That change in species occurs is evident from both paleontology and Darwin's theory. It also seems, if one looks at it from a high enough level, that a progress-like pattern from simpler to more complex life forms appears to characterize it.
If there is real progress going on then an explanation for that would likely be some holistic cause effectively guiding evolution in a specific direction. This would open the door to various explanations from panpsychism to theism. To avoid that one could claim that any suggestion of guidance be reduced to unguided randomness.
However, one could challenge this unguided randomness by doing the following.
- Find paleontological data that shows that evolutionary change is not uniformly random.
- Describe a holistic pattern upon which one could make predictions that could be applied to this data.
For the first, data suggesting that phyletic gradualism, that is, uniform random change, is not what is occurring in evolution has been presented by punctuated equilibria. This is how Wikipedia describes it:
Punctuated equilibrium (also called punctuated equilibria) is a theory in evolutionary biology which proposes that once species appear in the fossil record the population will become stable, showing little evolutionary change for most of its geological history. This state of little or no morphological change is called stasis. When significant evolutionary change occurs, the theory proposes that it is generally restricted to rare and geologically rapid events of branching speciation called cladogenesis. Cladogenesis is the process by which a species splits into two distinct species, rather than one species gradually transforming into another.
Punctuated equilibrium is commonly contrasted against phyletic gradualism, the idea that evolution generally occurs uniformly and by the steady and gradual transformation of whole lineages (called anagenesis). In this view, evolution is seen as generally smooth and continuous.
In 1972, paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould published a landmark paper developing their theory and called it punctuated equilibria. Their paper built upon Ernst Mayr's model of geographic speciation, I. Michael Lerner's theories of developmental and genetic homeostasis, and their own empirical research. Eldredge and Gould proposed that the degree of gradualism commonly attributed to Charles Darwin is virtually nonexistent in the fossil record, and that stasis dominates the history of most fossil species.
Based on the Oxford dictionary "progress" is either
- Forward or onward movement towards a destination.
- Development towards an improved or more advanced condition.
Given these definitions, because "stasis dominates the history of most fossil species", one cannot call this "progress" when there is no change. However, the period when this stasis, or equilibrium, is punctuated implies that what is going on in evolutionary change is not uniformly random either.
Evidence that a holistic pattern based on five waves up followed by three waves down (also known as Elliott Waves) has been identified for market behavior. The Socionomics Institute calls the holistic cause of this pattern "social mood":
Social mood is a shared mental state among humans that arises from social interaction. Social mood predisposes individuals in the group toward emotions, beliefs and actions. It fluctuates constantly in a fractal pattern. It is unconscious, unremembered and endogenously regulated.
These waves would be a progress-like pattern although some waves are downwards when corrections occur. Because of the correction waves down this would not be progress by the dictionary definitions. However, Alan Hall claims that this pattern can be extended to changes beyond human societies. Hence there exists a holistic pattern upon which one can make predictions that could be applied to paleontological data.
Let's consider the question:
Does evolution always entail progress?
By the Oxford definitions of progress evolutionary change does not always exhibit a forward development to advanced conditions. It does not always entail progress by these definitions.
However, evolutionary change is not uniform random change given punctuated equilibria and there may be a progress-like pattern to it given patterns identified by socionomics.
Definition of progress in English. In English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved April 6, 2019 from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/progress
Learn the Basics. In Socionomics Institute. Retrieved April 6, 2019 from https://www.socionomics.net/learn-about-socionomics/
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 20). Punctuated equilibrium. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 08:34, April 6, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Punctuated_equilibrium&oldid=884325137