Monday, July 05, 2004

Happy Birthday -- NO, Not You...

Observations are gold; hypotheses, silver; and conclusions, bronze.

Some may have wondered why the sentence repeated above is on the Corpus Callosum banner.  You will have to keep wondering, because this post provides only a clue, not a direct explanation. 

In the latest issue of Science,  there is an essay by Ernst Mayr, one of the earliest evolutionary biologists.  He wrote the essay, upon invitation by the editorial staff of Science,  to commemorate his 100th birthday.  The following is an excerpt:

By the end of the 1940s the work of the evolutionists was considered to be largely completed, as indicated by the robustness of the Evolutionary Synthesis. But in the ensuing decades, all sorts of things happened that might have had a major impact on the Darwinian paradigm. First came Avery's demonstration that nucleic acids and not proteins are the genetic material. Then in 1953, the discovery of the double helix by Watson and Crick increased the analytical capacity of the geneticists by at least an order of magnitude. Unexpectedly, however, none of these molecular findings necessitated a revision of the Darwinian paradigm--nor did the even more drastic genomic revolution that has permitted the analysis of genes down to the last base pair.

It would seem justified to assert that, so far, no revision of the Darwinian paradigm has become necessary as a consequence of the spectacular discoveries of molecular biology.

What is notable about the early work in evolutionary theory is that the researchers had to keep an open mind in order to be able to make sense of their results.  They had to be open to believing what the experiments and natural observations were telling them.  The Evolutionary Synthesis he is referring to, is the theoretical framework that connected the findings of the geneticists, who conducted laboratory experiments, and the naturalists, who studied what happens in nature.  There is no exact date for the development of the Synthesis, but is occurred in the early 1940's -- 60 years ago.  Since then, many scientists have proposed challenges to the Synthesis, but so far, no challenge has withstood peer review.  It is an impressive testament to the validity of the Evolutionary Synthesis that the development of entirely new technologies of inquiry -- technologies that could not even have been imagined in the 1940's -- have failed to reveal any inconsistencies in the basic theoretical framework of the Synthesis.  Completion of the human genome, analysis of mitochondrial DNA, the theory of the probable mutation effect, and so forth, have only expanded the Synthesis; there has been no need to revise the fundamental theory itself. 

There have been challenges to the Synthesis, most recently by the so-called creation scientists.  Many intelligent people have considered these challenges seriously.  Even so, the scientific consensus has not changed.  Some may allege that the proponents of evolution are not open to challenges due to their preoccupation with a central belief system.  Perhaps, but unlikely.  The development of new technologies has led to the involvement of scientists from many different schools of thought.  Although this by itself does not prove the assertion that the Evolutionary Synthesis is correct, it certainly bolsters its credibility.

While many in the USA have seen fit to write about the birthday of the nation, on this holiday weekend, the USA has not yet proved itself to be viable over the long term in the political ecosystem.  Therefore, it is more fitting to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr.  He probably will pass away soon, but his legacy will not.

Note: there is no entry in Wikipedia for the probable mutation effect.  Use this link  to create one, if so inclined.