The Myth of the Evolutionary Ladder

Hello there free-thinkers,

Today I am going to be blogging about the so-called evolutionary ladder, and the myths which surround it. The evolutionary ladder is an image which appears in most high-school textbooks, supposedly showing how biological life evolves into the top of the line humans which are around today, and that all other animals are below us. It often looks something like this:-

Early biology often surrounded this concept of humans as the peak of the animal kingdom

It starts with the lowest-of-the-low, the plants, because they are dumb and don’t have a brain. Then the jellyfish, because they are the combination of a lot of smaller animals, and they have a sense of being alive. Next comes the insects, because they are small and aren’t smart. Onto fish, they are bigger than insects, so they take a higher position. Reptiles next, because at least they live on land, that makes them better than all the other animals so far. Birds come next, because they are war-blooded, just like humans. Mammals come next, because they are the last step before becoming the best organism ever, the human.

This is a very arrogant way to think about the world around you, and it is also factually false, for a few reasons.

This ladder does not show a path of evolutionary change, the world did not start out with only plants, and then evolve up the ladder, it is best to describe evolution as a tree, with all of these animals, the ones around us at the moment, as the leaves of this tree.

It is also untrue that humans are the best when it comes to evolution. All of these animals are around today because they are good at evolution. If this ladder were true, we would expect to see a lot less trees than we do humans, but we don’t, there are a whole lot more trees and plants on this planet than there are humans. All of the organisms alive today are the best at what they do, that’s why they thrive.

It is very arrogant to assume that humans are the best evolutionary creatures on this planet, and it is probably true that humans are actually very bad from an evolution standpoint. It was Charles Darwin himself who once stated, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”, and this quote is true. The fittest organism is not the strongest or the fastest animal, it is the animal which is best able to adapt to its environment. If this is true, then bacteria should take the top of the ladder, and humans right down the bottom. Humans are very slow in their evolution because we have a very slow reproduction rate, meaning that they cannot adapt very quickly, meaning that they are not fit. However, most bacteria can reproduce at a rate of knots, meaning that they are very fit. Humans are not really very good from an evolution viewpoint, which is why the evolutionary ladder should be either turned upside down, or morph into a branching tree, with each of today’s organism perched at the top of the tree.

That’s all for today, I’ll leave you with a quote from Steven Novella, “Evolution is a messy branching bush, and we’re just finding more and more twigs all over the place”, Steven Novella, A neurologist and skeptic of some note.

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Legacy – the only immortality for a skeptic

Hello there fellow bloggers, readers and browsers,

I was recently reading through my issue of Scientific American (which I subscribe to), and I came to the columns in the back of the magazine, and the one written by Michael Shermer really appealed to me. It is entitled ‘Climbing Mount Immortality’. The whole topic of the column was to discuss mortality and how it shaped our civilizations., but what really appealed to me was the topic of immortality itself. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all spiritual-after-life crazy on you, I want to discuss the concept of Legacy.

Legacy is the only immortality a skeptic can subscribe to. Albeit a very partial immortality, it is the only one there is. If one believes that there is no afterlife, then the only way in which that person can survive in the minds of those around him, is by doing something to remember him for.

This concept is very readily visible for Alfred Nobel. You will be aware of the Nobel prize. If you are, (you should, or you should stop looking at my blog right now) then you will know that it is an award given to scientists, essayists and peace activists for showing exemplary skills in their area, and making great discoveries.
Seeing that 99% of people know about the Nobel prize, Alfred Nobel could say that he is a success.

What most people don’t know about Alfred Nobel is that he was actually the inventor of dynamite. He created this lethal weapon off war in the hope that ‘war would become so bad, that it would be done by nobody’. But this did not happen, wars just became bloodier and more violent, and you must feel for Nobel for having his invention turn into such a disaster in his mind. This is what inspired him to set up the Nobel prize.

He was worried that all of the world would see him as an evil man for thousands of years to come. So what he did was posthumously donate all his money to set up the Nobel prize. this has worked because now, instead of everybody seeing Alfred Nobel as a villainous person with sinister intentions, we see him as the most famous and prestigious prizes handed out to scientists.

The idea of legacy has an impact on me, I want people to remember me after I die, not just by my family for being a brother or a son or a husband or a father, but by the world as a person who changed a field for ever, like Einstein, Hawking or Nobel. This is the only way for me to stick around after my death, I wont be able to experience it, but my family will be proud, and so will I on my deathbed, knowing that I can be content with what I have done with my life.

I will leave you with a quote from Amanda from Saw II, “The answer is immortality. By creating a legacy, by living a life worth remembering, you become immortal.”

An argument from beauty

Today, I had an Ethics and faith lesson with our school father (I go to an Anglican school) and he reminded me of an argument that I have been hearing for a long time. It’s actually three arguments, the first is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, the second is “Why do humans and other animals exist?”, and the third is “The earth is so beautiful, it can’t have happened by chance.”His answer to all of these questions is that there must be a supreme being or god who designed it intentionally for us, so it is beautiful and appealing to us. All of these arguments are of the kind ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, and I have covered that in my brief of logical fallacies which can be found on the home page. I will answer these questions in my blog post today.

The first argument, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be explained easily with chance. Simply, there is only one way in which there is nothing, null and void, but there are infinite ways in which something can exist, and seeing that 1/∞ = 0, (1/2 = 0.5… 1/10 = 0.1… 1/100 = 0.01) it just has to happen. No god is needed to explain everything because something must happen. It would be more surprising if there was nothing, and we would need to have a god to explain it, but there would be nobody around to ask the question, and that leads me to the next argument.

“Why do humans and other animals exist?” This is the second question asked by my Ethics and Faith teacher. He says that there must be a god who put life on a planet to explain this. There isn’t a need for this. It has been estimated that there are about 150 billion galaxies in the known universe. There are also anywhere from 10 million to 200 billion stars in a galaxy, I will take an average of 100 billion stars in a galaxy. That comes out at about 15 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (15 000 billion billion stars.) That means about that many rocky planets, so that means a lot of possibilities for life. The odds are slim for an individual planet, but with that many dice-rolls 10 heads in a row is not un-common.Once there is some sort of self-replicating organism, then evolution takes over and does its thing.

Now, the third argument. “The world is so beautiful, this can’t have happened by chance.” First of all, yes there is beautiful things like rainbows and forests and mountains, but there are equally bad things like some fish species or snakes or spiders and other animals which may kill you, not to mention all of humanities problems. There is as much beautiful stuff as there is not beautiful stuff. This is because the definition of beautiful is ‘the top 50% of things in the world on a scale of beautifulness’. There will always be beautiful things. But just for my teachers sake let’s try and explain why some things are so beautiful. Our subjective grading of what the most beautiful things are is taken from a data set of one.

Say the world was a little less beautiful than what it is, we would still think of the most beautiful things as ‘the most beautiful things’ and the least beautiful things as ‘the least beautiful things.’ If the world was a little more beautiful than what it is, we would still have the same titles for the most beautiful and least beautiful things. We get used to what is beautiful and what is not because we grow up in our world, not another world.

What I’m essentially saying is that things are the way it is because they are the way they are, and we wouldn’t be asking these questions if the world was different. I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, skeptic, atheist and author of some note.

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