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 in and of itself is not a thought conscious process. Organisms and lifeforms  at all levels of complexity are in a continual evolutionary process. Genetic mutation and changes in the environment play a role in the development or possible extinction of species. Natural selection takes no prisoners. And all this happens at an infinitesimally slow rate of change. 

You're so right, Ed - a perfect example, two actually, are that koalas are going to run out of Eucalyptus trees and pandas run out of bamboo LONG before either animal evolves to be able to survive on other foods.

A shortage of bamboo in China! I would never of thought it possible.

Archaeopteryx just highlighted the perils of overspecialization.  And he reminded me of a related issue.  A population suddenly finds itself with no check on its reproduction, like a hypothetical highly contagious and deadly disease.  Such will consume all of their food supply, exterminating the species they rely on to survive.  Then they will go extinct.  Sure, that makes them an evolutionary "failure" but in the meantime they "successfully" wiped out another species.  The true evolutionary successes are the diseases, etc. that don't kill off their hosts, and the predators who don't succeed too easily at their hunt, and the herbivores who don't end up overgrazing.

Well, that's unlikely, but if it does happen, all things shall pass eventually, anyway. Sooner or later, what difference does it make? Once we're gone, we're gone. By a million years from now, we'll be gone no matter what and no one will remember us.

Even if all life is wiped out on the surface, it'll be a long lont time before life is wiped out subsurface.

"Diane, for natural selection to stand, it must be able to withstand critical philosophical scrutiny. I'm not attempting to over-complicate it, rather I'm just trying to get my head around it, and the suggestion that “there is no consciousness involved in the process of evolution by natural selection” just doesn't square with us as a contemplative species." (Your text will automatically post as white. You don't have to change it.)

No, it must withstand critical scientific scrutiny. Just because you aren't attempting to over-complicate the issue doesn't meant that you aren't in fact doing so.

We are a contemplative species because our ancient ancestors of a million years ago were better able to propagate because their brains allowed them to survive. Bigger brains allowed for better survival until we got to where we are today. I encourage you to start looking into human evolution and anthropology. Once you begin to see how random the process is, you won't see any notion of purpose to it.

We aren't the only species with sentience either. Cetaceans (whales and porpoises) and Elephants show exceptional intelligence especially in the way of culture, language, and social groups.

My personal advice to you Eric, would be to read Richard Dawkins book, The Ancestor's Tale, then come back with any questions that may still remain. Dawkins takes the reader from Modern Man, back to the first single-celled organism, and it's difficult to get more inclusive than that.

Thanks, I will.

My first advice to you when trying to understand natural processes is: Don't anthropomorphize the natural process. The sun isn't really hot because it's angry. The reason we can't pinpoint the exact location of an electron is not because it's shy. Photons don't switch between a particle and a wave because they are mischievous. Evolution doesn't work because it is somehow cognizant of where it might direct a species.

My second piece of advice is comes from one of my favorite characters, Yoda: Unlearn what you have learned. Sometimes our preconceived notions get in the way of real knowledge. If that happens, it's best to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

My third piece of advice to you is: Don't do things like this: "If we take the principle of physics ... turn philosophical for a moment... include an apparent Hegelian synthesis... 'greatest good for the greatest number of evolved entities' understanding... account for the ability to consider." How does describing the forces acting on an organism at any given time lead to a greatest good for the greatest number of absolute hogwash? 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. You aren't going to ever understand evolution if you keep purposely throwing wrenches into your own works. Newtonian concepts of physics, evolution, and philosophy do not intersect. Attempting to force an intersection will only prevent you from understanding anything. Stop it.

If you want to understand evolution, then it's best to think of it in the simplest terms first. It is the process of change within a species.


Evolution has a lot to do with reproduction and the spread of genetic material. Inbreeding, as you mentioned, allows for recessive traits detrimental to an individual's survival to surface. Hemophilia for example is one of those traits. Many noble families in Europe had hemophiliacs because there was an excessive amount of interbreeding between few families. There is no actor directing species to avoid interbreeding. It's simply that if they continue to do it, then they won't exist.

You are right that environments can change faster than evolution can occur. This is part of the reason that sexual reproduction (and thus gender) is the more prevalent means of reproduction in more complex organisms. Sexual reproduction allows for more randomness to occur with the pairing of genetic material of sperm and egg which allows for a greater variance in offspring and thus a better chance that the offspring will reproduce and make more creatures. The other way around this is a species that has high adaptability. Red-tail hawks for instance can be found in almost all climates in North America. They have traits that allow them to excel in many places. Humans, because we can make things to help us survive, have spread everywhere. Cockroaches have a whole host of immunities and advantageous traits that (unfortunately for us) allow them to spread and survive nearly everywhere. Bull sharks can thrive in both salt and fresh water which opens up more habitats for them and increases their survival rates as individuals and thus as a species. We may consider that there is incredible bio-diversity on this world, but the reality is that for all of global history only the most microscopic of a sliver of a fraction of all species have survived until today.

As far as your "self-destruct mechanism," if you've read Atlas Shrugged, then I encourage you to read the Virtue of Selfishness. Rand unequivocally states that altruism, the cornerstone of Christianity, is self destructive and that all people of religion long for death, a claim I find hard to refute since I once lived it. It was one of the reasons she was an ardent atheist. I agree with her in part if not in full on the matter. Religion and altruism as she saw it was a "self-destruct mechanism," yet both of those have flourished in our history. The short answer is that while they maybe disadvantageous to the survival of some individuals, to the collective, they are advantageous to its survival and so continue to be propagated. It is because of our brains' ability to comprehend the world and analyze it (which developed in paleolithic times as an adaptation that better aided the survival of the species that would become homo habilis and eventually homo sapiens) that culture developed. Culture has since its inception been evolving in ways that mimic the evolution of organisms.

Arch mentioned Dawkins's book, which I suggest you read as well. It was Dawkins who created the concept of the meme, a sort of bit of cultural DNA that finds ways to propagate and evolve. Language is one of these memes. Religion also is. I'm currently reading a book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennet that explores in further depth the idea of how the memes of supernatural thought evolved into the organized religions of today. It's fascinating. 

First of all Sagacious, EXCELLENT explanation!

RE: "Arch mentioned Dawkins's book" - I considered mentioning, The Selfish Gene, but decided if he read only one Dawkins book, and even that is asking a lot of a Christian, The Ancestor's Tale would be the more all-inclusive.

RE: "if rabbits start leaping off of cliffs to see if they can fly" - that phrase reminded me of Amish Airliines:

If you're interested, I have a considerable number of shares of their stock I could let you have at a very reasonable price --

(No horses were harmed in the production of this comment)

That's excellent. OH MY GOODNESS.




I'm still laughing...

I have no problem with reading a book by Dawkins - it'll be later in the year simply due to my current reading load - and I'm also intending to read some Sam Harris - this will be my Christmas holiday reading.

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