The single best idea anybody ever had
In the history of science, evolution stands alone as a theory of causality. A leading scientist wrote:
Darwin’s theory of natural selection came very late in the history of thought.
Was it delayed because it opposed revealed truth, because it was an entirely new subject in the history of science, because it was characteristic only of living things, or because it dealt with purpose and final causes without postulating an act of creation? I think not. Darwin simply discovered the role of selection, a kind of causality very different from the push-pull mechanisms of science up to that time. The origin of fantastic variety of living things could be explained by the contribution of which novel features, possibly of random provenance, made it to survival. There was little or nothing in physical or biological science that foreshadowed selection as a causal principle.
Just for fun, guess who it was that wrote the description above.[i]
ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES was published in 1859. Atomism was not accepted by most scientists. Scientific explanation was mechanistic, both predictable and deterministic. Natural selection is not mechanistic, and was tested against neo-Lamarkism, orthogenesis, and saltationism, before coming of age in the 1940s with the modern evolutionary synthesis.
Today, Darwin’s theory has emerged as a general principle of how change occurs under certain well defined conditions. We have quantum Darwinism, cosmological natural selection, complex adaptive systems, evolutionary computation, genetic algorithms, evolutionary robotics, artificial life, evolutionary art, clonal selection theory, neural Darwinism, evolutionary epistemology, mimetics, cultural selection theory, evolutionary economics, and behavioral ecology.
Designed as a resource for teachers from kindergarten through college, Understanding Evolution (http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/about.php)
is a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education. The site is divided into three parts: 1. Evolution 101 is a thorough review of evolutionary thinking as it exists in biology today; 2. Teaching Materials provides teachers from kindergarten through college a full array of standard class room teaching tools; 3. Resource Library has a prolific assortment of books and articles, including frequently updated findings in evolutionary science, as well as links to other sites. One link takes you to the complete works of Darwin, while another presents the work of Sean Caroll on evo-devo. The single article on epigenetics is a deficit and we hope to see more on this topic in the future.
Although it is unlikely that readers of this blog would be learning about evolution for the first time, the site is an excellent review of the history and concepts of evolution.
[i] In fact, the author of the statement was B.F.Skinner.