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A “Belief” in Evolution?

I'm the type of person who learns more about my beliefs by challenging them. I'm an atheist, and I feel I learn more about atheism speaking with religious people or theists than speaking with atheists. I dunno, maybe it's part of my crusade of "atheists are not a group, by definition we're individuals defined by our lack of involvement in a group."

I've heard too many people lately say things like "I don't believe in evolution." Usually this is coming from an argument between creationism and "evolution." I get so frustrated with this, and would like to try to work through why.


I'm sure I lost some readers with that proclamation, but hear me out. Evolution is the process of exacting large changes through small incremental changes over time. Nothing more than that. If you liked the Lakers when they had Shaq, but you didn't like them after he left, your fandom for the Lakers EVOLVED. If you used to hate red wine, but over the years learned to like it and now are snobbish about it, your taste in wine EVOLVED. If over millions of years single celled organisms developed through mutations into more complex species, those organisms EVOLVED.

Evolution is a process, but it is not a path. It defines the major points or the end points on the path, but has no influence in where the path leads. What is important to understand with evolution is that when working backwards, you can only try to piece together the path from what you can discern from the points you find evidence of. We find a fossil of a fish, then we find a fossil of a similar fish with flippers that split at the ends, then we find a similar fish where the fin narrows at the base, then we find a similar fish where the muscles were a little more developed to make more control. We deduce the fish evolved arms.

You may disagree with this perception, but I believe that much of evolution's bad rap comes from the idea that "evolution means humans came from apes." Please ignore anyone who believes this. First, evolution encompasses MUCH more than just human development, and second this statement reinforces the idea that everything that currently exists comes from something else that currently exists. That's not how it works. What scientists have found are enough fossils to create enough points on a path to suggest that humans and apes had a common ancestor. To support this theory, the evidence is available for additional review, and if you find additional evidence to support new points or a new path that's fine, the path is not set in stone.

This is the difference between "evolution" and "the theory of evolution." Evolution is not a theory, it's a process that has been demonstrated widely enough to be considered fact. The "theory of evolution" is really the "theoretical path which human evolution took." This path is not set in stone and is not proven, but the evidence is pretty solid. We've discovered enough points that the path is pretty clear at this point. Actually, I've heard this attacked as a weakness, that if the theory of evolution is true how come it keeps changing? Well, the path may change a bit, but the beginning, the end, and the major points don't really change. We may find that arms developed before lungs, we may find that the tail rescinded before the brain formed, but it's clear we came from single celled organisms, into complex ones, into sea creatures, into land creatures, into ape-like creatures, into humans.

So the question of belief again returns: Do you believe in evolution? I think there's many answers to this, but in my experience there's three clumps of people: the "duh, it's a fact" people, the "la la la I can't hear you god did it all in a minute and Adam named them then there was an ark." people, and the "well, that's pretty good evidence for the path of evolution, but I have my beliefs, let's try to resolve the 2." I had a high school biology teacher who believed in "theistic evolution," that evolution clearly existed and that god must have designed it.

I think I'm kind of rare in that I truly "believe" in evolution; rather than just regard it as fact, my primary paradigm through which I understand the world is evolution - I consider it in everything all animals do. Evolution isn't just change over time, it's change to make something best adapted to its environment over time. A sports team may go heavy on defense if other teams are heavy on offense, becoming better adapted to the conditions of the time. An ocean may get hotter, so fish that can better stand the temperature change survive, thrive, and can split into offshoot species. Everything exists and changes to better fit its environment. As an organism, the mechanism through which evolution happens (correction: is supposed to happen) is reproduction and then survival. Some authors I like postulate that the simplest unit of life is the gene, and that the organism is the gene's way of making a new copy of itself. I choose to interpret this system to mean that the biologically defined purpose to life is to breed, and nothing more. Everything outside of this is ancillary or contributes to that goal. This interpretation says we work to attract a mate, we are creative to attract a mate, we value image because it attracts mates, we seek power because it attracts mates. I hate this conclusion, but I believe it to be accurate.

Look at our society. Look how we have to hammer it into people's heads to practice safe sex. Look at how many people have unwanted pregnancies, look at how much abstinence education fails, look at how many people have way too many kids, look at the lengths people go to to execute sexual perversions. As a species, we can't stop ourselves from breeding, and whereas in the past predators and hostile environments took out a certain number of us, we as a species have crossed (or are close to crossing) a tipping point where we don't adapt to the environment but instead force the environment to work with us. We drive animals extinct or domesticate them, but animal predators are rare; we build habitats in hostile environments (space, the arctic); we climate control indoors when it gets slightly unpleasant. Humans have no predators and as a result we just breed uncontrollably with no regard to who or what is the fittest.

I believe that it is our responsibility to then CHOOSE the direction in which we as a species are to evolve, seeing as our environment is not providing a useful filter anymore. As Idiocracy put it, "Evolution does not necessarily reward intelligence. With no natural predators to thin the herd, it began to simply reward those who reproduced the most, and left the intelligent to become an endangered species." Thus, it is my personal opinion that our evolution should be directed towards intelligence; if we reach interstellar travel, how big, strong, able to withstand heat, etc. will be so inconsequential as places will either be so controlled it won't matter how we adapt (think on space ships) or will be so hostile it would be impossible to adapt to them at all (think other worlds). What is important should no longer be our bones, skin, and muscle, but instead our thoughts, culture and ideas. Let me put it this way: if you could load my brain into a computer and allow my mind to live forever after my body died, I would do it in a second even knowing I would sacrifice my biological goal of reproduction. I consider the meaning of MY life to produce ideas and cultural contributions that will exist forever, and to become as intelligent as I possibly can.

As a result of my beliefs, I get frustrated by people who live in such a way to compulsively act to execute their biological purpose. I know that's wrong, I know they have a right to do that, but it angers me. You have the right to have 19 kids, but that's disgusting, dogs can do that and in my mind you're no better than a dog. You had the opportunity to learn but just drank beer and painted your face for football and slept with sorority girls for 4 years? No respect. It's bad, but I find myself being super judgmental of my fellow humans: you should be better than this. There was a point when our nation's best and brightest put men on the moon and unlocked the secrets of the atom; now students text in class, have sex in school bathrooms, and all of our scientists are coming from other countries. As a country, and much more as a species, in my eyes we are DEvolving; since we can adapt our environment to our species our species just breeds regardless of what traits get carried on. To top it off, we create moral issues out of things like the death penalty and abortion; our society seems to just be fixated on keeping everyone alive as long as we can, regardless of what they contribute or can do. Hell, look at the Terri Schiavo case. Natural selection and survival of the fittest DEPENDED on the environment eliminating the outliers, and 200 years ago 50% of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage, people only lived to 40-50, and many people just didn't survive the environment.

There is no solution to this. Simply put, the human species has become complacent with no serious threat to ourselves and we're striving for nothing. As we're fighting tooth and nail to stave off death, I believe that evolution will come to be less about the species evolving genetically (people will live even longer thus requiring less reproduction) and be more about the evolution of our ideas. Keep this paradigm in mind as you go through your life; watch how people behave, watch our society's sexual frenzy, and watch how so many people seem to just exist over trying to better themselves. People may ask if you believe in evolution, my answer is a resounding "YES, and we need to be paying attention to which direction we are driving it."

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