International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-1540
Organized session / diverse format
Complexity and Progress in Evolution?

Kelly Smith (Clemson University, United States)


Dan McShea (Duke University, United States)
Carlos Mariscal (Dalhousie University, Canada)
Hugh Desmond (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium)

For a very long time, people have been speculating that evolution exhibits a trend or bias in favor of increasing “complexity”. The same sort of apparent patterns in the web of life have also long been used to support various notions of progress and meaning. This session aims to explore recent developments that may shed light on these two venerable questions. Each presenter will begin by briefly outlining their take on three central questions in the debate, and then the discussion will be thrown open to all in the room. Three central questions will be discussed:

1) What is complexity and is there good reason to believe in a complexity trend in evolution?
2) Would this trend allow us to make any predictions about the course of evolution, either on Earth or in other places where life arises? For example, to what extent are rational creatures an expected outcome of an evolutionary system biased towards complexity?
3) What implications might such a trend have for broader questions such as those concerning human purpose and ethical value?