Celebrate the Present
Why would anyone want to celebrate evolution? What sane person would want to exuberate about extinction, sing about the struggle for survival, or delight in our descent from slime?
For many people, the thought of evolution creates fear. Some see that the events of evolution are purely random and aimless, giving people the sense that existence is meaningless and that our lives ultimately have no purpose. Some fear that to believe that we are related to apes and algae is to give license to behave like chimps and pond scum. Others believe that because most species that have ever existed have gone extinct, the logical conclusion is that we, too, will become extinct. Others believe that “Survival of the Fittest” condones eugenics, Nazi-like genocide, and corporate greed. And for some, the worst blow of all is that evolution means that a benvolent God does not exist, contradicting their most strongly held convictions and eliminating their primary source of comfort.
These ideas are what many of us may have learned about evolution. But are they accurate understandings of evolution? I invite you to examine the evidence that shows that evolution does not necessarily mean that life is random or aimless, or is about ruthless competition, or a struggle for survival. On the contrary, the study of evolution has helped some people find a deeply grounded sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. Understanding evolution has deepened many people’s sense of compassion and strengthened their moral convictions. A deeper understanding of evolution shows people the power of cooperation and the power of information sharing. A deeper view of evolution shows the survival of the most harmonious. A broad view of evolution has provided many with a grand sense of hope, even in the darkest moments. Understanding evolution enriches the lives of religious as well as non-religious people.
Benefits of an Evolutionary Worldview
The Epic of Evolution is the scientific story of the cosmos told in a way that helps people find their place in the universe. While it presents scientific facts of our origins, it is a story infused with meaning that helps us makes sense of life. In this way, it marries the facts of science with the meaning provided by philosophy, religion, and our inherent abilities to create meaningful stories. This 13.8 billion-year story of our universe offers us a vast, comprehensive, and integrated perspective of the cosmos. Like any story, the Epic of Evolution helps us create meaning out of events and offers us guidance for our way into the future.
The benefits of an evolutionary worldview are both practical and motivational. The practical gifts of evolution are a better understanding of how things came to be. This has been helpful in creating new antibiotics, understanding ecology and global climate change, the emergence and extinction of species, advances in medicine, in agriculture, in bioremediation.
Because understanding evolution helps us understand each other and ourselves, it also offers profound emotional gifts to people. These gifts include the liberation of our spirit, a solid grounding in hope, a deep sense of purpose, and an expanded concept of Ultimate Reality, (what some choose to call God and others choose to call Nature.)
Below are some of the many benefits of an evolution worldview:
A Map That Provides Clarity
Understanding evolution is like having a map. This map offers clarity that helps you successfully navigate through life, avoiding rocks of frustration and whirlpools of despair. By seeing where we have come from we can best see where we are going.
Because it comes close to describing reality, evolution is a worldview that, like a map, helps us locate and reach our destinations. When we are lost, this map helps us find ourselves. In some cases, it can be a tool that helps us survive and thrive. This map shows clearly marked paths leading to freedom of the human spirit.
This map is described in both the languages of science and of spirituality. Like the multiple, overlapping layers of a GPS map that shows vegetation in one view, buildings in another view, and mineral resources in another view, this map of the Epic invites us to see two different perspectives of the same reality.
The Universe Flows Toward Equilibrium
The map of evolution differs from a conventional map in that it includes the dimension of time. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that energy flows toward equilibrium. This energy flow powers evolution of matter, stars and galaxies, life, and culture. Energy flow drives parts of the universe toward ever greater complexity and order while at the same time, creating greater disorder in other parts of the universe. On our small blue dot of the universe, energy flows in a direction of greater cooperation, greater consciousness and greater compassion.
