Evolution as Metaphor II

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Evolution is absurd. Even as a biological process with the weight of scientific authority behind it, it is still absurd. It may be that we live in an absurd world where our actions have no significance beyond what we give them ourselves. I confess I do not like the idea of such a world, but my dislike does not constitute an argument against it. Since evolution has taken such hold on the postmodern consciouness, we should understand what an evolutionistic understanding of life really means, beyond the science.

If all life developed from non-living matter without the aid of an intelligent designer, then we would have to conclude (following Ray Kurzweil) that the universe has a minimal intelligence (or at least that eddies of minimal intelligence have occurred with sufficient strength and durability to produce intelligent life on this planet). Through evolution the inherent intelligence in the universe has increased, culminating on earth so far in human beings. Kurzweil proposes that the next stage in the evolution of intelligence will leap from humans to intelligent machines. Thus humans will make themselves obsolete by constructing machines more powerful and intelligent than they are themselves. If humans can transfer their consciousness to the machines, then the result will be the end of humanity as we know it. No longer dependent on biology and guided by the superintelligence of machines, evolution could proceed at a pace far exceeding anything the universe has seen so far. Unfettered by the need to protect fragile biological bodies, these conscious machines could roam the galaxy, colonize other worlds, and spread throughout the universe as long as the universe keeps expanding, always increasing their intelligence.

What would happen to desire? So much of human behavior depends on desire, and desire is so very intertwined with our bodies. Machines would still need resources: raw materials for repairing themselves and constructing new machines. They would still need fuel, sources of energy on which to run. Would these needs become desires? Could a machine feel the satisfaction of a having a good dinner after exploiting an especially good power source? Would they ever know the joys of intimate contact: holding hands, hugging, kissing, or having sex?

Desire is such a strange nexus of good and evil. For there are evil desires. The desire to dominate others has led to all kinds of violence. The desire for money and possessions—greed—has led to destruction and cruelty. Even the desire for love has been twisted into a drive to self-humiliation, even self-abnegation, in order to obtain the love of another. It’s hard to imagine machines having such desires. It’s hard to imagine machines having any morality that is not strictly utilitarian and self-serving. (By the way, Isaac Asimov’s robot fiction provides a glimpse into the behavior of man-made machines designed to improve the lives of humans. It’s not quite the same as the future Kurzweil imagines, but the morality is comparable.)

What will be the meaning of desire without bodies that require air and food and warmth and love?

For evolutionists this vision of the future is possible because intention is merely a chimera. The driving force behind evolution is a blind intelligence that continues to expand and grow, not because growth is good, but only because it is the nature of intelligence to increase. Machines will replace humans because they will be more intelligent. Questions of morality involve intention. But there is no good or evil and no intention. Our behaviors are not chosen; they result from genetic and environmental influences. Choice and freedom are comforting illusions. (Exactly what the comfort is in believing that my everyday choices have eternal consequences remains a mystery to me. I find the prospect terrifying. It’s much safer and more comforting to believe that my choices matter only to me and only for the present. Thus, it seems to me comforting that choice has no ultimate significance.) From an evolutionary perspective, we are observers only, with a persistent fancy that we matter.

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5 Responses to Evolution as Metaphor II

  1. Chip Burkitt says:

    Jason, I don’t mean that evolution is untrue but that it is devoid of meaning, absurd in the existential sense. I also think those who argue for evolution tend to ignore gaping problems: 1) The paucity of transitional forms in the fossil record. 2) The very lack of observability, which you cite. On one hand, we are told that natural selection, as demonstrated by the peppered moths, proves evolution works. On the other, we are told that evolution proceeds too slowly to be observed. Both cannot be true. At some point we should be able to observe evolution taking place, either in the lab (if it takes place quickly) or in the fossil record (if it takes place slowly). You can’t have it both ways.
    The real question is not whether evolution occured but whether the existence of life can be explained without recourse to a Creator. I don’t think it can.

  2. Jason says:

    I remain unconvinced that evolution is, as you say, absurd. Looking through your blog, I see that you agree that the Earth is indeed more than 6000 years old and that mutations occur in our genetic make up.

    How you can make those consessions, and still doubt evolution so heavily seems odd to me. It’s true, most mutations are either neutral or harmful, but that still leaves the window open for benficial mutations. Times that by 4.5 billion years of Earth’s existence, and I think there is more than a little bit of wiggle room for scientists to make their case.

    Further more, evolution does not occur over hundreds of years, or hundreds of thousands of years, but over millions and millions of years. Humans today are essentially identical to the humans from 15,000 years ago, and (if we make it that far) will be essentially identical to humans 15,000 years from now. That doesn’t mean evolution isn’t working away, just that it’s working at such a slow and imperceptable rate, that no one can observe it in action.

    I don’t pretend to think that I could change your mind on the issue, I’m just saying, evolution isn’t as bunk as you make it seem.

    Nice blog, by the way,

    Jason

  3. ClearSpectacles says:

    theory is a theory, nothing more, nothing less. bear in mind that we might be going in one direction, but that doesnt mean we know what direction we are going.

  4. Chip Burkitt says:

    Josh, just be aware that how dismal a theory is says nothing about whether or not it’s true. The reality of Hell, for example, is horrible (especially to those condemned there), but the horror does not make Hell less real or doctrines about Hell less true.

  5. Josh Belcher says:

    Its cool that you are now exploring this issue from a more existential standpoint. What meaning does a universe have with no Designer? The best answer I have heard is that kind of a universe has the meaning we humans ascribe to it but when I consider this statement in light of the inevitable end of the universe according to present scientific research it seems very empty. It doesn’t matter that that end will be billions of years in the future or that humans might even be able to escape the death of their home star, the universe will end. And then what? An eternity without meaning. It will be a universe filled with countless black holes that will be, ironically, a perfect metaphor for its lack of any real lasting purpose. If the findings of Creation Science are not enough to encourage an abandonment of evolutionary naturalism, that dismal picture of the future certainly is.

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