On evolution

2008-06-17

in Rants, Science, The environment

Engine components in a John Deere Gator

The other day, I was reading about how flowers have evolved to attract the right sort of pollinators and encourage those creatures to carry their gametes to other flowers. They thereby attain the benefits of sexual reproduction (primarily the generation of novelty) without the need for locomotive capabilities. Other plants manipulate animals into disperse their seeds, as well as not eating their vital components, at least before the plants have had the chance to reproduce. Sometimes it is extremely intricate: peppers that want their seeds being eaten by birds (who will not digest them) rather than mammals (who will) have developed sophisticated chemical deterrents, specially shaped to bond to only the right sort of receptors.

Thinking back on it today, I was struck by just how impoverished any understanding of biology prior to understanding evolution must have been. It is rather saddening that some people have missed the boat, and tragic that some are trying to put others in the same position. Evolution isn’t something you ‘believe in’ or not; it is something you understand to a greater or lesser degree.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan June 17, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Evolution is a theory whereby pure accident and contingency brings into appearence the illusion of purposefulness in nature.

All religious zealotry that opposes evolution is, at base, little more than the appeal which says “this purposefulness cannot merely be an illusion! It must be real!”

The debate about whether the purposefulness is real or not is, of course, not a question humans can answer, because it concerns a question whose evidence lies outside our experience. All we can know is that the image of purposefulness bears no necessary connection to a divine presence. However, we also don’t know that it doesn’t. God as “the ground of being” is irrefutable. And the proper refutation of it is not “is there evolution, is there not”, but rather, “ok, so lets say your god exists, now notice how it makes no difference whatsoever”. There are several obvious reasons for this. One: God is not a being among other beings. Therefore, God does not interfere in the world through physical means (if he interferes, it is not in ways graspable in models – what we model would be what he has set up and not interferered with, this is the only thing that would be comprehensible to us because it is the relation of beings with beings, rather than being with beings which we cannot comprehend). Second – God is unknowable. This means no morality follows from the existence of God, just as none follows from his non-existence. It is a mistake to say God ‘wants’ you to do something, firstly because God is not a desiring being (easily refutable notion of god), and secondly because God’s unknowability means you could never receive directions from it anyway, even if we’d solved the problem about it not being an “it”.

Anonymous June 17, 2008 at 1:07 pm

It isn’t the smooth working-together that makes evolution impressive. It is chaos and endurance, the resilience of living things in a brutal and ever-changing world.

Tristan June 18, 2008 at 3:36 am

“It isn’t the smooth working-together that makes evolution impressive. It is chaos and endurance, the resilience of living things in a brutal and ever-changing world.”

Exactly. Its the appearance of order out of pure contingency. The reason God gets so much airplay is that logically, its hard to have order appear out of disorder. It’s easier to presume there is some order being imposed on the disorder from an outside ordering force. E.G. God.

. June 18, 2008 at 11:03 am

It Doesn’t Take an Einstein
The problem with using scientists’ words to support religious beliefs.
By Michael Weiss
Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2008, at 7:10 AM ET

. April 16, 2009 at 11:39 am

Why Evolution is True

By Phil Plait on Science

“Every day, hundreds of observations and experiments pour into the hopper of the scientific literature… and every fact that has something to do with evolution confirms its truth. Every fossil that we find, every DNA molecule that we sequence, every organ system that we dissect supports the idea that species evolved from common ancestors. Despite innumerable possible explanations that could prove evolution untrue, we don’t have a single one. We don’t find mammals in Precambrian rocks, humans in the same layers as dinosaurs, or any other fossils out of evolutionary order. DNA sequencing supports the evolutionary relationships of species originally deduced from the fossil record. And, as natural selection predicts, we find no species with adaptations that benefit only a different species. We do find dead genes and vestigial organs, incomprehensible under the idea of special creation. Despite a million chances to be wrong, evolution always comes up right. That is as close as we can get to a scientific fact.”

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