Ray Kurzweil is an inventor, futurist, and entrepreneur who talks about the startling progress of technology. He tracks technology across human history and points to a trend of acceleration evident in the development of technology.
Kurzweil likens the development of technology to an evolutionary process, which it shares with biology. Arguably evolution was initially purely biological, taking millions of years, then tens of thousands of years. Once homo sapiens evolved then technological evolution began, and is happening at an even faster rate than biological evolution.
The surprise is that despite the chaotic processes that lead to the development of technology, the trend of growth follows a very smooth trend. He presents a theoretical exponential curve along which technology develops, and using this curve what kind of technologies we can expect to have in the very near future.
I found a perfect encore to my recent reference to the scandalous ponzi scam of Bernard Madoff: Natalie Angier of the New York Times recently described evidence that deceitful behaviour is a product of evolution:
Deceitful behavior has a long and storied history in the evolution of social life, and the more sophisticated the animal, it seems, the more commonplace the con games, the more cunning their contours.
In a comparative survey of primate behavior, Richard Byrne and Nadia Corp of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size. The larger the average volume of a primate species’ neocortex — the newest, “highest” region of the brain — the greater the chance that the monkey or ape would pull a stunt like this one described in The New Scientist: a young baboon being chased by an enraged mother intent on punishment suddenly stopped in midpursuit, stood up and began scanning the horizon intently, an act that conveniently distracted the entire baboon troop into preparing for nonexistent intruders.
Biologists distinguish between such cases of innate or automatic deception, however, and so-called tactical deception, the use of a normal behavior in a novel situation, with the express purpose of misleading an observer. Tactical deception requires considerable behavioral suppleness, which is why it’s most often observed in the brainiest animals.
So lying Madoff was no low-life scum–he was the worst and best example of human development.
For me this begs the larger question: if deceit is an ability gained through evolution, then honesty is a primitive attribute? If so does this place evolution on a moral compass? We are evolving to a propensity for less ethical or immoral behaviour?
British anthropologist Desmond Morris recently paid an essay tribute to Charles Darwin, who coined the theory of evolution by natural selection. An excerpt from his essay on the DailyMail which I recommend you read for greater appreciation of Darwin:
What kind of a man was Charles Darwin? To the naive mind he is sometimes pictured as a giant intellect of Victorian England, with his long, flowing white beard and his solemn expression, the product of a brilliantly studious education and intense academic application.
Well, no. In reality he was a mess, both physically and mentally, which makes his gigantic contribution to human understanding even more extraordinary.
An interesting part of Morris’ essay is his description of the on-going debate between evolutionists inspired by Darwin’s work and the Creationist camp largely composed of religious fundamentalists:
The point is, Charles Darwin was one of those rare individuals who devoted themselves entirely to the pursuit of knowledge, to the detriment of everything else in their lives. He was, and remains, one of our greatest ever thinkers – a man whose discovery changed the way we see the world.
As a lifelong naturalist myself, he is not only a personal hero but the root from which all my own professional studies stemmed. Which is why I feel it so important to celebrate the anniversary of his birth – if only because I fear many of his core discoveries are in danger of becoming muddled through the prism of modern spiritualism.
For there are plenty of people today – not all of them religious fundamentalists – who seem to think Darwinian evolution cannot explain why, for the most part, humans are a uniquely civilised species.
After all, they posit, how can Darwinism explain empathy, charity or self-sacrifice? How can it explain the ‘good deeds’ of humans, whether religious or not?
With its emphasis on ‘the survival of the fittest’, isn’t Darwinism simply an excuse for rampant capitalism and personal greed?
To answer this attack, we need to take a closer look at the biology of our species. In our ancient past, when we were evolving as a tribal species, the competition between individuals had to be tempered by a greatly increased urge to cooperate with our companions if our tribe was to flourish.
By a division of labour and by assisting one another, we also helped ourselves to succeed. And one of our great survival weapons was our ability to communicate with one another in much greater detail than other species.
We are not helpful to one another because of some sophisticated moralising, but because we have evolved that way. It is as much a part of our animal nature as is our urge to compete with one another.
That is the way we are, and there is no need to introduce the pious teachings of the Church to make us good – it is already in our genes.
Creationists will have none of this, and insist that all of nature is the work of what they now call an ‘intelligent designer’.
If such a being existed, this monstrous designer would have to accept the responsibility for having created all the wonderful life forms we see around us, and then of cruelly inventing countless unspeakable agonies for them in the shape of leprosy, cholera, cancer, syphilis, plague, malaria, AIDS, fevers, parasitic worms and the rest.
What a charmer this designer must be; creationists are welcome to their hideous creation.
Do check out the rest of Morris’ critique in his essay. Meanwhile, I join him in his salute to Darwin and as a perfect companion to his essay, here is a video clip on Darwin by biologist Richard Dawkins which is just as entertaining and thought-provoking:
British journalist Magnus Magnusson brings together an interesting panel: theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, astronomer Carl Sagan and science author Arthur C. Clarke. The panel tackles big questions about the origin of our universe and life and the existence of creation myths that religions pose to explain the origin of the universe. A rare talk with the great thinkers of our time.
This article written by Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, is illuminating in how seeks an intersection between Darwinism and Christianity. This excerpt, found in the end, is an effective apology :
“Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practice the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends. But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests. Good religion needs to work constructively with good science – and I dare to suggest that the opposite may be true as well.”
It’s worth reading the rest of the article to see Rev. Dr. Brown’s views on how Darwin’s theory of natural selection is consistent with Christian teachings (which sounds a bit of a stretch to me). Still, I like how he points out that even Darwinism isn’t the be-all and end-all explanation of our earthly existence, and that further inquiry is required. Moreover, while the apology came more than 100 years late, it still bears saying. Though gone, Darwin bears a great legacy on the world today. The acknowledgment and acceptance of his ideas vindicates him, and paves the way for the kind of open-minded approach we need to provide an antidote against religious bigotry and fanaticism.
The entire article may be found here: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/darwin/malcolmbrown.html