Sunday, February 14, 2010

Andrei The ultimate meaning of life?

Richard Dawkins will be speaking in Wellington on March 10th.

That should be fun.

There are some choice quotes in the NZPA release announcing this
"All educated religious people accept the fact of evolution," Richard Dawkins says matter-of-factly.

That statement should offend only "uneducated religious people", the evolutionary biologist and critic of creationism says.
Evolution is not a "fact" it is a theory and as such no matter how good a fit it may or may not be with what actually occurred and is occurring in the natural world it will be modified and adjusted in years to come.

It is almost certain "evolution" as preached 100 years hence will not be anything like the version espoused by Richard Dawkins and his disciples today.

At the end of the piece Mr Dawkins alludes to the real issues that his philosophical outlook raises
"[Because] there's no ultimate point to your existence, that doesn't mean that you should regard your existence as futile and feel you shouldn't get up in the morning or something.

"The ultimate meaning of life is life is about the perpetuation of DNA, but that doesn't really help you to decide how to live your life, nor should it," he says.
And that is it in a nutshell - if the only we are here is to propagate of our genes and everything we are and do is for that end, there is no point really.

All our struggles and trials are for nothing, mean nothing. It would be depressing if it were true, but it isn't.

Because no matter how much Richard Dawkins twists in the wind his hollow theory cannot account for Mother Theresa, Beethoven's 9th symphony nor the Sistine Chapel.

All of which demonstrate humanities capacity to look beyond themselves and see something greater than mere scrambling in the muck to just to leave more offspring than their fellows and win the evolutionary race for their genetic complement.

41 comment(s):

Anonymous said...

"Evolution is not a "fact" it is a theory ..."

Are you being disengenous here, or are you trying the Discovery Institute trick of using one meaning of theory to replace another meaning? You are aware of the multiple meanings, aren't you?

Yes, evolution is a theory, in the same way gravity is a theory. Going to jump of a bridge to test it?

"Because no matter how much Richard Dawkins twists in the wind his hollow theory cannot account for Mother Theresa, Beethoven's 9th symphony nor the Sistine Chapel."

Actually, evolution can account for that, and a whole lot more. There are many good texts on the topic, including the latest one from Dawkins, "The Greatest Show on Earth". I commend it to you.

I am unsure of why some religious people struggle so much with evolutionary theory when the majority of educated church leaders and their followers accept the theory and yet retain their belief in god. What is so threatening about evolution?

David said...

Evolution is both a fact and a theory

I'm sure that in 100 years the theory bit will be different than it is now but I'm equally sure that natural selection will be the mechanism at the heart of it.

I.M Fletcher said...

Dawkins mentions DNA, but if he really looked into DNA (with the science we have now and Darwin didn't) he would see that DNA has an actual code - a very complex code akin to computer code that cannot come about by chance. Nature just can't do that.

It's also interesting to point out that Dawkins won't debate creationists any more because the creationist always seems to win the debate.

eg, he was in a debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Dawkins claimed the debate never took place, until the Rabbi's people found the debate and put it o the net. Also the Huxley Memorial Debate which was highly advertised before it happened but after almost no mention of it can be found as it was conveniently "lost" by the university.

After the debate, details of the event were lost by the University. Normally, Oxford Union debates are big news, given prominent publicity in the press, radio and television. This one, however, which should have rivalled the historic 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce debate in importance, and indeed was even titled the ’Huxley Memorial Debate,” was silently dropped from the radar screen. In his memoirs, Dr. Wilder-Smith wrote, “No records of my having held the lecture as part of the Oxford Union Debate could be found in any library. No part of the official media breathed a word about it.

So yeh, Dawkins is big on putting his view across but when it comes to facing smoeone who knows what they're talking about he shrinks right away.


Psycho Milt said...

Evolution is not a "fact" it is a theory...

You must be imposing a very specific definition on evolution to be able to say this, Andrei. Evolution is a fact - given what we now know about reproduction and genetics, the onus is on anyone who thinks evolution is not a fact to explain how life on earth could conceivably not be subject to evolution via natural selection. As Stephen Jay Gould puts it in David's linked article:

In science, "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent."

