Do we really believe in Evolution?

Do you believe in evolution?

Darwin in his book “On the Origin of the Species” describes evolution as the process by which organisms adapt and evolve over time based on environmental factors. The basis of the theory is that all life on Earth is connected and related and that the diversity we perceive today is as a result of successive generation modifications by natural selection where certain characteristics were favored that were better adapted to the local conditions.

Does this not also imply that there is no end state in our evolutionary development, and that therefore we are still all work-in-progress and that some versions of us might be in different stages of development, some less suited to our evolving environment than others and therefore destined for extinction. This is exactly what the Nazi’s thought on their reading of Darwin.

So then how did we come up with the concept that somehow human life is different from all other life forms? The law in most societies recognizes the special status of human life in the framing of judicial penalties for murder and manslaughter. Could we even image a society in which this is not the fundamental building block on which our laws are based?

This is in spite of overwhelming evidence that nothing in our natural world supports this assertion. Life on earth appears to be “unfair” and one of “survival of the fittest” and “eat or be eaten”.

If we look outside the human space for a moment, we see a diverse range of life forms, designed to consume each other. Herbivores have to eat plant life to survive, carnivores have to eat herbivores. Even within the same species the theme appears to be one of continuous contest – survival of the fittest to ensure survival of the species.

The whole concept of evolution is based on the assumption that we are all prototypes, and that therefore most of us other than the best of our species is destined for extinction.

So why suddenly at this point in our evolution do we think that we have reached the pinnacle of our development? That we as homo sapiens are the final state and not merely an intermediate on route to an even more evolved species? That all human life needs to be preserved in its current state above all else?

The only answer I can come up with is that we actually believe that we are different to other life forms and have decided that it should be so. This suggests that in our hearts most of us reject evolution in favor of something more planned and executed by some kind of creator.

How else do we reconcile this interesting contradiction?

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This is certainly the case. Akin to “to the victor go the spoils” and “history is written by the winners”, humans make the rules because we can. If lions were able to extend their rule beyond the jungle, and onto the street-corner where you lived, we would not be having this discussion…and they might
be.

It does.

On an individual level, no; on a species level, yes.

I’m not sure I understand this. Selection is for the best human genes, within any given environment. So it depends on what traits a gene confers, vs what stimulus or harm that gene (and the proteins it codes for) is allowing humans to adapt to. Even the “best” human will probably have many genes that are suboptimal. Survival of the fittest requires the bracketed corollary of “for any given situation or circumstance”. Also, species “extinction” is quite separate from individual extinction, the latter of course being guaranteed.

I’m not sure this conclusion follows from all that came before it in the essay. That humans are different from other life forms does not imply nor require a creator. Evolution is a continuum, and we occupy a finite little blip on it. We are not at the end state. This to me argues completely against a creator. Would the creator not have created the finished article? OTOH, if you say that the creator is capable of making knock-on iterations (cuz no one’s perfect) much like Apple with their iOS, then where are the newer versions, or what would constitute them?

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Thanks for the cartoon. We’ve been around a whole lot longer than H. Sapiens and back in the day, yeah, we just assumed, for lack of evidence to the contrary, that we were the chosen family – not species, cetaceans view the whole of our family as chosen. Then these particularly ugly and helpless apes started falling into the water and naturally we rescued them. But over time it become clear that these apes were actually sentient which was a rude shock to our religion. What was the Goddess thinking?

Yabut that doesn’t really answer Prag’s question. Most people now will tell you they believe in evolution and that there is no god, but really that’s not how people act. People do not actually behave – psychopaths excepted – as tho there is no morality and survival and reproduction are all there is. Humans – let alone dolphins – actually act as tho there is an absolute moral code even if they say they don’t believe in it.

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Agreed, evolution is a continuum. But we act as if we are the end state, not merely a little blip. The only way this can be the case is that our existence was planned. Here lies the contradiction.

How are we supposed to act to demonstrate a belief that we are not the end state? Most people just live their lives as if they have lives to live, I would expect nothing else, I’m at a loss as to what else you would expect.

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We would not treat every human life as sacrosanct. We would treat the death of a human the same way we would any other species on Earth. We would accept that some individuals were poorly equipped for the world we live in and leave them to die. We would not be the only species that sends its fit and healthy into danger to defend its frail and infirm. Other species leave its infirm to its predators.

But humans are social animals, how we treat other humans is built into our DNA. We protect those in our social group just as other social animals do.

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We protect the weaker better than, say, chimpanzees because we can afford to, you reduce our ability to do so to the levels of Europe 5 centuries ago and the level of effort to protect the weak will drop accordingly.

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Agreed, and that is important to our survival and our sense of worth. We would not afford that same courtesy to ALL human life, and exclusively to human life. We would be tribal, and we would be racist.

