Letters to Others - November 2003

Purpose in Evolution

We admit it. We like reading other people’s mail. (You like to read our “email” column, don’t you?) Here is a letter written to Science News magazine.

At certain points in “Leave it to Evolution: Duplicated gene aids odd monkey diet” (SN: 3/23/02, p. 181), the word evolution is directly tied with a verb in ways that perpetuate (however unintentionally) the misconception that evolution proceeds with a purpose or goal, perhaps even a guiding sequence. It is obvious that you are simply using such phrases to make the articles easy to read and accessible to nonscientists. Unfortunately, I believe that people without a thorough understanding of the evolutionary process receive an erroneous impression that evolution “acts.” - Paul Schlueter III, Dallas, PA [italics in the original]

We bring this to your attention because it emphasizes what Paul Davies said about “biological determinism” being an anathema to many biologists in this month’s feature article. Furthermore, in last month’s Vestigial Darwinism essay, we had to cut the highlighted portion of the quote below because we lacked space for it.

Indeed, both authors see natural selection as a driving force in human evolution--though Stanford correctly emphasizes that natural selection promotes the diversity of species, and stoutly denies that evolution is toward anything. [italics in the original]

Stanford and Tattersall are just as sensitive to the issue, as Davies and Schlueter are. After reading what Paul Davies had to say, you should understand why this is such a hot issue. It isn’t enough for them to prove that life evolved--they need to prove that there was no reason for it to evolve. Life is meaningless.

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