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Goal-Oriented Evolution

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The Evolution of (Super) Man
"In real life, evolution is not about being the strongest/fastest thing around. It means adapting to fill specific niches that aren't already full."
1d4Chan on the Tyranids

A common subtrope of Hollywood Evolution that commonly shows up along with Evolutionary Levels, evolution is depicted as, or believed by a character to be, being directed toward a goal, most commonly ascension or superpowered or humanoid, rather than shaped toward whatever random mutations are best adapted to the environment. Generally, things being described as "more evolved" is a very good indicator this trope is present. The technical term is "orthogenesis".

In most cases, humanoids and/or some other form of sapient creature is considered to be the goal if superpowers or Energy Beings aren't part of The 'Verse the trope is occurring in. In many cases, the creature is described as being in specific stages or levels of evolution.

A common view of the Evilutionary Biologist, particularly when they claim that something is holding back evolution from marching forward. When this is done by Power Copying it's probably LEGO Genetics. Lamarck Was Right is something that might also show up.

In actual evolutionary theory, this isn't really true. Populations gradually do become adapted to their environment, but there is no common goal involved. It is simply that organisms which happen to be well suited for their circumstances have more offspring, which will also have those traits, until they become the norm.

Since the effects of different features on survival depend on the circumstances, and seeing as it's impossible for two species in the same environment to share the same niche — and thus the same circumstances — without destructive competition, it's impossible for evolution on Earth to somehow share the same goal. And that's not even accounting for the fact that as the environment changes, circumstances and thus evolutionary pressures do so too. Things like greater complexity and intelligence may seem like progress to us in the present, but to natural selection, they are just one way of surviving. It could reduce both if it happened to help survival in a harsh environment.

Moreover, it's important to understand that this entire process can only happen when many small adaptations, each having a short-term advantage, have a cumulative effect over time. Evolution cannot generate a certain trait if the development process towards that trait only starts paying off later down the road. Evolution, essentially, works like a Greedy Algorithm, which means that not only certain blunders might happen during its natural course (the blind spot in vertebrate eyes sends its regards), but also particular features like the humanoid shape — as successful as they might be — may be nothing but the result of historical accident, unlikely to show up if things had gone a little differently.

Also, those organisms which have changed more than other lineages are properly called more derived, not more evolved. In fact, even before publishing his theory of evolution by natural selection, Darwin himself criticized this trope, writing in his notebooks that "It is absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another...". This might serve to emphasize how deluded the individuals who aspire to this really are, by thinking that nature cares about development. On the other hand, some might just be open-minded enough to realize that progress is a human concept, but still set out to cause it on their own.

Or to put it in videogame terms, land-dwelling bipedal sapience is just another valid build (albeit an incredibly broken one).

