I've been thinking about evolution, and it has occurred to me that there are 3 problems with it. 1.) evolution by definition is a reactionary process, so how can it look forward - eg how can we as end results of the process ask "what if?" 2.) humanity has the potential to self destruct - Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged recognised that we were the only species that could do that - how can an evolved / reactive process develop a self-destruct mechanism? 3.) At what point along the evolutionary process did it decide to split out into separate genders, and where can we point to to demonstrate this? Any thoughts?

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Evolution is utterly "blind" as to the future, and has no intentionality or goal--it cannot, it is not conscious.  (I suspect you are putting far more into it than is there, perhaps because some part of your mind is trying to jam a concept of an intentional god into the picture.) 

Although I think the Ancestor's Tale is an excellent book, it's primarily a history of what evolution actually ended up doing.  Dawkins quite correctly is at pains to tell you not to assume that it was somehow planned out in advance as he tells the Tale, but it is still hard to break out of that mode of thinking in that book--and that is precisely the error you are making now.   So I don't think it's the best Dawkins book for someone in your situation.

You complain you can't see how evolution could have planned for us--and you are correct, it cannot.  If the theory claimed that evolution could, it would be wrong.  But that's not a claim the theory actually makes.  To understand how evolution actually works, how it can sometimes result in something that's not what a conscious designer would pick (but better than any small change to it would be), you probably want something more like The Blind Watchmaker or (especially) Climbing Mount Improbable.  In the latter book his discussion of how our eyes, while not the best possible eyes we could have ended up with, are nevertheless unlikely to become much better given the way evolution actually works, is priceless.  (It has to do with the fact that a proper fix would involve a major change to the eyes, and evolution works in small changes--and there is no chain of small changes from our eyes to the better eyes that doesn't make things worse at first.)

@Steve - RE: "I don't think it's the best Dawkins book for someone in your situation."

I can't agree - somewhere back in one of his earlier comments (that I have neither the time nor inclination to locate), he asked how single cells became something else, and that's when I recommended The Ancestor's Tale, because Dawkins takes you back there, step by step. If he wants to learn specifics, like how the human eye can't evolve much further, I would say that that's for later, after the basics are understood. IF he really wants to learn, and isn't using the issue as a back door for proselytizing.

Its true that he asked that, but his difficulty is far more fundamental than not knowing the answer to that question (which Ancestor's Tale is a fantastic book for answering).  Eric James misunderstands what evolution is and how it operates and how it leads to complexity without the aid of a consciousness.  Sure, Dawkins's discussion of eyes in general (not just our own) is a different specific question than the one he happened to ask there, but Dawkins is using eyes to illustrate the mechanics of evolution and its oftentimes paradoxical-seeming results.  And Eric has been raising questions about the lack of intentionality in evolution all over his posts. 

Please let's not focus on one concrete question he asked when he is also asking a lot of broader questions about how evolution operates--and making a lot of statements that reveal a need for education in the fundamentals.  If Eric dives into AT looking for the answer to his specific question, he will certainly find it, after reading something like 700 pages of stuff that doesn't answer that question--and still be just as confused about everything else he is asking.

In an ideal world, of course, Eric would read _both_ books.

When discussing evolution with someone who doesn't (yet) understand and/or accept it, issues seem to fall into three large categories: 1) the evidence that it is true 2) what the layout of the family tree of life is, esp. how do humans fit in--what you might think of as historical evolution, what it actually did in the past, and 3) how evolution functions; how a "blind" unintentional process can lead to the complexity we see around us, including all those apparently paradoxical cases of mis-"design." 

You'll notice that category 3 is actually more fundamental than category 2; the family tree and history are pointless if you don't understand why there is a history and family tree in the first place.  In my judgment Eric's main issues are in category 3--he has flat-out asserted he cannot see how it could happen, even though he also asked a couple of category 2 questions, as specific examples of his category 3 issues.  And furthermore he is trying to be philosophical about it as well, which means he's after a general understanding of the theory.  Ancestor's Tale assumes that understanding, Climbing Mount Improbable will go far to providing it.