We know that the universe tends toward complexity because, over time, simpler things become more complex. When the universe began, there was only energy and the simplest of subatomic particles. From this primordial soup, energy and matter became more complex to form matter (subatomic particles, atoms, and molecules). Simple atoms and molecules became more complex to form simple, single-celled life. Over time, these simple cells became more complex and formed a nucleus. Some of these nucleated cells eventually formed full-time, symbiotic relationships with other cells that became energy power plants in the cell (the mitochondria and the chloroplasts). These single cells in turn became complex, multi-cellular organisms. Some of these multi-celled organisms formed diverse, complex tissues—such as muscles, bones, and brains. Complex organisms, in turn, formed societies. Simple societies, in turn, became complex, interrelated communities.
A part of the universe tends toward consciousness. For this discussion, consciousness is defined as awareness of the environment, creating an ability to choose action. By this definition, atoms and molecules have no consciousness, because although they may respond to their environment, they have no choice in how they respond. However, even the simplest living cells do have a choice. “Life is matter that chooses,” according to biologist Lynn Margulis and science writer Dorion Sagan.
Simple cells, like those that first emerged on Earth, can sense molecules. If the molecule is food, cells respond by allowing it to enter the cell or moving toward it. If the molecule is toxic, then the cell bars it from entry, moves away, or dies (in the case of poison). Over time, cells gained the ability to respond to light, to pressure, and to magnetic fields. Over time, more complex, multi-celled organisms with integrated neural networks evolved to respond to sound, to taste, to touch, and even to thoughts. Today, with the help of scientific instruments, human consciousness continues to expand its reach, and in this expansion, allows us to appreciate the universe more fully.
A part of the universe also flows toward cooperation. As we have seen, there is a tendency toward complexity. A powerful driver of complexity is the tendency toward cooperation. Like the simplest single-celled organisms of today (the bacteria), early cells probably lived in isolation at first. Eventually these cells cooperated to become multi-celled organisms. Some simple-celled organisms cooperated with other, diverse cells in symbiotic relationships to become more complex cells. Some complex, multi-celled organisms cooperated to become societies. And societies cooperate to become interdependent communities.
Although abundant evidence shows a direction inherent in the universe, little evidence predicts any particular destination. It appears that the destination may be up to us. For more discussion of evolution’s direction, see Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright or Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity by John Stewart.
A New Understanding: Survival of the Cooperative
With the sequencing of entire genomes, an new view of biological evolution is emerging. We now know Recombinant, mobile DNA drives the evolution of genomes and organisms. We now know the cells have evolved Natural Genetic Engineering Systems that speed up the creation of new genes. We know that although point mutations are random, they play a small role in creating the genetic diversity that drives evolution. Furthermore, we know that natural selection is not random. Only the most well-adapted creatures survive, and there is nothing random about that. Furthermore, one of the most important adaptations to have evolved is cooperation! Rather than evolution being merely about the survival of the most selfish, evolution is also about survival of the most cooperative, the most conscious, and perhaps even the most compassionate.
Confirmation of the Prophets: Wisdom and Love
Science, which reveals the Epic of Evolution, confirms what prophets throughout the ages and from all major traditions have been saying: our salvation lies in awareness and compassion. Science shows that humans are related to all beings. We are all one. Furthermore, we are interdependent with other beings and with our environment. Human survival now depends on “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
Evolution of Values
Different strategies for survival work
In former times, a successful survival strategy, sometimes considered moral, was to kill other humans that were not part of your tribe. This is no longer true. In an age of nuclear weapons and international terrorism, the strategy of war threatens mutually assured destruction (MAD). What was once adaptive is no longer adaptive. Our world has grown smaller as our technologies have grown larger and more complex. This becomes our new reality.
Now that we have a basic overview of the Epic of Evolution we can begin to look at the reasons to celebrate.
Our Place: The Center
After nearly 14 billion years, humanity has emerged with the eyes to see and the capacity to perceive that which our eyes cannot see. Our understanding of the universe grows.
Ever since Copernicus suggested that the Earth revolved around the Sun, some people felt depressed that we were not the center of the universe. which removed a sense of purpose for many people. But now, new information about the Big Bang, shows that each part of the universe could be called the center. More information about this can be found in the their book, The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams.
Eyes, ears, and minds of the universe
Human’s evolved consciousness makes us unique, in that we observe tthe Earth from space and contemplate our place in the cosmos.
