Re: Phil Skell replies to David Campbell

From: David C Campbell <>
Date: Thu Sep 22 2005 - 16:32:03 EDT

>Why has the Nobel Committee not substituted the category Evolutionism
for the merely derivative mundane applications of it that are described
in Physiology/Medicine? <

Evolutionism is not the same as evolution.

To parallel the Physics or Chemistry, a more appropriate category than
Evolution would be Biology. As far as I know they can't alter Nobel's
will to change the Medicine prize. If someone with lots of money
wanted to establish an additional prize, they could. There are biology
prizes already in existence, just not a biology Nobel.

> David Campbell's very learned exegesis of Mayr's description misses
>the point that paleontology and modern experimental biology >provide
enormously disparate data.

The type of data is often different, but as a paleontologist working
mostly with modern organisms at the moment I can report that the
results are in agreement. For that matter, paleontological remains can
provide vast amounts of data about the life of the organism. Bones,
shells, etc. typically have traces of muscle attachment and also have
important functional aspects that give hints about the life of the
animal. For example, a long narrow bivalve shell with muscle scars
indicating a long siphon can be identified as a deep burrower. Many
traces of biological activity are found in the fossil
record-footprints, bite marks, burrows... There are also many
paleoenvironmental indications in the deposit enclosing the fossil,
which gives further information about the life habits.

>His digression into chemistry is almost totally non-relevant, since
>biology is concerned with unique individual organisms, no two of
>which are identical in the sense that two samples of the same
>chemical are identical.

Yet even so, chemistry labs didn't always turn out how they were
supposed to. Biology certainly deals with more complicated and less
precisely predictable things than chemistry, although a simple
biological experiment may be more predictable than the chemistry of an
extremely complex molecule (a large protein, for example).
Nevertheless, precise evolutionary experiments can be and have been
run, such as the examples I mentioned in an earlier post.

Replacing "evolution" with "design" in the posted abstract
(specifically suggested by Cornelius as an application of your
suggestion) works no better than replacing "atomic theory" with
"alchemy" in a chemistry paper. Neither intelligent design nor alchemy
is inconsistent with the results, since anything could be compatible
with their basic premises, though specific design or alchemy models
might not match. However, the specific expectations of evolution and
of atomic theory are met in the respective experiments, so they are
preferred as explanations.

>Further, Darwin's theory was based on evidence most of which is >lost
and forever inaccessible to experimental tests, while chemistry
>and its theories are grossly different in this respect.

Actually much evidence remains readily available. The basic premise of
evolution by natural selection can be observed all the time. We see
changes in populations over time and even new species arising all the
time. The biochemistry, morphology, and other features of living
organisms are shaped by their history of descent and can be studied to
provide information about their evolutionary history. Biogeographic
patterns provide another important piece of evidence, both in the
present and in the paleontological record.

The fossil record is certainly patchy, but it gives us good evidence
about many evolutionary patterns, especially at higher levels. It is
often impossible to prove that species A is the direct ancestor of
species B rather than some sort of cousin, but we can see the basic
pattern of evolution in any group with a decent fossil record
(essentially being things with a reasonably durable and distinctive
skeleton-including tough organic material like pollen as well as
mineralized structures). As more fossils are discovered, they fill in
and fit into the evolutionary picture.

>Nobels for Physiology/Medicine deal almost entirely with Biology.
>Darwin's "theory" is mainly metaphysically-based speculation about
>matters lost in deep-time, and makes only meddlesome contributions
>to experimental biology.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is based on
scientific observations and is thoroughly supported by abundant
evidence, as well as providing ideas that can be tested in a wide
variety of biological experiments. The theories of common descent of
all organisms on earth, and the abiotic origins of life, are not as
amenable to direct experiment, but there are experiments that can be
done (examine patterns of similarity, examine the patterns in the
fossil record, experiments on what plausible early earth conditions
could form biologically important chemicals, etc.)

I need to head back to the lab to complete some experiments in
evolutionary biology, sequencing DNA from various species and comparing
them to determine relationships.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama, Box 870345
Tuscaloosa AL 35487
"James gave the huffle of a snail in
danger But no one heard him at all" A.
A. Milne
Received on Thu Sep 22 16:34:28 2005

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