Manual Natural Selection (Science Foundations)

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The causal factor of the possession of a genetic program is unique to living organisms, and it is totally absent in the inanimate world. Because of the backward state of molecular and genetic knowledge in his time, Darwin was unaware of this vital factor. Another aspect of the new philosophy of biology concerns the role of laws.

Laws give way to concepts in Darwinism. In the physical sciences, as a rule, theories are based on laws; for example, the laws of motion led to the theory of gravitation. In evolutionary biology, however, theories are largely based on concepts such as competition, female choice, selection, succession and dominance.

These biological concepts, and the theories based on them, cannot be reduced to the laws and theories of the physical sciences. Darwin himself never stated this idea plainly. During this period, a pronounced change in the methodology of biology took place. This transformation was not caused exclusively by Darwin, but it was greatly strengthened by developments in evolutionary biology.

Observation, comparison and classification, as well as the testing of competing historical narratives, became the methods of evolutionary biology, outweighing experimentation. I do not claim that Darwin was single-handedly responsible for all the intellectual developments in this period. The Darwinian Zeitgeist A 21st-century person looks at the world quite differently than a citizen of the Victorian era did.

This shift had multiple sources, particularly the incredible advances in technology. Remember that in virtually all leading scientists and philosophers were Christian men. The world they inhabited had been created by God, and as the natural theologians claimed, He had instituted wise laws that brought about the perfect adaptation of all organisms to one another and to their environment.

Natural Selection

At the same time, the architects of the scientific revolution had constructed a worldview based on physicalism a reduction to spatiotemporal things or events or their properties , teleology, determinism and other basic principles. Such was the thinking of Western man prior to the publication of On the Origin of Species.


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The basic principles proposed by Darwin would stand in total conflict with these prevailing ideas. First, Darwinism rejects all supernatural phenomena and causations. The theory of evolution by natural selection explains the adaptedness and diversity of the world solely materialistically.

It no longer requires God as creator or designer although one is certainly still free to believe in God even if one accepts evolution. Darwin pointed out that creation, as described in the Bible and the origin accounts of other cultures, was contradicted by almost any aspect of the natural world. Nesse and George C.

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Williams; Scientific American , November Eliminating God from science made room for strictly scientific explanations of all natural phenomena; it gave rise to positivism; it produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day.

Second, Darwinism refutes typology. From the time of the Pythagoreans and Plato, the general concept of the diversity of the world emphasized its invariance and stability. This viewpoint is called typology, or essentialism. The seeming variety, it was said, consisted of a limited number of natural kinds essences or types , each one forming a class. The members of each class were thought to be identical, constant, and sharply separated from the members of other essences.

Variation, in contrast, is nonessential and accidental. A triangle illustrates essentialism: all triangles have the same fundamental characteristics and are sharply delimited against quadrangles or any other geometric figures. An intermediate between a triangle and a quadrangle is inconceivable. Typological thinking, therefore, is unable to accommodate variation and gives rise to a misleading conception of human races.

For the typologist, Caucasians, Africans, Asians or Inuits are types that conspicuously differ from other human ethnic groups. This mode of thinking leads to racism.

The Genetic Foundation of Natural Selection

Darwin completely rejected typological thinking and introduced instead the entirely different concept now called population thinking. All groupings of living organisms, including humanity, are populations that consist of uniquely different individuals. No two of the six billion humans are the same.

Populations vary not by their essences but only by mean statistical differences.

The Importance of Charles Darwin

By rejecting the constancy of populations, Darwin helped to introduce history into scientific thinking and to promote a distinctly new approach to explanatory interpretation in science. From the Greeks onward, there existed a universal belief in the existence of a teleological force in the world that led to ever greater perfection.

After Kant, in the Critique of Judgment , had unsuccessfully attempted to describe biological phenomena with the help of a physicalist Newtonian explanation, he then invoked teleological forces. Even after , teleological explanations orthogenesis continued to be quite popular in evolutionary biology.


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  • The acceptance of the Scala Naturae and the explanations of natural theology were other manifestations of the popularity of teleology. Darwinism swept such considerations away. Many seemingly end-directed processes in inorganic nature are the simple consequence of natural laws—a stone falls or a heated piece of metal cools because of laws of physics, not some end-directed process. Processes in living organisms owe their apparent goal-directedness to the operation of an inborn genetic or acquired program. Adapted systems, such as the heart or kidneys, may engage in activities that can be considered goal seeking, but the systems themselves were acquired during evolution and are continuously fine-tuned by natural selection.

    Finally, there was a belief in cosmic teleology, with a purpose and predetermined goal ascribed to everything in nature. Modern science, however, is unable to substantiate the existence of any such cosmic teleology.

    Fourth, Darwin does away with determinism. Laplace notoriously boasted that a complete knowledge of the current world and all its processes would enable him to predict the future to infinity. Darwin, by comparison, accepted the universality of randomness and chance throughout the process of natural selection.

    The character of the second step, the actual selection, is to be directional. Despite the initial resistance by physicists and philosophers, the role of contingency and chance in natural processes is now almost universally acknowledged. Many biologists and philosophers deny the existence of universal laws in biology and suggest that all regularities be stated in probabilistic terms, as nearly all so-called biological laws have exceptions.

    Fifth, Darwin developed a new view of humanity and, in turn, a new anthropocentrism. For theologians and philosophers alike, Man was a creature above and apart from other living beings. Aristotle, Descartes and Kant agreed on this sentiment, no matter how else their thinking diverged.

    But biologists Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel revealed through rigorous comparative anatomical study that humans and living apes clearly had common ancestry, an assessment that has never again been seriously questioned in science. The application of the theory of common descent to Man deprived man of his former unique position.

    Ironically, though, these events did not lead to an end to anthropocentrism. The study of man showed that, in spite of his descent, he is indeed unique among all organisms. Human intelligence is unmatched by that of any other creature. Humans are the only animals with true language, including grammar and syntax. Only humanity, as Darwin emphasized, has developed genuine ethical systems. In addition, through high intelligence, language and long parental care, humans are the only creatures to have created a rich culture.

    And by these means, humanity has attained, for better or worse, an unprecedented dominance over the entire globe.

    Study finds natural selection favors cheaters

    Sixth, Darwin provided a scientific foundation for ethics. Abandoning plans to be a doctor, Darwin now considered a career in the Church. Aged 18, he went to study Divinity at Cambridge. Though he held fairly conventional beliefs in God, Darwin wasn't particularly keen on this new direction. But training to be a clergyman meant he had plenty of time to pursue his real passion: biology. He spent much of his time collecting beetles and walking on the Fens.