Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Evolution Matters

One thing a knowledge of evolution does is not require belief in a creator god who is either terrifying or demanding worship as a price of continuing to exist. Evolution neither demands a belief in a god, nor does it prove there is not one. The fact that this could all have happened with no creator does not mean there is no creator. As a corollary to that-- all religions being wrong does not prove there is no god.

In comments earlier, someone mentioned that rather than us being created in God's image, we created God in ours. That pretty well says it all and we see it in diverse cultures how they interpret what they think God must be and those interpretations differ with their life experiences. As another commenter mentioned the concepts of what God must be change with time.

Man has seemingly always sought answers for why we are here, and sought to control the environment which at the first mostly was through rituals although there were other environmental tricks, like forest fires or gravity to secure food and increase productivity. Sometimes what was done had no concern at all for the long term... mostly it had no concern for the long term.

From the time mankind had the ability to communicate with each other, there were signs he also wanted to communicate with a possible deity. Most cultures have a belief in some kind of deity with suggestions or demands on how to please that supernatural power. If there was a bigger guy out there, man was going to try and make peace with him/her/it.

The same traits are in modern man albeit with more possibilities for how. Some seek answers through religions and some through scientific explorations. [Science] as a tool has been with man a long while.

Man has always had a mix of reasons for using science. Some was to explore the mysteries of life but other reasons included improving technology to make physical life better. I think there has always been though some pure science without the need to make a profit from the information. What is this all about? What can we learn about it? Those kinds of questions aren't necessarily leading to a profit materially anyway. Too often, it seems today, the goal is exploitation. If we can't use it, why bother doing it? Universities, where much research has always been done, depend often on corporations for donations and corporations want them researching what they can utilize.

Back to why evolution matters. What are the lessons from evolution?

When I began researching evolution, the first thing that seemed to be important is, contrary to how some talk about it, the theory of evolution didn't begin with Darwin nor did it end with him. He simply laid out, through observation, evidence for the process by using animals living today that had been isolated from each other noting their differences. He used those observations to propose that this was also how human life evolved, and of course, lit an explosion from the religious.

Darwin began with a belief in natural selection as the primary reason for what we might see today in species. He came to see it was possibly more about sexual selection (wrote a book on that too) but he's forever stuck with being identified by natural selection and survival of the fittest. Instead it's quite possible that a lot of our changes came about through the same thing that happens today-- Marilyn Monroe types for one generation and Angelina Jolie for another-- figuratively speaking, of course.

To come up with his theories, Darwin couldn't do the DNA testing we can today and the missing links for mankind weren't yet found. Frankly finding bones from a million years ago isn't all that easy and fossils can often be equally destroyed even for bigger animals than 'protohumans.' Remember the earliest development of Homo sapiens came from Africa and by the time it spread out into the rest of the world, some of the initial changes had already occurred.

Proof positive has not stopped man from wondering. Early Greek philosophers posited questions of mankind having evolved. It wasn't even really controversial until religious revivals made it heresy to even question the account of creation in Genesis. It was not okay to say we weren't the center of the Universe (which some still want to believe even if they have given up on the sun revolving around the earth).

For a period of time scientists who dared explore any alternative were threatened with death or at least exile. During that period to talk about what I am here could have meant torture and death (still could in some cultures today). It was a threat to their religion and religion is about power. Some of this was because if the earth wasn't at the center of the Universe, was man the center of a god's interest? Were we really the most important things here? Heresy to suggest otherwise. If God isn't constantly tweaking things, how do we explain what happens?

Science and religion seemed to often be on a collision course. Some see it that way still today which is why science and the intelligentsia are condemned so heartily by a certain group-- knowledge threatens a certain type of faith.

Darwinism is not the same as evolution nor does evolution depend on his theories and observations. There is way more evidence by now to show missing links, to better understand the anthropological record and DNA to let us see the path even more clearly that life has taken to get to where we are, which is not where we will stay.

This whole subject of evolution naturally leads to spiritual questions which is why it so upset religious types.