I think we've both said our pieces and I think we ought to leave it to Eric to introspect, try to determine where his questions really stem from, and decide for himself what he thinks would be most educational for him.

My point was that he needed a basic understanding before he and we could discuss it further - I felt that TAT would provide him with that.

No, I'm not proselytizing - I really wanted to explore these questions and figured that the lions den was the best place to do so - a group of intelligent people who have thought this stuff through - isn't that what we're all trying to do?

Speaking of evolution, and we were, though so far, no embassies nor bottling plants have been stormed, a group of theists have begun boycotting Dr. Pepper on the grounds that the beverage company, in an ad, dared to use the term, "Evolution," which as any good theist, who believes in an invisible sky-god knows, is nothing more than a fable:


I guess it's time to drink more of the stuff then.

My favorite drink just got favoriter.

I'll drink to that!

Yes, I have a thought: it’s that you haven’t a clue about how evolution works.  

1) Evolution is not a forward-looking process.

2) Lots of species have self destructed.  Humans are the only species smart enough to foresee that possibility, yet too stupid to prevent it.  

3) As to sexual reproduction: there is no “point,” as you put it.  During the course of evolution genetic material almost inevitably became mixed.  The resulting offspring displayed a wider array of genomes than did binary fission and budding of unmixed material; and a few of those new forms found success in previously unexploited environments.  Further, species that mutated forms that routinely mixed genes did so by what we now call “feritlization,” or “sex.”    These species, because of their new-found multiplicity of attributes, adventitiously tended to evolve more complex phenotypes, such as ourselves.  Complexity, in fact, may be an outgrowth of sexual reproduction.

At our current evolutionary stage, both sexual and asexual species are surviving, even thriving.  Asexual species survive through roubust fecundity; whereas sexually reproducing species survive through genetic diversity. 

Now here’s a thought for you to ponder: why didn’t God “intelligently design” all living things to have one, optimal method of reproduction?  Given what happened with the apple in the Garden of Eden, It would be natural to suppose that God has favored the asexual species, like the bacteria, by allowing them to survive much longer than the accursed descendants of Adam and Eve.

Evolution has no design in mind; it just meanders through changing environments of the least resistance, with some species surviving longer than others.  In recent times, sexual reproduction has assisted the propagation of more complex phenotypes.  For US - here - today - that strategy is working pretty well.  But the more simple, asexual organisms have survived for a MUCH longer time, and will likely continue to thrive long after our sexual selves and our impotent gods have faded from the evolutionary landscape.     

Well put, Dale!

Your point regarding God, Adam and Eve, the apple etc (please keep in mind that this is probably a metaphorical way of describing this event - Genesis wasn't ever meant to be a text book on science, it was a history book for the Israelites, and chapter 1 - the 6 day chapter - is a piece of very early poetry probably written by the redactor who collated the first 5 books into what we know as the Pentatuch), I could answer by discussing God's intent and the concept of the imagebearer, but I suspect that that would not be relevant at this time. My core problem - as it has been all along - is simply trying to determine how the capacity to look forward, to create - the basis of art - to contemplate, to ask "what if" - aspects that are part of every day existence - how did they come to be? Even the ability to consider divinity, even if you choose to reject it, doesn't appear to me to be the natural outcome of a non-forward looking reactive process. As to the boycott of Dr Pepper, that is just ignorance of the worst kind - please don't associate me with that. I rang our local mosque last year when that idiot in Florida (I think) wanted to have a 'burn a Qu'ran day' to let them know that as a Christian I did not support those actions. This isn't about brownie points, this is common sense - attacking an individual or group because you're not prepared to ask questions, debate and perhaps be proved wrong, doesn't do anyone any favours and only belittles the whole process.


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