- Hardcover: 262 pages
- Publisher: W. H. Freeman; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 071674094X
- ISBN-13: 978-0716740940
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,027,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Evolutionists: The Struggle for Darwin's Soul First Edition, First Printing Edition
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Evolution is a fact: of that there can be no dispute. But, writes Richard Morris in this lively overview of modern biology, scientists have been arguing about most other aspects of Darwinian thought for generations, and the battle is growing ever fiercer with the advent of "evolutionary psychology" and other new approaches.
Following the biologist Ernst Mayr, Morris identifies at least five subtheories in the theory of evolution: "evolution as such," or the idea that evolution takes place at all; "common descent," the notion that all life originated in a common ancestor; "multiplication of species," or the splitting of one species into two or more species over time; "gradualism," the idea that evolutionary change happens slowly over a long period of time; and "natural selection," the idea that favorable genetic characteristics prevail over less desired ones. These subtheories are widely debated these days, with controversial scientists such as Stephen Jay Gould advancing ideas of "punctuated equilibrium," whereby change happens suddenly and often catastrophically; Gould's nemesis Richard Dawkins advancing orthodox Darwinism under the "selfish gene" metaphor; and other scientists turning up bits and pieces of evidence of environmental determinism and parallel evolution in nature that alternately undermine and support Darwinian thought.
The arguments among these contemporary scholars are lively, often acrimonious, and amply fueled--after all, Darwin himself puzzled over whether natural selection was the driving force of evolutionary change. Morris offers an evenhanded account of the many schools of thought at work today, and his book will be of great interest to students of the life sciences. --Gregory McNamee
—Michael Shermer, publisher, Skeptic Magazine, author of Why People Believe Weird Things and How We Believe
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Chapters include "The Fossil Record and the Evidence for Evolution"; "How Gradual is Evolution?"; "Evolutionary Psychology," etc.
About Stuart Kauffman's computer models of genetic networks, he wrote, "Since Kauffman's ideas have not been empirically tested, there are questions about the extent to which his models accurately represent biological reality. There is still widespread skepticism among biologists about this matter. Some of them have suggested that one can get anything out of a computer model, depending on the way one sets it up and the numbers one puts in. Many of them feel input based on observation of real biological organisms is lacking." (Pg. 136)
Of Derek Freeman's conclusions in his book, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth (Pelican), he states, "But Freeman's findings aren't quite as conclusive as they might appear to be. Freeman studied a different village than the one studied by Mead, and he did his work some four decades later. In the intervening years, a U.S. military base had been established in Samoa, which may have had an influence on Samoan culture in general. Freeman interviewed some of Mead's informants in the role of an honorary chieftain. If they told him a different story, this could have partly been due to the fact that an elderly woman might tell a different story to a high-ranking male than the one she told to a young woman when she was an adolescent. Some psychologists have described Mead as the victim of a hoax. However, the facts are not perfectly clear." (Pg. 165-166)
This book has some interesting "overviews" of several scholarly controversies; but those seeking deeper analysis will perhaps have to look elsewhere (Morris provides a helpful "Selected Bibliography").
1. Regarding Species Migration- If gaps have occurred in the fossil record due to species migration (which seems reasonable) then it should be a simple matter to go to a different region, but of similar historical climate and see if you can dig up similar or even intermediate fossils in the same sediment layers. Has any of this type of work been done to "fill in the gaps?"
2. The issue of Geographic vs. Ecological separation creating speciation- I believe the intent of theorizing the geographical separation within a species necessarily entails an ecological difference, without which there would be no reason for change. In the case of mountains thrust up near the ocean you can see how the mountains would create different climates on the ocean vs. inland sides necessarily creating an eco-change. And the difference between the bottom of a lake and the top provides the same divergence as any geographic separation possibly could.
In this book, Morris has actually done a lot in showing how the Gould camp and Dawkins camp should actually be AGREEING on most issues. Emergent properties and complexity theory go hand-in-hand with reductionism and pure natural selection, as one builds on the other. They are not mutually exclusive.
Outside of science, people seem to think the "big question" is whether evolution is a fact. The cognoscenti pride themselves on knowing that it is, looking down upon religious fideists of various sorts who claim otherwise. And vice versa.
Within science, though, that question does not even appear. That evolution is a set of facts to be explained, not a hypothesis up for grabs, was settled within science a century ago.
For real scientists, the real debates--the real efforts to understand reality--take place over very different questions, and the various research programs differ very significantly. This book is a nice overview of some of the leading issues.
If you are under the illusion that the debate is about whether evolution takes place, you will find this book kind of ho-hum. But thinking that makes about as much sense as being ho-hum about Newton vs. Einstein. That would be like thinking, "Newton and Einstein didn't disagree on whether gravity exists, so this is just infighting among people who differ only in emphasis."
In fact, Newton v. Einstein matters a great deal--as do the controversies explained in this book. Just as Einstein's discoveries made possible many developments we would never even have been able to conceive within Newtonian physics, so the eventual truths uncovered by the various competing research programs in evolution will determine a great deal about our ability to understand and shape our lives.
Scientists, of course, are human, and they can want for themselves all sorts of things besides scientific truth, including fame, influence, and the financial rewards of being popular celebrities. (Science journals do not pay for articles. Pop venues do. Science books rarely make much money. Lots of pop writing on science does.) Sadly, too many of the scientists, when they turn to writing for popular audiences, grossly misrepresent science, and they sometimes just get mean. Within the popular press--even the highly respectable sanctums of the intelligentsia, like The New York Review of Books--writers need not meet elementary rules of scientific writing. Routinely, they don't. They exaggerate their own claims, minimize the evidence for the claims of others, and claim to have proven grand things that every real scientist in the world knows they haven't--and that they don't even claim themselves in their scientific writing! And they do not necessarily play fair with their opponents. In the evolution debates, they have basically reduced themselves to insulting each others mothers.
Richard Morris does a nice job of avoiding such scientifically useless vituperation, helping us see where the real issues lie and what makes each possibility promising.
Of course, anyone who wants can complain about Morris's principles of selection. Personally, I wish he had not overlooked increased scientific interest in sexual selection, especially since there is evidence to show that the leading way of reconciling it with natural selection is less than clearly true. But that's really neither here nor thre. The important thing is that he has made clear what real research within science is about.
If you are a lay person who wants a fair overview of current issues involved in our efforts to understand human life, this is a very helpful accomplishment.
If, though, you have no interest in understanding how life works, just an interest in priding yourself on already accepting evolution, you will find this book boring.
Evolutionary thinking promises to open exhilirating new vistas on our lives. The new areas of research it has opened even in the last twenty years--which are certainly decades away from yielding conclusive results--give us the chance to understand ourselves and our world as never before. For those sciences to do their work, though, they need for all of us to understand why they matter, what they may accomplkish, and what they haven't yet achieved. They need that so we support them and make their work possible.
That being said, it follows that Morris has made a contribution to the future of our species--insofar as this book helps people see beyond the cant and mutual ill-will that fills public debate, to understand that evolution is a set of sciences, not a settled body of knowledge, from which we can eventually learn immense amounts.