American Public Radio show: Understanding Charles Darwin

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Darwin writes -I think- above his first notebook sketch of an evolutionary treeDue to the Darwin Correspondance Project, the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History Library, modern Darwin scholarship by people like James Moore, the AMNH Darwin exhibition, together with the web, amazing things are now possible if journalists get interested in taking a serious look at Darwin and reactions to Darwin.

An example is an hour-long program entitled “Evolution and Wonder – Understanding Charles Darwin” that is being broadcast on many public radio stations on Sunday and Monday. It is also available for online download in streaming or mp3 format at the program website, which includes a large amount of additional material.

Rather than re-invent the wheel I will quote the summary from NCSE news:

“Evolution and Wonder – Understanding Charles Darwin”

The public radio show Speaking of Faith is doing a special show on Charles Darwin, his gradual development of the theory of evolution, and the various reactions, positive and negative, to the theory. The program is entitled “Evolution and Wonder – Understanding Charles Darwin” and features an extensive interview with Darwin scholar James Moore, the author of The Post-Darwinian Controversies, and coauthor, with Adrian Desmond, of Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist.

“Evolution and Wonder” will be broadcast on many public radio stations on July 23 or July 24; its website contains a list of stations that carry the show and air times. The program is also available as streaming audio or a podcast mp3 file. Speaking of Faith is “public radio’s weekly conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas.” It is produced and distributed by American Public Media, and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The impressive website for the program contains many additional features:

* An annotated guide to the radio program, including images from the Cambridge University Library collection of Darwin material, and quotes from Darwin’s correspondence.

* A guided graphical tour of Darwin’s notebooks. Readers can click on an image of a notebook page, zoom in on certain areas, and listen to commentary from David Kohn, editor of the Darwin Digital Library of Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History Library.

* Additional audio from interviews and discussion that did not make the final cut of the broadcast show, including a panel discussion with Kenneth Miller, Robert Pollack, V. V. Raman, and Nancey Murphy, held in conjunction with the opening of the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

* Recommended books and listing of the music played in the program.

* A page where listeners may submit their reactions to the show.

* A journal entry by Speaking of Faith’s host Krista Tippett, relating what she learned in putting together the show.

61 Comments

Wonderful, but you just know some idiot Congresscritter is going to hold hearings about wasting tax dollars on “atheist propaganda.”

Best, Marc

For what it’s worth, Speaking of Faith is the only radio show I listen to religiously these days (via podcast). Every episode is well researched and well produced and I think the host has a wonderful interview style.

Looking forward to the show.

Why is it called “Speaking of Faith?” Must we constantly try and remind everyone that there’s a ‘controversy’? Why not just discuss the science and the history of the development of the the theory - not always focus on the social aspects? If we constantly remind people that there is a so-called ‘controversy’ we simply can’t win: people will always choose their religious/ideological affiliations over some guy talking about what is occasionally quite arcane biological matters.

How do people feel about the possibility that an alternative evolutionary theory e.g. neo-Lamarckism might prove superior to neo-Darwinism?

It seems to me that the Intelligent Design theorists make a fair point when they say that the chances of random mutation proving useful, given the complexity of chemical interactions in the organism, are very remote. However, if we have Interactive Evolution, where the organism interacts with the environment, then mutation may not be random.

Of course natural selection still comes into play but it is choosing between “purposeful” mutations, not random ones.

Mr. Field apparently slept through the last 200 years of biological research.

Good morning!

Unfortunately, Mephisto, with widespread ignorance about the nature of science and evolution still running amok in the general public, it’s still useful (even necessary) to emphasize the value and validity of evolution from both scientific and nonscientific vantage points.

field Wrote:

How do people feel about the possibility that an alternative evolutionary theory e.g. neo-Lamarckism might prove superior to neo-Darwinism?

If it did so prove, of course, it would be very interesting; but evidence is against it so far. There’s been a lot of work in this area–see Luria & Delbruck’s fluctuation test for one example of how biologists examine whether mutations really are random with respect to fitness.

It seems to me that the Intelligent Design theorists make a fair point when they say that the chances of random mutation proving useful, given the complexity of chemical interactions in the organism, are very remote.

Just saying that isn’t much of a point, though. It doesn’t even make much sense rhetorically–why shouldn’t the complexity of interactions increase the possibilities for random mutation proving useful, a) by buffering any negative impacts through built-in redundancy of function, and b) by providing more potential ways in which a mutation can be helpful, in the right environment?

(Case in point: there are lots of mutations involving red blood cells–sickle-cell, the thalassemia family, G6PD deficiency, etc. In spite of generally reducing the ability of their carriers to transport oxygen through their blood, they’re quite common in many parts of the world. Why? Because they also–many of them–confer resistance to malaria. The additional interactions between human blood cells and the malaria parasite give those mutations a chance to be beneficial overall instead of harmful. No environmental direction of mutations is necessary to explain this.)

At minimum “ID theorists” would need to actually theorize for a change: present some sort of reasonably detailed genetic model, testable for correspondence to the real thing, and show that random mutations cannot be as frequently beneficial as required by evolutionary theory (which isn’t very frequently at all, really.) So far, they haven’t done so.

Why is it called “Speaking of Faith?”

Specifically to annoy the atheists ;-). Actually, the syndicated show is called Speaking of Faith, it is a show reporting on religion and culture that does many different topics. This show on Darwin was just one episode.

Must we constantly try and remind everyone that there’s a ‘controversy’?

