Charles Jones has a post a Power of Suggestion in which he notes the following:
But evolution cant allow things, because its unguided. And it cant make any mistakes, because it makes no decisions. Take note: whenever people try to explain how something happens through evolution, they always resort to the language of design.
Now there are quite a lot of problems with the usage of language that is involved here, one of which is referring to evolution–a process–as an “it[-with-consciousness]” that does or does not do particular things. If we think of evolution as a process, however, without trying to make it into an entity, it’s quite proper to refer to a process “allowing” certain things and excluding others.
While evolution may not be guided, there are things that work and things that don’t. Body forms develop in certain ways, both because those ways work and thus the possessors of the form in question survive, but also because the possible alterations in a form are limited. Perhaps if some different body organizations had survived the Cambrian, we would have a different set of alternatives now.
So evolution can “allow” or “disallow” certain options, provided one is thinking not of the conscious decisions of an acting person, but rather the constraints of a process. Think of a simple filter. Let’s consider a box with a mesh covering the bottom. Gravel and sand is poured into the top, and the filter only allows rocks of a particular size to pass through. It doesn’t make mistakes; what happens simply happens because of the constraints–or lack thereof–in the process.
There are two major ways in which language about evolution gets confused. First, we have a failure to see language in its proper context. The word “allow” has a different sense when used to say, “The mother allowed her son to cross the street alone”, as opposed to saying “the filter allowed the smaller rocks to pass but stopped the larger ones.” The mother may have been mistaken in what she allowed; the filter either works or perhaps some of the wires are broken. But it can’t be mistaken!
The second, however, can be more dangerous. We have evolved language to deal with things in our more immediate environment. For most people, a year is a long time. Long term planners may think in decades. Few think in centuries. But evolution occurs over the course of billions of years. Thus we start with a problem. We have to move to observing the present and inferring things about the past. We see this confusion regularly in discussions of whether evolutionary theory is really science.
But even further, we have to look at natural processes that accomplish results. Now at first, as primitive human beings, we would think of events simply as individual happenings. So language to discuss processes would almost always involve an actor. In fact, when we filled our universe with spirits and gods, they very often fulfilled that need of an actor.
But for a process that simply happens because that’s the way it is, we’re a bit short on words, and we’re often uncomfortable with those that we have invented. Note the insecurity produced by the words “random” or “unguided.”
Yet as a theist who accepts evolutionary theory, I believe that even the unguided processes are not, ultimately, absolutely unguided. They’re just unguided in the sense in which we are used to using the terms. If there is a God who created the laws of the universe, then the processes that are constrained by those laws are ultimately fulfilling his will, even if his will was only that those processes work in that way.
Nonetheless, perhaps we need a language to describe action without conscious intervention. Or, on the other hand, we could just realize that the language of design used in describing unguided or remotely guided processes is metaphorical.
Ultimately, you can see, I don’t believe language makes reality. It just simultaneously makes it possible to discuss something, while also making it a bit confusing. It too evolved with constraints.