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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Dennet also wrote "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" which is a philosopher's take on evolution and the impact the idea of evolution is having on our society.  But I'd first read "Climbing Mount Improbable."

I'll have to check out both of those. Thanks!

I'm a fan of Rand, much to the surprise of one of my teachers, as I believe she is reacting to what I call 'worm theology' - after the line in the Isaac Watts hymn - "would He devote that sacred head to such a worm as I?" I despise that line and every idea associated with it. The concept of original sin as Rand rightly pointed out in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1964 is fundamentally immoral, but something that Augustine and later Calvin held to. They got that badly wrong as far as I can tell.

You're comments "The only way that physics can be said to play a role on evolution is if rabbits start leaping off of cliffs to see if they can fly ... Newtonian concepts of physics, evolution, and philosophy do not intersect" intrigue me. Are you suggesting that evolution is only subject to the laws of biology and chemistry (presumably) but not to physics? How does a reactive process make those distinctions? First I discover that natural selection is not to be subject to philosophical scrutiny, now I'm learning that only some aspects of science are relevant to the process. Or have I misinterpreted this?

Well, if you want to get technical... Biology at it's fundamental level is chemistry which at its fundamental level is physics, which is really just applied math. The point I was trying to make is that understanding what is happening at the sub-molecular level or the forces that a bird needs to overcome in order to fly isn't necessarily relevant to understanding how bats and mice are related. Evolution is a process that occurs over millions of years. Its time span is such that the instantaneous view of the moment isn't entirely helpful is trying to understand how evolution works. Chemistry is important if you want to understand the particulars for how DNA is transcribed and copied, but only for one instance and a definite place in time. Evolution is a cumulative process that occurs over literally millions of years. It's more helpful to view the big picture of time than the quick snapshot.

So it's not that evolution is only subject to certain laws (all organisms are natural and therefore subject to all natural laws); it's that applying those laws to the idea of evolution will only prevent you from understanding how it works.

I say that it doesn't intersect with philosophy because evolution is such an established process for which a great deal of natural evidence and observations have held it up, that it is no longer a question of philosophy in how it occurs or that it does, but is instead a matter of the natural sciences.

Now that I'm looking at it, you've mentioned "reactive process" before. I have to ask, what do you mean by that? Evolution isn't reactive as in it actively makes changes if that is what you are getting at. It's more that evolution is a cumulative process. All the little random changes in DNA mixed up by chance over countless generations eventually lead a population of creatures to become dissimilar in some fashion to their ancestors. Evolution is more of an explanation for all the non-random events that lead to the propagation of a species by the random combinations and/or mutations in the genetic code.

By the way, I applaud the attitude you've approached this with! You seem much more open than most people who ask questions of us.

that was mutha fuckin eloquent dude.  I hope he reads your post a few times. 

I haven't been following this thread since I last posted.  Were your questions answered by others since then or would you still like me to reply?  I can try to get around to it tomorrow.

The discussion seems to be going well - I'm learning to reappraise my understanding of the evolutionary process, but I'm not convinced that it is not subject to philosophical inquiry, and my fundamental question regarding the "what if" question has (so far) not been seriously addressed. So, I'll keep on reading and thinking and se where this goes.

I'm not sure if I understand your 'what if' question properly.  Are you asking how species with the ability to ask 'what if?' could arise in a blind process like evolution; or are you asking how the process of evolution itself can ask 'what if?'?

What you are getting at seems to be the question, "where did our ability to imagine come from?" After all, that's what we are doing when we ask the question: what if this happened? We are imagining a possible scenario. The problem is that the answer to that question is really, really long. Seriously, that answer is a book of study unto itself. In fact, there is a whole branch of science dedicated to answering that question and more just like it: Evolutionary Anthropology.

So it's not that we can't answer your question; It's more like we don't have the time to do so.

Eric - I don't know if this willl be of any benefit to you or not:

For How Long Have We Been Human?. As a professor of biological anthropology, Barbara King decided to start the school semester with this time line of highlights of human evolution:

6-7 million years ago: Start of the human lineage, following a split with the lineage containing chimpanzees and gorillas 

2.6 mya: Onset of large-scale making and use of stone tool technology 

2.5 mya: First human ancestors in our own genus, Homo

200,000 years ago: First modern humans, Homo sapiens

30,000 years ago: Cave paintings and rock paintings begin to emerge on multiple continents

~12,000 years ago: Onset of agriculture and human settlements.

Well, I must chime in with the others here and suggest that you gain a better understanding of the evolutionary process, as your questions belie your misunderstanding

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