See Ultimate Life Form for the usual end point.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Digimon Tamers: Advancement in the traditional evolutionary sense and digivolution are seen as the goal of the Sovereign Zhuqiaomon, his Devas and Impmon.
  • Get Backers: Shido Fuyuki has the ability to take on the characteristics of about 100 different types of animals. They try to reason that, since humans are the most evolved species on Earth, they also have the DNA of all the lower animals. Shido only has the ability to tap into the dormant DNA. Riiiiight.
  • Hunter × Hunter: The chimera ant queen transfers the "most worthy" DNA of whatever she eats to her progeny, resulting in every batch of eggs giving more powerful (and human-like, since humans are obviously the best food) ants than the last, culminating in the King being the supreme being.
  • Elfen Lied: The Diclonius, maybe. The conspicuously nameless government agency claims they're our evolutionary superiors, genetically programmed to take over the earth in cold-hearted genocide. The protagonists quickly find out that, at least, they're not cold-hearted at all. So it's embraced by some characters.
  • AKIRA: The plot in a nutshell is pretty much mocking the idea - the government project is attempting to "accelerate evolution," I.E. produce humans with Psychic Powers. They have succeeded at this, but failed in giving those humans the Required Secondary Powers to keep them from ravaging their bodies or driving them insane. Natural evolution doesn't do dumb shit like that; that's why we don't have bats with super-hearing but without brains that can decipher sonar, or eagles with super-vision but no flash-dampening to prevent the light from ruining their eyes. As Kei puts it, it's as if they were trying to make amoebas with human strength, stamina and dexterity...
    Kei: But amoebas don't build motorcycles or atomic bombs! They just eat up whatever gets in their way.
  • Stardust Memories: One section proposes that evolutionary levels are contagious on a mass scale—if a world has primitive life, and it's visited by humans, that primitive life will rapidly evolve to fill all evolutionary niches required in order to produce human-like creatures. Unfortunately, it may hit an evolutionary dead end during the attempt...
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann the Spiral Energy is tied into evolution - and its effect is defying physics in favor of Rule of Cool. It falls squarely in this trope when humanoid shape is described to be best at harnessing it (such as with Humongous Mechas) and at one point the Team Pet "evolves" on-the-spot into a humanoid to confront the Big Bad.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has SEELE believe that human evolution has reached its "pinnacle," which is their justification for the Human Instrumentality Project: forcefully turning humankind into a single unified consciousness.
  • In the Universal Century timeline of the Gundam series, Newtypes are seen as the next stage in human evolution, that occurred once humans went into space. The powers that Newtypes have differ from person to Person (having heightened spatial awareness and quicker reflexes, ability to communicate mentally over long distances and even to those who are dead, etc.), but the most common trait is the ability to truly understand other people (especially other Newtypes) and the world around them. Many scientists and philosophers see Newtypes as the goal for what everyone should become in the future, and if that should happen, the world would be at peace. Some scientists and organizations have even created artificial Newtypes, known as Cyber-Newtypes. However, Cyber-Newtypes tend to be very unstable and unpredictable. And the idea that humanity would be at peace if everyone were Newtypes is dubious given that even natural Newtypes tend to be every bit as violent as "Oldtypes."
  • The first season finale of Squid Girl has Squid Girl being Brought Down to Normal because her body adapted to living on the surface. Somehow not "needing" her power made them atrophy, even though she still used them all the time, and they come back when needs them (because she thought she was attacked by an orca in the manga and to save Eiko from drowning in the anime).

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Universe:
    • X-Men: Many characters (particularly the villains) believe that mutants are the next stage of humanity or its successor. In fact, it appears that mutants, humans, The Inhumans, and other species are experiments towards some vague goal set up by the Celestials.
    • Fantastic Four: Galactus is sometimes said to target worlds at the "apex of their evolution" to devour. For evolution to have an "apex", it has to have a goal.
    • The High Evolutionary, a man who has made a career of accelerating the evolution of various species — which, naturally, all happen to be anthropomorphic afterwards.
      • In his first appearance in The Mighty Thor, he hyper-evolves a wolf. This evolution comes complete with knowledge of martial arts from the future.
      • At one point, a ragtag group of Avengers goes in to bust up the High Evolutionary to stop him from being... evil or something. The climax involves the villain and an Avenger both hyper-evolving into major godhood and right out of this realm. The kicker is that the Avenger is Hercules, who already is a Physical God.
      • This is trumped by him fighting the Hulk (so that Hulk would kill him), when he changed the "evolutionary levels" of the Earth, converting the ground beneath Hulk into tar (like tar pits, you know, because tar pits are like stone age, man?), then lava, then gas.
      • In "What If the Avengers Lost the Evolutionary War?" (What If? v2 #1), all mutant and otherwise empowered super-people have their powers enhanced in all kinds of ways (Cyclops can now control his blasts and doesn't need a visor; Spider-Man grows four extra arms) while ordinary humans (including non-evolved heroes and villains such as Iron Man and Doctor Doom) become big-brained, super-intelligent psychics.
  • Superman: The "Superman of the future" (100,000 years in the future) in Action Comics #256, as seen on Superdickery.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Starship Troopers: The biology teacher in the beginning thought the Bugs were more evolved than humans.
    "We humans like to think we are nature's finest achievement, but I'm afraid that just isn't true."
  • In The Fly (1986), the afflicted scientist remarks "I seem to be stricken by a disease with a purpose, wouldn't you say?"
  • Mission to Mars heavily implies that the life that was seeded on Earth by the Martians was intended to go through the exact path that we saw in our history, complete with the destruction of the dinosaurs, the Ice Ages, and the ascent of humankind, complete with genes that are able to activate the technology that was sealed inside the Face.
  • In Evolution, the nitrogen-based organisms appear to be doing this, as they evolve at hyper-speed to produce plantlike life, then worm-like, then vertebrate-like, then primate-like. Subverted at the end, when the final evolved form is a kaiju-sized amoeba rather than a Rubber Forehead Alien. Although this was stated to be a purely survival evolution triggered by the use of napalm. As a "single celled" organism is most suited to surviving the flames. Implying it was merely a "reset" of the evolutionary line by defensively consolidating all the biomass into one simple form, that would then start evolving all over again.
  • In Super Mario Bros. (1993) it is possible to put the Devolution Device on an inverse setting to increase somebody's intelligence. Koopa tries it on his dumb-as-bricks henchmen, failing: they become intelligent, but remain just as ineffective as before. They start getting their own ideas and plan a revolution to overthrow him.
  • It is stated in After Earth that everything on Earth has evolved to kill humans. This is patently absurd for reasons beyond the usual ones associated with the trope. In the universe of the film, Earth has not been inhabited by humans for a long time, so there's no reason why animals living there would have evolved traits that are specifically useful for killing humans.
  • Painkiller Jane: Erfan claims Jane is the "next stage of human evolution", while including others he enhanced like her, plus himself.
  • Invoked Trope in The Titan where Professor Collingwood is seeking to genetically-alter the test subjects so they can survive on Titan. He's criticized for his unethical experiments in "forced evolution".

