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Posts Tagged ‘Human evolution’

The recent ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has reawakened in me a conundrum about evolution, the meaning of life and the ultimate end of all things. This often rises up in my mind during these man-made tragic events or other natural catastrophes.  I am left wondering, from a purely evolutionary ideal, “What’s the big deal?  Isn’t this just the natural working out of our evolutionary and natural development?”  As far as I can see, it is humankind’s evolutionary destiny as well as right to attempt to subjugate nature.

Radical environmentalists decry the abuse of nature. They claim that humans are too anthropocentric and need to have greater care for other creatures – right down to the microbial level.  They throw around the word “speciesism” or “specism” to prompt guilt among bipedal humanoids for considering our species as more important or of greater worth than other species.  As a result, they claim, our needs and selfish desires have threatened the existence of other species.  According to them, we should take more care.

This begs the question as to why it matters whether one species lives or dies – exists or ceases to exist. What moral compass guides us in our decision making to even consider the value and worth of another species however big or small?  If one argues that it is because all species are interconnected and that their survival as a species is ultimately linked to our own survival as a species, then this seems to only end in the same selfish anthropocentric concern.  When humans become concerned for other species out of worry for their own survival; it seems to only be a back door return to speciesism.

After all, the evolutionary principle that continual improvement is necessary for the survival of a species seems to me to necessitate that one species is going to survive or thrive at the cost of another. The idea of balance in nature would seem to conflict with evolution since species are ever contending for the same room and resources within a biosphere limited with both.  Not only are species at war with one other for the same resources for survival, but they are all vulnerable to disease and natural disasters.  The survival of the fittest takes on a new level of urgency and importance in such a hostile environment.

So, are not humans simply fulfilling their evolutionary destiny by exploiting to the best of their abilities the natural resources surrounding them? Can we not call the massive struggle to fight against disease and natural disasters just part of our evolutionary duty towards our own species?  Should we not consider when a portion of humanity falls to natural disasters or diseases that these adverse events are simply a part of our own struggle to survive?  And, sometimes we come out the winners and sometimes the losers?  What makes us care or have compassion for others of our own species, let alone the condition of another?

If humanity is evolved from an impersonal mass of biological material, what moral guidance really regulates our care for the rest of creation? There are all sorts of competing philosophies and religions among our species.  However, if we are the result of an ongoing evolutionary cycle, then they are all meaningless.  Humanity only finds its meaning, like the rest of nature, in its own survival and thriving.  It seems that nothing else is really pertinent to the discussion.

As such, evolution does not really satisfactorily answer the question of neither what it means to be human nor how humanity should relate to the rest of creation. Evolution, after all, is an unfeeling and meaningless force moving all species toward the final existence of one specie’s domination over all others.  Humans would be dismayed to wake up some morning to find out that the planet had been taken over by apes (as in the movie “The Planet of the Apes”) or lions, tigers or bears (Oh, my!).  Therefore, according to our evolutionary mandate, we must continue to evolve, dominate other species and, if necessary, eliminate them when necessary; right down to the microbial level.

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010

White Wild Flowers, Deschutes River Trail, Oregon, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Confidence in the evolutionary path of humans, let alone all creatures, may be misplaced if we expect some form of higher-enlightenment to guide us into empathy for all species. Thousands of years of human evolution has shown to us that nature is very brutal and humankind as much or more so.  Not even considering our survival as a particular species, we divide ourselves up according to language and cultural groups and then seek to dominate one another by slavery, war or total annihilation.  We do not seem to be overly concerned with our own survival!  Granted, we do seem to care more about those who have the same skin pigmentation, language sounds and cultural similarities, but even that is no guarantee against our warring amongst ourselves for dominance and survival.

If humankind is a higher evolved animal, then there does not seem to be too much hope for all of creation. We are bent on our own destruction, the demise of all other species and the ultimate destruction of our biosphere.  There must be a greater guiding principle for us to pursue.  There must be, somewhere, a larger purpose for existing and caring for the rest of creation.  Otherwise, we are no better off than the fruit-fly.  We hatch, live, breed and die; albeit longer than the fruit-fly’s seven days.  However, the end result is the same.

