Why Learn Evolution

How understanding evolution benefits humanity

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