Evolution's study does matter but I think it's more where it leads than simply whether we and apes descended from a common ancestor. The bigger question is are we free to think or not? Do we dare explore evidence or is that eating from the forbidden apple? If we believe in a dictatorial god who is threatened by our thinking, than free-thinking is a danger. Exploration of new ideas is heresy and puts at risk the whole culture because who knows where this god might decide to show displeasure.

Denying evolution denies science and impacts our whole culture and its advances. To be honest, I wouldn't vote for a president who said he didn't believe in evolution. What else would that mean about what that person? Where would that mean they put science? Were they free to think or had they already figured out everything and were going to defend those answers no matter what proofs came along? Can they assimilate new ideas? I'd assume not.

Evolution is about a process not a religion. There are no rituals, no special words one must say. Belief in it doesn't deny or prove the existence of a deity.It does though posit a very exciting possibility-- that god is a scientist, a being who is fascinated by life itself. It also indicates a planet that is very old and would require a very patient god to set this in motion and then, if he pays any attention to it, sit back and let it play itself out-- the things that worked so well or didn't. (Yes, I know, we are the ones who define time by earth standards and this all is assuming one believes in a god which an evolutionist might not).

What if instead of looking for control, we accept the earth is in flux and we are along for the ride doing the best we can with it? What if we try to work with it rather than against it? To me, those are the lessons, among many others, of evolution.

Studying evolution, learning about it, matters because it means we aren't afraid to explore truth. We don't have to force that truth to go places it doesn't naturally go.

Truth is my idea of how we cooperate in making this earth and our own lives all that they can be. To fear reasoning is to put god in a position that religion might have put him but I don't see any proof of it in nature. It does no justice to the possible creative genius behind this Universe and many others.

Oh, and I am most definitely not done... :)


Infidel753 said...

Darwin began with a belief in natural selection as the primary reason for what we might see today in species. He came to see it was possibly more about sexual selection

That's actually why Darwin was so important. The idea that life had developed from simpler to more complex forms over time had been around for millennia, but it was Darwin who first proposed a plausible mechanism by which this might have happened, without needing to postulate intervention by supernatural forces. Even more important, he was able to marshal a formidable amount of evidence to support his idea.

The theory has been greatly expanded and fleshed out since then -- genes were discovered after Darwin's time, for example -- but it is still basically an elaboration on Darwin's concept of natural selection (and sexual selection).

I would recommend the books of Richard Dawkins for a good understanding of evolution. It's true that he's most strongly associated with atheism, but only one of his books, The God Delusion, focuses on that. The others are about various aspects of evolutionary biology, and are highly illuminating.

Paul said...

What is it about atheists and evolution ? There seems to be a missing link ?

Kay Dennison said...

I don't think evolution and religion are incompatible. It's all about one's interpretation.

Consider that Darwin's theory is just that -- a theory but not necessarily true. The Bible is a compilation of stories handed down and compiled over the generations -- also not necessarily true.

I accept that there is truth in both. Yeah, I probably over-simplified but it works for me.

That said, I have an appointment with my priest to discuss on why I should try to recover my faith. That's gonna be a tough sell for him considering my mindset these days.

Rain said...

In science anything you cannot repeat can be called a theory. You cannot repeat what happened in the past although science has come very close to proving it by many methods like DNA. I don't consider evolution a theory remotely comparable to the stories in the Bible.

The problem with the belief many have in god is it depends on what he does for them. They might be convinced that bad things happened as a test; but if they expected a god to look after them, they will blame him and not look to their own actions or just plain nature for what happens. We have a lot of genealogical reasons for our physical self and then add in our environment both that beyond our control and within it. People want to put their faith onto what god does or doesn't do and that is what my whole series is actually about-- that life doesn't work that way and neither does god if there is a god.

To add to it, I don't believe in a god who answers prayers or doles out bad things depending on the whim of the moment or even some greater plan. I am not that sure the god I believe in has stayed intimately involved with what happens here at all. It's why I always feel put up against a wall when someone asks me to pray for them. I don't think it works and worse when it doesn't, people become all discombobulated. That might not be so bad but they also vote and use the same logic.

