Evolution: the science of mistakes?

For a while I’ve been pondering the question of how the scientific explanation for evolution works (ie leaving aside the theosophical/divine intervention explanation for a moment). Sure, eminent scientists tell me it happens and I can see the “evidence” for myself in the fossil record. This organism evolved this or that limb/wing/lung or whatever because it needed to adapt to changes in its environment to survive.

Not being an eminent secular Richard Dawkins-like scientist myself, the question for me was simple but probably naive: if the theory of evolution is correct how could an organism evolve before it died out as a result of the very environmental change to which it was adapting? After all, the environment can change in decades, whereas evolution takes millions of years. Also, what was the catalyst for the evolutionary process?  Does modern science believe that an organism evolves through applying some conscious thought process to induce evolutionary change, for example?

Anyway, I was having a beer or two in my local pub with a mate one day and the conversation came round to evolution. For those readers not from the UK this is known as “Pub Talk” where all of the great issues and problems facing the planet today are instantly resolved over a pint of real ale. When I mentioned my conundrum regarding the catalyst for evolution, he looked at me as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and told me that it was clearly the mistakes and genetic anomalies that cause evolution. He was right of course: if you believe in the scientific theory of evolution then mistakes can be the only catalyst for triggering the evolutionary process. To go one step further, mistakes are an essential part of evolution as we understand it.

With hindsight, I should have known this myself because the same thing, as any musician or composer will say, applies to music. Partly it can be due to experimentation but sometimes it is to do with things that “just happen” and sound great. Many times I have misread my score and played a chord slightly differently or accidentally played a different inversion and realised it was a far better choice than the original. Also, in my case I have never been one to be obsessed with labelling and colours when using my sequencer (mostly because I really can’t be bothered). In the haste of trying to get a great idea down in the early stages, I will shunt whole sections that don’t quite work into the space and leave them stacked on different midi instruments in a random way. Then comes the cup of tea or phone call from the client and I let the sequencer just play on over these random sections. All kinds of rubbish mostly comes out –the drum section played by the clarinet; the trombone played by the piano etc etc. But sometimes this ‘rubbish’ can lead to an inspiring idea or new direction for the track, and may even give me the missing link in its evolutionary development that I have been slaving to get right for some time.