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The following is a list of what I think a theory of evolution should account for. Such a list could help us judge whether any particular theory does an adequate job. It could also help us identify quickly what we agree and disagree about.
This a personal list--read each point as starting with “I think…”
- Species first appear in the fossil record where the species most like them already live. This suggests that species are somehow generated from each other, rather than each being created independently. I see this as the original meaning of “evolution.”
- All of life uses the same code for genes and proteins, suggesting that the process began only once. It can therefore be an extremely unusual process occurring on average only once in a billion years. This means it may bear very little relation to any other processes we’ve been able to study. We shouldn’t let our familiarity with those processes limit what we hypothesize may be possible for evolution.
- As evolution proceeds, corresponding changes happen in genes, sometimes genes being changed singly, sometimes many at a time.
- Evolution is creative in ways non-living matter on Earth has not been--once there were no multi-celled creatures, now there are elephants and giraffes. Evolution is creative in ways we can appreciate from our own experience of being creative.
- Progress in the “intelligence” of creatures, in the sense that we talk of the “intelligence” in a computer, once begun seems to advance exponentially, eg in nervous systems, and brains. This suggests evolution is a process that can “learn” over time. (This should be measurable, for now it is just an impression.)
- Evolution can produce creatures that experience consciousness and free will. If through those experiences we can violate the limits set by today’s physics then evolution may not be bound by that physics either.
- If evolution is creative, if it can learn, and if it can generate creatures able to experience consciousness and free will, then we may refer to it as “intelligent.” Not doing so may lead us more into error than being scrupulous in not using the word “intelligent” in relation to evolution.
- The products of evolution generate more progeny than are needed for their mere replacement, they also freely eat each other. All those progeny seem to want to avoid being eaten, yet they must be eaten for other species to continue. This may tell us that the intelligence implicit in evolution is not being applied “for” individual creatures. Who else could it be working “for”? Who else benefits? Genes? (Are these legitimate questions? It’s a kind of question that faculties evolved in us find meaningful.)
- Because the tissues in living creatures that support development, homeostasis and behavior all evolved, what we know about those properties gives us a measure of the capabilities of evolution we need to account for. An example would be the very complex behaviors spiders show mastery of without needing any training.
- Living creatures generally come well equipped to cope with their environment and the other living creatures that impact their niche.
I welcome your evaluation of such a list.
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