  • In The Adventures Of The Rat Family by Jules Verne, there's an explicit hierarchy of life-forms (with rats somewhere around the middle, above invertebrates and fish but below birds and most other mammals), and the aim of every living thing is to evolve into the highest form of life, which is Man.
  • In Andrew M Greely's Angel Fire, the protagonist has won the Nobel Prize for discovering goal-oriented evolution in fruit flies.
  • Childhood's End is fundamentally about most of humanity evolving beyond their corporeal forms into a mass consciousness and merging with a universal psychic gestalt. The story also features the Overlords, alien creatures that are an evolutionary cul-de-sac of sorts, who can shepherd other species on the road to psychic oneness, but cannot achieve it themselves, and were in fact seriously considering species-wide suicide out of sheer boredom before the galactic gestalt contacted them and proposed the alternative.
  • Cradle Series: It's mentioned that the human form is better at channeling madra than any other. Because of this, as sacred beasts (and in rare cases, sacred trees) advance, they tend to modify themselves into a steadily more human form. This is entirely a conscious choice, not a result of random mutations. Seshethkunaaz, the King of Dragons, lives almost exclusively in the form of a young human boy, but if he really wanted to, he could shift to dragon form.
  • Daystar and Shadow has the revelation that autism is the next stage in human evolution, as it comes with abilities such as telepathy and water dowsing.
  • Philip K. Dick:
    • In "Strange Eden", a man falls in love with godlike alien woman who warns him to stay away, as merely being in her presence too long will shoot him to the highest levels of human evolution. He is not dissuaded by this, sticks around and becomes the very highly evolved large cat.
    • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, set 20 Minutes into the Future, features "evolutionary therapy" becoming popular among the rich. It makes your cranium large and bubble-like, and increases your intelligence, although in rare cases it can backfire and de-evolve you into a monkey-like state. The best part? It works by stimulating the gland that controls evolution. However, evolution is at least somewhat affected by environment. The evolved people also develop hard ridges on their heads to combat the intense heat of the Earth (which will kill any normal person who isn't literally carrying an air conditioner on his back). Later on, one character runs across people from the future, who look more like The Greys because the Earth is undergoing an Ice Age.
    • In his early short story "The Guinea Pigs", a trio of astronauts is hit by a form of unknown radiation and evolve into big-brained, super-smart and physically weak beings. They then discover that the Guinea pigs in the ship lab received a stronger dose of radiation and evolved into Energy Beings. Lampshaded by one of the protagonists, who notes that evolution is not expected to have a direction and therefore their situation just proved that theory wrong.
  • Discworld
    • Played with in the fiction portion of The Science of Discworld, in which the native life forms of Roundworld keep evolving civilizations which the wizards hail as the pinnacle of creation, only to be wiped out to a crab/lizard/bear/whatever by comet impacts and other catastrophes. So even if intelligence were something evolution was actively working towards, extinction couldn't care less. The wizards' belief that life should be striving towards intelligence and civilization is highlighted for contrast in the non-story parts of the book, to explain that evolution doesn't work that way, but simply keeps doing what works as long as it makes the next generation, unless something better happens to appear, and doesn't outpace its food, or fall to some local or global disaster.
    • In The Last Continent, plants on Mono Island have the ability to instantly make themselves evolve into new forms with a definite goal. This goal is not to be intelligent, but to be useful enough to the visiting wizards that they'll take the plants along when they leave.
  • In Edmond Hamilton's 1931 short story "The Man Who Evolved", a scientist sets out to discover where the evolution will stop. He does so by inventing an "evolution chamber" and trying it on himself (which makes this also an example of Evolution Power-Up). Subverted when he turns into protoplasm because evolution apparently goes in circles — still scientifically wrong, but at least it's a twist on the usual take on this trope.
  • Slan: The titular Slan are mutants that are faster and stronger than ordinary humans and have enhanced healing ability and psychic powers.
  • The Space Odyssey Series discusses the "evolution" of the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who brought The Monolith to Earth. Read literally, it's an example of this trope, but is actually a case of a species reaching a point technologically at which they can perform Brain Uploading into machine bodies and then finally turn themselves into Energy Beings — self-directed evolution rather than natural.
  • The Time Machine: Averted — the future evolutions of mankind are an innocent race, apparently less intelligent than modern humans (the Eloi), and The Morlocks. This was influenced by H. G. Wells' early socialist ideas. The Eloi and the Morlocks represent the cultured, wealthy bourgeois people of leisure and the lower-class proletarian manual laborers, respectively. Taken to extremes over thousands of years, the Eloi are witless sheep with no spark of creativity or ambition (or even the ability to defend themselves), and the Morlocks are mechanically apt but brutal cannibalistic savages. A little bit Strawman Political, to be sure.
  • Averted and discussed in TimeRiders: Day of the Predator — history has been changed so that dinosaurs never went extinct, but dinosaurs still resemble what they looked like 65 million years ago. The characters hypothesize that without any competition and by extension, any reason to adapt, evolution for the dinosaurs has 'dead-ended'.
