Darwinism Education

Why Darwinism must be taught at the elementary school level

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Just about all of evo psych is based on the simple proposition that the reason we do what we do (why we dress little girls in pink or lose our temper, or who we vote for) is based on what spread our earliest human ancestors’ selfish genes. So reproductive success must be pretty important, right? It must equal evolutionary fitness. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here, or so the Darwin tale runs.

Here are science blogger Greg Laden’s exceptions to whether reporeductive success equals evolutionary fitness:

RS is a measure applied to an individual while fitness is ideally applied to alleles for a gene or some other genetic construct;

The offspring-fertility link can be misleading. A queen bee with an allele that allows her to produces more sterile offspring may also produce more fertile offspring;

RS is fitness plus or minus random effects;

RS usually does not consider indirect fitness;

RS is selected to be optimized while fitness is selected to be maximized.

Equating RS and fitness is therefore only a rough approximation. When initially learning about Natural Selection students are often led to believe that RS and fitness are the same, which is only true with these (and possibly other) caveats. Equating RS and fitness in pedagogy risks skipping past and perhaps never understanding the caveats, and these caveats are very far from trivial. They are, in many cases, the point of specific evolutionary research projects.

In short, there are so many exceptions that no one knows very much about what “evolutionary fitness” is.

Hence the importance of jamming the idea into schoolkids’ heads before they can think carefully about it, via teachers who know their job could be at stake if they think carefully about it.

4 Replies to “Why Darwinism must be taught at the elementary school level

  1. 1
    scordova says:

    Other good examples of Darwinian “fitness”:

    1. broken parts antibiotic resistant bacteria
    2. diabetes
    3. tay-sachs disease
    4. sickle cell anemia
    5. blindness in cave fish
    6. winglessness in beetles

    An entire book on these marvelously “fit” products of natural selection was written:
    Survival of the Sickest, Why we need disease

    And last but not least we have Behe’s “first rule of adaptive evolution” is loss of function! Fitness is a great concept indeed!

    and

    The problem is that it is not entirely clear what fitness is. Darwin took the metaphorical sense of fitness literally. The natural properties of different types resulted in their differential “fit” into the environment in which they lived. The better the fit to the environment the more likely they were to survive and the greater their rate of reproduction. This differential rate of reproduction would then result in a change of abundance of the different types.

    In modern evolutionary theory, however, “fitness” is no longer a characterization of the relation of the organism to the environment that leads to reproductive consequences, but is meant to be a quantitative expression of the differential reproductive schedules themselves. Darwin’s sense of fit has been completely bypassed.

    How, then, are we to assign relative fitnesses of types based solely on their properties of reproduction? But if we cannot do that, what does it mean to say that a type with one set of natural properties is more reproductively fit than another? This problem has led some theorists to equate fitness with outcome. If a type increases in a population then it is, by definition, more fit. But this suffers from two difficulties. First, it does not distinguish random changes in frequencies in finite populations from changes that are a consequence of different biological properties. Finally, it destroys any use of differential fitness as an explanation of change. It simply affirms that types change in frequency. But we already knew that.

    Richard Lewontin
    Santa Fe Papers 2003

    and

    However, fitness is hard to define rigorously and even more difficult to measure

    Andreas Wagner

    and

    When does adaptationism stop being a useful research strategy and start being a silly exercise?

    Allen Orr
    Dennett’s Strange Idea

    Answer: pretty much always.

  2. 2
    scordova says:

    Oh, my favorite example Octomom vs. Richard Dawkins.

    Octomom is unemployed mentally unstable parasite who bankrupted her parents and is living on public assistance. She has 14 kids vs Dawkins (an Oxford scientist) who has one. By Dawkins own metric, Octomom is a more more fit than he is by a factor of 14. Poetic justice.

  3. 3
    julianbre says:

    OT: The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) are at it again. As if trying to get Dr. Hedin to stop teaching a class isn’t enough for them, they are now fighting the inclusion of the Star of David on a Holocaust memorial. Unbelievable.

    The Blaze
    http://www.theblaze.com/storie.....r-of-david

  4. 4
    Mung says:

    Elementary school children are the only ones who can understand it.

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