Monday, June 25, 2007

Evolution is ... WTF?


I know I am a little dim (well, maybe a lot). And maybe something was lost in the translation of putting this on the web. But WTF? Can someone explain to me what the point of the NY Times "story" entitled "Evolution is" with a bunch of quotes?

And again, WTF? Why did they pick these quotes?

Like this one by Gould

"It touches all our lives; for how can we be indifferent to the great questions of genealogy: where did we come from and what does it all mean? and then, of course, there are all those organisms: more than a million described species, from bacterium to blue whale, with one hell of a lot of beetles in between - each with its own beauty, and each with a story to tell." - Stephen Jay Gould

and this one by Maynard Smith

"As an evolutionary biologist, I have learned over the years that most people do not want to see themselves as lumbering robots programmed to ensure the survival of their genes." - John Maynard Smith
Anyone out there have the inside scoop on this?


  1. Well, on the positive side at least it didn't have those creepy unclothed children from the old "Love is..." cartoon (which is what I thought of reading the title of the NYT article)

    But yes, the selection is pretty weird. A few, like the Dobzhansky and Huxley quotes, are genuine classics. The others, not so.

    I guess Gould's quote could be attractive to "new age" types -- it doesn't say much other than "evolution, is like, far out man, like trippy!". It's kind of ironic that that passage rather sounds like the overblown prose poetry of theologian/paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin (sort of the 1950s French Catholic version of Francis Collins), because I recall an essay or two of Gould's attacking de Chardin's sloppy thinking.

    Maynard-Smith's quote is a reference to the "lumbering robots" metaphor used in Dawkins' "Selfish Gene". It's hard to tell without more of the quote whether Maynard-Smith is criticizing the metaphor or is going on to say that people ought to accept it.

  2. Too harsh a response from JE to an eclectic collection of quotes from well-known evolutionary biologists. Neither harm nor foul was detected by my sensors. I rather look forward to dinner table discussions and phone conversations with family and friends who have read the Science Times today.

  3. First, when I posted this comment the rest of the articles were not readily available in any obvious way linked to this. I found it from a Google News search and it seemed to be a bit out of context.

    So my "WTF" was asking - what is this article about? Why would they write an article with just quotes and not explain why the quotes were picked? In seeing the whole Evolution issue, it makes more sense.

    Although still it would have been nice to have some explanation for each of the quotes.

    So mainly, I was asking the web world for help --- why did they have this article? And yes, they could have picked better quotes, but I did not really harsh on them too much over that.


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