Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

How evolutionary biologists dispense with meaning

A widespread view runs as follows. Evolution produces organisms that we cannot help describing as purposeful and meaningful agents. That’s because natural selection tends to select organisms that are fit — well-adapted to their environments and “designed” for surviving. When organisms have features that are adapted for something, we naturally see these features as meaningful and purposeful. And an organism compounded of such features seems to be an agent with a goal of some sort; if nothing else, it seems to act intentionally in order to survive and reproduce.

This agency, however, is said to be more a matter of appearance than of fundamental reality. While meaning and purpose may (somehow) “emerge” during the course of evolution, they emerge from processes that, at the most basic level of explanation and understanding, know nothing of them. Certainly — as the rather strange conviction runs — meaning and purpose play no role in the evolutionary “mechanisms” that have so expertly given rise to them.

bullet Locate this passage inEvolution and the Illusion of Randomness