Full Name:  Anne Sullivan
Username:  aesulliv@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Mayr's Use of Biological and Literary Contexts
Date:  2005-02-10 00:19:36
Message Id:  12733
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

In his Preface to What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr invites a diverse audience to peruse his account of evolutionary biology. Mayr is confident that his book will benefit all readers—biologist and creationist alike. His language, however, indicates that Mayr does not intend to teach evolution so much as to inculcate it as the preeminent way to understand the world. With such a varied reading public before him, Mayr must not simply summarize, but argue for evolution. He is thus compelled to posit essentialist claims about the 'right' answers and the 'real truth.' There is nothing inherently wrong with such bold language—it may in fact stimulate a more dynamic conversation, in the Hegelian tradition, among the diverse audience that Mayr invites. The real problem with Mayr's style, however, is that it directly opposes the story he wishes to tell. Mayr asks his audience to read evolutionary biology in a way that contradicts his own methodology. In a narrative about change, Mayr leaves little room for deviation—he expels imagination in a project that requires speculation and invention. He sculpts a story about directionless change within a highly directional narration. Mayr's account for the rise of evolution is static—much like the scala naturae model that he so vociferously condemns. Mayr's style not only undercuts his own argument, but it also highlights the problems of reading the past. The ideology driving Mayr's story collapses into the positivist, teleological narrative that it denounces.

Mayr fails to heed, in his own writing, the processes of biological evolution that he describes. His writing, for example, suggests isolation rather than community. In order to narrate evolution, one must search for the fundamental unity between two seemingly different organisms. The theory of common descent is, after all, the backbone of evolutionary biology. One must trace the various partings and convergences of a lineage, recognizing commonality while none is currently visible. Mayr suggests this process, for example, when describing recapitulation as "the appearance and subsequent loss of structures in ontology, which in related taxa are retained in the adults" ((3). 28). Certain structures appear and disappear, but their connection to the ancestral form is constant. By purporting one "correct" lineage of evolutionary theory—and by depreciating the rich ancestry of the Origin of the Species—Mayr severely undermines his own illustration of a uniformitarian and continuous process. As he dislocates Darwin's work from its proper discourse, Mayr destabilizes the very principles of evolutionary biology that he describes.

Similarly incongruous is Mayr's treatment of environment—he exalts biological, but not literary, environments. He uses environment, for instance, to invalidate the concept of directional evolution. It is the changing natural world, rather than an inherent drive toward perfection, that governs evolution. Organisms do not evolve from simple to complex, from lower to higher. Adaptations do not produce superior organisms; but rather, ones that are better suited to their environment. This concept is relevant to story formation as well. The 'current' story is not superior to past ones; it has simply evolved according to the changes within its discursive world. Yet Mayr's own writing defies the understanding of adaptation he wishes to impress—the notion that environment governs evolutionary change. For he presents Darwin as an isolated scientist battling a hostile environment, rather than one guided and influenced by his community. Mayr fails to recognize, for example, the contributions made by scientists such as Lamarck, Wallace, and Huxley. He does not even reference Robert Chambers', The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), a piece that undeniably eased the way for Darwin's work. While still permitting cosmic intervention, for instance, Chambers makes two important moves: he obscures the role God, depicting him as a mysterious force; and he suggests that man may not be nature's final work ((2). 124). Darwin's work did not react against such antecedents; rather, it emerged out of a dynamic community. The Origin of the Species bears remnants of its own discursive world. With such a restricted view of Darwin's literary 'environment,' Mayr undermines his own description of biological 'environment'—as the key determinant of evolution.

If Mayr has revealed anything in his treatment of nineteenth century thought, it is the profound connection between science and philosophy, between context and change. Mayr depicts pre-Darwinian sciences as ideologies, yet he fails to contextualize his own theories. If science is always a social activity, what kind of ideology motivates Mayr's own writing? To which discourse does What Evolution Is belong, and how does it affect his writing style? It seems the story of evolution currently in play reflects the post-modern age—an era of self-reflexivity and unraveling teleologies; one that recognizes the individual rather than the 'type.' Following these directives, Mayr is exceedingly careful in defining his terms: "adaptation is not teleological . . . the survivors do not contribute to the process of becoming better adapted" ((3).), for example; and "selection does not have a long-term goal" (121). Likewise, Mayr devotes three pages (213-216) to the discussion of the term "progress" in evolutionary biology. These choices reflect the community in which Mayr writes. He perhaps condemns pre-Darwinian philosophy, therefore, because it is so distant from his own ideology. Philosophies based on essentialism and finalism represent the kind of positivist historiography—the naïve and insular stories—that a post-modern world seeks to revise. Mayr refutes these philosophies, however, in ways that entrap him in the very thought-patterns he condemns. He reduces past philosophies to static theories, affording them only a brief moment of summary. He relies on over-simplified understandings of not only pre-Darwinian discourses, but of any theory that opposes his own. Ironically, Mayr's treatment of the past is strikingly similar to the nineteenth century methodologies he condemns. Mayr demonstrates how difficult it is to read the past; and how easy it is to become that which you say you are not.

In What Evolution Is, Mayr narrates the rise of a story, yet he privileges the product rather than the processes of story formation. Mayr's narrative begins in 1859—the year of Darwin's work—and it concludes with his own contributions to evolutionism, the modern synthesis. As Gillian Beer notes, Darwin's Origin of the Species commences during the moment of observation: "When we look . . ." Ernst Mayr, conversely, begins his work with a judicious claim: "Evolution is the most important concept in biology." The very title of Mayr's work, What Evolution Is, is didactic rather than descriptive. His tone, along with the rigidity of his language, suggests stasis rather than variability. Although Mayr's work is a scientific in content, it cannot be freed from the criterion with which we evaluate literature. We must ask the same questions we would when reading a novel. Are form and content separable? How do they work together and how do they oppose one another? Mayr's inconsistencies drastically reduce the argument he posits, for both form and content equally reflect the author's ideology.



1) Beer, Gillian. Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and
Nineteenth-Century Fiction. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.

2) Gilmour, Robin. The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English
Literature 1830-1890. Harlow: Longman Group UK 1993.

3) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Full Name:  Nada Ali
Username:  nali@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Story of Evolution as told by Ernst Mayr
Date:  2005-02-10 17:45:39
Message Id:  12765
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Ernst Mayr's book titled "What Evolution Is" is an interesting and accessible analysis of the theory of evolution. Evolution has been a controversial theory since its very inception and in recent times become a hot topic of public debate in domestic American politics. Mayr's approach to writing about this contentious theory determinedly represents his own experiences, assumptions and opinions which affect the way in which his book is received by its readers. This is not to say that all readers of this book extrapolate a similar story but rather that both Mayr's biases and presumptions affect different readers differently on the basis of their interest in the book to begin with. I would like to argue that Mayr's story of evolution becomes enmeshed in his own biases compromising the content of the book and the discipline of science and that the books reception is largely influenced by the reader's intent and background.

It is worthwhile for the purpose of this paper to explicitly define evolution in Mayr's terms as "the gradual process by which the living world has been developing following the origin of life." The question of where man and the living world have come from has been a controversial topic, both historically and in present times. Biblical stories trace the history of the Earth and man to merely 6000 years ago while scientists claim that the Earth is approximately six billion years old. Recently the importance of purpose behind this 'intelligent design' has propelled neo-creationist thought to suggest that life on Earth was not an accident but rather a manifestation of God's will. Even the Vatican is willing to consider accepting evolution as a theory as long it places God in His rightful place ensuring that the purpose of our existence is secured. Today 44% of Americans remain skeptical about macro evolution and many associate evolution as a irreligious concept and hence steer clear of it. The common perception of equating evolution and atheism in one equation has led many to distance themselves from the stigmatized theory itself. Given recent heated debates of whether evolution should be taught as a theory in public schools in Pennsylvania is a glimpse into how highly emotional this subject really is.

Hence to say the least, Mayr is not writing for an easy crowd. With that being said Mayr's writing style may reflect the legal, cultural, social and intellectual difficulties he may have faced in debating the legitimacy of his life long work as a scholar of evolution under the scrutiny of rigorous creationist opposition. Therefore to be fair to Mayr, before I critique his writing style, one must note that his writing style is indicative of the struggles he has faced in defense of not only his work but his core beliefs and academic accomplishments.

Mayr's writing style essentially represents his quest to convert unbelievers of evolution into believers. Ironically his writing style resembles religious styles of writing to refute the very religious biblical stories of how and when life began. For instance he says that while humans consider stories and religion as an important component of their cultural history they "turn to science when we (they) want to learn the real truth about the history of the world." Claiming 'real truth' is a religious certainty that lacks in the disciplines of science and raises concerns about whether science can be classified as the "real truth." Further its raises questions of whether that view of science is a legitimate assertion for a scientist to make.
Given that science is a progressive discipline that organizes itself around consistent and inconsistent observations, "real truth" becomes a proclamation of faith and its quest for the one truth. Scientific method is meant to be progressive in the sense that it is a public debate that prides itself on the accumulation of various observations upon which other scientists contribute and refute creating a social arena where scientists and science interacts. This in essence is what makes science a progressive discipline. It is not an area where "real truth" is assumed because without doubt and uncertainty, science fails to be progressive and social. E.G Boring, a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Harvard University makes an interesting claim that "calls attention to the necessary lack of certainty in science and speaks of the changing paradigms of science" suggesting that uncertainty in science is vital and characteristic of what makes it essentially progressive. In addition he "speaks of the creationist paradigm point of view as one paradigm and evolution as another," stressing the lack of permanence and 'truth' in scientific theories. Implicit in that is the importance of the fluidity of these shifting paradigms which create space for further observations and scientific dialogue and diversity. It is from these very antagonistic conceptions of science that progress and diversity is sustained. In some sense by claiming "real truth" in science, Mayr ignores the importance of science as a social practice and uses the very writing style tool that he is averse to.

Also as the observations of evolution culminate into a particular discourse, the assumption that evolution in Mayr's sense is "real truth" undermines the social discussion on questions that are still to be answered and explored in evolutionary theory. It is important to note that since theories are meant to be built upon, refuted or remain consistent, labeling evolution as truth undermines the further spirit of its exploration and I think in writing this book that should have been encouraged.
In reading Mayr, we find that his perspective is his truth and hence permeates in his writing on evolution. Since science in some respect is a story of the observations that scientists make, perspective becomes an important component of the narrative. Mayr's age, experience, success and biases can be seen, felt and heard in his book. Since it is 'his' story of evolution it is important to understand his story beyond the theory in order to assess how it is read. For example at the back of his book, in the Q & A section he says, "Evolution is no longer a theory, it is simply a fact," because the evidence for it has not been refuted. However creationists would argue that there is evidence to suggest that evolution may not be a valid theory of how life began and considering the similar scientific and educational backgrounds in both camps it becomes important for the sake of science to value other discourses in order to develop ones own. His critique of other theories is overshadowed by his absolute assertion that evolution as we know it is truth and hence all others are false.

From a reader's point of view, his/her's intent strongly governs their sense of Mayr's story. The above described writing style may not be problematic for a reader that is simply using this book as an informative text. For often when we read a text it is simply not important to give credence to anything more than the 'facts.' However for a critical or leisure reader, this firm and almost aggressive rendition of the story of evolution may represent an arrogance and lack of accommodation for other views and disciplines. Also as mentioned above it may compromise the content as it did for me as a reader.

Overall, the book is a significant contribution to evolutionary thought, especially for those that are curious and scientifically inept, like myself. However the underlying presumptions and biases are misleading and take away from the actual story of evolution. In his quest to show one the light, Mayr uses the very tools of the Almighty to tell a story that is truly fascinating yet presumptuous. How ironic is it that the very opposition Mayr faced, it is their style of writing that he chooses. Perhaps the consistent observations in evolution would have told a far more effective story than one that was entrenched in human emotion and purpose.


Mayr, Ernst. 2001. What is Evolution. New York: Basic Books.

22 June 2004. "Vatican observatory sponsors conference on Evolution." Catholic News. (Cited 8. Feb. 2005)

Hoesch, Bill. 2004. "America's Skeptical 44%." Institute for Creation Research. (cited 8 Feb. 2005)

Koltz, John.W. 1968. "Creationist Viewpoints." A Symposium on Creation. (cited 8 Feb. 2005)

Full Name:  Becky Hahn
Username:  rhahn@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Evolutionary "Progress"
Date:  2005-02-10 20:14:09
Message Id:  12769
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Mayr began the section on evolutionary progress in his book What Evolution Is with the statement that "Evolution means directional change" (p. 212). But in which direction is evolution going? Towards what objective is it moving? The idea of perfection has been rejected by evolutionists (Mayr 213), so evolution must not be moving towards an ideal. The issue of progress in evolution is a very complex and subjective one that is greatly dependant on the definition of progress. Mayr acknowledged the problem with defining progress, yet in the end settled with the idea that the process of evolution usually involves progress. I will argue that evolution does not involve progress, even within specific lineages. The two main components that lead to the process of evolution—random variation and differential reproductive success—do not combine to create an ordered progression that improves with change. The former depends on randomness, and the latter on the environment, which is constantly in flux. Hence evolutionary change leads to continual difference, but no variation is better than any other one. The words "progress" and "better" should be abandoned in evolutionary discourse, because they refer to processes that do not occur in nature.

The first task when examining the possibility of evolutionary progress is to define the term progress. Francisco Ayala wrote that progress "contains two elements: one descriptive, that directional change has occurred; the other axiological (evaluative), that the change represents betterment or improvement" (Taylor). The concept of directional change implies a linear trajectory towards some objective. But is evolution moving towards anything? Evolution is not headed towards perfection, since there is no underlying designer, according to the currently accepted scientific theory of evolution. In addition, perfection is an indistinct concept that doesn't really exist in the natural world, so it should not be used in this context. Mayr stated that evolution has no specific goals, yet he still believed that progress occurs within specific lineages. This seems paradoxical—if evolution isn't moving towards anything, how can it be progressing? The second part of Ayala's definition, concerning improvement, is highly subjective. Scientifically, no species can be viewed as "better" than any other. Each species adapts to fit into a certain niche, and its success depends on a variety of factors, such as environmental conditions, relations to other species, and so on, many of which have little to do with whether the species is "better" than others.

The notion of progress implies that something is increasing—complexity, intelligence, efficiency, success, etc. There are several processes that have occurred over the course of organism evolution since the beginning of life that cannot be easily refuted, including increased complexity and diversification. These processes are presumed because life is believed to have begun with "simple" single-celled organisms, so organisms that exist today can be described as more complex and more diversified. This change towards greater complexity and diversification was inevitable because of the nature of the beginning of life. Life as we know it cannot get any simpler than prokaryotes, so change had to lead to greater complexity (Turner 111). But these changes do not mean that progression has occurred. The word progress implies a certain improvement that isn't assumed with increasing complexity and diversification. Complex species like mammals are not any "better" than bacteria in terms of survival and reproductive success.

A more complex issue within the idea of progress is increased efficiency and success (expansion of species, ability to live in more variable conditions, resistance to extinction). It is difficult to deny that there have been specific developments within specific organisms which increase their efficiency, for example in obtaining food or reproducing. But there is no distinct trend of continuously increasing efficiency in organisms. Efficiency is directly dependent on environment, which is highly variable and constantly changing.

When one defends the idea of progress within evolution, progress is explained as a large-scale trend (Turney 110). According to Mayr, evolutionary progress is a general trend within many lineages. However, it can't be described as a universal trend because simplification and regressive evolution occur in addition to "progressive" evolution (Mayr 213). I don't believe that "trend" is a useful term when analyzing the process of evolution. Trends imply a type of order an linkage hat is not present in the randomness of evolution.

The nature of the process of evolution specifically prevents it from producing any real "progress". Evolution, in its simplest explanation, is due by random variation followed by differential reproductive success. The differential reproduction is in relation to current environmental conditions, which are local and transitory. The adaptation to local environments due to natural selection does not constitute a global trend (Turney, 109). This adaptation to specific environmental conditions is not better than adaptation to previous environments, so current species are no better than the forms that they took in the past. In addition, Mayr fails to emphasize the importance of randomness in the process. The random variation that occurs has much to do with the direction that evolution takes, thus preventing it from going in one specific linear, "progressive" direction.

Words like "progress," "improvement" and "better" are carried over from the old notions of the Great Chain of Being and the idea that evolution strives for perfection. These ideas are no longer accepted by evolutionists, so the terms associated with them should be removed from evolutionary discourse. This old terminology hinders our understanding of the randomness of evolutionary processes. Darwin's theory itself did not deal specifically with the idea of evolutionary progress (Taylor) and I don't believe that it should be part of the story of evolution that is told today. Even when limited and qualified, progress is not an appropriate or useful term to use in the discussion of evolution. Evolution is constant change, not improvement.


Stewart, John "Evolutionary Progress" http://www4.tpg.com.au/users/jes999/evpro.htm

Taylor, Tim "Evolutionary Progress" (1999) http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/timt/papers/thesis/html/node21.html

Turney, Peter "A simple model of unbound evolutionary versatility as a largest-scale trend in organismal evolution" Artificial Life 6 (2) 2000 p. 109-128. http://cogprints.org/1799/

Full Name:  Brittany Pladek
Username:  bpladek@brynmawr.edu
Title:  What Evolution Isn't
Date:  2005-02-10 22:49:23
Message Id:  12771
Paper Text:
--Structure of Mayr's book undermines his subject matter

Brittany Pladek


Paper #1

What Evolution Isn't

In Ernst Mayr's scientific text What Evolution Is, the author's choice of structure contradicts the theories his book espouses: first, by repudiating his belief that form should follow function; second, by presenting humanity as the "end result" of evolution.

Noted art critic John Dewey once wrote, "There can be no distinction drawn, save in reflection, between form and substance. The work itself is matter formed into esthetic substance... the act itself is exactly what it is because of how it is done" (Dewey 109). Though Dewey applies this logic primarily to art (all forms, from sculpture to literature), Ernst Mayr, the famous evolutionary biologist, uses strikingly similar rhetoric to explain the theory of evolution. Mayr defines the basic Dawinian principle of adaptation as "a property of an organism, whether a structure, a physiological trait, a behavior, or any other attribute, the possession of which favors the individual in the struggle for existence" (Mayr 149). He continues to explain that such selective properties are what they are because of how the organism uses them in the struggle for survival. There is a strange perfection in "the seeming adaptedness of each structure, activity, and behavior of every organism to its inanimate and living environment" (Mayr 145), Mayr writes. In evolution, form must follow function. The alternative is extinction.

Unfortunately for Mayr, if What Evolution Is actually participated in evolution, it would probably die out. The form of Mayr's evolutionary text does not "evolve" with its subject matter. The book has no recognizable narrative progression. Unlike a population of organisms undergoing natural selection, which gradually changes to accommodate its surroundings, the text fails to adapt to its material. The information Mayr presents bears little relation to its order and organization in the book. And unlike a conventional story (or piece of literature, a la Dewey), which takes into account past events, weighs their effects in the present, and then uses this past/present dynamic to push forward into the future, Mayr's text leapfrogs from topic to topic with little logic and absolutely no attempt at literary segue.

For example, Mayr divides the book into four sections: What is Evolution?, How are Evolutionary Change and Adaptedness Explained?, Origin and Evolution of Diversity: Cladogenesis, and Human Evolution. At first glance, these chapters seem logical, conventional. But a look at the actual text reveals a discontinuity between the section's title and the information it actually contains. In the preface, Mayr writes that "first and foremost, [the book] is written for anyone... [who] does not understand exactly how it [evolution] works and how one can answer some of the attacks against the Darwinian interpretation" (Mayr xiii). Part I, What is Evolution?, should presumably achieve the first of these two goals. The logical progression, as Mayr himself notes in the preface, is from "how it works" to "what evidence do we have that it works"---from explanation to proof. Instead, Part I begins with a history of evolutionary theory (an incomplete one; Mayr reserves some early anti-Darwinian theories for later explanation), then abruptly moves into the evidence for evolution itself---before actually detailing how evolution works! "The how and why of evolution... we shall show in later chapters" (Mayr 11), he writes. "But let us first review some of the evidence for the actual occurrence of evolution" (Mayr 11). After this review, the chapter moves into a mini-evolutionary history of life on earth; again, before actually explaining how this history functions. In Part I, Mayr seems to automatically assume his audience not only understands the nuances of evolution, but agrees with him completely. At the end of Part I, section ii, he states with confidence: "Indeed, there is no other natural explanation than evolution for the facts presented in this chapter" (Mayr 39). How could his audience disagree? They don't know how evolution works yet.

