Uncomfortable Evolution

  • Posted: July 1, 2014
  • Category: Politics
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There are few among us who do not become uncomfortable when our faith is questioned. For as Paul the Apostle reminds us, if our faith is wrong, then we are the most pitiful of creatures. Whether we admit to having faith or not, human beings cannot exist without believing in something. Faith is the foundation for our world’s logic, our personal world that we live in every day. Life requires faith(s).

Simply pouring morning coffee into our mug requires faith, a faith in gravity. If we did not have faith, how would we know where to hold the mug? Above the coffee pot pour spout or below? We believe that we should hold it below the pour spout because we have our experience, the evidence of our eyes and ears. Coffee always flows downhill along with every other liquid. Our belief, supported by our experience, guides us and we have no need to doubt our faith.

Except now, we have the experience of seeing movies like Gravity, and certain episodes of The Big Bang Theory clearly showing coffee doesn’t always flow downhill. Our eyes show us coffee flowing uphill, and sideways. Our mind, ever ready to avoid doubt by putting fingers into the leaking holes in the dam of our faith, answers that momentary questioning. “Of course coffee wouldn’t work that way in space, silly, there isn’t any gravity in space.”

But wait a minute. If there is no gravity in space, why does the Sun rise every morning and set every evening? Our mind again quickly replies, knowing that questions about faith must be hammered quickly, and hard, “Silly, there is gravity in space! It just doesn’t make water flow downhill in space. Except . . . It kinda does, but gravity’s different there.”

By a long process of observation, trial and error, brilliant insights by scientists along with ingenious experiments over centuries, we have developed a comprehensive mathematical cookbook of how gravity works in the Universe. Our space program offers amazing proofs that gravity works exactly as our mathematical cookbook says it works. Every bit of experimental and observational data we have agrees with our cookbook. We believe in gravity. No doubts there.

But. . . If that’s true, then I am forced to believe something else as well. These days I weigh about 145 pounds. At least that is what I tell my Doctor on my annual physical. To be more precise, in Earth’s gravitational field at an elevation of 6,000 feet, I weigh 145 pounds. But that proven mathematical cookbook requires me to actually weigh 2,017 pounds in certain situations. Whoa, I need to get out my old copy of The South Beach Diet! There seems to be something seriously wrong here. Admittedly I have to loosen my belt from time to time, but if I weigh over a ton, my faith in gravity is a bit shaken.

Actually, only 145 pounds of my admittedly aging and increasingly flaccid body are made of the regular stuff we call matter; that is the molecules of water, hydrocarbons and minerals making up the human body. The other 1,872 pounds are made of a mixture composed of dark matter and dark energy. What are dark matter and dark energy, you ask? You might ask that, but nobody has an answer, not even an amusing one. One would think that if almost everything in the visible Universe were virtually all made of dark matter and/or dark energy, we would have a pretty good handle on it. Kind of like knowing that the coffee mug needs to be under the pour spout when we pour the coffee.

The spoilsports among us might call foul on me here. To deal with the obvious problem of not being able to see or touch dark matter and/or dark energy, scientists assume that such exotica exist only in the far reaches of interstellar, or better yet intergalactic, space. Given that all matter in the Universe emerged from a single point in a titanic explosion, known as the Big Bang, and that the exotica in question compose 93% of the Universe, this is a bit like assuming that all the chocolate chips wound up in one cookie, your cookie.

Faith, and the beliefs rooted in that faith, can be disquieting when they are questioned with neutral logic. Faith is a pure thing, a simple surety in the reality and truth of something. Faith is taken on faith, not logic. But faith’s existence informs our beliefs, the logical consequences of that faith and the basis for actions we take. Our faith in gravity gives rise to our belief that the logical action of taking the most direct way down from a cliff is a bad idea.

But as we live longer and broaden our experience, our beliefs often come into conflict with each other. We often find ourselves believing contradictory things, something common to the human experience. Those scientists that I affectionately call stamp collectors came up with a term for this conflict of beliefs a long time ago. Cognitive dissonance is what it’s called when we believe two contradictory things. When we believe that the Universe began in a Big Bang some 14 billion years ago while we tell the doctor how much we weigh, we are subject to cognitive dissonance.

Most of the time, cognitive dissonance is harmless, even though it can be a source of mental discomfort. Most of the time cognitive dissonance has no effect on the real world we live in or our daily lives. We pour our coffee in the morning and give lip service to Science and the Big Bang. On those rare occasions when we put two and two together and become uncomfortable with the answer, we have a bowl of ice cream or watch a football game. The discomfort goes away and we learn to avoid thoughts and situations that cause the discomfort. Arithmetic is a well-known cause of cognitive dissonance, perhaps accounting for its unpopularity.

Occasionally however, the beliefs we hold as a consequence of our faith have a serious effect on the real world. This almost always occurs in the realm of religion. Examples abound in our daily news from the Middle East and North Africa. Shia and Sunnite do terrible things to each other. Perhaps its best if we not delve into current Christian flash points revolving around sexual practices and politics.

