Friday, September 26, 2008

Nature's Evolution Question

 
The British science magazine Nature asked the following question of each US Presidential candidate [US election: Questioning the candidates].
Do you believe that evolution by means of natural selection is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth?
My answer, of course, is "no"; natural selection is not a sufficient explanation. You also need random genetic drift and a host of other things that are part of evolutionary theory.

How would you answer the question, dear readers?

Both candidates did a pretty good job of answering this question.
Obama: I believe in evolution, and I support the strong consensus of the scientific community that evolution is scientifically validated.

McCain said last year, in a Republican primary debate: "I believe in evolution. But I also believe, when I hike the Grand Canyon and see it at sunset, that the hand of God is there also."
They both avoided answering the direct question. Instead, they interpreted the question to be whether they believe in evolution. They both believe in evolution.

Since this is one of the leading science magazines in the world I'm certain that the question was not about believing in evolution. It was designed to discover whether McCain and Obama were adaptationists. There's no other reasonable explanation since it's impossible that Nature wouldn't know the difference between "evolution" and "natural selection." At least I think it's impossible ...


12 comments :

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I don't think we the general public expect Obama and McCain to necessarily dwell on the fine points of the mechanisms of evolution. I think it's ok if they say that they believe in natural selection as a cause and in any case that is the dominant even if not the only mechanism.

    I like Obama's answer but I don't like McCain's. Where and in what way exactly is the hand of God visible in the Grand Canyon? What about the human excretory system? Isn't that a marvel too? Would McCain say that he sees the hand of God there?

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  3. Actually I wanted to refer to a rather badly "designed" system like the human back. Would McCain agree that God is a tinkerer whose tinkering has led to countless bad designs?

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  4. I would have answered "no", and I'll quote Lynch; Building a straw man based on natural selection alone makes it easy for opponents to poke holes in evolution.

    Kimura once complained about evolutionists from England and their lack of nuance regarding the important of natural selection. It's obviously an overgeneralization, after all the Charlesworths are among the greatest living evolutionary biologists, they're nuanced, and they're from England... but there is a little truth to it. I wonder if Science would've done the same thing.

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  5. it's impossible that Nature wouldn't know the difference between "evolution" and "natural selection." At least I think it's impossible...

    LOL. Yeah, right, impossible :-).

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  6. My first thought was similar to what ashutosh articulated after reading this post. I don't believe it's too reasonable to expect either of the candidates to delve too deeply into the details and "finer points" of evolution.

    I appreciate Obama's answer as a straightforward one. I recognize McCain's as a political one.

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  7. Would it have been better if Science had used the non-committal and pluralist sounding “evolution by natural mechanisms”? Trouble is, evolution has become synonymous with a prevalent “brand name”, - a phenomenon, as you know, often observed in manufacturing.

    The mechanism of natural selection with all the connotations of adaptation, perfectability and parallels with incremental technological development is a very compelling model and relatively easy to grasp. It is therefore likely to “out compete” more subtle mechanisms of evolution for space in the public mind. I think that pluralists have their PR work cut out here.

    Is it likely that Science consciously used this brand naming of evolution in a short hand sort of way for sake of an easy life? In which case I could answer "yes".

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  8. Sean says,

    My first thought was similar to what ashutosh articulated after reading this post. I don't believe it's too reasonable to expect either of the candidates to delve too deeply into the details and "finer points" of evolution.

    That wasn't the point. I meant to criticize the question not the responses. If a knowledgeable scientist had asked the question it would have been ...

    "Do you believe that biological evolution is a sufficient explanation for the variety and complexity of life on Earth?"

    Do you see the difference? Nature should be embarrassed for not knowing the difference between the terms "biological evolution" and "evolution by natural selection."

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  9. It should be noted that vice presidential nominee Joe Biden who Prof. Moran bad mouthed in the previous thread responded to a question about intelligent design being taught in science classes with, "no, its malarkey."

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  10. SLC says,

    It should be noted that vice presidential nominee Joe Biden who Prof. Moran bad mouthed in the previous thread responded to a question about intelligent design being taught in science classes with, "no, its malarkey."

    Oh dear, did I touch a nerve? Was I not supposed to criticize one of the "good guys" when they say something stupid?

    In fact, your response was exactly the attitude that I was attacking. Critical thinking isn't critical thinking if it only applies to some people and not others. That's called politics.

    Don't confuse them.

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