I know you, Kay; so I know you aren't looking to god as a genii in the sky; but I wanted to use what you had said as a chance to repeat what this is about.

It's not that I see a belief in god being so bad for mankind (there may be things that happen with prayer that we cannot explain or see). What's bad is where that belief adds and when it is hurting responsible living. What's bad is when we look beyond natural consequences to some supernatural being. Evolution teaches us not to do that but to look for reasons.

Religion serves people emotional purposes, maybe can be good for communities, but what about when it's counted on as a supernatural get of jail free card-- that's when the bad things it is doing are overlooked or justified.

Robert the Skeptic said...

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing bad things, but for good people to do bad things, it takes religion.” ~ Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate in physics.

Rain said...

That is a very interesting quote, Robert-- a lot of truth to it too...

mandt said...

After reading up on Richard Dawkins, check up on George Price for a different view: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_R._Price

Rain said...

What a sad end to Price's life, a kind of misunderstanding on his value as a human, it seems or maybe just a result of severe depression. His theories though relate to whether something more is behind the evolutionary path as in what are the odds of it all being a gigantic accident (from what I could see of that link). Stephen Hawkings recently put out an extensive look at why there doesn't have to be. A person can though believe there is more to life than biology and still not accept any religion as having the answer.

Infidel753 said...

This whole subject of evolution naturally leads to spiritual questions which is why it so upset religious types.

Personally I've always found it very liberating to realize that the only meaning my life has is what I choose to give it -- I'm not at the mercy of some meaning or purpose imposed by a deity.

Evolution neither demands a belief in a god, nor does it prove there is not one.

Of course that's true. Evolution is not inherently incompatible with the concept of a god or gods, although it certainly is incompatible with many specific religious beliefs.

The theory of evolution does not prove the non-existence of gods. It just proves that gods are not necessary to explain the complexity of life and its development.

Infidel753 said...

PS: As it happens, last week I looked at some of the same issues here.

Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Wow, Rain. You really should write a book. I am so impressed with the research you do and the conclusions you end up with. Until the next chapter--

Anonymous said...

Steven Weinberg is a putz !

Parapluie said...

I think there is a manipulator behind the Creationist theory. A manipulator appearing to be telling truth. Truth seakers would have studied the earliest primary sources of Genesis and find that in translating with the article "the" the meaning is altered to a definitive point in time than the original. The original could be more accurately translated "In beginning God created heaven and earth." The more accurate translation means there could have been many beginnings. Or it could mean there was one beginning but tht is unimportant for the Biblical cntents.
Another way of looking at the problem is through analysis of language. Our Western languages which specify numbers through the articles "the" and "a" demands a quantitative view whether we are talking science or phenomena that can not be measured.

Rain said...

In defending this account by a rethinking of what words mean, are you also trying to defend a belief that God is behind the texts? Regardless of whether you think of this as a reworking of the earth (which I had mentioned Christians also have used as a justification), the issue here is are these texts from God and for man's benefit and thus to be taught in a science class on man's origins? That's the reason evolution matters, not about linguistics, which can be debated, but about something more basic to whether those texts really are from a god who wanted to tell us what we need to know for life-- for instance the Jonah and the Whale story where you might say it's an allegory (some would disagree with you and say it could happen) but the meaning is still do what God says or bad things will befall you... Those are the issues being debated by creation versus evolution for what is to be taught.

Parapluie said...

I say we allow ourselves to be trapped by the limits of our language. Manipulators use faith in a fearsome God to make good people do bad things. The manipulators get away with it because of the assumptions behind the words and the expectation of the words in the Bible to be exact like measurements for science when they were never intended as such. The lingustics is proof of the failing of language whether you believe the Bible is divinely inspired or not.

Rain said...

As anyone who has read my blog for awhile or checked my blogroll knows, I am not one who limits spiritual possibilities for this life. While I don't believe in religion, as having the answers, as for other aspects of life, the things that are not biology, those I am less sure about. I will probably be wondering about the nature of this life until the day I die. Some of this probably is our own limitations to verbalize concepts, to put together the whole package, but also to even just think them through, to grasp them. It's easier to stick to biology ;)