- Evolution II
- Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton
"Care to live dangerously?"
His eyes sparkled behind the question as we settled in patio chairs at the small cafe overlooking the water. Spring had finally arrived, accompanied by a gentle afternoon breeze holding promises of the warm summer days to come. We each ordered herb tea.
"That depends," I said. "How dangerous?"
The King of Rational Thought smiled. "Do you remember when you wrote about our conversation on evolution and abstract thinking a few months ago? That evolution couldn't possibly have occurred based only on survival of the fittest because the ability to think abstractly about the idea of evolution itself wasn't needed for survival and therefore would never have developed?"
"Yes," I said. "And I also remember that two of my readers wrote and took issue with your conclusion."
"Right. Since then, I've had time to study their responses," he said. "Want to tackle one of them?"
I hesitated. "Uh, why is this dangerous?"
"Because," he said as the waiter brought our tea, "many people think that evolution answers the question about whether God exists or not. That makes evolution a religious topic. And people get very emotional about religion."
"I won't argue that point," I said, absorbing the steamy chamomile blossom aroma. "Ok, I'm game."
"Excellent," he said, pulling the newspaper clipping from his shirt pocket. "This reader points out that walking upright allows us to dance. The ability to speak allows us to sing. And the development of an opposable thumb allows us to button shirts. He goes on to say that dancing, singing, and buttoning shirts have nothing to do with survival. Yet they are by-products of walking, speaking, and an opposable thumb - abilities he presumes we did develop for survival. Thus he concludes that the ability to think abstractly is similarly a by-product of the development of the cerebral capacity we needed to survive. Got it?"
"Yeaaahh," I said slowly.
"What's wrong with it?" asked the King of Rational Thought.
I was afraid he'd ask that. "What do you mean?" I stalled.
"There is a basic flaw in that reasoning," he replied. "Do you see it?"
I looked and looked. I even stared studiously at my soggy tea bag, hoping for inspiration. It didn't work, and I finally gave up.
"Don't feel bad," he said. "Most evolutionists miss this point. There is a critical difference between (a) using a given capacity for another function, and (b) developing a significantly different or advanced capacity. For example, the capacity to walk and dance are not in the same relationship as the capacity to walk and run. Dancing is simply using walking for another function. But running is an advanced ability. When it comes to evolution, if you don't need the ability to run, you won't develop it.
"In other words," he continued, "if evolution is correct, you might use an ability developed for survival - such as walking - for some other non-survival purpose, such as dancing. But you won't develop a new or advanced ability - such as running - unless you need it for survival. Something useless will not develop in the evolutionary process. Extras like that are detractions which will make you inferior in terms of survival, not superior.
"Similarly," he went on, "the ability to think abstractly is an advanced thinking ability, clearly not needed for survival. It is hardly in the same league with, or ancillary to, the type of thinking that, say, an ape might use to get a banana."
"Wow," I said, as I saw his point. "That's a subtle yet powerful distinction."
"It's about proper classification," he said. "That's one of the keys to knowledge."
"Is there more?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied as he finished his tea and rose to leave, "but I have to go. Maybe we can cover it another time. Are you coming?"
"No, I think I'll stick around a few minutes longer," I replied. "You've given me a lot to think about. Besides, I'm a bit hungry."
A gleam appeared in my eyes.
"Maybe I'll order a banana."