Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Evolution, Religion and Social Change

Well, maybe they're one and the same but this is not about the on-going evolution debate as to who's more right in understanding how life came to be. It's an intriguing question. How in the heaven (or hell) did we get here on this lonely remote galactic outpost called Earth? Many devout Christians, Muslims and Jews feel that only a literal interpretation of Scripture can accurately explain this and they view that scientists and their admirers are sadly mistaken and under the influence of strong delusion from the Dark Side. A fundamentalist sees his or her Scripture as mostly an all-or-nothing package and either one believes in the Word of God or one doesn't. I am however, of the rebellious and heretical, 'I don't believe anything unless you prove it to me' set. Preachers plying there 'get to heaven' wares don't get too far with me and even the ones who show up at my door like the Mormons or the J.W's, after they’ve visited a few time mostly lift up their hands in frustration and leave because I just can't see the obvious truth in what they are saying.

People tend to like simple solutions to hard questions. Unfortunately there are few of them around. As the pace of knowledge inexorably moves into uncharted waters there are few including myself who have the patience to explore all the intricacies of inner-space or outer space for that matter. Better leave that to the experts I say, and watch with wonder the Discovery Channel shows that are so completely fascinating to me. I see the world as a great puzzle which we are frustratingly unable to piece together to into one overarching grand truth. Maybe it's because there's so many in-between truths both within and without the mind's imagination like so many facets of a gemstone, and though we can't pick and take home all the fruits of the tree of life, we can settle on just a few to keep us busy asking questions. One I'd like to pose is this: Can the theory of evolution explain and amplify what we know about humanity from the study of history? We know that evolution is the process in which living things adapt to the needs of their environment, giving rise to gradual genotypic and phenotypic variations, resulting in new species. If we look at human history as a sort of 'evolutionary laboratory' and view the gradual social, religious, economic and political changes that have occurred within civilization's roughly six-thousand year span, (in deference to the biblical literalists, of course), we can compare the state of a society to the causal framework which supports it. Change occurs in dynamic relationship with present and past events and that each change within a society brings about an effect in the overall development of humankind. Each cause and effect occurrence brings about either a successful or an unsuccessful adaptation to the changing conditions at any one particular time and space. The social 'organism' itself does not query each part since the stronger parts rise tend to the top of the order to set the agenda and the weaker parts remain suppressed and the resulting unequal structure provides the upward or downward movement needed to balance stasis with change. Bound by pre-wired heredity, the power of the human brain to change itself is limited and the instinctual drives continue to pulse within and even though the mind has the ability to set the conditions of its environment and create new ways of tweaking it, consciousness is still bound by the innate drive to conquer and subjugate through violence and war. The two mechanisms of religion and law serve as a framework to corral those instincts through higher principles of social good and social order, but even these mechanisms after a time become stale, useless, and oppressive. Because of this I believe that though laws and beliefs are more or less constants in the struggle for the survival of civilizations, there exists unknowns that give rise to changes and adjustments in the order, especially now since scientific knowledge has increased exponentially within just the last few hundred years.

So we can trace this process beginning in Africa to the Near East and the Far East which we refer to as the cradle(s) of civilization through the different 'ages' until the present. Religion has always been 'Advisor to the King', and becomes the spiritual framework for support of the established order. Certain religions have often joined forces with the state in an attempt to create hyper-dominant power centers which claim 'divine' prerogatives, but these attempts tend to give rise to new ideas and social concepts that ultimately subdue those centers. In our times, the concept of a just World-State has emerged but the religious framework to support that state still has not yet been decided upon, the new main contenders being Islam and Judeao-Christianity, both vying for control of the individual and collective minds and natural resources. Religions however, if they become overly dominant will usually suppress scientific discovery that threatens their systems as 'heresy'. Each promises freedom, but it is the way freedom is defined that makes the two systems so vastly different. Of course I am biased toward the liberal Judeao-Christian system because that's what I know more about and feel most comfortable with. Whichever is more successful in capturing the human imagination I suppose could eventually become a One World Religion and ultimately tip our destiny toward its vision but assuredly just as weather changes, so will the winners eventually become the losers and what once were fresh ideas will become as stale bread as the old order recedes into the twilight.

New ideas of state and faith will propel social evolution onward toward the future, and human history with its peaks and dips will hopefully find ways to continually refashion itself and to replace more tyrannical institutions with more just ones. One thing is certain though. Religious autocracies once they are securely in power will suppress all heretical ideas that threaten their systems and in that respect those that represent change may have the challenge of confronting both the Church and the State. These systems may be the more difficult to replace, but they are the ones that are most likely to fall the hardest.

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