-= THE DARWIN TIMES =- A Column on the Field of BIOLOGY and other Related Fields With an E

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-= THE DARWIN TIMES =- A Column on the Field of BIOLOGY and other Related Fields With an Emphasis on MEDICAL NEWS, ANIMAL BEHAVIOR, PSYCHOLOGY, and EVOLUTIONARY THEORY by RAY LOPEZ MC 414500 ------------------------------------------------------------ Issue #2 September 27, 1991 ------------------------------------------------------------ Contents of This Issue: * Viewer Mail * QuickBioPrimer-- A Look at Taxonomy * Part II of Charles Darwin and His Legacy to Science: A Look at Evolutionary Thought Before Darwin * Commentary: Evolution or Evilution? -=*=- * Viewer Mail In response to my very first column, I received nothing but many VERY supportive letters, and even got a chance to meet a new scientist collegue. This was great, and was nothing like I expected. I thank everyone out there in STLand who took the time to write, and to everyone who is reading the column. I am an Email junkie, and would greatly appreciate any and all feedback regarding this column. Someone out there DID bring up an interesting point. When I said that, for some reason, evolution is not being taught in the schools, I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM BLAME TEACHERS FOR ANY OF THAT!!!! In my opinion, the teachers in this country work selflessly under some very adverse and sometimes downright ridiculous conditions and rules. They are quite often the victims of some very bad decisions made at higher levels, and should actually be canonized for their efforts. Even after all of the mail I have received, I am still not quite sure how to approach this column. I will continue to write about things I think people might be interested in, but PLEASE do not hesitate to write me if you want to see something different in this column, or if you do not like how it is evolving. A quick note: I will try my best to update this column on a bi-weekly basis. -=*=- * QuickBioPrimer-- A Look at Taxonomy TAXONOMY: the science of classification WHAT IS IT FOR: Taxonomy is the science (some would say the art) of classifying all organisms, extinct and present, into groups within the 'tree of life' (this is my own term) WHAT GOOD IS IT: Due to evolution, all life forms came from other life forms, and so all life on this planet is related to all other life on this planet in at least SOME distant way (ponder this thought: you and your rose bush use DNA in the same basic way to preserve and replicate your respective and unique genetic information). Since we are all related, it makes sense (in doing "good" science) to come up with methods of classification that allow us to determine where in the sprawling tree of life all the critters of this planet belong. HOW DOES IT WORK: As a new organism is encountered, its characteristics are measured and recorded, and it is placed into a category with similar organisms. This is by no means an easy or noncontroversial task. Many modern debates in biology have to do with how best to classify organisms, and how best to construct and define groupings. If you are interested in learning a bit more about this, pick up any good introductory textbook on EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY. There are several of them out there. Look under CLASSIFICATION or TAXONOMY. One way that organisms are placed into categories is by how they look (their MORPHOLOGY). Some people who do this go even further by looking for certain "primitive characteristics" that an organism might have, and then grouping together organisms with these same characteristics (this is called CLADISM). There are many other ways to classify organisms. Many organisms can even been classed according to different BEHAVIORS. The methods of classification are complex and don't always work right the first time. There have been cases (such as with birds) where the male and female of a single species have looked so different from each other that each was classified as a totally different species! WHAT DO YOU END UP WITH: A big picture of how life on this planet is organized and interrelated. There is a specific heirarchical ordering of groups of organisms. Any one of these groups, at any level, is called a TAXON. The highest taxa we have are the five KINGDOMS: Monera (e.g. bacteria), Protista (e.g., Paramecium and amoebas), Mycota (fungi), Plantae (plants), and Animalia (animals). Each of the five kingdoms then has sub-taxa as shown below. KINGDOM \ PHYLUM \ CLASS \ ORDER \ FAMILY \ GENUS \ SPECIES Below is a tracing of the PHYLOGENETIC RELATIONSHIPS for our own species. KINGDOM: Animalia (we share this with all animals) PHYLUM: Chordata (we share this all animals with a backbone) CLASS: Mammalia (we share this with all animals who are warm- blooded, bear live young, and produce milk) ORDER: Primates (we share this with "monkeys" who all live in trees, have good hands and vision, etc) FAMILY: Hominidae (all present and extinct forms of humans) GENUS: Homo (includes some of the most modern forms of humans, including two species which are gone, Homo habilis and Homo erectus) SPECIES: sapiens-- the modern human!! Keep in mind that all of the taxa discussed above have within them numerous sub-taxa, so we do speak of things like SUB-PHYLA, SUB-GENUS, SUPERFAMILIES, etc. The ways in which taxonimists create and orgnaize taxa have been and always will be debated. It is a monstrously complex task, as you can well imagine. -=*=- * Part II of Charles Darwin and His Legacy to Science: A Look at Evolutionary Thought Before Darwin Contrary to at least a few popular misconceptions, Darwin did