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Natural Selection Quotes (90 quotes)

Charles Darwin quote This…I call Natural Selection, or Survival of the Fittest
A grasshopper camouflaged in the grass. (source)

Dinosaur: I plan to use punctuated equilibrium to turn this zit into a third eye.
Catbert: That's not a natural advantage. You'd better stay away from the fitter dinosaurs.
Dilbert comic strip (30 Aug 2002).
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According to my derivative hypothesis, a change takes place first in the structure of the animal, and this, when sufficiently advanced, may lead to modifications of habits… . “Derivation” holds that every species changes, in time, by virtue of inherent tendencies thereto. “Natural Selection” holds that no such change can take place without the influence of altered external circumstances educing or selecting such change… . The hypothesis of “natural selection” totters on the extension of a conjectural condition, explanatory of extinction to the majority of organisms, and not known or observed to apply to the origin of any species.
In On the Anatomy of Vertebrates (1868), Vol. 3, 808.
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All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker.
The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 5.
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All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 76.
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As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 119.
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As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1866), 577.

But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position—namely, at the close of the Introduction—the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.
In The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection with additions and corrections from sixth and last English edition (1899), Vol. 2, 293.
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Contrary to popular parlance, Darwin didn't discover evolution. He uncovered one (most would say the) essential mechanism by which it operates: natural selection. Even then, his brainstorm was incomplete until the Modern Synthesis of the early/mid-20th century when (among other things) the complementary role of genetic heredity was fully realized. Thousands upon thousands of studies have followed, providing millions of data points that support this understanding of how life on Earth has come to be as it is.
In online article, 'The Day That Botany Took on Bobby Jindal by Just Being Itself', Huffington Post (5 Aug 2013).
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Dr. Wallace, in his Darwinism, declares that he can find no ground for the existence of pure scientists, especially mathematicians, on the hypothesis of natural selection. If we put aside the fact that great power in theoretical science is correlated with other developments of increasing brain-activity, we may, I think, still account for the existence of pure scientists as Dr. Wallace would himself account for that of worker-bees. Their function may not fit them individually to survive in the struggle for existence, but they are a source of strength and efficiency to the society which produces them.
In Grammar of Science (1911), Part, 1, 221.
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Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere. In effect natural selection operates upon the products of chance and can feed nowhere else; but it operates in a domain of very demanding conditions, and from this domain chance is barred. It is not to chance but to these conditions that eveloution owes its generally progressive cource, its successive conquests, and the impresssion it gives of a smooth and steady unfolding.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 118-119.
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Everything that comes into being seeks room for itself and desires duration: hence it drives something else from its place and shortens its duration.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 199.
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Evolution is a hard, inescapable mistress. There is just no room for compassion or good sportsmanship. Too many organisms are born, so, quite simply, a lot of them are going to have to die because there isn't enough food and space to go around. You can be beautiful, fast and strong, but it might not matter. The only thing that does matter is, whether you leave more children carrying your genes than the next person leaves. It’s true whether you’re a prince, a frog, or an American elm.
From The Center of Life: A Natural History of the Cell (1977, 1978), 37.
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Evolution triumphs because it turns to natural selection, the plodding accumulation of error.
Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated (1999), 9.
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Heavy dependence on direct observation is essential to biology not only because of the complexity of biological phenomena, but because of the intervention of natural selection with its criterion of adequacy rather than perfection. In a system shaped by natural selection it is inevitable that logic will lose its way.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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Historians will have to face the fact that natural selection determined the evolution of cultures in the same manner as it did that of species.
On Aggression, trans. M. Latzke (1966), 260.
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How can altruism, which by definition reduces personal fitness, possibly evolve by natural selection? The answer is kinship: if the genes causing the altruism are shared by two organisms because of common descent, and if the altruistic act by one organism increases the joint contribution of these genes to the next generation, the propensity to altruism will spread through the gene pool. This occurs even though the altruist makes less of a solitary contribution to the gene pool as the price of its altruistic act.
In Sociobiology (1975), 3-4.
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I am quite sure that our views on evolution would be very different had biologists studied genetics and natural selection before and not after most of them were convinced that evolution had occurred.
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I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.
from Origin of Species (1859, 1888), 49.

