The beauty of an evolution that did not foresee our arrival - Il fascino di un’evoluzione che non ci aveva previsto
editore: Raffaello Cortina Editore
When a theologian asked him which the most distinctive feature of the Creator might be, the English biologist J.B.S. Haldane replied: “An unrestrained fondness for beetles.” At the time, there were about 400,000 known species of beetles against… just one belonging to the Homo genus. And it may well be that beetles will proliferate all over the Planet when Homo sapiens will no longer be but a dim recollection. The human being seems to be just an outcome of a cosmic contingency, one of the many branches of the “tree of life” which has survived the struggle for existence and fought his way through a natural environment which relentlessly tries to crush him, leaving a deep feeling of isolation in the Universe. In this book, philosopher of science and evolutionist Telmo Pievani reminds us, with the fascination of a science writer, that the appearance of living organisms was an unexpected phenomenon, a glorious accident of natural history. He reconstructs the spectacular stories of evolution as a series of entangled diversifi cations with no predictable direction and reaches the conclusion that human species is an animal one which is anything but the living form of the Divine Spark. As a consequence, a new approach to humans in deep togetherness with what Darwin called “the net of life” can be reestablished, with no acceptable connection to fundamentalism or superstition. Our historical contingency does not condemn us to the lack of any sense. On the contrary, it is a great occasion of freedom, humility and responsibility, a way to embrace again our belonging to the Earth and the solidarity needed for the construction of a different future.
Table of contents
1. Loneliness is a Recent Invention.
How we can find out that we have never been alone in the game of natural history, that our little finger can tell so many amazing stories, that until a few millennia ago there were at least five human species and that in many instances our evolution could have taken a different turn.
2. Progress and Contingency in the Cambrain seas.
How we can find out that evolution, even in most ancient times, was not a tale of adventure, but an alternation of explosions and extinctions, that the first diversifications of animals look like the exploration of a fabulous and unpredictable world, and that if the little Pikaia gracilens had not made it that time, the descendants of other animals would now tell us completely different epic deeds. 3. A Challenging Exploration of Possibilities.
How we find out that plumed dinosaurs and fishes with fingers confirm that the great transitions of life are contingent, that the concept of “chance” has different meanings, and it is very hard for our mind to accept that most likely history has no purpose or direction.
4. The “Notwithstanding” Philosophies.
How we find out that the fall of the great evolutionary romance raises serious philosophical questions which were too easily dismissed in the past; that opponents often like crossing each other’s frontiers, that the so called “Non Overlapping Magisteria” are a sloppy short cut.
5. Lords of the Improbable.
How we find out that we are indeed free and responsible in a wide Universe which might have done without us, but has enabled us to conceive, among others, the idea of justice. In spite of all calamity howlers, the hypothesis is put forward that contingency and unpredictability in our ongoing evolution are the mature and robust basis for moral virtues and authentic life.
Telmo Pievani teaches Philosophy of Science at the University of Milano-Bicocca. He is the author of several books, among which Creazione senza Dio (Turin, 2006), Nati per perdere (with V. Girotto, G. Vallortigara, Turin, 2008), La teoria dell’evoluzione (Bologna, 2010). He is also a member of the editorial committee of international scientific reviews – Evolutionary Biology and Evolution: Education and Outreach. He is the director of Pikaia, the Italian web portal about evolution.