Evolution for Everyone

Archives for October, 2009

The haystack model (see T&R VIII) includes many assumptions but one was especially biased. Recall that each haystack is colonized by a single fertilized female bearing four genes coding for docility or aggressiveness–two of her own and two from her mate. Maynard Smith assumed that if even one of these genes codes for aggressiveness, then…

Group selection was decisively rejected on theoretical grounds, according to the patriotic history of individual selection theory. Richard Dawkins declared in 1982 that group selection had “soaked up more theoretical ingenuity than its biological interest warrants” and compared further inquiry to the futile search for a perpetual motion machine. Richard Alexander stated in 1987 that…

One memorable Christmas morning, as our kids were gathering around the tree, I was on my way upstairs to get a sweater when I smelled something really bad. I knew that smell. Our cat had diarrhea and had deposited a wet one somewhere. I walked all over the house trying to find it before realizing…

Most people are prepared to admit that we are influenced by our cultures in ways that we don’t understand. As a proverb puts it, the hardest thing for a fish to see is water. Part of the “water” of Victorian culture was an assumption of European superiority. Darwin was progressive for his time but even…

One reason that I don’t spend a lot of time bashing religion is because there are so many other flagrant departures from factual reality to pick on. Take the patriotic history of nations–the leaders who can do no wrong, the noble “us” and evil “them”–who needs supernatural agents when we can so freely re-arrange the…

By the 1960’s, evolutionary theory had settled into a comfortable paradigm called the Modern Synthesis. With other major issues apparently settled (go here for an update on the Modern Synthesis), the issue of group selection began to occupy center stage. George C. Williams was not the only critic and the great AEPPS were not their…

In their book Darwinism Evolving, David J. Depew and Bruce H. Weber make the interesting point that pre-Darwinian notions did not come to an abrupt halt with the advent of Darwin’s theory. Instead, they often became repackaged in superficially Darwinian terms. That certainly applies to notions of adaptation in nature and human society. Before Darwin,…

Consider some standard examples of design in nature: the aerodynamic wing of the bird, the concealing coloration of the moth, the dense fur of the polar bear. Darwin’s insight was to explain these adaptations as products of natural selection: individuals vary, some survive and reproduce better than others, and their properties are inherited by their…

The phrase “truth and reconciliation” describes a constructive process for coming to terms with a troubled past. It has been used to resolve bitter political conflicts and achieve national unity, starting with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995. I would like to initiate a similar process to resolve a bitter scientific conflict. The…

Science as a Contact Sport

Thanks to the ScienceBlogs community for such a boisterous welcome. For those who object to my metaphor of science as a religion that worships truth as its god, I offer the metaphor of science as a contact sport. We try our best to throw each other to the mat and then good naturedly go out…