Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Posts are in reverse chronological order.

Why did we 'evolve' to the point that we can understand evolution?

One of the more interesting bullets in the case that one builds against natural selection is the fact that the ability to create such a theory provides no obvious survival advantage.

Sure, intelligence is obviously advantageous-- but you would expect it to be more of the "craftiness" variety. You can imagine ways that abstract reasoning would be useful too-- but why do we have so much capability?

Why did man develop the ability to create an appreciate art and music? To write poetry? To understand the most esoteric theoretical physics? There was a famous Nobel Laureate physicist named Dirac who predicted the discovery of antimatter. It is said that the only justification he offered for his equations (prior to their experimental verification) was that they were so beautiful they had to be right.

How can natural selection explain this? The ability to conceptualize at such a level might benefit the species (especially in the area of medical breakthroughs) but it is not easy to see how it gives that individual an advantage in terms of passing his genes along. And in fact it may take generations before one person’s scientific breakthrough is developed into something practical that can extend our lives.

For natural selection to explain such high level thinking, It is usually incorporated into the idea that it works at the species level as well as the individual. Somehow our genes, in an amazing and random development, “know” that it is good to advance the knowledge base of the species – knowledge that may not serve any practical purpose at the moment (or ever).

The whole business of extrapolating natural selection to the species level is quite speculative. I understand how natural selection is supposed to account for macro evolution, and I believe it does account for some small micro evolutionary adaptation, but there is no plausible mechanism to explain how species-wide natural selection works, and how it (the selfless gene) would have developed in the first place.

In John Polkinghorne’s book Belief in God in an Age of Science He quotes Sherlock Holmes to make this same point. Apparently Holmes once told Dr. Watson he did not care whether the Earth went around the Sun or vice versa, for it had no relevance to the persuits of his daily life! Precisely!

One has to make a huge leap from Darwin’s theory to explain how Darwin had the type of brain that was able to come up with the theory in the first place.

This is not by any means a slam-dunk argument against natural selection. It is just one of the more interesting nails in the coffin.

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