Metaphors for Evolution

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Mon Apr 5 21:46:49 CDT 2004

At 12:45 2004-04-05, Richard Pyle wrote:
>In the case of the forked river, there are "discrete" molecules of H20,
>which maintain physical consistency throughout their journey from the fork
>to the disparate destinations.  There is a clean and simple way to map the
>"lineages" of the water pathway -- a water molecule went by either one path,
>or another.

What about water molecules that evaporate from one watershed and
precipitate on another? Or that enter the water table and flow as springs
into another? These are common occurrences.

>But the paths of evolution are not traveled by matter.  Any
>particular physical substance only participates in teeny, tiny sections of
>the path.  So when we speak of evolving life, what we're really talking
>about is the (imperfect) transference of information.


>The only thing that
>connects us to our grandparents, or to the most recent common ancestor that
>we share with chimps and orangutans, or to the 90%+ of non-human cells that
>inhabit our bodies -- is intangible information.

I think "intangible" is here a value judgement. Sure, we can't physically
touch it, but there are a lot of things we can't physically touch.

>The best metaphor I know of for evolution is a variant of that old
>grade-school game where one student whispers a short story to the next
>student [...]

The copying of manuscripts in Medieval European and west Asian monasteries
followed a similar pattern, and the people who study those manuscripts use
techniques that are similar to the ones used by evolutionists.

Curtis Clark        
Web Coordinator, Cal Poly Pomona                 +1 909 979 6371
Professor, Biological Sciences                   +1 909 869 4062

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