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Alain Van Hout
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Alain Van Hout

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Misconceptions About Evolution and Their Corrections

MISCONCEPTION: Evolution is a theory about the origin of life.

CORRECTION: Evolutionary theory does encompass ideas and evidence regarding life's origins (e.g., whether or not it happened near a deep-sea vent, which organic molecules came first, etc.), but this is not the central focus of evolutionary theory. Most of evolutionary biology deals with how life changed after its origin. Regardless of how life started, afterwards it branched and diversified, and most studies of evolution are focused on those processes.

MISCONCEPTION: Evolutionary theory implies that life evolved (and continues to evolve) randomly, or by chance.

CORRECTION: Chance and randomness do factor into evolution and the history of life in many different ways; however, some important mechanisms of evolution are non-random and these make the overall process non-random. For example, consider the process of natural selection, which results in adaptations — features of organisms that appear to suit the environment in which the organisms live (e.g., the fit between a flower and its pollinator, the coordinated response of the immune system to pathogens, and the ability of bats to echolocate). Such amazing adaptations clearly did not come about "by chance." They evolved via a combination of random and non-random processes. The process of mutation, which generates genetic variation, is random, but selection is non-random. Selection favored variants that were better able to survive and reproduce (e.g., to be pollinated, to fend off pathogens, or to navigate in the dark). Over many generations of random mutation and non-random selection, complex adaptations evolved. To say that evolution happens "by chance" ignores half of the picture. To learn more about the process of natural selection, visit our article on this topic. To learn more about random mutation, visit our article on DNA and mutations.

MISCONCEPTION: Evolution results in progress; organisms are always getting better through evolution.

CORRECTION: One important mechanism of evolution, natural selection, does result in the evolution of improved abilities to survive and reproduce; however, this does not mean that evolution is progressive — for several reasons. First, as described in a misconception below (link to "Natural selection produces organisms perfectly suited to their environments"), natural selection does not produce organisms perfectly suited to their environments. It often allows the survival of individuals with a range of traits — individuals that are "good enough" to survive. Hence, evolutionary change is not always necessary for species to persist. Many taxa (like some mosses, fungi, sharks, opossums, and crayfish) have changed little physically over great expanses of time. Second, there are other mechanisms of evolution that don't cause adaptive change. Mutation, migration, and genetic drift may cause populations to evolve in ways that are actually harmful overall or make them less suitable for their environments. For example, the Afrikaner population of South Africa has an unusually high frequency of the gene responsible for Huntington's disease because the gene version drifted to high frequency as the population grew from a small starting population. Finally, the whole idea of "progress" doesn't make sense when it comes to evolution. Climates change, rivers shift course, new competitors invade — and an organism with traits that are beneficial in one situation may be poorly equipped for survival when the environment changes. And even if we focus on a single environment and habitat, the idea of how to measure "progress" is skewed by the perspective of the observer. From a plant's perspective, the best measure of progress might be photosynthetic ability; from a spider's it might be the efficiency of a venom delivery system; from a human's, cognitive ability. It is tempting to see evolution as a grand progressive ladder with Homo sapiens emerging at the top. But evolution produces a tree, not a ladder — and we are just one of many twigs on the tree.

MISCONCEPTION: Individual organisms can evolve during a single lifespan.

CORRECTION: Evolutionary change is based on changes in the genetic makeup of populations over time. Populations, not individual organisms, evolve. Changes in an individual over the course of its lifetime may be developmental (e.g., a male bird growing more colorful plumage as it reaches sexual maturity) or may be caused by how the environment affects an organism (e.g., a bird losing feathers because it is infected with many parasites); however, these shifts are not caused by changes in its genes. While it would be handy if there were a way for environmental changes to cause adaptive changes in our genes — who wouldn't want a gene for malaria resistance to come along with a vacation to Mozambique? — evolution just doesn't work that way. New gene variants (i.e., alleles) are produced by random mutation, and over the course of many generations, natural selection may favor advantageous variants, causing them to become more common in the population.

MISCONCEPTION: Evolution only occurs slowly and gradually.

CORRECTION: Evolution occurs slowly and gradually, but it can also occur rapidly. We have many examples of slow and steady evolution — for example, the gradual evolution of whales from their land-dwelling, mammalian ancestors, as documented in the fossil record. But we also know of many cases in which evolution has occurred rapidly. For example, we have a detailed fossil record showing how some species of single-celled organism, called foraminiferans, evolved new body shapes in the blink of a geological eye, as shown below.

