great chain of being

Alex Duncan (
25 Oct 1995 06:38:14 GMT

In article <> H. M. Hubey, writes:

>The degree to which PC has invaded science never ceases to amaze
>me. What now? Am I being accused of being racist toward bacteria
>and fish?

The recognition that it is impossible to claim that one organism is more
advanced than another is not PC. It's just a recognition of reality.
For example, we can claim that humans are more intellectually advanced
than other animals (and some would question this: see Douglas Adams), but
does that mean we are "more highly evolved"? Virtually all modern
biologists would deny this possibility. Sure, we may be able to do
"human-things" better than other animals, but how good are we at
"cat-things" or "fish-things"? The answer is: not very good at all.
>From a cat's perspective, we're primitive. Evolution has probably been
occuring for ~4 Byr here on earth. IOW -- ALL organisms on earth belong
to lineages that have been evolving for 4 Byr.

>"Evolution" is just a word. What exactly are we talking about?
>It always helps to check a dictionary first and the some related
>evolve:(biology) to develop by evolutionary processes from a
>primitive to a more highly organized form.

Again, you've gone to a very general reference text to support a point.
What does "organized" mean? Many biologists would suggest that there
have been no advances in "organization" since the Cambrian (Paleozoic at
any rate), and others might question even that.

Your insistence on the idea that some organisms are "evolutionarily
advanced" over others reminds me of the idea of the "great chain of
being". This idea held some intellectual currency in the time of
Linneaus, but bit the dust when Darwin showed up.

Alex Duncan
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-1086