Liberating the Human Spirit
Understanding evolution is a powerful way to liberate the human spirit. Understanding the past liberates us from its bonds. Only when we understand the roots of our emotions, can we transform them. Only when we understand the origin of our fears, can we find our way to true hope.
The basis of effective psychotherapy is understanding your past so that you are no longer held victim to it. A deeper kind of psychotherapy is to understand your evolutionary past, so that you are no longer held victim to subconscious instinctual drives, cultural norms, and personal stories. An emerging discipline of evolutionary psychology is helping millions of people understand why what they do is sometimes at odds with what they would ideally like to do. Many people are slaves to their appetites and addictions. Many of these appetites served us well during our evolutionary past. Understanding how these appetites evolved can help liberate us from their tyranny. For example, powerful cravings for sweets served our ancestors well. Those who acted upon these cravings gained the fat stores needed to survive and thrive. Today, for many people, these cravings lead to diabetes, obesity and fogy brains. The basis of effective weight control is learning tricks (such as eating frequent small meals) to outsmart behaviors that evolved over millions of years.
An Evolutionary Worldview Provides Us With Hope and Purpose
As eyes and ears of the universe, we realize that we are central in the universe, both as individuals and collectively as a species. Once we know our place, we can begin to know our purpose. Understanding evolution provides a solid foundation upon which people can build reliable purpose and meaning in their lives.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~ Proverbs
By showing how far we’ve come, the Epic of Evolution opens possibilities for how far we might go, both as individuals and also as a species and a community of interconnected life.
In learning how the universe has been transformed, we realize that we, too, can be transformed (see below). Empowered with this meaningful story, people can be more accepting of themselves and others. They can enjoy more peace in the moment and have the tools to effectively transform their future.
The Epic of Evolution helps people ground their purpose on an integrated worldview that is based on the rock-solid authority derived from many sources: 1) observations of the cosmos by investigators from all cultures and religions; 2) the shared values of hundreds of cultures and religions; and 3) on reason. The stability of a person’s purpose in life might be too tenuous and susceptible to change if it were based on any one person’s observations alone.
Expanding Appreciation of Ultimate Reality
The Epic of Evolution invites us to enlarge our sense of the divine and to enrich our traditional teachings about the ultimate, underlying basis of all reality or, as many call it, God. Because the word God is such a leaded term, many prefer to call this creative force of the universe nature. Yet for others, instead of disproving God, understanding evolution actually expands their concept of God and in so doing, enhances their relationship to the Divine. These people conceive of God as the creative force of the universe who is still creating. For them, God is the process underlying all reality and the relationship between all things. Understanding evolution helps some people move from believing in God, to knowing God.
Understanding the Good News of Death
While the afterlife remains one of life’s great mysteries, the Epic of Evolution can help us make sense of and find solace in confronting death. In the light of evolution, we know that death of the individual promotes the life of the species. Cell biologists have discovered that for species of complex, multi-celled organisms to survive, thrive, and evolve, individuals must die. The only organisms that are immortal are single-celled bacteria, which never die of old age. But for all other creatures, the price of continued life of the species is death of the individual. And for complex creatures with expanded consciousness like ourselves, the death of individuals is the price for awareness of the universe. Death is a double bonus. Paradoxically, death allows us as a species to live. And it also gives our species the ability to perceive more of the world. In other words, the only way we may experience love, or joy or awe of the Universe is at the price of death of our bodies.
Reconciling Religions and Philosophies
The Epic of Evolution shows that just as plants and animals evolve, so too do religions and philosophies evolve. This new understanding can help empower people of all religions and philosophies and at the same time promote harmony between them.
One of the purposes of religion is to orient people to the cosmos in a meaningful way. Since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species many people have felt disoriented because evolution seemed to contradict the stories people grew up with from their religious traditions.
The Epic of Evolution, helps people reorient themselves to the cosmos. the vastness of the cosmos helps many people deepen their faith, and at the same time understand and appreciate other religions and philosophies.
