Thursday, October 14, 2010

Evolution Has Made Me More Moral

During a year I spent interviewing local religious leaders, perhaps the one thing I hear more than anything else went something like this:

Minister: Evolution isn't true, and even more, its immoral.

Me: Why is it immoral?

Minister: Because it convinces people that there's no purpose to life. If we're not here for a reason, and if there's no Hell, then people will just rape and murder and steal and not be afraid when they go to the electric chair because there's nothing for them to be afraid of after they die.

Now, there are a number of fallacies here that are easy to prove. I could state that the simple existence of myself as a person who a) believes in Evolution and b) does not believe in Yahweh or Allah or any number divine beings, yet c) is a law abiding father and husband with a steady job would seem to disprove the notion. Or the number of people in prison who are atheist versus Christian in the United States (hint: atheists make up a small minority). Or that whether one is an atheist or a Christian or otherwise, that people have an instinctive drive to survive which is why threatening someone with death is usually a pretty good incentive to make them act a certain way.

But I want to object to this notion that "belief in evolution", or, to be specific, "Believe that natural selection best explains how evolution works" makes anyone immoral.

If anything, it makes me more so.

Look at the creation myth surrounding Judaism and Christianity: Yahweh creates the world, and after all of the plants and animals and starts, creates Man from dust. Separate from everything else that has come before, and then gives dominion to his latest creation over all other life.

In this scenario, humanity is something "different". The process that make a whale was "POOF" and there's a whale, the process that creates a plant was "POOF" here's a plant, and the process to make people was "POOF" here's a person, separate and distinct and not in any way connected with the other creatures that roam the planet, save for how they benefit humankind. In fact, all other life is there to be used and whose value is derived based on how humanity can use them.

Now, take the alternate story provided by natural selection. Some billions of years ago, something happened that started life. This life competed, adapted, died, adapted, died some more, adapted even more, competed against other forms of adapting life, and after billions of years of struggle and strife - there was me.

I'm not separate from this planet. I am tied to it by processes billions of years in the making, and the DNA that makes up my being is the same DNA inside my neighbor, the dog I throw a Frisbee to, the same DNA inside a tribesman from Africa or the Queen of England. Even the trees and the very microbes of the soil share a link back to me.

I am not apart from this world, and my being on the Earth is no more important than my dog or the Queen or the microbe in the soil. And while I have my own needs of hunger and thirst and companionship I want to fill, to disregard the needs and wants of everything else is irresponsible.

This world was not made for me. I am simply the byproduct of the struggles of life that came before me, save for one difference between me and my dog and the tree in my back yard:

I can choose better.

I don't have to claim every resource on the planet to serve my wants. I can choose to fulfill my needs with as little impact to the planet as possible, so that my children and my children's children and my children's children's children may someday inherit an even better world. I can willfully and consciously make the decision to do more than just struggle for life and cling to life at the expense of everything around me, or use the Earth as if it was handed for my own personal use, because I know that isn't the case.

I'm a part of the world. I'm a tiny branch in this amazing thing called life that has spent 4.5 billion years just to get to this point, and I can help preserve it and make something even more amazing. And the more I understand about what life and reality are, the more I'll see how to cherish and humbly stand in awe of just what it is to live. I can make the world a slightly better place than how I left it, in honor of the billions of generations that came before me, and in the hopes that there may be billions after I'm gone even wiser and better than I.

It is a morality that sees myself and every person on Earth around me as something small, but no less precious just because my ancestors came from a pool of mud. If anything, the very fact that we've come this far is far more amazing than any religion has ever offered me. It tells me that the solutions to the world's problems will not come via magic or wishful thinking, but by actively working to preserve life where I find it because once it is gone - then I'll have lost a part of my family.

That is my morality, as I learn it from Natural Selection.

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