Lately I have been considering a number of reflections and observations I have had since reading a few of Dawkin’s books as well as an (abridged) copy of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. My understanding of Darwin is so much informed by Dawkins that I would consider their doctrinal views as synonymous, or more specifically, the latter being an evolution (excuse the pun) of Darwin’s system of biology.
Dawkins’ modified Darwinism seems to be a touch more informed by modern zoology. Without having much familiarity on Darwin on religious belief, Darwin seems to leave how explicitly challenging natural selection can be to the literal notion of creation, or any religious belief at all. There are some issues which interest me, and I suspect the next few decades will shed more light on this issue.
1. The digital river analogy: The notion of genes as replicators is more like a helpful default position than the actual position. While DNA and RNA seem to work as replicators; the comparison to digital data seems curious. The notion of the digital river is that our genetic structure, and those of plants, animals are offshoots of a larger stream.
The general notion of genus-species relata is compatible with Kant’s notion of typology (what I’ve called the Systmaticity thesis). We order things like bananas to bumblebees, and assume that features that typify their classification embodies features of a greater genus. Consider the taxonomy by virtue of their history and we come closer to a river notion. Assume that all organic things are part of a higher descendent form. This leads me to my next consideration
2. Gaps: It is one thing to metaphysically speculate a higher genus, but to move from a metaphysical claim to an actual empirical one may seem an impassable bridge. Not so for the notion of the digital river. Dawkins gives a few good examples of intermediary species that suggest common ancestry. There are constantly made discoveries and gaps being filled. The argument for the digital river takes place across a great many species and bodies of specialised research. As such, there are not enough people or funders to construct a ‘complete’ taxonomy. This leaves empirical gaps. Gaps are often appealed to as a ‘failure’ of evolution. The notion of intermediaries is also misunderstood by creationists who hold that there would be intermediaries between any arbitrary two currently surviving species. The notion of intermediaries works with descendent species, not contemporaries.
3. How fast does natural selection, or adaptation proper take place in an organism?
This notion borders on a thought about scientific research as well as, it would seem, what we currently understand. It is understood that significant features are inherited over a period of thousands of years, but what about changes over a single or other number of generations that can be observed in living memory? Lately I had came across the notion of ontogenesis, that being, the process of developement in an organism in its own lifetime. I have heard some speculation that ontogenetic changes can be observed and influence development.
Does ontogenesis affect generational adaptation? It would be interesting if it would, although this is just a speculation on my part. There was around 1996, a Marvel Comics series concerning the origins of Mr. Sinister. Sinister, who lived around the 19thC, maintained the belief that human beings can go through significant change over a period of observable (that is, in our lifetime) generation. Mr. Sinister speculated, in a manner similar to domestication or selective animal breeding, that significant changes can be encouraged.