Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Dereligifying" Evolution

The idea of evolution has been hijacked by atheists and fundamentalists alike. For atheist it has become a symbol of rational thought and free spirit. For fundamentalists it has become a holy war, disproving evolutionary concepts seems to be their main aim in life. The plethora of books for and against evolution is indeed mind boggling. Frankly, I find the idea of evolutionary science interesting and true, much like I take atom and quarks to be true. It is important to qualify this statement for if I ever become a person of eminence this statement is very likely to haunt me. I don’t understand quantum mechanics completely but I have read and heard much about it from people whose profession is to know about such concepts. In similar line I have heard and read about Darwinian evolutionary theory and have come to the conclusion that it is true. If one day I find out that this theory has been proved false then so be it, I will accept it too. For instance I thought universe was curved but recently saw a documentary which showed that scientists currently believe that universe might be flat globally and curved locally.

What I find unfortunate is the environment that atheists and theists have created around evolution. It seems one cannot talk about this without siding with one of the camp or the other; it has been turned in to a religious battleground. Well my message to Mr Atheist and Mr Theist: "you cannot hijack an idea, it belongs to all humanity". Atheists are just as militant and religious as the theist. One has to see some of the AAI documentaries to understand what I am talking about. From the point of view of scientific content the documentaries are well worth the watch, one can easily disregard the Atheistic propaganda. Unfortunately theistic documentaries lack the former as well and hence I hardly watch them.

Now coming back to evolution, I find the theory to be very appealing, beautiful, elegant, and most importantly simple; the simplicity of the theory appeals to me most. With the simple principle of random mutation and natural selection it can explain such complex design that even if it were found to be false, I think it’s still useful. The idea of natural selection is such a powerful algorithm that it can be applied to various other domains, like evolution of science, culture,economics, language and other complex adaptive systems.

From what I understand basic evolutionary algorithm has three characteristics 1) Large number of replicating agents/concepts/elements 2) Some randomness or mutation which can propagate with replication 3) An environment which imposes constraint in regards to propagation/survival of the aforesaid agents. These three propositions are all that is required to bring about complex design in any system. Take for instance language, there are myriads of words (memes, or idea genes) that are generated by us either consciously or unconsciously and we help propagate  these words by communicating them to others. When we communicate these words to others, they sometime get distorted during reception or analysis or when they are stored, they might be distorted consciously too; this resulting mutation continues to propagate. In case of memes I think randomness plays less of a role in mutation and human choice probably plays a greater role but I guess the essential idea still holds. The new word must also mesh in to the pre-existing edifice of language; it can’t be too new that it looks out of place and at the same time cannot be exactly identical to another existing word thus being redundant. There must be something novel about the word, either its ease of use or quirkiness etc. This acts as the constraint that limits which new word survives and which doesn’t “LOL TTYL BTW TC Bazinga “ are all good example of evolutionary algorithm at work.

I was surprised to see that there are no interdisciplinary programs or graduate studies that offer courses on evolutionary algorithm and its application to various other discipline. If only one could disentangle this idea from the hand of religious groups, by which I mean theist and ATHEISTs alike, knowledge would have progressed much faster. I think a marketing campaign is required to demystify and “dereligify” evolution. As it stands, I believe in god and in evolution, frankly I don’t think there is any contradiction between the two. I think the contradiction appears because of a lack of imagination on the part of religious people and on a greater extent because of their lack of scientific knowledge. If there is anyone who thinks I am surely going to hell because of this statement then I have 3 questions for him or her : 1) Are you sure you are going to heaven? 2) Can God forgive anybody he likes? 3) What arrogance you have to think that you know where God will put me?


  1. One of my best reads on evolution. Totally agree about dereligifying.

  2. Very well-written dost. It's reassuring that there are people out there who think alike, especially from within our friends.
    I recently did my final essay for one of my uni subjects on world-religions, on evolutionary biology and how "scientists" have hijacked it to discount theism.

    Till I started working on that essay, I never knew that it was the muslim philosopher Ibn Jahiz, who conceived evolutionary ideas in the 9th century. During the 12th century evolutionary ideas were widely taught in islamic seminaries of the middle-east.
    It was after the post colonial era of the twentieth century, we started discounting evolutionary ideas as western ploys. But that is hardly surprising; our connection to genuine pursuit of knowledge had already been severed and replaced by movements like wahabism, salafism, and countless others.

  3. Thanks Raquib, it is also reassuring to see that people like u find it interesting . I have a theory that during middle ages, european renaissance and colonization resulted in a situation whereby we were in awe of european mastery, and thus imported much of their belief and incorporated them within. Now although they have gone beyond those, we havent.

    I will be glad if you can send me your essay on evolutionary bio. I was unaware of Ibn Jahiz, like many others i am sure. Since u have done a historical study, I am sure it will be a good read. My email :