Evolution Is True. So What?

There can be no debate about the truth of evolution. Genetic mutations and adaptations to local environments result in traits that can be passed down to descendants. Intelligent design is false, and there can be no debate about this either (although there are many debates between creationists and scientists that take place, which often result in the debaters talking past each other).

What can be pondered over is the mechanism or mechanisms of evolution--and what we can do about it, but more on that later. For a while, because of my strong belief in kindness as a basic constituent of reality, I eschewed the notion of the world as an uncaring place. I even entertained the long disproven theory of Lamarkian evolution for a while, which holds that traits one organism develops in a lifetime can be passed down through DNA. While epigenetic changes can in fact play a role in the inheritance of traits, these do not change the DNA itself. This changes the phenotype but not the genotype.

My favorite biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, was a proponent of natural selection and Darwinism. Yet he left room for other possible factors that can influence evolution, including neutralism--an idea that holds that evolution guards against change in order to slow random and possibly harmful genetic change. Gould was sympathetic toward a soft version of the Bauplan, which posits some mechanism of internal change, though he did not embrace it. For Gould, natural selection remained primary.

Modern geneticist Jeremy England at MIT is trying to formulate a thermodynamic theory on the origin of life. Scientist Robert Lanza and philosopher Thomas Nagel posit that consciousness must have a role in the origin of life and thus evolution. Even more speculative is the idea of Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge scientist who holds that morphic resonance has some role to play in evolution. Morphic resonance is the theory that as certain patterns accumulate, they reinforce each other, which can create the type of life forms we see today.

While all of these ideas are interesting, we cannot ignore the fact that natural selection is the best bet to explain how life changes materially, even if the mind or other forces play a role. For physical things, randomness rules and purpose, while very important, is small. In psychology, the tendency to see what we want to see is called confirmation bias. If we're already looking for what we want to see, then we believe it. Therefore many have discarded evolution because of their distaste for its cruelty and its leveling of the living world. We want to be special, but our universe is vast and we are very small. Important, but small.

Evolution polices the material world. And this is why I believe in evolution as a material theory. A grand theory that can explain the origin of life and its role in the universe may be years in the offing because of the borders materialists erect to explain evolution. We may never have one because of this bias. Nevertheless, Darwinian evolution answers the questions we have now in the material world. It is up to us to attempt to fine tune our understanding of how it operates with non-material quiddities. While denying evolution flies in the face of science, we may recognize evolution for what it does on its side of the equation and seek to change the way we relate to each other, to "vote" on how we may change ourselves socially and culturally on the non-material side of the equation. But this would extend beyond materialism and certainly raise the hackles of pompous types like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker. These thinkers seem to think they represent the lone candles battling the darkness of faith.

Modern science has gone from the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) of Stephen Jay Gould to Jerry A. Coyne's negative dogma that science and religion are incompatible. This is not going to help us find out the truth.

Rather, we must accept material evolution for what it is and our mental and social worlds for what they are. The fact that we know more about the former than the latter does not negate the importance of mind and interaction in shaping who we are and what we can become.