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Are We More Evolved Now?

Progressives make fun of Creationists such as Ken Ham for their silly pseudoscientific models of how the world works. If we look beyond the low hanging fruit, however, we might find ample evidence of sloppy thinking about science in our own midst.

This weekend, atheists are holding a convention in Memphis, Tennessee, and using the event to promote their own godless ideas about the nature of reality. One of the books being promoted by people attending the event is Discovering Our World: Humanity’s Epic Journey from Myth to Knowledge by Paul Singh and John Shook.

discovering our worldSingh and Shook claim to represent the side of science in a battle of “science vs. myth”. Representing science, however, the authors get off to a rocky start. They write, “Our species is already highly evolved compared to others on the planet, so much so that we have become agents of change just like the mother nature. It is becoming apparent that we are the very first species ever to evolve on this planet that will decide its own evolution.

When I read passages like this, I fear a concussion from slapping my forehead over and over again before I reach the end of the book.

Are humans more evolved than other species of life on Earth? This is one of the first ideas that’s debunked in a good introductory biology course. Evidence suggests that all life on Earth shares a single common ancestor. Therefore, all life on Earth has been evolving for the same amount of time.

To say that humans more “highly evolved” than other forms of life on Earth is to suggest that evolution is a unidirectional process with a set purpose: To grow taller in some way. Giraffes beat us in this race in a literal sense, and other forms of life do some amazing things as well. Are we more highly evolved than a mantis shrimp, or an arctic tern, or a sequoia tree? Evolution is adaptation, and life on Earth shows us that adaptation can go in many differently successful directions. It’s not about a simple race to reach upwards.

When Singh and Shook write that humanity will be the first species to decide its own evolution, they make another cringe-worthy assault on basic scientific principles: Claiming to know what will happen in the future. We can’t know how our species will evolve until it actually evolves.

Are Singh and Shook correct in saying that humans will decide how we evolve? I doubt it. There are billions of us, for one thing, and I don’t see how all of us could reach consensus on how to evolve as a species. It’s likely that manipulation of some people’s genetics will influence human evolution, but this won’t be a simple decision of how to evolve. It’s important to remember that evolution takes place through natural selection, and selective influences from nature are difficult to predict. Until humanity controls everything in the entire universe, we won’t have the power to choose how to evolve.

Singh and Shook claim to be leading us away from myth, but their writing is filled with mythmaking. Atheists, as human beings, are just as mythbound as everyone else – and prime among their myths is the idea that they have outgrown mythological thinking.

Good scientists know that we are all prone to error. That’s why they have other people check their work. I wish that Discovering Our World: Humanity’s Epic Journey from Myth to Knowledge had been more adequately checked.

6 thoughts on “Are We More Evolved Now?”

  1. Bruce Nappi says:

    J,
    I think you’ve analyzed this very well. Anyone attempting to write something meaningful about evolution should understand the difference between humans being “more highly evolved” and “having evolved higher levels of consciousness”, which is really a key human distinction. It is also clear from your discussion that the authors ( I haven’t read the book) do not understand the difference between the “science of evolution” based on Darwin’s Origin of Species, and his theories of “human evolution” as discussed in the Decent of Man. The MAJOR establishments of science in the world have also failed both to acknowledge this difference and develop sciences around it, largely due to the eugenics taboos established early in the 20th century.

    As you point out, the word “decide”, when related to billions of humans is very ambiguous. Where I would aim you in a different direction is related to your statement, “remember that evolution takes place through natural selection”. This is “Origin of Species” thinking. Human society, as distinct from human biology, does NOT evolve through natural selection even if it must include the constraints of human biology). It evolves through “meme selection”. This will allow human “social” evolution to proceed at rates millions of times faster than natural selection.

    I would also aim you differently in regard to humans having “the power to choose how to evolve”, and “We can’t know how our species will evolve until it actually evolves.” I agree, we can’t know HOW we will evolve if “how” means an end point or even some future snapshot. Too many variables. HOWEVER, if by “how” we mean “direction”, then humans are already drastically messing with that. But this doesn’t imply that “society” is doing it through “conscious” choice. Instead, it is being done as a by-product of authoritarian rule, corruption, media propaganda and warfare – not the “best” way to evolve our future.

    Anyone wanting to read more about this can do so on my website A3society.org . Start with the democracy tab.

    1. J Clifford says:

      Bruce, I disagree with you about memes. Human culture may be said to evolve through the interaction of memes. Human biology remains something different. Last time I checked, people don’t pass their memes down to their babies by having sex. I can’t remember ever engaging in an act of reproduction on account of my memes.

  2. Korky Day says:

    Sounds like the book merely needed a better editor. If all of us were at the confab, we’d probably find that we actually are quite in agreement to a high degree.

  3. Bill says:

    J, thanks for a thoughtful article. As a biologist, it drives me nuts when people talk about “more highly evolved” species…as if the ability to manufacture and market handguns is somehow the apex of evolution. What “highly evolved” means to us reflects our own personal biases, not fact. Speaking strictly for myself, I would give the Most Awesomely Evolved Awards to:
    First Prize: Viruses. Pick a virus, any virus. By almost any reasonable measure of evolutionary success, these guys are the hands-down winners.
    Second Prize: Nematodes. It has been seriously suggested (I apologize for not being able to cite the source) that if you could make all the Earth’s matter disappear, except for the nematodes, the outlines of pretty much everything would still be quite distinct. Wow.
    Third Prize: Ants. There are one holy helluva lot of ants on this planet, and they have developed amazing societies.
    Fourth Prize: Grasses. Pretty much the only critters you can find on every continent, in every climate type, in noticeable abundance. Plus, without the pre-existence of grasses, humans probably wouldn’t have gotten very far in evolution.

    And don’t even get me started on this whole “science versus religion” thing. “Tomatoes versus integers” makes just about as much sense. I get that a whole lot of my ‘fellow’ people of faith are, unfortunately anti-science. I just don’t understand why so many atheists feel the need to buy into that same false dichotomy.

    1. Korky Day says:

      Maybe, Bill, it’s something about religion that makes its believers MORE LIKELY to be anti-science.

      1. Bill says:

        So are you saying that, because you believe (incorrectly, in my opinion, based on my personal relationships with many hundreds of pro-science people of faith) that because there’s something about religion(s) that makes (their) followers more likely to be anti-science, you feel it follows that atheists must be anti-religion? My question was why do some atheists feel they have to be anti something? I say “some” atheists because I know any number of atheists (many of them close friends) who simply couldn’t give a flying fig one way or the other about religion, per se. This seems to me to be the more rational approach, but then I’m biased, because it is the complement of my own feelings toward atheism. I’m neither for it nor against it. I’m only against haters and belittlers, of whatever personal beliefs. My question meant to ask: why isn’t that enough?

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