I never know whether to be more surprised at Darwin himself for making so much of natural selection, or at his opponents for making so little of it.
Selections from His Notebook. Reprinted in Memories and Portraits, Memoirs of Himself and Selections from His Notebook (1924, 2003), 184.
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In a world created by natural selection, homogeneity means vulnerability.
In 'Unmined Riches', The Diversity of Life (1992), 301.
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In its essence, the theory of natural selection is primarily an attempt to give an account of the probable mechanism of the origin of the adaptations of the organisms to their environment, and only secondarily an attempt to explain evolution at large. Some modern biologists seem to believe that the word 'adaptation' has teleological connotations, and should therefore be expunged from the scientific lexicon. With this we must emphatically disagree. That adaptations exist is so evident as to be almost a truism, although this need not mean that ours is the best of all possible worlds. A biologist has no right to close his eyes to the fact that the precarious balance between a living being and its environment must be preserved by some mechanism or mechanisms if life is to endure.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 150.
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In the process of natural selection, then, any device that can insert a higher proportion of certain genes into subsequent generations will come to characterize the species.
'The Morality of the Gene'.; Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975, 1980), 3.
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In the study of this membrane [the retina] I for the first time felt my faith in Darwinism (hypothesis of natural selection) weakened, being amazed and confounded by the supreme constructive ingenuity revealed not only in the retina and in the dioptric apparatus of the vertebrates but even in the meanest insect eye. ... I felt more profoundly than in any other subject of study the shuddering sensation of the unfathomable mystery of life.
Recollections of My Life (1898), 576. Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 16.
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In true natural selection, if a body has what it takes to survive, its genes automatically survive because they are inside it. So the genes that survive tend to be, automatically, those genes that confer on bodies the qualities that assist them to survive.
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 57
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It is easy without any very profound logical analysis to perceive the difference between a succession of favorable deviations from the laws of chance, and on the other hand, the continuous and cumulative action of these laws. It is on the latter that the principle of Natural Selection relies.
In The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 37. Reprinted as A Complete Variorum Edition (2003), 37.
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It is essential for genetic material to be able to make exact copies of itself; otherwise growth would produce disorder, life could not originate, and favourable forms would not be perpetuated by natural selection.
Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1962). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine, 1942-1962 (1999, 762.
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It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
Concluding remarks in final chapter, The Origin of Species (1859), 490. In the second edition, Darwin changed “breathed” to “breathed by the Creator”.
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It is natural selection that gives direction to changes, orients chance, and slowly, progressively produces more complex structures, new organs, and new species. Novelties come from previously unseen association of old material. To create is to recombine.
In 'Evolution and Tinkering', Science (10 Jun 1977), 196, 1163.
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It is the intact and functioning organism on which natural selection operates. Organisms are therefore the central element of concern to the biologist who aspires to a broad and integrated understanding of biology.
From 'Interspecific comparison as a tool for ecological physiologists', collected in M.E. Feder, A.F. Bennett, W.W. Burggren, and R.B. Huey, (eds.), New Directions in Ecological Physiology (1987), 15.
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It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages...
The Origin of Species (1870), 80.
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It may very properly be asked whether the attempt to define distinct species, of a more or less permanent nature, such as we are accustomed to deal with amongst the higher plants and animals, is not altogether illusory amongst such lowly organised forms of life as the bacteria. No biologist nowadays believes in the absolute fixity of species … but there are two circumstances which here render the problem of specificity even more difficult of solution. The bacteriologist is deprived of the test of mutual fertility or sterility, so valuable in determining specific limits amongst organisms in which sexual reproduction prevails. Further, the extreme rapidity with which generation succeeds generation amongst bacteria offers to the forces of variation and natural selection a field for their operation wholly unparalleled amongst higher forms of life.
'The Evolution of the Streptococci', The Lancet, 1906, 2, 1415-6.
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It was Darwin’s chief contribution, not only to Biology but to the whole of natural science, to have brought to light a process by which contingencies a priori improbable are given, in the process of time, an increasing probability, until it is their non-occurrence, rather than their occurrence, which becomes highly improbable.
