Thursday, January 15, 2009

Browne, J. 2008

Okay so I just read the Browne paper 'Birthdays to remember' and here are my thoughts:

-it was interesting to read that the idea of natural selection fell out of favour in about 1900 and 1950 due to scientific advancements

-Were 'created kinds' and inheritance of acquired characteristics the only competing hypotheses against natural selection or were there others? The created kinds hypothesis isn't really a biological hypothesis.

-Mayr convinced people that evolution takes place on three levels but what did he think the mechanism of evolution was in 1) molecules and 2) the flow of genes through populations? Of course natural selection but did he also advocate Kimura's 1986 Neutral theory? Because the two are compatible. Guess I will have to read his book next (after LOTR of course).

"Darwinism is a forceful way to express anxieties about the growing power of modern science and the perceived decline of moral values in society". Why is this? One has nothing to do with the other. Darwin was a Christian (maybe?). I think this quote may get at a major reason why Darwinism is so popular/hated? Hidden agendas?


J. A. Ludtke said...

As a quick answer to your second point I'll throw up a link to a wiki article ( that briefly discusses some of the scientific alternatives to natural selection.

The victory of the Modern Synthesis was to for all intents and purposes crush the competition and (in potentially ironic fashion) be bigger proponents of "Darwinian" evolution through natural selection alone than Darwin himself sometimes was.

Dr. Fox said...

For an excellent history of the parallell decline and revival of Darwinian thinking in the social sciences, I suggest Carl Degler's In Search of Human Nature (Oxford U Press, 1991).

Lorraine said...

I was also interested in the idea that natural selection fell out of favour in the 1900-1950s time period. It is not so difficult to see why though.

Presented with overwhelming evidence of genetics first by Mendel and then later by Watson and Crick. DNA, although now seen to explain some of the missing pieces in the Origin as to sources of variation etc., would likely have been seen as the new thing, something Darwin didn't know about, and therefore Darwin was either wrong, or not fully right and therefore irrelavent. Although scientists may not think they are swayed by social climates and public opinion, they are, and do research in trends. Think of just how many invasive species projects are popping up in canadian universities, and how much funding is being provided for genomics research.

I found it interesting however that Darwin's ideas are still being proved correct today (from the paper we read for class) with new evidence. I've already found 3 references in the Origin that directly relate to my proposed thesis topic. It does still remain relevant despite the years, and the lack of genetic information available.

Like the pangenesis theory, some aspects of the Origin my not be completely true by today's scientific standards. But throwing out a theory that in the grander scheme is highly accurate in its explanitory value because of a few minor missteps in evidence or in non-major branches of the theory (ie. dogs being descended from several species, gemules, etc.) which could not possibly have been known at the time is ludicrous.

Darwin gives us the major acting force upon evolution. If he did not know about random mutations in DNA, or genetic drift, or chromosomal recombination, then this does not invalidate his theory. For all of these things without selection do not have the power to transform entire species over lasting time periods.

Lorraine said...

About the last comment from Tonya.

I believe Browne was trying to explain why Darwin's theory is consistently attacked (like in the US school system). It is being used as a figurehead of attack for those upset with the 'growing power of modern science'. Everyone knows who Darwin is (relatively) what his theory is about. He is being used as an example, (like Benedict Arnold, Joan of Arc, Charles I, and Marie Antoinette) for the outrage at an entire institution. By arguing Darwin, they are arguing the progression of Science away from traditional religous values.

Darwin was raised Christian. In his family there are clergymen. He even studied towards being an Anglican parson at Cambridge and became very good friends with Professor Reverend John Stevens Henslow who ended up reccomending him for the Beagle.
His wife was deeply religous and upset about his "affront" to the church by his theory. As far as I have read (I cannot remember where) he felt that he was honouring god by showing the truth in the nature of the world. Not offending religion by contradicting literal meaning of the bible.
It is said that he lost his belief after the death of one of his daughters. However, he was given a christian burial in Westminster Abbey.

Tonya said...

Thanks Lorraine, yes I can see now that he is just a figurehead to attack. Sad really.