Thankfully, Part II resolves this problem. Part II, section I, entitled "How and Why Does Evolution Take Place?" does just that... only not quite. Instead, it picks up where Part I, section I broke off, completing the history of Darwinian dogma by listing "a plethora of theories... in conflict with each other and with Darwin's original theories" (Mayr 73). The problem with this presentation is that Mayr's audience still has had no real explanation of Darwinian evolution with which it can compare such theories. The book has not evolved in a way which allows them to do so. Instead, Mayr only gets down to business in Part II, section I. Here he finally explains Dawinian Theory, which actually "consist[s] of a number of different theories that are best understood when clearly distinguished from each other" (Mayr 86). For a while, the book regains a sense of progression as Mayr explains, in detail, each of these different theories, beginning with variation (chapter 5) and ending with adaptedness via natural selection (chapter 7). However, this moment of order is brief. Part III, The Origin and Evolution of Diversity: Cladogenesis, quickly devolves back into disorder. In some sense, Part III is the book's grab-bag section: everything that Mayr could not place in another section of the text goes here. Such concepts include a detailed discussion of species, speciation, and macro/microevolution. By itself, such a grab-bag would be forgivable. Part III is not significantly different from the rest of the text in that it is divided into neat, individually-digestible, somewhat unrelated sections. However, within these sections, Mayr commits the same mistake which plagues the first half of the book---narrative discontinuity. In Part III, section iii, he writes: "There is an unbroken continuity between macro- and microevolution... all macroevolutionary processes take place in populations and in the genotypes of individuals, and are thus simultaneously microevolutionary processes" (Mayr 189-190). If the evolution of a written text occurs in the same way, then one would expect a narrative coherence on all levels. Chapters, like populations, should follow their own microevolutionary course; and these smaller progressions should combine to advance the macroevolution of the whole book. Unfortunately, the chapters within Part III do not evolve. They are grab-bags within a grab-bag.

For example, let's take Chapter 8: "The Units of Diversity: Species." Here, as in Parts I and II, Mayr places evidence before explanation. While he stresses the need to understand the difference between the many definitions of species, and the "great confusion [that occurs] when these differences are not clearly recognized" (Mayr 168), he refrains from actually explaining these definitions until Box 8.2, well into the chapter. In fact, he actually begins with an evaluation of how many "species" exist on earth---without first identifying which definition of "species" he is using! Chapter 10, "Macroevolution," is even less coherent. While it does begin with a discussion of how speciation (macroevolution) follows from populational change (microevolution), the chapter's flow is broken up by a series of mini-discussions that seem to have been arbitrarily thrown in. For example, on page 210, in the midst of explaining the puzzling inventiveness of early Cambrian evolution, he breaks off---with no segue---into a pages-long examination of coevolution and symbiosis. "The contrast between the innovativeness of the Cambrian fauna and the conservativeness of the body plans of living fauna is no longer an insolvable puzzle when the recent findings of developmental molecular biology are duly considered" (Mayr 210), he concludes, and never returns to the topic. Instead, from symbiosis, he again abruptly breaks off---again with no segue--- into a rejection of the Creationist view that "evolution is able ultimately to produce perfection" (Mayr 213). The sections which follow are only barely related to one another. Despite Mayr's insistence that "evolution means directional change" (Mayr 212), the various subdivisions of Chapter 10 do not evolve in any specific direction. After rejecting Creationism, Mayr discusses, in order: biosphere; evolutionary trends; mosaic evolution; pluralism; convergent evolution; polyphyly/parallelophyly; if evolution has laws (shouldn't this be included in Part II's discussion of how evolution operates?); and finally, the arbitrariness of natural selection. While one or two of these concepts may overlap (for example, how the modern idea of convergent evolution relates to the older practice of polyphyly), as a whole, they show no sense of narrative progression. Chapter 10 does not evolve.

Mayr's most blatant act of evolutionary self-contradiction comes in his positioning of Part IV: Human Evolution. In Part III, he writes: "At one time the idea was almost universally held that man was the culmination of Creation and that anything was progressive that led in the direction of man's perfection" (Mayr 214). Mayr strongly disagrees. Humans, he stresses, are neither the goal of evolution nor its endpoint. "Modern evolutionists reject the idea that evolution is able ultimately to produce perfection" (Mayr 213), he writes. But yet again the structure of his text undermines in form what it presents in substance. Mayr gives human evolution its own Part, as if the story of mankind's creation were somehow different, or our race somehow favored. The story of human evolution would have fit just as well in Chapter 3, "The Rise of the Living World." (Significantly, in this early chapter Mayr bypasses human evolution completely). Even more telling is Mayr's placement. Human evolution comprises Part IV, the culmination of the book---as if mankind's story was in some sense the endpoint, the perfect archetype, of the story of evolution itself. He even ventures so far as to assert that "man is indeed unique, as different from all other animals" (Mayr 252) and "there is no chance for the evolution of a superior human species" (Mayr 261). Setting such statements at the tail-end of an evolutionary text sends the unavoidable message that humans, unique among living beings, are in some fundamental way the fulfillment of evolution's hard-won goal.

"Every genotype," writes Mayr, "seems to have limits to its capacity for change and this constraint might prove fatal" (Mayr 199). He may very well be describing his own text. What Evolution Is fails to evolve to accommodate its own subject matter; and though this lack of narrative organization is not lethal, it damages the presentation of the book as a whole. The disparity between the text's structure and its substance not only confuses the reader, but chips away at the book's credibility. What Evolution Is, this book is not.


Works Cited

Dewey, John. Art as Experience. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Full Name:  sad
Username:  ghghg
Title:  sds
Date:  2005-02-11 00:23:40
Message Id:  12772
Paper Text:

Full Name:  Austin Andrews
Username:  aandrews@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Story vs. Fact: How evolution should be taught in schools
Date:  2005-02-11 01:36:36
Message Id:  12774
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

I have learned the theory of evolution from four different educators - who held four different teaching methods and beliefs, and used four different texts - over the past four years. So I consider myself rather familiar with evolution and the different styles in which it is taught. Most recently, I was taught using a scientific/anthropologic textbook that presented evolution as fact as well as a book whose goal was to show the evidence of evolution in a story-like, non-textbook method. I felt differently about the idea of evolution and about the way in which I was being fed information while reading each of these two very different, yet somewhat similar books devoted entirely to evolution. Each had its strengths and its weaknesses and each would be received differently depending on the reader and her background. This observation opens up an entirely new window when discussing the teaching of evolution in schools: how should evolution be taught to students? Should it be taught as a story or as fact? And how will the region in which the student lives or the background that the student has affect her understanding?

Roger Lewin's book Human Evolution was written for use in biology and anthropology courses. It presents information in a stereotypical textbook way. Important terms are bolded, there are headlines separating different main topics, and there are pictures and charts that help explain the material. When the student reads the text, it is understood that the information is factual. Although there are places where Lewin points out disagreements or problems among some of the ideas, it is still presented in a manner in which the reader knows that what she is reading is solidly backed up by many different forms of evidence. Surprisingly, however, even within this obvious textbook setup, Lewin makes the information flow really smoothly. The transitions between important terms and their definitions, as well as different concepts, are clean and readable. He gives background information to help make the ideas meld into one another and he writes in a clear-cut, non-prosaic manner that allows the material to be understood and grasped in a very efficient way. Because the information flows so well, it actually ends up feeling slightly story-like, more so than other textbooks I have read, simply because of its readability.

Ironically, Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is, which has the intention of telling evolution as a story and not as a textbook, actually seems less story-like than Lewin's textbook. Mayr had the goal of teaching evolution as a story, but his final product doesn't quite reflect that. He still uses headlines to break-up different ideas within evolution and includes graphs and diagrams that help explain the concept. He even uses boxes of text to introduce supplemental material, and numbers them just as a textbook would. His writing style is very matter-of-fact, and can even be interpreted as pompous. If he had wanted his book to be story-like, he should have toned down that part of his style and made the writing more open for interpretation and understanding. While reading this book, even though I knew that it was supposed to be a story, I couldn't get over the idea that it seemed very text-like and factual. This definitely took away from Mayr's intentions and made the book less of a read and more of a chore.

When I reflect on the experience I had with each of these books, I notice a significant difference. I felt as if I was able to grasp evolution more fully while reading Human Evolution as opposed to What Evolution Is. I felt more comfortable with the minor details, important terms and ideas, as well as the overall picture as it pertains to the world today with Lewin's book. The only problem is that neither book really did what it set out to do. Mayr's book was supposed to be a story and Lewin's was supposed to be a text, but they seemed to have swapped spots. It still felt this way despite the fact that I, as the reader, knew the author's intentions. So what was it about Lewin's and Mayr's books that I liked and disliked and helped with my willingness to continue in my firm belief of evolution? I think that Lewin's ability to say that not everything about evolution is concrete – that there are still conflicting theories and new ideas emerging – coupled with his writing style that made each and every part of evolution come together as a whole, made grasping the theory of evolution much simpler. I felt like I was reading a story, just a nearly factual one. Although I am already firm in my belief of evolution, Lewin's Human Evolution simply made those beliefs firmer – instead of making me question its validity.

For other people, learning the theory of evolution is not as simple. Some people were raised in environments that left no room for evolution – whether it be religious or for other reasons. Many people can't even fathom the theory of evolution and how it can actually be a widely accepted belief. There are, however, also many people that grew up believing in evolution or who strongly believe in its presence in today's world. With evolution being taught in classrooms across the country, each student's background must be taken into consideration so that more people can begin to accept evolution as a part of their lives. To account for this, teaching evolution as a story, rather than as cold, hard fact, could be much more effective.

Students learning the theory of evolution as a story does not take away from its validity or the fact that it has strong scientific evidence to back it up. Learning it in this manner simply allows students with anti-evolution backgrounds a more lenient mechanism through which to learn about and accept evolution. If it is not presented under the somewhat overpowering title: fact, then a person is given a crack in which she can wrap her mind and can better understand the theory. People won't feel so guilty if they come to believe evolution and will feel less pressured and confused if they can believe that it is a story, rather than timeless fact. Even strong believers in evolution can benefit from this theory being taught as a story. Just because it is taught as a narrative, doesn't mean that already strong believers in evolution will lose their understanding or "faith" in this theory. Stories are simple to understand and digest and can aid in an evolutionist's further understanding of this important concept.

If evolution is presented to the population in the form of a non-threatening tale that can be interpreted, believed, and combined with other stories, then maybe the theory of evolution will reach more people and have a greater effect. The theory of evolution should be told and understood, and if packaging it as a chronicle of events is the most effective way of getting its message across, then that is what should be done. Evolution is our past, present, and future – and every person on the planet should have the privilege of understanding its concept.


Lewin, Roger. Human Evolution. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing, 2005.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Full Name:  Lauren Tomola
Username:  ltomola@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Story of Science
Date:  2005-02-11 11:35:04
Message Id:  12782
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

The story of science is a story of the way humans view the world. Its history comes from the ideas of uniformitarian thinkers, but the story that these ideas create is a catastrophic one. Every time a new idea is added to the mix that makes up scientific thought, that collection of ideas is irrevocably altered. This collection of ideas, the lens through which humans are able to understand and interact with the world, takes on a new focus with every idea that is added, but in the end it remains only a story humans have created in their minds, with no way of being proved true or false.

Although scientific theories can proceed logically, building on one another in a uniformitarian style, during its most influential times science mainly changes according to a catastrophic pattern. In catastrophism, the flow of events is altered dramatically by the actions of an outside, unknowable force. According to Thomas Kuhn, this is what occurs when a new idea is introduced to the scientific community. When these new ideas are proposed and absorbed into the community, periods of "revolution" occur, and scientific thought is restructured with regard to the new theories (Bird 2004.) The significant point about altering a manner of thinking is that knowledge can never be unlearned. Once an idea is introduced to the scientific community, especially if it is one of these revolutionary ideas, its influence will always exist, whether the scientists agree with it or not. In terms of catastrophism, it is the scientists themselves who are the outside agents in this process, introducing these altering ideas to their community. There is no way to predict where science will turn next until the idea occurs to a scientist, who then offers it to the community for consideration.

The story scientists create may ultimately be catastrophic, but the method of thinking that leads to their catastrophic ideas is almost always uniformitarian. This style of thinking refers to a rejection of outside agents and a belief that the past can explain all the mysteries of the present. One reason that this method of thinking came about is that, in order to consider theories of evolution, scientists had to reject any theories that referred to natural theology (Mayr 148.) By rejecting the notion that the world was created by an omnipotent God as an explanation of natural events, scientists were forced to assume that the world itself held the explanations for everything in existence. Working on the principle that all things in nature can eventually be understood, scientists create theories based on what they view as logical trains of thought. However, no two individuals have exactly the same perception of what is logical. Various influences on individuals, as well as each scientist's unique patterns of thought, mean that different theories can come from the single method of uniformitarian thinking. It is when these different ideas are put together that catastrophism occurs.

Science is a human explanation of the world, putting it into terms that humans can comprehend – telling a series of stories about the world. However, even while we use these stories to interact with the world, we cannot know that the stories are true. Because humans need to have stories in order to deal with the world, it is impossible to transcend the stories and view the world without them. Therefore, the stories can never be held against a standard to determine their accuracy.

The way humans view the world through science is similar to the way they view the world through their senses. Individual humans cannot remove themselves from their own five senses to experience what other humans feel, so there is no way to test the accuracy of an individuals senses, except against other individuals. Individuals with synaesthesia, a disorder in which people can feel with one sense that which is normally experienced with another (U. K. Synaesthesia Association), are compared to a standard of other humans to determine their condition. Without using the senses, there is no way to determine whether the majority's perception is any more accurate than that of individuals with synaesthesia.

Because humans have no other option, they create stories to explain the world. Some of these describe a uniformitarian world, while others depict the world as catastrophic. The uniformitarian stories emphasize the laws according to which all matter behaves. The stories state that even seemingly random occurrences can be explained by laws if examined minutely enough. This story fits well with scientific thinking, since scientific thought depends on the assumption that the world operates based on laws that can be understood by humans. However, when the story is told from a different point of view, the world appears catastrophic. The fact that natural laws exist at all can be regarded as an example of catastrophe, if viewed in a certain light. Eventually, when considering the mechanics of natural laws, the question of why events happen the way they do is answered by the fact that this is the way that they happen. Questions of an outside agent aside, there are aspects of the world as it presently is that cannot be fully explained by studying the way that it was.

Since the world has both uniformitarian and catastrophic characteristics, depending on the story that is told about it, the question arises as to whether the world is in fact either of the two. Because the world can be described as both catastrophic and uniformitarian, perhaps it is neither. Both theories are simply perspectives with which humans view the world. It is unlikely that any part of nature fits perfectly into this human-created pattern. If these terms can be applied to the natural world at all, it is likely that the world exists in a state somewhere between catastrophism and uniformitarianism, for which humans have no words.

Stories are the way that humans view the world so that they can interact with it, and science is the greatest of all these stories. It is a collection of ideas from different perspectives, and the addition of each new idea changes the story a little bit. Because it is a story, science exists ultimately in human minds, unable to be proven correct because it can never transcend human inability to perceive the world without stories.


Bird, Alexander. "Thomas Kuhn." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Fall 2004. The Metaphysics Research Lab: Stanford University. February 10, 2005. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2004/entries/thomas-kuhn/#2.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

U. K. Synaesthesia Association. Athene Witherby. February 10, 2005. http://www.uksynaesthesia.com/.

Full Name:  Eleanor Carey
Username:  ecarey@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Evolution in Schools
Date:  2005-02-11 13:27:12
Message Id:  12783
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Evolution appears to be a hot topic of debate at the moment, and many people are paying attention to potential changes in the way that evolution is taught and the relationship between the teaching of evolution and teaching other theories on the origin and development of life on earth. The question of whether evolution should be taught in school at all must be asked as educators look at their methods of presenting the theory and others to their students. Because of the diversity of students in high schools and the questions that all people ask about their origins, and because of the nature of the conflict between creationists and Darwinists, it is important that evolution be taught in some way in high schools.

To not address the story of evolution in high school would be to ignore an important part of scientific history (as the existence of debate on the subject proves, evolution is a story of great importance to many people), and to ignore a question that most people ask, especially curious young people (Mayr stated in What Evolution Is that mankind wishes to explain what is unknown and that as far back as the most primitive man there has been folklore addressing questions of where the world and human life came from) (Mayr, p.5(2)). With so much evidence going into the story of evolution that Ernst Mayr could state that evolution is a fact (Mayr, page 275(2)) and considering the availability of other explanations for our origins, failing to address the issue in schools would not only be absurd (as this is not a topic about which we know nothing but a topic addressed by religion, by Darwinian evolution, and theories of intelligent design). Evolution may not be a fact, but it is a theory of enough strength that it may not be overlooked. Whether evolution is addressed as a fact or as a theory, it must be addressed as the number of facts that have led to the formulation of the theory and to so many people working on the theory and accepting it as viable.

The most beneficial way to present information about evolution would be along with the problems recognized in the theory and the questions that have yet to be answered by the theory; this will, if nothing else, allow students the most complete understanding of the story of evolution, and whether or not other theories are presented alongside the story of evolution, this avoids the possibility of evolution becoming dogma or being seen as religious teaching in schools, as some opponents of evolution and evolution teaching may assert it is, as, indeed, an article at ChristianAnswers.net does assert, stating that the religion of secular humanism is being taught in schools around the country and that evolution is a "powerful ally" of secular humanism (Noebel, David A., J.F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater(3).,) If the teaching of evolution becomes the teaching of religion then those with problems with the teaching of evolution have a good deal more to talk about than if evolution is the teaching of science.

Whether evolution is taught with great emphasis on the fact that it is a theory or simply with awareness of the questions unanswered by evolution and the problems that there are with the theory of evolution, high school students, especially those who come from families with strong religious and creationist beliefs, will be presented with the challenge of looking at evolution in the context of other stories of the origin of man and the diversity of life on earth. It is up to students and families as well as to churches and to teachers to deal with the difficulties of the disparities between the story of creation presented in the Bible and the story of evolution, and while these people cannot be expected to take the same tack as the Catholic Church has in accepting evolution as a story that can be used in conjunction with belief in God as a creator, with Pope John Paul II following Pope Pious XII in this assertion (Brumley(1).), but that evolution does not always conflict with religion is a point relating to the origins of man that can enhance and help the various stories of the origin of life evolve. While it may be difficult for some people, it is something with which they have dealt for a long time. When one considers the influence that a parent's teachings and beliefs have on a child from the very beginning of a child's life, a course on biology, especially one that presents the story of evolution in a non-combative manner, is unlikely to change the course of a high-school student's life. Indeed, this is an opportunity for a creationist parent or pastor to discuss with a child why he believes what he believes and what it means to him. For a child who does not come from such a background, the study of evolution is an opportunity to consider a story of the origin of life on Earth. This is an opportunity that should not be denied due to the problems with the story of evolution or because of some turmoil among people who disagree with the story of evolution and those who strongly support it. The story of evolution is an engaging scientific story and one that could potentially engage a student who has previously not had an interest in science or biology.

To address the issue of "who's calling the shots", if that is indeed a part of the controversy over evolution; American society needs to look at something even bigger than evolution. Where evolution is taught as religion, it may well be an issue of the separation of church and state, but when it comes to neglecting to teach a story relating to the history of mankind and all life on earth because it offends some who disagree with it, larger issues are in play, including the separation of church and state. If religious beliefs are going to dictate what is taught in schools, that is a clear lack of separation of church and state. And if that is something that schools want to allow, they must decide to change the way that separation of church and state is handled and the way that it is discussed. Viewed this way, evolution must be taught in schools even in light of the controversy at hand.

It is clear that evolution could be taught in schools in a way that could be viewed as offensive and irresponsible. However, if the story of evolution is taught in a thorough manner (addressing the changes that the story has undergone and the problems that it still has), it can be beneficial to most all students. Either way, to fail to teach evolution at all would be to keep a variety of students in the dark about a story addressing an issue nearly everyone wonders about, and to surrender too much to those who do not want to learn about evolution but who can deal with and potentially benefit from the teaching of evolution in schools.


1. Brumley, Mark. "Evolution and the Pope". http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Dossier/0102-97/Article3.html . Cited February 10, 2005
2. Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
3. Noebel, David A.,J.F. Baldwin, and Kevin Bywater, "Is the Religion of Popular Humanism Being Taught in Public School Classrooms?" adapted from book Clergy in the Classroom: The Religion of Secular Humanism Summit Ministries. 1999. http://www.christiananswers.net/q-sum/sum-g002.html . Cited 10 February 2005

Full Name:  Arshiya Urveeja Bose
Username:  abose@brynmawr.edu
Title:  My Tryst with the Blind Watchmaker
Date:  2005-02-11 13:33:40
Message Id:  12784
Paper Text:
My Tryst with the Blind Watchmaker

The tram hurtles down Shakespeare Sarani. It leaves a trail of grease that glistens fluorescently in combination with water and melted ice-lollies that commuters have hurriedly spat out on their way to work. The autorickshaw drives up the road and children run into it, their school uniforms white and clean, reeking of bleach and detergent. Their hair is oiled down to two neat plaits, tied with ribbons and their lunchboxes swing lopsided as they hang from the railings of the autorickshaw and chatter their way to school. The dustbin by the sweet shop is spilling over. There are caterpillars on the underneath of newspapers, and the dung beetles and fire ants that scurry around in their home in rotten banana peels. The water buffaloes have almost made their way down to the Hooghly riverside. They lumber down the road, their backsides heaving from side to side. Monsoon bluebottle flies hum noisily around the ripened jackfruit trees and pepper vines snake up water pipes before they burst onto the little gullies aligning the wider, tarred main-roads.