It is undeniable that (a) there is no scientific controversy but (b) there is a large social controversy. This dichotomy is at the root of the whole issue.

Sir, a Christian Scientist one time told me that they were not a cult and their beliefs were not a cultish issue. Was I ever surprised to find that they were. Why can we not say the same for Evolution? What beliefs make Evolution not a cult? Why believe in Evolution? What does Evolution have to offer me? Does believing in Evolution help me in getting to heaven? What would Charles Darwin do? What do eyewitness accounts say about Charles Darwin? Do we have any outside proof of his existence? Where can I find a local church in regards to the belief of Evolution? Why do people still worship Charles Darwin’s teachings today? Thanks for your time and have a great day. Honest questions about Charles Darwin: Sir, I have a question. Was Darwin a liar, a lunatic or a loser? Was he an idiot? Question no. 2 Did Darwin go crazy at the Galapogos Islands? Was he hallucinating? What do the experts say? Question no. 3 Are there any eyewitness accounts of Darwin? What do the eyewitness accounts of Darwin at the Galapogos say? Can we prove through Science that Charles Darwin ever existed? Thanks for your time sir. Have a good day. Casey Powell

Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo . … .

What beliefs make Evolution not a cult?

The fact that evolution does not have any beliefs makes it unfit for the ‘cult’ label.

Why believe in Evolution?

It’s pretty stupid, isn’t it? Believing in evolution.

It’s like believing in gravity.

What does Evolution have to offer me?

Many benefits that we take for granted.

Does believing in Evolution help me in getting to heaven?

That’s not the point of evolution.

That’s the goal of Pastafarianism.

What would Charles Darwin do?

Right now, he’s rolling in his grave.

What do eyewitness accounts say about Charles Darwin?

Many witnessess have attested to the fact that Charles Darwin did, indeed, have eyes.

Do we have any outside proof of his existence?

Not since Last Thursday.

Where can I find a local church in regards to the belief of Evolution?

Many “local churches” that teaches the “belief” of evolution require high school education as well as prerequisite subjects and admission exams like the SATs or the TEE.

Why do people still worship Charles Darwin’s teachings today?

You know, I’ve never thought about that question until now. But given the fact that Jesus supposedly lived around 2000 years ago and Darwin lived much more recently and said a lot more that is relevant today, I would probably worship his teachings too if I were ignorant of the difference between science and religion.

Was Darwin a liar, a lunatic or a loser?

He was British.

Was he an idiot?

No, he wasn’t from the Bible Belt.

Did Darwin go crazy at the Galapogos Islands?

Yes. Some finches were trying to evolve big peaks to peck off Darwin’s face because of his non-stop ramblings.

Was he hallucinating?

I’m not quite sure, but I think the problem of scurvy was solved a while back.

What do the experts say?

The experts say that talking on the mobile phone while driving is as bad as driving intoxicated.

Are there any eyewitness accounts of Darwin?

Darwin also wrote an extensive treatment on the evolution of eyes.

What do the eyewitness accounts of Darwin at the Galapogos say?

Sorry, but Darwin is a city in the Northern Territory of Australia. Darwin is not located at the Galapagos.

Can we prove through Science that Charles Darwin ever existed?

If you believe in Biblical Creation, you can believe anything.

Aton -

I presume you are familiar with recent developments in epigenetic science. I take it you concede there are now proven processes of a non-Darwinian nature that lead to evolution through direct environmental influence. The only issue really is whether they are a minor subset of evolutionary processes or are we just beginning to learn about Lamarckian-style processes?

I didn’t say that the IDists were necessarily right. But I do think they have put a case that needs to be answered.

Your argument for complexity offering better prospects for random mutations is ingenious but not I feel very convincing. If we think of a machine - and the physical body is simply a chemical machine - we see that the more complex a machine, the more essential it is that every part is an accurate fit in all senses.

Another argument I would use is that medicinal research shows that nearly all drugs have negative side effects. Any slight change in chemical output outside normal ingestion clearly unsettles the organism.

Another asburdity of neo-Darwinism in my view is that it requires us to believe that random mutation in genes generated specific types of behaviour (because only genes can generate unlearned behaviour). I find it frankly not credible that genes could generate such specific behaviour patterns (e.g. compelx mating rituals) and I have never seen any evidence to show how the proteins in genes achieve this.

I have heard the malaria/blood disease narrative before. Clearly you may be right. But ANY feature of an organism can be explained by natural selection (there are for instance at least 50 competing theories as to why humans have so little hair). But equally we may discover that this is an epigenetic phenomenon with switching mechanisms, allowing humans trade off between the two depending on environmental conditions.

Anyway, this seems like an interesting site where this sort of open discussion is not censored - unlike say “Religion is Bullshit” where, if you don’t rant like street corner nutcase, you get kicked off for being too effective in debate. Some call it “Ben’s Law”.

Thanks Anon_C .….Gee that was fun wasn’t it?

Aaaahhh .…DeLieRAmen …is what brings me back to PT …day after day.

The incessant gurgling of Fundy brains flushing themselves in counter clockwise..or is that clockwise? …One never knows how they decide what the grand cosmic order has ordained which direction their hopelessness circles before disappearing around the porcelain bend.

Wow …now just in case you all missed that.

The projected contrails of the Fundy mind writ large on “golly godot’s” king size stratospheric bed sheet by economy class budjet transport to heaven (which is about as close as they will get..then its back to the Wall Mart parking lot).

