Evolution is not progress?

Kenneth Tolman tolman%asylum.cs.utah.edu at cs.utah.edu
Thu Jun 25 13:40:04 EST 1992


>>  I will contend here that evolution IS associated with progress. Do you
>>agree?  

I suspect that evolution was equated with progress during its early
ideological formation.  Then the scientists realized this was too 
simplistic, and have been trying to swing the pendulum back the other way.
However, the life forms around today certainly appear more complex than
the original fossils that have been found, and certainly correspond to
my intuitive notion of "progress".  That is why I am interested in discussing
this, to see what comes out of it.

>Occupation of a "larger" enviornmental niche could be considered one
>_aspect_ of progress, but even this criteria is very problematic.  For
>one thing, I believe that studies of # of enviornmental niches occupied
>versus time show that this index actually decreases rather dramatically.
>There is a general pattern of life form diversification followed by
>extinction of most of the branches.

Sure.  Lets for a moment define "progress" as the sum total of all 
functionality exhibited by all species.  (yes, a slippery eel)  Certainly
at many points during the evolutionary trail this "progress" has been
backwards- probably due to environmental stress.  But in the long run
this functionality has exploded upwards.  Especially if you consider the
technological capabilites to be expanded functionality (which I do).
Many important functionalities (warm blood, live birth, etc) end up
slipping through the catastrophes...


>Addition of mutation does not imply addition of functionality.  For instance,
>it may be advantageous for a life form to strip down its functionality and
>thus devote more energy to its remaining functions.  (You may be familiar
>with computer programs which are overly general, and thus much slower than
>a more finely tuned program.) 

True, good point. However, a computer program which could switch from one
set of commands to another on environmental change would be more powerful
than one that could not.

>And for any empirical test of "progress", there will be examples of
>species evolving in the opposite direction. 

Sure, there are examples.  There may even be a majority.  But in the long
run there is a definite progression- of progress

>The big theme of all of Gould's
>essays is the danger of confusing evolution with progress, and 
>"Wonderful Life" is a good specific case example.

I will read this, sounds good.  But I cannot avoid looking at the fossil
record and what I see around me.  I cannot deny what is there.



More information about the Mol-evol mailing list