The watchmaker walks along a mud road. His stark white hair is unkempt and his cloth bag hangs uncertainly from his left shoulder. His wooden chappals synchronize with the sound of his wooden walking stick against the edge of the footpath. In his mouth, the watchmaker holds a betel nut and the red juice stains his lips and leaks across the side of his chin. The watchmaker approaches an old, dilapidated shop, at the end of a two-foot wide pavement and constructed with terracotta tiles. The outer walls of the shop are streaked with rusty paint that has dripped off in the rain. The garden outside is wild and overgrown. In the undergrowth, a rat snake rubs itself against the cement water tank. A drenched mongoose runs along the gutters. The watchmaker pulls out a stool and sits on the shop's porch. He opens up his bag and pours the paraphernalia onto a washcloth on the ground. There are more watches than can be counted. Antique watches, analogs, ship clocks, pocket and wrist watches. Slowly, his fingers flip open the back coin of a watch. With precision, the watchmaker twists and turns the cogs and springs of the watch. He puts them together, aligns each intricate groove and each jagged edge with another. Strangers stop to talk to the watchmaker. They are amazed by the watch's complexity. Every unit seems immaculately constructed, like the cells in a paper wasp's nest. Every shape or patterns appears to repeat itself, like the fractals on the skin of monitor lizards. It is only inevitable that the watch has been created by a watchmaker. It seems unmistakable that like the watch, the natural world too has its creator: an intelligent artificer who formed it for a purpose, who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. It is impossible to believe that such complexity, such perfect interaction could have evolved without the intervention of an architect.

But imagine that the world's watchmaker is blind. Imagine that living systems were created by an engineer who could neither see ahead, nor have any biological purpose in his field of view. In fact, imagine that the watchmaker did not know any biology at all. And, the watchmaker asked what the appropriate physical conditions were for complex things to evolve. He asked what the minimum amount of design work that a lazy watchmaker would have to do, in order to see that the world, and later giraffes and other complex things, would one day come into existence. The answer was that he could be infinitely lazy. The fundamental forces needed in order to understand the origin of everything consisted of either nothing, or units far too simple to require the grandness of the creator. The only force required was the simple force of Physics. Biology was tantalizing but physics, the study of simple things did not tempt the watchmaker to invoke design. And so, the watchmaker rested. He had no mind and no mind's eye. He didn't plan for the future. The world's watchmaker had no vision, no foresight and no sight at all. And so, the blind forces of Physics filled up the deepest trenches and the narrowest corridors. Suddenly, chaos flushed into the world and took home in every tissue and fiber.

Yet, today, if you walk into the forest you will notice that the plants are not arranged at random. The dandelions are sometimes found miles away from other dandelions. But maple trees are always found in zones close to other maple trees. The dandelion and maple seeds have been sorted, arranged, selected. People living in the forest might wonder at this evidence of sorting or arrangement in the world, and might attribute it to the watchmaker, with a tidy mind and a sense of order. But our watchmaker is blind and his explanation is that the arranging was really done by the forces of physics, in this case the action of wind. The wind has no purpose, no intentions and no mind at all. The wind just energetically throws plant seeds around, and big maple seeds and small dandelion seeds, each respond differently to this treatment, and so they end up at different distances from where they were initially released. A small amount of order has come out of disorder, but no watchmaker planned it.

Natural selection is the blind watchmaker. It is blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences and its impact on living things is almost unconscious. Evolution has no long-term goal. There is no long-distance target, no final perfection to serve as a criterion for selection. In real life, the criterion for selection is always short-term, either simple survival or, more generally, reproductive success (Dawkins 1986). Each change and step-by-step transformation has come into existence by accident. This process of change, crafting fit organisms with no plan is the outcome of no mechanisms more sophisticated than luck, coincidence and chance, or more specifically, random variation. In this purposelessness, are millions of organisms that have life. If this is true, then the diversity of life that surrounds us is not incredible, but almost inevitable.

The Indian Pitta calls to its mate in the stunted bamboo lining the neighborhood sidewalks. The street dogs chase occasional cyclists down the road in defense of their territories. The dogs move in packs, scavenging on the putrid pumpkins from the over spilling cement garbage wells. In the distance, there are the snores of families sleeping and fading in and out of dreams. The sky is clear of the low-lying, caliginous rain clouds and as the night progresses, the rising humid air will be gradually replaced by the newness of the morning.

Although not explicitly cited, this essay was conceptualized based on the following material:
Ahmad, Mirza Tahir (1995). The Blind Watchmaker Who Is Also Deaf and Dumb. Ahhamaddiya Muslim Community

Dawkins, Richard (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. London: W.W. Norton & Company.
Ellis, Sean. Richard Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker" A Short Review. Accessed on 9 February, 2005

Johnson, Philip (1992). The Blind Watchmaker Thesis. Apologetics.org.

Mayr, Ernst (2001). What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books.

Full Name:  Eileen Talone
Username:  etalone@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Women Unite, Take Back Control of Human Development
Date:  2005-02-11 13:41:28
Message Id:  12785
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Eileen Talone
11 February 2005
Evolution of Stories
Profs. Dalke and Grobstein

Women Unite, Take Back Control of Human Development!

"The tendency to consider "biological" and "social" variables as mutually exclusive alternatives has faded as recognition grows that every phenotypic trait is a product of gene-environment interaction." - Kruger and Nesse, Sexual Selection and the Male: Female Mortality Ratio.

"The phenotype consists not only of the structure of an organism and of its physiology, but also of all the products of the behavioral genes. ... It is as much (and often more so) the target of selection as the structural characteristics of an organism." - Mayr, 129.

An organism has already run the gamut before it enters the world. In the case of sexually reproducing organisms, the male gamete won the statistically improbable prize of fertilizing the more discriminating female gamete, and through the process of zygotic development, is not guaranteed long life anyway. Any talk of selection begins in the formulation of the genotype, which is far less variable than the phenotype, though both are subjected to selection.

My ultimate interest in sexual selection, as it is, was, and ever shall be, is in the world of human sized things and matters of human interaction. However, as Mayr explains, selection is a two step process: the first step consisting of the many steps involved in the creation of the zygote, and the second being an individual's survival from larval to adult status (Mayr, 119). And so in the preliminary rounds of selection, much more is up to chance, and once an individual has agency, its survival, though always susceptible to accidents (and this is a big philosophical land mine we are treading here, in claiming the existence of individual agency, although so much of this paper about nonrandom mating and selection is based on my belief in the existence of choice) is now in the second phase of selection, in which the hard wiring of its genotype can express itself in its bodily form, the phenotype.

In these terms, the phenotype seems to be a creation of the Fates, measuring, weaving and cutting the cloth of genetic material. I suppose this could be true, but the variety of human behavior and physiology, made variant through overproduction and the processes of sexual reproduction, leaves room for surprise. In addition to mutation, the great shifter of species' traits, free will has not yet been falsified, and as far as I know, humans and other animals can act outside their interest or their prescribed tendencies. But while I am straying toward a one-hand clapping beside a felled tree type of perpetually open question that can only be punctuated by smoke rings and skyward question marks, my interest falls in the base and the common, in matters of discrimination and sexual choice, in husbandry and human behavior.

Geoffrey Miller, the author of Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature, believes the importance of female choice in nonrandom sexual selection (that is, the second round of elimination that take place at sexual maturity) was overlooked when Darwin first suggested it in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, and has recently been accepted with the theories of biologists like Zahavi (cited by both Mayr and Miller), who reinforce the logic of female choice- as women produce far less gametes than males, they cannot waste their genetic material as freely as males. In addition, the element of parental involvement required in insuring survival requires that females find one male to give heritable traits that favor survival to their offspring, and one male to allow them to raise their offspring safely, though these two functions are not always found in one man (Ridley, qtd. in Miller interview).

Miller concentrates less on this shrewd view of human interaction, an echo of Richard Alexander's Machiavellian hypothesis, which posited man's sophisticated use of language a consequence of the necessity of deception and detection of deceit in others, and that our self-consciousness had its roots in paranoid and not affectionate exchanges. Citing a study made by evolutionary psychologist David Buss about sexual preferences in 37 cultures, which found the two most desired traits in a mate to be kindness and intelligence, Miller claims that it is these two traits that separate us the most from other primates. He attributes our (human) unique ability to retain large vocabularies as courtship functions- to prove intelligence and to communicate effectively. Miller compares our development of music to bird songs, gibbon songs and whale songs, all used in courtship and mating, as presentation of abilities and declarations of intentions.

Is this insignificant because genetically favorable behaviors are heritable? I feel like since I have recovered from acknowledging the existence of black holes and infinity (back in the days of chest-tightening mind expansion in middle school science classes), no revelations concerning the physical world can shake me. If I have made room for ancestor worship, for God and the endowment of meaning to events and human behavior, no facts can expand to push my beliefs out. "For every lie I unlearn I learn something new" sang Ani di Franco, my middle school hero and voice that carried me through my sexual maturation (though I refuse to believe I am mature, I do not see aging as decay or decline but as mind expansion, mind-ripening if the heart does not fold from all these external pressures).

I do not mean to say I evict elements that do not fit in my version of the world that I maintain to keep it worth living in, but that any fact (what a word. If we took back to Latin, which is slowing being forgotten in my energetically expensive brain, we'd admit that fact means done, hecho, dicho, ipso facto, no longer open to revisions, in my mind good as dead. Which a fact could never be.) I encounter will be analyzed and synthesized, made fit for consumption by my agenda driven mind, always intrepidly or lazily converting observations into a mounting case for meaning, significance, beauty, order, or at least good will in the face of all this vastness.

Sexual selection broke my heart as I watched us wield it at the start of puberty, as I dodged prank calls in the terror of intersexual selection and serenades from mocking females in the hazing of intrasexual selection, my body remembered and my face forgotten in the amnesia of male selection, and I exercised female choice to keep my zygotes and weekends restricted to outsiders. It continues to bother me as I see myself and my friends and everyone I know fall for displays of health and happiness and vitality, which are as lovely and free of consciousness as youth itself, beautiful and self-absorbed. What we need in a mate is kindness and intelligence, but we hazard all kinds of rejection, identity sublimation and intellectual compromise to call that lover's symmetry ours, to call his hollow chest our nest, to marvel at his displays of youth and strength as he thinks as little of the future as possible.

Humiliation and lowered expectations are a common story, and I don't think I have the right to ask for sympathy if the most I dare to ask for is the most I get. Free will is true until proven otherwise, and even a degraded female can survey her situation and realize that not only are her eggs but her weekends and her hours valuable, and her time and mind would rather be alone than privately constructing nests in a man-child's dorm room. Not only have I seen males refuse to spill their seed indiscriminately simply because it is expected of them, I have seen women, from my crazy squirrel-hunting dog to my intensely thoughtful best friend, decide that they are waiting for something else, something better, even if it never comes. Not for nothing have we inherited these costly brains, and since as Darwin posited and Mayr insists, the individual and not the gene (in the face of the "selfish gene" theory) is the object being selected, it is the responsibility of the individual, whether male or female, to decide what it requires of mates and companions. Through selection we arrive at not perfection, but opportunities to develop who we are collectively through personal agency.

Whatever the implications of the uniqueness of the faculties of human reasoning, and though I feel both sanctimonious, odious and hypocritical spouting out these "I'm worth waiting for" declarations, we owe to ourselves and our discriminating ancestors to withhold sex from racists, sexists and reactionaries in the hopes of outbreeding outmoded behaviors, and in the interest of combining Lysistrata tactics with modern understandings of human evolution through sexual selection.1






The Edge, an interview with Geoffrey Miller on this site



Full Name:  Jennifer Gerfen
Username:  jgerfen@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Molecular Evolution
Date:  2005-02-11 14:02:04
Message Id:  12786
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

Life as it exists on earth had developed into an array of complex characteristics. There are a variety of complex mechanisms that interact to give rise to the different species that exist. It is hard for some people look for a reason that they exist without there being some reason that gave rise to this complexity, however, it is possible that all of the adaptations that caused life to evolve to the point that it is stems from a chance encounter rather than an original purpose. The structure that life has been formed from shows a complexity that has many conserved elements, which indicated that the specialization was formed not through design, but through a long process of chance encounters.

Most biological molecules have the ability to form their structures spontaneously. The structure of macromolecules such as DNA and proteins fold directly as they are formed. The helices or other patterns tend to be the most stable and adaptive to the environment. Protein domains tend to form in order to reduce the amount of hinderance from the interaction of amino acids as well as counter the hydrophobic affect from the non-polar amino acids. Lipids also have a tendency to spontaneously form membranes when placed in water. These molecules currently interact in specific ways, although, the original formation might have been enough to initiate the beginning of life.

The primordial earth had the correct environment to form the basic molecules necessary for the spontaneous formation of life. Stanley Miller and Harold Urey were able stimulate the conditions of the early earth with a mixture of the ammonia, methane, water, and hydrogen gas exposed to electrodes, which stimulated lightning. Through repeated experiments these abiotic conditions were able to produce organic molecules such as aldehydes, amino acids, and molecules that were similar to RNA. (1) These experiments show that the components necessary for life can form without a preexisting structure.

These elements would be able to create a precursor to a cell since RNA is able to be the hereditary material. There are many viruses that currently exist with an RNA genome. Recently it has also been demonstrated that RNA molecules have catalytic properties. (1) The creation of ribozymes gave early life the ability to replicate since one of the functions is RNA replication. Another catalytic function of ribozymes is the ability to form peptide bonds, which would produce simple poly-peptides. The role of peptides would likely provide more functions as time went on. This would allow for the transfer of the molecule of heritability to change from RNA to DNA, which has a greater stability and therefore would be more able to handle greater amounts of coding regions.

Proteins are encoded for by building creating a chain of amino acids based on three nucleotide sequences of the RNA based on the genetic code. The genetic code is universal among most organisms including species ranging from bacteria to humans, however mitochondria and chloroplasts have their own genomes and own genetic code. (2) The current theory on the origin of these organelles is that they were originally endosymbionts that lived inside other cells and eventually lost most of their genomes as they lost the need to function on their own.

If the genetic code is not entirely universal it shows that the way the code is determined was likely due to random selection rather than some force to have the perfect genetic code. The evolution of this code likely took place early in evolutionary history, since it is imperative that the transfer RNA molecules function correctly, since mutations would cause problems in the formation of every protein which would cause the cell no possibility for survival.

The proteins themselves seem to be derived from a single set of original proteins. Despite the fact that there are a large number of proteins that are encoded for in many different organisms there tends to be certain domains that are incorporated into many different proteins. A common example is the immunoglobin domain. (3) It is likely these similarities between proteins could have arisen from mutations where a portion of the genome is replicated incorrectly and an extra copy of a gene is added to the genome. Mutations of the extra copies of the gene would not cause problems in the cell since there will still be a functional copy of the gene. If fact the mutation of the gene might be favorable since multiple copies of the gene might lead to slight problems due to the affects of gene dosage, since the organism would produce twice the amount of protein than was necessary.

Speciation events oftentimes occur due to these chromosomal mutations that cause gene differences to occur. This has led to synteny, conserved gene order, among similar organisms. Chromosome duplication and translocation produce the opportunity for important mutations. This conservation helps to show relatedness between organisms, for example human chromosome 9 and mouse chromosome 2 have portions where the order of the genes is conserved. (1) The incomplete conservation shows how organisms are able to be similar, though there is still a pronounced difference between organisms which is not consistent between organisms.

Organisms have conservation on the molecular level, which shows that it is likely that they evolved from a common ancestor. Though it is through the differences that highlight how basic molecular processes are able to create the diversity of life that we are able to observe. Actually observing life developing might not be observable in a laboratory due to time constraints we do have series of observations that have led to the theory that it is indeed possible that the only spark that caused the creation of life was constant lightning storms on a primordial earth.


(1) David Nelson and Michael Cox (2005) Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.

(2) Leland Hartwell et al (2004) Genetics. Boston: McGraw Hill.

(3) Thomas Pollard and William Earnshaw (2004) Cell Biology. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Full Name:  Maureen England
Username:  mengland@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Evolution: A Story With Purpose
Date:  2005-02-11 14:18:00
Message Id:  12787
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Maureen England
Professor Grobstein
Biology 223
09 February, 2005
Evolution: A Story with Purpose

Evolution, while usually considered a branch of the scientific community, is also a very philosophical concept. Evolutionists, while aiming to find answers, still leave open such questions as "Why are we here?" and "What is Life?" In essence, does life have purpose, or more particularly, does evolution have purpose? Here, considering the idea of purpose being not an absolute ending but a relative ending, not a finale but a reason or meaning, then evolution does have purpose. Similar to the proof style many philosophers have used in the past to explain abstract concepts, one can say: firstly, that a story is something which has purpose; secondly, that evolution is a story. Therefore, Evolution has purpose.

An idea not satisfying to some people is the idea that stories have purposes. Purposes are defined here as, "the action or fact of intending or meaning to do something; intention, resolution, determination" ("Purpose," def. 2a)(6) . The author John Irving said of stories, "You don't initiate a story until you know how you're going to end it. You don't start a dinner party conversation–"A funny thing happened to me on the way to La Guardia"– and not know what happened in La Guardia" (Brodie 72)(1) . However, here John Irving has made the example of a concrete absolute ending; his story ends at La Guardia, where a specific event happens which concludes the action of the story. A story can have a reason for a continual state of being, or a symbolic end to a state of being. For example, in ancient stories such as "Why the Leopard has spots," people aimed to explain the reason behind a physical characteristic of leopards through telling a story. On a larger scale, different religions have arisen throughout time, trying to answer life questions, or to give life or even death, purpose. For instance, the religion of Buddhism, has given meaning to both life and death. A Buddhist believes in reincarnation to eventually reach a state of sublime being, or Nirvana. Here, the purpose of the story of life and death is to achieve ultimate happiness. But not only in the telling of stories, is there purpose, but also in the writing of stories. There are many structure formulas hypothesized about stories; for example, the "journey" structure which is so highly regarded that it is taught in school to English students. In the "Journey" structure, a hero is jolted out of his normal existence to go on a journey, whether physical or mental. Along the way, the hero meets with adversaries and companions, one of which generally has some mentor-like qualities. At some point along the way, the hero almost turns back from the journey but ultimately continues on. After a climax, a leap of faith, the hero achieves resolution or some "truth." There are other similar forms of structure, including the less narrative formula of beginning, rising action, climax, and denouement. The denouement is, "the final unraveling of the complications of a plot in a drama, novel, etc.; the catastrophe; the final solution or issue of a complication, difficulty, or mystery" ("Denouement," def. 1)(2) . After such speculative definitions of stories, let us end with a printed definition, "purport, meaning conveyed" where "purport" is, "that which is intended to be done or affected by something; meaning, object, purpose, design, intention" ("Story," def. 4c (7) "Purport," def. 2 (5) ). Therefore, in the telling and the writing of stories, there is some meaning, a type of answer.

Perhaps not as controversial or concrete is the idea that Evolution is a story. Besides the definition of Evolution as it pertains to the scientific theory developed largely by Charles Darwin, evolution also means, "the process of evolving, developing, or working out in detail, what is implicitly or potentially contained in an idea or principle; the development of a design, argument, etc" ("Evolution," def. 5a)(3) . Cannot a "design" or "argument" be considered similar to stories? One would not start an argument without knowing what one meant to say. Similarly, one would not design without aiming towards some final creation. Writer Russell Friedman said, "The task of the nonfiction writer is to find the story–the narrative line–that exists in nearly every subject, be it the life of a person or the life of a cell," (Brodie 61)(1) . Let us take then, the book What Evolution Is, by Ernst Mayr as the narrative of Evolution. Mayr not only narrates the story of what Evolution is, but also the story of how the theory of Evolution developed. A subsection in the very first chapter states, "The Rise of Evolutionism" before explaining the history behind the theory (Mayr 5) (4) . The following chapter is titled, "What is the Evidence for Evolution on Earth" and explains the evidence and reasoning behind the belief in the theory of Evolution (Mayr 12) (4) . At the end of the chapter, Mayr says, "As the famous geneticist T.Dobzhansky has said so rightly, "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution." Indeed, there is no other natural explanation than evolution for the facts presented in this chapter" (Mayr 39) (4) . The rise of the theory of Evolution is, in itself, a conclusion to the story in which scientists were trying to explain the variation in animals, the fossil record, and other discontinuities with the theory of Creationism. Following, is Mayr's development of Evolution. But once again, Mayr begins at the beginning, as stories do, with the title "The Rise of the Living World" and the section heading "The Origin of Life" (Mayr 40) (4) . Mayr details the evolution of life from the simplest of organisms, bacteria, through the rise of more complex organisms like plants and animals. Mayr finished his tale with the development of humans. But evolution over such a large time scale and in so many individuals is perhaps hard to follow directly as a story, just as a large novel with numerous characters may be at times. Let us then look at the bacteria, for example. Living for millions of years on the earth, bacteria were suddenly threatened with extinction by human antibiotics. Through the processes of mutation and adaptation in evolution however, bacteria were able to survive. Whether one debates the consciousness and will to survive of the bacteria or not, one has to admit that such a history is narrative enough to be considered a story. The story of bacteria who, like the hero in the "journey" story, is faced with an adversary and is able to overcome it and change in order to survive. Both in the development of and the explanation of Evolution, stories arise, whether specific to the life one organism, a social argument, or life in general.

