Skip to main content

Getting Darwin Wrong

Most people get Darwin wrong by confusing him with Social Darwinism. I just heard an interview with author Lawrence Goldstone and he had really good grasp of Social Darwinism and how it's really more of an excuse for social discrimination than a scientific theory.

Social Darwinism attempts to do something very ancient in Western Tradition which is the application of a "natural law" to social order. Since Darwin had just upended the traditional creationist view of the world at the time, many intellectuals sought to apply this new knowledge to old "natural laws" similar in a way to what Newton did. This turns out to be hogwash. Not too different from kings claiming divine lineage to justify their position in life, now the rich could use Social Darwinism to claim superior fitness, and justify their position in society. A feeling that still lingers today in some circles, with claims of superior intelligence and books like "The Bell Curve." Goldstone's explanation of Social Darwinism is fantastic and worth hearing (it's around minute 19 of the interview).

Goldstone get's Social Darwinism right but then stumbles by saying that evolution is a "as most people know a slow process of individual mutation" which is mostly wrong. Evolution as described by Darwin, let's call it Darwinian Evolution, is not slow. It's generational so it depends on the span of the generation. So bacterian evolution can happen in a matter of hours, and it's not that slow generationally either with noticeable evolution of populations having been noted on Darwin's finches on the Galapagos in as little as one generation. So slow is relative, but it's not this glacial over millions of years story I was sold in High School. Its pace can be fast or not so fast, depending on the traits and organism involved. But that's really a niggle compared to the very misleading assertion that evolution is a process of individual mutation.

While evolution, which means merely 'change', can be driven by mutation, that's the least common engine for change in species. The most common is sex. For whatever reason most organism in this planet interchange their genetic code with other individuals of the same species. This allows for the offspring to be different from the parents. So unlike aphids that can rapidly clone themselves most organisms go to the trouble of having sex. While there is no causative reason for this, the ability to drive variation in the population that allows for evolution by natural selection, must have enough value (provide a survival benefit) for sex to be this widespread. So sex is the number one engine of variation in populations. Thus the number one engine of evolution. Yes mutations happen, and they drive evolution too, but they're not how evolution happens.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to configure Ubuntu's keyboard to work like a Mac's

Typing accents on a PC is a complicated Alt + three numbered code affair. One feels like a sorcerer casting a spell. "I summon thee accented é! I press the weird magical key Alt, and with 0191 get the flipped question mark!" For a bilingual person this meant that writing on the computer was a start-and-stop process. With Mac's it a whole lot easier, just Alt + e and the letter you wanted for accents and alt + ? for the question mark. No need to leave the keyboard for the number pad and no need to remember arcane number combinations or have a paper cheat sheet next to the keyboard, as I've seen in virtually every secretaries computer in Puerto Rico.

Linux has a interesting approach to foreign language characters: using a compose key. You hit this key which I typically map to Caps Lock and ' and the letter you want and voilá you get the accent. Kinda makes sense: single quotation mark is an accent, double gets you the ümalaut, works pretty well. Except for the ñ, wh…

Contrasting Styles of Writing: English vs. Spanish

There is interestingly enough a big difference between what's considered good writing in Spanish and English. V.S. Naipul winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for literature publish an article on writing. In it he emphasizes the use of short clear sentences and encourages the lack of adjectives and adverbs. Essentially he pushes the writer to abandon florid language and master spartan communication. This is a desired feature of English prose, where short clipped sentences are the norm and seamlessly flow into a paragraph. In English prose the paragraph is the unit the writer cares about the most.

This is not the case in Spanish where whole short stories (I'm thinking this was Gabriel Garcia Marquez but maybe it was Cortázar) are written in one sentence. Something so difficult to do in English that the expert translator could best manage to encapsulate the tale in two sentences. The florid language is what is considered good writing in Spanish but unfortunately this has lead to what …

Fixing Autocomplete in Github's Atom Text Editor for Ruby

I really like Github's Atom Text Editor. I really like that it's multi-platform allowing me to master one set of skills that is transferable to all platforms and all machines. 

On thing that just burns me of the default set-up in Atom is the Autocomplete feature that seems to change my words as a type them. Because Ruby uses the end of line as a terminus for a statement you usually finish a word with pressing the return button and you get really annoying changes to your finished typed word a la MS Word. I find myself yelling "No that's not what I wrote!" at the screen in busy coffee shops.

I disabled autocomplete for a while but it is a very useful function. Then I found out they changed the package that gave the autocomplete to a new one called "Autocomplete Plus" that gives you more options. All that I needed to change to make autocomplete sane again:

1. Open Atom's Preferences
2. Search the bundled packages for "Autocomplete Plus"

3. Go to t…