Why Learn Evolution

How understanding evolution benefits humanity

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Comments that should be posts—Thank you Swarn.

1. First understanding our true origin means a great deal as opposed to stories that focus on things like original sin. In Judeo Christian thought, the idea that we are all born sinners because of this creation story matters a great deal.

2. The idea that evolution is both non-divergent and is iterative over a long timescale has numerous benefits to us as a people:

a) Evolution wasn’t trying to create us. Intelligence is just one other way to adapt to an environment. We are not the most successful species or the pinnacle of evolution by any means. Human conceit is a big problem and this is largely built the idea that there is a divine reason for our being here that does not apply to the rest of the universe.

b) Because evolution is iterative, we know that as a species we are part of a continuum, not some large gap above every being. This relates to a) above, but the fact that evolution allows us to recognize that all creatures, plants, microbes, other animals have a right to life is extremely important. It also helps us understand how best to preserve conditions that are going to prevent creatures from going extinct before their time to allow for a more natural adjustment of ecosystems. But beyond a) knowing that we are a continuum allows us to study other organisms and their behaviors to help us understand ourselves. It also might allow us to forgive ourselves a little more for our imperfections.

c) The fact that evolution is a slow process is something that helps us understand the vast well of time that it takes to make life as complex as ourselves and gives a sense from where we fit into the history of the Earth and of the universe. It is humbling to say the least and that’s important. Humility. I find contemplating this span of time to also be more awesome than a magical wave of God’s hand and a 6000 year history. And if awe and wonder is important to you, than the ways in which evolution works are filled with much to contemplate and awe at. Understanding the longer story of evolution and human development gives us a better sense of what we can expect out of ourselves for the future.

3) Evolution has also had an enormous impact on our understanding of the brain, and helped bust through the paradigm that our mind is somehow separate from our body. This is something that was built on the human conceit. The brain is an organ like any other, and evolved along with the rest of our organs and thus we can understand much about how the brain works by understanding past environments that we spend much of our time in surviving. This has enormous impacts on understanding human behavior, helping people overcome thought patterns which may not be very helpful, and again by seeing ourselves on this spectrum with other life we can see that our brains aren’t vastly more special than some of our closest relatives. Without evolution we would not have bust through the notion of free will which has enormous implications on how we practice justice. More than that it can increase our empathy for those that are our worst actors in society to see them as sick and not intrinsically evil.

Understanding evolution has increased my empathy, made me more forgiving, gives me more hope for the future, and fills me with a sense of awe and wonder that the spiritual world could not even come close to. Perhaps that’s not your experience, but to suggest that it tries to be some sort of pillar against religion or that people who have studied evolution had some goal to take down religion seems ludicrous to me. Trying to understand the world is a fundamental curiosity and evolution is the truth. It serves us far better than the illusions. Global and social problems can be addressed through an acceptance of evolution. Not only by the contents of the theory, but the acceptance that there is a better way to acquire knowledge about the universe than just make guesses, and believing in things real hard to convince yourself that you’re right. Evolution isn’t obvious, as are a lot of things that science has discovered. They are nuanced, you have to look carefully, you have to be systematic in your observations and you have to check in with others to make sure those observations are sound. This is actually really really important to solving problems. To suggest that we ignore one of the most meaningful and important scientific theories because it doesn’t help us solve the problems of today is just simply untrue.

—Swarn Gill

The Bible in the Barrel

Fall, 1988—While surveying nearly 800 miles north of the 49th parallel in Canada’s wilderness, time swallowed an abandoned homestead. Vacant sounds that once teemed the soil and timbers—like a still-shot from a ghost town, a lonely and staggered cabin held on from memories of a past love and dead dreams. No sounds of children nor echoes of ranch-work, only a flutter of birds escaping the hollowed rafters broke the silent still as we approached. The crew, focused and shuffling lodes across the the clearing slowly woke the silent void of near twenty years.

Behind the try, a rusted steel barrel leaned un-statuesque, gently yearning for the earth to bring her home. I loosened the ring and pounded off the rusting lid to look inside.

My survey crew was a pretty rough bunch at the time. José, our resident Latino catholic thought it was left by god—for us”. He said, (in his Mexican accent) “no matter where you go jefe, no matter how far, Dios lo ve todo, mal jefe!” “It’s probably still there because they ran out of matches”, I fired back! Either way (or maybe another) we were in the possession of the holy bible for the night. We made camp and The crew passed a bottle. Chuck had mothering duties for the day, so he got a fire and some food on the grate as darkness fettered us in a cloudy, moonless night. It was cavern black looking beyond the fire—we faded to sleep.

Hoards of black crows broke the morning silence at dawn. We all stumbled around to get our bearings, stoked the fire and coffee’d up for what was supposed to be a long day, but, curiosity piqued us into a more human task, and by chance, or maybe drawn-in by an unsettled past, we started our day with a quick look around the homestead. Chuck, still half unzipped in his sleeping bag, shouted, “hey boss-man, look at this”. He was thumbing through the Bible looking for a good passage to quote me—he liked disingenuous humor at my expense, but this didn’t seem too funny by the look on his face. Flattening the creases he unfolded a paper in his hand and started to slowly read, like a translator.

“This cabin and 40 acres is claimed by me, William Granger. I came here in the summer of 1964 and built this cabin with the tools I could carry. In ’65 I returned with my wife Carol, our son Eli and daughter Caroline. Abandoning my loves and home is cowardly hard to do, but all that is left for me is to save my own life from one last unknown tragedy. My boy disappeared in ’66. We never found him. He would be 14 today, if this is September 14, the day of my departure”.

“We all came here with a trust in god. I and my colleagues convinced my wife of the lords providence—by faith we would thrive. This book you are holding is the last thing on earth I would impart to a decent man. Its only task now is holding this note in hopes it can at least do that until somebody finds it, should I fail to return. While many of the words are poetic and wishful, the promise of healing and signs that follow them that believe with the lords bounties are false premises only an untested fool would believe. You all survive down below because of people. Nothing more. My horse was killed by wolves while he was on the line. Then my hogs. My wife and daughter I love are in deep graves just east of the clearing. I moved them out after the spring thaw to their permanent rest. Look east between the two tallest cedars if they’re still standing. Two small rock piles mark the spots. I leave them here and plan to return as soon as I can. W. Granger, 1970″.

Humanity took over our crew. We looked around for the day, found some odds and ends, toys and tools and tack, but nothing of importance—That, lies between the cedars that stand guard. We cleaned up the grave sites and packed our gear for a short move. Another 20 years it will all be forgotten. I took it Mr. Granger got sidetracked, lost, or died in his failure to return—I guess the road home has forks in it too—I’ll see if I can locate this Mr Granger.

Who are We Really?

Misconceptions about atheism are so common I sometimes feel like a minnow in a piranha pool. Mention you’re an atheist or humanist, and immediate visions of the horned immoral boogeyman appear in people’s heads. Who are we really? In your own words maybe give a line or two about what you think people should imagine when they hear the word “Atheist”.

Photo by jim-thecommonatheist

Cambutal, Panama 🇵🇦