Also, you emphasised the wrong part of your Dawkins quote re the meaning of life. Try it this way:

"The ultimate meaning of life is life is about the perpetuation of DNA, but that doesn't really help you to decide how to live your life, nor should it," he says.

Anonymous said...

"Nature just can't do that." Well, it seems it can, and it has. As well as a good many other complex things, but you need to stop thinking of nature as a living and directing force. Nature is, it does not direct.

Dawkins, as I understand it, no ,longer debates creationists as it is a waste of time, especially as they understand neither debate or science.

"he was in a debate with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Dawkins claimed the debate never took place, ..."

If you're referring to Toronto, there was no debate. If elesewhere, please be more specific.

So, IMF, other than "Nature can't do that", what is your rebuttal to the science of evolution?

I.M Fletcher said...

It isn't a science it's a theory - a theory which isn't supported by any fossil evidence, which there should be by now if it was true; and your argument of "well, it seems it can and it has" is weak; no, not weak, lame. How do you know?

Go and check out the talk on this guy's site about design vs random patterns in nature HERE.

Re: the Rabbi - see the link in my previous post -

...Dawkins attacked me on his website and denied that he and I had ever debated. My office quickly posted the full footage of a two hour debate which took place on October 23, 1996, a debate which Dawkins actually lost after a vote taken by the students as to which side, science or religion, caused more students to change their minds. In my article on the subject responding to his attack I was extremely respectful of Dr. Dawkins and was therefore shocked to receive a letter in return in which he accused me of speaking like Hitler. Had the noted scientist lost his mind? Hitler? Was this for real?

That is a particularly bold untruth. Our debate, which took place at St. Catherine's College, Oxford on Oct. 23, 1996, attracted hundreds of students and featured, on the atheist side, Prof. Dawkins and chemistry Prof. Peter Atkins, and on the religion side, me and Prof. Keith Ward, Oxford's Regius Professor of Divinity. Student president Josh Wine was in the chair," the rabbi explained.
"In a vote at the end of the debate as to how many students had changed their minds after hearing the arguments, Dawkin's side was defeated and religion prevailed, which might account for his selective memory," he wrote

I also gave Dr. Dawkins the opportunity to even score by accepting a further debate, at the time and place of his choosing (within reason, of course), to which he has yet to respond.

You can see the debate (which Dawkins claims never happened) on his website.

I.M Fletcher said...

PS, you can also watch the video about DNA HERE. As he says, it isn't a random pattern. Very watchable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, IMF, I wasn't aware the conservapedia was a peer reviewed scientific journal. Anyway, I watched the video, Dawkins gave a good and reasonable answer, but why was the clip cut short so we couldn't see any response from the "questioner"? Taking things out of context is a classic creationist ploy.

There is a moderate amount of fossil evidence, and we are lucky to have as many fossils as we do, given the time scales, the lack of skeleton in many early life forms and the unstable nature of the Earth.

Evolution is a science in that it proposes hypothesis that then become theories and then fact, it also makes predictions that have been found to be correct.

What, if anyything, is the alternative in science to evolution?

Psycho Milt said...

Dawkins mentions DNA, but if he really looked into DNA (with the science we have now and Darwin didn't) he would see that DNA has an actual code - a very complex code akin to computer code that cannot come about by chance. Nature just can't do that.

I'd like to suggest that if Dawkins ever does one day look into DNA and how such a code might arise from nature, he should call the resulting book "The Blind Watchmaker."

Re Dawkins no longer debating creationists, perhaps he just found too many of them were of the caliber of Ray "Banana Man" Comfort.

Ciaron said...

The number of intermediate varieties which have formerly existed on earth must be truly enormous. Why then is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain

Do you know who said that, LRO?

Andrei said...

Evolution is not a fact in the sense the number of jelly beans in a jar might be, PM.

Rather it is an intellectual construct to derived to explain real world observations - as is Newtons theory of gravitation (and Einstein's for that matter).

As for natural selection there is no argument there - but neither evolution nor natural selection are very good at explaining the chemical beginnings of life nor species differentiation and a lot of hand waving goes on to use it in these contexts.