From essay 'Retrospect of the Criticisms of the Theory of Natural Selection', reproduced in Julian Huxley, A.C. Hardy, and E.B. Ford (eds.), Evolution as a Process (1954), 91, as cited in Elizabeth Knowles, What They Didn't Say: A Book of Misquotations (2006), 79-80. “Natural selection is a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability,” which is seen more often, is a summary form of Fisher’s idea (not a verbatim quote) written by Julian Huxley, ibid, 5.
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It wasn’t the finches that put the idea [of natural selection] in Darwin’s head, it was the tortoises. The reason he didn’t use the tortoises [in writing On the Origin of Species] was that, when he got back, he found he didn’t have localities on the tortoise specimens. Here the great god, the greatest naturalist we have records of, made a mistake. His fieldwork wasn’t absolutely perfect.
From interview with Brian Cox and Robert Ince, in 'A Life Measured in Heartbeats', New Statesman (21 Dec 2012), 141, No. 5138, 33.
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It will be noticed that the fundamental theorem proved above bears some remarkable resemblances to the second law of thermodynamics. Both are properties of populations, or aggregates, true irrespective of the nature of the units which compose them; both are statistical laws; each requires the constant increase of a measurable quantity, in the one case the entropy of a physical system and in the other the fitness, measured by m, of a biological population. As in the physical world we can conceive the theoretical systems in which dissipative forces are wholly absent, and in which the entropy consequently remains constant, so we can conceive, though we need not expect to find, biological populations in which the genetic variance is absolutely zero, and in which fitness does not increase. Professor Eddington has recently remarked that “The law that entropy always increases—the second law of thermodynamics—holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of nature.” It is not a little instructive that so similar a law should hold the supreme position among the biological sciences. While it is possible that both may ultimately be absorbed by some more general principle, for the present we should note that the laws as they stand present profound differences—-(1) The systems considered in thermodynamics are permanent; species on the contrary are liable to extinction, although biological improvement must be expected to occur up to the end of their existence. (2) Fitness, although measured by a uniform method, is qualitatively different for every different organism, whereas entropy, like temperature, is taken to have the same meaning for all physical systems. (3) Fitness may be increased or decreased by changes in the environment, without reacting quantitatively upon that environment. (4) Entropy changes are exceptional in the physical world in being irreversible, while irreversible evolutionary changes form no exception among biological phenomena. Finally, (5) entropy changes lead to a progressive disorganization of the physical world, at least from the human standpoint of the utilization of energy, while evolutionary changes are generally recognized as producing progressively higher organization in the organic world.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 36.
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Judged superficially, a progressive saturation of the germ plasm of a species with mutant genes a majority of which are deleterious in their effects is a destructive process, a sort of deterioration of the genotype which threatens the very existence of the species and can finally lead only to its extinction. The eugenical Jeremiahs keep constantly before our eyes the nightmare of human populations accumulating recessive genes that produce pathological effects when homozygous. These prophets of doom seem to be unaware of the fact that wild species in the state of nature fare in this respect no better than man does with all the artificality of his surroundings, and yet life has not come to an end on this planet. The eschatological cries proclaiming the failure of natural selection to operate in human populations have more to do with political beliefs than with scientific findings.
Genetics and Origin of Species (1937), 126.
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Most educated people are aware that we're the outcome of nearly 4 billion years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun's demise, 6 billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.
Lecture (2006), reprinted as 'Dark Materials'. As cited in J.G. Ballard, 'The Catastrophist', collected in Christopher Hitchens, Arguably: Selected Essays (2011), 353
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Mutation is random; natural selection is the very opposite of random
The Blind Watchmaker (1996), 41
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Natural selection based on the differential multiplication of variant types cannot exist before there is material capable of replicating itself and its own variations, that is, before the origination of specifically genetic material or gene-material.
'Genetic Nucleic Acid', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (1961), 5, 7.
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Natural selection is a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability.
This is not a verbatim quote, but it is a summary of Fisher’s idea, as appearing without quotation marks in the words of the editor, Julian Huxley, in J.S. Huxley, A.C. Hardy and E.B. Ford (eds.), Evolution as a Process (1954), 5. The lengthier quote is from Fisher’s full essay 'Retrospect of the Criticisms of the Theory of Natural Selection' which appears in the same book on p.91. See it elsewhere in this site’s collection, as the Fisher quote that begins: “It was Darwin’s chief contribution…”.
