perspective – Evolutionary Spirituality Homepage

Posted: June 5, 2014 at 12:00 pm


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Expert consensus document

Panel - Michael Dowd, Connie Barlow, Tom Atlee

History of the scientific use of the term, "evolution"

Long before Charles Darwin wrote his "On the Origin of Species," which was published in 1859, natural philosophers (the 'scientists' of the day) used the term "evolution" to refer to developmental unfolding of natural phenomena. In fact, Darwin resisted using the term "evolution" in his great book because his view of the role of "natural selection" in fostering change through time in the living world was far more spontaneous and decidedly not preordained.

Since then, biologists have comfortably adopted the term as their own, and its definitional use in that field has come to imply not only spontaneous but, indeed, random change through time. Since the death of Stephen Jay Gould, esteemed voices within biology have begun to alter the professional and popular understanding of "evolution" to include, once again, a kind of developmental trajectory. Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson, John Maynard Smith, Simon Conway Morris, and Mark McMenamin are among the biologists who track on convergent evolution that is, the compelling evidence in the living and fossil record that an array of very distinct structural, functional, physiological, sensory, and behavioral characteristics have occurred not once but twice, or even many times. The classic example of convergent evolution are the striking similarities between marsupial "mice", carnivores, and other mammals in Australia and the look-alike placental mammals found elsewhere in the world. Among plants, the classic example of convergence are the succulent cactuses and yuccas of the New World compared with the succulent euphorbs and aloes of the Old World.

Is there a direction to evolution?

Considering not only evolutionary convergence but also the history of the rise in diversity and complexity in the living world, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Corning have all written of "progressive" evolution as a well-grounded, indeed compelling, interpretation of the empirical evidence. Three recent, widely respected popularizations of a progressive view of evolution are John Stewart's Evolution's Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity, Robert Wright's Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, and Eric Chaisson's Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos.

The term "evolution" on this wiki thus draws from wide-ranging and inclusive roots of mainstream science a heritage that regards evolution as proceeding very often in spontaneous and unpredictable ways, and very often in pathways that have been walked before and might indeed be expected. It also is grounded in the awareness that evolutionary change in the living, cultural, and cosmic realms is often gradual, and yet often abrupt. Finally, it is grounded in the vast evidence collected that living and non-living systems may change in "progressive" ways that is, building complexity and cohesiveness at ever greater levels, such as the role of symbiosis, or merger, in the evolution of eukaryotic cells or the role of "stellar nucleosynthesis" in the formation of complex atoms. It is also grounded in the recognition that "devolutionary" forces are also at work entropy in the physical world and organ and sensory diminution in the living world when organisms adopt a parasitic lifeway.

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perspective - Evolutionary Spirituality Homepage

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June 5th, 2014 at 12:00 pm