Friday, June 05, 2009

Bad Reason #8 – How does evolution know?

This is the eighth article in my series of 10 bad reasons to reject evolution, this post deals with the objection that "How does evolution know to create such specialised animals".

This objection is probably the least common one I hear however it is probably the best and most considered question of all, a good question in fact. The root of the problem is founded in human nature, our own evolution has conditioned us to look for causality in things, we are consummate tool makers, it is one of the things that separates us from the vast majority of other animals, along with other primates our large brains have given us the ability to reason, we look at an event or physical phenomenon in nature and reason "why did that happen", we look at a coconut and reason that if we hit it hard enough with a rock it is going to open. Of course, all of this reasoning is happening in our brains and not in the real world, the reasoning whilst fabulously useful from an evolutionary perspective is not limited by the real world.

The logical extension of this mode of thinking is that we project this desire for causality into nature, unfortunately early humans would not have known why things like floods, lightening, famine, crop failure, death etc. occur but we do know that our own actions cause things to happen, we kill animals, we plant crops, we build houses etc. So a logical and seemingly sensible rationalisation could be to invent in our heads a human-like agent that causes natural events to occur, for example Thor sending lightening bolts to indicate his displeasure or God sending a plague upon a city to punish the inhabitants for sin, to primitive man this must have slated his desire to "explain" nature, we know now of course that these inventions explain nothing.

Modern science since the enlightenment has found the real explanations for things like lightening, floods, disease, death, famine etc. but even though we understand all these natural events in intimate detail people still have the "old" desires hard wired into their brains through indoctrination and cultural influences; science is hard work, to appreciate it you need to study and understand concepts beyond everyday reckoning, people therefore seek simple non-explanations that can be consumed without effort, this need is satisfied by religion among other things.

So why do animals look so fine-tuned to the environment, well the answer to that is not an intuitive one, in fact you could say that it is counter-intuitive. The animals aren't created fine tuned TO the environment they are naturally fine tuned BY the environment, there is no need for supernatural causation from above, natural selection works to deliver what we see around us with ease. Richard Dawkins has a nice analogy for this that I like to use, imagine you see a man standing on top of a shear 1000ft cliff, you wonder to yourself, how did he get there?, it's too steep to climb and too high to jump, he must be an angel, this is analogous to the non-Darwinian explanation of nature. The Darwinian view would be to look behind the mountain and see the gradual incline at the back leading up to the cliff face on the other side, this is analogous to the unimaginable vastness of geological time. So, we don't have a sudden creation of complex animals we have a gradual, step by step increment starting at the bottom of the incline (simple life forms) leading to the heights that modern species have reached today at the top of the incline and looking out over the cliff.


F Galton said...

Yes, correct. The earth must be very old because it would have to be for evolution to have had enough time to take place.

This also destroys the young earth theory, doesn't it?

Steve Borthwick said...

The Earth is old because age is measurable and it has been measured at roughly 4.5 billion years, evolution has nothing to do with it.

"young earth theory" is not a theory, for that you need evidence.