Purpose of Evolution
This is an article I found discussing the brief conversation between the comedian Ricky Gervais and a CNN news personality Piers Morgan. Take a look at the link to get the background, there is a transcript toward the bottom.
This is one one of the comments I found interesting:
One of the errors he makes is that every religion has a different God. What different religions have as a difference is different interpretations of what God is and what constitutes religious behavior and ritual.
But all religions have as their basis that there is something that is a higher power than a human being. And that, is where I think atheism runs up against it's own brick wall. They think because they personally can't find a god therefore that means there is no god.
I personally do not believe it rational (or even scientific) to expect that a human being is the highest form of creation and that absolutely no way can something be more evolved than a human brain. That would be just a little arrogant. But.... if humans are not the highest form of creation where does the levels of creation stop? When the highest form is reached what is just beyond that?
Atheism and Humanism are just relics from the rise of the industrial age when humans began to view the world like their machines. A world merely made of cogs and gears and nothing more.
I've been reading Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of Human Nature by Allen MacNeill and it has given me a bit clearer perspective on this kind of misunderstanding. Previously I have done almost zero study on the theory of evolution so this book has been pretty valuable to me. MacNeill does a bit of a survey course on evolution before he gets into the meat of the human nature aspect.
Anyway, the mistake we make, and theists are a shining example of this, is that we project purpose on the world around us. This includes ideas like evolution, once we have been exposed to them. We have the ability to recognize purpose in the actions of the people around us, which is a positive trait, unfortunately we also project purpose onto things which have none.
He uses the example of a guy riding a bike and running into a headwind. The guy mumbles under his breath something about the wind trying to hinder his progress. Atheists and skeptics do this kind of thing all of the time, it's natural and is very difficult for many of us to avoid doing. In situations like this it is seemingly innocuous but the general trait of assigning purpose to purposeless things/ideas is potentially damaging to the progress of our intellect.
When this guy [who wrote the quoted comment] is looking at how advanced the human species is, he is getting himself confused. He is assuming that the plan was for humans to be more advanced than the other life forms on this planet. He is assuming that there is some kind of check list, some *point* to how fast or slow evolution might be. He figures that since the plan was for us to advance this far, that there must be other plans somewhere else which are even more fun! In his effort to understand evolution he is seeing it through the filter of how he would do it - what his purpose and plan would be.
What I'm coming to understand is that the theory of evolution is nothing more than the study of the process of one trait being propagated over another. If we can gather enough information about the circumstances of resources and competition in the past it might give us some idea of why one trait came to be common over another. Lots of traits of current living things don't have much use at all, and likely never did, which is educational for me. It is helpful for me to look at these things and realize, "Yeah, there really is no plan here, obviously".
I have heard it argued that evolution breeds out inefficiency but that doesn't hold water either. Traits which are prevalent now were present in those who successfully survived and propagated; that's it. There might have been much more efficient traits held by those who were not successful at survival and propagation but it doesn't matter - the only yardstick of success evolution has to offer is which ones survived. Whether or not they are or were efficient doesn't come into the equation at all.
Have I come away with a valid understanding? It's interesting to me that I have never actually looked at evolution and that it is much simpler and more difficult than I suspected. It is difficult to comprehend, because it is much simpler than my mind naturally allows it to be.
Polyamory or Promiscuity?