Observe dear reader..(now any answer will do, after all that’s how Identity Demagoguery works)

What beliefs make Evolution Turkey neck eefangulist not a cult?___________

Why believe in Evolution Turkey neck eefangulists ?___________

What does Evolution Turkey neck eefangulists have to offer me?___________

Does believing in Evolution Turkey neck eefangulists help me in getting to heaven?___________

What would Evolution Turkey neck eefangulists do?___________

Do we have any outside proof of Turkey neck eefangulists DOG’s existence?___________

What do eyewitness accounts say about DOG?___________

Where can I find a local church in regards to the belief of Evolution?(EVERY CHURCH EXCEPT POOR FUNDY TRASH)___________

Why do people still worship Charles Darwin’s Turkey neck eefangulists teachings today?___________

Was Darwin IS DL a liar, a lunatic or a loser?___________

Was DimRabot an idiot? (Now DL is obviously not British)___________

Did Darwin go crazy at the Galapagos Islands dEarl Ahmen’s son go crazy at the Gas Station?________

Was DreamyLamba hallucinating?________(My favorite.…pink finches in fishnets crawling over my body)

What do the Turkey neck eefangulists say?___________

Are there any eyewitness accounts of Darwin DOG?_________(this is what it’s ALL about you can love DOG but he never writes, or sends flowers .….Bastard. And the whole scientific method gives DL the cold shudders)

What do the eyewitness accounts of Darwin at the Galapagos Galloping God’s say?

Can we prove through Science that Charles Darwin ever existed? Not applicable…snicker.

Now what we have here is an existential failure, on the one hand a man- presumably, who completes the wonderful illustration of the power of the alpha-preacher from Christ’s Own Drive in Presbytery to convince the hoi poloi to change from FORD to GM(WINDOWS to LINUX, APPLE to ORANGE), and on the other someone when he sees his face in the mirror, fails to realize a conversation with it is not with another person.

Yea.. it is said in the Year Of Our Microsoft 0031 that the one true believer in kant will simply tell the whole world his own delusion, without the slightest hint of self reflection.

Unawareness like that just cannot be bought.

Hey …DeliRomer .…wake up and smell the coffee…the answers ARE obvious.

Another asburdity of neo-Darwinism in my view is that it requires us to believe that random mutation in genes generated specific types of behaviour (because only genes can generate unlearned behaviour). I find it frankly not credible that genes could generate such specific behaviour patterns (e.g. compelx mating rituals) and I have never seen any evidence to show how the proteins in genes achieve this.

I am just a noob when it comes to the “debate”.

But I thought that random mutation in genes generates “choices” and that NATURAL SELECTION kills off the choices that don’t work at the moment, giving it an appearance of “specificity”.

Also, I can’t remember who, someone has said that “absence of evidence does not equate to evidence of absence”. That you have never seen the evidence is not a solid argument.

If we think of a machine - and the physical body is simply a chemical machine - we see that the more complex a machine, the more essential it is that every part is an accurate fit in all senses.

I think Argument by Analogy is a logical fallacy. Many complex machines, like humans, often are equipped with underperforming parts yet they can perform very well. It is not THAT essential that EVERY part is an ACCURATE fit. Just that it fits reasonably well.

I have heard the malaria/blood disease narrative before. Clearly you may be right. But ANY feature of an organism can be explained by natural selection (there are for instance at least 50 competing theories as to why humans have so little hair).

And then

But equally we may discover that this is an epigenetic phenomenon with switching mechanisms, allowing humans trade off between the two depending on environmental conditions.

Which part of “natural selection” in the first part and “depending on environmental conditions” in the second part are in opposition?

field Wrote:

I presume you are familiar with recent developments in epigenetic science. I take it you concede there are now proven processes of a non-Darwinian nature that lead to evolution through direct environmental influence.

Why would you consider epigenetic inheritance to be “non-Darwinian?”

Your argument for complexity offering better prospects for random mutations is ingenious but not I feel very convincing. If we think of a machine - and the physical body is simply a chemical machine - we see that the more complex a machine, the more essential it is that every part is an accurate fit in all senses.

Do we? Is there a study you can point to on this subject?

Another argument I would use is that medicinal research shows that nearly all drugs have negative side effects. Any slight change in chemical output outside normal ingestion clearly unsettles the organism.

Er, drugs also have positive side effects, which sometimes outweigh the negative ones. That’s why we use ‘em.

Another asburdity of neo-Darwinism in my view is that it requires us to believe that random mutation in genes generated specific types of behaviour (because only genes can generate unlearned behaviour). I find it frankly not credible that genes could generate such specific behaviour patterns (e.g. compelx mating rituals) and I have never seen any evidence to show how the proteins in genes achieve this.

You seem to be saying that all complex behavior, such as in courtship, is learned. This is easily tested and has been shown to be false. Some courtship behavior (in most insects, for instance) is apparently genetically programmed, whereas many songbirds have a genetic component to their display but also learn from their elders.

In any case, how is this an argument against evolution? To the degree that complex behavior is not genetic, that weakens the creationist claim that a Great Designer must have programmed such behavior into the genes in the first place!

I have heard the malaria/blood disease narrative before. Clearly you may be right. But ANY feature of an organism can be explained by natural selection (there are for instance at least 50 competing theories as to why humans have so little hair).

This isn’t really correct; there are all sorts of genetic polymorphisms which appear to be neutral with respect to fitness, and so must have arisen though non-selection mechanisms such as genetic drift.

