Adam M. Goldstein

microinterviewed by Nicholas Hune-Brown

Adam M. Goldstein is an associate editor at Evolution: Education and Outreach, a journal devoted to bringing evolutionary theory to a popular audience. Goldstein studies the history of the philosophy of science, with a particular interest in how chance explains evolution. He has become increasingly obsessed with eradicating the “March of Progress” image, the popular representation of human evolution that shows a monkey-like figure slowly transforming into an upright human being.



THE BELIEVER: As a visual explanation of how humans evolved, is there something wrong with the “March of Progress”?

ADAM M. GOLDSTEIN: Yes, the fact is that this “March of Progress” thing is scientifically completely wrong. If you look up the term evolution in the dictionary, it usually does imply a development in stages toward some end point, but biologically, evolution as we understand it is not at all like that. There really is nothing in our understanding of the mechanisms of evolution that gives us any reason to say that from one generation to the next there’s something like “progress.” I mean, you want to see who’s successful? Look how many bugs there are. They’re taking over the world. We have only one species and we could go extinct in the blink of an eye.

BLVR: It reminds me of the scientific version of the Elizabethan “great chain of being,” with rocks at the bottom and oysters and bears and people and eventually angels.

AMG: Exactly—it sort of misses the main point. If you’re going to take one thing from ideas about evolution, it’s that people have evolved from animals and we’re just like them. People who understand evolution know that it doesn’t really make any sense to have something like that “great chain of being,” but they just can’t help it. It’s like, there’s gotta be something where we’re at the top. There’s gotta be something that makes us unique.

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Nicholas Hune-Brown is a magazine writer who lives in Toronto. He writes for the Walrus, Toronto Life, the Globe and Mail, and other publications.

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