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Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Conundrum of Faith-Based ignorance of human evolution

Charles Darwin was born February 12, 1809. He published On the Origin of Species at age 50. On the occasion of celebrating his birth and contribution to the fundament of human knowledge, a few thoughts on the uneasy coexistence of faith and evolution. It is sometimes difficult, particularly these days, to have faith in evolution when civilization seems bent on imploding over which flavor of faith others believe in, and the faithful and the faithless see one another as enemies.

Nick Kristof in the Times on recent evidence that the human inclination to be religious, to have faith, may in fact be genetic:
Imagine if, as a cosmic joke, humans have gradually evolved to leave many of us doubting evolution. [great line, huh? -Ed]

... it's striking how faith is almost irrepressible. While I was living in China in the early 1990's, after religion had been suppressed for decades, drivers suddenly began dangling pictures of Chairman Mao from their rear-view mirrors. The word had spread that Mao's spirit could protect them from car crashes or even bring them sons and wealth. It was a miracle: ordinary Chinese had transformed the great atheist into a god.
I actually agree --completely-- that faith is an instinctual human quality, that believing in something more powerful and communal than the self (using any name, natural phenomenon or image that one likes) is a participation in that power, that fate is a partnership with destiny and that inquiries into belief (I'm showing my Jewish roots here) formulates a necessary detente with the unknown. It's fine with me if you believe something else that works for you--as long as you don't fight anybody over it. Fighting for the right to believe in what you want is justified. But fighting to destroy those who believe differently is destroying civilization.

Edna Devore, Director of Education and Public Outreach, SETI Institute on the awe of unfolding the mystery of the exquisite miracle of evolution:
The universe evolved from the Big Bang to systems of galaxies, stars, and planets; these, including Earth, continue to evolve. Astronomers are teasing out the role of dark matter and dark energy. Life on Earth goes back at least 3.5 billion years as evidenced by fossilized stromatolites from Australia. Over that vast span of time, there’s evidence that life evolved from small single celled-organisms to the incredible diversity we see today. Scientific research continues to discover additional evidence that supports evolution as the fundamental description for how the physical universe and life developed in the past and will continue to change in the future.
...
Yet, teaching [human] evolution remains controversial in America.
...
Today, we find the fossil remains of extinct creatures that wandered the shores of the ancient American sea high in the Rockies and layered in the badlands of the US and Canada. The evolution of life on our planet is evident in these layers of rock and fossil. In Africa, fossil evidence of early hominids links us to ancestral species. Where did we come from? We six billion humans find our biological genesis in these African fossils.
I personally think that even if you require some notion of God to justify the miracle of mankind, the sheer persistence, diversification and span of evolution is more impressive than the seven-day myth. But I'd settle for at least as impressive, when it comes to education.

// posted by Ellen @  06:20   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.


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