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Elise Niemeyer's picture

Evolution as an "honorable failure"

When reading Zadie Smith’s article last week, I was struck by her observation that “the literary canon is really the history of the second-rate, the legacy of honorable failures.”  I had never considered looking at the works of literature that our society has deemed “significant” in such a way.  But the moment I read that statement, it made sense to me.  It is impossible to faithfully transfer an idea to the page without losing some of that “ineffable” quality that it once had.  In light of this observation, I wonder if evolution should not be thought of in the same way.

For me, evolution is the “least wrong” explanation that can be applied to the origins of life on earth, but there are still issues that cannot be totally reconciled with the evolutionary system.  The most significant of these for me is the inability of evolution to explain the initial impetus for the whole process.  While I personally do not agree with intelligent design or creationism, this is one question that both ideologies can answer.  Which brings me back to the assessment of modern evolutionary theory as an “honorable failure” or the “least wrong” answer.  There is much evidence to support its validity, and yet there are still holes that must be acknowledged.  It is a valiant attempt to make sense of one of the most puzzling questions in the world, and a convincing, plausible story.  It does, however, remain short of a full explanation, something that can conceivably never actually be reached.  For now, evolution is a central part of how humanity understands the world and our place in it, but new scientific developments will continue to adjust its validity and essentially allow everyone to continue to “fail better” as they try to fully understand their own existence.



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