Evolution – The Great Story

I’ve never been very passionate about evolution. 10th grade biology plus some extra-curricular science reading convinced me it was an accurate explanation for the development of life. That allowed me to check that box on my “things I need to know” list and move onto other subjects I found more engaging. But over the past couple years I’ve found myself delving into evolution more and more frequently, and referring to it more and more often in my religious-themed writings. I asked myself why – I think the reasons are worth sharing.

Evolution is a frequent battleground in the culture wars. Most of the people who deny the reality of evolution do so because it conflicts with their reading of their sacred texts. These same people use those same sacred texts to justify denying rights to gay people, denying the validity of any religion other than their own, and using government to promote their religion over all others. We frequently find ourselves opposing them and we need to be fully informed.

There is honor and value in defending science, particularly when school curriculums are challenged. But debating these people isn’t a good use of our time. They believe the fate of their eternal souls depends on evolution being false – no facts are going to change their minds. This article from Science 2.0 does a good job of explaining “The Missing Link Fallacy”… and the comments demonstrate the futility of debating creationists and intelligent design proponents.

Evolution (along with the Big Bang) is the creation myth of the modern world. And just in case any creationists are reading this blog, by “myth” I mean “story that provides orientation and meaning” not “made up story.” The creation stories of our ancestors tell how our tribes and nations saw their beginnings, but we live in a bigger world than they did. We need a story that tells us how all creatures came to be – evolution is that Great Story.

Evolution confirms our connection to the Earth. The origins of biological life are still unknown. Perhaps some day we will discover and even duplicate a natural origin… or perhaps we never will. But in either case, it is very clear that we weren’t placed on the Earth, we grew out of the Earth. To say that the Earth is our Mother is much more than a metaphor. And if the Earth is our Mother, then like our human mothers the Earth is due our love, our respect and our reverent care. Christians who practice stewardship for what they see as God’s creation are our allies on environmental issues, but how much stronger should be the Pagan commitment to caring for the Earth because she is our Mother?

Evolution confirms our kinship with all humanity. The findings of archeology and paleontology are supported by the findings of genetic analysis and linguistics – our species originated one time, in East Africa, and spread from there. We look different and we sound different and we have developed different beliefs and practices, but we are one species. The fossil record is littered with extinct species –ultimately, we will succeed or fail as one species.

Evolution confirms our kinship with all living things. There is an unbroken line from the first single-cell organism to more complex life forms to the beautiful diversity we know today. We all grew out of the Earth and we all share the same Mother – they are our relatives. And if they are our relatives, they are due our respect and care.

Evolution reminds us to be humble. The Western monotheistic religions teach that we were created in the image of an all-powerful god. This has not proved to be a helpful teaching. Instead of acting divinely, we have acted as though the Earth was ours to exploit and as though we could make another one if we ruined this one. Evolution reminds us that our origins are much lower and much simpler, and as Pagans, we know that while our gods and goddesses are bigger than us, even they aren’t all-powerful.

Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for 165 million years. In the end, something changed and they couldn’t adapt – they’re now extinct (birds are the descendants of those dinosaurs). Evolution tells us that if we don’t adapt – or if we modify our environment beyond our capacity to adapt – we will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Paganism is a Nature religion and most Pagans worship or at least revere the natural world. Shouldn’t that mean we know the science behind it? If, like me, you never gave evolution much thought, I encourage you to do some reading and studying. While I find Richard Dawkins to be a lousy theologian, as a biologist and a science writer he’s brilliant. I read his book The Greatest Show on Earth last year and I highly recommend it.

Most of us have experienced the wonder and awe of Nature while watching a sunset or walking through a forest or gazing up at the moon. The evidence for evolution and our connection to all of the natural world is every bit as amazing.

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  • So well put together and all in one place! I often struggle to explain the impact of evolution and science on my spiritual beliefs/path. Yes, they did sweep away certain ideas, but it didn't make me less of a spiritual person; actually, I think it's made me more spiritual; at least, I hope so.

    Ironically, the embrace of science did this, which is the opposite of what people assume. And you're right, us pagans need to know more about science and evolution, and not just about rituals and spells. That's what makes our spiritual path a truly modern one and, not as some claim, a naive backward glance at "lost" culture and practices. Don't even get me started on string theory! Wow!