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Natural selection is a theory of local adaptation to changing environments. It proposes no perfecting principles, no guarantee of general improvement,
Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History (1977), 45.

Natural selection is not the wind which propels the vessel, but the rudder which, by friction, now on this side and now on that, shapes the course.
Asa Gray
Illustrating the Darwinian Doctrine, in his essay 'Evolutionary Teleology,' in Darwiniana: Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism (1876), 386.

Natural selection produces systems that function no better than necessary. It results in ad hoc adaptive solutions to immediate problems. Whatever enhances fitness is selected. The product of natural selection is not perfection but adequacy, not final answers but limited, short-term solutions.
In 'The role of natural history in contemporary biology', BioScience (1986), 36, 325.
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Nothing drives progress like the imagination. The idea precedes the deed. The only exceptions are accidents and natural selection.
In The Marketing Imagination (1983, 1986), 127.
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On the theory of natural selection we can clearly understand the full meaning of that old canon in natural history, “Natura non facit saltum.” This canon, if we look only to the present inhabitants of the world, is not strictly correct, but if we include all those of past times, it must by my theory be strictly true.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 183.
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Quantitative work shows clearly that natural selection is a reality, and that, among other things, it selects Mendelian genes, which are known to be distributed at random through wild populations, and to follow the laws of chance in their distribution to offspring. In other words, they are an agency producing variation of the kind which Darwin postulated as the raw material on which selection acts.
'Natural Selection', Nature, 1929, 124, 444.
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Scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits ... Culture can potentiate as well as constrain–as Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds do not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.
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Several very eminent living paleontologists frequently emphasise the abruptness of some of the major changes that have occurred, and seek for an external cause. This is a heady wine and has intoxicated palaeontologists since the days when they could blame it all on Noah's flood. In fact, books are still being published by the lunatic fringe with the same explanation. In case this book should be read by some fundamentalist searching for straws to prop up his prejudices, let me state categorically that all my experience (such as it is) has led me to an unqualified acceptance of evolution by natural selection as a sufficient explanation for what I have seen in the fossil record
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (1973), 19-20.
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Since natural selection demands only adequacy, elegance of design is not relevant; any combination of behavioural adjustment, physiological regulation, or anatomical accommodation that allows survival and reproduction may be favoured by selection. Since all animals are caught in a phylogenetic trap by the nature of past evolutionary adjustments, it is to be expected that a given environmental challenge will be met in a variety of ways by different animals. The delineation of the patterns of the accommodations of diverse types of organisms to the environment contributes much of the fascination of ecologically relevant physiology.
In 'The roles of physiology and behaviour in the maintenance of homeostasis in the desert environment.', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology (1964), 11.
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Sociobiology is not just any statement that biology, genetics, and evolutionary theory have something to do with human behavior. Sociobiology is a specific theory about the nature of genetic and evolutionary input into human behavior. It rests upon the view that natural selection is a virtually omnipotent architect, constructing organisms part by part as best solutions to problems of life in local environments. It fragments organisms into “traits,” explains their existence as a set of best solutions, and argues that each trait is a product of natural selection operating “for” the form or behavior in question. Applied to humans, it must view specific behaviors (not just general potentials) as adaptations built by natural selection and rooted in genetic determinants, for natural selection is a theory of genetic change. Thus, we are presented with unproved and unprovable speculations about the adaptive and genetic basis of specific human behaviors: why some (or all) people are aggressive, xenophobic, religious, acquisitive, or homosexual.
In Hen's Teeth and Horses Toes (1983, 2010), 242-243.
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Such biological ideas as the “survival of the fittest,” whatever their doubtful value in natural science, are utterly useless in attempting to understand society … The life of a man in society, while it is incidentally a biological fact, has characteristics that are not reducible to biology and must be explained in the distinctive terms of a cultural analysis … the physical well-being of men is a result of their social organization and not vice versa … Social improvement is a product of advances in technology and social organization, not of breeding or selective elimination … Judgments as to the value of competition between men or enterprises or nations must be based upon social and not allegedly biological consequences; and … there is nothing in nature or a naturalistic philosophy of life to make impossible the acceptance of moral sanctions that can be employed for the common good.
