For those wishing to hear the thoughts by students of Cornell’s infamous Evolution and Design class, I’m pleased to announce the papers are now made available online, courtesy of their professor, Allen MacNeill.
I will request that all comments on this thread be expressed with the highest civility commensurate with academic inquiry when references to the students or their professors are made. After all, the previous students and future students of such classes may reading what is said here.
Visit: The Student Papers Are Up
Here are Allen’s opening remarks:
Greetings, faithful readers! As promised, selected final research papers from the students enrolled in the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Evolution and DesignÃ¢â‚¬Â seminar at Cornell have now been uploaded to their own area in the Evolution and Design website. Just click on the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Student PapersÃ¢â‚¬Â link in the menu bar on the right to find links for downloading them.
I was immensely impressed by the final research papers that the students submitted for this course, as well as by the level of participation in discussion and debate that took place during our seminar classes. All of the participants in the seminar worked hard this summer, but as you can see by the quality of the final papers, the enrolled students worked hardest of all. Each of the papers represents a diligent effort on the part of the author to come to clarity on some aspect of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“evolution-design controversy.Ã¢â‚¬Â All of the authors argue for a specific position vis-a-vis the controversy, and as you can tell by reading them, they come down on both sides of the issue.
Personally, I was most impressed with E. BroaddusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper on the apparently innate tendency for humans to infer design in nature. This is a topic that I have long wanted to investigate, and BrauddusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper provides an extremely comprehensive and well-thought-out entrance to this topic, one that I believe is central to the entire controversy.
J. BrunoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper on mimicry and camoulflage provides a Ã¢â‚¬Å“design-friendlyÃ¢â‚¬Â perspective on a perennial topic in evolutionary biology, and provides a Ã¢â‚¬Å“syntheticÃ¢â‚¬Â perspective that tries to reconcile the two viewpoints.
G. HuangÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper on empirical evidence for natural selection in the wild addresses a crucial topic in evolutionary biology: how we can objectively determine whether natural selection has actually affected the evolution of a particular species? His analyses of natural selection in Galapagos finches and Labrabor blue/snow geese points out that natural selection, while central to the neo-darwinian theory of evolution, is difficult to measure in natural populations, requiring many years of careful demographic analysis and challenging field work.
E. MathisenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper comparing philosophical and religious approaches to the problem of Ã¢â‚¬Å“originsÃ¢â‚¬Â shows that the American tendency to separate into Ã¢â‚¬Å“pro-evolutionÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“pro-designÃ¢â‚¬Â camps doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t map very well onto other cultures, particularly those of India and China. Questions of origins and evolution are interpreted differently in different cultures, and as Mathisen shows, these concepts are not viewed with the same importance nor with the same presuppositions that generally pertain in America and western Europe.
J. SchaubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper on the implications of darwinian evolution for altruism and religion is a commentary on the current state of understanding in those fields. Schaub analyzes the work of Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran among others, showing how their evolutionary and anthropological theories of the origins of religion are intimately tied to the evolution of altruism, a subject of much debate and research during the second half of the 20th century.
Finally, J. SchlachetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s paper on a buddhist outlook on the evolution-design controversy, like E. MathisenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, shows that when viewed through a non-western perspective this controversy looks very different. Unlike the western Abrahamic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and their derivatives), buddhism is much more easily reconciled with the basic principles of evolution by natural selection. Schlachet shows how a buddhist perspective can possibly provide a way of reconciling what appear to be two radically non-congruent paradigms of nature and purpose, and suggests ways in which this reconciliation might be accomplished.
All in all, a fascinating set of perspectives on what has always been (and will almost certainly continue to be) one of the core issues of evolutionary biology, if not all of natural science: the relationship between purpose and natural cause, and how we can distinguish between them. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure that this is only the beginning of a much longer conversation (if not debate) over these issues, and I hope that all of the visitors to this website will continue to contribute their insights into this most fascinating of intellectual puzzles.