Friday, January 20, 2006

Understanding Evolution In Terms of Its Definition vs. its Nature

Yesterday I wrote 'The whole world makes much more sense in light of genuine appreciation of evolution'. What did I mean by a genuine appreciation of evolution?

As someone -- I can't recall exactly who -- said, evolution is something that most people don't understand but think they do. And we can see why. They are confusing an understanding of its definition with and understanding of its nature.

Most people know a definition of evolution, most famously 'survival of the fittest'. Some definitions are more detailed, and make mention of inheritance of varied characteristics, and differential survival based on these characteristics.

The problem with just knowing a definition is, the definition tells you nothing about what evolution does or can do in practice, and our untrained intuitions and reflective imagining are not powerful enough to gain an accurate picture of this.

Those untrained intuitions and reflective imaginings do not appreciate the huge scales that evolution works with, and the huge amounts of gradual work that can be accomplished within them. They don't appreciate the huge numbers of replicating entities dispersed over many environments.

They can't imagine the gradual gradient of adaptations that can lead to some sort of complex and subtle design such as an eye or intelligence.

Understanding the nature of evolution isn't just a matter of appreciating the sorts of things it is capable of building. It's also a matter of appreciating the ways that it builds things, and the sorts of tricks that it can employ to do so. It's also a matter of understanding the sorts of constraints upon the design work it can do.

For example, because there isn't any intelligent agent behind the design work, there can't be any conscious coordination in the design, so game theory applies, and we get the notion of evolutionarily stable strategies.

It takes a lot of training to appreciate how unintelligent forces can do intelligent design.

No comments:

Post a Comment