Social Darwinism in American Thought 1860-1915 (1945), 176.
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The dispute between evolutionists and creation scientists offers textbook writers and teachers a wonderful opportunity to provide students with insights into the philosophy and methods of science. … What students really need to know is … how scientists judge the merit of a theory. Suppose students were taught the criteria of scientific theory evaluation and then were asked to apply these criteria … to the two theories in question. Wouldn’t such a task qualify as authentic science education? … I suspect that when these two theories are put side by side, and students are given the freedom to judge their merit as science, creation theory will fail ignominiously (although natural selection is far from faultless). … It is not only bad science to allow disputes over theory to go unexamined, but also bad education.
In Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999), 168.
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The frequent allegation that the selective processes in the human species are no longer 'natural' is due to persistence of the obsolete nineteenth-century concept of 'natural' selection. The error of this view is made clear when we ask its proponents such questions as, why should the 'surviving fittest' be able to withstand cold and inclement weather without the benefit of fire and clothing? Is it not ludicrous to expect selection to make us good at defending ourselves against wild beasts when wild beasts are getting to be so rare that it is a privilege to see one outside of a zoo? Is it necessary to eliminate everyone who has poor teeth when our dentists stand ready to provide us with artificial ones? Is it a great virtue to be able to endure pain when anaesthetics are available?
[Co-author with American statistician Gordon Allen]
Theodosius Dobzhansky and Gordon Allen, 'Does Natural Selection Continue to Operate in Modern Mankind?', American Anthropologist, 1956, 58, 595.
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The fundamental biological variant is DNA. That is why Mendel's definition of the gene as the unvarying bearer of hereditary traits, its chemical identification by Avery (confirmed by Hershey), and the elucidation by Watson and Crick of the structural basis of its replicative invariance, are without any doubt the most important discoveries ever made in biology. To this must be added the theory of natural selection, whose certainty and full significance were established only by those later theories.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 104.
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The goal of science is to build better mousetraps. The goal of nature is to build better mice.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 339.
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The great mathematician fully, almost ruthlessly, exploits the domain of permissible reasoning and skirts the impermissible. … [I]t is hard to believe that our reasoning power was brought, by Darwin’s process of natural selection, to the perfection which it seems to possess.
In 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,' Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics (Feb 1960), 13, No. 1 (February 1960). Collected in Eugene Paul Wigner, A.S. Wightman (ed.), Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Collected Works of Eugene Paul Wigner (1955), Vol. 6, 536.
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The human brain became large by natural selection (who knows why, but presumably for good cause). Yet surely most ‘things’ now done by our brains, and essential both to our cultures and to our very survival, are epiphenomena of the computing power of this machine, not genetically grounded Darwinian entities created specifically by natural selection for their current function.
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The main steps of my argument may be summarized thus:
1. Organisms are highly coordinated structures.
2. Only certain avenues of change are compatible with their conditions of coordination.
3. The formative and selective action of these internal conditions is theoretically and empirically different from that of Darwinian selection.
4. Mutations in the mode of coordination of the genetic system lie outside the scope of the classical arguments purporting to show that natural selection is the only directive agency.
5. The coordinative conditions constitute a second directive agency.
In Internal Factors in Evolution (1965), 73.
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The majority of evolutive movements are degenerative. Progressive cases are exceptional. Characters appear suddenly that have no meaning in the atavistic series. Evolution in no way shows a general tendency toward progress… . The only thing that could be accomplished by slow changes would be the accumulation of neutral characteristics without value for survival. Only important and sudden mutations can furnish the material which can be utilized by selection.
As quoted in Isaac Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 91. Please contact Webmaster if you know the primary source.
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The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.
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The outlook seems grim. Natural selection under civilized conditions may lead mankind to evolve towards a state of genetic overspecialization for living in gadget-ridden environments. It is certainly up to man to decide whether this direction of his evolution is or is not desirable. If it is not, man has, or soon will have, the knowledge requisite to redirect the evolution of his species pretty much as he sees fit. Perhaps we should not be too dogmatic about this choice of direction. We may be awfully soft compared to paleolithic men when it comes to struggling, unaided by gadgets, with climatic difficulties and wild beasts. Most of us feel most of the time that this is not a very great loss. If our remote descendants grow to be even more effete than we are, they may conceivably be compensated by acquiring genotypes conducive to kindlier dispositions and greater intellectual capacities than those prevalent in mankind today.