not singlehandedly invent the idea of evolution and everything that goes with it. Indeed, the idea of evolution has been around for many hundreds of years, as many great thinkers throughout history have noticed some of the things in nature which give us some clues that evolution has occurred. As a preview of coming attractions, let me say now that what Darwin DID manage to contribute to science was a very carefully thought out and well defended MECHANISM for evolution to occur, that mechanism being NATURAL SELECTION. Many people trace the first roots of evolutionary thought back to a Greek philosopher named Anaximander, a student of Thales (the founder of Greek philosophy) who lived about 2000 years before Darwin. Anaximander beleived that all life arose from water, and that humans arose from the fishes. This DOES sound a bit familiar! Other Greek philosophers, such as Empedocles, Democritos, and Lucretius, all followed-up on these sorts of ideas, in that they all taught that complex life-forms arose from the simpler ones. The ideas of Empedocles were notable because he described a sort of mechanism by which different forms of life could evolve. Empedocles speculated that life started out as a mixture of formless bodies and body parts, such as arms, legs, heads, etc. These parts all came toghether in various and sundry forms. Some of these chance combinations produced monstrosities completely unable to survive (maybe he got this idea from seeing some birth defects in humans and animals first-hand?). Other combinations produced organisms able to survive, and thus they thrived. This is a very interesting speculation, especially when looked at from a modern genetic perspective. If you substitute "genes" in the passage above for "body parts," you at least begin to get very close to describing the way many feel that evolution at the genetic level occurs (more on this later!!). Many different ideas regarding the origins of life and of material things in general were brought together by the Roman poet Lucretius during the first century B.C. In his poem _De Rerum Natura_ (On the Nature of Things), Lucretius comes up with what many believe is a very early forerunner to Darwin's idea of natural selection. He writes that some random combinations of body parts are better than others, and the ones which are less well ADAPTED to do certain things, like eat, will not survive, while those organisms with a combination of body parts which allows them to survive the best will survive and thrive. Very nearly all facets of modern science can somehow be traced back to Aristotle, and biology is certainly no exception. Indeed, it seems as though Aristotle were more of a biologist than anything else! One of Aristotle's most important contributions to biology was his idea of a _scala naturae_, the idea that some forms of life are more superior than others. Briefly, Aristotle believed that any object possessed of life, from a plant on up to a human, had to have at least one of his three "souls". There were the vegetative soul, animate soul, and rational soul. Plants just had vegetative souls. All animals had vegetative plus animate souls, and humans alone posessed these two souls along with the rational soul, which gave us our superior intellectual abilities, and made us superior to the brutes. Aristotle also originated the concepts of GENUS and SPECIES. The _scala naturae_ persisted thoughout subsequent history, and even persists to some extent today. The idea of the _scala_ gave rise during the Renaissance to the science of TAXONOMY. It was here where the new scientists of the Renaissance were beginning to understand how life on this planet is interralated. Linnaeus published his _Systema Naturae_ in the 1730's. This was the first systematic classification of all life known at the time. As scientists studied closer and closer the life on earth, and as they discovered new, strange forms of life in the New World, it started to become apparent that maybe the life on this planet has not always been the way it exists today, as had been previously thought. The new science of GEOLOGY did much to change this view as well. As discoveries were further made in Europe and the New World, one fact became clearer: it seemed as though differences in species could somehow be related to differences in the ENVIRONMENT!! This point of view came about for a variety of historical and philosophical reasons as well, but many scientists were certainly beginning to note relationships between the environment an organism lived in and the way that organism looked. For example, tropical species certainly looked as though they were designed to handle hot weather, and polar species sure looked like they were best fit to live in cold weather. AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT CONCEPT BORN OF THIS ENVIRONMENTALISM MOVEMENT WAS THE CONCEPT OF * ADAPTATION * OR THE IDEA THAT AN ORGANISM IS SOMEHOW SUITED TO ITS ENVIRONMENT! Well, here we are at the end of the 18th century. Many now famous biologists began to put forth ideas as to the hows and whys of this adaptation Amon the wer th Frenc biologis Etienn Geoffro Sain-Hilaire and Erasmus Darwin, Charlie' granddaddy. It was now apparent that a theory of evolution was necessary to explain some of the findings of these biologists, and these men were trying to do just that. The most famous of these pre-Darwin attempts at describing the mechanism of evolution and adaptation was that of Jean Baptiste Lamarck. We'll wrap it up there for now. Next time, I'll breifly tell you what Lamarck did, and then it will finally be time to introduce into the picture the quiet, religious man known as