But yes, many many features of many many organisms are explained well by natural selection. That’s a good thing for the theory, isn’t it? Clearly there could be features which were not so well explained–for instance, if sickle-cell was more common in humans whose ancestors inhabited malaria-free areas. But that isn’t the case. Reality agrees well with evolutionary theory, so far as we can discover.

But equally we may discover that this is an epigenetic phenomenon with switching mechanisms, allowing humans trade off between the two depending on environmental conditions.

No, that’s not a feasible explanation here. For one thing, there aren’t two states–there are dozens of known mutations that all confer some amount of malarial resistance. Any mutation that does so, without otherwise severely curtailing fitness, is favored by selection.

For another, humans clearly aren’t “turning off” such mutations when they leave malaria-ridden environments. African-Americans still have sickle-cell after several generations here.

Finally, although you can’t use things like the fluctuation test in humans, genetic analysis of a population can turn up historical markers of selection. If a whole population engaged some “switching mechanism” and became, say, sickle-cell heterozygous, you would expect much less of a genetic bottleneck–particularly in genes near the mutant locus–than if a single individual randomly acquired such a mutation which then spread throughout the population. I know very little about this field, but I’ve attended a talk or two on the matter and this is a thriving area of science. Interestingly, you can use such genetic historical events to estimate the time at which malaria first became a common disease (and thus an agent of selection) among humans, and it seems to match up with our development of agriculture. Which is reasonable, since that put us in close and extended contact with livestock animals for the first time, allowing the disease to spread.

I didn’t say that the IDists were necessarily right. But I do think they have put a case

Where? I’d like to see it.

Wow! Is THIS the Casey Powell that “Dr” Morgan Greenwood was so impressed by? Well, I suppose he IS the Dalai Lama.

Anton -

You make some interesting points. Unfortunately don’t have time to answer them all at the moment. Let me clear up one point though - I am not arguign against evolution. I am arguing against certain dogmas of certain evolutionists.

One point you make is clearly wrong - to suggest that African Americans weren’t in malaria infested conditions in the Americas. Even now I believe malaria is known in the USA. Furthermore no one suggests these mechanisms necessarily switch on and off from one generation to another. The “starvation response” noted by epigenetic scientists persists even when food becomes abundant in the next generation.

I haven;t got a study to hand showing that icnreased complexity reduces the opportunities for successful random mutation. But can you refer me to one that proves the opposite? Certainly if we look at things like cars, we see that whereas a modern car may be more reliable than an old Model T Ford, the old Ford was less dependent on smooth functioning of all parts. A simple malfunction in a modern car can disable it, because of the complexities of the electronic systems.

Epigenetic inheritance is certainly non-neo Darwinian because it involves the environment directly affecting genetic inheritance - i.e. with no random mutation. Clearly natural selection - broadly understood - works on epigenetic inheritance as it does on all aspects of inheritance. But Darwin was completely ignorant of how inheritance worked and so what people mean by Darwinism is really neo-Darwinism as propunded by Dawkins and others.

Your point about courtship behaviour shows the problem I have with that approach. You are simply assuming that genes are producing the behaviour. Scientific studies that show correlations between certain genes and certain behaviour are not proof of causal connection.

Would you assume if you came across a tranistor radio that the radio itself was generating the programmes, the voices and music you were hearing? You might if you didn’t know about broadcasting and so on.

If you are right then it must be the case that random mutation has produced genes that precisely programme behaviour through various chemical mechanisms. I have never heard anyone describe in detail how that might work and frankly I don’t believe it.

field Wrote:

You make some interesting points. Unfortunately don’t have time to answer them all at the moment. Let me clear up one point though - I am not arguign against evolution. I am arguing against certain dogmas of certain evolutionists.

It’s difficult to make out what you mean by “evolution” here. Common descent of all known organisms?

One point you make is clearly wrong - to suggest that African Americans weren’t in malaria infested conditions in the Americas. Even now I believe malaria is known in the USA.

Malaria has not been endemic to the United States for sixty years, and was quite rare for decades before that. Do Americans occasionally get malaria? Of course, because it’s sometimes brought back from another country. So do Swedes. But Swedes don’t have sickle-cell very much.

Furthermore no one suggests these mechanisms necessarily switch on and off from one generation to another. The “starvation response” noted by epigenetic scientists persists even when food becomes abundant in the next generation.

Which argues against its being a beneficial response to environmental change. (Contrast this with, say, the epigenetically-controlled “locust” transformation in grasshopper, which is beneficial in their particular environment–and which is in turn genetically controlled. It does reverse significantly within a generation, and completely reverses within two or three, when the stimulus for the locust phase is removed.)

I haven;t got a study to hand showing that icnreased complexity reduces the opportunities for successful random mutation. But can you refer me to one that proves the opposite?

Not at all; neither is true. Increased complexity can either reduce or increase such opportunities, is required to do neither. If you’d like an example of when it does increase such opportunities, I’ve already pointed out malaria. (Irrespective of your argument, malaria-resistance alleles could arise through random mutation, so that applies here. And, again, population genetics provides historical evidence that they did so.)

Or consider the bipedal goat example on Pharyngula. Or almost any paper on gene duplication (some discussed in this Panda’s Thumb article.)

Certainly if we look at things like cars, we see that whereas a modern car may be more reliable than an old Model T Ford, the old Ford was less dependent on smooth functioning of all parts. A simple malfunction in a modern car can disable it, because of the complexities of the electronic systems.

And if we look at things like people, who are much more complex than cars, we see that lots of malfunctions can be gotten around. We heal injuries and compensate for birth defects (as did the bipedal goat mentioned above.)

