A Gedankenexperiment on Speciation

You’re a biologist who realizes that the idea of immutable species – kinds of creatures arranged hierarchically and permanently – is long dead. You see that one type of animal can morph into another type, and (save for some limits on how quickly genes can change) there’s nothing to prevent any new trait from developing in a population of creatures. In other words, all the common people who think that there are real species of animals created by god are wrong.

What do you do? (Choose one.)

a) Realizing that the mutability of animals has profound implications for medicine and husbandry (after all, our doctors and veterinarians must take note, as they already do to some extent, of the fact that there is no real biological barrier between animals, and how can we give different treatments for different animals if there’s no biological difference between them?), you ponder and then write about what should be done in light of the evidence of evolution, suggesting reforms to medicinal practices and new ways to think about breeding various animals.

b) You spend your time concocting new definitions of “species” to replace the immutable kind species that no longer holds.

In my view, choice a) is eminently worthwhile, while choice b) is a complete waste of time. I am mystified that most biologists choose b).


This post is pure snark. For context, see here and here.


7 responses to “A Gedankenexperiment on Speciation

  1. Pure snark, maybe, but no worse-informed about its topic than the post from a certain biologist that prompted it.

  2. I don’t know whether I’ve been banned at Why Evolution is True, but I submitted the below comment, which was held for moderation, and then disappeared. And then when I resubmitted a version with fewer links, it never showed up.

    Likewise, an innocuous cat comment on a cat thread just went poof. So either I’ve been banned, or WordPress is being wonky.

    It was clear that Jerry was pretty testy back on the 19th (witness here where he accuses a commenter of rudeness just for saying that insects creep her out), which is one reason I backed off after an initial dose of exasperated snark.

    But I’m frankly surprised that I’d be banned for the way I’ve pushed back against Coyne’s claim certain philosophical projects he disagrees with are a “complete waste of time.”

    We’ll see. If I did get banned, here’s the post that apparently did the trick (it’s a response to a question directed at me):

    I am certainly not saying that free will is detached from the laws of physics. (I label myself a “physicalist” to try to give people some indication of where I stand on such issues.)

    I am shifting the definition of “free will” in rather the same way that Jerry is shifting the definition of “species”, since he’s apparently unwilling to admit and proclaim the fact that the old notion of permanent divinely-created, immutable species is long dead.

    See here and here for more, if you like.

  3. If you’ve been banned, welcome to the club. My comments also stopped appearing there a while ago. For someone who loves to dish it out, Coyne is hypocritically thin-skinned himself. It’s one thing to ban people for name-calling and invective. It’s quite another to ban them for pointing out logical and conceptual mistakes that a dabbler in philosophy like Coyne is bound to make. I think his critics on the issue of free will have touched a nerve, making him more hypersensitive than ever. In a way, that’s progress.

  4. Pingback: Why the Pseudonym? | Physicalism

  5. I decided to go with my real name om my blog. It was an easy decision, because my real name is already all over the Internet from earlier usenet postings.

    I don’t have any advice for you on whether to “come out.”

    I do have another suggestion. Try posting on another wordpress blog, preferably something pertinent but uncontroversial. I suggest that as a check. As I have discovered, it is possible to get into akismet’s spammer list. And when that happens, comments silently disappear.

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