Michael Polanyi on Accidental Formation of Species


This [distinguishing patterns from randomness] bears on the theory that the different living species have come into existence by accidental mutations. This can be affirmed only if, first you accredit the distinctive pattern of living beings as exhibiting a peculiar orderliness which you trust yourself to appraise, and second you accept at the same time the belief that evolution has taken place by a vastly improbable coincidence of random events combining to an orderly shape of a highly distinctive character. However, if we are to identify — as I am about to suggest — the presence of significant order with the operation of an ordering principle, no highly significant order can ever be said to be solely due to an accidental collocation of atoms, and we must conclude therefore that the assumption of an accidental formation of the living species is a logical muddle. It appears to be a piece of equivocation, unconsciously prompted by the urge to avoid facing the problem set to us by the fact that the universe has given birth to these curious beings, including people like ourselves. To say that this result was achieved by natural selection is entirely beside the point. Natural selection tells us only why the unfit failed to survive and not why any living beings, either fit or unfit, ever came into existence.