  • Parodied in Tomorrow Town: one of the claims made by the futurists who have set up shop in Tomorrow Town is that they have evolved beyond their 1970s contemporaries, or 'yesterday men' as they are called. Like most things to do with their "futopia", they're quite, quite mistaken.
  • In Uncle Brucker the Rat Killer by Leslie Peter Wulff, rats have this ability — they're capable of breeding up new rat breeds including a "detector" rat whose enhanced senses are capable of finding regions where other-dimensional rifts exist.
  • Inverted in Uplift. Most clans believe that a species can't even develop sentience without genetic engineering (the exceptions being the mythical Precursors and maybe humanity).
  • Kurt Vonnegut:
    • One short story tells of astronauts that start to evolve into huge-headed telepathic freaks after being exposed to otherworldly radiation. They're saved from this predicament by their test animals, who have been exposed longer and evolved past them and into energy beings.
    • Nicely averted in Galápagos. The evolved humans resemble seals, and natural selection lowers their intelligence to that of animals. It's a bit misanthropic, though.
  • The War Against the Chtorr: It's stated that since Chtorran lifeforms have a billion-year evolutionary head start they have a massive advantage over Earth lifeforms.
  • In The War of the Worlds (1898), the narrator believes the Martians represent a "more highly evolved" form of intelligent life, reduced to a brain and hands, without "animal" functions like a digestive system. (They feed by sucking other animals' — including humans' — blood directly into their own bloodstream.)
  • Parodied in the SF "Worlds Apart" by Richard Cowper. The hero eats fish sticks for the umptieth time and begins to fantasize how square fishes evolved by escaping through the square fishing net openings.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • The episode "The Omega Glory" also used the 'path evolution is supposed to take' idea in order to show a planet who evolved the American flag and Constitution in parallel to Earth.
      • In "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" Spock explains:
      "The actual theory is that all lifeforms evolved from the lower levels to the more advanced stages."
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • A humanoid named "John Doe" encountered by the crew was part of a minority of his species that were "evolving" (actually, undergoing metamorphosis, but they called it "evolution") into Energy Beings.
      • In the episode "Pen Pals", Riker actually invokes the concept of a "cosmic plan" as supporting the Prime Directive in justifying a decision to not save a pre-warp alien civilization about to be destroyed by a massive natural disaster. The apparent logic being that some species are "meant" to become advanced, space-faring civilizations, while others are likewise fated to become extinct, and that it is "hubris" to interfere in this if they somehow stand outside the cosmos with the planner, which is most definitely hubris. Pulaski and La Forge argue vehemently against this position.
      • A later episode, "The Chase", reveals that all life in the Alpha Quadrant had descended from microbes seeded by a race of precursors billions of years ago. Somehow, because the microbes came from the precursors' homeworld, they were able to develop into multiple humanoid species on hundreds of different planets. At the same time. Who can interbreed with each other. It makes more sense than any other explanation no matter how much Fridge Logic is applied. It was implied that the DNA they seeded the universe with was somehow programmed to evolve toward humanoid lifeforms that were genetically compatible. Never mind how this means every non-humanoid organism in the universe, no matter how widespread or prosperous, is doing it "wrong"...
    • Star Trek: Voyager: The infamous episode "Threshold" plays with this trope. Tom Paris undergoes "accelerated evolution" after traveling at trans-warp speeds, and eventually reaches humanity's evolutionary goal — he turns into a giant newt (he got better). The episode's writers later revealed that their idea was to show that the final "goal" of human evolution could turn out to be something seemingly primitive, rather than the "advanced", hyper-intelligent forms of life that this trope usually results in. They also admit it didn't turn out the way they had hoped.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: The episode "Dear Doctor" showcased the "path evolution is supposed to take" misconception. This was Captain Archer's justification for refusing to cure a plague he had a cure for (he believed the civilization suffering from it was "supposed" to die out to make way for another species).
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the first Dalek story, the Thals had mutated into something hideous, then back again into good-looking space elves in leather trousers because that was, supposedly, the most perfect form.
    • In "Genesis of the Daleks", Davros worked out what the Kaled race was going to evolve into as a result of the centuries-long ABC war they'd been having with the Thals (apparently it was a green blob that would require a motorised dustbin if it was going to get around).
    • "The Lazarus Experiment" has the bad guy of the week use a molecule-rearranging room to de-age himself... with the side-effect that he would occasionally turn into a hulking beast that had to suck the life essence out of other people. The Doctor explains it by saying the genetic rearrangement had accidentally activated genes from evolutionary paths humans passed by and never used. Of course, given the Doctor's way of explaining things, this is likely just the best he can do to explain a much more convoluted concept.
