The Plastic Brain

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Review: The Neck of the Giraffe, or Where Darwin Went Wrong, by Francis Hitching

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I’ve been reading a lot of books/blogs on evolution recently – and being somewhat biased towards Darwinian models, have natural focussed on pro-Darwin sources like Dawkins.

A while back I noticed The Neck of the Giraffe (TNoTG) on my father-in-law’s bookcase, and asked if I could borrow it. I thought it would be an interesting exercise in hearing a counter-argument to my view-point in order to force myself defend where I stand.

With this aim in mind I plunged in, and immediately ran into two issues. Firstly, it wasn’t immediately obvious which camp Hitching fell into. Secondly, his arguments were sometimes more nuanced and harder to refute than I had expected.

Nonetheless, despite the subtitle, and many of the conclusions he draws, Hitching does little to show that Darwin was ever wrong. What he actually shows is that Darwin’s theory, as original stated and as Darwin admitted, was limited, and possibly contained minor flaws and simplifications. None of this, however, issurprising in a work over 150 years old, and it certainly doesn’t show that evolution by natural selection is wrong.

TNoTG is itself around 30 years old, and I note that in some (possibly later) editions the subtitle is changed to “Darwin, Evolution and the New Biology”.

Dawkins seems to have read it before drafting Climbing Mount Improbable, in which he sets out to doggedly and rigorously undermine two key planks of irreducible complexity, which from a major part of  TNoTG – namely the evolution of flight and of “the” eye.

Despite logical errors, straw men (eg the odds of getting the 20 amino acids the for a 100-mer peptide in their exact order to be functional) and out of date arguments, I found it good fun and well worth a read,

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Reblogged from jtotheizzoe:

Among Americans (cue international ridicule …), nearly 40% believe strictly in Young-Earth Creationism.  Now remember, beliefs are one thing, your moral compass can be guided by many sources, and it is no person’s place to mandate the beliefs of another …

But if you subscribe to what science really stands for, then you have to take a long hard look at yourself if you’re in that 40%.  What do you think?

The Evolution Polling Numbers Have *Nudged* A Little | The Intersection

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Haeckel’s embryos


Proven false in 1874 by Professor Wilhelm His, Sr. Ernst Haeckel was convicted of fraud for this in 1874. Human embryos never have gills — not even rudimentary ones. If his theory was disproved…then why is it still printed in school textbooks everywhere as fact?

A very detailed review of the positive and negative aspects of Haeckel’s work, and His’s objections, can be found here: 

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Has Lamarckism Evolved by Darwinian Selection?

I have had a long-standing interest in Lamarckism. Unlike Creationism, Lamarckism is a testable, scientific theory of evolution. Like Creationism, it has been rejected by the vast majority evolutionary biologists. However, I delight in the possibilities that arise from a competing theory. What if it were true? The thought of over-turning dogma, even something I love as much as Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection, makes me giddy.

And so, I have always had a soft spot for anything with a whiff of Lamarckism. Which I why I was surprised that I had not heard of Ted Steele before. This is especially galling as he hails from my home town of Adelaide.

From Steele’s Wikipedia entry:

Ted Steele developed the theory of reverse transcription from the somatic (body) cells to the germline (reproductive cells). This reverse transcription process enables characteristics or bodily changes acquired during a lifetime to be written back into the DNA and passed on to subsequent generations. This is what used to be known as neo-Lamarckism.[1] Steel’s theory provided the first mechanism to explain Lamarckian evolution: when successful somatic (body) cell changes occur due to environmental changes, copies of the copious new messenger-RNA that have been produced by the successful cells are picked up by harmless retroviruses acting as gene shuttles and transported across the tissue barrier – theWeismann Barrier – to the germline. Finally, the new genetic information is integrated into the DNA by a process involving reverse transcription. This process of writing or translating new information into the DNA provides the essential precursor to acquired changes being passed on to progeny; to the next generation, thereby demonstrating Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characters. Darwinian natural selection then goes to work on the progeny and subsequent generations: those fit for survival do so and those not fit die out. This recombination of Darwin and Lamarck by Steele has been described as meta-Lamarckism[2].

This would suggest that Darwinian evolution has selected for genomes that allow this sort of process to go on, and that it may, in fact, be advantageous.

I’m happy to concede that Lamarck didn’t work out the theory of evolution, but neither did Darwin. Although I suspect Darwin’s natural selection of inherited variation will remain the core of evolutionary theory, it’s fun to see a bit of Lamarckism thrown into the mix. Who knows what else is yet to be added?

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Ah-hah! Proof that evolution is a fraud!


Oldest fossilized shrimp found, essentially identical to shrimp today.  Your T. rex wants cocktail sauce.

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