If we are only the sum of an evolutionary process, then the conundrum it must answer or deny is, “Why should we care?” The logical conclusion is that we should not care or that the question itself is meaningless.  Then, why do we feel this tension and need to care for our own species as well as other species as part of our human consciousness and being?  What drives us – most of us anyway – to be empathetic towards the vulnerable, whether other humans or other species?  I think the answer must lie somewhere deeper than just bio-chemical evolution.

Is it possible that humans, as well as all of creation, is endowed with something greater than just chemical interaction? Do our existential questions stem from something that lays latent within all of us?  Is it possible that something we cannot see or measure actually is the cause and guidance creation’s existence?  Could our concern, broadly speaking, for the care and well-being of all creatures point to something imparted to us at the nexus of our beginning?  I think that an affirmative answer to these questions guides us to a more reasonable conclusion for humanity’s care and concern for the rest of creation.

Of course, this is a jump into the unknown and unexplained. It is a “leap of faith” of sorts.  However, our faith so far in what we have been able to observe, measure and reduplicate does not seem to be adequate either.  The hard sciences do not help us too much with existential questions.  They require their own “leap of faith” of sorts for us to connect the dots.  So, the question then becomes, do we keep them in two isolated spheres or do we attempt to bring them together to find meaning and answers?

The answer to that depends upon who you listen to in philosophical and scientific circles. The simple answer is that evolution at any level – biological or social – does not adequately address such questions.  To solve such a large conundrum, we must turn to larger answers beyond what we can see, hear and touch.  It may turn out that our very existence lies beyond the physical world.  The evolutionary conundrum answered by what is least expected in a world of physical sciences.  It may just be wrapped in mystery.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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It does not take a Ph.D. in history to know that human existence has been fraught with warfare. I doubt that there ever has existed a time of peace on earth.  Somewhere war between two groups of people or more was and is always waged.  It began as long ago as Cain and Abel and continues right down to our present day.  We continue to see it in the tribal or ethnic warfares of Africa, the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka.

One would think that our human evolutionary process would have taken us past this need to annihilate one another after some thousands of years of our living together on earth.  But, alas, no.  Neither physical nor social evolution has brought us to an any brighter end than when we began.  Indeed, at times in our common history it appears that we have de-evolved back into cannibals; take the wars and genocides of the 20 century, for example.  These all took place at the height of western rationalism and scientific achievements.

The tendency to devolve into unthinking brutes is no more apparent than in the present state of American politics.  I am constantly amused by the “Letters to the Editor” in my own local paper, The Tri-City Herald.  Each week, social and political conservatives and liberals take turns lambasting one another.  The vitriol is bitter.  The hate is evident.  Each side uses over-generalizations, unfair caricatures, and name calling to publicly flay their opponents.  Of course, it is couched in language that is supposed to make us think it is all really intelligent and thoughtful when it is apparent that it is not.

This is nothing new to American politics.  It goes way back; before even the founding of our great nation.  Politics and religion in America have always been the cause of great divides between its citizens.  More than once in our history it has turned extremely nasty.  For example, one only needs recall the early colonial embattlement between Christian sects.  Crossing a colonial border with the wrong religious credentials could get a person thrown in stocks or worse.  Our early protestant heritage created an extremely hostile environment to immigrant Catholics, especially Irish Catholics in the mid to late 19th century.  It was still a major issue for Protestant Americans when John F. Kennedy (an Irish Catholic) ran for president.

Our greatest historical black eye came to us in our own Civil War.  This was essentially an issue over politics; the role the federal government was or was not going to play in state governments.  As we know, the pro-federalist north won the fight over the anti(con)-federalist south.  Federal government has continued to grow stronger and stronger since that time.

Those in power have always used the seat of power to promote their political and social agendas.  So we have in our history a crazy-quilt pattern of abuses by those in authority.  One only needs to note the persecution of those who tried to bring about changes: the anti-slavery activists who were vilified and persecuted; the women suffragettes who were frequently jailed; the unionists and socialist who were imprisoned and killed; the communists who were jailed and castigated in society; the civil rights activists who were beaten, jailed, and killed.  And the list goes on and on.