Epigenetic inheritance is certainly non-neo Darwinian because it involves the environment directly affecting genetic inheritance - i.e. with no random mutation.

Random mutation itself is a case of the environment directly affecting genetic inheritance. Environment produces a gamma ray, gamma ray alters nucleotide.

Clearly natural selection - broadly understood - works on epigenetic inheritance as it does on all aspects of inheritance. But Darwin was completely ignorant of how inheritance worked and so what people mean by Darwinism is really neo-Darwinism as propunded by Dawkins and others.

And do “Dawkins and others” deny the existence of epigenetic inheritance? They do not.

Your point about courtship behaviour shows the problem I have with that approach. You are simply assuming that genes are producing the behaviour. Scientific studies that show correlations between certain genes and certain behaviour are not proof of causal connection.

If an organism is raised in the lab from the egg, in total isolation from conspecifics, and nonetheless displays such behavior, then it must have been inherited. How did it learn that behavior otherwise? ESP?

Finding the precise genetic basis of a behavior is a desirable research avenue, of course, but hardly necessary to demonstrate that it is genetic. (By “genetic” here I’m including epigenetic inheritance.)

Would you assume if you came across a tranistor radio that the radio itself was generating the programmes, the voices and music you were hearing? You might if you didn’t know about broadcasting and so on.

If you are right then it must be the case that random mutation has produced genes that precisely programme behaviour through various chemical mechanisms. I have never heard anyone describe in detail how that might work and frankly I don’t believe it.

So your proposed alternative is that the equivalent of radio waves are being beamed across the planet, instructing each organism to perform various complex behaviors? That doesn’t really sound more believable.

Anton -

On African Americans I would lay money on them having suffered disporportionately from malaria in the southern USA because their homes were often located in the least desirable areas. But I don’t think that aspect of the debate is going to take us very far.

Your reference to compensation is possibly one avenue that needs to be explored. We are all familiar with the way a body can “work round” a muscle injury by bringing other muscles into play - these muscles can then become more developed. Is it really impossible that such “information” (additional “resource use” by the compensating part of the organism) cannot be relayed from generation to the next via some sort of epigenetic process, in the way the starvation response has been proven to?

I accept that random mutation is an environmental influence but that’s not the way it is presented in text books. The emphasis is on the gene down route for information. Whether random mutation counts as “information” I don’t know. It’s more like a destructive act than an information pathway. I think what some epigenetic scientists are saying now is that there is this information pathway to the gene.

I’ve tried to find out what Dawkins has to say on epigenetics. Strangely nothing on his website despite this being an exciting field of discovery. Also, one has to recognise that the meaning of epigenetics has really changed and expanded since Dawkins first published his books.

As for your attempt to portray may as a believer in loopy “invisible rays”, I think it’s time for a Horatio-style riposte, since science hasn’t even begun to explain consciousness. Consciousness is the only subject orientated experience we know of. That in itself is extremely odd. The point of my analogy of the radio was that there is no reason why someone unfamiliar with radio broadcasting should not assume every sound being generated is entirely a product of the machine as you assume all unlearned animal behaviour is the product of the gene.

Science has not isolated consciousness and until it has we won;t have a completed understanding of evolution (by which I mean changing of organisms with probable common inheritance over billions of years).

There are many oddities that need explaining. Only recently there was teh case of the parrot (studied by a reputable scientist) with the vocabulary of a two year old child, ability to count and so on. All this on the basis of a walnut sized brain. Only a few years ago scientists were amazed to discover that humans have about half the number of genes they were expecting. In terms of human evolution we have seen incredible co-ordinated changes in the organisms over periods as little as a 100,000 years, perhaps 4,000 generations. These changes were taking place not in huge mega populations of hundreds of millions or billions, but in small bands of hominids with total populations in the tens of thousands. I would be extremely surprised if all that was the product of random mutation and natural selection rather than some sort of direct interaction with the environment.

We’ve got a long way to go to understand how evolutino works.

Field worte:

“Science has not isolated consciousness and until it has we won;t have a completed understanding of evolution (by which I mean changing of organisms with probable common inheritance over billions of years).”

I believe plants can evolve. I don’t believe that plants are in any way concious. I don’t remember the NEED for discussions about conciousness in my biology class when we looked at evolution.

“Whether random mutation counts as “information” I don’t know. It’s more like a destructive act than an information pathway.”

Most random mutations are neutral. Some aren’t beneficial. Some are. Sounds like you’re using the old ‘entropy (disorder) means evolution wont work’ argument.

Re “I would be extremely surprised if all that was the product of random mutation and natural selection rather than some sort of direct interaction with the environment.”

Natural selection is a direct interaction with the environment.

Henry

Natural selection is a direct interaction with the environment.

You do have to wonder what they hell they are thinking almost all the time.

Maybe they mean the environment that is filled with both Nature AS WELL AS ghosts, poltergeists and a non-specific God-that-we’ll-talk-about-as-if-it-was-the-God-of-the-Bible-but-will-refuse-to-name-for-fear-of-losing-more-court-battles-funded-by-taxpayers.

field Wrote:

On African Americans I would lay money on them having suffered disporportionately from malaria in the southern USA because their homes were often located in the least desirable areas.

Not in the last sixty years, because there wasn’t any malaria to suffer from.

But I don’t think that aspect of the debate is going to take us very far.

