In a previous post I described how evolution works.
Lots of people have some vague ideas about evolution, but don’t really know how it actually happens. Don’t worry if this is you, most people are like this, even some scientists! (Mostly physicists)
You can read the post here if you want; I tried to make it as simple but as accurate as possible.
And once you begin to understand evolution, you realise there are some pretty huge implications…
1. Evolution has no purpose, its random. Evolution is a mechanical process; random variation is acted on by blind natural selection. There is no design, purpose or intent. In the previous post I talked about how giraffes evolved long necks to allow them to feed on leaves higher in trees. But just because there was a benefit to having a long neck doesn’t mean that a species will evolve a long neck, the giraffe species was lucky that such a mutation occurred. Other solutions to the problem may have evolved instead, such as an ability to jump, or an ability to knock-over trees. Many species don’t “get lucky” and don’t evolve a useful adaptation to a change in their habitat, and many of these species go extinct.
2. Evolution has no destiny. Because evolution is random it means that no form of life is destined to evolve. Many people believe that humans are in some way destined, that if life emerged on a similar planet to Earth evolution would produce something like humans. But this isn’t the case, as evolution is random. If you could rewind time on Earth right back to the start of life, and then let evolution take its course again, then it’s very unlikely that humans would evolve. Maybe this time life would die out completely in a huge mass extinction, or maybe life would stay as simple as bacteria forever, or maybe something much more wondrous than humans would evolve, like super intelligent squirrels!
3. Humanity is not the peak of evolution. A lot of people also think that evolution has been perfected in humanity, that we are the peak organism never to be bettered. But if evolution is random and has no destiny or goal, then there is no such thing as a peak of evolution. Deciding which species is “best” or “most important” is a subjective choice that is meaningless to nature. One person may decide that humans are the most important species because we have complex technology and culture, but another person may decide that plants are more important, because without plants no complex life could exist on Earth. We are not evolution’s peak, we will likely go extinct, and other species will replace us.
4. Humans are animals. We may think of ourselves as something a bit special, and yes, humankind has made some pretty huge achievements, like going to the Moon, or having a space station that has been inhabited continuously for over ten years. But evolution teaches us that we are a species of animal, and that everything that makes us unique was given to us by the process of evolution by natural selection. Some people are offended by the statement that we are animals, but this is a peculiar form of narrow-mindedness. We arose from the tree of life like every other species, we have a genealogy of ancestors, and we have relatives who are alive today in the form of the other Great Apes. We shouldn’t try to deny our animal-ness, we should celebrate it, particularly at a time when we are driving so many other animals to extinction.
5. Life has a function, but not a meaning. What is the meaning of life? Evolution teaches us that there isn’t a meaning or a purpose to life, just a function. Humanity was not put here for a reason, we evolved by chance, as with all other species. Bees don’t have a meaning of life, but they do have a function in an ecosystem, they help to pollinate plants. All species have functions within an ecosystem, including us, but these were not chosen or designed, they arose by chance. I think many people don’t like this implication, they want their life to mean something, and they want there to be hidden answers to some of their deepest questions. But there aren’t. We were created by a blind and random process, there was no intent, and we were not its destiny. There is no meaning to life. This might sound a bit depressing to some, but I don’t think so, you’re free to give your own life meaning by choosing your own purpose in life.
6. The diversity of life on Earth does not need to be explained by a creator. Don’t read this as an attack on religion. Evolution and religion can live peacefully together. All I’m saying is that once life got started, we now know that it could have diversified into all the different forms we see today by the natural process of evolution alone. No designer or creator is required to explain why we have dolphins, squirrels and apes with five fingers. This does not mean that evolution kills god. You could very easily argue that a creator designed life to evolve in this way. Personally I don’t believe this, as I don’t believe in any god, but evolution does explain how new species can be created by a random process without the need for a conscious “designer”.
I leave you with a picture of a dinosaur. Just because.