The Evolution of Everything: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 1st, 2015 by bobmorris

Evolution of EverythingThe Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge
Matt Ridley
Harper/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2015)

Why “evolution is far more common, and far more influential, than most people realize” Matt Ridley

I agreed with Ridley’s comment previously quoted and regret that so many misconceptions remain concerning Charles Darwin’s General Theory of Evolution is…and isn’t. If evolution is a process, who can say with certainty that a divinity did or did not create it? Over centuries, the concept of creationism has evolved. In fact, all concepts evolve including articles of faith embraced by each of the world’s largest religions. Moreover, the process of natural selection doers not preclude faith in a divinity. I am among those who believe it confirms such faith.

According to Ridley, “evolution is happening all around us. It is the best way of understanding how the human world changes, as well as the natural world. Change in human instructions, artifacts and habits is incremental, inexorable, and inevitable. It follows a narrative, going from one stage to the next; it creeps rather than jumps; it has its own spontaneous momentum, rather than being driven from ouytsi8de; it has no goal or end in mind; and it largely happens by trial and error — a version of natural selection.”

Ridley then adds: “This truth continues to elude most intellectuals on the left as well as on the right, who remain in effect ‘creationists.’ The obsession with which those on the right resist Charles Darwin’s insight — that the complexity of nature does not imply a designer — matches the obsession with which those on the left resist Adam Smith’s insight — that the complexity of society does not imply a planner. In the pages that follow, I shall take on this creationism in all its forms.” And indeed he does.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Ridley’s coverage in the first six of 16 chapters:

o The Lucretian heresy (Pages 10-11)
o The puddle that fits its pothole, and, Thinking for ourselves (18-20)
o How morality emerges (25-27)
o Better angels (28-33)
o The evolution of law (33-36)
o The evolution of Darwin’s ideas (37-39)
o Hume’s swerve (39-42)
o Darwin on the eye (42-45)
o Astronomical improbability? (46-48)
o Doubting Darwin still (49-52)
o The lure of Lamarck (55-57)
o Culture-driven genetic evolution (57-58)
o All crane and no skyhook (62-64)
o On whose behalf? (65-68)
o Red Queen races (72-75)
o The evolution of language (79-82)
o The human revolution was actually an evolution (82-85)
o The evolution of cities (91-93)
o The evolution of institutions (94-95)

Whenever I encounter a staunch advocate of creationism, I am again reminded of a press conference in 1925 when the newly elected governor of Texas. Miriam Amanda Wallace (“Ma”) Ferguson, was asked for her opinion about bilingual education. “If English is good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me.” Apparently there are still people out and about who, when referring to the King James version of the Bible to support their faith in creationism, believe that Jesus spoke Elizabethan English.

I agree with Ridley that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection as outlined in 1859 should really be called the “special theory” of evolution to differentiate it from his “general theory.” Why? Matt Ridley agrees with Richard Webb that “the flywheel of history is incremental change through trial and error, with innovation driven by recombination, and that this pertains in far more kinds of things than merely those that have genes. This is also the main way that change comes about” in all other areas of human initiative. “For far too long we have underestimated the power of spontaneous, organic and constructive change from above. Embrace the general theory of evolution. Admit that everything evolves.”


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