The Bible contends that God created the extant world, imposing order on the preexisting chaos. Darwin's theory of evolution introduced another notion of the world, posing a great challenge to the Christian tenets. According to it, all organisms are not the creations of a supreme being, but have descended from a simple unicellular organism that somehow developed a lipid membrane, could store its genetic information and transcribe it when necessary. Darwin dared suggest that the extant world is by far not perfect or stable as depicted in the Bible, but is constantly changing. Summarizing the major points of Darwin's story, Mayr does not tell a new one. So, what is the aim of "What Evolution Is" then?
Darwin's theory of evolution defines movement as an attribute of life. Owing to changes in the surrounding environment, the species constantly respond by following suit. But what determines these changes? Drawing on Darwin's story, Mayr implies that chance shapes reality. Subtly analyzing this aspect of the theory of evolution, he challenges our notions of the surrounding world.
Chance determines ontogeny. The fertilization of the egg and, hence, the subsequent formation of the individual's genotype, are random events independent of logic or rationality. Moreover, all of a sudden a mutation may occur in the species' genetic information, resulting in a completely new feature. Whether it will be preserved and transmitted to the offspring cannot be predicted. Depending on the specific environmental conditions, it may give the species some advantage, thus inducing natural selection to act in its favour. Therefore, natural selection is guided by chance.
Random events acco...
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... of the theory of evolution. Consequently, the observer and the observed cannot be separated. Such realization that reality is partly what people make of it encourages us to play and experiment with life.
In his account of Darwin's theory, Mayr uses the principles of evolution to account for phenomena in human societies and culture. Reinforcing the significance if chance in the formation of reality, Mayr challenges us to redefine our values and identify the factors that stump our development. Analyzing the aspects of the theory of evolution, he suggests a new way of thinking that empowers humans to cast off the fear that thwarts their ability to play and experiment with reality. Much stamina on the part of people will this entail. Are humans prepared to answer such a challenge?
Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 2001)
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