Sunday, September 19, 2004

Popular Notions & Scientific Realities - Evolution

(My goal here is to offer corrections to popular notions about scientific ideas that are often misrepresented or misunderstood.)
Evolution is not synonymous with progress! There is no purpose, goal or intended direction in evolution, indeed there is nothing with intention at all; it is a mindless process.

The word evolution means the process by which something changes into something different. When most scientists use the word evolution they usually mean “evolution by natural selection,” in which things change over time because there is a copying mechanism (inheritance), the copying mechanism is slightly flawed (mutations) and there is differential reproduction (not everyone has kids).

A retrospective analysis of life on Earth would seem to display a drive in complexity, but is this progress? It is if you are measuring complexity! If we look at size, the planet has lost the dinosaurs and the larger Megafauna (cool!) from the past and is only left with a handful of large animals. That is not progressive, but only if you are measuring increasing size.

Everything has a measure, be cautious or at least aware of what you choose to evaluate. It is true that there is more complexity (measured how?), and that the brain size to body size ratio has been increasing, which enabled some organisms to try to describe the process of their creation. Yet, I must stress that there was never a ‘plan,’ things just happened and that is all.

Remember it is an adaptation to its environment that makes an organism succeed. Do not think ‘survival of the fittest,’ but instead ‘survival of the fitter.’


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