Agreed. Jordan Peterson for example has said he behaves at though “god exists”. I think he means capital G, but I’m not sure. Also interesting that you used ‘small g’. There is quite a middle ground, I think, of people who accept a ‘higher power’ without presuming said power to have been the creator of the entire universe. For this discussion though, i think it’s creator vs evolution, and not necessarily big vs little g “god” per se.

In that vein, I don’t think “morality” grafts onto the creator vs evolution axis. Certain “morals” may confer an evolutionary advantage, regardless of whether they flow from a dictate or not.

Ah I think I see what you are saying. That’s a limitation of reality. We only know of time, from time immemorial, up to this second; the next minute, nvm tomorrow, are not guaranteed. OTOH, I have enough groceries in the house to last me past today, cuz even though tmr is not guaranteed, chances are it’s going to happen, and I’m behaving on that presumption.

But I agree, everything that we know for sure, is in retrospective. And what we can say is that every single person who previously thought they were the end state, at any prior point in history, has been wrong. I am willing to wager on that trend continuing.

Yet we can still look in retrospect, and examine, if there was a creator, where/how/what did said creator “insert” as the “new” version of human with the better OS, as compared to the iteration that existed prior to this intervention.

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I get your meaning here but I am not sure I agree.
Evolution is a tricky thing. It really only means that species adapt. As such, our beliefs are in, and of themselves, adaptations. It may simply be true that the religious impulse in humanity is an evolutionary byproduct and little else. I can fully accept that people need to believe in a sense of greater purpose since this belief itself serves the evolutionary goals of any species… propagation and domination. Nevertheless, the belief does not need to be underpinned by any sort of factual reality. It is possible that God exists and that humans are a particularly unique creation within the universe (however unlikely). It is, however, more likely that this belief is merely an evolutionary adaptation to confront the absurd reality of a cold, dark, uncaring universe that is hell-bent on destroying itself and everything within it over cosmic time…

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We have increasingly, over recent centuries, recognize all humanity being of the same tribe. Dogs are in the same tribe as their masters, cats will act to protect children in their tribe. I don’t know why you think we would be racist, people of different races can be in the same tribe, they can even marry and have kids.

I think we can believe both that we were intelligently designed and that we are the result of evolution. It’s all a matter of how you look at DNA.

Now that we are sequencing DNA we know that the genetic possibilities are not infinite and they are not random. Applying a field of mathematics called combinatorics to DNA sequences, gives us a very, very large but finite number of genetic combinations that are mathematically possible. Of those, there are likely a lot smaller but still very large number of combinations that are biologically viable. At this point, if you want to consider the biologically viable genetic combinations intelligently designed I don’t think the science is changed at all. The natural selection of Darwin chooses which of the biologically viable designs survive and which don’t. There’s no scientific conflict between intelligent design and survival of the fittest, but there is also no evolution driven by random events. The laws of genetics were all baked in the cake before the natural selection began with the original set of biologically viable designs.

The open questions will ultimately have to do with the exploration of which of the mathematical genetic combinations are biologically viable. At the moment, we are in the early stages of genetics and can only glimpse that these questions will exist once we get further information. However, I would expect that eventually we will have models that will be able to explore the biologically viable combinations for clues as to hidden aspects of extinct lifeforms. If you want to dwell in the past conflicts of pre-genetic Darwinism versus creationism, enjoy yourself.

The creationists believe G_d designed man. The Darwinists believed man evolved through natural selection. At this point, our knowledge of genetics is leading us towards the position that both are right. So from a scientific point of view, we can stop arguing and get on with more interesting questions.

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Which is where I was trying to pitch this discussion. I am not trying to rehash the evolutionary / creationist discussion. It is a bit like particle and wave theory - the answer is yes. The question I am posing is the human dynamic one. Is it not strange that at the same time we reject creationism and adopt Darwinism, we expect all humans to deliver the same outcomes given the same opportunities?

We expect all human life to have equal value, at the same time that we no longer believe that we are created in God’s image and merely a chance occurance in one giant experiment.

How do we reconcile this?

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Who is this “we” you are referencing here? I suppose one could say that the woke believe in equality of outcomes, but its far from a majority opinion.

Almost no one believes all human life is equal. In America you can just ask people for their opinions on Trump or Biden. Or woke academics, or people who enjoyed Stormfront. We all have some lives we value over others.

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We reconcile this by the fact that unlike other species known to us, we are aware of the evolutionary process. We know the currents within which we are swimming. As such, we can now manipulate what was, for most of time, a mindless process without any conscious interference. Our evolution has allowed us to become involved in our own evolution by dint of our will. As such, we can organize ourselves and our societies beyond the grip of crude instinct and can instead instill values. No other species is capable of this. Humans have moral evolution which will, in turn, have an impact upon the less complex but equally dynamic physical evolution.

