Mark Vernon authored Not so highly evolved, an article worth reviewing, both for its analysis of Richard Dawkins and for its commentary about an evolutionary phenomenon known as convergence. The article begins:
The 2009 Darwin celebrations are officially under way, now that we are halfway through Richard Dawkins' flagship TV series, The Genius of Charles Darwin. But I can't help but feel they have not begun well. Dawkins' exploration of the science seems to be driven mostly by his desire to score atheistic points: this is not evolution as survival of the fittest but as zero-sum game.
I have not seen the TV series but based on prior behavior a charge that Dawkins is using science to score atheistic points comes as no surprise. If Dawkins is indeed guilty as charged he needs to be taken to task. The Trojan Horse imagary is apt for all who would use science to introduce a side agenda. Vernon also had this to say:
Convergence raises the possibility of directionality in evolution. This is anathema to the old school. Strictly speaking, even to talk of adaptations being advantageous is to risk a false sense of teleology. The sense of "advantage" only comes because we have hindsight. As Stephen Jay Gould put it: according to this interpretation of evolution, if you re-ran the "tape of life", life would look very different.
Convergence challenges this, because in a way, evolution has already re-run the tape of life several times, and it looks strikingly similar. The implications that might be drawn from convergence is what Conway Morris' new book explores. One of the essays, entitled Purpose in a Darwinian World, is written by the philosopher of evolution, Professor Michael Ruse.
Intelligent Design generally incorporates both directionality and purpose. Apparently so does the new school on convergence. Yet Ruse would readily argue that "Darwinian processes "design" organisms to exploit aspects of the natural world." More:
However, the phenomenon of convergence is used to take the possibility of directionality a step further. For what happens if you consider not only elements such as air, water and land to be environmental niches that Darwinian processes can exploit, but elements such as culture and intelligence too? The old school believes that evolution itself creates the niches of culture and intelligence. But what if instead of creating these niches, evolution is exploring pre-existing realities that in this respect can be thought of as analogous to air, water and land?
It sounds pretty speculative, until you consider, say, mathematics. At least some human's brains are capable of doing mathematics. Perhaps some other animal's brains are too. But is mathematics created or discovered? It seems more natural to think of mathematics as existing regardless of the presence of human beings, as, say, the laws of nature presumably exist in the universe too. So maybe the evolution of culture and intelligence are not just by-products of humankind's evolution as a social animal. Perhaps, they are also ways of discovering and exploring pre-existing realities. Conway Morris himself has tentatively suggested that the brain could be thought of as an evolving "antenna" that detects mentality which is itself independent of human intelligence.
Processes can become so intertwined that at times it is unclear which process is in the driver's seat. For example, humans are in a position to influence how our planet evolves. We can bring about extinctions, preservations and alter ecology. But I would think that mathematical principles would exist if no humans were around to appreciate or comprehend mathematics. So I would side with Conway Morris in believing that the human brain detects "mentality" which is independent of human intelligence.