Now it is possible that future advances will remedy these deficiencies or it is possible that the whole concept might be junked as hopelessly naive - who can say.

But I don't adhere to the idea that theory of evolution as provides the answer to the origin of life, nor its diversity, in its present form, not even close.

And of course the even more fundamental question Why? it does not address at all.

In fact Richard Dawkins answer to that question is to shrug his shoulders - the chemical messages must survive because thats the way it is.


Anonymous said...

andrei, evolution is fact in so far as it is by far the best xplanation we have for the variety and complexity of life.

Evolution does not, and never set out to, explain the origins of life, that is a separate area of study, as you well know.

Species differention is very well explained in a large number of books, some even written by Dawkins. But not all of them, there are many other fine authors in the field.

Why is "why" the "fundamental question"? Why does there have to be a why at all? Isn't it enough that it is?

I'll ask again - what is it about evolution that is so threatening to some religious people?

Psycho Milt said...

The origin of life isn't the same thing as evolution. That life forms are subject to evolution through natural selection is, as Dawkins says, no longer open to dispute by the educated.

Do you know who said that, LRO?

A bloke who then proceeded to answer his rhetorical question quite thoroughly.

Psycho Milt said...

PS, you can also watch the video about DNA HERE. As he says, it isn't a random pattern.

No-one suggests evolution is random - especially not that DNA is random. This man is simply wrong. Apparently, we've never encountered a code before that wasn't designed by somebody, so clearly DNA must have been designed by somebody. Disregarding the obvious logical flaw, I'm surprised that someone could stand there speaking English, could even compare DNA to language, and then tell us that it's simply unheard-of for a complex code to arise unplanned through large numbers of interactions over a very long period. Who designed the English language, IMF?

investigate said...

From The Divinity Code: As acclaimed DNA chemist Robert Shapiro noted earlier this year, RNA is not what many are still cracking it up to be.39
“The hypothesis that life began with RNA was presented as a likely reality, rather than a speculation, in journals, textbooks and the media. Yet the clues I have cited only support the weaker conclusion that RNA preceded DNA and proteins; they provide no information about the
origin of life, which may have involved stages prior to the RNA world in which other living entities ruled supreme. Just the same, and despite the diffculties that I will discuss in the next section, perhaps two-thirds
of scientists publishing in the origin-of life field (as judged by a count of papers published in 2006 in the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere) still support the idea that life began with the spontaneous
formation of RNA or a related self-copying molecule.”
Citing the 1986 study by Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert that ushered in
the RNA hypothesis, Shapiro now says:
“Enormous obstacles block Gilbert’s picture of the origin of life,
suffcient to provoke another Nobelist, Christian De Duve of Rockefeller
University, to ask rhetorically, ‘Did God make RNA?’”
Some scientists, he notes, still appeal to the “prebiotic soup” idea, that
enough amino acids existed on primitive earth that can be forced in the
lab to combine.
“It mattered little if kilograms of starting material were required to
produce milligrams of product,” remarks Shapiro wryly of the experiments.
“The point was the demonstration that humans could produce, however
ineffciently, substances found in nature. Unfortunately, neither chemists
nor laboratories were present on the early Earth to produce RNA.”
He describes in his paper the huge lengths scientists are still going to
in a bid to make the base ingredients bind in the lab, and the ridiculous
claims they then make in science journals like Nature about how it might
have happened on primitive earth.
“The exceptionally high urea concentration was rationalized in the
Nature paper by invoking a vision of drying lagoons on the early Earth.
In a published rebuttal, I calculated that a large lagoon would have to be
evaporated to the size of a puddle, without loss of its contents, to achieve
that concentration. No such feature exists on Earth today.
“The drying lagoon claim is not unique. In a similar spirit, other
prebiotic chemists have invoked freezing glacial lakes, mountainside
freshwater ponds, flowing streams, beaches, dry deserts, volcanic aquifers
and the entire global ocean (frozen or warm as needed) to support their
requirement that the “nucleotide soup” necessary for RNA synthesis
would somehow have come into existence on the early Earth.
“The analogy that comes to mind is that of a golfer, who having played
a golf ball through an 18-hole course, then assumed that the ball could
also play itself around the course in his absence. He had demonstrated
the possibility of the event; it was only necessary to presume that some
combination of natural forces (earthquakes, winds, tornadoes and floods,
for example) could produce the same result, given enough time. No
physical law need be broken for spontaneous RNA formation to happen,
but the chances against it are so immense, that the suggestion implies that the
non-living world had an innate desire to generate RNA. [Author’s emphasis]
The majority of origin-of-life scientists who still support the RNA-first
theory either accept this concept (implicitly, if not explicitly) or feel that
the immensely unfavorable odds were simply overcome by good luck.
“Many chemists, confronted with these diffculties, have fled the RNAfirst
hypothesis as if it were a building on fire. One group, however, still
captured by the vision of the self-copying molecule, has opted for an exit
that leads to similar hazards. In these revised theories, a simpler replicator
arose first and governed life in a “pre-RNA world.”

