Little things get more complicated.
I’m completely tempted to leave it like that. As it’s probably the only answer that won’t get me in too much trouble. (Although it isn’t actually impossible for simplicity to increase in new generations, just unlikely).
I should probably explain that the reason for being wary. Or at least explain why it isn’t. It isn’t because I don’t want to upset creationists. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve latched onto an idea of a God so rigid that you can’t imagine he could’ve set worlds in motion as easily as he could have built something holistic in seven days then I think you are narrow and mindless.
No, my issue is that the question is set by one of the cleverest people I know, who is currently doing a doctorate in post-modern accounts of evolution. (I’ve probably already offended her with that summary of her work).
Anyway, the key thing to note is that evolution is much more complex and interesting than most people give it credit for.
It’s one of those things where you need to be wary of simplifications. The obvious thing to point to is this notion of ‘survival of the fittest’ which is a phrase that appears nowhere in Darwin’s work, only in contemporary accounts of his work.
What do I understand of evolution?
I see systems (within bodies and outside of bodies, in interaction with the environment about it and the other organisms that are part of that environment) that change. Systems change, often randomly. Some systems work better for a while, and become more solid, temporarily.
Except they don’t, they just become a new starting point for that individual. And new changes are fed into the system.
I suspect I’m now being too vague to be useful.
A population of organisms can adapt to changes in the environment and life systems that are about it. They can also adapt the environment themselves. Networks of inter-relationships are constantly shifting and reacting and getting wiped out by dramatic events.
And so the whole keeps on changing. It’s a game where the board changes over time and the way the pieces move can change over time, and it is simultaneously collaborative and competitive.
But the basic rules stay the same. Because they aren’t so much rules, as they are processes. Genetic information is passed on. Worlds keep turning. Climate swirls about everything. It all grows together as it grows.
The big step was DNA, finding a way to (unreliably) pass on information to children (another big step is inter-generational communication, something of a game changer). This allows for a kind of thread of changes, the trees of life we love to stare at and marvel at the magic of the world.
Just don’t try to look at all the dead ends, you might find it a bit less inspiring.
There is no forward movement, just changes.
Don’t let it get you down. You can still be good if you want.
Illustration by Lucy.