    • The Doctor has claimed that the Time Lords, being one of the oldest civilizations in the universe, seeded life across the universe and did something that caused it to have a propensity to develop into superficially Time Lord-esque forms, explaining the large number of Human Aliens in the Whoniverse. Torchwood eventually had an object that penetrated nearly all the way through the Earth known as "The Blessing" which was somehow connected to the essence of what it is to be human. Ancient Time Lord technology intended to shape life forms into the Time Lord form?
    • "The Image of the Fendahl" had a skull from the Core of the Fendahl, an altered humanoid that served as part of a malevolent life-draining entity. The skull had, over millions of years, subtly altered a life form on the planet it landed on until that life form was suitable for creating a new Fendhal and had a subgroup manipulated into actually creating it. The human who learned he and his species existed only to spawn the rebirthed Fendahl was not happy.
  • Terry Nation, who was responsible for the Skaro-related Doctor Who examples above, also used this in his Blake's 7 episode "Terminal", in which Federation scientists have created an artificial Earth with somehow "accelerated" evolution to predict how humans will develop in the far future. The show does not depict this as a stupid idea, and the results are heavily implied to be genuine in-universe confirmation that the series is set in a Crapsack World.
  • Stargate SG-1: All sentient species apparently evolve "towards" ascension. Just before evolutionary ascension, people will have all kinds of Psychic Powers, such as mind-reading, telepathy, healing powers and some kind of super-intelligence.
  • Space: 1999: The show features one of the oddest theories of evolution: everyone is evolving, and will eventually become perfect (apparently ignoring that pesky old mortality). Even worse, there is a mirror universe where evolution works backwards, and people gradually turn into piles of primordial soup, and traveling to this dimension will cause you to start evolving backwards as well.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • In keeping with its nature, the show thoroughly mocked the "evolution is improvement" idea with several episodes featuring the super brain-powered Observers. A race so evolved that we "are as amoeba" to them, they have evolved beyond bodies (which still have to carry their brains around in their hands) and communicate only with their minds (by using the mouths on the bodies they've evolved beyond).
      Gypsy: Wouldn't it be more convenient to just leave the brains in your heads?
      Observer: Convenient? Why, our brains are fully functional from our bodies for up to fifty yards.
    • Also referenced in the final host segment of the last episode of the Comedy Central years (a 2001 parody), when the SOL crew evolves into energy. They decide to regain their bodily forms at the beginning of the first episode of the Sci-Fi Channel years.
  • The Big Bang Theory: Sheldon fails biology forever because he believes "[he] is farther down the evolutionary line" than the rest of humanity, and has smaller incisors and pinky toes than everyone else. You'd think a theoretical physicist who has been shown to be interested in all most areas of science would actually bother to learn how evolution works. Given that he explicitly does internet searches to find out anything about biology (like why his stomach might be hurting), he probably doesn't know half as much about biology or medicine as he thinks he does. Not that it would stop him believing that he's superior anyway. Explicitly shown in one episode when Sheldon states Amy's science (neurobiology) is the same as Bernadette's (microbiology):
    Sheldon: Your doctorate is in neurobiology. I fail to see the distinction.
    Amy: I'll make it simple for you. I study the brain, the organ responsible for Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Bernadette studies yeast, the organism responsible for Michelob Lite.
  • Babylon 5: In one episode a super-powerful psychic has reached "the next stage" ahead of everyone else and evolves into an energy being. At the end of the series we're shown humans a million years down the line, who have all become beings of pure thought. Word of God is that any species that achieves the right level of enlightenment will evolve into an Energy Being. He further states that humans and Minbari do eventually reach that state, while the Narn and Centauri do not.
    • Even more, in one episode Kosh flat out states that the Narn and Centauri are ALREADY doomed races without any chance.
  • The premise of The Outer Limits (1963) episode "The Sixth Finger." A scientist develops a procedure for putting an individual through future stages of evolution by using radio waves to destroy his weaker cells. As seems to be common in these cases, the man in question ended-up a telekinetic, telepathic super-genius with an oversized bald head (which he claims is how all humans will look after a million years of evolution). It's implied that, if he had continued, he would eventually have become a being of Pure Energy.
  • In Zoo, the animals appear to be "evolving" to kill humans more effectively. In fact, in some cases, this "evolution" happens without a change in generations, such as when a bear is shown to be growing armored skin in a matter of hours. At first, the protagonists blame all of that on a product made by a Mega-Corp that seems to be mutating every other animal species. This is seemingly abandoned in the second season, especially since certain humans start to change into mindless killer beasts. Then there's the revelation that all this happened at least once before, more than a century ago, only on a localized scale.
  • Red Dwarf: The Cat looks almost perfectly human, but is the descendent of Lister's pet cat after millennia of evolution. The unspoken assumption is that animals evolve "towards" human. Taken further in the RPG, which includes stats for humanoid races who evolved from other animals that might be found on spaceships (dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, and iguanas).

