Low Hanging Fruit – Coyne on the ‘Cruelty’ of Speciation

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.

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One Response to Low Hanging Fruit – Coyne on the ‘Cruelty’ of Speciation

  1. Justin says:

    You know, I was on my way to pick something up for lunch, when evolution crossed my mind. I read Jerry’s post and came across another golden nugget of confusion:

    In my classes, however, I still characterize evolution and selection as processes lacking mind, purpose, or supervision. Why? Because, as far as we can see, that’s the truth.

    Is he teaching science, or materialistic indoctrination? Imagine 13th century scholars teaching kids about the flat earth.

    In my classes, however, I still characterize the Earth as flat. Why? Because, as far as we can see, that’s the truth.

    This doesn’t bode well for the furtherment of scientific knowledge, does it? This is precisely the type of teaching that folks like Jerry have criticized the church for using during the Dark Ages.

    Further, while criticizing the manner in which theologians consider evolution, he simultaneously pretends to know all possible and plausible purposes God might have for evolution.

    Then he goes on to say:

    To withhold from students the evidence that natural selection is purposeless—lacking direction, guidance, or goals—is to cheat them of the very essence of that process.

    What evidence is this exactly that proves evolution is purposeless? I think Jerry can only argue that evolution doesn’t serve his purpose and have any merit in the argument.

    I can think of a kindergarten-leveled purpose for having such a wasteful process involving so many dead animals – oil. Only in having this resource have we gone to the moon, put telescopes into orbit, in order to learn more about the universe (that God made). Now, this might not have been God’s intent or specific plan, but the fact that it’s even logically plausible provides a clear refutation to Jerry’s entire post.

    Then he goes on to claim that this “cruel and wasteful” process is “wondrous and beautiful”. I can only shake my head in confusion to that contradiction, subjective as it may be.

    And all of this presumes that evolution, as currently described, is true, of course. I don’t think it is even a good scientific theory – yet. It wreaks of the global warming-type excuses, where “global warming causes global cooling”. If it floods, it’s global warming. If there is a drought, it’s global warming. If brains shrink, it’s evolution. If they get bigger, it’s evolution, and on and on. A “scientific” theory that cannot be falsified and that can be adapted ad hoc to every instance of observation is utterly worhtless – according to their own standards – and yet they embrace evolution anyway. In fact, it’s this type of criticism they level against religion, with the God-of-the-Gaps and ad hoc accusations.

    Another thing that puzzles me is the fact that evolution seems to dissipate when it encounters man as a species. A simple look at birth rates around the globe indicates that it’s definitely not the more intelligent, technologically advanced cultures (read COMPLEX) that are breeding more today. American and European birth rates are lower than South American birth rates, and this trend is clear and well established.

    Altruism in humans actively subverts the evolutionary process as well, where one culture takes an active role in aiding the survival of a weaker culture. Where evolution would dictate that the weaker members of a species will be selected against, humans make efforts to protect them. How does evolution explain this? How does evolution account for this at all, especially in light of the knowledge that in the cold, harsh calculus of eugenics, perhaps these cultures ought to go away and other cultures that are breeding rapidly ought to be prevented from breeding altogether? No doubt overpopulation of the earth is a threat to future human populations, but we care for others nonetheless. This should baffle evolutionists, but they wave their hands and these types of questions magically go away.

    But it makes me wonder what type of purpose Jerry and other proponents of anti-ID have that makes them adopt such a logically contradictory position.

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