Pharyngula

Once more into the breach

Hmmm. That creationist who emailed me a question the other day has sent me another. It’s like feeding raccoons—pretty soon they get the idea they should hang out in swarms around your house, they’re digging in the trash, and they’re pooping all over your lawn. Oh, well, one more time:

Here is another question for you kind consideration:

There are a very large number of species on earth; so many that no one has
been able to count them. Many of them are much older than humans, yet none
of them – not even one of them – evolved to a level comparable to that of
humans? What stopped them? Or, should I say, Who stopped them; and why?

First of all, Mr Creationist, both of your questions so far have been very, very poor—everybody has to start somewhere, I know, but they reflect a near total lack of understanding of anything about evolution or biology. Given that you know zip about biology, isn’t it rather arrogant of you to be questioning the fundamentals of the science? Aren’t you presuming a bit much to be pestering a biology professor with these things rather than cracking a book first and catching up on the basics? I have a list of recommended books; you might want to start with some of the kids’ books first. If you’re more ambitious, try Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Zimmer—it’ll give you the overview you need, with more meat that you can dig into.

But to answer your question briefly now…

Your question is an old and tiresome one: it’s a generalized version of the “if we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” canard. What you are doing is assuming teleology—the idea that there is a direction or progressive pattern to evolution—and further assuming that our particular specializations as humans are the goal towards which all evolution works…and then, as you note, observing that reality doesn’t seem to fit the hypothesis very well. I agree with you that the idea of evolution pushing all species towards a human-like kind of existence is contradicted by all the available evidence.

What you don’t seem to understand, though, and where your question runs off the rails, is that evolution is not teleological or progressive in any specific sense. Evolution accounts for the diversity of life as well as its adaptedness. Squirrels, cockroaches, and pigeons are all following strategies that enable them to prosper without imposing any need to do those human activities of talking and making tools and building imaginative social structures.You have disproven a straw man. Congratulations.

You might actually want to reevaluate your theology, though, since it’s Christianity, creationism, and Intelligent Design that presupposes teleological patterns in our history.