Many in the modern post-Christian West would shake their head in resignation with a sad smile of agreement as to the violent and pernicious effect of religious belief on the sane acceptance of civic order. What member of the secular West would admit to a belief in anything other than a godless Universe, entirely rational and objective? Mistaken beliefs might be held by the clergy of the secular West, identified as the enlightened professional class, based on incomplete knowledge or understanding, but those mistaken beliefs will be corrected as knowledge and understanding inevitably advance.

The very power and pervasiveness of a belief system can be seen in its invisibility. If goldfish could speak, they might ask, “What water, what fishbowl?” But the inquisitive and adventurous goldfish sometimes jumps out of the fishbowl landing on the floor where the presence or absence of a fishbowl filled with water becomes visible to the goldfish. Being inquisitive and adventurous carries risks, as the goldfish gasping on the floor begins to realize. Cognitive dissonance happens to everyone, but doing something about it may not be healthy or wise. Even the non-Christian might find wisdom in the words of Solomon from the Book of Ecclesiastes. These words are worth heeding when cognitive dissonance jangles ones nerves:

 

“He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God.”   Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

 

While the secular West, i.e. the educated professional class, has moved beyond Christian faith and its beliefs, it does have faith. Human beings always have a faith and beliefs arising from that faith. At the risk of offending the secular reader, I might speculate that God created us with a God-shaped hole or vacuum in our spirit. Scholars disagree as to who first said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, but we instantly recognize its truth. If God does not fill the God-shaped vacuum in our spirit, it will be filled with something else. That vacuum in our souls will not, it cannot, remain empty.

Perhaps our new faith is made visible on the trunk of the car ahead of us during our morning commute. Many cars carry the Christian symbol of a fish, modified with the addition of feet and the word “Darwin” or “Evolve” inside. It is the unmistakable symbol of faith. That faith gives rise to the belief, not in evolution, but in Evolution.

Evolution, with a small “e”, is an unmistakable fact, akin to holding one’s coffee mug beneath the spout of the coffee pot. It is beyond reasonable question that life changes and morphs in response to changes in the environment or competitive advantage. The cereal you ate this morning after you walked your Labradoodle both prove that evolution is a reality.

So far, faith in Evolution has had no real consequences in the daily life of the average person in the secular West, other than those boys with well-combed hair aren’t in their son’s class anymore. The boys are missed at the school. They were good role models and didn’t act up in class. Polite and well mannered, the boys seemed to take their schoolwork seriously, even though they didn’t have foreign sounding names. But the boys’ parents really had some weird ideas, always agitating at PTA meetings. The parents are not missed.

No problems of cognitive dissonance with evolution or Evolution here, just a simple acceptance of what our eyes and ears tell us guided by the wisdom of Science. There may be clouds on the horizon however. Our culture and nation is very heavily invested in the protection of endangered animal species and environments. Our society, along with laughing at people who do not believe in Evolution, is determined that any animal species, no matter how ill adapted that species is for the current environment, must be preserved. Our society is equally determined that every specialized environment, no matter how unstable, must also be preserved. But evolution, and Evolution, agree that fundamental to the evolutionary process is the extinction of ill adapted species so that more successful species might thrive. Evolution has sometimes been called by another name, “Survival of the Fittest”. Cognitive dissonance anyone?

Of course, a distinction is made for the hoi polloi that the extinction of ill adapted species to changing environments must not be allowed if human beings are the cause of changes in the environment. The point being that human beings are an unnatural environmental factor, against the rules of Evolution, and the umpires must therefore call a foul, halting play. One can almost see the curtains move as the Wizard rearranges them to prevent Dorothy from seeing the levers by which the sound and fury are controlled.

Among the cognoscenti however, it is taken for granted that human beings must control the evolution of life on the planet. Evolution, left uncontrolled, would cause unknowable consequences. Therefore the safest course of action is to allow no changes at all to life on this planet. Just as Christian leaders before them, they realize the dangers of letting their god just do whatever. The realities of faith on Earth require god’s plan to be carefully guided by those who know the realities on the ground. The decision has been made by those who rule and accepted by those who are ruled; we cannot allow any species of animal life to fail. The possibility of foreign species moving into new territories and posing unfair competition is definitely forbidden. Cognitive dissonance anyone?

Another policy with major consequences currently being embraced by our society is the professed need to halt global warming. Although our planet has been warming continuously for some 10,000 to 12,000 years, any further warming is now declared a threat to the survival of life on the planet. The alternate warming and cooling of the planet over past millennia has resulting in recurrent waves of extinctions over that time. These extinctions have resulted in regular updating of the planet’s biosphere, just as evolution predicts. But rather than embracing the consequences of their faith, the faithful are committed to halting the warming trend, no matter the cost and the resulting interruption in their faith.

In one of those ironies common to US environmental politics, we have a wealth of evidence developed by paleontologists about times of warmer temperatures in the Earth’s past. Those past warmer times have been characterized by more rainfall and lusher conditions, resulting in grater densities of life as well as greater habitat and species diversity. In fact, the Earth today is colder than its geological average. Basically life just likes warmer temperatures and more water. Cognitive dissonance anyone?