[Co-author with American statistician Gordon Allen.]
Theodosius Dobzhansky and Gordon Allen, 'Does Natural Selection Continue to Operate in Modern Mankind?', American Anthropologist, 1956, 58 599.
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The present gigantic development of the mathematical faculty is wholly unexplained by the theory of natural selection, and must be due to some altogether distinct cause.
In Darwinism, chap. 15.
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The process of mutation is the only known source of the raw materials of genetic variability, and hence of evolution. It is subject to experimental study, and considerable progress has been accomplished in this study in recent years. An apparent paradox has been disclosed. Although the living matter becomes adapted to its environment through formation of superior genetic patterns from mutational components, the process of mutation itself is not adaptive. On the contrary, the mutants which arise are, with rare exceptions, deleterious to their carriers, at least in the environments which the species normally encounters. Some of them are deleterious apparently in all environments. Therefore, the mutation process alone, not corrected and guided by natural selection, would result in degeneration and extinction rather than in improved adaptedness.
'On Methods of Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology', American Scientist, 1957, 45, 385.
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The process of natural selection has been summed up in the phrase “survival of the fittest.” This, however, tells only part of the story. “Survival of the existing” in many cases covers more of the truth. For in hosts of cases the survival of characters rests not on any special usefulness or fitness, but on the fact that individuals possessing these characters have inhabited or invaded a certain area. The principle of utility explains survivals among competing structures. It rarely accounts for qualities associated with geographic distribution.
The nature of animals which first colonize a district must determine what the future fauna will be. From their specific characters, which are neither useful nor harmful, will be derived for the most part the specific characters of their successors.
It is not essential to the meadow lark that he should have a black blotch on the breast or the outer tail-feather white. Yet all meadow larks have these characters just as all shore larks have the tiny plume behind the ear. Those characters of the parent stock, which may be harmful in the new relations, will be eliminated by natural selection. Those especially helpful will be intensified and modified, but the great body of characters, the marks by which we know the species, will be neither helpful nor hurtful. These will be meaningless streaks and spots, variations in size of parts, peculiar relations of scales or hair or feathers, little matters which can neither help nor hurt, but which have all the persistence heredity can give.
Foot-notes to Evolution. A Series of Popular Addresses on the Evolution of Life (1898), 218.
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The Question is what is The Question?
Is it all a Magic Show?
Is Reality an Illusion?
What is the framework of The Machine?
Darwin’s Puzzle: Natural Selection?
Where does Space-Time come from?
Is there any answer except that it comes from consciousness?
What is Out There?
T’is Ourselves?
Or, is IT all just a Magic Show?
Einstein told me:
“If you would learn, teach!”
Speaking at the American Physical Society, Philadelphia (Apr 2003). As quoted and cited in Jack Sarfatti, 'Wheeler's World: It From Bit?', collected in Frank H. Columbus and Volodymyr Krasnoholovets (eds.), Developments in Quantum Physics (2004), 42.
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The religious conservatives make an important point when they oppose presenting evolution in a manner that suggests it has been proved to be entirely determined by random, mechanistic events, but they are wrong to oppose the teaching of evolution itself. Its occurrence, on Earth and in the Universe, is by now indisputable. Not so its processes, however. In this, there is need for a nuanced approach, with evidence of creative ordering presented as intrinsic both to what we call matter and to the unfolding story, which includes randomness and natural selection.
Epigraph, without citation, in Michael Dowd, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World (2008), 109.
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The starting point of Darwin’s theory of evolution is precisely the existence of those differences between individual members of a race or species which morphologists for the most part rightly neglect. The first condition necessary, in order that any process of Natural Selection may begin among a race, or species, is the existence of differences among its members; and the first step in an enquiry into the possible effect of a selective process upon any character of a race must be an estimate of the frequency with which individuals, exhibiting any given degree of abnormality with respect to that, character, occur. The unit, with which such an enquiry must deal, is not an individual but a race, or a statistically representative sample of a race; and the result must take the form of a numerical statement, showing the relative frequency with which the various kinds of individuals composing the race occur.
