Two Darwinian engimas Public lecture 21st July

ICMS are hosting a public lecture at 15 South College Street at 18.00 on the 21st July. The lecture deals with two Darwinian engimas – the nature of a species and the nature of life (see below for further details) – and is given by Marc Van Regenmortel from the University of Strasbourg.

Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance by e-mail to h.bridle@icms.org.uk or by ringing 0131 220 1777.

The intellectual revolution generated by Darwin’s On the Origin of Species published in 1859 caused the overthrow of some of the most basic beliefs of his age. Darwin replaced the belief in the individual creation of unchanging species by the concept that all life descended from a common ancestor and that humans were not separate from the rest of life nor were the special products of a benevolent deity.

Although evolution implies speciation, i.e. changes from one species to another, Darwin never clarified what he meant by species and he took the view that species were only artificial combinations made for convenience. It is remarkable that even today, the nature of species remains a highly controversial issue in biology.

Although Darwin accepted that all organisms on Earth descended from a single origin of life, he never discussed the nature of living organisms. Life is not a material entity, a force, a property but a concept which has as its referents all living systems, past, present and future. All living systems possess the property of being alive and the concept « life » corresponds to the abstract, mental representation of this property. Instead of analyzing the concept « life », it is more interesting to ask what are the characteristics of living organisms that give them the property of being alive.

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