Monday, 18 February 2013

How Ontology relates to Evolution

A brief note: this short piece stemmed from a series of comments I made on a YouTube video that suggested ontology and evolution are a single field, and therefore that the lack of understanding in the former means the latter is a pseudoscience and therefore that God exists and I’m going to burn in hell.   


Evolution, at its simplest, is change over time. It necessarily begins with a substrate for change (e.g. non-living organic matter at the very beginning). However, the origin of this matter is not part of the theory; that is a separate, but related, field of study, with its own hypotheses.

We do not have a good understanding of the origins of life. A lot has happened in 4-5 billion years, and there is very little evidence left to hint at what occurred. We have interesting hypotheses, built from what circumstantial evidence can be gathered (largely from the extreme situations we see at present, like life at thermal vents). But, because they are largely extrapolated, these hypotheses are difficult to refute and so have not become theories – it is the failure to realise the potential to refute a hypothesis that allows it to become a theory.

Compare evolution. The change in gene identity over time is demonstrable, for example in generations of laboratory animals. Given a large enough longitudinal study, it is feasible we could see changes in gene identity over time in humans. The fossil record shows the gradual accumulation of changes over time in the physiology of organisms – the evolution of modern horses is a particularly good example among many. Genetic relatedness between organisms correlates with physiological and behavioural similarities.

Evolution and ontology should be considered separately; they address different questions and the evidential basis for the former is much greater than for the latter.

As a final point, the cosmology argument is, once again, separate. Cosmology does not lie within the field of biology, but the processes that occur mirror those of biology. Evolution is not limited to the change in biological material over time; anything can evolve over time. In fact, one could say that anything (acted upon by a force of any description) must evolve over time, biological or not. Therefore, there are ontological and evolutionary aspects to a great many things, including biology and cosmology; in all instances, evolution builds off ontology for the its initial substrate, but the process of evolution can be investigated and understood without any knowledge of how the original substrate came to be.   


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