Thursday, December 24, 2009


Uh, No!

This is not, apparently, a creationist rant but it does illustrate one of the common errors about evolution. Bob Schmidt, writing in The Sacramento News & Review, in an Op-Ed entitled "Optimism lesson," states:

The world today kind of weakens the argument for evolution, doesn't it? Certainly the world today proves that "survival of the fittest" doesn't mean "survival of the best."

It's 2010, and people are still killing each other and stealing from each other, and there are millions of babies in the world dying of starvation. How can that be?

Greed, incompetence and corruption are plaguing the people of nations all over the world, including ours. And mankind has been evolving for hundreds of millions of years. Evolving toward what?

At the same time, the mess the world is in doesn't do much to support the contention that intelligent design by a supreme being is responsible for its creation. If that were the case, the designer would have a lot to answer for.

Mr. Schmidt goes on to cite examples of good works by local people and counsels against "depression" (though what I suspect he really means is "nihilism").

The "[e]volving towards what?" part is what is seriously wrong. The bad news is that, as far as we can tell from science, no lifeform is evolving towards anything ... except local, and temporary, fitness for a particular environment. The traits that make a lifeform, say a primate in a rapidly changing tropical forest, wildly successful for a time, can wind up being the very same traits that make it unfit as a globe-spanning, technology-dependent, species. Extinction is always an option.

Of course, the good news is we have reason to think that the altruism Mr. Schmidt finds hopeful is an evolutionary trait of social animals. If so, and the environment doesn't penalize the trait too much, we can expect the species to continue the trait as long as it lasts.

As for our present state being evidence against some form of intelligent design, that is just a variation on the Argument from Evil, which I have never found very persuasive.

The fact is that the Argument from Life Sucks is pretty much a wash. I, for one, am much more interested in what we can know than what we can surmise.

The article sounds a bit like the introduction to "Idiocracy"
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