Archive for May, 2010

Tuesday’s Forum was a discussion of the article, Progress in Evolution and Meaning of Life by William Provine.  The first section of the article gave an historical recount of “The Modern Synthesis” in evolutionary biology that took place during the 1940’s.  The discussion of the synthesis centered on a few key points.  The first was whether or not a synthesis had occurred at all.  Participants in the discussion echoed the sentiment of Provine that no real synthesis had occurred at all.  Instead the discussion of the synthesis centered around the point brought up by Joanna Masel, that many ideas were purged from evolutionary biology during this era.

Members of the discussion then listed ideas that were purged, including  Lamarckianism, Vitalism, direction, progress, and any mention of design.  It was pointed about by Joanna that such a purging of language or ideas related to design did not also happen in molecular and cellular biology.

The other main point was that during the evolutionary synthesis natural selection as the mechanism for evolution was decided at the exclusion of all other mechanisms.   It was pointed out that around the turn of the century, natural selection as a mechanism for evolution was held by extremely few scientists.  The synthesis was the point at which it was finally accepted by all mainstream evolutionary biologists.

The group also entertained a brief side track about the differences between natural selection and “survival of the fittest.”   It was noted that “survival of the fittest” was a term applied to natural selection by economists and others that gave to natural selection the connotation of value rather than mere utility.  This was the idea that was selected for was actually “better.”

In a brief discussion of what did not happen during the synthesis, several key points were listed, including the fact that evolutionary biology did not gain predictive power, nor did it gain broad-based financial support.

The Forum ended with a discussion about the final section of Provine’s article relating to a scientific basis for ethics and morals. Provine argues that a reductionist approach to biology can give us a basis for morals and ethics.  The group agreed that Provine provided very little or no evidence to support this idea.  Provine arrives at his conclusion based on the fact that science can tell us nothing about a god or supernatural entity.   Hence science must provide the ethics.  We agreed that Provine comes to this point simply because science does not allow for the detection of such a thing in the first place.

Summary contributed by G.P.

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