Quora – evidence for evolution

What is the strongest evidence for evolution to show the creationists that they are wrong?

The question is invalid in a way that few yet understand well.

Jordan Peterson gets much closer than most (both of his books are worth reading, and all of his youtube lectures are worth watching), and in his August 2018 Patreon response at 1:11:38 he gets very close.

Religion doesn’t survive because it explains how the world works, it survives because it gives people effective heuristics for acting in ways that enhance communal survival. That is a different domain.

Ideas like right and wrong are very simple approximations to vastly more complex realities.

Science doesn’t deal with right and wrong. Science is a process of becoming less wrong through a (potentially infinite) set of approximations (or models) that are less wrong than the models they replace.

And living in the real world is complex.

It is of no survival value to have a method of perfectly predicting the position of a predator if it takes 2 minutes to compute, and you only see it 10 seconds before it gets you. Things like computational time and computational energy are really important factors in evolution.

Evolution is essentially the survival of sets of useful heuristics (things that work well enough, reliably enough, and quickly enough) that are better than any of the other variants available given all the specific constraints of that particular context or niche. It seems very probable that all of our likes, dislikes, intuitions, feelings, culture, law, etc come from some level of the differential survival of variants of something.

Religions that have stood the test of deep time seem to have captured some essentially useful sets of behavioural outputs in their structures.

Robert Axelrod gave us the first real glimpses of just how complex and subtle some of those interactions might be, with his early work on games theory.

As complexity theory, computational theory, systems theory and decision theory have developed; people like Stephen Wolfram, David Snowden, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Nassim Taleb, Jordan Peterson, Ray Kurzwiel and many others have allowed us to develop ever more complex and subtle and recursively accurate models of how evolution works, and to gain some idea of just how complex each and every one of us is.

Getting onto that path takes a lot of time (Dawkins Selfish Gene was a profound read for me in 1978).

It means giving up the old and comfortable ideas of Truth and Certainty; and training oneself to be as comfortable as possible with eternal uncertainty, to be respectful of diversity, and to admit that all knowledge comes with uncertainties.

A scientific understanding can be profoundly powerful, but it is not easy, or quick.

Often the time and energy constraints of reality demand we adopt simplifying heuristics. That can lead to profound issues when our legal system often demands that someone be responsible, and has a hard time accepting that fundamental uncertainty will be our eternal companion.

One of the very real issues that many religious people very rightly have with many who profess a scientific understanding, is that they are too arrogant in their claims, and so simplistic as to be a close approximation to wrong in areas that they do not yet even begin to comprehend.

The popular notion that evolution is all about competition is one case in point.

Certainly evolution can involve competition; and it is also true to say that for most complex organisms, the evolution of complexity is far more about cooperation than it is about competition; and we are the most complex things we know.

So many of a religious persuasion are (very rightly) very skeptical of those who use a very simplistic (and essentially wrong) claim that evolution is all about competition and “survival of the fittest” to support behaviours in the economic and business and political realms that are essentially cheating strategies on the cooperative that is human society. I am equally (or more) skeptical – though from a strictly systemic view, based upon balance of probabilities in a vastly complex systemic landscape.

I am all for science.

Science is not about being right.

Science is accepting eternal ignorance; and striving with humility to be a little less wrong every day.

Science is being willing to question anything and everything, if there is reasonable evidence that such questioning is required.

As someone who has had a passionate interest in evolutionary theory and practice for over 50 years; I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the survival of us all demands a universal respect for individual life and individual liberty; and that demands of each of us responsible action in both social and ecological contexts. And there will be as many different variations on those themes as there are individuals in existence. We are in fact that complex.

So rather than trying to be “right”; try a little humility. Try showing respect. Try listening for the deeper truths encoded in the heuristics that apply to domains that may not be of primary interest to us.
In every age, those who see something that is less wrong than the old model, are by definition heretics and “wrong” from within the old model.

Scientific progress demands we allow such things; is in fact predicated upon them. Which is not to say the everyone making such claims is in fact less wrong; but some of them will be – and one has to do the hard work to sort one from t’other; and show some respect to all in the process.

We all make mistakes.

One of the keys to scientific progress is noticing that they are mistakes, and correcting them.
To be able to do that, one must be eternally open to the possibility of mistakes. That is not always a comfortable place to be.

[followed by as replys to comments on my facebook share]

Hi Richard,
What I was trying to say (none too clearly- obviously), is that the simple idea that someone is either right or wrong, is almost certainly not accurate most of the time. Most often the model we are using is only an approximation to what is actually present.

For me, all moral values seem to be the result of the survival of something.

[followed by]

Hi Richard,
Deeper than that.
It seems beyond reasonable doubt that all of what we call knowledge is just a simplistic model of something vastly more complex.

Evolutionary epistemology and evolutionary ontology seem to be at root of all that we are – our perceptions, our perceptual models, our experiential reality, our morality, everything. Trace it far enough and you come back to the differential survival of something. Level upon level upon level.

It seems to be what is there.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) with reasonable security, tools, resources and degrees of freedom, and reasonable examples of the natural environment; and that is going to demand responsibility from all of us - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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