The Pyramids, Skyscrapers and Evolution | Accidental Scientist

The Pyramids, Skyscrapers and Evolution

(Why Evolution Just Makes Sense: Part 2)

One common argument of the Intelligent Design crowd is that things like the eye, the brain, even the cell are too complex to have arisen by chance.

They say there’s too many moving parts. Too many things to go wrong. Too much infrastructure.

And you know, they’re absolutely right! There is absolutely no way a cell could arise randomly out of nowhere. (Well, ok, there is a finite probability that it could happen, but it’s probably much less than the previous article’s number of die-rolls we arrived at of about 1 in 8×1063).

Allow me to introduce a Pyramid, and a Skyscraper.

pyramid Skyscraper_Lovely

What do these have anything to do with evolution?

Well, the argument that it requires a lot of infrastructure misses one very important point.

Scaffolding.

In case you’ve forgotten what scaffolding is, here’s a picture:

scaffolding It’s that stuff that lets you build buildings. You put it up, along with all of the other machinery and structure that you need to make the thing. You know, thing like cranes. Diggers. Pile drivers.

And what do you do when you don’t need it any more?

You get rid of it.

Here’s the trick with randomness. I already gave you a pretty straightforward argument as to why things get more complex – and more efficient – in their environments as they exhaust resources. (Namely, because if they don’t, they die off, and it’s the end of the line… so it’s do or die).

Randomness doesn’t care which direction it goes. The only thing is, in a competitive environment, only the efficient solutions will survive.

Nature doesn’t care how long it takes to arrive at a solution though, as long as it doesn’t radically hamper the efficiency/survivability of a random change. And don’t forget, we’re still dealing with a huge number of possible random changes. Most of which, by the way, we’ll never see – again, there’s that efficiency criterion coming into play here. The bad solutions are fleeting – they only last one generation. The good ones? They persist.

But once Nature finds a solution, that solution will stick. It can take as wandering a route as it likes, and the moment it builds that better mousetrap, that solution will take over rapidly. It’ll grow exponentially, killing other things in its niche.

What happens then?

Well, we have an interesting situation. We’ve already got the best of breed. But it has all that nasty scaffolding. It doesn’t need it any more.

But carrying around all that dead weight has a cost – it’s not as efficient as it could be.

You can probably guess where this is going.

What we have here is a gradient. If the random changes get rid of the advantage, then it won’t survive – it’ll get eaten by the other entities. But it’s going to change anyway – it’s not as efficient as it can be. So…

The scaffolding comes down. It has no choice but to. The only changes which make the entity more efficient are those that get rid of it. So slowly, over time, randomly, the scaffolding is taken away. What you’re left with is the building.

Pyramids have a lot in common with evolution. There are those out there – crackpots – who believe that aliens built them. Because there’s no way any human could have done it.

But that’s wrong.

And so is Intelligent Design, for exactly the same reason. The scaffolding has been taken away. All you’re left with now is the end result.

About Simon Cooke

Simon Cooke is a video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker and all-round good egg in Seattle, WA. The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind.
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