Since stories have purpose, and Evolution is a story, or many stories, it would naturally follow that Evolution has purpose. Stories have infinite possibilities of resolutions, but they none the less have resolutions in that there is some reason, or significance to their existence. While one Cinderella may choose to marry Prince Charming, another may not, but both have progressed as characters enough to have changed in life and meaning. Likewise, Evolution may not have one end, similar to all beings. Some species face extinction while others thrive. Countless different species can be adapted to the same environment and still survive. Therefore, in saying Evolution is a story and has a purpose, one must not think the purpose is equal to all beings. Indeed, humans may never know a tree's purpose. Humans may also never fully understand the purpose of Evolution as it pertains to organisms on Earth. We have all been characters in the narrative of Evolution, but our outcomes may be very different; our purposes may be very different. The important thing to remember is that there is purpose, there is a story. As the poet Muriel Rukeyser said, "Say it, say it. The universe is made of stories, not of atoms" (Brodie 58). (1)


1)Brodie, Deborah, ed. Writing Changes Everything: The 627 Best Things Anyone Ever Said About Writing. New York: Saint Martin's Press, 1997.

2)Oxford English Dictionary Online"Denouement." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. Oxford University Press. 10 Feb. 2005. <>

3)Oxford English Dictionary Online"Evolution." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. Oxford University Press. 10 Feb. 2005. <>

4)Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basics Books, 2001

5)Oxford English Dictionary Online"Purport." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. Oxford University Press. 10 Feb. 2005. <>

6)Oxford English Dictionary Online"Purpose." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. Oxford University Press. 10 Feb. 2005. <>

7)Oxford English Dictionary Online"Story." Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. Oxford University Press. 10 Feb. 2005. <>

Full Name:  Laine Edwards
Username:  ledwards@brynmawr.edu
Title:  "Whodunit?" Writing Evolution as a Murder Mystery
Date:  2005-02-11 14:32:21
Message Id:  12788
Paper Text:
Current conflicts surrounding the story of evolution often center around a single question- "whodunit?" Whether from the point of view of religion or science, the question about who or what is responsible for the creation of life on Earth reigns supreme. The formulaic script for the modern "whodunit?" mystery, however, when applied to Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is, briefly reduces the complexities of evolution into a simple story of intrigue . Following the four part, character intensive formula, the story of evolution becomes a murder mystery complete with detectives, suspense and faulty leads. Analyzing Mayr's book through the mystery genre allows for a retelling of the evolutionary story that focuses on the most often asked question of all- "whodunit?"
What Evolution Is falls under a specific type of "Whodunit" mystery called the Period Mystery. In a Period Mystery "the action takes place in the past" with "social and political themes as well as the dress and manners of the period (which) are featured and are usually relevant to the solution" (1). Taken literally this definition does not seem readily applicable to the story of evolution because that story is still unfolding even today. Thinking liberally about the terms, "social", "political", "dress" and "manners" in the context of plant and animal life, however, changes the meaning of the above definition. The "social and political themes" of evolution represent the ways in which organisms interacted in competition with each other throughout time to evolve. "Dress and manners" refers to the means through which organisms physically changed and behaved. Writers of Period Mysteries divide their books into four sections, each section having a specific purpose in the development of the mystery. Mayr follows this formula and divides his books into four parts. Together the four themes combine within the four part structure of the "Whodunit?" mystery to create a historical atmosphere in which evolution can take place.
Part one of the Period Mystery focuses on introducing the detective(s), the specifics of the mystery and the environment in which the story takes place. Mayr's first three chapters fall perfectly into this mold. These first chapters serve to explain the theories of evolution and the men behind their creation. According to the formula the mystery "must capture the imagination. It should have been committed in an extraordinary way" (1). The very nature of life immediately calls attention to the story of evolution because of the uncertainty of its origins. The stories of life's earliest moments are therefore filled with speculation on the part of both science and religion. Reader's of What Evolution Is are immediately drawn into the mystery behind life and its creator. Mayr grounds the reader by providing a description of the changing world in which evolution takes place and creates in Charles Darwin an enigmatic detective figure that will carry the story through the next three sections until the end.
The most important element in the second section of the "Whodunit?" is the creation of a conclusion that later proves to be faulty so that several different explanations of the mystery are investigated. In What Evolution Is this takes place in the fourth through seventh chapters as Mayr leads his readers through various explanations for evolution, such as Essentialism and Finalism, that have been proved false. By proving such theories incorrect, Mayr begins to point his towards the correct conclusions. A sense of urgency is also developed in this section to emphasize the detective's personal stakes in the solving of the mystery. The mystery of "who?" in the story of evolution is both literally and figuratively a matter of life and death- for the characters, for Mayr, and, most importantly, for the readers. To many religious sects "nothing in life is more important than finding out just who that God is, and why we were created" (2). To solve the mystery of "whodunit?" in terms of evolutionary beginnings would mean the resolution of years of conflict between scientists and religious organizations as well as an increased understanding of the possibility of the role of a "higher being" in the process of evolution.
Parts three and four of the formula work together to review the specific clues towards the solving of the mystery and the gradual coming together of the story to bring about a conclusion. All the information that has been gathered from characters, investigative clues, and reader's prior knowledge is brought together and examined again to strengthen the case for moving in the direction of a certain conclusion. In What Evolution Is, Mayr looks back at the origins of diversity and the affect it has had on evolution as a means of reviewing his previous theories from a different angle. As each theory of evolutionary progress is sufficiently proved the ties between combination of molecules in the atmosphere and the origination of life 3.8 billion years ago becomes stronger. The climax is reached in Mayr's last two chapters as he proves his theory that life originated natural without the presence of a God and the implications this has for mankind.
Mayr solves the "whodunit?" mystery of evolution muchas a detective would, through careful examination of the theories of evolution and then using the clues these provide him to extract information that ultimately leads him to a conclusion. In viewing the story of evolution as a "Whodunit?"-type mystery the theories and speculations become more interesting to the reader because of the suspense that builds towards the climax. When Mayr refutes the claims of the creationists by putting forth his carefully thought out theory on the origins of life he answers the most prominent question about evolution and places the responsibility not on a higher being, but upon forces of nature beyond our control.


1) http://harris-donahue.tripod.com/id6.html
2) www.creationism.org
3) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books: New York, 2001.

Full Name:  Ariel Singer
Username:  asinger@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Classic Example
Date:  2005-02-11 14:42:59
Message Id:  12789
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Song, poetry, deoxyribonucleic acid, paint, fiction, cells, steel, clay, science fiction, theater, film, photography: for thousands of years humans have been compelled to elucidate the world around them. "Why?" is a driving question for humanity. No matter the form in which our explanations emerge, the core desire is a constant; we are still attempting to explain why things are the way they are. This need is clearly demonstrated through a comparison of two vastly divergent stories on the same topic: the creation of a simple flower, the violet.

One of the more famous collections of object-origin stories is Ovid's Metamorphoses. Ovid was a Roman poet, born in 43 B.C. He was exiled from Rome by Emperor Augustus in 8 A.D. It was during his exile that he wrote the Metamorphoses, among many other works.(1) Each story in this compellation of lightly interwoven tales relates to a physical change that had occurred in mythology. The first story is a tale of the creation of the world and the last is of the deification of Caesar. Of the intervening stories many are famous, Narcissus and Echo, Apollo and Daphne, Arachne. In a myriad of episodes the gods afflict a transformation that results in an already existing object. These do not explain the origin of a species, simply its modification. However there are a few tales that attempt to tease out the creation of a new phenomenon or natural element. One of these is the story of the sun god Pheobus Apollo and Clytie.

Apollo and Clytie are considered early in book four of the Metamorphoses. Apollo spurns Clytie for a more beautiful maiden, Leucothoe. To exact revenge for her bereavement, Clytie reports to Leucothoe's father about his daughter's transgressions with Apollo. The outraged father buries his daughter alive, and Apollo arrives too late to save Leucothoe, finding instead her mangled and lifeless body. Thus Clytie gained for herself the hatred of her adored Apollo. When Apollo, enraged and aggrieved, would not return her adoration, she fled civilization and languished alone in a field for nine days. She neither ate nor drank; her only movement was watching the Sun as he traveled across the vaulted sky. Finally she was transformed:
"Her limbs caused her to cleave to the ground,
A wan pallor transposing her into bloodless petals.
In part, she was flushed red and a violet concealed her face.
Thus she, whom roots held, turns always to the Sun.
Now she watches over him, having been transformed for the sake of love."(2)

On the other hand, the scientific story of violets began about 490 million years ago, when changes in the climate led to alterations in the environment of the world. Eventually a period of glaciation occurred, revealing significantly increased tracts of land. Further changes in the climate influenced the soil, making it capable of supporting plant life. From as early as 470 million years ago there exists evidence, gathered from the fossil record, that plants had begun to have the cellular traits which were necessary for terrestrial life. It is known that by 408 million years ago small vascular plants existed in many areas of the world. These plants evolved from green algae.(3) From these very basic plants came the terrifically diverse selection of flora that we have today. The violet is a flowering plant, a category that has its own story. Flowering plants, or angiosperms, are evident in the fossil record at about 140 million years ago. In terms of evolution this is a very recent development. However angiosperms made up for their late start by promptly diversifying.(4)

The genus Viola is a huge group with many different patterns of evolution, one for each species. Among these, woody Hawaiian violets have been extensively researched. It is believed that Hawaiian violets originated in the Arctic. This is supported by molecular tests and geologic evidence. Genetic evidence has indicated that Viola langsdorffii, found around Beringia ("a large... region of the Arctic comprised of far eastern Russia... and northwestern North America"(5)) is the sister species to the Hawaiian variety. Geologically, during the early to mid-Pliocene era the environment was such that V. langsdorffii was confined within Beringia.(6) However when the climate changed and the temperature dropped a few degrees V. langsdorffii was able to travel. "Birds have been proposed as the most plausible and most common agents of dispersal for carrying seeds and fruits of colonizing angiosperms to the Hawaiian Islands." The seeds would have been eaten while the bird was still in the Arctic; then, during migration the seeds would have been passed out of the bird's system into the new environment in which it was pausing.(8) Then once in their new niche, the violets could grow and evolve separately from their ancestor, eventually forming a new species.

Although the Ancient Greek story is drastically different from the modern scientific one, it is possible to see the parallels between them. For Ovid and his readers the creation of the violet took only nine days, for science it took 490 million years. Still the idea that the creation was a slow (on two very different scales) process persisted. Each story explains an observed fact about the violet. In the case of the Classical tale the observation was that violets followed the passage of the sun throughout the day. The proposed hypothesis was that this phenomenon occurred because the violet had once been a woman in love with the personified Sun. Alternately, the modern observation was that two species of violet, found in vastly distant locales, were very similar genetically. The hypothesis was that at one time the older species had been removed from its natural environment and forced to cope in a new one. Certain traits were selected for in this new location, which modified the violet species from its ancestral genetic composition.

Perhaps the stories that we tell today about the origins of species are more accurate, closer to the unattainable truth. Perhaps in light of the logical and reasonable scientific explanation of the violet, Ovid's story seems foolish and naïve. Yet we must always remember that the same desire that spurred on our ancestors drives us now. Perhaps through science we are closer to fully understanding the natural world, perhaps not. The point is moot really. As long as we keep striving to explain and understand the world around us, as long as we cherish it and keep an open mind about it, then the form in which we choose to display that knowledge, however inaccurate it might be, is as Ovid would say, pulcher, beautiful.


"The Beringian Environment." The Atlas of Beringia.

Ballard, Harvey E. Jr. and Kenneth J. Sytsma. "Evolution and Biogeography of the Woody Hawaiian Violets (Viola, Violaceae): Arctic Origins, Herbaceous Ancestry and Bird Dispersal." Evolution 54, no. 5 (Oct. 2000): 1521-1532.

Thomson, Alexander, ed. "P. Ovidius Naso." C. Suetonius Tranquillus, The Lives of the Caesars.

Willis, K. J. and J. C. McElwain. The Evolution of Plants. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.


1)P. Ovidius Naso

2) Translated by Ariel Singer

3) K. J. Willis and J. C. McElwain, The Evolution of Plants (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 79-80.

4) Willis, and McElwain 193.

5)The Beringian Environment

6) Harvey E. Ballard, Jr. and Kenneth J. Sytsma, "Evolution and Biogeography of the Woody Hawaiian Violets (Viola, Violaceae): Arctic Origins, Herbaceous Ancestry and Bird Dispersal," Evolution 54, no. 5 (Oct. 2000), 1527.

7) Ballard and Sytsma, 1528.

Full Name:  Tonda Shimbo
Username:  tshimbo@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Genetic Engineering as the End of Human Evolution?
Date:  2005-02-11 15:04:19
Message Id:  12790
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

In order to have any evolution of a species whatsoever, there must be some sort of mutation. Granted, the majority of mutations attempted by a species fail miserably and the individual plant/animal will not survive, but without mutation, the gene pool is limited – stagnant even, and when the gene pool is stagnant,, there is less chance for survival, and evolution essentially stops (Mayr, (1)).

With that in mind, and the entirety of evolutionary processes, what are we humans doing in the field of genetic modifying medicine? Gene therapy may help a lot of people live out healthier, happier lives (Anderson, (2)), but is this helping evolution? Hurting it? Will our supposed health happiness in the present bring suffering and death for the future of our species? It is a difficult idea even to wrap one's mind around. Of course we want to help our brethren to feel less pain – to use gene and small molecule therapy (see Anderson, 3rd paragraph for definitions) to take away 'genetic diseases' just as one would use Tylenol to take away a headache or a fever – it is the compassionate, humane thing to do. But where do we draw the line between that and the facts of life – death (even young death), diversity in the gene pool (including mutations – attractive or not), etc.?

Reproductive medicine has raised a lot of bio-ethical questions over the past forty or fifty years. From birth-control to Roe v. Wade to test-tube babies to choosing the sex and other genetic traits of one's child (Caplan & McGee, (3)), many wonder where we are going with all of these technological advances in medicine. Are we perhaps becoming too smart for our own good? Recently a 66-year-old woman gave birth to a child in Romania with much help from her doctor as she was too old to create her own eggs – an egg was fertilized and then placed into her uterus (Caplan, (4)). She will be eighty when her daughter enters high school. This may be pushing the question too far towards the bio-ethical standpoint, but nevertheless, where do we draw the line in reproductive medicine? Do we allow, a hundred years - or maybe even decades – from now parents to essentially create their own children by choosing eye color, hair color, intelligence and strength through the simple selection and rejection of genes? From an evolutionary standpoint, this process could alter – even stop completely – the process of human evolution, for it would disallow mutations in pursuit of the 'perfect' child.

Residing in Germany is a four year old boy who was born with a genetic mutation that prohibits production of myostatin (a protein which limits muscle growth), and thereby can hold 7lb. weights in his hands with arms straight out (The AP, (5)). His mother, a former professional sprinter, had one copy of the gene mutated, while both of his are such. This mutation could be a very good addition to the human gene pool. It would allow the human species to; very slowly (as evolution always works very slowly) become a stronger species, which would aid our survival. But then, after chance and natural selection take their course, no one could ever predict whether it would be the gene to survive. Yet, without mutation, the gene pool is limited, and thus the species has a lesser chance of surviving. Many would argue that in our extensive and expanding research on the human genome, one could in effect allow for the strengthening of the species in locating and manually mutating the genes which controlled production of myostatin, and any other factors. However, I would dare to claim that the practice would still limit variation (the key to evolution, along with mutation) in that it would disallow any new mutations from occurring. If a doctor or scientist noticed an oddity in the development of an embryo, he or she would more than likely abort the process and start over again, for fear of the child developing with some horrid and unknown genetic disease. The problem is just that – if it's unknown, we can't be sure that it will end up quite so tragic as the victims of sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, or any of the other genetic diseases discovered thus far. We can't be sure that it won't have a profound and everlasting positive effect on the human species as a whole.

What does all of this say to the future of our species? Or, for that matter, to the practice of genetic engineering? Should we change the genes of those suffering from genetic disease? Or should we call it an act of chance and evolution, and allow selection to take its course? I fear that if we find a cure for all diseases, our tiny planet will become overpopulated and though we may be healthy, we'll be cramped, claustrophobic, and quite unhappy. Yet I also don't like the idea of anybody suffering from disease. I almost want to make the claim that disease is the natural way of limiting a population, so that it doesn't get out of hand, and that those who can survive – those whose immune systems are tough enough to handle what gets thrown at them, are biologically and genetically superior (though I understand that a great deal of one's ability to deal with disease has to do with the environment in which he or she resides), and that is the way evolution, nature, and perhaps whatever deity is up there intended it (that is to say, if there was intention at all). Perhaps it is like the tsunami – the world's way of recycling and regenerating itself, and though up close it seems tragic and even catastrophic, in the long run it is the best course to take, and will eventually even itself out in order to produce a more adaptive, efficient species.


1) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York, New York: Basic Books, 2001

2)A Cure that may Cost us Ourselves Anderson, Dr. W. French, Newsweek: Jan. 1, 2000

3)Reproductive Medicine Caplan, Arthur L., and McGee, Glenn. Bioethics.net

4)How Old is Too Old to Have a Baby? Caplan, Arthur Ph.D.

5)Genetic Mutation Turns Tot into Superboy The Associated Press

6)Future Direction in Bio-Ethics Caplan, Arthur L., and McGee, Glenn. Bioethics.net

Full Name:  Anjali Vaidya
Username:  gvaidya@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Evolution of Ideas
Date:  2005-02-11 15:07:29
Message Id:  12791
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

In What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr describes the development of the theory of evolution as though it were directional: leading inevitably from pre-Darwin ignorance to its ultimate modern form. The various missteps along the way were temporary and inconsequential, mere hiccups. Science is our tool for learning the "real truth" about the world, he says (3, p.5), and I suppose that any process whose ultimate goal is the absolute truth must necessarily be directional. However, just as it is not very useful to describe evolution as a process leading to perfection, it is not useful to describe science as a tool to find truth. If anything its goal should be a deeper understanding of the universe, and as such any "missteps" along the way would not be inconsequential. Every step along the way, every theory and idea would be significant, since each step would increase our understanding in some way.

Viewed in such a way the evolution of scientific ideas shows many similarities to evolution in nature. An emerging idea can be likened to a novel variation within a population: a mutation, or perhaps a new combination of pre-existing variations. Ideas do not emerge into vacuums. They are subject to selective pressures of many forms. An idea must be received well in order to survive: it must make logical sense, and must be able to defend itself if it contradicts existing theories and the climate of the times. The current body of knowledge about the world must agree with it, as well. Ideas are constantly being retested and rethought and altered to better suit new observations and ways of thinking.

This is not a radically different view from Mayr's view, but merely a difference in perspective: a difference in attitude, focusing on the events of the story rather than its final destination. According to such a perspective, every idea, every theory put forward in history has no absolute truth-value, since there is no way to know the absolute truth. Rather, a widely accepted theory is only widely accepted within its own context and time, just as an adaptive feature of an organism may become maladaptive if there is a sudden ice age.

An example of this is the theory of the spontaneous generation of insects, which was widely accepted for centuries. Insects and other lower organisms were thought to be spontaneously generated by rotting meat and other non-living matter. This view was logical within the context of the theory: no satisfactory theories existed about where life came from, apart from calling it a divine miracle. Insect eggs are small, and could not be seen in the rotting meat. Insects seemed small and uncomplicated, and it was conceivable that such a simple organism could be spontaneously generated. The theory of spontaneous generation was old and respected as well, dating back to the ancient Greeks. (1)

Ultimately, though the environment this theory existed in changed. Experiments were done by Redi and then Pasteur which showed that meat does not spontaneously generate life, but rather insects lay their eggs upon it. With convincing evidence opposing the theory it lost its general acceptance.

Also, just as there is a large element of chance in evolution, an idea that works perfectly well may sink into oblivion by pure chance. For example, the work of Gregor Mendel was rediscovered some 35 after it was published (2) but may easily never have been rediscovered at all.

A series of changes in the environment and a state of turmoil can clear the way for a tremendous amount of new creative thought, just as mass extinctions are followed by explosions of new life and innovations. Conditions were such at the beginning of the 19th century. The French and American Revolutions had just occurred, and continuing industrialization and the rise of the industrial working class were causing turmoil as well. Europeans were exploring the world and discovering the sheer impossible variety that existed in nature. And although this variety itself did not create any problems with the existing worldview, the patterns exhibited by it did. (2)

Darwin's theory of evolution was not so much a response to radically new observations as an alternative explanation of knowledge that had existed for some time. A broad parallel to such a discovery in nature might be the use of a pre-existing organ for a new function. For instance, after lobe-finned fishes began to use their fins for support in shallow rivers, the gradual strengthening of their fins over generations ultimately led to the move to land and an opening of infinite new possibilities.

