Lecture2NotesWEF--EvolutionHistoricalContext

Lecture2NotesWEF--EvolutionHistoricalContext - 1 Ecology...

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1 Ecology and Evolution, Spring 2012 Lecture 2: Evolution--Historical Context and the Modern Synthesis The idea of biological evolution is the expression of two revolutionary trains of thought which are opposed to a world view that prevailed almost until the 20th century The two prevailing thoughts were that of: 1) a static unchanging universe ; and 2) that the causes of phenomena were purposeful , e.g. the will of a deity. Darwin replaced the idea of immutability of species with: 1) Evolution : the change in the traits of organisms between generations, leading to the divergence of groups or the splitting into two groups from a common group; Darwin more than anyone else extended his conclusion that mutability, not stasis, is the natural order, to living things, and to the human species itself He replaced the idea of design and purposefulness of species with: 2) Natural Selection : that some individuals in a population contribute more offspring to the next generation than others Further, Darwin explained the apparent design in organisms or adaptation , which others had used as evidence for creation, with evolution by natural selection His theory showed that a material cause was sufficient to explain not only physical, but biological phenomena as well By coupling undirected, purposeless variation among individuals with the blind, amoral process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations for the life processes unnecessary. The theory of evolution by natural selection has had a great impact on biological thought, for example Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." However, to understand the true impact and importance of Darwin's theory of natural
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2 selection we need to examine what came before, the atmosphere Darwin developed his ideas in and, the modern synthesis of Neo darwinian ideas. Although the notion of a dynamic world was not foreign to the Greeks, the early nonstatic, mythological explanations of living things gave way to philosophical explanations These ideas were strongly influenced by Greek essentialism which was dominated by the writings of Plato - died 347 B.C. Aristotle - died 322 B.C. The Platonic philosophy was the concept that what we observed were simply the imperfect copies of the transcendent ideal form or essence and that this ideal is perfect, eternal and unchanging the emphasis was on generalizations, thus despite variation among triangles, the sum of the angles is 180 o , and this essence of triangles distinguishes them from rectangles this applies to organisms as well thus despite variation among individuals, this variation has no meaning; only the essence matters for example if a cat is fat and black or tan and skinny it makes no difference it still has the unchanging essence of a cat These ideas were easily incorporated into Christian theology Although, Christian theology adopted an almost literal interpretation of the Bible, including special creation, it also incorporated Platonic essentialism in the
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