More follows

investigate said...

Variations have been
proposed in which the bases, the sugar or the entire backbone of RNA have
been replaced by simpler substances, more accessible to prebiotic syntheses.
Presumably, this first replicator would also have the catalytic capabilities of
RNA. Because no trace of this hypothetical primal replicator and catalyst
has been recognized so far in modern biology, RNA must have completely
taken over all of its functions at some point following its emergence.
“Further, the spontaneous appearance of any such replicator without the
assistance of a chemist faces implausibilities that dwarf those involved in
the preparation of a mere nucleotide soup,” warns Shapiro.
“The chances for the spontaneous assembly of a replicator in [such a
nucleotide soup] can be compared to those of [a] gorilla composing, in
English, a coherent recipe for the preparation of chili con carne.” With
similar considerations in mind Gerald F. Joyce of the Scripps Research
Institute and Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute concluded that the
spontaneous appearance of RNA chains on the lifeless Earth “would have
been a near miracle.” I would extend this conclusion to all of the proposed
RNA substitutes that I mentioned above.”

Excuse typos...copying from PDFs not always error-free

investigate said...

Oh, and Milt, the English language (and others) were intelligently designed by humans for the explicit purpose of communicating. Bad analogy on your part probably.

"Arrgghhh!!!" yelped with raised eyebrows whilst the speaker gesticulated wildly at something behind you probably meant, and still does, "look out, you're about to be eaten/mugged/invited for some Dak in the Norml bus".

The same word, "Arrgghhh!" said with fierce eyebrows and gnashing of teeth generally meant, "Look out, I'm after you".

Had language been a product of random mutations acted upon by natural selection, the word might well have sounded like "Agtsplosh" to one listener and "Googlfurk" to another, and no one would have been any the wiser.

Intelligence was required to decipher meaning from context, and build upon it. :)

Psycho Milt said...

Ian - maybe you missed this bit: "The origin of life isn't the same thing as evolution."

Re language: it's not an "analogy," it's an "example" - of a code that wasn't designed. The example is also more about grammar than the meanings of individual words. The complex grammatical codes of all the naturally-existing languages have developed unplanned, unco-ordinated and undesigned by humans through sheer volume of interactions over huge time periods. And it happens because a mechanism exists for accumulating and consolidating on improvements - ie, it's not a random process. Ringing any bells yet?

Ciaron said...

"A bloke who then proceeded to answer his rhetorical question quite thoroughly"


It cannot be overemphasized that there are many places in the fossil record where it is expected that plenty of intermediate forms should be found—yet they are not there. All the evolutionists ever point to is a handful of highly debatable transitional forms (e.g., horses), whereas they should be able to show us thousands of incontestable examples. This is very noticeable when looking at the fossil record of some of the more peculiar kinds of animals such as the cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), the sirenia (manatees, dugongs, and sea cows), the pinnipedia (sea lions, seals, and walruses), kangaroos, bats, dragonflies, and spiders. Their supposed evolutionary origins and descent are represented by missing links and speculations rather than factual evidence.

taken from

Ciaron said...

Oh, Re language: this might explain it.