Darwin saw differences between organisms that occupied similar environmental niches, and similarities between organisms that occupied adjacent but different niches. Under the existing theory of special creation, all organisms were made perfectly adapted to fit their respective niches and such patterns of variation made no sense. (2) Cuvier, a firm believer in special creation, had explained away the similarities between organisms by saying that "God [...] showed his skill by varying the details while retaining the essentials." (1, p.40) Darwin's theory however was that different species have common ancestors which diverged at different points in the past. It fit the known facts far better than any other theory did, and was thus eventually widely accepted.

The potential for this theory had existed for some time. The potential for an idea may exist in society, in social turmoil and broadening knowledge, so that it may be "discovered" several times. An example for this in nature is the eye, variations on which have developed independently 40 times because the potential for its development already existed in the basic genotypes of many species. (3, p. 205) Similarly, the idea that species are not immutable occurred several times in the late 18th and the 19th century. Buffon showed signs of believing that new species arose from old ones later in his life. (1, p.45) Lamarck theorized in the early 19th century both that species were able to change over time and that this occurred because of natural laws, and not intervention by God. In 1831, Patrick Matthews added in an appendix to On Naval Timber and Arboriculture his belief that population growth is kept in check because individuals that "possess not the requisite strength" die before reproducing, and are replaced by "the more perfect of their own kind". (1, p.47) In 1844, a highly controversial book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously by the Scotsman Robert Chambers, claiming that "everything in nature is progressing to a higher state". (2, p.24 and 1, p.47) And finally, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin both independently came up with the theory of evolution in the 19th century, and brought about its ultimate general acceptance.

The theory of evolution continues to be in competition with the theory of special creation, in attempting to explain the history of life on earth. However, in my opinion it does not need to be in competition with the theory that God exists, although it is seen by many to be so. The theories occupy entirely different niches, in a sense, and thus are not mutually exclusive, just as a deer and a tree are not mutually exclusive. They serve different functions. The theory of evolution is an attempt to understand the world around us through observation and reasoning, while the theory of the existence of God is meant to comfort and support us through life. The first tries to explain the world through natural laws, while the second explains where those laws came from. The first is falsifiable and thus falls under the domain of Science, whereas the second is non-falsifiable and thus entirely outside the domain of Science. The proof for evolution is observed, while the proof for God is felt. The two theories do not compete.


1) Clark, Robert E. D. Darwin: Before and After. London: The Paternoster Press, 1948
2) Fichman, Martin. Evolutionary Theory and Victorian Culture. Amherst, New York: Humanity Books, 2002
3) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2001

Full Name:  Lauren Zimmerman
Username:  lzimmerm@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Intelligent Design and Evolution
Date:  2005-02-11 15:57:50
Message Id:  12792
Paper Text:
Humankind believes in many different stories that attempt to explain the apparent complexity and elegance of the natural world. Creationists believe that an omniscient being fashioned every aspect of the physical world, as is told in the Scriptures. Pure Darwinians claim that inheritability, random variation, and natural selection are sufficient to explain life's complex structures. A third theory called intelligent design claims that an intelligent source is needed to explain the patterns evident in nature. Proponents of intelligent design (ID) disagree with the Darwinian notion that life's apparent design is illusionary (www.intelligentdesignnetwork.org). Is it possible to reconcile evolutionary theory, as it is understood today, with belief in an intelligent designer?

In the recent New York Times article Design for Living, scientist Michael Behe seems to suggest that intelligent design and evolutionary theory can coexist. Behe writes that proponents of intelligent design "do not doubt that evolution occurred," but rather question whether the evolutionary process alone can adequately account for nature's complexity. Behe also makes an important distinction between intelligent design and creationism. According to Behe: "the theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments." An intelligent agent does not necessarily equate to a benevolent God who guides human affairs.

Intelligent design is undoubtedly a psychologically consoling idea. Many people feel uncomfortable with the random chance needed to drive the evolutionary process. A supernatural creator adds purpose to our lives. However, scientific findings have presented significant evidence in opposition to creationism. On a psychological level, intelligent design offers a welcome compromise for many, in that proponents of the theory still allege the existence of a higher being, but at least claim to have scientific proof to support their theory.

Herein lies the most significant problem with intelligent design: though it's advocates may claim otherwise, ID cannot be supported with scientific findings, because science does not have the ability to prove or disprove the existence of a higher being. However, just because the methodology used to support evolution cannot be utilized to prove intelligent design does not mean that it is not possible to reconcile the two theories. Arguably, the amazing process of evolution itself can be interpreted as evidence of an intelligent designer. Using such an interpretation, it is not the products of evolution that are indicative of an intelligent designer, but the process itself.

Another problematic aspect of intelligent design is that it is clear that biological systems are not perfect (http://skepdic.com/intelligentdesign.html). Human beings, for example, have appendixes, a seemingly unnecessary organ. Evolution explains that the appendix is a remnant from an earlier stage in human development, in which the organ did have a purpose. Thus, many see the appendix, and other vestigial features in animals, as evidence against intelligence design and in favor of evolution. This assertion implies that an intelligent creator would of course make all creatures perfectly suited to their environments, without any waste. However, those who make this claim may confuse intelligent design with creationism. Intelligent design does not necessarily imply perfection, only that the design inherent in biological systems cannot be entirely accounted for by the components of evolution. Furthermore, if we understand the actual process of evolution as evidence of an intelligent designer, rather than it's products, then there is no conflict.

Many have criticized intelligent design for confusing science and theology. It is clear that ID is not in accordance with the scientific method; however, science and religion need not be considered irreconcilable. Contrary to historical imagination, science and religion have not always been framed as enemies. In fact, science has a long history of being used justify God's existence. Newton, for example, was a devout Christian, and he considered his equations as evidence of a higher being (Dorn and McCellan). Additionally, astronomer Johannes Kepler interpreted the mathematical harmony in the Universe's configuration as testament to God's glory. It is of course more difficult to reconcile Darwinian evolution with religious doctrine, because it directly contradicts the creationism myth told in the scriptures. However, Darwin himself was not an atheist, but at least claimed to believe in a higher being who created the Earth and set the process of evolution in motion.

Darwin's religious beliefs are reminiscent of Deism, a popular doctrine during the Enlightenment. The belief, suggests "a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation" (www.dictionary.com)." Deists see God as "clockmaker" who first "wound up" the Earth, but then disconnected himself from human affairs. Further, the world continues to operate under the fixed natural laws initially created by God. These laws "can be discovered through reasoning, observation, and experience" i.e. science (www.religioustolerance.org/htm). Perhaps here we have found a venue through which Darwinian evolution and intelligent design may be reconciled.

It was stated earlier that one of the most discomforting things about evolution is the prominence of random chance. However, evolution is not an exclusively random process, and thus may be more easily reconciled to intelligent design than originally appeared. In What Evolution Is Ernest Mayr asserts that evolution is the combined result of both chance and necessity (Mayr, 228). Animals evolve because of natural selection, which is certainly not an accidental process. Natural selection is not inconsistent with belief in an omnipotent creator; a higher being could have created the order inherent to natural selection, and evolution.

The same scientific methodology used to explain evolution cannot be utilized to prove intelligent design; however, this does not mean intelligent design is not reconcilable with evolutionary theory. A renewed interpretation of both the theory of intelligent design and the spectacular process of evolution reveals that the two theories are perhaps compatible. In fact, such a compromise seems already to exist in the creed of Deism, in which an intelligent designer is considered responsible for the creation of the Earth, and the natural laws by which its operates. It is not necessarily the products of evolution that are indicative of intelligent design, but the complex mechanisms that drive the evolutionary process. The story of evolution can encompass the story of intelligent design.

Dorn, H., and McCellan. God said, "Let Newton be!" In J. Burk 1e (Ed.) Science and Culture in the Western Tradition (pp 250-273) Scottsdale: Gorsuch Scarisbrick Publishers.

Mayr, Ernest. What Evolution Is. (pp 228-229) New York, New York: Basic Books Publishers.





Full Name:  Alexandra Mnuskin
Username:  amnuskin@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Evolution and the Theory of Everything
Date:  2005-02-11 16:02:20
Message Id:  12793
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Alexandra Mnuskin
February 9, 2005
Story of Evolution—Paper #1

Evolution and the Theory of Everything

Is evolution a story of random chaos that somehow produces order on a grander scale? In his book What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr argues that evolution is made up of chaotic chance events that with time produce an orderly, diverse world of species that seem to be perfectly fitted for their environment. Like the story of evolution, the story of modern physics tells of disorder on a microscopic, quantum level which makes up the orderly and predictable world of large matter. It is possible however, that order is present even in the seemingly disordered realm of both evolution and quantum mechanics, and that man kind has simply not yet understood the order that is present even amidst the apparent chaos of natural selection and the quantum world.

Mayr argues that evolution is essentially a result of chance. There are many unpredictable factors that account for the process of natural selection. The mutation of genes is a random occurrence. The environment an organism is in may induce a certain gene to be apparent in a certain way. An unexpected change in the environment makes a certain phenotype more advantageous for the environment, and an environmental catastrophe may, by chance, wipe out a part of the population with a certain phenotype.

Yet despite all the randomness of natural selection, Mayr's story of evolution tells of an extraordinary diversity of species that seem to have fine-tuned adaptations for various environments over a long period of time. Mayr describes in detail the controversy about whether it is chance or necessity that is the driving force of evolution. He concludes with the idea that even though species appear to be perfectly adapted for their environment "every attribute is ultimately the product of variation, and this variation is largely a product of chance" (Mayr, 2001, p.229)

Mayr's theory of evolution echoes the two principles of modern physics, quantum mechanics and general relativity. Together the two explain all worldly phenomena with two completely opposing theories—one for the miniscule world of quantum mechanics and the other for the time and space fabric making up our tangible world. As noted by Nobel laureate Richard Feynman "Things on a small scale behave nothing like things on a large scale" (McKie, 2004, p.1). The world of quantum mechanics is very much like the randomness of natural selection that drives evolution. These tiny and random particles that exist in a world of chance do make up the well ordered world of stars, planets and galaxies; just as the random fluctuations of natural selection make up the order of evolved species.

Einstein's principle of general relativity joins together gravity and the time and space continuum and is essential for understanding the movement of our planets and galaxies. On the opposing front is quantum mechanics, applicable to the inconceivable world of electrons and sub-atomic particles. Here in this strange world governed by chance, particles and fields jump between different possible values, photons can behave both as waves and particles and "the microscopic realm is a rolling frenzy, awash in a violent sea of quantum fluctuations" consistent with the uncertainty principle that governs the quantum world (Greene, 2003).

Modern physics has no way of combining these two opposing theories. It is impossible to use quantum mechanics to explain the movement of large objects of the universe, and likewise impossible to predict the behavior of quarks using gravity. We are left with a conundrum. Are we, as Mayr proposes, to accept the fact that uncertainty and certainty are part of the same world? That on a smaller level the universe is random and only appears to be ordered on the larger scale? Noted physicist Brian Greene argues that "it is hard to believe that the deepest understanding of the universe consists of an uneasy union between two powerful theoretical frameworks that are mutually incompatible. We have one universe and therefore should have one theory" (McKie, 2004, p.2)

Albert Einstein like Greene, was convinced that there was a congruity to the universe, that a law applicable to one aspect of our world must be applicable to the other. He embarked on a solitary quest to unite all the laws of physics into one law, one story: "a theory of everything". In this last endeavor however, he proved to be unsuccessful. Isolated from the physical community Einstein wrote to a friend: "I have become a lonely old chap who is mainly known because he doesn't wear socks and who is exhibited as a curiosity on special occasions" (Greene 2003).

Now, however, fifty years after Einstein's death, physicists are once more trying to peace together a story that would encompass all theories, and join together the apparent disorder present on a microscopic level with the orderly world of the cosmos. This "holy grail" of modern physics has taken by storm much of the physical community, a large portion of which is becoming convinced that an all encompassing theory is indeed truly possible (Greene, 2003).

At the heart of the matter are strings. Tiny threads of energy making up the smallest chaotic particles like quarks and electrons. All of the forces that are observed throughout nature, gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear could all be explained on an even smaller level than quantum mechanics. String theorists proclaim that these seemingly opposing forces are all merely reflections of the different ways strings can vibrate. As noted mathematician and one of the first pioneers in String Theory Michael Green explains, "You can think of the universe as a symphony or song—for both are made up of 'notes' produced by strings vibrating in particular ways" (McKie, 2004 p.2). String theory affirms that the apparent randomness of particles is in fact, manifestations of the patterns of the vibrations of a string. The vibrations of a string also account for the larger forces of this universe. Thus string theory encompasses all matter and all forces into one whole story unified by the oscillations of strings (Greene, 2003).

It is not the purpose of this paper to go into the details and problems of String Theory. Suffice to say the theory in its present state is toeing the line between actual science and philosophy. Not only have there been no concrete proofs in support of the hypothesis, but the mathematics of the idea delves into an almost surreal world of multiple dimensions that appear to be something out of a science-fiction novel (McKie, 2004).

However unbelievable the theory may be, the very possibility of it creates profound implications for Mayr's story of evolution. There is a possibility that we simply do not understand the world of chaos enough to observe the logical rules that govern the game of evolution. In its essence, String Theory contradicts Mayr's account of evolution refuting utterly any idea of intelligent design. He declares that "the beliefs of creationists are in conflict with the findings of science" (Mayr, 2001 p. 4)

Despite his acceptance of Quantum mechanics, Einstein proclaimed: "an inner voice tells me that it [Quantum mechanics] is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us closer to the secret of the 'Old One.' I, at any rate, am convinced that He is not playing at dice" (Greene, 2003). The idea that intelligent design is not in conflict with science is therefore not a new one. There may yet be found rules that govern the most chaotic of particles, the most unpredictable of mutations. Through Sting Theory we may yet discover a unity of principles in the physical world as well as in the story of evolution.

Greene, B. (2003, July). The Theory of Everything [Online]. Available:

Mayr, E. (2001). What Evolution Is. New York: Perseus Books Group.

McKie, R. (2004, July). As Long as a Piece of String. New Statesman [Online],

Full Name:  Liz Paterek
Username:  epaterek@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Teaching Science
Date:  2005-02-11 16:03:57
Message Id:  12794
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Science is often taught as the "real truth" (1); however, this approach is inaccurate and does not benefit science. Science should be taught as one of many possible explanations for an event based on experimental evidence. The root of the problem of teaching evolution and other controversial science within schools not lies in the subject material but also in the manner in which it is taught. Changing the way science is taught would improve the understanding and application of science and possibly get rid of some of the controversy; however, but teaching science as truth creates problems for the acceptance and use of science. Therefore it must be ensured that science is taught in manner that full represents how it works.

Science is often taught as a method set out to provide truth. Mayr states that when seeking truth we turn to science (1). The author of a high school science textbook, which received the stamp stating that evolution is only a theory, complains that the other science is presented as being true with the exception of evolution. He is offended by this statement because he feels that if other science is taught as fact, evolution should be presented in a similar manner (2). This statement is of truth in science inaccurate but it is representative of the manner in which science is often presented in the classroom. For example, students are not taught that gravity is one possible explanation behind why things fall to the ground, and that it is very well supported by experimental evidence. Instead they are taught that things fall because there is gravity. This makes gravity seem like truth.

Science can never be proven. It is simply an explanation for some event that is based on experimental results. As long as the experiments continue to support this story, it does not require revision. However, this does not make it true; it simply means that all evidence up until this point has supported that story. At any point some new evidence can be presented that changes the story. While that evidence must be tested further to make sure that it is accurate, the fact that the story is malleable is something that is unique to science. Another unique aspect to science is that its claims are able to be tested and disproved. It provides a mechanism that requires scientists to validate their theories with evidence (3). Since individual perspectives can play a role in science, there are always multiple ways that the story can be told based on the evidence gathered. This provides many paths that can lead to theories that better support the evidence, although none can ever be proven correct. These aspects make science different from religion, which often does not offer an explanation for events or provide repeatable experiments.

A story can be described as the summary of events, and is often influenced in some manner by the author's perspective (4). Science then is a story which is built on events, called experiments. The story that is told is influenced by those who tell it. The Catholic Church for instance, can look at Darwin's writings and state that there is an element of intelligent design in evolution (5). By citing the "irreducible complexity" of things such as the immune system response, one biochemist argues this intricateness is the "hallmark of intelligent design". However, this perspective is not scientific because the biochemist answers questions posed against the theory with responses like "we don't know". He also believes that the diversity of life is "a mystery" and offers no evidence outside of the complexity of the system or experimentation that can be done to validate his ideas (3). However, from Darwin's perspective, a more scientific perspective, there is only evolution, it has no higher purpose. Things that evolved exist only by random chance and their beneficial effect on the organism. Darwin uses evidence such as the fossil record, comparative embryology, and vestigial structures in species to support his claims (1). Today computer programs can be used to validate the theory of random chance and natural selection, showing that over time a random pattern can produce something that appears to have been made through intelligent design.

Presenting science as a story has many benefits. Students can more accurately understand what science can provide human society. Therefore when they approach science, it will not seem as thought it brings ultimate truth but provides explanations that can be beneficial to the understanding of the world around us. This also permits science to be more malleable. When people do not accept it as truth and are willing to question older theories, new theories can be formulated. This can move science in a new direction. Stories accepted as absolute truth can be dangerous because people tend to be unwilling to change their views in light of new evidence or a story that better summarizes observations. This is clearly seen in the current debate over evolution where evolution is still so strongly fought against in part because it goes against a "truth" that humans are special and superior. This unwillingness to change can lead to stubbornness and the inability for science to find new theories that benefit human understanding.

By changing the way science is taught, it may make it less controversial in the classroom. There does not seem to be any dispute over learning other religions in school. Most schools speak about Greek and Roman mythology. The lack of dispute is most likely due to the fact that mythology is not presented as a fact but a story. It does not threaten the prevailing religion. When science is taught as absolute fact and it .will sometimes go against Biblical teachings and it becomes a threat to religion.
Presenting science as a story and not fact poses some problems. People may be unwilling to accept the fact that science is not provable. Knowing that we cannot really prove anything is a disconcerting thought. People may reject it or fight against it. People may also be less willing to use science as a basis for understanding because it cannot provide truth. Religious alternatives like creationism often offer a comfort of seeing the "world as stable and purposeful" (3). Since religion offers comfort and truth it may sway people who feel they need some truth in their lives. Another worry is that common understanding of words like theory may taint perspective. Edward Larson states that the understanding of the words theory is "akin to 'hunch'"; however, to scientists it means "a systematic framework of explainable observations." (3) With these common misunderstandings, it would be easy for teachers to write off evolution and other controversial science as merely a "hunch" rather than a well researched and documented event that seems rational based on the evidence we are provided. People may lack the understanding that just because it can never really be proven, does not mean that the overwhelming amount of evidence that supports much of science can be ignored. This means that teaching science in a way that still emphasizes that the theories are carefully researched and backed with strong evidence.

Presenting science as a story is beneficial to the scientific process and will create less controversy. In teaching science as a possible story, the door is opened for students to think for themselves in trying to understand the way the world works rather than relying on ideas of the past. However, it must be ensured that science is treated with respect despite the fact that it is not provable. Classroom must state that science is based on a large amount of experimental evidence and that it is testable. While it can never be proven, an individual can choose to believe in whatever they wish.

Works Cited:
1) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books. ©2001. New York
2) Evolution Ruling Gets Cheers from Scientists. CNN.com. 14 Jan 2005. 5 Feb 2005.
Available WWW: http://www.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/01/14/evolution.stickers.ap/
3) Adler, Jerry Doubting Darwin. Newsweek. 7 Feb. 2005
4) Dictionary.com. 7 Feb 2005
Available WWW: dictionary.com
5) Milner, et all. Intelligent Design? American Institute of Biological Sciences April 2002. 5 Feb 2005. ©2005
Available WWW: http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/nhmag.html

Full Name:  Haley Bruggemann
Username:  hbruggem@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Intelligent Design: Will it Stand the Test of Time?
Date:  2005-02-11 16:31:13
Message Id:  12795
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

Intelligent design is the theory that the theory of evolution is simply not explanation enough for the complexity of the world and that all organisms must be the product of careful and conscious design (Miller). It declares that organisms were built, just like the machines we build today, and that they were not the end results of a process of random mutation or natural selection. Some supporters talk of the existence of a grand designer, but fail to mention the designer's origin and nature. The arguments made for this relatively new and controversial theory can be refuted successfully using Darwin's ideas. To that end, intelligent design seems to lack the proper support and cannot possibly hope to stand the test of time as Darwinism has for over 150 years.

