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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.


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