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Magic: The Gathering card game, the Slivers seem to be an insectile species that have evolved the ability to evolve faster and share genetics through some sort of psionic link, resulting in not just momentary changes to genotype but also phenotype when two different varieties are in proximity. In addition, some flavor text references Evolutionary Levels. The Ghostflame Sliver, for example, seems to be a reference to the common misunderstanding of the punctuated equilibrium theory, as they are "on the cusp of evolution", but it's most notable in the Sliver Overlord, which declares it the end of evolution. Then again, the Slivers evolve so quickly partially by devouring other life forms and adapting their advantageous genes to their offspring, grow rapidly to adulthood, are semi-sentient, act in concert, and are almost virus-like in their ability to infest, consume, and spread rapidly, so it might just be an intimation that the Slivers will kill everything on the planet, halting evolution permanently. Justified since the Slivers were created/modified by Volrath with a goal in mind: to be the best damn killing machines imaginable.
  • Forgotten Realms: "Pages from the Mages" Played With this. The spell "Evolve" changes a normal animal into an intelligent and more or less human-like form. The punchline is that, glorified name aside, the spell just permanently transforms the target halfway to its caster (presumed to be a human smart enough to use a level 8 spell), using his own blood sample(!) as a component.

    Video Games 
  • Not the case in E.V.O.: Search for Eden, since the player can evolve the main character into whatever form they want, though the process is simplified to give the player rather than the environment control over the character’s form. Any further inaccuracies are explained in-game as being the result of crystals intelligently designed (by aliens) to shift evolution onto the fast track toward intelligence, if necessary producing a completely new body than what would have been produced by natural selection. Even then, most aren’t humanoid. The Japan-only prototype, however, has this as its central mechanic—because evolution is simplified to merely a Dungeons & Dragons-esque point system, the player character gets more and more humanlike as time goes on, eventually becoming an idealized version of Homo sapiens (or dino sapiens depending on what route you take). Both games are based just as much on mysticism as on science.
  • In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the pseudo-legendary Salamence is said to have sprouted wings as a direct result of its long-held dream of flying.
  • Super Robot Wars Impact: Alfimi was created to be the "apex of human evolution".
  • Star Ocean: The Last Hope: The Big Bad seems to think that it's possible to create a "better" evolution that will save humanity from violence and sadness. Even worse, the heroes believe that it's necessary to "make our hearts worthy" in order to evolve.
  • Fire Emblem: It's theorized the Zunanma were subconsciously evolving to be more like their "gods". The gods thought this was bad but the only solutions they could think of were abandonment or annihilation and Zunanma didn't like either.
  • Wild ARMs 3: The Prophets describe five stages of evolution; they hope to evolve the world into its final stage. Even the characters who call out this notion as BS believe the dragons lived at their "evolutionary apex" before dying out. The former statement is justified oddly in that the Prophets were under the coercion of the ego-maniacal Demons.
  • Marathon: Word of God has said that this is the inspiration for Rampancy in The 'Verse. The concept that all life, and all evolution, strives upward towards Godhood.
  • In StarCraft the Zerg evolve towards perfection. Though in their case it's justified by the Swarm having an intelligence that specifically modifies them in that direction. Primal Zerg that are not part of the Hive Mind evolve in every which way depending on what genes they consume. The specialist Zerg organism who manages this process lampshades that "perfection" is an unattainable goal, since the situation is always changing.
    • Also brought up in Legacy of the Void with the revelation that the Xel'naga explicitly created the Protoss and the Zerg for the specific purpose of becoming the next generation of Xel'naga. Or rather, both having been candidates for that role until Amon hijacked their evolution for the purpose of turning them into living weapons against all other life.
  • This is half the gameplay of Spore. Your species starts of as an unicellular organism which, given enough time (and by consuming similar creatures or plants depending on their digestive system), grows enough to get out of water, build a primitive civilization, conquer the world it inhabits, and finally get to the rocket age and explore the universe (which leads to the other half of the gameplay: Space travel).
  • Most history simulating games like Civilization implement this for cultural evolution, rather than biological. No matter how close the game tries to model our reality, there will always be one big difference: real-life civs didn't know the rules of the game in advance, and our ancestors could never have planned far enough ahead to get from Agriculture to The Internet, like most high-level players do.
  • Fossil Fighters ends up using this as a plot twist. It turns out that humanity and Earth's lifeforms were an accident. The Dinaurian started the process of evolution in order to make more people like themselves, but the device they used to do this broke and stopped guiding evolutionary process which resulted in Humans. It should be noted thatthis becomes an unreveal. The device they set up worked exactly as they intended it to but the lifeforms it made died off soon after. Humans evolved on their own shortly after this took place.
  • Devil May Cry 5 provides a darker example, showing various demons that are evolved forms of more basic enemies, with the main examples being the Lusachia and Fury, the evolved forms of the Baphomet and Riot respectively, with the former evolving with more mouths in order to cast more spells and the latter evolving something between Super Speed and Teleport Spam so it can kill faster. It also explains Nero's Devil Trigger, as it gives him spectral wing arms that reflect his desire, in the moment of awakening his demonic power, to reach the summit of the Qliphoth and stop Dante and Vergil from killing each other, hence grown a combination of wings and arms, though the latter might also be a reflection of his trauma over having his arm torn off.
  • Evolution: The Game of Intelligent Life: The "goal" of the game is to reach the "Intelligent Life" stage, with all evolutions up to that point ultimately directed toward it.

