Evolution with Jeff Schloss

Conversation with: Jeff Schloss

In this video conversation, Jeff Schloss discusses some things we should be mindful of when we discuss evolution. He begins with the observation that when we use the term “evolution”, it is not always exactly clear what we are actually discussing unless we denote the intended usage.

To join the conversation, see Evolution: What We Know and What We Don't on our blog.

Video Transcription

One of the fascinating things about discussions about evolution is that they often aren't clear about what we're actually discussing. Evolution in terms of just genetic change over time is not even an idea. That's just a brute observation. We see it. Evolution in the sense of whether that genetic change over time has resulted in the diversity of species we see now, which is the proposition of common descent, is an idea. That's an interpretation. But the evidence for the truth of the interpretation is overwhelming. It ranges from biogeographic evidence, or where a species is located all over Earth to the fossil column, to more recently the discovery of profound examples of genetic fossils. That idea is very firmly established and is central to our understanding of how organisms work and how they're structured.

The last component of evolution is really a theoretical proposition, and that is, "What are the causes that drive the process?" That's something that is debated amongst biologists. The synthetic theory of evolution suggests, and that's the dominant paradigm, that evolution results from a twin process of mutation and natural selection. It is certainly true that those forces drive evolution, but the extent to which other factors are also important in evolutionary change is an issue of scientific debate. We never have the full answer at any given stage of development.