Biometrika: A Joumal for the Statistical Study of Biological Problems (1901), 1, 1-2.
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The Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase ... This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 12.
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The theory of evolution by natural selection is an ecological theory—founded on ecological observation by perhaps the greatest of all ecologists. It has been adopted by and brought up by the science of genetics, and ecologists, being modest people, are apt to forget their distinguished parenthood.
'A Darwinian Approach to Plant Ecology', Journal of Ecology, 1967, 55, 247.
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The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.
[Answer to question: What is the value in knowing “Why are we here?”]
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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There is a finite number of species of plants and animals—even of insects—upon the earth. … Moreover, the universality of the genetic code, the common character of proteins in different species, the generality of cellular structure and cellular reproduction, the basic similarity of energy metabolism in all species and of photosynthesis in green plants and bacteria, and the universal evolution of living forms through mutation and natural selection all lead inescapably to a conclusion that, although diversity may be great, the laws of life, based on similarities, are finite in number and comprehensible to us in the main even now.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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This preservation of favourable variations and the destruction of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
From Origin of Species (fifth edition, 1869), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), and is absent from earlier editions. Also in the fifth edition, the word “destruction” replaced “rejection” used in the earlier editions (1859, 1860, 1861, 1866) to the fourth edition.
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This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
From Origin of Species (first edition, 1859), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), when also “rejection” was replaced with “destruction.”
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This survival of the fittest which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called “natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), Vol. 1, 444-445.
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Throughout his last half-dozen books, for example, Arthur Koestler has been conducting a campaign against his own misunderstanding of Darwinism. He hopes to find some ordering force, constraining evolution to certain directions and overriding the influence of natural selection ... Darwinism is not the theory of capricious change that Koestler imagines. Random variation may be the raw material of change, but natural selection builds good design by rejecting most variants while accepting and accumulating the few that improve adaptation to local environments.
In The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History (1990, 2010), 38.
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To ask what qualities distinguish good from routine scientific research is to address a question that should be of central concern to every scientist. We can make the question more tractable by rephrasing it, “What attributes are shared by the scientific works which have contributed importantly to our understanding of the physical world—in this case the world of living things?” Two of the most widely accepted characteristics of good scientific work are generality of application and originality of conception. . These qualities are easy to point out in the works of others and, of course extremely difficult to achieve in one’s own research. At first hearing novelty and generality appear to be mutually exclusive, but they really are not. They just have different frames of reference. Novelty has a human frame of reference; generality has a biological frame of reference. Consider, for example, Darwinian Natural Selection. It offers a mechanism so widely applicable as to be almost coexistent with reproduction, so universal as to be almost axiomatic, and so innovative that it shook, and continues to shake, man’s perception of causality.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230.
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To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1882), 143-144.
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We are the accidental result of an unplanned process … the fragile result of an enormous concatenation of improbabilities, not the predictable product of any definite process.
'Extemporaneous Comments of Evolutionary Hopes and Realities'. In Charles L. Hamrum (Ed.), Darwin's Legacy, Nobel Conference XVIII (1983), 101-102. Quoted in Holmes Rolston, Genes, Genesis, and God (1999), 17-18.
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We do not inhabit a perfected world where natural selection ruthlessly scrutinizes all organic structures and then molds them for optimal utility. Organisms inherit a body form and a style of embryonic development; these impose constraint s upon future change and adaptation. In many cases, evolutionary pathways reflect inherited patterns more than current environmental demands. These inheritances constrain, but they also provide opportunity. A potentially minor genetic change ... entails a host of complex, nonadaptive consequences ... What ‘play’ would evolution have if each structure were built for a restricted purpose and could be used for nothing else? How could humans learn to write if our brain had not evolved for hunting, social cohesion, or whatever, and could not transcend the adaptive boundaries of its original purpose?
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We live in a cultural milieu ... The idea that culture is our ecological niche is still applicable. The impact and force of natural selection on the human physique are conditioned by the dimensions of culture.
Interview with Pat Shipman, 21 January 1991. Quoted in Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, The Neanderthals: Changing the Image of Mankind (1993), 334.
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We may consequently state the fundamental theorem of Natural Selection in the form: The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variance in fitness at that time.