Charles Darwin. -=*=- * Commentary: Evolution or Evilution? We have all heard it before for our entire lives. Unfortunately, many people are under the mistaken impression that to believe life evolved and IS evolving on this planet is to NOT believe in God and the Bible. In my view, nothing could be further from the truth. This anti-evoutionary perspective has been around for as long as evolutionary theory has. One of the earliest opponents to evolution in general was the Reverend William Paley. In 1802, he published a book wherein he described all of the remarkable beauty, utility, and diversity of nature, and used this to defend his claim that God created everything by design. These ideas form the roots of modern creationist thought. Nowadays, people read the Book of Genesis in the Bible and basically say to themselves, "Yes, the Lord put together the universe, including all of the critters on this planet." Why should this view of Genesis preclude the existence or validity of Darwinism and of evolution in general? Because (supposedly) the Lord made everything AS IT IS! To say otherwise is to say that somehow the Lord is imperfect, that He must sort of try different things to find the right things that work. Well, I do not quite know how to respond to that. All I can say is this: Why does the story of Genesis recount, very broadly, the basic story of the EVOLUTION OF LIFE AND MATTER ON THIS PLANET? Let's look a little more closely at the first chapter of Genesis. First, there was the earth, formless and desolate. Then came light, along with night and day. Then came the sky (our atmosphere), followed by dry land, called Earth, and patches of water called Sea. Then came the plants, then the creatures of the sea, and the birds. Then the Lord commanded that the earth produce animal life, herds and herds of it. Finally, we came along, and on the seventh day, the Lord rested. As a maven of science and evolutionary theory, this scenario sounds very familiar to me. As a matter of fact, it is the same, basic scenario that science recounts as the way in which the earth was formed, and the way in which life evolved on this planet. A formless planet forms an atmosphere from the gases it emits from volcanic eruptions, etc. Land is formed, and the seas are defined. Primitive plants begin to thrive as they evolve from some sort of "primordial soup." Millions of years later, there are primitive sea animals. They evolve into ever more complex animals, and eventually come to land, where they thrive and diversify. The reptiles give way to the mammals and before you know it, after only about 4 or 5 billiion years, here we are, reading StarText! Why did God tell us this story the way in which He did? I mean, if He wanted to, it seems to me that He could have just said, "The universe and earth were all created in one big swoop." Why didn't He? In my view, it was because He was telling us THE TRUTH. The truth being that He formed all of the life on this planet by letting evolution take its course. There is nothing wrong with saying this, in my view. Religion and the Bible tell us WHY things have happened the way they have. Science is telling us HOW things happen the way they have, with absolutely no reference to WHY. When Sir Issac Newton introduced his laws of physics, people did not chastise him for somehow messing around with the Lord's natural order of things. Instead, Newton was praised by some for having been able to describe the inner workings of the Lord's universe, and nothing more. In the same way, it seems to me that the mechanisms of evolution worked out by Darwin (i.e., natural selection) simply describe the inner workings of how our Lord has managed to create such a beautiful diversity of life on this planet. To ask HOW something came about and to ask WHY something came about are to ask two completely different questions. This is a fact most do not realise. Something else that often comes up is the fact that evolution has occured over billions of years, while the Bible clearly states that it took six "days." What is a "day" to the Lord? To me, it seems very presumptuous of us to think that one day is the same length to the Lord as it is to us. To the Lord, billions of years are probably the same as a day, or a week, or whatever. Who are we to say that God and the Book of Genesis must stick to a 24 hour day? Who's not to say that the Book of Genesis says six days because people then (and now) could not possible conceive of ANYTHING occuring over billions of years? These are some of the basic reasons why I feel that modern evolutionary theory need not contradict religious beliefs or thought. All of this is simply my opinion. Science and evolutionary theory deal with the HOW question of life on our planet. Religion deals with the WHY question of life on earth. These are entirely different questions, and must be looked at from entirely different perspectives. -=*=- Some Contents of the Next Issue: * Some Fun with Evolotionary Theory and Animal Behavior at Home: Here, Kitty Kitty Kitty!!! * Part III: Charles Darwin and His Legacy to Science * Tour of the World of Biology: Zoology * QuickBioPrimer: Gregor Mendel and the laws of inheritance -------------------------------------------------------------- Thank you very much for reading THE DARWIN TIMES. Any reader responses via StarMail would be greatly appreciated, and will be answered as soon as possible (send to mail code 414500). The contents of this column may be freely distributed or used by anyone, so long as credit is given to the author and to StarText. ** TELL A FRIEND ABOUT STARTEXT!!! **


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