6
Does science rule out guided evolution?

Given what we know of evolution, is it possible that evolution is “guided” by some higher power? What tests (historical or otherwise) can be done or have been done which shed light on this question?

Posted: November 15th 2010

George Locke

Here is my summary of the guided evolution hypothesis:

An unknown, unspecified entity used unknown means to control the evolution of life on Earth in such a way as to leave no trace of its passing.

There are many, many problems with this hypothesis (Russell’s Teapot comes to mind), but the biggest hurdle is a mechanistic one, and mechanistic questions can be answered in the lab.

Precisely how did this guide alter evolution? Imagine an alien sending a satellite to Earth to survey the ecosystem, identify targets, then shoot lasers directly into the DNA of suitable organisms, lasers which have been engineered to cause specific mutations without killing the target.
If evolution was guided, something analogous to this must have happened.

Since the question asks for tests, it should be possible to assess how a remote intelligence could specify mutations in a cell. There may be physical constraints on the kinds of lasers (or other means) that could cause mutations that would make them likely to kill their targets. How would the guide know where to point the laser without knowing with minute precision the position of every molecule within the cell? These are questions that could be answered in the lab.

We might suppose that the guide pushed us along not by directly causing mutations but by creating the conditions that would induce the kinds of evolution it wanted. I would argue that the predictive power it would take to produce a complex trait such as intelligence, or even flight, would be astronomical. Even so, there would be geological evidence pointing to changes in environment unlike those that occur without intervention. Searches for such evidence constitute another test for the theory.

If guided evolution were at all credible, these tests would be done. Indeed, they are already being done indirectly, but they aren’t being analyzed for their implications for guided evolution. Why is that? Because there is no evidence for guided evolution, and plenty of evidence that no guide is necessary. Given a choice between two hypotheses explaining the same data, one of which requires huge assumptions beyond known fact, while the other asks for much more modest concessions, the only rational response is to choose the latter.

Posted: November 29th 2010

See all questions answered by George Locke

Mike the Infidel www

Possible? Yes. But only if the higher power prefers massive suffering and death as a means of achieving its ends, because evolution necessarily requires both. Species are selected for and against through the filter of natural selection, which necessarily means that some will die and others will live.

You could certainly have a deity guiding the path of evolution, but that deity would be utterly unlike the god of the major monotheistic religions. It would not be a god of love or compassion.

As for what tests could confirm or refute this position: There are none. Unless there is a way to empirically observe the nature and/or actions of the guiding force, we cannot comment on its presence or absence (though we can assume its absence since we have no evidence of its presence). Again, the major monotheistic religions define their deity as being untestable, so science could never confirm that this deity was behind evolution.

Posted: November 26th 2010

See all questions answered by Mike the Infidel

Paula Kirby www

If evolution is guided – especially if the being guiding it is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent – why have 99.9% of all species to have ever evolved gone extinct? Why are the products of evolution such a botch? Why are our eyes so inefficiently structured? Why don’t our knees work properly? What kind of omniscient guide decides to evolve an animal which only eats one type of food and is therefore suicidally vulnerable to changes to its environment? And whose side is the guide on – the lion’s or the antelope’s?

We have a mechanism – natural selection – which has been shown to work without the need for guidance by a higher power. (That’s why it’s called natural selection: it occurs naturally, all by itself, inevitably, automatically.) The higher power is therefore, at the very best, redundant, superfluous, surplus to requirements: a ball on the top of a smooth slope has no need to be pushed in order to roll downhill , and evolution by natural selection has no need to be guided.

What’s more, if you stop to think for a moment of the cruelty and suffering inherent in evolution by natural selection – the billions of deaths, the endless agony caused by inadequate limbs and organs that are ultimately selected against – you have to see that any 'higher power’ that had deliberately instigated and then guided such a process would be a sadistic monster indeed.

Posted: November 20th 2010

See all questions answered by Paula Kirby

Blaise www

Of course it is possible that something is guiding evolution. The thing is, all the evidence points to it being a largely unguided process. Vestigial body parts, multiple, wasteful solutions to the same problems, and just plain poor design and planning overall pervade both the fossil record and modern biology.

For evidence, read “Climbing Mount Improbable” by Richard Dawkins, or any paleontology text that deals with comparative morphology.

Posted: November 19th 2010

See all questions answered by Blaise

Eric_PK

There is no need for evolution to be guided – it has sufficient power to have produced the results that we see.

I’m not sure what sort of guiding you are thinking of. Is god sticking his fingers into DNA replication and causing specific mutations to take place? Or is he there at the moment of conception to decide which genes come from mom and which ones from dad?

The question boils down to “what if god acted in a way that is indistinguishable from evolution by itself?” That is as serious as the “god layed down the fossil record to confuse us” argument.

Posted: November 19th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

logicel

Evolution shows that a creator god is redundant. And as a creator god answers nothing worthwhile, like who made the creator god, why toy with an useless idea?

Posted: November 18th 2010

See all questions answered by logicel

 

Is your atheism a problem in your religious family or school?
Talk about it at the atheist nexus forum