As religions continue to evolve, they will continue adapting to changing circumstances. For example, many seminaries today teach Process Theology, a relatively new way of understanding God which is based on discoveries in physics and evolutionary biology.
Understanding evolution has lead to the field of evolutionary psychology, which seeks to understand human nature in light of our evolutionary past. Among other things, evolutionary psychology can help people enjoy better relationships. The emerging field of evolutionary psychology helps people understand love, lust, revenge, anger, and forgiveness. When you understand why others do what they do, sometimes against their best intensions, it makes it easy to forgive them (and yourself). For more information see the excellent books The Moral Animal by Robert Wright; Mean Genes: From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan or Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher.
Understanding evolution helps us understand how to attain ideal health. As mentioned previously, a recent important breakthrough in the treatment of obesity is the realization that craving carbohydrate was a successful strategy for survival in our evolutionary history. With surplus food in many areas of the world, this craving no longer contributes to our health. We don’t need carbohydrates to help us through long periods without food; in most modern cultures we are eating all the time!
Another example is in the field of medicine. The more scientists know about how pathogens evolve, the better equipped they are to fight them. HIV is a virus that rapidly evolves. To fight it, humans must take this into account.
By understanding how the world works, we better understand how to work in it. Those who understand the world, thrive.
We have just seen the many ways that the understanding the Epic of Evolution helps benefit our lives, and now we have many reasons to celebrate. But a celebration is always lots more fun with other people. Who else is at this party?
Who is at this party?
Ever since Darwin, growing numbers of people accept the ideas of evolution. These people include scientists as well people of all religions and no religion.
Today, all scientists accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution. The least amount of doubt about biological evolution comes from biologists. Every major scientific society acknowledges the central role of evolution in understanding biology, and everything else. The tiny, vocal minority of scientists who do not accept evolution, are generally not trained as biologists, anthropologists or geologists, those in professions which are deluged with evidence for evolution.
Although a minority of people believes that evolution means that there is no God and that religion is obsolete, many more people find evolution to be compatible with their religion. In 2006, for the first time, more than 10,000 clergy from diverse denominations in the US signed the “Clergy Letter” stating the compatibility of religion and evolution. Furthermore, over 466 churches from all across the country celebrated “Evolution Sunday” on Darwin’s birthday, February 12, 2006. Evolution Sunday is expected to include many more participating churches in the coming years.
Recently, many prominent scientists and theologians from the Christian, Buddhist and Jewish traditions have published best-selling books on the enriching world view gained by integrating faith and the science of evolution.
Everyone is Invited
For some scientists and religious people, although evolution is fact, it is an ugly fact like taxes and death, not something to be celebrated. They still fear that evolution implies there is no higher power, no direction, and hence no purpose to their lives. They are invited to discover why evolution gives reason to celebrate. And while The Epic of Evolution will help atheists find more joy in life, it call also help religious people discover how evolution enhances their faith.
Now that we’re celebrating the Epic of Evolution, let’s keep the party going.
Keep the Celebration Going
Celebrations require planning and action. Our celebration of life in the cosmos is no exception. To keep celebrating life, we need to do some planning and take action.
Good plans require good information.
We know that we are at a crossroads. to harsh competition for sparse resources and potentially death. Test tubes of bacteria can quickly overgrow die in their own waste. We know that the earth’s climate has changed over time, resulting in mass extinctions. Furthermore, we know that Earth’s climate is currently warming. We know that part of this warming is due to natural cycles. We also have abundant evidence that human activity may be responsible for some of this change.
From what we know of the past, we know that environments change and species go extinct. We know that asteroids, volcanos and climate change have caused mass extinctions in the past.
While many are freaked out about overpopulation and climate change, others of us celebrate that WE KNOW! We are the first species to be aware of the deep past. And we are the first species to PREVENT our own extinction. We humans are survivors!
Solutions of Past Give Hope for Future
Much remains unclear: What is the ideal climate for humanity? What is the optimal way to achieve this ideal climate? How do we create a society that has the economic resources to study and most effectively optimize our climate?