Anonymous said...

Blogger:Page not found explains nothing. :-)

Anyway, looks like the debate is over as the acclaimed bilogical scientist Ian Wishart has laid to rest the mytgh of evolution. Over an extensive career, and with miore than 200 peer reviewed papers to his name, I Wishart is the undoubted expert in the field.

Oh hang on, wrong Ian Wishart. The one you are calling on as authority is a washed up journalist who now resorts to quote mining in an hilarious attempt to prop up the anti science Intelligent Design "theory".

Anonymous said...

Investigate, language is not intelligently designed, as you would have, and in fact it does evolve.

Are you saying a committee of cavemen sat down one day and said ügh" now means food and "ugh" will be fire, and so on?

Look at the evolution of the English language from Beowulf to Chaucer to Shakespeare to Victoria to street rap.

Or how about the changes in word use? Once uninterested and disinterested were distinct words, with distinct meanings; now most people use them interchangeably. Very few people use fulsome in its true meaning anymore. Which "Intelligent Designer" decided on those word changes?

Even King Canute could not hold back the tide, why do you think you can succeed in recreating a Demon Haunted World?

Psycho Milt said...


Yes, really. The quote is not originally from "Answers in Genesis," it's from Charles Darwin, who asked the question rhetorically and went on to answer it. If you Google the quote you'll find Darwin's answer.

Of course, Darwin's answer reflected the state of knowledge at the time, ie he was a scientist, not a prophet announcing Revealed Truth. That answer's been improved on by those who came after him, as always.

investigate said...

You are being obtuse LRO. Language was guided in its development, and continues to be, by intelligent minds.

Sure, intelligent animals communicate in a more sophisticated fashion than less intelligent animals, but all of that communication requires a mind behind it.

By definition, anything designed or adapted by humans has been intelligently designed (leaving aside the degree of how well it's designed)

KG said...

"Once uninterested and disinterested were distinct words, with distinct meanings; now most people use them interchangeably."
Only products of the State Indoctrination System aka public skools. :)

Psycho Milt said...

Language was guided in its development, and continues to be, by intelligent minds.

Who designed the English language, Ian? What choices did he make re the structure of English, what was his method of designing it, how did he implement his design and what caused it to immediately begin changing constantly from his initial release?

You're getting distracted by the fact that humans are sentient creatures. At issue is not whether language is spoken by intelligent beings who shape it to their own purposes, but whether it, as a code, had a designer.

David said...

Hmm, where to start.


I'm afraid that modern organisms having evolved from older ancestors via "descent with modification" is about as watertight a fact as you're going to find in science. It hasn't be seriously challenged by the scientific community for at least 130 years and is supported by so much independent evidence (morphology, fossils, biogeography, molecular biology..) that any new theory of evolution will need to explain it.

As to your specific concerns, the origin of life is not evolution and we understand the "differentiation of species" very well. A short sketch goes something like this: populations stop sharing genes (usually because of a geographic/geological divide) and as a result changes in one population's gene pool can't feed into the other population. The populations are now on distinct evolutionary trajectories and in time physical, biochemical and behavioral changes accrue that prevent interbreeding between populations. That's a new species. We've seen it happen and, moreover, the predictions of this model are spelled out all over the the animal kingdom.


Oh dear lord. I can't imagine anyone who has read a credible source on evolutionary biology could really believe that there is no fossil evidence for it or that it predicts that DNA should have "random" patterns so this might be a waste of time. I tried watching that video but it was, sadly, just the typical "computer engineer creationism" - start with the unsupported claim that DNA is just like a code (it's not) forget entirely about biology for the rest of the piece and say that mutation can only break stuff. I did like some of his more retarded errors though - giraffes only have 7 cervical vertebrae ( no more than other mammals...) and sampling a unknown distribution with noise is actually an optimal way of increasing information if you then select from that noise! (cf radar...). Can I suggest that if you want to learn about biology you see a biologists, Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins lattes books would be a good start.

Oh, and Ciaron, you creationist references are out of date - whales have one of the best series of transitional fossils you can find.

Andrei said...

