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Re. Progress



Dinogeorge said:

>To deny that evolution by natural selection is not in some sense
>progressive is to deny the obvious--a fashionable but nevertheless
>deplorable trend among modern academics. The problem is not to >eschew
using terms such as "primitive," "advanced," and "progress" but to >give
them more precise definitions in an evolutionary context. These >terms may
only be defined relative to an evolutionary lineage and the >characters
that change within that lineage, but that certainly doesn't >make them
useless or pejorative.

Needless to say, as a teacher, I couldn't disagree more with all of this.
The word 'progress' implies 'getting better' (perhaps not so much within
the rarified atmosphere of the ivory tower, but to proper people it does),
and such an inference is only perhaps valid with hindsight and if the
ecological context is explained very clearly. When conditions change,
lineages may then 'progress' back to were they started, but the use of the
word here is getting increasingly silly. I wouldn't mind so much if pople
talked about birds progressing towards flight and ostriches progressing
towards giving up flight, but I see the former all the time, but never the
latter. Why, I wonder?

Every year I struggle to remove the baser notions of progress in evolution
from 150 first year undergraduates, and it's invariably a struggle. When
they then turn to text books and see sloppy use of words like 'progress',
'primitive', 'advanced' it makes the job that much harder. If there were no
non-perjorative terms available, then this sort of shorthand might be
justified, but there *are* simple alternatives. I believe we have a duty as
teachers (in our various ways) to do our utmost to minimise the risk of
being misleading.