PROBLEM OF PROGRESS
Directionalist common sense surely wins on the very long
time scale: once there was only blue-green slime and now
there are sharp-eyed metazoa.1
ONE of the many attractive things about the writings of Richard Dawkins is his willingness to state his positions clearly and forcefully. No hiding of ideas in ambiguity or of saying one thing in the text and then qualifying it to death with a thousand footnotes. In the language of the Bible, Dawkins lets his yea be yea and his nay be nay. Nowhere has Dawkins been more forthright than in his endorsement of the idea of evolutionary progress. He believes in it, he has said so many times, and he has argued for it.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, this is a controversial position, with today's evolutionists split down the middle on the issue. The entomologist and sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson is as enthusiastic about progress as is Dawkins. 'Progress, then, is a property of the evolution of life as a whole by almost any conceivable intuitive standard, including the acquisition of goals and intentions in the behavior of animals.'2 Stephen Jay Gould, the only man (apart from Darwin himself) to have competed with Dawkins' supreme brilliance as a popular writer about evolution, was adamantly opposed to progress, speaking of it as 'a noxious, culturally embedded, untestable, nonoperational, intractable idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history'.3 It is a delusion engendered by our refusal to accept our insignificance when faced with the immensity of time.4