James Gunn, the director for the movie Slither,
seems to be enthralled by creepy crawly things. He also has a
blog-like website, on which he posted Evolution
Fucked Your Shit Up: The World’s 50 Freakiest Animals. (HT: Interesting
The creature pictured above, by the way, is
an ajolote. The term ajolote can refer to either the Axolotl an (aquatic salamander (genus Ambystoma),
or it can refer to the 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
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
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.