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Tag: evolution

October 30 2012

This is not what I believe. This is what I know.

December 18 2009

Q: Atheists: How do you explain life?
I’m one of those rare breeds who believe equally in God and in Science… I evidently see evolution, and I can even go along with the Big Bang Theory, but how do you explain what makes us alive? Or cognitive thought and imagination? How can these things be explained in the material world if you do not believe in a spiritual world?

Thats why I have to believe in some sort of Creative Force… because I cant reconcile life. How do you do it?

A: No offense, but your inability to reconcile your observations with your beliefs has no bearing on objective truth. I honestly don’t say that to sound rude, condescending, or anything negative. I’m simply trying to offer the suggestion that your perspective might be skewed to accept a certain assumption.

If you really want to boil it down to the absolute basics, I believe the reason we are alive is entropy. It’s the only “force” that ensures that things will change, and change is absolutely necessary for the existence of life. It reminds me of the quote by Alan Watts: “A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event.” We are not alive simply because we are alive but because energy itself is bound up in every atom, and entropy is the expression of that power.

Cognitive thought and imagination are simply the byproducts of a highly evolved neurological machine. Our brains were really only developed to take information in, process it, make a decision, and then react to that decision. All brains (and other brain-like systems) work in this way, and it’s only because our brains have become so complex that we’re able to experience things like imagination and abstract thought.

The spiritual world you’re referring to is a completely abstract concept. And since it has no basis in physical reality, it’s easy for me to reconcile with my beliefs. I hold a fundamentalist belief about the term “supernatural.” I believe that all things that exist outside of nature are supernatural. Though it’s clear that there is a “force” that drives life itself, it’s a typically-anthropocentric logical leap to say that it comes from any guiding hand.

If you absolutely must believe in some kind of intelligent designer, consider this. If you choose to do one thing over another, you have made a decision using your intellect. If that decision affects your life or anyone that comes after you, then you have altered your world through your intentions. If your intentions affect something in your world, then you have designed something. And the most intelligent designers I’ve ever encountered are human beings.

I believe the concept of Intelligent Design confuses cause and effect. There can be no deity that intelligently set things up the way they are or else everything would be more intelligently designed. Headaches? Disease? Cancer? War? Rape? Death? What good are these things to thinking and feeling individuals, and why would a benevolent creator curse us with so many problems? The truth is that there is no intelligent designer; intelligence itself has “designed” things to be the way they are. Every time a being chooses one thing over another, its intellect has affected the world. If there was a Great Designer, these decisions would be made for us. And that seems more like a video game than a life to me.

December 11 2009

Q: Was religion an evolutionary advantage?
I haven’t read anything on this topic… so sorry if this is nonsensical. During the beginnings of civilization and cultural development, did the introduction of religion offer any advantages to those who adopted the belief? I don’t know much about ancient religions, but I suppose it would be an advantage as it would keep you from getting sacrificed as a nonbeliever and would allow you to fit in with the community, but what was the advantage of the inception of religion in the first place? Was it just a byproduct of our ability to mentally cope with most of the world, but not understand where it came from? Obviously the religious memes have been through a sorts of evolution on their own (became geographically isolated, and adapted over time), but I’m wondering what the advantage was to begin with?

A: Absolutely. Before society developed and codified it, religion existed (in a metaphorical sense) for millions of years. The mammals that learned to live in strict hierarchies were the ones most likely to survive. Even in the primitive world, multiple minds worked better than one. And from an evolutionary perspective, the only thing that really matters is survival.

If you lived on your own you had more of a chance of dying and less of a chance of reproducing. If you lived in a group but didn’t cooperate, then the group would be more likely to neglect you. If you lived in a group and understood your place in it, you had a support structure that could help provide for you. And with a large pool of genes to dive into, you were much more likely to pass your DNA onto the next generation. There have been plenty of studies of animals in the wild that happily submitted to hierarchies, and those species almost always do well.

We are the latest in an unbroken thread that stretches back millions of years. Everything that was beneficial to our ancestors (hearts, brains, love, fear, language, religion) is still around in all of us because it’s far more difficult to un-evolve an old trait than it is to evolve a new trait. So, our brains have the vestiges of our ancient heritage: fear of the dark, love for our family, an urge to protect our territory, and a need to fall into hierarchies. For evidence of this, just think about the common themes in almost all cultures: scary stories about things hiding in the dark, tendencies to put family above all else, a universal need to defend the homeland, and (of course) religions in every society all over the world. Virtually every social group, family, government, and religious institution has a defined hierarchy, and virtually everyone is comfortable with this idea.

