Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy B, Darwin!

If there was a direct correlation between insight and longevity, Charles Darwin would be 198 today.

I wonder what he'd think of modern synthesis. Evolution's been through a lot of changes as the data poured in. We discovered DNA, RNA, and a lot of the tricks they can do. We've found copious fossils that agree with Darwin's assessment, as well as genetic evidence.

We've also applied genetic algorithms based on Darwinian principles to practical purposes and used them to debunk old Creationist canards. With the advances in computing, it's becoming easier to model real life scenarios that involve very large populations.

What really amazes me about basic Darwinian evolution is that it's so simple, if not exactly elegant, in how it works. A few small changes can add up: Any slight advantage in a competitive environment can lead to great innovation down the line. Then add in all the do-the-hokey-pokey-and-turn-yourself-around gene transfers, and you've got a lot of mechanisms to produce those slight advantages. Evolution has its limits, but the fact that we can see where they come in is often good evidence for evolution. The same can't really be said about evolution's pure-hype competitor, Intelligent Design. The alleged designer often seems to flip-flop between incompetence and being so super-insightful that there must be something secretly good about each and every design flaw. I don't expect to understand it if they won't explain it.

Anyway, give the old guy the credit he deserves for articulating the hypothesis that's snowballed into core of biology. He may not have kept up with all the tweaks and evidence, but he had a great idea, and it turns out it worked very well.


Ryan Michael said...

**Puts up Shield of Anti-Troll + 3**

Anonymous said...

You forgot to include where he was born again on his deathbed.

*runs and hides*

The Ridger, FCD said...

He would love the modern synthesis - genetics put teeth into his observations of inheritance, and damn! but molecular biology just dumped stacks of evidence onto the table.