Some biologists resist the idea of intelligence in evolution because they are in a culture war against religious opponents who believe descent with modification was guided by a higher being. By being forced to abandon terms in response to encroachment by a few in the religious movement, they are missing the point that evolution is intelligent by its very nature; evolution 'learns' by experience, that is what survival of the fitter means.
Professor Richard Watson of the University of Southampton says that could be an explanation of how natural selection produces such (anthropomorphically) intelligent designs. An opinion paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution says unifying evolution (which shows how random variation and selection is sufficient to provide incremental adaptation) with a learning hypothesis (which say incremental adaptation is sufficient for a system to exhibit intelligent behavior), means it is possible for evolution to exhibit some of the same intelligent behaviors as learning systems (including neural networks).
Watson and Eörs Szathmáry, from the Parmenides Foundation in Munich, say formal analogies can be used to transfer specific models and results between the science and a learning model to solve several important evolutionary puzzles. For example, a key feature of intelligence is an ability to anticipate behaviors that that will lead to future benefits. Conventionally, evolution, being dependent on random variation, has been considered 'blind' or at least 'myopic' - unable to exhibit such anticipation. But if evolving systems can learn from past experience it means that evolution has the potential to anticipate what is needed to adapt to future environments in the same way that learning systems do.
Watson says, "Darwin's theory of evolution describes the driving process, but learning theory is not just a different way of describing what Darwin already told us. It expands what we think evolution is capable of. It shows that natural selection is sufficient to produce significant features of intelligent problem-solving.
"Learning theory enables us to formalize how evolution changes its own processes over evolutionary time. For example, by evolving the organization of development that controls variation, the organization of ecological interactions that control selection or the structure of reproductive relationships that control inheritance - natural selection can change its own ability to evolve.
"If evolution can learn from experience, and thus improve its own ability to evolve over time, this can demystify the awesomeness of the designs that evolution produces. Natural selection can accumulate knowledge that enables it to evolve smarter. That's exciting because it explains why biological design appears to be so intelligent."