For example, the United States prides itself on being a democracy. Why is it, then, that we feel the need to elect representatives instead of representing ourselves? Why do we elect a supreme leader in a democracy (a government run by people)? Why are the leaders we elect almost always male? The answer (while insufficient) is: that is how it has worked in the past. These tendencies are the shadows of our forgotten ancestors. They are present in everyone, and we can’t simply remove them because they’ve outlived their usefulness. We can only learn to live with them and with each other.

November 11 2009

Q: How does evolution explain why men tend to outperform women in mathematics and spatial reasoning?

A: Our species has a long biological heritage of men going out to do the hunting while the women stay at the camp to do the gathering. The men that tended to get lost because of their terrible spatial skills were the ones that tended to go hungry, so the men that were more likely to know their way around were more likely to feed and then breed. Over the generations, this tendency has made males slightly more prone to better spatial reasoning.

There are many factors that led to this, but males tend to be more logical while females tend to be more analytical. This is true, but it is far from being the rule. The important word is “tend” in this situation. Males are neither smarter nor more logical than females. Just take a long look at the most vocal sports fans. And females are neither dumber nor less logical than males. Just take a long look at the list of female scientists/physicists/mathematicians of the world.

While it’s easy to overgeneralize based on minute differences, it is the height of foolish to assume that men are naturally pre-disposed towards mathematics and reason. Males tend to be taller and stronger, but that is quickly reaching the point where it’s completely irrelevant. In an enlightened civilization such as ours, it’s increasingly hard for people to play the gender card, especially since it’s just a card trick anyway.

October 27 2009

Q: Why has evolution programmed us to believe we have immortal souls?

A: Because (in a sense) we do have immortal souls: our DNA. Every strand of DNA in every living cell of every organism is a genetic history lesson. We share our respiratory, circulatory, digestive, system as trillions of other animals, and we are related to all of them. Our billions of human ancestors lived, learned, died, and passed on their knowledge to us. Long before we had speech or writing, we inherited the instincts of our parents. Those that didn’t listen to those instincts tended to die off, so natural selection favored those that listened.

Those instincts, those primal feelings that everyone feels (even if their logical side seems to think otherwise), are just the shadows of our forgotten ancestors. Their “souls” live on as our instincts, nudging us in certain directions. What some people call “common sense” I like to call “common consciousness” because we all experience it and it doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes our instincts are useful, like defending ourselves from attack. Sometimes they are harmful, like letting religions or politicians exploit our fears. But for the most part they have proven to be highly successful in keeping us alive long enough to pass those instincts onto the next generation.

Though the idea of immortality is a bit exaggerated (because all things must come to an end), we *are* part of an unbroken chain that stretches back almost to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. And considering most humans don’t live beyond 80 years, 4.6 billion years is (practically speaking) eternity.

October 22 2009

Q: Should we interfere in the process of evolution?

Me and my friend were talking about baby sea turtles in which I told my friend that sometimes they die if seagulls or predators come and eat them on shore when their born. She then told me what if you go and try to help them reach the shore by picking them up and placing them next to the water so they could swim out to sea or scare off the predators on land. I also told her that there are still predators in the sea that could eat them or kill them. This lead me to think if we should interfere in evolution or survival of the fittest. What do you think?

If that species were on the brink of extinction, what would you do?

A: Technically speaking, we cannot interfere with the process of evolution because it is not linear and there is no end goal. Everything we do (or don’t do) may affect how species evolve, but evolution will continue on regardless of our actions.

One could use this logic to argue that species are going to live and die no matter what we do, but that ignores the fact that all species on Earth are explicitly reliant upon one another. As the most technologically and intellectually advanced species on the planet, we are the only ones with the ability and duty to consider how our behavior affects the rest of the planet.

It may not always prove beneficial or efficient to save every species we can, but the sheer numbers of those we have wiped off the planet gives us a sort of “biological debt” that we owe Earth. It doesn’t matter if we’re successful (because success in evolution will probably never be definable); the most important thing is that we try.

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