Colby College’s Professor Judy Stone continued our conversation on Darwin’s revolution last week (10/25/) with her look at how Darwin’s iconic depiction of evolution is misleading in at least three core ways. The first being that the image (below) depicts evolution as ladder like rather than a branching system. Secondly, this image depicts evolution as a process that moves towards this ideal, perfect, end goal. Lastly, the iconic image defining darwin’s revolution reinforces typological thinking where this one individual is representing an entire species. Darwin overthrew central paradigms in developing his theories which was extremely revolutionary in itself. It’s very impressive how much scientists like Darwin during his time had to overcome to have their ideas be accepted. What was revolutionary was the power in darwin’s force interjecting into society to present these theories and push his work further despite the lack of acceptance and interest around it. Professor Stone’s findings and commentary on this depiction are revolutionary in that they not only bring to light the issues with such a well-known and highly regarded depiction, but they also call to light the main streams of misinformation that are still present throughout our society today.
This lecture by Professor Stone presented the Darwinian revolution with a more present day twist highlighting how the image is manifested in today’s society. Specifically, the typological thinking that is embodied in the ideal evolution image above is still present throughout the medical community today. Professor Stone used a specific example about how the more recent increase in understanding and accessibility of gene research has led to completely illogical statements like the headline about discovering the gene responsible for schizophrenia (a disease that is influenced by your environment and less by your chemical makeup). Furthermore this typological thinking today reinforces artificial racial boundaries in multiple different ways despite the fact that human genetic variation is continuous. There are no “types.”
Today scientists and researchers once again are having to hurdle ideas that are fairly cemented in society like the ideological thinking that places the white, affluent, male individual as the ideal form we should want to evolve towards. With these hurdles and boundaries still in place today, does that make Darwin’s revolution and the social institutions he challenged less revolutionary? I say not necessarily. I think that there are still substantial issues in the approach to scientific research and turning away from the idealogical thinking that is still present needs to happen. However, Darwin still was revolutionary in the steps he took to cross that first hurdle, and the next steps are simply building off of the momentum Darwin, and other scientists like him, started. Today, new learning, understanding, and development are all continuing to grow and the social institution that they need to conquer is this typological thinking. Is this going to be one of our society’s next revolutions and will it be more or less revolutionary? I’m not sure I would argue that it is definitely more revolutionary than Darwin’s developments, but it would be conquering the issue of the ideal that this model and Darwin’s theories are defined by.