Ecology and Evolution

What is the future of the theory of evolution?
Answered by Susan Sherwood and Science Channel
  • Susan Sherwood

    Susan Sherwood

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Evolution is concerned with adaptations that affect species' future survival. So what's the future of the theory of evolution itself? It could be fleshed out more, adjusted to fill in existing blanks or discarded for a better explanation. There's another emerging possibility: extending Darwin's theory of evolution beyond biology into other areas, to analyze existing structures and make predictions. It's been called "evolutionary change theory." Let's look at some possibilities.

    What about politics? Evolution encompasses the idea of change over time, to adapt in order to survive. How does this apply to government? Although the intent may be to maintain the general configuration, there is constant modification in order to improve. (Note that different stakeholders may not share a definition of "improvement.") The U. S. Constitution itself provides for change, allowing for the creation of new laws, the amendment of existing laws and judicial review.

    Within the social science fields, evolution may be compared to learning. Change comes as a result of an increase in the amount of information. This can occur as relationships develop, the past is analyzed or there is a cooperative effort to transform. Change can be cyclical: modifications occur, they are embraced or rejected, then replaced or reexamined.  The emergence of gay rights exemplifies social transformation in progress.

    How about a Darwinian view of culture? For a society an analogy can be drawn comparing individuals to DNA and communities to genes. Thus people provide the traits that compose the society and potentially cause change over time. Sometimes the change is prompted by oppression. This can be seen in the development of American hip-hop culture, which grew from Jamaican Rastafarian and reggae traditions. Once settled in New York, the Jamaican music was adopted yet modified by accelerating and looping, resulting in an evolutionary path for music.

    Researcher David Hunter Tow proposes a unified theory of evolution that encompasses all aspects of the universe: biology, other hard sciences, social sciences, technology, culture, arts, society and religion. He suggests expanding Darwin's model to incorporate all that affects humans by combining it with systems theory, networks and information theory. How far can this be extended?

    From Darwin's early musings on bird species to, perhaps, a theory of everything: evolution is on a long road with no end in sight.

    More answers from Susan Sherwood »

  2. The theory of evolution seeks to explain the origin of life on Earth and the origin of different species. While most of the scientific community has regarded evolution as fact for more than a century, a large number of people still dispute the theory of evolution, usually on the basis of religious beliefs, and various public controversies have resulted from this disagreement.

    According to evolutionary theory, life began billions of years ago, when a group of chemicals inadvertently organized themselves into a self-replicating molecule. This tiny molecule gave rise to everything that has ever lived on the planet. Different and more complex organisms grew from this simple beginning through mutation of DNA and natural selection.

    Of course, since the beginning of time, various myths and theories have existed as to how animals evolved, and how humans came to be. It was in the 18th century that scientists began to come up with the various theories of development that are still used today. Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace were responsible for the basis of the modern theory of evolution, which was made widely known with Darwin's Origin of the Species in 1859. At the time, genetics had not yet been researched, so Darwin's theories were incomplete. However, the ideas still caused much controversy. Since the late 20th century, as genetic science has progressed, researchers have been able to compare the DNA of various animals to see how closely related they may be, and what ancestors they might have in common.

    Today, the theory of evolution is still controversial, especially in schools. Some believe that evolution should only be taught alongside creation theory, while others believe it should not be taught at all.


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