It’s already taken the field of genetics quite far indeed, but it’s certainly possible to ignore that.…

Your reference to compensation is possibly one avenue that needs to be explored. We are all familiar with the way a body can “work round” a muscle injury by bringing other muscles into play - these muscles can then become more developed. Is it really impossible that such “information” (additional “resource use” by the compensating part of the organism) cannot be relayed from generation to the next via some sort of epigenetic process, in the way the starvation response has been proven to?

It’s most certainly possible, and we have examples. For instance, the multigenerational locust transformation in grasshoppers that I mentioned. When grasshoppers which are en route to the full locust phase have offspring, those offspring start out already partway there. IIRC the inheritance mechanism there is hormones which are passed into the egg.

There’s nothing non-Darwinian about this, though, because the capacity for locust transformation is itself an inherited and selected trait. The environment doesn’t instruct grasshoppers how to become locusts when it would be favorable to do so.

I accept that random mutation is an environmental influence but that’s not the way it is presented in text books.

No offense, but you’re reading the wrong textbooks in that case. I don’t think I’ve ever read a genetics (or intro bio) textbook that didn’t go into detail on physical mechanisms producing mutation.

The emphasis is on the gene down route for information. Whether random mutation counts as “information” I don’t know. It’s more like a destructive act than an information pathway. I think what some epigenetic scientists are saying now is that there is this information pathway to the gene.

Epigenetic alterations are in their nature no more or less destructive or informative than mutations.

I’ve tried to find out what Dawkins has to say on epigenetics. Strangely nothing on his website despite this being an exciting field of discovery. Also, one has to recognise that the meaning of epigenetics has really changed and expanded since Dawkins first published his books.

And Neo-Darwinism changes and expands to accomodate it.

As for your attempt to portray may as a believer in loopy “invisible rays”, I think it’s time for a Horatio-style riposte, since science hasn’t even begun to explain consciousness. Consciousness is the only subject orientated experience we know of. That in itself is extremely odd. The point of my analogy of the radio was that there is no reason why someone unfamiliar with radio broadcasting should not assume every sound being generated is entirely a product of the machine as you assume all unlearned animal behaviour is the product of the gene.

Sure, science has begun to explain consciousness–that’s a huge and thriving area of research in psychology and neurology. They’re just not done. But what does that have to do with the origin and transmission of unlearned behavior?

And there’s nothing inherently “loopy” about invisible rays. Radios use invisible rays. It’s just that we have actual evidence for them–we can screen out said rays with a foot of concrete or a Faraday cage, and we can generate new such rays technologically. If you want to argue that invisible rays or morphogenetic fields or patron deities tell animals what to do, you’ve got to explain how to verify that experimentally. Just saying, “Well, it could be caused by something else we don’t know about” is perfectly true but rather unhelpful. What couldn’t be caused by something we don’t know about?

Science has not isolated consciousness and until it has we won;t have a completed understanding of evolution (by which I mean changing of organisms with probable common inheritance over billions of years).

Who said we have a complete understanding of evolution? That’s why teaching what we have learned about it is so critical.

There are many oddities that need explaining. Only recently there was teh case of the parrot (studied by a reputable scientist) with the vocabulary of a two year old child, ability to count and so on. All this on the basis of a walnut sized brain. Only a few years ago scientists were amazed to discover that humans have about half the number of genes they were expecting. In terms of human evolution we have seen incredible co-ordinated changes in the organisms over periods as little as a 100,000 years, perhaps 4,000 generations. These changes were taking place not in huge mega populations of hundreds of millions or billions, but in small bands of hominids with total populations in the tens of thousands. I would be extremely surprised if all that was the product of random mutation and natural selection rather than some sort of direct interaction with the environment.

As your own examples make clear, when studying nature, surprising or counterintuitive hypotheses are often correct. Intuitive plausibility is a very poor guide to scientific truth.

Careful you don’t use up all your hyphens… ;)

Henry

Anton:

You wrote:

“Not in the last sixty years, because there wasn’t any malaria to suffer from.”

Yes, but the latest epigenetic research suggests the inherited starvation response persists over several or more generations. So it would be too early to say for sure that this was not an epigenetic phenomenon. I’m not saying it is. But it remains at present an open question I would suggest.

“It’s most certainly possible, and we have examples. For instance, the multigenerational locust transformation in grasshoppers that I mentioned. When grasshoppers which are en route to the full locust phase have offspring, those offspring start out already partway there. IIRC the inheritance mechanism there is hormones which are passed into the egg.

There’s nothing non-Darwinian about this, though, because the capacity for locust transformation is itself an inherited and selected trait. The environment doesn’t instruct grasshoppers how to become locusts when it would be favorable to do so.”

Perhaps not - I must admit I have difficulty following your example. As I understand it there a number of epigenetic phenomena. But the starvation response, does seem to be a direct response to the environment and therefore one that could be fairly described as “Lamarckian”. The Darwinian idea seems to be to be best summed up in the Dawkiuns phrase “The Blind Watchmaker” i.e. that while the natural selection process is not random, any changes in the organism on which natural selection work are randomly generated and are in no sense “designed”. I know this has been slightly modified over the years but that is the kernel of it, and what the latest epigenetic research challenges, since it seems there is a natural “design” element, which - like many organic phenomena - appears to be a v. slow “feedback” loop.

“Epigenetic alterations are in their nature no more or less destructive or informative than mutations.”