Intelligent design can be challenged beginning with the idea that every organism is perfectly designed and optimally suited to their life and environment. The problem with this idea is that there are design flaws in many organisms, flaws which no intelligent designer should have dreamed of including. The human eye, for instance, is only one example. According to Richard Dawkins, "some of the parts in our eyes have been wired backwards." He goes on to say that the eye of a squid or octopus is similar to the human eye, except wired correctly. There are scores of other examples, animals with tusks that are too heavy and weigh them down, even if only slightly, the blind spot in a horse's eyesight, or the fact that male birds use their brightly colored chests to attract mates, but at the same time, attract predators.

Furthermore, the structures seem to have imperfect design plans, and not just imperfect functions. The arrangement of the eye, if we were to look at it as if it had at one point been a blueprint, makes little sense and certainly does not produce the most optimal quality of vision. "No one, for example, would suggest that the neural connections should be placed in front of the photoreceptor cells—thus blocking the light from reaching them—rather than behind the retina" (Miller).

Proponents also claim that such complex organisms could not have come to be just by chance. However, Darwinian natural selection is not about chance. In fact, the element of chance is rather small. There are a series of small steps over a very long period of time, what is called macroevolution. Mayr stresses that "it is important to emphasize that all macroevolutionary processes take place in populations and in the genotypes of individuals, and are thus simultaneously microevolutionary processes" (Mayr, 190). Each step makes the structure and consequently the organism more complex, but the steps may be miniscule. "Given enough time (thousands of years) and material (millions of individuals in a species), many genetic changes will occur that result in slight improvements in a system of a structure such as the eye" (Dawkins).

Similarly, patterns in organisms can be explained by evolution and natural selection. It may be true that some animals look designed due to patterns, such as the number of legs in insects or a set of shared traits or behavior between two different species. Evolution not only provides specific scientific evidence for the ideas that it lays claim to, but can also accurately predict these patterns. One such prediction was the assumption, upon finding an orchid with an 11 inch nectar sac, that there must somewhere exist a moth with a proboscis of exactly the same length. The moth was discovered in 1980, years and years after the prediction had been made (Babinski). Likewise is the claim that DNA has too complex a pattern to it and is thus proof of intelligent design. DNA does have a pattern, but an unspecified one, and it also contains parts that appear to have no purpose, or "junk DNA" (Carter). Intelligent design has thus far not made any such predictions, and does not appear to possess any such practical applications. There are simply no testable explanations.

When we think about Darwinism, we think about fossil records and genes, cold hard scientific evidence. Some who support intelligent design claim that it has scientific evidence and that it is, in fact, a science. Intelligent design says that science should include supernatural explanations, that it should be open once more to the possibility. "At it's heart, intelligent design is a revival of an argument made by British philosopher William Paley in 1802" (Ratliff). Intelligent design is empirical in nature, and the scientific evidence, the so-called perfection of species, gives it little weight as a true science. In an August 2004 article, Chris Mooney writes that intelligent design has failed to successfully claim the mantle of science, and at the same time, has failed to successfully discard the mantle of religion. Some believe that science can never be dogmatic, and that intelligent design is nothing more than a pseudoscience. Though Darwin's ideas have been questioned and criticized, and though they are only a theory, scientifically, Darwinism holds it's own. For 150 years, the principles of natural selection have been applied to our daily lives, in something as random as physical therapy or pharmacology. The same cannot be said of intelligent design.

And so we have arrived at a crossroads. The uproar over teaching intelligent design as a separate and valid theory has created bitter opponents. Will future evidence support intelligent design, causing it to continue to be taught and studied 150 years from now? Will it survive only to increase it's wealth of supportive evidence, as Darwinism has? The state of intelligent design today certainly does not suggest that this is possible or even probable. The slope is too slippery, the evidence too easily explained away by any of the combination of Darwinism, physics, and simple probability. The chances for complex life forms to develop are not as miniscule as intelligent design suggests, and arguments made for intelligent design can be countered with design flaws, pattern flaws, and the lack of any true science within the theory. Before we can accept intelligent design as we have accepted Darwinism, it must be able to stand, proudly and properly supported, on it's own.


Babinski, Edward T. "Intelligent Design: Irreducible match of orchid and moth?" Edward T. Babinski. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Carter, J. Stein. "DNA Structure and Function." Biology 104. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Dawkins, Richard, as qtd in "Mother Nature, the Imperfect Designer", Sunday Telegraph , September 26, 1993, p. 149.

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

Miller, Kenneth R. "Life's Grand Design." PBS Online. 6 Feb. 2005. < http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/change/grand/>.

Mooney, Chris. "IDing ID." CSICOP Online. 5 Feb. 2005. .

Ratliff, Evan. "The Crusade Against Evolution." Wired Magazine. 6 Feb. 2005. < http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/evolution.html>.


Full Name:  Kelsey Lane Smith
Username:  klsmith@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Of the Body: How Evolution Fits with other Creation Stories
Date:  2005-02-11 16:57:44
Message Id:  12796
Paper Text:
14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1 Corinthians 12

Where do we come from? Why are we here? Inquiring minds have asked–and answered–these questions of origin for thousands of years. As a consequence, every culture has a response that holds claim to a slightly different method for establishing the ancestors of the life that exists on earth today. These stories each have their place in the "body" of knowledge about process that made earth a habitable planet with the capacity to support a broad range of species.

In "What Evolution Is", Myer proffers that evolution was the source of higher life forms. He says that evolution has been proven true enough times so that it is no longer a theory and can be considered an accepted fact. This is similar to the other creation stories because they, too, can be viewed as truth by those who believe what they say. The difference is that evolution has "tangible" proof (in the form of fossils).

This same type of proof is obviously lacking in the creation stories because with them, current life is the result of the efforts of a supreme being (or beings, as the case may be), who largely created all creatures by thinking or speaking. Some examples of supreme beings are the Hindu Divine Self-existent, the Sumerian Gods, and the African Ancient One (known as Unjukunklu, the Zulu creator).

Myer's explanation of how life became more diverse is similar to other creation stories in that at one time, Earth changed from have few animals to having many different kinds. In all of the stories, an outside force is necessary for life to exist. With evolution, that force is energy. In the other stories, however, the force is a different kind of energy. It is the will to drive change that leads to the existence of the first creatures.

Evolution and other creation stories account for why some species existed previously that are not on earth now. Evolution says that a species becomes extinct because it is no longer adapted to its environment—as in the conditions in the habitat changed and the species was not capable of responding rapidly enough—and is thus incapable of reproducing and allowing the population to continue.

Other creation stories, by contrast, place the blame on the creatures themselves, who exist in close proximity to the creator. For all we know, the environmental conditions are not remarkably different from when the first examples of a particular species were created. Instead, the creator became dissatisfied with the created and took the liberty of starting over.

One such example occurs in chapter 6, verse 5 of the book of Genesis: "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (NIV)." Therefore, He decided to destroy all of humanity except for Noah and his family because "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (NIV 6:8)." For some people, this story is rooted in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.

However, other cultures have similar flood stories, such as the Apache story Jicarilla. According to this story, other people predated the Apaches. The people were told to go to the tops of four mountains and not to look at the flood or sky. Since only a few people listened, all the rest perished. Those who looked at the water turned into frogs and those who looked at the sky turned into birds.

Though the stories that explain the origin of humanity differ in some ways, they are strikingly similar in others. Even with their differences they are still part of the body of knowledge that can be used to explain the past.


Full Name:  Ivelina Yonova
Username:  iyonova@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Clash between Creationists and Evolutionists
Date:  2005-02-11 17:03:54
Message Id:  12797
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

I cannot recall a specific moment that I learned about evolution and I don't remember anybody in particular ever teaching me Darwin's theory of evolution. For me it has been something I have always known. But I have also never been a pious Christian and have always thought of Genesis as just a story in the Bible. Now it's almost traumatic for me to see that there are people who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible and devote their lives and energy to invalidating the theory of evolution. Ernst Mayr's book "What evolution is" is hardly a novel and definitely couldn't be read as one. It is simply a text book about the theory of evolution. Before I read a number of articles on the topic and heard other people's opinions I never believed that any reasonable man could even think that evolutionary theory was wrong. That new perspective has made me think hard over a few issues around the battle between creationism and evolution. I will start with "theoretically" agreeing with anti-evolutionist point that The Modern Theory of Evolution is just a theory and not a fact yet. The concept came as a result of numerous observations and in its essence is striving to logically explain the diversity of life on Earth. It is not necessarily proven and accounted for with sufficient (that could be argued) evidence but it seems to fit the observations and so far be consistent with the new discoveries. Although he considers Darwin's theory to be more of a fact, Ernst Mayr himself agrees and points out that there are many more things to be explained and gaps to be filled. His book simply presents a more strongly enforced view of the theory as irrefutable because of the numerous consistent "proof" ( Mayr 13). Every advocate of a certain idea would normally enforce his views as the right ones. This, however, I see as the ignition between the creationism vs. evolution battle. Mayr is definitely not right to impose the idea that evolution is a fact, but neither are creationists. That is why I feel that it would be a fair start if both ideas are thought of as theories. I wouldn't like to go in detail about why creationism is simply a theory but I will emphasize a few points. First of all, creationism has no proof either. That is except for the Bible, of course, which, however, has a sound validity only if considered in a strictly religious and theological manner. Furthermore, not only creationists cannot prove that God created the Earth and all living organisms, but also they fail to account for the numerous phenomena like fossils discovered which resemble manlike and monkeylike structures. Although I believe it is fair and adequate to consider refer to both creationism and evolution as theories, there is a major difference between the two. Darwin's theory of evolution is a proposal of a process or system which accounts for life on earth as we know it and life on earth as we think it was based on research. It is a strictly scientific theory which is no different than the theory of heliocentricity. Creationism, on the other hand, is part of a much larger picture. Its fundaments lie in the Christian theology and are inseparably connected to the religion itself ( Mayr 3). And Christianity as a religion does not only serve to explain phenomena around us but is more a moral code, a basis for social behavior which guides a large part even of the modern/contemporary world. This is an enormous difference because a theory can be refuted disproved and denied validity, but religion is the basis of our society. If it is claimed invalid it would mean that the moral and humane aspect of our society is condemned. Furthermore, that would be impossible because morality cannot be proven wrong; it could gradually change and evolve but not be suddenly claimed untrue or void. This distinction is maybe the reason for the clash of the two theories. Usually when there has been a general explanation for some phenomenon and a new one is proposed (one that fits better the data and observations) the new one will substitute the old one. There are numerous examples of this but the problem here is that evolution is in conflict with creationism which means that it is in conflict with religion as well. There have been other scientific discoveries that the church has declared heresy but none of them has been involved with the direct refutation of the Bible. Evolution if accepted for a fact of truth will destroy the foundation of Christianity which lies in the Genesis (1)Greeley). This will result in massive (and has actually already caused) enormous trouble within the religiously active parts of the community. It will raise questions not only about God but also about human nature and morality. This is why the clash between evolutionists and creationists will go on for much longer. Society is not ready to turn its back to religion yet and take up its own way (which itself is a very interesting topic of discussion). Having grown in a relatively nonreligious family I have failed to pick up any sincere appreciation of religion and the ideas behind it. It is obvious that I am prejudice on the topic but yet I have tried very hard to present a logical interpretation between the religion vs. science conflict. And although I personally regard evolution as a fact and not theory, I believe that if religion was interpreted with a more open mind it could live with science, not in opposition to it. As Andrew Greeley points out: "religious truths indeed [...] go beyond the realm of science but not against it." (YOUR REFERENCE NUMBER).




Full Name:  Carolyn Theresa Dahlgren
Username:  cdahlgre@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Malo spiritu ad templum propellbar-(Translation: I was pushed towards/against the church by an evil spirit)
Date:  2005-02-11 17:08:16
Message Id:  12799
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Chilly November winds blew through the darkened alleys of Touraine but the man staggering and stumbling over the rough cobble stones paid them no mind. The hood of Rene Descartes' cloak whipped around his head while its body flew snapping behind him, like spirits grasping and pulling his cloak as if trying to drag him back to the graveyard. Descartes paid no head to the tempest outside him as he wended his way home; his inner turmoil far surpassed the blustery night around him.

Streets were dark where hours before there had been laughter and singing, running and dancing. Gradually, the crowds of Saint Martin's Day had dissipated. After a long night of music, the tired couples who had paired off for a jig during the night stumbled back home. Their feet were stiff from stomping and bruised from the mistakes of their partner. Even the drunks and beggars had forsaken the streets; seeking shelter from the biting winds. The children had returned to their homes and their beds, taking their Saint Martin's Day lanterns with them. They were flimsy, hand made paper structures with glowing rushes stuck inside. Unwary children would find that without the proper caution the whole contraption would set itself on fire. The only solution at that point was to cast the flaming thing upon the cobblestones and smother it.

While others had returned to their homes and their beds, Descartes could find no rest. His mother, he had been told, had died bringing him into the world and this night, a night of remembrance, he had felt obliged to visit her grave and pay his respects. Ever since he had kneeled down and prayed beside the sepulcher, however, he had felt strangely. A dull prickle in his stomach, an ache in his head. It has started small but had grown to an almost unbearable heat. His vision was blurred, the street, the night, and his thoughts all became one. He was having difficulty walking. He was "'obliged to lurch to his left side... because he felt a great weakness on his right (Rodis-Lewis p.39).' Madness seemed to have taken over his body. His brain shuddered inside his skull; his chain of thought had slipped a gear. The pale moonlight did nothing to hide the burning flush of his fevered face.

Once he returned home, Descartes was again drawn to his mother. She lived an eternal life in the gallery at La Haye. There was housed a full-length the portrait of her painted in oils. Descartes was usually of the opinion that her visage was serene and peaceful. Tonight, however, she seemed animated with discontent. It was as if an enraged shade had taken residence in very oils and canvases of her being. A disapproving frown marred her face which was illuminated by the moonlight shining from the adjacent window casement. "What have you done?" she demanded.

Her accusation struck to the very core of his being. It pierced both his mind and his heart. Under her glowering gaze, his weak and fevered body went slack and he fell to the floor at her feet.

In the gallery, Descartes dreamed three dreams: one of turmoil, one of choice and one of consequences. In the first dream, he was once again surrounded by wind. It "blew him violently... a malo spiritu ad templum propellbar...[It translates :] I was pushed against the church by an evil spirit... his first intention [had been] to take refuge inside [the church], to entrust himself to God (Rodis-Lewis p 39)" but the wind had swallowed him up.

The howling winds outside La Haye jarred Descartes out of slumber, but soon he was asleep again.

The tempest outside grew and as he was "carried off...by this 'impetuous wind,' Descartes was astonished to see those around him 'upright and firm on their feet,' talking among themselves with 'another person in the middle of the college yard,' who called hum by his name (Rodis-Lewis p. 39)." "Come," stated the figure. Descartes found that he could not disobey. The figure was made of both shadow and sun. Light and darkness cloaked the being equally, making it mysterious and frightening. The being led Descartes into the courtyard of the college church and gave to him a melon. It was a fruit from a foreign country and Descartes had never seen before. The weight of the fruit, however, felt oddly familiar in his hand.

Thunder clapped and struck down and Descartes awoke again, but once more he drifted back asleep.

He then found himself in his study room with an encyclopedia in front of him. He "extended his hand toward the encyclopedia, [but] he seized another book that had suddenly appeared, the famous Corpus poetarum...he opens it randomly to find counsel and 'stumbled on the line: Quod vitae sectabor iter?...'What path shall I follow in life?' (Rodis-Lewis p. 41)

A sinking feeling of dread overcome Descartes. A nausea and terror that roused him from his fitful slumber. His parting thoughts: "'I made a mistake'...'I am deceived'... 'we are always deceived, even in things we think we know best' (Rodis-Lewis p. 79) reverberated in his head.

The storm had past. Day was beginning and the light of the dawn filled the gallery with a preternatural light. Descartes roused slowly from his dreaming but was startled awake by the sudden realization that he was not alone. There! Across from him! A specter! His mother's portrait come to life! The oil painting hung behind him where he had collapsed in sleep; yet, here was her image before him. Frightened, he grabbed the first object before him and, with a great cry, flung it at the phantom. His aim was true. The phantom shattered, mirrored glass scattered across the floor. The room was reflected upon itself in each flying shard of glass and time stood still.

Descartes was no longer in the gallery. He was in a new world where Philosophy had evolved into Science. Men wore pristine, white laboratory coats to match their blonde hair, blue eyes and smooth, pale skin. A halo of light surrounded these men, these Scientists. An innate protective aura called truth was imbued in them. Descartes saw that, in this time, science and truth were inseparable... for how could one prove anything without proper experimentation and unyielding, scientific data. Within each scientist, each held the answers to all the questions in the world and they were constantly working to uncover this 'real truth'(Mayr p. 5). They walked in a hurried but dignified manner, as if they were urgently needed somewhere important. They were always busy, but if they seemed distracted while they worked, nobody thought anything of it... who would dare impede the progress of science? These men were ambitious and motivated creatures, with "an intrinsic drive toward a definite goal, particularly toward greater perfection" (Mayr p. 77). They lived their lives in and for the dream of science.

As these scientists scurried to and fro, they occasionally knocked into working men. Their hands were worn and cracked, their bodies were covered with a fine layer of filmy grim that clung to their bodies as a testament of their lowly vocation. The lived their lives on the earth and, while many of them were quite satisfied with their daily bread, they lived with the knowledge that society held them in a lower regard that reflected their earthly grounding. Like their scientific counterparts, they would return to their houses at night and dream their dreams. But the dreams of a working man were not protected by the aura science. They were naked, vulnerable... imperfect. Science did not tolerate imperfection. Only the fittest could survive. So, their dreams were broken; crushed under the feet of scientists like the fires of a burning Saint Martin's Day lantern. Order was a necessity.

Descartes flinched, turning away from this world. Behind him, though, was the figure from before. The being shrouded in darkness, but at the same time emitting an aura of radiance and knowledge. Impulsively, he called out to the figure. "What happened to my world?" he hoarsely croaked.

The response came, "It is 'old; [it is for a] God hundreds of years ago. Not about God now.'

'But God doesn't change.'

'Men do, though.'

'What difference does that make?'

'All the difference in the world...' (Huxley p. 277)"

"'Then you think there is no God?'

'No, I think there quite probably is one...But he manifests himself in different ways to different men...'

'How does he manifest himself now?...'

'Well, he manifests himself as an absence; as though he weren't there at all.'

'That's your fault.'

'Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice...'(Huxley p. 281)"

The figure turned and retreated. Descartes reached at his hand to call him back but he could not reach the figure and his silent appeal went unanswered.

Abruptly Descartes awoke.

"What strange dreams!" he thought. The visions were still sharp in his mind, the afterimages were tantalizing but fading testaments to his dreams. What madness had raged through his body, fueling this unnaturally extended night? With the final dream, the psychosis that had held him captive, relinquished its hold. His fever had broken; his body was no longer possessed of the burning Promethean fires. Exhausted, his eyes drifted shut and he fell into a dreamless sleep.

In the morning, he woke and pondered the happenings of the night. He remembered the festivities that had occurred, the visit he had felt compelled to take to his mother's grave and the strange fever that had possessed him afterwards. He did not remember much about his walk home, his mind had been turned inwards in a fit of self examination. He remembered visiting his mother again, this time in the gallery, and though he did not remember falling asleep, he recalled the dreams he had dreamed while sleeping at his mother's feet. Overall, he felt the he had recollected a fair piece of the night, especially considering the strange events and possession of his body. What he could not remember, however, was returning to his bed or the dreams he had had thereafter. Nor could he account for the broken mirror across from his mother's portrait. All his memories of the dawn hours were either shrouded in darkness or were enveloped in a blinding brilliance. His mind was uneasy for a moment or two, griped by a phantom pain of the night fever. Gradually, the feelings dissipated and he began to explore his earlier dreams. These were more tangible and, therefore, more satisfying for him. As he lay in bed, a comprehension began to come to him. The dreams were inspiring and full of unrequited promises! He had the fruit of knowledge, the world was in his hands. Truth lay before him, he was a Philosopher. If he remembered another term for that word, a word from a later dream, he closed it up in his mind.

Descartes turned to his desk and animatedly began to write.


1. Binion, Travis W., Jr. "Evolution of the Scientific Method". Scientific Symposium I-1988. http://www.urantiabook.org/archive/science/binion1.htm. Date of Access: Feb. 10, 2005.

2. Brewins, Kester. The Emerging Church. "The Body of Christ Could Use Some Sleep (Or What the Church Could Learn from ITunes)". http://www.emergingchurch.info/reflection/kesterbrewin/. Date of Access: Feb. 10, 2005.

3. Calhoone, Lawrence (Ed). From Modernism to Postmodernism, an Anthology. "From Meditations on First Philosophy" by René Descartes. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing 2003.

4. Greenberg, g. and M. Haraway (Eds.). The Encyclopedia of Comparative Psychology. "Thermodynamics, Evolution, and Behavior" by Rod Swenson. New York, NY: Garland Publishers, Inc. 1997. http://www.entropylaw.com/thermoevolution1.html. Date of Access: Feb. 10, 2005.

