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Suggesting nature as a conscious process when one is not trying to

It bugs me when people use nature as if it some active force picking and choosing what results are best suited for the (implied) progress of some thing. Though I think that when someone talks about nature in this way they aren't meaning to suggest this but to me it comes across this way. I am wondering if I am wrong to be nit-picky about this or if I am actually wrong about it and a person is correct to use nature in this way.

The following link is to a short video that discusses generating wind energy from vertical-axis turbines. I find it inspiring and I like their approach to the research.  So my irks have nothing to do with the science the professor and his team are doing, just with a sentence he is using.

"We figure over the course of evolution nature [has] come up with a number of pretty good engineering solutions."

Is it better to say...

"We figure evolution has selected for a number of pretty good engineering solutions."

I suppose this bugs me because I think by using nature in the way the professor has then it suggests some degree of consciousness behind what has resulted.  Evolution is a cold, natural process that isn't concerned with anything because it isn't conscious.

Prof. Dabiri isn't the only one that has talked about nature in this way. I remember listening to Dawkins, Hitchens, Tyson, etc... use it in this way as well. So I wonder if I am wrong. I know my sentence could also be misinterpreted to present evolution as a conscious process as well.

I make the effort when talking to other people about evolution to use the word "selected". I don't mind changing my word usage if it is better to talk about evolution in a different way.

What do you guys think?

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Comment by Idaho Spud on August 22, 2013 at 6:47am

Easton, I agree with you and Glen.

Comment by Easton Le on August 21, 2013 at 2:03pm

I suppose I'm getting evolution mixed up with natural selection, which is a key mechanism of evolution. But I disagree that evolution is concerned with anything. That implies there is something intelligent going on in the background, which there isn't. Changes occur in a population and either those changes effect their successful survival or not, or possibly don't do much of anything.

Saying "...nature [has] come up with..." suggests nature was thoughtfully working towards some goal in mind.

There is the example of the peppered moth during the industrial revolution. I won't go into immense detail but it is clear there was no conscious effort on any party involved to effect their evolution.

"Its function does not imply intelligence." -Glen Rosenberg

Thank you, Glen, for pointing that out.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on August 20, 2013 at 11:36am

Evolution is. Its function does not imply intelligence.

Comment by Michael Penn on August 19, 2013 at 10:29am

Evolution is not a cold, natural process that isn't concerned about anything. Evolution is about survival and the process works by adapting as soon as possible. You might imagine our evolution as mutated germs, for an example. Germs mutate and change every day, getting stronger and therefore harder to deal with. Very little evidence of the previous form of germ is found,(we see it only in hindsight) and this is exactly why nobody will ever find a "missing link." There is no evidence of a "failed species" laying around like climbing a ladder. Granted some species go extinct for many complex reasons, but it isn't as simple as that species being inferior. Other things in the entire genetic code of all life has changed making this species not as likely to survive. We need not have a visible and tangible "body of life" to show building blocks along the way as a species changes. If we did, then I wonder what kind of creature (and how many) would develope before a woman ever had a baby? Or, we could be hoping that this time the cow finally had a calf. (What were those other things born?) Everything is coded and nature has an "intelligence" about it just like the seeds you plant in a garden.

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