RE: Post-Empiricism Science: A little surprised

From: bivalve (
Date: Fri Sep 19 2003 - 17:20:15 EDT

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    >What are the equations that underlie evolutionary theory? Are they deterministic? <

    There are a variety of equations that describe the patterns of inheritance and the influence of natural selection. The fundamental postulates of Darwin could easily be made into equations (number of offspring is greater than number surviving; offspring vary in some inheritable features; some of these variants have higher survival than others and will tend to dominate over time), though plugging in numbers would be quite difficult except with empirical data.

    As a rule, the relevant equations are probabilistic. A simple case is the probability of offspring having a given trait. More complex equations provide for the role of selective pressures. Likewise, there are equations describing the influence of various environmental factors on evolution, and there are some descriptive equations of other relationships (e.g., area-diversity curves). At a more fundamental level, physics and chemistry provide plenty of equations applicable to the physical forces involved in the actual mutations, as well as providing many environmental constraints (the strength of biogenic materials, the temperature range at which an enzyme works, etc.).

    Do these provide a way of calculating the probability of humans evolving given a universe with suitable physical laws? No. Do they give a pretty good idea of what will happen with two strains of bacteria in competition in a culture? Yes.

    Evolutionary questions of the general what is related to what type are historical in nature and must be addressed by empirical data, whereas questions of how the process works can be addressed by more prescriptive mathematics.

        Dr. David Campbell
        Old Seashells
        University of Alabama
        Biodiversity & Systematics
        Dept. Biological Sciences
        Box 870345
        Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0345 USA

    That is Uncle Joe, taken in the masonic regalia of a Grand Exalted Periwinkle of the Mystic Order of Whelks-P.G. Wodehouse, Romance at Droitgate Spa


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