  • Nerf NOW!! has a series, "Nature's Balance" that has an interesting take on this: animals are viewed as players in a MMORPG, choosing to go for various "builds", and debating the value of their builds. For example.

    Web Original 
  • Serina offers up an interesting variation on this trope. It postulates that animal-life is predispositioned to evolve higher intelligence the more complex it gets and backs this up by pointing out that reptiles and amphibians are smarter than the fish they evolved from and that the mammals, dinosaurs and birds are in turn, smarter than them. By the time the titular moon has reached the Ultimocene, the planet's biodiversity has reached it's apex and average intelligence is comparable to primates and corvids, it's even offhandedly mentioned that several different species have evolved sapience.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1585 ("Red Queen Island"). Creatures that live on or under the Turtle Island SCP-1585 evolve at an extremely high rate. In only a few generations animals have developed highly advanced mutations that make them much more effective in their ecological niches.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars: All There in the Manual states that the point of the experimentation of The Vok was to turn other life forms and systems into Energy Beings like themselves.
  • The Simpsons: An overly long Couch Gag sequence features the evolution of Homer. This starts with single-celled organisms, then goes from jellyfish to fish to lizard, rodent, monkey, ape... and finally to the modern Homo sapiens before showcasing several historical eras ending in modern Homer walking into his house. This showcases the supposed evolutionary levels misconception. And subverted for Rule of Funny; he meets Moe on the way who walks in the opposite direction... and devolves.
  • Futurama, the Professor accidentally creates evolving robots, who evolve much faster than organisms. Within a few days, they go from microscopic plankton-esque lifeforms to murderous trilobites to dinosaurs to cavemen to modern humans to Energy Beings.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: In an episode titled "Natural Selection", Martha Connors states that lizard DNA is more primitive than humans, to which Curt Connors, the unfortunate victim of his own experiment, responds: "I'm regressing."
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: The titular Ultimate Forms. The 'fast' part is at least justified in that the entire series revolves around a piece of Imported Alien Phlebotinum that can spontaneously rewrite a person's DNA. Word of God claims that the Ultimate forms are actually the projected evolution of a species based off of a simulated planet-wide civil war lasting millions of years.

