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Evolution is bigger than biology???!

L.A. Moran lamoran at gpu.utcs.utoronto.ca
Fri Nov 1 10:55:49 EST 1991

Frank Yue (taub at hmivax.humgen.upenn.edu) writes,

     "Let me throw my two cents in by saying that it is only fair to 
      define the word evolution through non-biased ideas such as genetics.  
      Evolution occurs in non-mendelian systems and where the genome is 
      not relevant. Evolution can occur above the species level (as in 
      a forest ecosystem) and on the non-living level (the weathering of
      igneous rocks). Let us find a definition of evolution that can be
      applied to a system changing in response to its environment."

We are discussing BIOLOGICAL evolution in this thread. I thought that that 
was very clear! The weathering of igneous rocks doesn't fit into any
description of biological evolution that I can imagine. In many cases 
scientific words are also used colloquially but with a different meaning.
In this case the street definition of the word "evolution" is almost
synonomous with the word "change" in English. But we are not discussing
street definitions.

Also, by overwhelming consensus amoong evolutionary biologists it is 
POPULATIONS that evolve. These populations consist of a single species. Thus,
according to current definitions of evolution, a forest ecosystem can change
but it does NOT evolve in the sense of biological evolution.

"Systems" do change in response to environment. For example plants grow better
when the seasons are not too dry or too wet and the average height and 
weight of humans in European societies has gone up in the past several
hundred years. If Frank wants to claim that this is evolution then I would
be happy to engage in debate. If he wants to defend Lamarkism then let him
post his beliefs and we'll see whether they are worth discussing.

It should be quite obvious from Frank's comments that a definition of 
biologicsl evolution is needed. If everyone agreed on such a definition
then Frank would have been forced to argue against the definition and we all
would have a better idea of what we are talking about.

Pete Levinthal (petelev at convex.com) said,
     "I was happy to see Mr. Yue's posting. I think that folks spend 
      so much time working with their little metaphor that they forget
      about the larger scale problems that may apply.

      I remember seeing a very interesting presentation at the 1990 
      BioMatrix conference on meteorlogical influences on evolution.  
      The focus wasn't on the genetics involved, but rather on the 
      migration patterns of species according to weather patterns.  
      The speaker showed how major climactic changes could "run" a 
      species off the edge of a continent. 

      Also, if we're thinking big (though this may be too much for 
      bionet.molbio), let's think about describing human driven evolution 
      such as that of economic and political systems.
      Thanks Frank...and please, let's keep the flames down....  :)"

I can't imagine why any evolutionary biologist would deny that climatic
changes can affect the survival of species. This does not mean that
such climatic changes are examples of evolution! The same applies to
political and economic systems.

Pete, if you wish to include such ideas in your DEFINITION of evolution
then let's see a clear statement from you to that effect. Then we can
discuss whether it is reasonable. Are you saying that the evolution
of societal behaviour is an example of biological evolution? Are you
claiming that climatic changes are examples of biological evolution?

As for flames, I was as tempted as a previous poster to react in anger
to Frank's original message. Fortunately I wasn't able to respond right
away so I had time to cool down. Your posting did not do much to calm
passions because you accuse me (and others) of being narrow-minded.
This is a cheap shot. From my perspective, those who concentrate on whole
organisms or ecosystems instead of on the molecular events that underlie
evolutionary change can also be accussed of being narrow minded. They 
seem to be incapable of seeing the trees for the forest! I insert this
mini-flame only to demonstrate that you do not have a monopoly on open
mindedness. I also find it ironic that you can insert a sarcastic remark
referring to our stupidity (inability to think) and yet close by asking
everyone to keep the flames down! I prefer individuals who are open with
their criticisms and insults to those who are back-handed and condescending.

For some strange reason it seems to be very common on BIONET newsgroups
to see comments such as "Flaming is stupid and childish, don't do it!"
Is anyone else puzzled by this hypocrisy?

Such accusations and counter-accusations don't get us anywhere so let's 
try and stick to the topic...OK? (However, sometimes flaming can be fun and 
cathartic (-: ... can you take it as well as dish it out?)

Laurence A. Moran (Larry)
Dept. of Biochemistry
University of Toronto

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