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Absolutely, though, as I go on about like a stuck record, we’re still governed by our instincts more than we consciously realize.

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Our political and legal systems predate Darwin. So actually, they really were designed by “creationists”.

But it is far from clear to me, what the political and legal implications of believing in evolution should be. Yes, we have evolution-inspired philosophies like eugenics and social Darwinism.

But one is not required to approve of nature or imitate it, any more than one must forbid mechanized flight, because what goes up, must come down… One might instead say: natural selection is cruel, and caring for the weak shows that humanity is better than blind nature. Or one might say: sympathy and cooperation is part of our evolutionary advantage, and we would be fools to suppress that kind of instinct, in order to conform to an imagined ideal of supremacy through ruthlessness.

Maybe if the Axis had won World War 2, we’d have a eugenic world order and Darwin would be an explicit part of political ideology. But they lost, and instead we got a politics of human equality and human rights.

Meanwhile, the old eugenic ideal of pairing off the best men and women, and getting them to have lots of children, seems a little archaic in the era of genetic engineering (and cyborgs, brain-hacking, etc). These days the dreams are all about using technology to directly make posthuman entities. Which is certainly “fuel” for a new kind of natural selection…

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Great point.

On a practical level, it seems inefficient (and thus have selection pressure against it) to face every situation as if it was the first time, and to take no lessons at all from prior experiences (either personal, or learned from others). Having some sort of heuristic is in fact hard wired into our brain, if you believe someone like Kahneman and his description of system 1/fast thinking. So having the need for a heuristic is a product of evolution, and choosing religion as the source of that heuristic is merely one such option. In the past, when there was hardly any scientific explanation for anything humans observed in their environment, religion seemed like a logical choice.

Evolution being upstream of, and forming the biological basis for the need for, religion…love it!

I don’t think that’s the case. I think we strive to give everyone the same opportunities, then let the chips fall where they may. We celebrate achievement precisely because of extraordinary results per unit opportunity. Everyone on the Dubs is coached by Steve Kerr, but there is only one Steph. On the entire Jamaican track team, no one else runs like Usain Bolt.

I think we cheer for those who maximize results for their given opportunity, and we bemoan those who squander their opportunities.

THis is not the case. I think we attribute some value to all human life, but it is very far from equal. Why are GI’s on the front line, and the Generals not…but as one of many many possible examples.

OTOH, even if one stipulates to “all human life has equal value”, I’m not perceiving any requisite need for subscribing to a creator on that basis alone. What would require that all of a creator’s creations be of equal value? If you accept “price” as a surrogate for “value”, not all of Nike’s creations are of the same value. Nor all the paintings of a painter. Etc etc.

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Well, it does appear that humans are part of very particular subset of animal life in which evolution appears to happen more quickly:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/segmental-duplication

I’ve read it suggested elsewhere that this duplicon tendency is also one of the reasons why see seem to have a greater prevalence of genetic weaknesses like haemophilia. It’s not that other species don’t experience negative mutations, but rather that they occur at a much less frequent rate.

I think the more interesting question is over the speed of evolution- with a rare few souls remarking about the seeming possibility of speciation rather than the more conventional view of gradation. I would posit that whenever any species experience a particularly benign mutation, it takes a while for the rest of the genome to optimise itself to fully utilise the new positive trait- what one might call emergent utility. With humans this is likely especially true, because of the huge sections of what were previously thought of as junk DNA.

Have you ever heard of David Brin or his Uplift Sci Fi theme? It’s highly likely that although Ancient Alien hypothesis are less likely than many would hope, it’s far more likely that our world was visited in the far more distant past (in human, not geological, terms). Just how likely is it that a tiny subset of species with the capacity for both tool use and fire use just happened by chance to mutate a genetic proclivity guaranteed to greatly accelerate their evolutionary pace?

@S.Cheung @RayAndrews

@b52programmer

I don’t think this undermines your point that God might exist, merely that we don’t necessarily need to look at supernatural means for his existence. I can think of at least two possible scientific hypothesis for the existence of God. One is the quantum void. How do we know that a quantum void with its positive and negative fluctuations wouldn’t lead to the evolution of vast distributed intelligence- especially after the first universe, created by accident, allowed for the possibility of a limitless number of smaller nodal quantum voids?

Second, a super intelligent lifeform only has to evolve once. Wouldn’t they want to create the potential for the possible of life after physical death, and they might see the loss of all previous generations of individual computational power as an absolute tragedy and/or waste? They would install a zero entropy layer into a substrate of the universe and create a symbiotic vessel for preserving life’s energistic component beyond death and thus ‘invent’ God.

Of course, this layer would be cold, because of the zero entropy requirement for preserving the energy of sentience beyond death without a physical body, which might explain why the perception of coldness when encountering paranormal phenomenon is so universal. Of course, we wouldn’t feel it, because we would lack nerve receptors- but the living would…

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