evolution, devilution

Devilution of Darwin--animation by MasterymisteryWhy is it that of all the scientific theories, Evolution is the one that unfailingly evokes the most hostility in some quarters?

Newton's laws of motion are taught without any demands for a countervailing 'religious' explanation to be taught alongside. Einstein's theory of relativity is taught and learned by believers and unbelievers alike, and acknowledged as probably the best current explanation for gravity and light, with 'best' meaning 'closest to the mark'. Even Cosmology has achieved a rapprochement of sorts with the mainstream monotheistic religions. (You know things are getting very weird when the Pope buys into the Big Bang.) So what is it about Evolution that is particularly devilish and ungodly?

And if one particular conception of god has a valid place in biology (and thereby, anthropology and archaeology) then why not other fields of study? Why not Creationist Engineering, for example? Or Holy Logistics? Sacred Sociology? Hallowed Horticulture? Blessed Botany?

Evolution strikes close to home. It's about creatures, organisms: ourselves included. It's not about the sun or the moon or the stars or the sea (although there is nothing in principle from preventing evolutionary theory from being validly applied to things other than organisms (especially if everything is an organism!)).

Evolution is as personal as underwear. People don't like Evolution because it says things about us behind our backs, without consulting us first. And we don't like what it says either. It says it knows where we came from and why we are the way we are. But we humans are 'irreducibly complex' (or so the argument goes) and therefore could not and cannot be hostage to a mere scientific theory (or so the argument goes). That's why we hate Evolution so much: it provides a context in which to understand ourselves better. Unfortunately, generally speaking we don't like knowing and don't want to know ourselves better.

As well as being the most hated scientific theory, Evolution is also the least understood (noting that the word 'theory' in the scientific context does not necessarily mean 'non-factual' or 'untrue' or 'hypothetical'. Wikipaedia covers this reasonably well.) Sadly, the reasons why Evolution is hated are mainly spurious, and reflect ignorance rather than considered, informed opinion.

Evolution doesn't say that monkeys evolved into humans. Evolution says that something evolved into monkeys, and the very same something evolved also into humans. Or in other words, that monkeys and humans share a common ancestor. Or even that an early part of the set of monkey ancestors overlaps an early part of the set of human ancestors, so that some of the earliest ancestors are common to both monkeys and humans. If you don't like the word 'ancestor' in the above context, you can substitute 'predecessor' or 'precursor' or whatever moves you. (From a fundamentalist point of view, it's bad to have a monkey for an ancestor, but far worse to have an ancestor of a monkey for an ancestor. On the other hand, it's not quite as bad to have a monkey as a precursor than an ancestor!)

There's no purpose to evolution, no direction in which 'lesser' creatures evolve towards being 'greater' or 'higher' creatures. There are no lesser creatures, no higher creatures. There is no teleology to Evolution, no purpose. There's no direction, no start point, no end point. There's no evolution towards. There is only random change, and random response to change. But how cool is that?! Isn't it amazing how much diversity and richness can spring from the simple mechanisms of genetic mutation and natural selection?

At any moment, each and every prospectively non-extinct species is as well adapted as any other to its environmental circumstances. Survival = good adaptivity. Extinction = bad adaptivity. There's nothing in between, no shades of grey. It's like pregnancy. Either you are or you're not. A species can't be just a little bit extinct.

So you can't meaningfully compare the adaptivity of one species to that of another, even if the two species live in the same environment. What metric would you use? Lifespan? Comparing the average lifespan of the members of species X with the average lifespan of the members of species Y tells you which species is longer-lived, but tells you nothing about the relative adaptivity of X vs Y. Average lifespan is highly variable from species to species, and is determined by a large number of different factors including environmental as well as genetic factors.

Likewise, comparing the birth rate of one species vs another tells you about the relative fecundity of the two species, but nothing about the relative adaptivity.

It's true that oranges are better at tasting like oranges than apples are at tasting like oranges, but that doesn't mean that oranges taste better than apples. It's also true that apples are good at tasting like apples, and oranges like oranges, but that still doesn't mean that oranges taste better than apples or vice versa.

But it would seem to be valid to compare the relative adaptivity of a species at one point in time with the adaptivity of the same species at another point in time. It would seem to be true that a species can become better or less well adapted than it was before, or than it will be, in terms of lifespan, or birth/death ratio or whatever metric you care to use. I keep using the word "seems" because for any given species, any changes (in eg lifespan or birthrate) only come about as the result of changes in the external environment; so it's not the adaptivity that is changing, it is the external environment changing.

A species that is longer-lived at time T(ii) than at time T(i) is not better adapted at T(ii) than at T(i). Rather, the species is adapted to the environment at T(ii), and is adapted to the environment at T(i). The same point can be made in relation to a species that is longer lived in one place/environment P(i) than in another place/environment P(ii).

IMHO nothing of the above is incompatible with deity. The fact of Evolution may or may not be to the greater glory of whoever or whatever may or may not have set it all up in the first place, assuming there was a first place. And/or if it wasn't set up in the first place, if there was no first place, it would still be no less glorious... well, you know what I mean.


eBooks by Cosmic Rapture

NIGHTMERRIES: THE LIGHTER SIDE OF DARKNESS. This so-called "book" will chew you up, spit you out, and leave you twitching and frothing on the carpet. More than 60 dark and feculent fictions (read ‘em and weep) copiously and grotesquely illustrated.

AWAREWOLF & OTHER CRHYMES AGAINST HUMANITY (Vot could be Verse?). We all hate poetry, right? But we might make an exception for this sick and twisted stuff. This devil's banquet of adults-only offal features more than 50 satanic sonnets, vitriolic verses and odious odes.

MANIC MEMES & OTHER MINDSPACE INVADERS. A disturbing repository of quirky quotes, sayings, proverbs, maxims, ponderances, adages and aphorisms. This menagerie holds no fewer than 184 memes from eight meme-species perfectly adapted to their respective environments.

MASTRESS & OTHER TWISTED TAILS. An unholy corpus of oddities, strangelings, bizarritudes and peculiaritisms, including but not limited to barbaric episodes of herring-flinging and kipper-kissing. A cacklingly bizarre read that may induce fatal hysteria. Not Recommended!

FIENDS & FREAKS and serpents, dragons, devils, lobsters, anguished spirits, hungry ghosts, hell-beings, zombies, organ-grinders, anti-gods, gods and other horse-thieves you wouldn't want to meet in a dark cosmos. Immature Content! Adults Maybe.

HAGS TO HAGGIS. An obnoxious folio featuring a puke of whiskey-soaked war-nags, witches, maniacs, manticores and escapegoats. Not to mention (please don't!) debottlenecking and desilofication, illustrated. Take your brain for a walk on the wild side. Leave your guts behind.

No comments