Lamarck never suggested the organism was consciously trying to modify itself. Only an idiot is going to argue that evolution is a product of conscious design. But you are trying here to dissolve the argument by claiming these evolutionary “feedback” loops are on a par with random mutations. The point is the changes are purposeful. If you are going to argue they are not purposeful, then you are making a philosophical point and you are going to also have to argue that say the flight response - raised heartbeat etc - is not “purposeful”.

“And Neo-Darwinism changes and expands to accomodate it.”

I note you don’t have a killer quote from DAwkins. If you are saying that neo-Darwinism can accommodate Lamarckism then you are saying it can accommodate jsut about any theory including Intelligent Design as long as natural selection comes in at some point.

“Sure, science has begun to explain consciousness—that’s a huge and thriving area of research in psychology and neurology. They’re just not done. But what does that have to do with the origin and transmission of unlearned behavior?”

Well I’d be interested what progess has been made in studying this object. If you ask me to study an elephant I can point you to where it is located. If you ask me to study an electron I can give you a reasonable idea of its location. So where exactly is say your subjective experience located in our four dimensional cosmos.

“If you want to argue that invisible rays or morphogenetic fields or patron deities tell animals what to do, you’ve got to explain how to verify that experimentally. Just saying, “Well, it could be caused by something else we don’t know about” is perfectly true but rather unhelpful. What couldn’t be caused by something we don’t know about?”

There are rational limits to probable causes for any phenomenon.

Well, if two hundred years ago I had said that the sun is fuelled by cheddar cheese supplied by leprechauns, that would be an example of something we could rule out without further inquiry on grounds of reason. Similarly, it would be absurd to claim that all of creation was created in literally six days by a creator deity. For one thing, the claim would be just about meaningless.

However, it would most certainly not be irrational to claim that there might be something like a morphogenetic field or natural feedback loops which might better explain how say hominids evolved so rapidly over such a short timescale.

“Who said we have a complete understanding of evolution? That’s why teaching what we have learned about it is so critical.”

I’ve no objection to teaching what we have found out. I object to distortions e.g. present Mendel’s experiments as though they illustrate iron laws of heredity.

“As your own examples make clear, when studying nature, surprising or counterintuitive hypotheses are often correct. Intuitive plausibility is a very poor guide to scientific truth.”

Another oddity to add to the list. I was wathcing a programme last night on changed behaviour in transplant patients that appears to match their donors’ personalities. How a few neurons in the transplanted heart are meant to lead to improvements in spelling, a sudden liking for poetry and so on, is indeed a bit of a mystery on the neo-Darwinian standard model I would suggest. There is certainly room there for the morphogenetic idea. I agree intutitive plausibility is a poor guide to truth. But intuition certainly has a role to play in science. Scientists rarely consider all possibilites as equal. They follow a path of their own creation. But many scientists know it would do their careers no good at all to follow certain paths.

Anton -

I did write a detailed response to your last post but it got mangled up somewhere in cyberspace. I don’t have the time to type it again. I’ll content myslef with one further oddity. I saw a programme last night on TV about transplant patients who develop personality traits of their donors. Now it seems to me that the neo-Darwinian model would be hard pressed to explain how a few neuron type cells in the heart can explain such changes(there was a heart transplant patient whose spelling improved and who developed a sudden passion for writing sentimental poetry, depsite previosuly having been a very poor speller and completely unsentimental). However, something like a morphogenetic model might be well placed.

I also pointed out that it is not rational to say (as you claimed) that anything unknown can be explained by anything. It would not have been legitimate 200 years ago to surmise that the sun was fuelled by embers carried there by leprechauns. Such absurd ideas can be dismissed on the basis of application of reason to known facts. Similarly we can dismiss the idea that God created the cosmos in six days. Such a statement has hardly any meaning at all. In as much it does have meaning it can be held to be absurd for all sorts of reasons.

But one cannot at this stage dismiss the idea that the process of evolution might also be taking place outside the four dimensional world as well as within it.

field Wrote:

I saw a programme last night on TV about transplant patients who develop personality traits of their donors.

“Body Parts” starring Jeff Fahey?

field Wrote:

Yes, but the latest epigenetic research suggests the inherited starvation response persists over several or more generations. So it would be too early to say for sure that this was not an epigenetic phenomenon. I’m not saying it is. But it remains at present an open question I would suggest.

You’re really going to have to present a specific paper here. There are lots of “starvation responses” and epigenetic inheritance of same in various species. Which one are you talking about, exactly, and where’s the evidence that it’s acquired non-randomly wth respect to fitness? And why, given that malaria resistance is associated with known mutant genes, would you consider that to be epigenetic at all?

Perhaps not - I must admit I have difficulty following your example.

It goes like this: When grasshoppers graze down most of the plants in their area, they’re forced to crowd together on the remaining forage. This crowding triggers a hormonal response that turns them partway into the locust phase–where they’re larger, brightly-colored, stronger fliers and very gregarious. Their offspring are born roughly as locust-y as they were, and continue to change over their lifetime, until by the third generation or so they’re full locusts. They spend a while flying around in huge swarms, decimating crops and so forth, and once they reach better habitat they disperse. Then, over a few generations, they gradually turn back into the usual solitary, mostly non-flying grasshopper phase.

It’s very definitely epigenetic, persists for multiple generations, yet is perfectly consistent with evolutionary theory.

As I understand it there a number of epigenetic phenomena. But the starvation response, does seem to be a direct response to the environment and therefore one that could be fairly described as “Lamarckian”. The Darwinian idea seems to be to be best summed up in the Dawkiuns phrase “The Blind Watchmaker” i.e. that while the natural selection process is not random, any changes in the organism on which natural selection work are randomly generated and are in no sense “designed”. I know this has been slightly modified over the years but that is the kernel of it, and what the latest epigenetic research challenges, since it seems there is a natural “design” element, which - like many organic phenomena - appears to be a v. slow “feedback” loop.

