities and within Scientific Societies and between
individual scientists. Many of the topics brought up today have, infact, been addressed and relatively settled for nearly a hundred years
the average person, new to the issue, obviously hasn't been around for all that, and ignorantly (tho unitentionally) repeats the old arguements.
Indeed, this happens no matter what one's persepctive on the issues are, and many people who consider themselves 'evolutionists' also have the same
'miseducation' on some of the fundamental propsitions of the theory.
The Great Sythesis
Not too long after Origin
was published, there developed something of a split within the biological community. It was between Evoltuionists
and Mutationists, which is counter-intuitive today, because we think of Evolution being practically synonomous with mutations. Indeed, this is
because of the evolutionary synthesis of the early 20th century. Breifly, the debate was whether new species arise slowly and minutely or whether new
species jump up as a result of massive, systemic, mutations. Was it the biology of herds and populations, or the biology of these new and unsual
'genes' and 'genetics'? This rift went on for a long time and finally the great discoveries of Darwin and Mendel were 'sythesised', brought
together, in a number of scientific debates, conferences, meetings, and publications over the course of years. There were a number of reserachers,
Like JBS Haldane, Morgan, and others, who were the primary actors of this happening, and its often thought of as an event. One of the big actors in
this event was Ernst Mayr, who only recently passed away.
Modern Evolutionary Theory
Obviously, modern evolutionary theory is far to large of a topic to cover in any sort of complete way, even breifly. But suffice to say that there
are debates going on, right now, in numerous scientific circles, about many of the theories surrounding evolution. There is controversy amoung
scientists about evoltuionary theories
, often the debate gets quite vitriolic. Sometimes the debate is very specific, such as the question of the
origins of birds from dinosaurs, and other times its very wide ranging and covers all of biology, as in Kimura's Neutral Hypothesis, Dawkins and the
ultra-darwinians Pan-Adaptionist and Ultra-Reductionist approach, or even the incredible theories of Niles Eldridge and the recently and lamentably
deceased Stephen J Gould with their Multiple Levels of Selection questions and Rate and Tempo in Evolution ideas.
But there is not really any controversy amoung biologists about the occurance
of evolution, and there isn't any sort of big movement to
'throw Darwin out'. This is not to say that there aren't any individuals that don't doubt either thing, but in general, an impression is
sometimes given that the scientific community is uncomfortable and doubtful of darwinism, when in fact thats absolutely false.
So, not to make a too long post any longer, everyone should keep in mind that there is lots of room for lively discussion on this subject, that there
are a lot of different personalities involved, and, importantly, that not everything you thought you knew is infact true. And I hope that this breif
outline is helpful to organize anyone's thoughts on the subject.