    Real Life 
  • In 2014, a strain of the Ebola virus, which causes hemorrhagic fever in its victims and, like many similar viruses, spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids, arrived in the United States via a person who had recently been in Liberia. Immediately, people worried vocally that the virus would "become airborne" and wreak havoc on the population. The problem is that viruses do not "evolve to become airborne". The necessary changes would be no more likely to occur in random mutation than any other, and to date, no known fluid-transmitted virus has ever mutated in that particular way. Indeed, this would be very unlikely because airborne ebola would be too effective a disease. Any disease that is both highly virulent and highly deadly would swiftly wipe out all its potential hosts and go extinct before having a chance to spread. This is an example of how people's intuitive notions of "advanced" don't always line up with what is evolutionarily most beneficial.
  • A minority of evolutionary biologists believe something like this, positing natural laws which tend to cause greater complexity and sophistication in various organisms. On a related note some also say this about life emerging from non-life. See here for discussion. This still has nothing to do with the early pre-Darwinian teleological theories of evolution, however.
  • The modern neo-Darwinian synthesis is in fact one of the very few evolutionary theories that forbids this trope. Until the mechanism of heredity was understood, many scientists actually supported explicitly teleological interpretations of evolution. The two best-known are Lamarckism, which is the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and orthogenesis, which holds that all life is driven to evolve in a straight path, either becoming human or going extinct in the attempt. The earliest versions of these theories rejected common descent and assumed spontaneous generation to explain the existence of “lower animals”, which only shows how hard it is to reconcile this hypothesis with what is actually known about evolution. Once Darwinism and genetics were harmonized, these theories died off because there was no evidence to support them, though the basic concepts persist in popular imagination to this day.
  • Theistic evolution is usually an example of this trope. Humans are often held to be the end goal of evolution that God set. Or, more reasonably, a sufficiently advanced lifeform that God could then endow with a soul (as the Catholic Church believes is the case, for instance). Even the co-discoverer of modern evolution, Alfred Russell Wallace, believed that the human intellect had not evolved, saying God added that part directly. Most evolutionary biologists disagree on this, including Charles Darwin himself. It is a fundamental conflict between naturalistic and theistic evolutionary views, with the latter being in a way partly creationist according to some naturalists (with the aforementioned direct divine addition of souls/minds).
  • The closest thing to this trope from mainstream science may be convergent evolution — some body shapes are so useful (within a specific environment, that is) that many species will evolve them independently: look at the similar shape of dolphins (mammals) and sharks (fish). One of the body plans evolution likes the most (so to speak)? Crabs. No, really.
  • Daniel Milo argues a lot of biologists essentially treat natural selection this way (including Darwin himself to some extent), viewing it as a mechanism that maximizes fitness, treating this like a goal it's directed toward. He and biologists whose work he cites believe this is wrong, that many organisms are mediocre and even maladaptive (dodos are a famous example-it worked just fine when they had no natural predators, although they quickly went extinct once that changed). Rather, they only need to not be so unfit that they die out. He thus titles his book as Good Enough: The Tolerance of Mediocrity in Nature and Society to reflect this. As the latter part of the title indicates, his view is that this "selectionism" also supports implicit Social Darwinism. He thinks this has been socially destructive (even if not openly stated anymore), as it's frequently cited to support unfettered capitalism and other social practices with the idea that they will leave the fittest surviving.
  • Often happens with animals in captivity, such as a breeder purposefully breeding animals with the same rare color morph to create more of them, or dog breeders making sure that their dogs meet the breed standard.

Alternative Title(s): Teleological Evolution