5. Haynes, Judie. "Festivals of Light around the World". http://www.everythingesl.net/lessons/light_festivals.php. Date of Access: Feb. 11, 2005.

6. Huxley, Aldous. A Brave New World. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1932.

7. Lawhead, William. The Philosophical Journal. "The Philosophical Journal, an Interactive Approach." http://www.mhhe.com/mayfieldpub/lawhead/chapter3/descartes_legacy.htm. Date of Access: Feb. 10, 2005.

8. Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2001.

9. Rodis-Lewis, Geneviève; translated by Jane Marie Todd. Descartes: his life and thought. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Full Name:  Kate Shiner
Username:  kshiner@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Hegelian dialectic: A productive method of evolution?
Date:  2005-02-11 17:22:32
Message Id:  12801
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Ernst Mayr pioneered the study of the history of biology and the philosophy of biology as a valid discipline. Furthermore, he is widely considered to be one of the most important architects of modern evolutionary theory since Charles Darwin. In his recent obituary in The New York Times, Carol Yoon describes Ernst Mayr as "a strong believer in the Hegelian dialectic as a way of advancing understanding." (1) What underlies the Hegelian dialetic is the assumption that a continual clash of opposites; the thesis and the antithesis, is required in order to generate a synthesis which advances beyond both. However, this model for the evolution of human understanding directly conflicts with the widely accepted variable population model Mayr supports in regard to biological evolution. Are biological and cultural evolution fundamentally opposed in this respect?

Following the Hegelian tradition Mayr was known make bold, inflammatory statements regarding his views on evolution, inviting rebuttal and debate. In the Preface to his book What Evolution Is, he writes, "...my account is directed to those creationists who want to know more about the current paradigm of evolutionary science, if for no other reason than to be able to better argue against it." (2) He then begins the first chapter by listing a number of "Anticreationist Books," and states that he considers creationist stories as opposed the "real truth" that only science (and presumably, his version of evolutionary theory) can provide.

However, in this same book Mayr emphasizes the historical importance of what he calls "population thinking" as opposed to "essentialism" in allowing for the modern understanding of biological evolution. He writes, "What we find among living organisms...are not constant classes (types), but variable populations...every individual is uniquely different from every other individual." He also states that this type of thinking "...favors the acceptance of gradualism." Mayr emphasizes that this shift in perspective is no small detail, and goes on to assert that "Population thinking...is the foundation of modern evolutionary theory and one of the basic constituents of the philosophy of biology." It is apparent that Mayr fully accepts the concept of gradualism as a driving force behind biological evolution. Nevertheless, from his historical approach as well as his introductory comments it is also apparent that he believes an essentialist and brusque approach is the most productive way to drive the evolution of the scientific discipline.

Is the "population thinking" approach to biological evolution completely valid? I believe it is, with one important exception. It is conceivable to imagine how life may have evolved all the way back from the randomly vibrating particles produced after the big bang. Although all the details have not been worked out, scientists can imagine how natural (even randomly evolved) forces may have brought together the particles in certain ways to form elements, then stars and planets. We can also imagine how natural selection could begin to work on certain clusters of these randomly assembled particles to evolve into life. All of these processes fit into the variable population model of evolution.

However, before the big bang could occur all of the matter in the universe must have been collected together, and then expanded into empty space. This fundamental contrast between matter and the empty space it is in brings to mind the Hegelian dialectic. Here, it seems, thesis and antithesis must come together to create synthesis. The strict categories of matter and absence of matter are essentialist and typological. Therefore, although population thinking is a valid way to understand current biological evolution, essentialism in the form of thesis vs. antithesis cannot be completely dismissed from the process.

How productive is the Hegelian dialectic to the evolution of the scientific "story" or of stories in general? Could its function here be similar to that in biological evolution, a way to jumpstart the process but ultimately irrelevant or even destructive to progress? I believe this is precisely the case.

Studies done by Albert Rothenberg, a psychologist at Yale, suggest that personal creativity positively correlates with an "oppositional responding" style in free association tasks. (3) This style is defined by people who associate a word with its polar opposite. He suggests that people who are best able to process ideas of simultaneous opposition are often able to come up with new perspectives that integrate both points. In this way I believe the Hegelian dialectic does spur creative progress, because a "problem" must be defined before a new story to resolve it, or an answer, can be created.

However, I believe this approach does at some point lead to stagnation and even destruction. I think this is best illustrated by the fact that both Stalin and Hitler's regimes derived their principals from Hegel's philosophy. (4) The idea that a thesis and an antithesis must be reconciled after they are defined is very central. If one theory is consistently supported, as the theory of evolution is compared to the theory of creationism, then the previous antithesis is no longer promotes creativity. Mayr seemed to feel that creationism was still a formidable antithesis, even though he insisted that by his definitions it had been thoroughly disproven. This is where his approach was more inflammatory than constructive. It would seem that the only way his thesis could now evolve is from a population approach. Many scientists are now attempting to gradually refine and build upon the theory of evolution in this way. Some of them may be former creationists, or still define themselves as creationists but essentially support the theory of evolution. There is no way to know which from which unique perspective the next developments will come.


1) Yoon, Carol K. "Ernst Mayr, Pioneer in Tracing Geography's Role in the Origin of Species, Dies at 100." New York Times: 5 Feb. 2005.

2) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2001.

3)"Contradictory Association." The Stress Doc website

4)"Sutton, Anthony. "'Left' versus 'Right' and the Hegelian dialectic in American politics." Prison Planet: 9 July 2003.

Full Name:  Rebekah Baglini
Username:  rbaglini@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Interconnected Nature of Altruism, Culture, and Human Evolution
Date:  2005-02-11 18:23:54
Message Id:  12803
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

As humans consider our long and fascinating evolutionary history, we find a complex story punctuated with millennia-old mysteries, for every question answered another is posed. One of the most intriguing questions for me is that of human ethics: Why do most humans adopt some forms of altruistic behavior, and why does such behavior seem to be beneficial to us from an evolutionary perspective? What can we learn about this development from examining the stories of our more recent humanoid ancestors?

I argue that altruistic behavior and cultural development are codependent and, moreover, have been critical components in the human species' continued survival. The codependance of altruism and culture stems from their mutual emphasis on sharing, since both are fundamentally based on the exchange and interchange of work, ideas and experience.

This process of sharing occurs when humans not only begin exercising our seemingly unique abilities to consider ourselves in different states and times, imagined entities, situations, and stories, and abstract concepts, but also when we begin sharing and expanding our ideas and stories with other humans. Clearly this requires some development of communicative abilities, but what is more important is the presence of a desire to share and cooperate intellectually. It is not difficult to see how this initial kind of intellectual sharing facilitates acts of altruism: it is by communicating and sharing information and ideas that we form emotional attachments to one another, consequently constructing social structures and connections which will encourage cooperation, collaboration, and altruistic behavior.

This idea is illustrated by a controversial but interesting story of our ancestors, the cro magnons, and the Neanderthals. In his book The Neanderthal Enigma (6), James Shreeve presents a theory that explains the Neanderthal's extinction as in part the result of their utter lack of altruistic and cooperative behavior towards other Neanderthals, particularly the females and children of their own clans. Shreeve suggests that the almost-exclusively carnivorous males enjoyed the fruits of hunting and isolated themselves from the females, unless interested in reproductive duties, leaving the females and children to scavenge on their own. Although the Neanderthals were three to four times stronger than modern humans and well-equipped to live in their environment, they seem not to have cultivated much in the way of material culture and the primitive artifacts occasionally discovered and attributed to them are often held as controversial. (Mithin, 145 5). It is the lack of communication and empathy, leading to isolation and weakening of the females, that some scholars cite as at least one factor, and perhaps a primary one, in the evolutionary downfall of the Neanderthal.

This account of the Neanderthals is contrasted with that of their smaller, weaker successors, the cro magnon. With the ascent of the cro magnons came an explosion of intellectual innovation and art, from advances in weaponry and cooperative, group hunting technique to the creation of the first known "Venus" figurines, small sculptures glorifying the female figure, possibly used as instruments in worship. The cro magnon's ability for narrative storytelling is also evidenced by their art: their cave paintings at Lascaux depict intricate tales of large scale hunting expeditions, told like a comic strip starting at the left side and culminating at the other end of the wall with the capture of the animal.

Given the cro magnon's success in survival, in a similar environment to that of the Neanderthal but without nearly the ruggedness or strength of their predecessors, som scholars believe that their ability to share values, experience and artifacts with each other—their creation of a culture—must have had some affect on the cro-magnon's evolutionary success. Their cultural artifacts suggest a highly developed emotional sense, and a desire to share these concepts and stories with others. This would clearly facilitate the formation of social structures and emotional ties within the community.

The establishment of community and culture, and consequently emotional ties and altruistic behavior, could have helped cro magnon survive where the Neanderthals didn't only if their altruistic behavior was subject to evolutionary development. This notion that cooperative, altruistic behavior would ever be naturally selected over selfishness seems counterintuitive at first: since whole process of evolution is based upon selecting individuals who can bear the most offspring, the idea of humans maximizing their own reproductive potential by aggressively taking the best natural resources and mates they can would appear to make more sense. However, as we see every day, the majority of humans value and practice, to varying degrees, altruistic behavior, behavior that does in fact benefit us on an evolutionary level. As Erst Mayr describes in part IV of What Evolution Is, the most common and instinctive form of altruistic behavior, demonstrated in many other species besides humans, are those of a) altruism to benefit own offspring, b) kin selection, and c) altruism within one's social group. Types a) and b) in particular clearly present some benefits to the altruistic actor, in that the preservation of offspring and kin means the preservation of their own genes. Likewise, a strong, safe environment for reproducing is to some degree dependent upon cooperation among members of a social group, thus still presenting an immediate benefit to the altruistic actor. But a 4th type of altruistic behavior, reciprocal helpfulness, may be practiced among very different communities and does not present as concrete or as immediate returns to the initial altruistic agent. (Mayr, What Evolution Is, pp. 257-259 4)

Reciprocal helpfulness is essentially a tit-for-tat model, in which a helpful deed expects a helpful deed in return at some point in the future, and likewise for negative behavior. What is interesting about this model is that it does allow for freeloaders to benefit from the system without necessarily obtaining punishment: it's easy to accept a favor from another and simply never return it. And yet, nevertheless it is possible and, in real-world situations quite probable, that the system of reciprocal helpfulness will end up creating a net benefit for the community, even with the presence of selfish actors.

As is often the case, a picture or, better yet, a model is worth a thousand words. Using Netlogo models developed by the EACH project (1), the necessity of altruism within a group is made startlingly clear. EACH provides three models, each demonstrating a different form of altruistic or cooperative behavior. The first two models facilitate the control of environmental conditions; interestingly, when environmental and certain social conditions are favorable, the non-altruistic players inevitably win in the end. But when the user increases the harshness of the environmental conditions, making the "game" more challenging, it is the altruistic players' traits which keep the community alive, and may eventually lead to the altruistic players even dominating the selfish ones.

In another essay of Mayr's, he explains this phenomenon of ethical behavior being selected: "Kin selection and reciprocal helpfulness in particular will be greatly favored in a social group...One can then perhaps encapsulate the relation between ethics and evolution by saying that a propensity for altruism and harmonious cooperation in social groups is favored by natural selection." (Mayr, "Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought" 3)

As the debate over the story of evolution rages on, it is clear that one of the more incendiary topics is the meaning of evolution for humans. While some are content to call humans "nothing but animals", such a comment strikes others as not only a debasement of what they consider humans' unique and awesome qualities, but a dangerous suggestion that humans need not make ourselves behave more ethically than we perceive animals do.

Reciprocal helpfulness and other altruistic behavior is in fact exhibited in small groups of many other species, as is creativity, use of tools, and innovation. But it is the unique combination of abilities and traits with which humans are equipped which together have allowed us to create our extraordinarily diverse, technologically advanced, emotionally rich cultures, at the same time cultivating a moral sense which has enabled our species to thrive. As we increasingly extend these altruistic feelings not only to our kin or immediate group members, but to our species as a whole, we are further developing a trait that cannot be called anything but uniquely human.


1The Evolution of Altruistic and Cooporative Habits project, 11 February 2005.

2 Ehrlich, Paul. Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. New York: Penguin Press, 2002.

3"Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought", Mayr, Ernst. Based on a lecture delivered 23 September 1999.

4 Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

5 Mithin, Steven. Creativity in Human Evolution and Prehistory. London: Routledge, 1998.

6 Shreeve, James. The Neanderthal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins. New York: William Morrow & Co, 1995.

Full Name:  Britt Fremstad
Username:  bfremsta@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Useless Vestigial: the Human Appendix
Date:  2005-02-11 19:54:24
Message Id:  12805
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Let me tell you a story. At age twelve I became horribly ill, crying for hours from a most painful "stomachache". My parents, being the frugal people they are, kept me from the doctor for a full day—I would get better; I always did. By the next morning, however, my stomach still throbbed and by now I was puking blackish bile. Realizing that a catastrophe could prevail, I was rushed to the emergency room. Sure enough, something was wrong. I had appendicitis.

Due to advanced medical practices and the proximity of a skilled doctor, my appendix was quickly removed from my body via my belly button. (Yes, belly button!) My doctor told me that I was lucky because never again would I have to worry about my appendix erupting. Ernst Mayr confirmed my doctor's opinion that the human appendix is only an impediment on the species. In What Evolution Is, Mayr claims that

Every shift into a new adaptive zone leaves a residue of no longer needed morphological features that then become an impediment. One only needs to think of the many weaknesses in humans that are remnants of our quadrupedal and more vegetarian past, for instance... the caecal appendix. (143)

Why, though, did I—or any other human—have an appendix in the first place? Does the appendix have a use that I am now deprived of? If not, why is the human body wasting energy to produce the nine-centimeter long organ? This paper is my quest for an answer.
The appendix has long been considered a vestigial structure. That is, "a deconstructed, nonfunctional characteristic that has been fully functional in a species' ancestor."(Mayr, 291) Humans seem to have a fair number of other vestigial organs such as male nipples, wisdom teeth, tailbones (coccyx), and ear muscles. (1)(txtwriter.com) Each ignites its own debate, so I will focus primarily on the role of the appendix in the human body.

The appendix is present in many primates, and primarily (pun intended) used to aid in the digestion of cellulose. Located between the small and large intestines, the appendix and neighboring caecum slows down the body's digestive process. (For drawings of the structure in various mammals click (2)here.) The human appendix (commonly referred to as the vermiform appendix, although Mayr calls it the caecal appendix) has lost this cellulose-digesting ability. Dr. Douglas Theobald argues that while humans do consume some cellulose, the ability of the caecum and appendix to digest it is insignificant. Consequently, plants like grass cannot be digested by humans. (And that's why my cousin always yelled at me for eating grass!)

So, while the human appendix has lost its aptitude for digesting cellulose, recent studies have shown that it may play a different, but still trivial, role in the gastrointestinal immune system. Dr. Theobald suggests that the percentage of immune system cells produced by the appendix is not critical when compared with the overall number of lymphoid in the gut. Thus, the positive effects from the human appendix seem to be non-existent. Adverse effects, however, are familiar.

A full seven percent of the U.S. population is at risk of acute appendicitis. Risk is notably higher for children ages 11-20 and during the colder months of the year, a statistic my case retold. (3)(kidshealth.org) Although most cases of acute appendicitis can now be treated, appendectomy is a surgery that works against natural selection. Consequently, I am likely to pass on a propensity to develop appendicitis to my children. Since the majority of acute appendicitis cases pre-20th century did result in fatality, why hasn't the appendix died out as well? It is arguably maladaptive. It seems natural selection would have discarded it from the human body thousands of years ago.

As an evolutionist, it is difficult not to produce possible reasons for the prevalence of appendixes in humans. My theory is three-fold. Firstly, it must be noted that recent laparoscopies have shown that many people do lack any appendix at all. Evolution happens over time—long periods of it. It is likely that the process of natural selection has been going on all along and that it has not yet finished. Because the odds of dying from a clogged appendix are merely seven percent, it is likely that this number is just not large enough to kill off all of the carriers. Potential benefits of appendixes in hunter-and-gatherer times are also possible. If 30,000 years ago the appendix produced cellulose-digesting bacteria, humans may have been able to digest grass and other plants which would have been particularly useful in times of famine. Lastly, the energy "wasted" in building the appendix in modern men may also be trivial. Perhaps the energy required is so insignificant that it could not have been better spent elsewhere.

Vestigial structures like the appendix are often referred to as evidence of evolution. Yet while showing organisms' link to past species, they fail to show the adaptiveness of organisms to their current environments. If evolution's concept of time is not critically analyzed, this situation may feel like a catch-22. If vestigial structures are investigated over a long enough time frame, however, the loss of vestigial structures should prevail. As for humans, owing to their new technologies, this may happen in a very artificial way.


Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. Basic Books; New York, NY: 2001.


2)The Vestigiality of the Human Vermiform Appendix

3)Infections: Appendicitis

Full Name:  Michael Heeney
Username:  mheeney@haverford.edu
Title:  "Survival of the Fittest": The Flaws and Dissemination of Social Darwinism
Date:  2005-02-13 19:16:17
Message Id:  12854
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

Social Darwinism is a philosophy proposed by Herbert Spencer which sought to apply the ideas of Darwin to a social realm. Its basic tenet is that ""Society advances where its fittest members are allowed to assert their fitness with the least hindrance.", and that the unfit should "not be prevented from dying out" (1). It suffers from severe fallacies of both its own internal logic and its misinterpreting attempts to co-opt Darwin's theory of evolution to further its own validity by false association. While Spencer's attempts at applying the theories of biological evolution to the social realm fail miserably on an intellectual plane, they have actually been highly successful at being transferred onto a social plane: his idea has replicated and varied itself for almost two hundred years since being proposed, shaping American economic policy, immigration law, and political thinking up to today, while its variants have influenced everything from Hitler's eugenics to various state-sponsored incidents of ethnic cleansing. Making a meta-analysis of the method by which his idea has been propagated provides a perfect example of how Darwin's theories can, and in fact must, be applied to the social realm in order to understand the heritability, survivability, and variance of intellectually unsound ideas over time. In order to understand this, the flaws of Social Darwinism must first be expounded in detail, starting with its internal fallacies of logical coherence.

The three major fallacies it commits are the appeal to authority, retrospective determinism, and the naturalistic fallacy. It appeals to the scientific authority of Darwinism to deceptively associate scientific clout with a decidedly pseudo-scientific theory which, as will be subsequently explained, misinterprets a majority of Darwin's own thinking. It relies upon circular reasoning and retrospective determinism, or the notion that because something happened it was therefore bound to happen, when it infers that since it may be possible for certain individuals to possess genetic characteristics (intelligence, drive, noble bloodlines) that elevate them from others in terms of wealth and societal status, that then all individuals with such wealth possess such superior genetic characteristics. Therefore all wealthy (or Aryan as used in Nazi eugenics, or any other denotation of privilege) people are justified in their superiority because of the natural selection of genetic factors. This retrospective determinism is used most damningly on the poor and underprivileged, because it assumes that since individuals were born into environments with poor educational resources, rampant crime and urban decay, and other symptoms of poverty, that they all must therefore possess inferior genetic characteristics. The naturalistic fallacy, or the inference that simply because something may be true makes it morally right, comes into play in the subsequent accusation that these people deserve their impoverished state because their genes were unable to adapt to the environment. Indeed, just as certain species which cannot adapt die and become extinct, so the higher death rate in impoverished areas helps to purify the genetic pool of humanity as a whole; thus, such inferior individuals should be allowed to "die out" for the greater good, as Spencer argues. While such internal contradictions are damning enough, when one realizes the extent to which the theory misinterprets Darwin's own ideas, it becomes impossible to conclude that the heritability of ideas is based upon logic alone.

At first glance, however, it is possible to comprehend how Social Darwinism could be skewed as being justified by Darwinism. According to Mayr, survival of the fittest is an accurate term, because not all individuals have equal properties of survival, and those with the higher properties are "restricted and nonrandom" portions of the population, which oftentimes include groups. Yet ironically the aspect of the group which encourages survival is not that they all possess superior genetics, because such a grouping would be a "soft group" based on coincidence; rather, in these "hard groups", it is their ability to cooperate with each other, to alert each other of predators, pool their resources, and so on, which better insures their own survival. (Mayr 119, 131-2). Rather than breaking off into factions and allowing each other to die out, the inter-species groups that are selected for are the ones who cooperate for the greater good, something which many consider to be the underpinnings of modern ethics. An ideal state of such group adaptation would be one in which the populations cooperate for the greater good of the species, helping each other obtain the resources necessary to survive, rather than lording over them to the exclusion of others. Furthermore, selection for genetic improvement is no longer exercised in humanity, and even if it were, it would take thousands, if not millions, of years before genetically altered results would be shown (261). Thus, it is clearly impossible for Social Darwinism to produce any genetic changes, and because "intelligence", if it is even possible to typologically classify it as a singular entity, relies both upon genetic nature and environmental nurture, the notion that those who are rich have been genetically selected for this trait is even more ludicrous. Additionally, since another misinterpretation of Darwin's theories, the Lamarckian theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics has been proved categorically false, the teleological aspect of Social Darwinism is additionally disproved. "Society" itself is not advancing at all through the process of selection, or, as Mayr puts it, "Elimination does not have the purpose or the teleological goal of producing adaptation" (150). Even the stereotypical characteristics of America's wealthy, like business savvy or cultural sophistication or a hardworking belief in the American Dream, are acquired ones that cannot be heritable and therefore cannot be selected for. In biological evolution, species do not move toward some sort of greater perfection by eliminating their weaker counterparts; rather, individual populations move toward a majority of adaptable characteristics as a result of elimination (150). There is nothing inherently superior about a species of bird that has many children and a young age of fertility living in a territory of dangerous storms, compared to a species of bird with the opposite characteristics living in a placid environment where advanced age is not needed to navigate the dangerous waters and adeptly avoid predators. This distinction is especially critical as Social Darwinism employs typological thinking, lumping humans into types such as "rich" and "poor" which have fixed genetic characteristics that are respectively superior and inferior, rather than in the population thinking espoused by Darwin, where species are divided into populations with fluid characteristics that do not rely upon external value judgment.