Again, all mutations are responses to the environment.

The irreconcilable difference between Lamarckian and neo-Darwinian evolutionary models is whether heritable changes–genetic or epigenetic, makes no difference–are random with respect to fitness. That’s it. If an organism consistently alters itself in heritable ways that grant it superior reproductive success in its environment, then mainstream evolutionary theory is wrong.

Note that plenty of elements of Lamarck’s thought are quite consistent with neo-Darwinism. The general concept of “acquired characteristics,” for instance. No problem with that in modern biology. Heck, every single-celled organism in existence has acquired a heritable change–a mutation–and then passed it on. Ditto for lots of epigenetic changes. (OTOH, there are specific “acquired characteristic” examples accepted by both Darwin and Lamarck that have since been debunked.) But so far, these changes have never occurred in a way which was specifically nonrandom with respect to fitness.

Take the grasshoppers. When they overgraze they turn into locusts, which have behaviors to correct the problem of overgrazing. Seems like a fitness-directed change, right? Nope. It’s triggered by a very simple and genetically-mediated stimulus–frequent taps on mechanoreceptors on their legs. In their usual environment that generally means they’re being crowded by other grasshoppers, so it’s an appropriate trigger. But you can trigger it in all sorts of inappropriate ways in the lab–for instance, by putting them in a jar and shaking it. Conversely, if food runs low but they never happen to run into lots of other grasshoppers, it won’t trigger. Hence, it’s not a change that generally makes them more suited to their environment, it’s a change which happens to work on average in the particular set of environments their ancestors have historically inhabited.

Lamarck never suggested the organism was consciously trying to modify itself. Only an idiot is going to argue that evolution is a product of conscious design. But you are trying here to dissolve the argument by claiming these evolutionary “feedback” loops are on a par with random mutations. The point is the changes are purposeful. If you are going to argue they are not purposeful, then you are making a philosophical point and you are going to also have to argue that say the flight response - raised heartbeat etc - is not “purposeful”.

Um, yes. They aren’t purposeful. When I’m freaked out and my heartbeat accelerated, I certainly didn’t do that on purpose. Possibly a deity arranged that to happen for its own purposes, but that’s not a scientifically investigable question.

I note you don’t have a killer quote from DAwkins. If you are saying that neo-Darwinism can accommodate Lamarckism then you are saying it can accommodate jsut about any theory including Intelligent Design as long as natural selection comes in at some point.

I don’t particularly keep up with Dawkins. He’s a zoologist and a respected popular biology writer. He’s not a geneticist, he’s not an evolutionary biologist, and he’s not the high priest of evolutionary theory–nor has he ever claimed to be.

That said, I would be very surprised if Dawkins denied epigenetic inheritance, because it’s treated in every biology/genetics textbook I’ve ever used. We learned about it in intro genetics, we learned about it in intro entomology, it pops up in every major journal on a monthly basis, and it’s simply not a controversial concept. Intriguing, largely unknown, but not a threat to evolutionary theory.

Well I’d be interested what progess has been made in studying this object. If you ask me to study an elephant I can point you to where it is located. If you ask me to study an electron I can give you a reasonable idea of its location. So where exactly is say your subjective experience located in our four dimensional cosmos.

Why should “position” be an attribute of a mental phenomenon? What we can do is tell you where in the space of your brain you need to stick an electrode to elicit certain such experiences, which is about as meaningful as you can get for “position” in that case.

There are rational limits to probable causes for any phenomenon.

Well, if two hundred years ago I had said that the sun is fuelled by cheddar cheese supplied by leprechauns, that would be an example of something we could rule out without further inquiry on grounds of reason. Similarly, it would be absurd to claim that all of creation was created in literally six days by a creator deity. For one thing, the claim would be just about meaningless.

However, it would most certainly not be irrational to claim that there might be something like a morphogenetic field or natural feedback loops which might better explain how say hominids evolved so rapidly over such a short timescale.

That’s a wonderful opinion; I have no idea how you would go about substantiating it. But you’re welcome to argue with fundamentalists over why morphogenetic fields are so much more reasonable than a six-day creation…

Another oddity to add to the list. I was wathcing a programme last night on changed behaviour in transplant patients that appears to match their donors’ personalities.

On the Sci-Fi channel, I imagine.

How a few neurons in the transplanted heart are meant to lead to improvements in spelling, a sudden liking for poetry and so on, is indeed a bit of a mystery on the neo-Darwinian standard model I would suggest.

Er, why? Sure, it’s completely implausible given everything we know of biology, neurology and psychology, but it’s hardly evolutionary theory in particular that conflicts with it.

They follow a path of their own creation. But many scientists know it would do their careers no good at all to follow certain paths.

Luria and Delbruck followed the path of exploring whether mutations are truly random or not, and they ended up with a Nobel prize. Nor are epigenetic researchers generally hurting career-wise.

it got mangled up somewhere in cyberspace

Perhaps it was in the same general vicinity as mental experience, right next to the rules of chess, where your lap goes when you stand up, Wiles’ proof of the FLT, the manufacturing capacity of the U.S., and your understanding of ontology.

I suspect Gotcha typed too many syllables–instead of “Problemo,” just “Lame-O” might’ve better expressed his thought processes.

Such as they are.

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