1. Analyzing Darwinian evolution with Wilsonís criteria reveals evolutionís strength as a scientific theory. While evolution is not repeatable in the same way that a simple laboratory experiment might be, it is repeatable in that many independent methods of inquiry all point to the same conclusion. For example, we can watch finch beaks on Daphne Major evolve according to food availability, observe antibiotic resistant tuberculosis become more and more common, look at patterns in the fossil record, and examine homologous structures in living organisms. All these methods of gaining evidence reinforce and support the theory of evolution.1 Darwinian evolution fulfills the requirement for economy as well; its central ideas can be summarized in a few sentences. Other ideas about the origins of biological diversity are not nearly so concise, since they must go out of their way to explain contrary evidence. Recently, several famous research projects have measured evolution taking place, for example David Reznickís study of guppies in Trinidad or Rosemary and Peter Grantís observations of finches in the Galapagos. Evolution has certainly inspired further discovery, in fields as diverse as biology and philosophy. Wilson also writes that a theory is more likely to survive if it is consistent with other theories. Evolution is consistent with our knowledge of genetics (species with closer evolutionary relationships share more DNA sequences), with geologyís principle of uniformitarianism, and even with basic principles such as cause and effect. (Adaptations are not in fact examples of an organismís future needs dictating its design. Instead, they are reflections of the organismís ancestorsí past needs, and therefore they obey the laws of cause and effect just like everything else.)
2. Reductionism encompasses two ideas that are central to science. First, it suggests that in order to understand a complex phenomenon, we must begin by understanding its simpler components. The methods of science work best when they are used to investigate one thing at a time; scientists would not get far if they started by trying to understand everything at once. The second idea of reductionism is consilience, or the consolidation of minor laws and theories into ever larger and more general principles that unify disparate fields of knowledge.
3. ††††††† Actually, I think that understanding underlying physical phenomena makes the world more beautiful. What is more human than to question why, and what satisfaction is greater than to find a bit of the answer? There is a certain primitive wonder that is lost when sunsets are no longer painted by magic, but in the end, the elegance that science reveals is far more awe-inspiring than the murky randomness of an uninvestigated world.
Artists must understand anatomy before they can paint humans accurately. Similarly, I think it is impossible to comprehend the beauty of the world fully without understanding something of its underlying structure. Knowledge of atomic absorption and emission does not make the sunsetís colors any less vivid; science adds a framework of knowledge but takes away none of the original beauty. For me, knowing a little bit about the why also makes me pay more attention. And once I pay attention, I see beauty in things I never would have given a second thought to before: the angular acceleration of an opening door, the beat frequencies when the flute section is out of tune, the surface tension of water.
††††††††††† Even so, I think I am also familiar with the negative quality to which these critics are reacting. While there is very little that is threatening about understanding the science of a sunset, once one has accepted science, one cannot pick and choose where to apply it. People who argue that science strips the world of its beauty are not really afraid of losing sunsets; they are afraid of losing cherished beliefs about their own minds and places in the universe.2 Again, I would say that facing this fear ultimately allows one to comprehend the universeís beauty more clearly. But it takes a certain mindset in order to make this choice.
1. And with enough imagination, a scientist can posit predictions like, ďIf we ever find situation abc to occur in the biosphere, then Darwinian evolution predicts that it should be accompanied with xyz.Ē
2. This is a good point: statements with which we disagree may not really lead to fruitful arguments, but instead act as informative guideposts to the mindsets of those with which we disagree.