By Jim Haught
Evolution is astounding!
The mind boggles to realize that natural selection – driven by weak hydrogen bonds that let the long DNA molecule unzip and replicate itself – could produce the planet’s incredible array of millions of living species, including humans. It’s almost unbelievable. How could such amazing diversity come from a self-replicating molecule? How can an assemblage of amino acids and cells write symphonies or put manned space stations into orbit?
However, honest, intelligent people must accept scientific evidence that evolution produced all living things, because no other trustworthy explanation exists. There’s no evidence whatever – zilch – that a magical god created life.
Evolution is ruthless, heartless, killing off most creatures it spawns. Almost 99 percent of all species that ever lived became extinct – and humans nearly did. National Geographic genome expert Spencer Wells says the last Ice Age, perhaps coupled with a super-volcano in Sumatra, almost exterminated humans before they migrated from Africa. He wrote:
“While homo sapiens can be traced to around 200,000 years ago in the fossil record, it is remarkably difficult to find an archaeological record of our species between 80,000 and 50,000 years ago, and genetic data suggest that the population eventually dwindled to as few as 2,000 individuals. Yes, 2,000 – fewer than fit into many symphony halls. We were on the brink of extinction.”
That’s stunning! Despite our large brains and survival skills, we humans nearly vanished. We almost were lost like dinosaurs and other victims of cruel evolution. We narrowly pulled through.
But we survived and eventually dominated Planet Earth, manipulating nature to nourish ourselves. Humans are a bizarre mix of genius and inventive abilities, entangled with primitive superstitions and paranoid war making savagery. Evolution made us kind and cruel, intelligent and stupid, admirable and absurd.
A scholar who probes deeply into the puzzle of humanity is sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, who has written several deep books – repeatedly denouncing the human tendency to concoct imaginary gods, devils, heavens, hells, angels, demons, miracles and other supernatural figments.
In Consilience, analyzing how knowledge grows and becomes verified, he said there are two ways to look at reality: Empiricism, believing only what evidence reveals – and Transcendentalism, believing that a hidden order rules events. If any proof ever upholds the latter, he wrote, “the discovery would be quite simply the most consequential in human history.” But no proof ever emerged.
In his latest book, The Meaning of Human Existence, Dr. Wilson lambastes religion mercilessly. He concludes that evolution caused humans to be tribalized, and to invent imaginary gods suited to their tribes. He says: “The best way to live in this real world is to free ourselves of demons and tribal gods.” (p. 158) Other observations:
“The great majority of people worldwide remain in the thrall of tribal organized religions, led by men who claim supernatural power in order to compete for obedience and resources of the faithful. We are addicted to tribal conflict, which is… deadly when expressed as real-world ethnic, religious and ideological struggles.” (p. 176)
“The principal driving force of mass murders… is tribalism, and the central rationale for lethal tribalism is sectarian religions – in particular the conflict between those faithful to different myths.” (p. 154)
“Demons and gods do not vie for our allegiance. Instead, we are self-made, independent, alone, and fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world. What counts for our long-term survival is intelligent self-understanding.” (p. 26)
“The instinctual force of tribalism in the genesis of religiosity is far stronger than the yearning for spirituality…. It is tribalism, not the moral tenets and humanitarian thought of pure religion, that makes good people do bad things.” (p. 150)
In his final chapter, “Alone and Free in the Universe,” Dr. Wilson concludes that scientific understanding of evolution has become the bedrock of biology, and it explains why humans became tribalized, with tribal religions.
Evolution gave people large brains capable of imagining invisible gods – and it gave some people keener minds capable of seeing that imaginary gods are nonsense.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, and a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine.)