Christian de Duve (2010) - Natural Selection and the Future of Life (Lecture + Discussion)

Christian de Duve (2010)

Natural Selection and the Future of Life (Lecture + Discussion)

Christian de Duve (2010)

Natural Selection and the Future of Life (Lecture + Discussion)

Abstract

Summary

In his lecture Professor Christian René de Duve gives a rough overview on the history of life starting about 3.5 billion years ago with the first cells up to the appearance of the first primates 70 million years ago, and he states that all organisms including humans are derived from one single ancestor. De Duve describes natural selection as mechanism of evolution and he shows the mechanism of heredity by viewing the works of Darwin and Mendel. Natural selection is only possible because during the reproduction process of organisms sometimes imperfect copies of the parent DNA are made leading to variations in the population, which is followed by competition. De Duve gives examples what can cause mistakes during DNA copying and clearly distances himself from creationism and intelligent design. Another determining fact is the evolutionary lottery, where mutations are created by chance. Several famous scientists are convinced that the evolutionary process is not reproducible because it was ruled by chance and just a small part of all possible variants were offered to selection. De Duve and some others hold a different view. To support this theory he gives some calculations on the probability of the occurrence of mutations showing “how chance can be converted to necessity”.

Abstract

Life appeared on Earth more than 3.6 billion years ago and progressively evolved into microbes, plants, fungi, and animals of increasing complexity, with as latest significant event the emergence of our species, Homo sapiens sapiens, a mere 200.000 years ago. Denied by creationists, the occurrence of this process has been established beyond reasonable doubt.

It is generally accepted, except by the defenders of "intelligent design", that biological evolution has been largely governed by natural selection, a process dependent on accidental genetic modifications (mutations), leading to competition among the resulting variants for available resources, with as outcome the necessary emergence of those forms best able to survive and reproduce under the prevailing physical-chemical conditions. A critical feature of natural selection is that it is dependent only on immediate benefits, whatever the nature, good or bad, of its later consequences.

Human beings have come out as the uncontested winners in this evolutionary process, having succeeded, in invading every part of our planet, accaparating for their own benefit a major part of its resources, and multiplying at an ever increasing rate. This success, achieved thanks to a number of traits favored by the blind process of natural selection, has reached a point where the very future of humanity is seriously threatened. Our only hope to escape extreme hardships, if not extinction, is to take advantage of our ability, unique in the entire living world, to act against natural selection, displaying foresight, determination, and, especially, wisdom. Such is the challenge for future generations.

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