Now now David;
you do realize there was a time when the vast majority, not all, of the learned claimed the Sun revolved around the Earth.

And that in time the position of the learned changed to the position the Earth revolved around the Sun.

But today we know that the later stance is only a fiction which is useful to the extent that it makes the calculation of planetary orbits simpler - there is no great Truth with a capital T that the Earth goes around Sun.

All these things morphology, fossils, biogeography, molecular biology are observations and the theory of Evolution has been constructed to semi fit them. Therefore it works for now.

Of course if you are wedded to a theory, any theory you tend to filter out contradictions and not see them. Fact of life for us all, its what we do.

But whatever the Theory of Evolution is a great conceptual tool but it isn't a great Truth with a capital T.

Chris said...

interesting points.
Could you please name one substantiated case, including refs in PubMed or GoogleScholar of a population diverging to the point of thwarted interbreeding. I ask this seriously because my biology teachers at undergrad could not name one, Dawkins hasn't named one. You may however know better. At the heart of this gradualism is Jay Gould and his pointing out that there has been very LITTLE change since Cambrian times.

I am not going to dispute evolution however; gradation in things is clear. What I am going to dispute is the examples given by "lumineries" like Dawkins, because his examples are usually nothing but philosophical sophistry.

Anonymous said...

Andrei, I suspect you are a little confused, but I may also be wrong. I suspect you are confused because the original theory of heliocentrism had it that the planets revolved around the sun whilst the sun remained stationary. It was the stationary sun bit that was wrong.

I seem to get an equal number of days and nights in my life, so suspect the the earth revolving around the sun has quite a lot to do with that.

"All these things morphology, fossils, biogeography, molecular biology are observations and the theory of Evolution has been constructed to semi fit them."

well then, find me some mammals in the devonian strata and I'll concede you may be right.

investigate said...

PM...the language thing is a side issue, but with respect you're the one being distracted.

The transition from "Arrgghhh" to "Would you lik scones with that, Sir? has been guided at every step by human ingenuity which, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is a manifestation of intelligence.

The origin of croaks might, for argument's sake, have been natural, but the organisation of those croaks into language was guided according to the needs and wants of the communities involved at each stage.

It's irrelevant who kicked it off, just as it's irrelevant that a carved crystalline skull found in an ancient temple began its substance as an entirely natural susbstance. The intelligent design proof in that case is not the existence of rock, but the crafting of it later by intelligent beings.

The proof on language is not our ability to speak, but what we have turned that ability into.

Like I said, however. Side issue. You can't use evolution via natural selection as a mechanism to argue the improbability of God unless you simultaneously cover off origins. Which no one has done.

As for natural selection working on random mutation, there's been some very good work debunking that on the grounds of probability, similar to the arguments raised above in regard to precursors.

investigate said...

LRO...interestingly enough on the absence of rabbits in the pre-Cambrian...I see there's a new study out this week essentially arguing a strongly acidic ocean at one point may have done away with the remains of older fossils.

I'm not fussed either way, but that's the claim now being made as to the possible non-existence of more complex fossils.

David said...


There is classic experiment in Dodd (1989) Reproductive isolation as a consequence of adaptive divergence in Drosophila pseudoobscura. Evolution43:1308–1311

In the wild there is strong reproductive isolation between apple and hawthorn races of the apple maggot fly Rhagoletis pomonella even though apples have only been in the USA for a couple of hundred years...

Ciaron said...

Blogger:Page not found explains nothing. :-)
Try that :)

Unless I am very much mistaken, Evolution hinges upon the assumption that all things change and adapt gradually, over extended periods, or succumb to natural selection.
Darwin himself appears frustrated that the fossil record did not support his theory, and unless I missed the headline "Religion proved wrong, Darwin vindicated" that has not changed.

As I see it, to "believe" in evolution, one must have faith that "missing links" exist, while carefully ignoring so called "living fossils"
where as to "believe" in creationism, one must have faith in an intelligent designer, whose creations have been subject to decay, coupled with selective breeding to arrive at today's circumstance.
A gross oversimplification, to be sure, but none the less do evolutionists not believe in missing links, which are still missing?