We Are Stewards
Because we humans are the most conscious creatures on Earth, we have dominion over it, with the power to destroy, the power to sustain, and the power to create paradise on Earth. The power to create only comes with an understanding of how the Epic of Evolution works.
Earth’s Immune System
The Epic of Evolution gives us a greater appreciation for our Earth and how it and its interrelated creatures came to be. The growing understanding naturally leads to greater respect and care for the world.
With our expanded powers of awareness, we humans can be a force for good. We now have the power to save all sentient life from what killed the dinosaurs.
Creating Paradise on Earth
Humans now have the ability to detect and deflect meteors. Thanks to scientists and proactive people at the B6-12 Foundation and NASA, we are protecting the earth from asteroid impacts.
Freedom of asteroids is a HUGE reason to celebrate!
Humans are making poverty history.
The broad view of evolution gives us a sense of possibility for the future. We are converting to non-polluting sources of renewable energy. We are ending war. We are making poverty history.
The singer Bono is one of many at the forefront of a (r)evolution: ending crushing poverty on Earth. Although this challenge is even more ambitious than the sending people to the moon, its rewards are so much greater. We have had made great progress.
People with extraordinary vision, determination and effective application of resources are making Bono’s dream a reality. Bill and Melinda Gates are working to eliminate malaria from the world. Oprah is using her platform to educate her massive audience about this project. And millions of people from around the world are volunteering their time and money to help make poverty history.
, just as we are ridding the world of small pox, slavery, and discrimination based on gender, race or religion.
An evolutionary worldview also provides hope in the realization that we can convert to sustainable energy sources, thereby reducing CO2 emissions, global warming, and dependence on fossil fuels.
The Epic of Evolution tells us that each of us has a role to play in creating a flourishing future. The great news about our place in the evolving universe is that we humans are the ones that can see the beauty of distant galaxies and peer into the smallest cells. We are the ones that create astonishing architecture and compose splendid symphonies. With our expansive powers of consciousness, we are the ones with the most choice. Just as understanding electricity has helped us harness its power, understanding the forces of evolution will help us harness its power.
The science of evolution clearly shows that most species have gone extinct. For some people, a logical conclusion is that we humans will likely go the way of way of the dinosaurs, a most depressing realization.Extinction is not inevitable: all extant living things are evidence of this. For the first time ever in the history of life on Earth, we humans can become immortal – to have our species live forever. But this will happen ONLY as we fully awaken to the reality of the universe and its creative force, and ONLY as we act with more love, vision, and compassion.
The Epic of Evolution offers many reasons to celebrate. This story shines a light on the way the world works, showing us ways that we belong and helping us to better navigate the world and protect our environment. This story also offers insights about our health and our psychology that helps us become healthier, happier and more creative.
The Epic of Evolution shows that life on Earth has experienced major extinction events in the past. Growing evidence suggests that we are in the midst of another major extinction event. By helping us understand the forces that created our environment, we are learning how to live more sustainably with the environment.
The field of evolutionary medicine is brand new and offers a great new perspective on health. By knowing what our ancestors ate and how they exercised for millions of years, we now have new ways to experience radiant health.
Advancements in evolutionary psychology illuminate better ways for people to experience happiness and creativity. The field of positive psychology is only around 20 years old, yet it now provides insights that help millions of people. The psychology of happiness shows us ways that help us forgive the past so that we may love the present and create a thriving future. Leading psychologist Martin Seligman, author of Flourish, summarizes the path to happiness in the acronym, PERMA: Pleasure, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.
This new evolutionary psychology shows that happier people are more creative people. Happy people are more relaxed and have more blood flowing to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in clear thinking and creative thought. People who are stressed, tend to react from the reptilian parts of their brain.
To find the most optimal creative solutions to some of the huge challenges facing humanity and the Earth’s biosystems, humans need to be happy and relaxed. According to Daniel Pink, people who are self-motivated, relaxed and happy are the most creative and most able to solve difficult problems.
Celebration is Essential
Many may beleif that celebration is what you do after you have achieved your goal.
For many of us, the goal is survival. Now,