Judy Stone’s talk on the Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution was an interesting supplement to Janet Browne’s talk on the ongoing Darwinian Revolution. Judy Stone took on a much different tone, however, and addressed many issues that are still prevalent in science today.
Judy Stone’s main points hinge around the misuse of Darwinian scientific developments and misuse of the subsequent developments in biology that came about in part as a result of Darwin’s work. This includes the misuse of genetics, biological classification, and evolutionary theory that put the true nature of science at risk.
Whereas Janet Browne’s talk discussed the ongoing Darwinian Revolution by primarily examining crucial developments that took place during and in the decades following Darwin’s life, Judy Stone’s lecture took on a much wider scope going both backward and forward in the timeline of scientific thought. She discussed early precursors of evolutionary theory, including Plato’s theory of forms, which asserts that every object or quality has an idealized essence of sorts, and she also touched on Aristotle’s musings regarding biological classification. She argued that the iconic image of an ape gradually evolving into man in a sort of march of evolutionary progress was misleading. This is one point where I actually disagreed with her conclusions. Her argument regarding the evolutionary artwork was that the progression of evolution was much more complicated than a linear pathway shown in the graphic, and that depicting humans as a more “progressive” version of apes didn’t make sense. I would actually counter by arguing that this graphic was never intended to be an accurate portrayal of evolution. It merely portrays one pathway of evolution, specifically, the pathway that led from apes and eventually to humans. While I agree that it is misleading to portray one species as more “progressive” than another, anyone who has studying the theory of evolution knows that one species evolving out of another does not make it necessarily better, but rather, it is simply adapting to survive in a different set of environmental circumstances, and is not by default a better organism because a better organism is an entirely subjective designation.
One quite compelling point that I thought Judy Stone made was on the subject of classification. She cautioned against using genetics as a way of over-classifying organisms to the point of over-simplifying science. The pitfalls of this are plentiful. She showed a number of articles with misleading headlines suggesting a genetic explanation for human traits ranging from drinking coffee to developing schizophrenia. In the scientific world, we are predisposed towards this type of thinking because it makes things simpler. Explaining something like an illness or personal trait in terms of easily quantifiable genetic data is attractive to scientists because it is an easier to understand explanation than the slew of other factors ranging from environmental stimuli to parental upbringing. The true danger of relying on types, however, manifests when we categorize people based on race, which leads to all sorts of problems because it takes a reputable theory like Darwin’s evolutionary theory and twists it into an inaccurate justification for racial hierarchies, which can lead to all sorts of problems that history has shown us that we must avoid at all costs.