View Full Version : Evolution in the Subway

James Brody
January 30th, 2005, 08:51 AM
Evolution in the Subway

WABC, 770 AM, 6:30 am, Tuesday, January 25, 2005: the immediate story was that a homeless person kindled a blaze in order to stay warm. He used supplies from his shopping cart to build the fire that rode the cables into a relay station, melted insulation, and shut down several subway lines in New York City. Estimated repair time: FIVE years, later shortened to six months (and probably not the fault of a homeless person!) The fire destroyed some of the original electrical systems on which the rest of the network depends. Older systems back-up the newer and underlie an infinite variety of spin-off systems that depend on duplication, variation within compartments, and by-passing the old arrangements. Further, the machine tools, the environments, that manufactured the old parts no longer exist. And each relay station is different from every other relay station, a compartment that responds to local conditions and explores its own developmental path over generations. Finally, in a functional similarity to our immune system, the bolts and bars meant to exclude vandals and trespassers kept out the firefighters but not the fire. WABC also reported the subway tunnels to be a niche for many homeless and for petty criminals because the cops fear both darkness and the third rail. Remove predators and sexual selection reigns: we might expect bigger, bolder, or more clever crooks and homeless and greater variation in the contents of their carts!

Those tunnels become a biology experiment. Robert McArthur and Ed Wilson might find that the number of species is an algebraic function of tunnel area and derive an equation. The cops will certainly clean house just as Wilson once fumigated an island. In a few years the original population parameters will recur even with different players. And we see again the role (but not necessity!) of geographic isolation and evolutionary stages that support "new stuff" that rests on "old stuff" even when the "old stuff" can no longer be created anew. Squaws pulled travoises, street people push carts, yuppie broads on high, as if still in a tree, pilot SUV's: we all choose and carry our stuff. Evolution is a theory only to narcissists, fundamentalists, and impulsive fools who live only in the present.

James Brody


Mayr, E. (1976) Evolution & the Diversity of Life: Selected Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Belknap.
MacArthur, Robert & Wilson, E.O. (1967/2001) The Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
Raff, Rudolf (1996) The Shape of Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Copyright, 2005, James Brody, All Rights Reserved

Fred H.
January 30th, 2005, 09:24 AM
I agree with your sentiment that “Evolution is a theory only to narcissists, fundamentalists, and impulsive fools who live only in the present,” but then I feel similarly about first cause.

James Brody
January 30th, 2005, 09:54 AM
You should be dressing for church! And I should get up and shovel snow...


Lizzie Pickard
April 5th, 2005, 09:52 AM
Hi there, I just want to say, when you write "Evolution is a theory only to narcissists, etc.,", that makes me think you are using the term "theory" in the colloquial sense of "just a theory, untested".

This is a highly dangerous usage, considering the fact that the majority of Americans don't "believe" in the fact of evolution. Probably the reason they think they are entitled to make such a choice as to whether or not they "believe" in the fact of evolution has to do with misunderstanding the term "theory".

Here is what S.J. Gould had to say about this very important issue:

"In the American vernacular, "theory" often means "imperfect fact"--part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess. Thus the power of the creationist argument: evolution is "only" a theory and intense debate now rages about many aspects of the theory. If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can't even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it? Indeed, President Reagan echoed this argument before an evangelical group in Dallas when he said (in what I devoutly hope was campaign rhetoric): "Well, it is a theory. It is a scientific theory only, and it has in recent years been challenged in the world of science--that is, not believed in the scientific community to be as infallible as it once was."

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don't go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, "fact" doesn't mean "absolute certainty"; there ain't no such animal in an exciting and complex world.... Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us falsely for a style of argument that they themselves favor). In science "fact" can only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional consent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms."

April 5th, 2005, 10:20 PM
Lizzie, very warm welcome to the forum!

Nice to have another voice, especially one that isn't afraid to quote gadfly evolutionists. ;)

kind regards,


Lizzie Pickard
April 5th, 2005, 11:34 PM
Thank you very much! Funny- I was aware in quoting Gould that his name probably isn't the most authoritative these days. But I really like that clarifying explanation he gave.

James Brody
April 7th, 2005, 09:46 AM
Gould's final work, completed as he was dying, is a treasure of history and theory. Evo-devo, as predicted, gathers believers.

Latest: Sean Carroll, "Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo" NY: Norton. He, however, fails to mention Ed Wilson or Richard Dawkins: the war continues.

Bottom line: quote Gould anytime you want! Omigosh, I'll be drummed from HBES.