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Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science—the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place.
The testing of historical narratives implies that the wide gap between science and the humanities that so troubled physicist C. Snow is actually nonexistent—by virtue of its methodology and its acceptance of the time factor that makes change possible, evolutionary biology serves as a bridge.
The discovery of natural selection, by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, must itself be counted as an extraordinary philosophical advance.
The first is the nonconstancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself.
The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin.
Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts.
For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science.This process of nonrandom elimination impelled Darwin’s contemporary, philosopher Herbert Spencer, to describe evolution with the now familiar term “survival of the fittest.” (This description was long ridiculed as circular reasoning: “Who are the fittest?Those who survive.” In reality, a careful analysis can usually determine why certain individuals fail to thrive in a given set of conditions.) The truly outstanding achievement of the principle of natural selection is that it makes unnecessary the invocation of “final causes”—that is, any teleological forces leading to a particular end. Furthermore, the objective of selection even may change from one generation to the next, as environmental circumstances vary.Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.For example, three different scenarios have been proposed for the sudden extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous: a devastating epidemic; a catastrophic change of climate; and the impact of an asteroid, known as the Alvarez theory.A Secular View of Life Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology.Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline.The situation differs dramatically with regard to concepts in biology.Many biological ideas proposed during the past 150 years stood in stark conflict with what everybody assumed to be true.Modern thought is most dependent on the influence of Charles Darwin’s free newsletters."data-newsletterpromo-image="https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/458BF87F-514B-44EE-B87F5D531772CF83_source.png"data-newsletterpromo-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo-button-link="https://origincode=2018_sciam_Article Promo_Newsletter Sign Up"name="article Body" itemprop="article Body"On the Origin of the Species Clearly, our conception of the world and our place in it is, at the beginning of the 21st century, drastically different from the zeitgeist at the beginning of the 19th century.