The Corpus Callosum

Evolution Messed Up?

James Gunn, the director for the movie href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slither_%282006_film%29">Slither,
seems to be enthralled by creepy crawly things.  He also has a
blog-like website, on which he posted href="http://www.jamesgunn.com/2009/07/02/evolution-fucked-your-shit-up-the-worlds-50-freakiest-animals/">Evolution
Fucked Your Shit Up: The World’s 50 Freakiest Animals
. (HT: href="http://charlierb3.blogspot.com/2010/02/friday-lists_19.html">Interesting
Pile.)

i-973d71936965c722db1f6f45f18f8af4-Ajolote.jpgThe creature pictured above, by the way, is
an ajolote.  The term ajolote can refer to either the href="http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2008/02/axolotls_on_the_edge.php"
title="Axolotl">Axolotl an (aquatic salamander (genus Ambystoma),
or it can refer to the href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_mole_lizard">Mexican mole
lizard (Bipes biporus).  The one in the picture is the
lizard, Bipes biporus.

I am not going to say any more about the vexations of taxonomy, or even
about Mr. Gunn.  The photos are kind of neat, but they speak for
themselves.  What I am going to address is the notion that
evolution messed these creatures up.  I suspect that Mr. Gunn was
not intending to make a scientifically verifiable statement.  But
it is way off base, and it illustrates a fundamental misconception
about evolution. 


The creatures in the photographs are no more messed up than Mr. Gunn
himself, with reference to evolution.  Evolution never messes
up.  It merely does what it does. 

Evolution is genetic change.  It cannot mess up, because it has no
goal.  If you define messing up as failure to reach one’s goal,
then you cannot mess up if you have no goal.  Evolution has no
direction.  If you define messing up as going in the wrong
direction, then you cannot mess up if you are not going in any
particular direction. 

Perhaps what he means, is that evolution failed to match his
expectations.  But evolution is not required to meet anyone’s
expectation.  If someone or something messed up here, the one who
messed up is the one who harbored unrealistic expectations.

I point this out because there is a common misbelief: that evolution is
supposed to produce life forms that are progressively more
refined.  Kids are sometimes taught that humans are at the top of
the evolutionary ladder, that we are the “most highly evolved”
creatures.  This is nonsense.  The only way it can be true,
is if one arbitrarily defines it to be true.  

Comments

  1. #1 Jon H
    February 21, 2010

    “Evolution is genetic change. It cannot mess up, because it has no goal. ”

    A bolt of lightning can mess your shit up, even though it had no intention of doing so.

    An earthquake messed up Haiti’s shit, even though it had no goal of doing so. It just did.

    As a man, I can unequivocally say that, whether there was any intention or goal, the evolutionary process that resulted in the prostate being what it is messed man’s collective shit up.

  2. #2 Jon H
    February 22, 2010

    He did definitely make an error in citing the Liger as an example, because they likely wouldn’t ever exist without human interference.

  3. #3 Joseph j7uy5
    February 22, 2010

    Jon, Would you say that electricity can mess up lightning?

  4. #4 IanW
    February 22, 2010

    It seems rather disingenuous to me to declare a definition of evolution and then chide Gunn for not meeting the definition you just declared. If you define murder as someone dying before they reach the age of 120 years, then everyone is murdered. If you define the fire department as something which puts out fires then the fire department is a wet blanket. If you define messing up as evolution routinely not producing the very best solution that genes can provide for a given situation, then yes, it did mess up. But this all hinges on your definition, so James didn’t get it wrong any more – or less – than you did Joseph. I think you’re taking Gunn far too seruiously.

  5. #5 James Gunn
    February 23, 2010

    Joseph – I was not inferring that evolution fucked up in any way, simply that evolution made these creatures freaky to look at from our eyes, which it did. Therefore, “Evolution fucked your shit up.” It was also a joke.

    Jon – Humans are not somehow magically outside the bubble of evolution. So just because humans were involved in the creation of the liger doesn’t mean its creation is outside of evolution. Just as wolves became dogs because of human interaction, ligers came to be from the interaction of human breeding: still 100% evolution. Our actions and strange choices are not exempt.

  6. #6 Jim Thomerson
    February 27, 2010

    Should note that everything alive today came from a long line of adequately fit, successful ancestors. Also, that most potential ancestors were unsuccessful and have no living progeny. One could categorize all presently living things as winners.

  7. #7 Jim Thomerson
    March 2, 2010

    Can the liger be cited as an exmple of somewhat intelligent design?

  8. #8 Benn Brown
    September 22, 2010

    Hmmm…
    It’s all subjective.
    Everything in reality is YOUR reality.
    Things are only what you make of them.
    Each person’s reality is unique to that individual, so ‘truths’ cannot be made to fit every person, or definition.
    So, that being said, Right or Wrong are pointless labels placed on an even more irrelevant notion.
    Or at least that’s the way I see it. :)

  9. #9 Christian
    November 4, 2010

    @Ben Hmm The moral Relativism is extremely frustrating. Truth as a concept DOES apply to all circumstances, and since reality and morality flow from truth, it is fairly safe to say that Right and Wrong are not pointless. If they are then I invite you to stand in front of a gun. Is it Right for the other person to Pull the trigger? I bet you would say that’s pretty WRONG wouldn’t you?

    In the case of animals being right or wrong. If they truly exist it is because their species has consistently reproduced. This makes the case that they apparently “think” they are right to exist. Who are we to judge the beliefs of others? LOL

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