This Tuesday for our STS class, we welcomed Professor Judy Stone for a talk titled “The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution”.
Following suit of Professor Janet Browne’s talk on Darwin’s theories, Professor Stone broadened the topic by discussing the biological implications of the Theory of Evolution. Specifically, Stone stresses that it is common for people to interpret that “progress” is the hidden message in the evolution theories: there is one ideal type that a species strives to achieve, and the rest are unideal individuals. However, this is far from the truth.
The first argument from Professor Stone is that variation is as important as adaptation. When environmental changes come, the exterior factors would select individuals with certain genes and traits to survive and reproduce. However, environmental changes could be multi-dimensional and even back and forth, eliminating the possibility that there is an ideal type that the species would end up with. In fact, since environmental changes are very unpredictable, it is important to maintain a high level of variety to improve a species’ ability to adapt, since mutations and varieties typically take a long time to establish and it would be impossible to generate diversity immediately at the time of change.
Secondly, Professor Stone argues that we need to recognize the diversity within our own species and race is merely a socially constructed illusion. Instead of categorizing people with simplistic terms like “black” and “white”, Professor Stone shows us a collage that shows the vast diversity of people inhabiting Africa: they share very different skin tones and features, and the term “black” is simply not applicable. Furthermore, usually no one single gene is responsible for one single trait. A trait is usually regulated by many genes that are shared by people who do not even express this certain trait, and at the time of environmental change the more diversity we have the more coping mechanism we possess.
Lastly, humans are a rather homogeneous species. Stone points out that there are no subspecies for homo sapiens, which is unusual for a species. The human race is only 150,000 years old, and therefore, as a newly formed species, humans are very homogenous. There is no genetic base for subgroup divisions, as we are in fact very similar to each other. Professor Stone concludes that it is very important for us to recognize the diversity and homogeneity of our species, and cherish our diversity as it is our natural line of defense against environmental changes while treating each other equally with dignity and respect, as we are after all too genetically similar to justify any discrimination.