Now that it is clear Social Darwinism suffers from both insurmountable internal logical flaws and is founded upon flimsy pillars of misinterpreted Darwinism, a major question arises: Why is it still relevant? To understand this, the three major tenets of Darwin's theory of evolution, which are heritability, random variance, and differential reproductive selection, must be applied to the idea of Social Darwinism. The idea has been heritable, most recently showing up in numerous explanations of republican political policies. It has also experienced a type of random variation, since it has spawned numerous more extreme versions of its misinterpreted brand of Darwinism, most infamously the eugenics of Hitler's Germany, and also of American immigration policy up until 1917. The only puzzling question is differential reproductive selection: since Spencer's Social Darwinism is a misinterpretation that lacks the logical coherence of Darwin's theory, in Darwin's terms, it is not as adaptable as Darwinism, and in Spencer's terms, it should ultimately become extinct due to survival of the fittest.

However, this is not the case. One is forced to re-examine the criteria by which a rational person would judge to be the most important one for an idea's survival, which is logical coherence. While it is easy to attribute the spread of largely irrational ideas merely to the ignorance and uneducated nature of the masses, this is a cynical oversimplification which misses a more profound point. Even a cursory glance at the history of human ideas shows that the longest standing ones (religious beliefs, glorification of the in-group and demonization of the out-group, division of labor and social status between men and women, etc.) have not even relied primarily upon logical coherence. Rather, they possess a psychological coherence, in that they provide for needs of the human psyche rather than the logical intellect; religion satisfies our desire to find a purpose in this world and a place in the next, political demonification solidifies group ties and encourages cooperation in the war over resources, and so on. Perhaps a similar parallel to the seemingly contradictory but actually complementary processes of biological selection, which are physical survival and sexual reproduction, exists in the selection of ideas. It seems logical coherence is more necessary for an idea's survival amongst its contemporary competitors, while psychological coherence is more necessary for its heritability, analogous to sexual reproduction, onto subsequent generations. Perhaps, following the form of the law of entropy, there is a tendency to lose of logical coherence at the gain of psychological coherence as these ideas are inherited over time, as is the case with the following examples. Even with the most insane or horrific ideologies, history has shown that they require at least some shred of logical coherence for them to even be considered. Or, more precisely, they require the heritability of ideas which in their time were considered to have logical coherence. Hitler's eugenics relied on Spencer's illogical bastardization of Darwin's evolution, just as all religious terrorism relies on skewed interpretations of Judeo-Christian and Muslim thought which in turn stems from the metaphysics of Plato. While perhaps an initially shocking assertion, it has a very clear logical justification, which is that, in any given population, the majority of individuals are not mentally insane or intellectually stunted to the extent that they do not have the rational capacity to function productively and peacefully in their society. Before World War 2, Germany was not made up of a majority of racist psychotic killers who raped and pillaged as they pleased under the justification of some vague mandate. Whenever the sort of mass hysteria takes over a population as it did during Hitler's Third Reich, it relies mostly upon environmental factors, such as the depressed economy and low national pride Germany experienced after their defeat in World War 1, and on certain charismatic individuals who are able to disseminate ideas and orders onto a majority of otherwise rational, peaceful citizens, creating what Hannah Arendt has termed "The banality of evil". This is the case in most ethnic cleansing that occurs in seemingly civilized societies, and also, except in an initially non-violent manner, the creation of major world religions.

Though the logical idea of Social Darwinism is an example of an erroneous and destructive attempt to interpose biological evolution onto a social template, the propagation of the idea among generations in our society is a vivid example of how such interpretations can succeed. It has been shown that the idea is heritable, experiences random variance, and differential reproduction; thus, the term "idea" is no longer an adequate description. Rather, a more accurate term would be what Richard Dawkins termed "meme" . He writes, "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain." (2)

Rather than the survivability of its logic, it is the reproductive offer of its psychological coherence that has made it heritable for so long. While what this coherence entails is debatable and of course entirely un-provable, it is safe to suggest that Social Darwinism offers a typological justification for the oppression of an out-group by an in-group. For generations in America, it has helped everyone from factory owners to justify their ruthless exploitation of workers without health benefits or adequate pay to Republican presidents to cut welfare and privatize healthcare. The notion that the poor deserve their poverty because they have been evolutionarily selected to be weak and ultimately to die off in destitution relieves the privileged of any pesky responsibility towards charity or un-exploitative business practices. It also provides an artificial confidence boost and confidence cut to the respective groups, leading to a further disparity in performance which cyclically justifies the very philosophy which creates it. The fact that such a blatantly aristocratic philosophy could not only survive but flourish in America, a country supposedly founded in revolt against those very principles, for so long is a testament to the power of memes to overwhelm logical, and consequently moral, reasoning through their meretricious offer of psychological coherence veiled inside the remnants of a once a respectable idea.

Primary Sources: Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Secondary Sources: (1) http://www.crf-usa.org/bria/bria19_2b.htm (2) Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. First published 1976; 1989 edition: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-286092-5 (paperback)

Full Name:  Jessica Rosenberg
Username:  jfrosenb@brynmawr.edu
Title:  Religion and Science
Date:  2005-02-14 09:25:13
Message Id:  12870
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

In both style and content, there are some passages of Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is that stick out, catastrophic breaks from the uniformity of the rest of the book. The section on the "evolution of human ethics," in the "How Did Mankind Evolve?" chapter calls such attention to itself. With Mayr's seeming abhorrence of human emotion (rightly so, in a book on evolution, some might say), his explanation of human ethics is the only time when he deals with what people do with their evolved bodies that seems to separates us from other evolved creatures. As Mayr shows Darwin showed, every species feels natural selection pressure, but insofar as we know, humans are the only creatures that deserve their own ethics section.

This section is also the only time that Mayr speaks kindly about religion, acknowledging that "genuine ethics is the result of the thoughts of cultural leaders," (259). He cites the Old and New Testaments as examples of how people are taught to treat each other, rather than the home texts of ignorant creationists. Then there is the moment when Mayr grudgingly concedes, forcing himself to "appreciate it, the cultures of the Christian world do have ethical principles that are, on the whole, perfectly sound," (260).

Mayr's foray into human ethics, and whatever need he felt to write about it in the first place, illuminates an important relationship between religion and science. Religion and science, regardless of what their purest forms and purveyors define them as, are both used by people to explain things in life that are beyond our everyday grasp. Though we rarely pay attention to the nonevents, religion and science are, more often than not, not in conflict. Plenty of people believe in both gravity and God. But because they both serve similar functions of explication, neither discipline can ever truly ignore the other when there are discrepancies.

Religion is based in a belief that something bigger is in control, at least in some state of existence. Religion is, at its core, a belief in the supernatural. In this way, religion is fundamentally at odds with science. At its most basic, science is a set of observations. Science is most successful when it tests observations, revises and rewrites and examines. The supernatural does not need to be observed to be believed. Religion is often considered strongest when people do not need scrutiny, but rely on faith.

It has long been the job of many religions to explain to people why bad things exist. While bad is always subjective, most people agree on some things they need explanations for. And if there's some sort of supernatural thing going on in this world, if there's something out there, then the explanation of suffering is even more indispensable for us. Even if we understand death, even if we can understand the end of life to be the natural end to a cycle started at birth, more questions remain. Why do things have to hurt like they do? Why is there pair, suffering, hunger, torture, hurting in the world? Each religion explains these things through peoples' relationship to god. Stories such as Adam and Eve's fall, Noah's flood, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah serve as examples of God's relationship to human evil.

Meanwhile, science is at a lost with its much less well defined place to begin to explain. Religion doesn't need to explain goodness. Religions start from a place where human and supernatural interactions are central. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner explains that in Judaism, the oldest surviving monotheistic religion,
"Spiritual awareness begins with the fleeting epiphany that you, yourself, are connected to everything and that everything is connected to you. Throughout all Creation, just beneath the surface, joining each person to every other person and to every other thing in a luminous organism of sacred responsibility: invisible lines of connection."
( http://www.judaism.com/12paths/jewishspirituality.htm)

From this place of connection, there is no need to explain goodness. Most people like to feel good and do not like to feel bad; kindness has no reason not to exist, its cruelty that needs explaining. Science, however, can make no such assumptions. Scientifically, both the good and the bad need explaining. When human preference is taken out of the equation, one is just as likely to exist as the other.

Science is also weighed down with the burden of proof. Religions, from an objective point of view (that is, from an agnostic point of view) need only to come up with a good story. Once enough people believe the story, once a religion travels a path from single fanatic, to small cult, to mainstream religion, it no longer matters whether there is any hard or actual evidence for religions claims; it is true because it is believed. Science is only believed once it is proved at least somewhat "true," (while, of course, truth doesn't exist.)

Both science and religion are benefited by the others' existence and continued exploration. Though not to be looked at in direct competition, something has indeed been gained for each as they have developed side by side in the modern world. Contending for peoples' consciousness has made both disciplines work harder and mean more. As science continues to widen its scope of observations, religion will also, perhaps inevitably question, grow, and evolve.


Ham, Ken; Safarti, Jonathan; Wieland, Carl. "The Origin of Bad." Christian Answers, Don Batten (ed). Adapted from The Revised and Expanded Answers Book. Master Books, 2000. URL = http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c008.html

Kushner, Lawrence. "Thought and Spirituality." The 12 Paths to Judaism. 1999. URL = http://www.judaism.com/12paths/jewishspirituality.htm

Okasha, Samir. "Biological Altruism." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). URL = .

Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 2001

Full Name:  Ghazal Zekavat
Username:  gzekavat@brynmawr.edu
Title:  From Mineral to Man
Date:  2005-02-14 10:04:06
Message Id:  12873
Paper Text:
<mytitle> The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005 First Web Papers On Serendip

Rumi, a Sufi poet of the 13th century and Ernst Mayr, an evolutionary biologist of the 20th century are having a conversation over dinner. "I find your full name, Jalâlu 'd-deen Muhammad bin Husayn al-Balkhî (1) cumbersome. How did your name evolve into Rumi?" Mayr asks. Patiently, as if having recounted his story myriad times, Rumi replies,"I became known as Rumi after having spent the latter portion of my life in Anatolia (modern day Turkey), the former base of the Eastern Roman Empire. My name is Rumi because I was laid to rest in "Rome."" (2) Mayr and Rumi lay silent for a moment as they pondered the ephemeral nature of life. Each has his own conception of what life is and how it came to be, but what is really striking is that their stories hold as many similarities as they do differences. How might Mayr react to a seven hundred year old version of the story of evolution? Is Mayr's story of evolution necessarily more useful?

Rumi's story of evolution will tell us: I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was Man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar With angels blest; but even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God doth perish. When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, I shall become what no mind e'er conceived. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence Proclaims in organ tones, 'To Him we shall return' -Translated by A. J. Arberry

Rumi makes several important inferences. First, he is not claiming God to have constructed mankind in his own image. He is not claiming that man was put on earth in his current form. He is essentially saying, "I died as mineral and rose to man." This is in stark contrast to the teachings of the Qur'an, and Bible and consequently puts Rumi on unstable grounds with creationists (3) Ernst Mayr views proponents of creationism on unstable grounds, so how may he perceive Rumi's idea? Initially, Mayr may categorize it under the finalistic, or teleological way of thinking. Finalism assumes a general trend toward complexity and eventual perfection. (4, p. 75) It is however not certain when Rumi asks, "When was I less by dying" that he is speaking of progression, much less perfection. Mayr poses a similar question, "doesn't the series from bacterium to man indeed document progress? (4, p. 214) Mayr answers his own question, "for the modern Darwininan [progress] is not a value judgement, but "higher" means more recent in geological time, or higher on the phylogenetic tree." (4, p. 214) Perhaps one cannot definitively place Rumi in the finalism school of thought, afterall.

Mayr may next categorize Rumi's poem as a transmutationalistic view. The transmutationalist viewpoint suggests that evolution occurs through the genesis of new species brought about by mutation or saltation (4, pp. 77-78). Taking Rumi's poem literally, one may read it as suggesting that new species arise rather spontaneously through the departure of others. However, Rumi does not speak of sudden genetic mutation or saltation, but instead implies a metaphorical transformation into a new species. Had Rumi implied a gradual change into each new species, then the traditional transformationalistic views may have seemed most appropriate, however, no ultimate word on timeframe is given.

Mayr may come to reject Rumi's appraisal of evolution because it does not blatantly include doctrines of Darwinian (and thus Mayrian) evolution. Mayr's brand of evolution encompasses above all, three concepts: heritability, random variation, and differential reproductive success. To Mayr, "evolution is best understood as the genetic turnover of the individuals of every population from generation to generation." (4, p. 76) Can this definition of evolution not be read as a modern version of Rumi's? Certainly, a lot can be read into Rumi's short poem, so when he speaks of rising as a new group of species after a generation, can we not read pre-Darwinian Darwinism into it as well?

While Rumi palpably speaks of returning to God, Mayr is hesitant to discuss the role of a creator. His mention of God is generally followed by a discussion of Creationism (and how it falls short as a theory). In effect, Darwin and Mayr purport that life evolves without any particular or predestined design. Hence it makes sense when they shy away from a possible God's role in evolution for fear that it will lace their theory with religious overtones.

Perhaps Rumi's verse can stand for so many different things because of Rumi's conception of reality. "The nature of reality is this: It is hidden, and it is hidden, and it is hidden." (5) A "hidden reality" is of course evocative of yet another theory: M-Theory, a theory in which the materials and dimensions of the universe are hidden to us. Before M-theory, there were five "string" theories which basically maintained that the fundamental unit of the universe was composed of 2-D "strings." M-theory (a.k.a. Mother of all theories, Membrane theory, or Mystery theory (6) combined each string theory as well as 11-dementional supergravity (7) into one unified theory of "everything." While M-theory remains an esoteric field in that it explores the evolution of physics past Quantum Field Theory and General Relativity, one can still look to Rumi's poem for some insight. Another reading of Rumi's poem might instill in us the notion of unity. We are metaphorically described as rocks and plants and animals because we are all connected through the same fabric. This belief coincides with the belief of many Rumi Scholars including William Chittick who assert that Rumi's poem was written with the specific intent to discuss not evolution, but the progression of the human soul (8)).

Finally, what conclusions can be drawn about Mayr and Rumi? Mayr and Rumi have both devoted their lives to the discovery of Truths. While Ernst Mayr deliberately sought to uncover the mechanisms behind biological evolution, Rumi's works primarily focused on unity. While Mayr's story of evolution is useful in that it provides a detailed explanation of his story of evolution, Rumi's story of evolution is useful in that it provides comfort and urges that we not fear death. Furthemore, if the strength of a theory is marked by its usefulness, then Rumi's account of evolution is just as strong as Mayr's.


1)About Rumi

2)Rumi's Message of Balanced Spirituality

3)Evolution and Creationism

4) Mayr, Ernst. What Evolution Is. New York. Basic Books. 2001.

5)The Universe is Obsolete

6)M-theory, the theory formerly known as Strings

7)Wikipedia: M-Theory

8)About the Masnavi

Full Name:  Maja Hadziomerovic
Username:  mhadziom@brynmawr.edu
Title:  The Evolution of Culture: trapped in two cultures with one future
Date:  2005-02-14 15:53:14
Message Id:  12884
Paper Text:
The Story of Evolution, Spring 2005
First Web Papers
On Serendip

Culture refers to the complete way of life for a particular group of people. It encompasses their assumptions about the world, customs, traditions, language, belief system, social culture, and norms. According to L. Robert Kohls, Director of Training and Development for the International Communication Agency, culture is, "an integrated system of learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society. Culture refers to the total way of life of particular groups of people. It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does, and makes – its system of attitudes and feelings. Culture is learned and transmitted from generation to generation" (Kohls, 1984, p.17). Everyone looks at the world and processes experiences through their own cultural lens.

In biological evolution, the evolving patterns of information are genes encoded as sequences of nucleotides. Variations arise through mutation and recombination and natural selection eliminates the maladaptive variations. In cultural evolution, memes are the unit of evolving patterns. Memes are mental representations of ideas, behaviors, or other theoretical or imagined constructs, perhaps encoded as patterns of neuron activation. Ideas can evolve in a pattern analogous to biological evolution. Ideas can mutate, through for example misunderstandings, and some ideas survive better than others. Variations are created by combining, transforming, and reorganizing representations and through errors in transmission, weather they be conscious or unconscious.

Culture clashes have existed for as long as human history has been around. They are regular features on the evening news and hot topics of debate all over the world. We can see examples of culture clashes turned terribly violent on a daily basis: Middle East, Rahwanda, X-Yugoslavia, Ireland, and the list is never-ending. There are less violent, but equally meaningful, culture clashes that happen daily in schools, work places, and within individuals. Be it in a war zone or a schoolyard, culture clashes are not easy to deal with. Now imagine if those clashes follow you home. What do you do when the cultural landscape of your family is at odds? When you realize that you are a part of both ways of life, the result is a sharing of the two societies, and an internal feeling of cultural "limbo."

For the first time in my life, I am making a sketch in print of a problem that has been on my mind for quite some time now. It is a problem that I can not avoid just because of the circumstances of my life. The only credentials I have to reflect on the subject at all come through those circumstances, through nothing more than a set of chances; my very own experiences. Due to the various unexpected turns that life has thrown my way, I have had the opportunity to live on three different continents (Africa, Europe, N. America) and in four different countries (Ethiopia, Bosnia, Czech Republic, USA). Therefore, the world that I come from is a combination of my ever-changing surroundings. Each part of my life is unique in itself and has influenced me in a different way. In having grown up in various cultures, I can reflect and state with confidence that the society in which people grow up greatly influences their mindset in adulthood. Each of the cultures that I have experienced has expanded on my peripheral vision and contributed to my outlook on life. When an individual is temporarily placed inside a dominant culture that is not one's own, although there are temporary cultural assimilation issues to work with, one can always have the comfort of knowing that the situation is only temporary and that they will be returning to a more familiar setting in the near future. The situation is very different when balancing two different cultures has become and will remain the reality of one's whole life.

Now what happens in a situation where the individual, such as myself, finds themselves relating to one culture through one aspect of themselves and to the other culture on another level? When I limit myself to my Bosnian half, I find that I am violently missing aspects of the American culture, and vice versa. Do I then belong to both cultures? Or do I belong to neither? Or do I have a culture of my own, created from the recombination of two ideas into a new idea involving elements of each parent idea? I am at a turning point in my life, where I am forced to stop and reflect on my situation, only to realize that I do not completely fit in my own culture anymore and I will always be seen as a 'foreigner' through the eyes of my American friends. The situation of belonging to nowhere is frightening. What kind of cruel path in life deprives you of your own culture and blocks you from entering the newly acquired one?

Western culture sees itself as more enlightened and this is often mistaken for better; but what is 'better' is always in the eye of the beholder. In Bosnia, for example, family values are held in the highest regard, however, despite its modernized society, it is still predominantly a patriarchal culture. Through my studies at Bryn Mawr College, I have been introduced to a very liberating, empowering, feminist approach to life. Today, what I may see as a blatant infringement on my right to independence, my parents may view as a necessity for my survival within the culture that they know. How do you maintain your heritage while rejecting its cultural base? How do you balance two parts of your own world that don't seem to understand each other? This is the dilemma of a bicultural bilingual such as myself living in a cosmopolitan society. I feel trapped at these crossroads because these two worlds, which are mixed up within me, move in opposite directions.

Our accumulated life experiences make us who we are and shape how we view the world. When we are confronted with conflicting values or views of the world we must either accept or reject what we are seeing. This process of cognitive development is exactly what we experience on a daily basis when we learn to live in another culture. If something does not match what we know, we must evaluate it, and either accommodate the information or reject it. We must choose the aspects of each culture that are important to us. When we are able to do this, culture no longer stands for adherence to a past. Instead, it comes to us from the future, fully oriented towards change and uniqueness and is completely beyond prediction.