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Is man tampering with evolution?

LF's picture

The scientific study of what evolution is does not seem to have produced a unified response as to what this developmental course of life actually means. Charles Darwin claimed that his theory of natural and sexual selection was central to the understanding of evolution as a science. Darwin stated that variation was central to the idea of evolution, claiming that diversification in nature was what caused it to flow.


“And it is this change of populations of organisms that is designated as evolution.” (p84. What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr)


Therefore, the non constancy of a particular species continues the path of evolution. Davyd Greenwood in his book “The Taming of Evolution” speaks of Darwin’s theory of evolution: “Rather than seeing species as eternal categories that empirically vary around the perfect expression of the species’ inherent character, he makes variation the real and eternal feature of nature converting species into momentary historical embodiments of these variations.” (p.52)


Technology and experimentation has had a huge impact on our lives and on the course of evolution. With today’s knowledge of genetic variation scientists are able to discover new cures, helping people to survive longer. Is this improving the quality of life? Many years ago, people who carried diseases or weak and vulnerable genes would have died, preventing these genetic “errors” from being passed on to their potential offspring. This could be seen as evolutions way of weeding out the bad DNA, ensuring the survival of the fittest. If this is the case, we are allowing people who carry poor genetics to survive and pass on these flaws to their offspring. If the natural process is survival of the fittest or the species specific desire for perfection, then science and technology are intervening.


Recently the Embryonic stem cell research bill passed by a vote of 253 to 174. This bill could potentially allow the federal funding of embryonic research on spare embryos that have been abandoned in fertility clinics ( Many moral and ethical issues arise if the President chooses not to veto this bill. In one view, we could be curing millions of people throughout the world suffering from illness such as cancer. On the other hand we are completely tempering with the course of nature. However, in curing millions and creating new methods of prevention of illness, we have the ability to become almost super human.


This scientific experimentation and discovery could result in a stronger human race resulting in the ability to live longer, build stronger work forces and save a lot of money. The financial aspect is also linked with agriculture. The mass production of genetically perfected foods results in less loss. In genetically modifying foods, farmers are able to produce crops that are impermeable to disease.


On the downside, insects and diseases are able to evolve as these scientific revelations are introduced. Thus, in creating cures and disease resistant foods, we are also producing new strains of bacteria and other such microorganisms that could become of harm to evolution and nature itself. Considering evolution in its most simple explanation is change over time “through descent with modification” (, Agriculture Article), modification seems to be some-what controllable through science due to the recent embryonic and stem cell research. Darwin’s explanation of evolution was through natural selection, not artificial selection, which is what science is attempting to do.


As a group we have discussed the idea of a human being existing as an error, only to be weeded out with the process of evolution. This idea may come across as controversial, but in some sense it could be true. As I have stated, many years ago people with genetic illness such as cancer would have died due to lack of treatment. Therefore their illness would not have been passed on.


Today, with treatments such as chemotherapy we are able to help those people to live a longer life, thus allowing them to pass on their genes. Saving a life is rewarding as well as beneficial, but in the long run, could we just be allowing their weak genetics to be passed on? In this case we cannot be sure exactly how beneficial tampering with evolution can be. If it is about natural selection, then the more science evolves the less natural the process will become. As time has evolved, so has humanity and science; perhaps the development of scientific cures should be viewed as evolution taking its course. If this is the case, the result will surface in hundreds of years to come.



Anne Dalke's picture



The title of your paper is a question. Is it a real one? (One you didn’t have the answer to before you began writing?) Is it one you answer by the end of the paper—or does it remain unresolved for you? What observations or data have you given me (from what sources) to explore this question?

The essay begins with “tampering” and ends with “taking its course”—I understand that you pair these activities as opposites, like “natural” and “artificial” selection? “The course of nature” is qualitatively different, then, from “human tampering”? What distinguishes the two? (Darwin, you know, was very much interested in the breeding of animals…) What does it mean, in this context, to “become super-human”? (What is the implied contrast? What is it to be human?)

Your opening paragraph mentions what evolution means, what it is, and how it works (these seem to me three different questions). Your second paragraph offers two definitions for evolution, one by Mayr, one from Greenwood. Then you go on to describe many ways in which technology and experimentation have had an impact on evolution. You talk about medical cures for humans and genetically modified plants, but your examples don’t seem to be grounded in any research (where are your citations?)

Advances in medicine, you say, may enable “genetic errors,” “bad DNA,” “weak genetics” or “illness” to be passed on. Are all four of those terms synonymous? How does the passing-on occur in the case of illness?

Lots of questions; I look forward to discussing them further with you--