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Evolution is not progress

Una Smith una at grumpy.phy.duke.edu
Fri Jul 3 21:05:49 EST 1992

Some weeks ago, tolman%asylum.cs.utah.edu at cs.utah.edu
(Kenneth Tolman) wrote:

> 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. 

Nope!  I know this topic died out about a week ago, but
I can't let this statement get by without comment.  In
the _Origin_, Darwin most emphatically distinguished his 
definition of "evolution" from any conventional meaning
of evolution as a synonym for progress.  The two words
are related in that they both contain an implicit sense
of the "arrow" of time, which we generally believe has
a fixed direction.  Evolution is not progress!  Although
Darwin went to great length to explicitly distinguish
the idea of evolution from that of progress (he even
debated whether to avoid even using the word "evolution",
but didn't find a suitable alternative), many readers
ignored or did not understand his point, and the trend
continues among many (mostly non-biologists) even today.

Having said that, I'd like to shoot myself in the foot
and give an example of what I, as someone who works on
evolutionary theory, think constitutes evolutionary
progress:  the evolution of new levels of organization.
By "new levels of organization", I mean

	1. Life
	2. Cells
	3. Multi-vessicle cells
	4. Multi-cellular organisms
	5. The brain
	6. The mind (distinct from the brain)
	7. Culture (in the sense of human culture)

All other instances of evolution as so-called progress
depend on special pleadings for "improvement" in some
aspect of the quality or quantity of a type of organism.


Una Smith   una at phy.duke.edu    School of the Environment
                                Duke University
                                Durham, NC  27706

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