In a recent post responding to the complaint that the way evolutionary theory was being taught was ‘theological’, Jerry Coyne unintentionally proves the critics right with his description of evolution:
Evolution and selection lack any sign of divine guidance. Earlier teleological theories based on divine or spiritual guidance, such as orthogenesis, have fallen by the wayside. Natural selection is a cruel and wasteful process. 99% of the species that ever lived went extinct without leaving descendants. There is no sign that evolution always goes in a fixed direction. Do primates always get bigger brains? There is some suggestion that orangutan populations evolved smaller ones. Fleas lost their wings; tapeworms lost nearly everything when evolving a parasitic lifestyle. There is no sign that the goal of evolution was Homo sapiens (if that were true, why the virtual extinction of Neandertals or the robust australopithecines)? *emphasis mine*
It seems pretty obvious that as a process natural selection can’t be ‘cruel’ unless it is the product of intention. For example, if I get my toe chopped off by a lawnmower, the mower isn’t ‘cruel’ even if the situation is unfortunate. If someone runs me down with a car, that would be cruel because it is an act by a mind intent on harm. Natural selection then would only be cruel if it was indeed the product of a mind whose intention it was to cause undue pain or suffering. Thus calling it cruel is a theological claim.
Even putting that obvious contradiction aside, one must ask if the fact that many species are no longer extant can in fact be described as ‘cruel and wasteful’? If we think of various species as variants on living systems, then the fact that some are no longer here is probably no more ‘cruel or wasteful’ than the fact that we can no longer purchase a new Studebaker. Also we know that the organisms that exist are highly optimized and adapted to the environments in which they live, as were the organisms of the past. If the process that produced them was so wasteful, one wonders how it could produce such capable organisms? We even use selection algorithms to optimize our own designs.
But one wonders how it would be otherwise. The only way we could have species which come into existence and never leave would be world where nothing ever changed – essentially a static world. If the world in question was designed to be constantly changing and renewing, then one would expect variation in response to those changes. Speciation would be necessary in such a world.
Also I think it is important to note that ‘species’ is an arbitrary human construct. There is no reason to believe a designer would be morally constrained to maintaining a set number of species. The reality is the essential information system that is the basis for all life has been preserved for eons despite extreme changes in environments.
That Coyne would see in that cruelty and waste instead of incredible and robust design is a product of his own metaphysical biases.