The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 35.
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When Bonner writes that ‘natural selection for optimal feeding is then presumed to be the cause of non-motility in all forms,’ I can’t help suspecting that some plants might do even better if they could walk from shade to sun–but the inherited constraints of design never permitted a trial of this intriguing option.
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When one ponders on the tremendous journey of evolution over the past three billion years or so, the prodigious wealth of structures it has engendered, and the extraordinarily effective teleonomic performances of living beings from bacteria to man, one may well find oneself beginning to doubt again whether all this could conceiveably be the product of an enormous lottery presided over by natural selection, blindly picking the rare winners from among numbers drawn at random. [Nevertheless,] a detailed review of the accumulated modern evidence [shows] that this conception alone is compatible with the facts.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 138.
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When... the biologist is confronted with the fact that in the organism the parts are so adapted to each other as to give rise to a harmonious whole; and that the organisms are endowed with structures and instincts calculated to prolong their life and perpetuate their race, doubts as to the adequacy of a purely physiochemical viewpoint in biology may arise. The difficulties besetting the biologist in this problem have been rather increased than diminished by the discovery of Mendelian heredity, according to which each character is transmitted independently of any other character. Since the number of Mendelian characters in each organism is large, the possibility must be faced that the organism is merely a mosaic of independent hereditary characters. If this be the case the question arises: What moulds these independent characters into a harmonious whole? The vitalist settles this question by assuming the existence of a pre-established design for each organism and of a guiding 'force' or 'principle' which directs the working out of this design. Such assumptions remove the problem of accounting for the harmonious character of the organism from the field of physics or chemistry. The theory of natural selection invokes neither design nor purpose, but it is incomplete since it disregards the physiochemical constitution of living matter about which little was known until recently.
The Organism as a Whole: From a Physiochemical Viewpoint (1916), v-vi.
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While natural selection drives Darwinian evolution, the growth of human culture is largely Lamarckian: new generations of humans inherit the acquired discoveries of generations past, enabling cosmic insight to grow slowly, but without limit.
In magazine article, 'The Beginning of Science', Natural History (Mar 2001). Collected in Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), 20.
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With highly civilised nations continued progress depends in a subordinate degree on natural selection; for such nations do not supplant and exterminate one another as do savage tribes. Nevertheless the more intelligent members within the same community will succeed better in the long run than the inferior, and leave a more numerous progeny, and this is a form of natural selection.
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You can be a thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics, poetry, conscience, or decency. For “Natural Selection” has no moral significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose, no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals could bear to live.
Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921), lxi-lxii.
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You live and learn. Or you don’t live long.
In 'From the Notebooks of Lazarus Long', Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 269.
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Zoocentrism is the primary fallacy of human sociobiology, for this view of human behavior rests on the argument that if the actions of ‘lower’ animals with simple nervous systems arise as genetic products of natural selection, then human behavior should have a similar basis.
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… on these expanded membranes [butterfly wings] Nature writes, as on a tablet, the story of the modifications of species, so truly do all changes of the organisation register themselves thereon. Moreover, the same colour-patterns of the wings generally show, with great regularity, the degrees of blood-relationship of the species. As the laws of nature must be the same for all beings, the conclusions furnished by this group of insects must be applicable to the whole world.
From The Naturalist on the River Amazons: A record of Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian life, and Aspects of Nature under the Equator, During Eleven Years of Travel (1864), 413.
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“Planning” is simply the result of experience read backward and projected into the future. To me the “purposive” action of a beehive is simply the summation and integration of its units, and Natural Selection has put higher and higher premiums on the most “purposeful” integration. It is the same way (to me) in the evolution of the middle ear, the steps in the Cynodonts (clearly shown by me in 1910 and by you later in Oudenodon) make it easier to see how such a wonderful device as the middle ear could arise without any predetermination or human-like planning, and in fact in the good old Darwinian way, if only we admit that as the “twig is bent the tree’s inclined” and that each stage conserves the advantages of its predecessors… The simple idea that planning is only experience read backward and combined by selection in suitable or successful combinations takes the mystery out of Nature and out of men’s minds.
Letter to Robert Broom [1933]. In Ronald Rainger, An Agenda for Antiquity (1991), 238.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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