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Category: Evolution

The kangaroo is the first organism, but the fungus is not the biggest

So the record for the “world’s largest organism” has again been claimed for a fungus, something Stephen Jay Gould wrote about in his wonderfully titled essay “A Humongous Fungus Among Us” back in 1992, and which was included in his volume A Dinosaur in a Haystack.

The previous fungus, Armillaria gallica, is now replaced by a related mushroom stand, Armillaria ostoyae, in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. But I have my doubts. The term “organism” here has a meaning rather different to “relatively undifferentiated mass of related stands”. In fact, I want to talk about the notion of an organism, and how it has developed over the years.


Philosophy is to science, as ornithologists are to birds: 1. Introduction

This three-part series is a talk I gave a while back to some ecologists and molecular biologists. It is a brief overview of the aims and relationship between science and philosophy of science, with a special reference to the classification wars in systematics, and the interface of science and the broader community. I will present my own overview of the elements of science – as a dynamic evolving entity of knowledge gathering rather than as a timeless methodology or as a purely social movement.

[Part 2, Part 3]


The World according to Genesis: Stuff that grows

We’re in the third day, and Elohim has made dry land, but no sun or stars or moon. Still, he’s keen to see something growing, so he tells the land to produce, by spontaneous generation as it was later known, “seed bearing plants and plants bearing fruit with their proper seed inside”. Seed here is crucial – God creates things that reproduce themselves through some innate generative power, but at first they come out of the land. Augustine, in De Genesi ad litteram declared that God acted out of a secondary power here – he didn’t create these plants directly, but indirectly, by putting a potentiality in the soil. This resonates for the next 2500 years after Genesis, with naturalists like Wallace and writers in the late nineteenth century declaring that the soil, the habitat, or the climatic conditions cause things to become what they were indirectly.

Some have tried to make Augustine an evolutionist on this basis, but in fact he’s not, if only because the distinction between species fixity and species mutability is not possible until we first have a concept of living kinds (species), and this is not really the case until the 16th century. In any event, Genesis 1 is about things coming out of prior materielle via the direct magical command of Elohim.