Evolution Outdated

Of course evolution is not an outdated theory! We continuously get more and more confirmation of the validity of the hypothesis that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor. Evolution is supported by evidence from the sciences of genetics, biology, paleontology, biogeography, anatomy, comparative anatomy and others.

The word “evolution” simply means change over time. The word is used in many contexts with that definition the “evolution” of dance or the “evolution” of writing. Biological evolution is defined as a change in the relative percentages of genetic characteristics in a population of organisms over time. Such evolution is unavoidable as any population will change its genetic characteristics over time. A population of bacteria that develops a resistance to a new antibiotic does so through evolution.

So, evolution takes place all of the time. It will continue to take place. It will never be outdated.

The focus of most humans in regard to evolution is, of course, on the evolution of humans. But even humans continue to evolve. But evolution helps us understand ourselves better in other ways.

A fairly recent innovation in psychology is something called “Evolutionary Psychology”. (This is also called the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness or EEA). As Leda Cosmides & John Tooby, two of the leading experts in the field, describe it at the web site http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/research/cep/primer.html :

“The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind. Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it.

“In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones. This chapter is a primer on the concepts and arguments that animate it.”

In other words, understanding evolution provides a way to help us better understand how and why we act and think the way that we do. Our physical bodies are best explained by looking at them relative to evolution. It seems reasonable to believe that our brains should be examined in the same way.

As an example, it is very common to have an innate fear of snakes and spiders. Yet, in the 21st century, things like automobiles kill many more people than do any of those creatures. So why do we instinctively fear snakes and spiders and not automobiles? Of course the most reasonable explanation is that we have these fears because in our past snakes and spiders were very real threats and therefore things that should indeed be feared. Our brains evolved to learn to fear them. That fear is present yet today. But we have not evolved to fear automobiles because they are such a relatively recent part of our environment.

The biological evolution of humans will not take place in the future as fast as it has in the past. The human population numbers in the billions and is spread out over the entire Earth. Therefore many, many generations are required before new genetic characteristics can spread throughout the population. Our technologies allow us to adapt to nearly any environment without the need for genetic changes. Therefore the pressure to evolve in the face of environmental change has effectively vanished for humans. Modern medicine allows people with genetic diseases to live and reproduce. That’s surely a good thing, but it works against natural selection. All of those factors mean that the rate of evolutionary change in humans had diminished and will diminish yet more in the future.

But even so, an understanding of evolution helps us to understand ourselves. Clearly evolution is not an outdated theory.