Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Every Creature Is Equally Highly Evolved

Some people are fond of calling humans a "highly evolved ape." But in terms of materialist evolution, this makes no sense:

"Biological evolution has no privileged line of descent and no designated end. Evolution has reached many millions of interim ends (the number of surviving species at the time of observation), and there is no reason other vanity -- human vanity as it happens, since we are doing the talking -- to designate any one as more privileged or climactic than any other." -- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, p. 4

In purely materialist terms, we have on earth today some tens of millions of species that are all equally evolved, since every single one of them has been evolving for four billion years.


  1. This is one of the central theses of Stephen Jay Gould's Full House.

  2. Right, but the degree of civilization we have reached today is because we are highly evolved over those 4 billion years. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors.

    Other animals are just as evolved in that sense (they too stand on the shoulders of their ancestors) - of course they don't have all the cool abilities that we do.

  3. As for the "privileged" thing that Dawkins brings up... I don't know if that follows (certainly he doesn't make a case for why that follows) and I don't know if its just vanity. There are a lot of objective measures on which you could claim that humans are pretty special. But I definitely agree that all of our contemporaries also "highly evolved". You can't survive and compete without being highly evolved.

  4. There isn't an equality of evolution based on time. Because of horizontal gene transfer some species (and some sub-groups in certain localities) can evolve at radically different rates.
    Not that I like the term 'highly evolved ape' much either, but the answer to whether the statement is true or not is more complicated than time.

    1. I don't think that changes things, though, August. I think most biologists will say "All organisms today are evolved enough to be living today. And that's that."

      More rapid genetic change != more evolved.

    2. I suspect one species could be considered to be more robust than another. Better adaptability to extreme environments, able to exist on a wider range of foods, etc...
      Rapid genetic change would be a negative on the individual level- illness and death are more likely than that extremely rare new change that allows a person to flourish and have many children.


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