But the cognitive dissonance associated with species protection and global warming is trivial compared to the dissonance coming down the road. One of the most cherished and dearly held beliefs in our society is that people are exempt from evolution. Of course, we don’t express it in those terms. The obviously uncomfortable beliefs associated with any faith are watered down or camouflaged in some way. Just as polite Christians are disingenuous about Satan and the eternal fate of non-believers, so too are citizens of the secular West hazy about Evolution’s effects on human beings.

Faith itself is not disingenuous. Faith is always crystal clear. Scripture is very clear about Satan and Hell. While Evolution has no definitive Book, Science is also very clear about humanity’s animal origins. There are no exceptions for life in Evolution, all are subject to its demands. It is difficult to imagine a species subject to a higher degree of environmental pressure than the human animal, Homo Sapiens. In the past few hundred thousand years, we have competed to extinction or melding with Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Denisova, Homo Floresienes, etc. We have been a foreign species invading hundreds of geographically and climatologically diverse environments. We have enduring a world climate oscillating from ice age cold to tropical uniformity.

In the past few tens of thousands of years, we have developed language, domesticated animals and learned to farm. The last five thousand years have seen us develop civilization, again and again, separated by oceans, mountains and deserts. Evolution states that life changes to meet changing environmental conditions. Has any other species of animal life on this planet dealt with more intense natural selection in response to changing environmental conditions?

Human beings have evolved. Different groups of human beings have evolved in different ways to meet different environmental conditions. Is it reasonable to expect that all human beings, no matter their ethnicity, culture or sex, are equal in all their capabilities? Is it unreasonable, given the enormous environmental pressures of the past millennia, to expect that members of certain ethnic groups will have different mental, emotional and physical capabilities and capacities than members of other ethnic groups?

The evidence of our eyes and ears, our experience in the world, answer those questions. If we chose to ignore the evidence of our experience, if we chose to place our coffee mug above the pour spout, the evidence of our DNA and the science of genetics will make that choice increasingly difficult. Those who hold their coffee mug above the pour spout have wet shoes and burned toes. To continue to pretend that all men are created equal in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary will be increasingly impossible. History and common sense tells us that cognitive dissonance is resolved when the contrary evidence becomes too obvious.

What will we do when we are forced accept that certain genetic heritages predispose holders of that heritage for success in certain endeavors? What will we do when we are forced to acknowledge that certain cultural backgrounds are ill equipped for current environments? What will we do when we can no longer deny that sex differentiates in ways other than sexual morphology? Good questions. A brief survey of human history suggests answers, but one wonders.

The faith of Evolution clearly labels human beings as animals, without anything beyond flesh, blood and the interconnection of our neurons. As the extent of our differences becomes once more impossible to deny, implying associated advantages and disadvantages, the rational society of the educated professional class might be expected to so order itself as to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. As noted earlier, mistaken beliefs might be held by the educated professional class, based on incomplete knowledge or understanding, but those mistaken beliefs will be corrected as knowledge and understanding inevitably advance. The advance of knowledge and understanding do not necessarily imply that peace, brotherhood and equality will be the result of such advance.

It is worth noting the history of the human race at this point. The idea that human beings are separated by differences in race, sex and culture is not a new one. It is the common belief of human beings in all times and cultures. In fact, human beings do believe in the evidence of our eyes, ears and experience. Human beings of earlier times that didn’t realize the significance of the saber-tooth tiger’s fangs or felt it important to not pre-judge all tigers did not pass along their genes.

It is the history of the human race that we do recognize the differences among peoples and act on them. The idea, expressed in our nation’s founding documents and foundational to our values, that human beings have a value external to and independent of their cultural and genetic makeup is unique in human history. It is an idea that has no empirical or theoretical basis in any faith other than Judeo-Christianity. The idea that any human being might have intrinsic value, otherwise known as human rights, is heresy within the Church of Evolution.

The idea of inherent value in human beings, each and every human being, is unique to Judeo-Christian cultures. We believe that God created human beings. Whether He did it ab initio or utilizing the mechanisms of evolution is immaterial. He created human beings in his own image, possessing an eternal soul, outside of material creation. He not only created us, but He continues to love us so much that He sacrificed His Son for us, His only Son. A Christian believes that each human being is precious, no matter their value in material terms, because that is what God believes.

There is no such provision for the primacy and inherent worth of human beings in the theology of Evolution. The sick, the aged, the differently abled, the LGBT, the weak are often a burden on society. Evolution’s nickname, “Survival of the Fittest”, is only a simple acceptance of its reality. Some years ago there was another bumper sticker on cars that captured the essence of Evolution much more clearly than the fish symbol with legs. That bumper sticker simply said, “Gas, Grass or A**, nobody rides for free”.

Perhaps that single mom with the family history of diabetes and a degree in Gender Studies should reconsider the bumper sticker on her car.

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