Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Evolution of Everything

Charles Darwin published his “On The Origin of Species” in 1859. And, the desperate  battles by religious people were begun in attempts to disprove ‘evolution’ as it came to be known. Most religions, and most particularly the Christian varieties, must argue against evolution since their messages insist otherwise. Most fundamental Christian religious cultures maintain ‘God’ created our world and everything in it or on it around 6000 years ago in spite of all evidence otherwise. Their battles against the reality of evolution continues to this day.

If you doubt this, all you need to do is visit the comments sections of web sites where this subject is discussed.

The Christian argument is based upon ‘The Book’ -  the bible and on their ‘faith’, or belief. That they can not present empirical evidence of any sort does not slow them from fighting fiercely for their convictions, and some can even name the date God created ‘everything’. Many Christians insist that faith alone is all the proof needed. It says so in ‘The Book’, therefore it is so. Some Christians demand their ‘Creationist’ viewpoint be taught to schoolchildren as a ‘theory’ as in ‘Creation Science’ and ‘Intelligent Design. This as a counter argument against evolutionary theory, which they insist is unproven - though there are volumes of scientific evidence to support it, and not one scintilla in support of creationism.

But, that does not matter when it comes to matters of faith, which by definition needs no evidence. The creationist argument reminds me of the ‘Flat Earthers’ who insisted the Earth is flat, and could not be round. A 'spherical Earth' notion also went against the prevailing cultural opinions of the time - even though there was plenty of evidence otherwise for those who were observant. Indeed there were many adherents to a flat Earth theory well into the 20th Century. Some Christians based their flat Earth convictions on references in The Book to the ‘Four Corners of the Earth’.

One example: Joshua Slocumb was introduced to President Paul Krueger of the South African Republic during Slocumb's 1897 sailing circumnavigation of the Earth. ‘Oom Paul’ (Uncle Paul) as he was known by his people, strenuously objected, “You don’t mean round the world, impossible! You mean ‘in the world’!”

Krueger even sent around a deputation of clergymen from his sect ‘Reformed Churches of South Africa’ to convince Slocumb he was mistaken, even though Slocumb himself was empirical proof! Such is the power of denial by faith.

And, so it goes. ‘Faith’ convictions are never overturned until totally overwhelmed by reality beyond any and all doubt or argument. So long as there is the slightest iota of doubt - real or invented - already convinced people will deny reality in favor of their convictions. But, eventually there does come a tipping point, and the firm conviction gives way to unavoidable rationality. Few people today still argue for a flat Earth, at least and still be thought rational. And so it shall be with religion in time. We already see a strong tendency towards secularism in the western world today. People claiming a religious faith in the US are now less than half the population - down considerably just in the past two decades. In most countries in Europe, the percentages are far less. I view this as an ‘evolution’ in terms of human thought - our species is becoming more rational over time.

I think this holds true for other issues too. As a species, we tend to evolve our societies towards more rational and more protective concepts for the society as a whole. A recent report in Scientific American hinted at altruism in rats. Free rats would try to free another rat trapped in an enclosure, even if it meant then having to share food with the trapped rat. And those who argued against actual altruism in rats still make my point about evolution of the species, i.e., “Either the rat is freeing the companion to end its own stress (caused by an alarm signal) or it is doing it to end the perceived stress of the caged rat.”

The outcome is the same: Freeing the trapped rat is ‘better for the species as a whole”.

Overall, our world is evolving towards the betterment of the whole. You can track this from the family level, through local neighborhoods, states, regions, nations, and even the entire planet. And, even though we often experience setbacks, and sometimes major ones, the mean path always tracks towards ‘better’. If you take the long view, you will see this in religion, science, politics, technology, manufacturing, societies, cultures and everything else; the tendency is always to ‘evolve’ to a higher and better level over time. The pace of evolution is often tedious, sometimes taking decades, even centuries, but the path is inexorably ‘onward and upward’.

So, in spite of all the ills we see around us daily, the planet and everything on it evolves always towards the ever fitter overall, for ‘this too shall pass’. This gives me calm when I think about the legacy the present human generations are leaving for our grandchildren and descendants.

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