David said...

"Religion proved wrong, Darwin vindicated"

Most people that accept evolution are religious.

Psycho Milt said...

The transition from "Arrgghhh" to "Would you lik scones with that, Sir? has been guided at every step by human ingenuity...

Guided by whom? Via what mechanism? To what plan? These are not rhetorical questions - if you think human languages were designed, account for the who, what and how.

The English, Spanish, French and many other languages didn't exist when Genesis was being written. Did God decide he hadn't scattered enough languages and needed more? If not, who designed them?

Darwin himself appears frustrated that the fossil record did not support his theory...

Darwin himself appears to recognise that biblical literalists will regard the fact we don't have a fossil of every species that ever lived as some kind of refutation of evolution. He addresses it, and Stephen Jay Gould has since done so more thoroughly, as have others.

Psycho Milt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ZenTiger said...

I've now read a fair bit of Dawkins latest book, Evolution, the Greatest Show on Earth" and it is a fairly good read. He makes a good case for evolution when sticking to science.

Where he falls down is his occasional forays into the realm of philosophy, where he tries to answer a philosophic issue using science, often with a degree of rancour that makes him appear foolish for it.

It is perhaps the same mistake others make in reverse - not seperating out the philosophical issues from the mechanistic ones.

I'm always interested in discussions around the gaps, so to speak, but the general theory of evolution seems pretty reasonable to me; it answers no philosophic quesitons, but reasonably explains a fair bit of the "how" as far as I can tell.

Chris said...

Thanks, I have read that paper before and when pinning my biology teacher down on it, we decided it was impossible to tell whether biological changes, or simply changes in behaviour due to the stressor of the maltose-starch based feeding regimes were at play.

The argument appears logical either way, for there may be no speciation divergence at the molecular level, simply crossed mating signals that do not meet. It is also hard to tell what the actual rate of breeding was between the two groups: even if there is one or two, it means inter-breeding was not completely stopped. All Dodd did was look for chi-square differences. Either way, reproduction is thwarted, but is it natural selection of molecules or changes in a pre-exisiting behviour?

Furthermore, based on that theory, why then do humans, dogs, cats from separated continents interbreed? Indeed, racial, ethnic or societal differnces probably have reduced breeding, but this is behavioural, not biological.

In my opinion, natural selection cannot account for this gradation: and we must remember this gradation is permanent within species, it has irreversible memory via production. What would be your thoughts on that?

David said...

Hi Chris,

It really doesn't matter if the initial driver of reproductive isolation is behavioral rather than molecular. During the period in which those two population aren't sharing genes random changes in each population (genetic drift) and adaptation to the food source will make for changes in each gene pool. Check out the Howea palm as a recent example. There may also be selective pressure of assortative mating to kick in - as each population adapts to a given food source it is in the females (in particular) best interest to mate with males that are of the 'right' sort - we've seen that happen too.

As for periods of viable interbreeding - it's all relative to the time since divergence for the populations and the degree of interbreeding in the interim. A small number of viable hybrids are not enough to prevent speciation from happening (an in fact "complex speciation that includes a period of interbreeding is probably quite common) but it can slow down the time to 'complete speciation'.

I don't know what "gradation" you think natural selection fails to account for so I can't really answer that question - but I would say that NS isn't the only driver of speciation (drift matters too)

M said...

"Because no matter how much Richard Dawkins twists in the wind his hollow theory cannot account for Mother Theresa, Beethoven's 9th symphony nor the Sistine Chapel.

All of which demonstrate humanities capacity to look beyond themselves and see something greater than mere scrambling in the muck to just to leave more offspring than their fellows and win the evolutionary race for their genetic complement."

NZ Conservative,

I'd recommend (the conservative liberatarian) Matt Ridley's excellent 'The Origin of Virtue', Steven Pinkers 'The Blank Slate' or Robert Wright's 'The Moral Animal'.

The traits of altruism, co-operative behaviour, mental/artistic talents etc have evolved because at some point they helped people get their genes passed on.

OT - see Ridley's excellent article about the role of bloggers in exposing climate change where the traditional media failed.

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