Source:
(http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq.php#a1)

#science #change #evolutionarybiology #human  
#evolution #adaptation #fossilrecord #migration  
#biology #changeoevertime #advantageous #traits  
#misconceptions #naturalselection #genetics #chromosomes #dna #rna #survival #beneficial
#corrections #climatechange #randommutation  
#evolve #disease #mammalianancestors  
#ancestors #sexualmaturity #adaptivechange  
#genes #photosynthesis #homosapien  
#organisms #pathogens #homosapienevolution  
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One philosophical point to be made is that the fact we don't resort to teleology or theology to account for observed evolution, doesn't mean those aren't going on. It just means that we don't need them to account for these specific observed outcomes. Also that they require resort to subjective information which isn't amenable to scientific method.

Teleology is usually assumed in animal behavior, but it presents a difficult conceptual problem, as does consciousness. We don't easily see this difficulty because we're so close to it. It's the water-to-a-fish problem. We have no way of objectively verifying purpose or intent in a person or an animal beyond a tendency to behave in a certain way. We experience behavioral tendencies in ourselves, subjectively, as conscious intent, and so we tend to project that experience onto the behavioral tendencies of other people and animals, and most likely we're right about that.

But in that case, when we observe a tendency to behave in nature, there is no better (or worse) argument in favor of nature "intending" to behave in such a way, than there is in the case of an animal (other than oneself). Scientific theory of behavior or of evolution doesn't require teleology and can't confirm it (or even operationally define it), but in our own case, subjectively, we know it's happening. It's not philosophically unrealistic (although it is scientifically meaningless) to also recognize the possibility of purpose in nature.
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Happened the day my daughter was born. Will never forget that feeling.
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Scientists have finally seen the face of the ancient worm Hallucigenia, which leaves fossils so bizarre researchers once thought its top was its bottom and its back was its front. And it's a doozy, with a circular tooth-lined mouth and throat.
Scientists have finally seen the face of the ancient worm Hallucigenia, which leaves fossils so bizarre researchers once thought its top was its bottom and its back was its front. And it's a doozy, with a circular tooth-lined mouth and throat.
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"approaching zero is not zero"...I was double checking my math when I came across the morality of Calculus

http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/12287/approaching-to-zero-but-not-equal-to-zero-then-why-do-the-points-get-overlappe

down in the notes......

In case anyone is interested: many people viewed Newtonian mechanics and its consequent "clockwork universe" as a direct attack on the Christian notion of a deity that was directly involved in and modifying his creation, and also on the notion of free will. Some deists were in fact using the new physics as evidence in favor of the deist God, who created the universe, set it motion, but does not actively participate in it, in contrast to the theistic deity. By attacking the mathematical foundation of the new physics, Berkeley was defending the notions of free will and of the active deity. If you read Augustus de Morgan's A Budget of Paradoxes, he reviews many pamphlets and booklets written during those years which attack Newton and Calculus because they view the latter as an attack on religion. The "morality" arguments raised against Calculus are eerily similar (when not downright identical) to those raised against Darwin and the Theory of Evolution in later days.
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I can agree with that sentiment. :)
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Bigoted religious beliefs are as acceptable as racism.
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Not long ago, I was discussing the Draw Muhammad Day kerfuffle we had here in Texas with a woman who insisted that it was wrong to insult people's religious beliefs. I claimed that the more you allow religion to decide what is and is not acceptable the more you limit expression because religion does not respect limits, religion wants control. Here's proof of that. No pictures of the prophet, no word against him. A rainbow flag and the slogan 'love wins.' That was enough to garner death threats. Where do we draw the line?
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+Terry Westbrook-Lienert more than that: using weird logic seems to be an international pastime, unfortunately >.<
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Software engineer
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Java-oriented software development, scientific research
Employment
  • Foreach
    Software Engineer, 2014 - present
  • University of Antwerp
    PhD student, 2006 - 2013
  • Brunel
    Analyst - Programmer, 2013 - 2013
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Antwerp
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I'm always up for a good discussion. And I don't mind being proven wrong, as that means I learned something new :-)
Introduction
I'm a software engineer with a background as a scientific researcher (biologist) and an interest in most things science. I enjoy forays into the world of programming languages and software architecture, with an affinity for development of Java-based web platforms.

I'm always up for a good discussion. And I don't mind being proven wrong, as that means I learned something new :-).

There are a couple of quotes that reflect what having a good conversation means to me; 

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
- Aristotle

you didn't come here to make the choice. You've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it
- The Oracle (The Matrix: Reloaded)

I'm made up of everyone I've ever met who's changed the way I think. 
- Sir Terry Pratchett
Bragging rights
Married to a sexy librarian ^_^
Education
  • University of Antwerp
    PhD in Biology, 2006 - present
  • IT center VDAB Antwerp
    Enterprise Java Development, 2013 - 2013
  • University of Antwerp
    Master in Biology, 2001 - 2006
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Male
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Friends, Networking
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Married
Other names
Alain J-M Van Hout, Erinaceus