What we seem to have entered into today in American society, however, is a new level of hostility.  The “middle ground” that has always helped America keep her head seems to have shrunk to a non-entity or have been muffled by the screams of the extremist hostiles on both both sides of the debate.  Not only is the dialogue that does take place extremely uncivil but both sides are simply shutting down dialogue all together and shutting one another out.

As such, we frighteningly have taken on the characteristics of the tribal warfare that has plagued other parts of the world.  How far are we from the hostilities between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda or the Luos and Kikuyus in Kenya?  How different are we from the Serbs, Croats, and Albanians of the Balkan nations?  What makes us unique from the Catholic/Protestant or Unionist/Nonunionist war that has plagued Ireland?  How are these examples any different than what we presently see displayed in our own society between the Republican “tribe” and Democratic “tribe” or the conservative “tribes” and the liberal “tribes”?

Sure, we can boast that the difference is we do not now have the physical violence they have experienced (though we have admittedly had it in our past).  However, I’m left wondering how long that will last as long as both sides of the debate continue to demonize one another and paint each other as “the enemy”.  When the United State of America descended into the Civil War of  the 19th century, it took many by surprise that it had come down to an act of war.  Soon, friends and even family members were divided and shooting one another on open battle fields on American soil.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C.

The Capital Building, Washington D.C. ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

Given the fact that humans seems to have not evolved at all and that we still have a propensity to kill one another over skin color, religion, ethnic differences, political view points, and social statuses, we should tread very carefully into this 21st century.  We are not so far away from our tribal cannibalistic ancestors.  We will war with one another just because we are different from one another.

We also need to keep in mind that this great nation of ours is still an experiment in Democracy.  We have not proven that we have succeeded yet.  The story is still unfolding.  The end is still to be written.  Are we truly a nation that is still the “great melting pot” of the world where people of different ethnicities, religious and political backgrounds can come together and co-exist peacefully and in harmony?  Or, will we descend into a bunch of hostile tribes who huddle together and plan how to annihilate all competitors for food and control?

The way out of our present dilemma and stalemate is to return civility and a generous spirit back into the public discussion of what is best of the whole nation.  This will take a concerted effort especially by the more moderating voices in the public arena.  Places where incivility and unkindness are displayed in any form must not be tolerated by the crowd at large.  We do not need laws and government interference in the public forums.  What we need is self-censureship and self-control by all those involved.

What is also needed is for those who call themselves Christians to act like the One they claim to follow. Identity in the Kingdom of God trumps any social or political or ethnic identity.  If in the New Testament “there is now, therefore, neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave or free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:28, see also Romans 10:12), then that truth is needed now as much as it was then.  The unity we are called to in Christ is lived out in the family of God as adopted sons and daughters from every walk of life on earth.  Who are we to determine who gets to be a part of the family of God and who does not?

Our recent historical lesson should be the African nation of Rwanda where supposedly 80% of its population claimed to be Christian.  Yet, that religious identity and calling made no difference in how one looked upon or treated persons from the other tribe.  Ethnic identity trumped Christian faith and calling.  Millions died and suffered because the Church abandoned its true identity as brothers and sisters in Christ apart from tribe.

This is just the opposite of what Christ calls us to.  It is the same for Christian Americans who come from different political, religious, or ethnic backgrounds.  Let us not stand around singing “We Are One in the Spirit” with only those who look and think like us.  Let us sing that in the midst of our great diversity as a the Bride of Christ, the family of God, and a Democratic nation.

Finally, two childhood sayings come to mind when I listen to the public debacle we have come to call town meetings or community forums.  The first is “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  This is not to say disagreement should not be voiced.  By all means, it should be.  However, whatever is said needs to remain focused on the main point and not degenerate into accusations and name calling.  The second is this, “It is not what you say, but it is how you say it that is important.”

The tone that we bring to the public discussion will in some part determine the response we get from the other side of the aisle.  It only helps our cause, not hinders it, when we treat each other and contrary view points with respect and kindness.  Perhaps these should be posted at our next meetings before we break out the machetes and machine guns.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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