Sometimes my email contains a few good and sincere questions — and here’s an example. This is probably the most common rock on which creationists founder: a profound misconception about what evolution says, and a natural human desire to see a guiding plan to the world.
I appreciate the struggle many creationists are having about evolutionary science. I find myself tormented as I observe the world around me.
What I seem to be focused on is how a plant or animal is self aware of it’s need to evolve? How does a tree know how to “evolve” it’s seed to fly on the wind? How would a lizard “know” that it needed to develop camouflage to survive?
I can’t imagine who any plant or animal other than human would have the ability to “know” and as well as pass it along via DNA to future hundreds of thousands of generations?
I’d appreciate your feedback…this is really starting to bother me.
The first part of the answer is that the organism doesn’t know that it must evolve. There is no plan, no guidance, no goal imposed ahead of time, the tree or lizard are not following a program that says they have a goal. The outcome emerges as a consequence of selection and chance.
The tree did not plan ahead. In a population of trees, there was chance variation in how far seeds fell from the parent; seeds that fell in the shade of the parent would not flourish, while seeds that were fortuitously caught by the wind and fell further away were more likely to thrive, and produce more offspring. Lizards that blended in with their environment were less likely to be eaten, and had more offspring that, inheriting their parents inconspicuousness, were also less likely to be eaten, and variation in their progeny was selected further approximations to camouflage.
There is no “know”, no awareness. Darwin’s insight was that life didn’t need it to produce a pattern of change — unguided random variation, filtered after the fact by natural selection, produces an appearance of design.
And yes, this is a fact that many people find troubling. We’re brought up thinking we’re cuddled in the swaddling hands of a god who has a grand plan for us all, and that every little up and down in our life is the product of some cosmic intent — it’s reassuring and makes us feel important. It’s an interpretation unsupported by any evidence, too, and often contradicted. We live in a world of chance, and we’re all on our own.
OK, readers, maybe you have a better explanation. Go ahead, chime in with a comment and explain how we’re going to wean the general public away from their imaginary sky father.