Albert Einstein spent the last years of his life working on a theory of everything (a so-called Unified Field Theory). He did not believe that quantum physics was the answer to this quest. And, I assume, he also rejected the theory of evolution as an answer. |
I bring this up because it seems to me that some supporters of the theory of evolution over-extend it into a theory of everything. I don't think one can make a convincing argument that evolution can explain economics, ethics or other areas outside the field of biology. I am made uneasy by Richard Dawkins' meme theories even though I think the evidence for evolution in the field of biology is overwhelming. The theory of evolution may be a powerful analogy in a variety of topics, but I think we are far better off if we stick to applying its principles to areas where reproduction is involved.
Darwin's genius was in his recognition that different species evolved through the process of transmutation through natural selection. For this process to work requires time, reproduction at rates beyond z.p.g. and mutations at the genetic level. And, yes, I realize that Darwin was not aware that Mendel had discovered the basic principles of genetics at the time Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species. My personal view is that evolution analogies are suspect (which is not to say they are necessarily unuseful) when applied to fields where reproduction is not involved.
Why is this important? The theory of evolution is under attack today as never before. It is almost a full-time job to defend the theory against these attacks. Keeping a clear focus on evolution in biology allows the battle for science to stay focused on biology. And the biological evidence is so overwhelming that any weighing of it will convince the weigher of the accuracy of the theory of evolution.
By focusing on biology, arguments that evolution leads to moral chaos are more easily dealt with. Ethical arguments are not the provence of the theory of evolution as taught in biology class. Those arguments belong to the field of philosophy. When teaching evolution as a theory of biology, morality should not come up.
Once this idea is made clear, many who are disturbed about the current state of morality in this country can realize that evolution as taught in biology class is not about that issue. It is about biology, and the origin of species. It is about descent with modification. It stands on its own theoretical two feet, and must be evaluated on those same two feet. The argument that teaching evolution leads to the morality that "anything goes" will be clearly off point. And this will (hopefully) force the opponents of the theory to come up with relevant scientific arguments to support their challenge. Which is the way of all science.
September 11, 2009
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