Friday, February 11, 2011

Evolution All Around

In the past when I thought about evolution it seemed like something that happened a long time ago and merely affected the origin of life, dinosaurs, and the initial emergence of mankind.  It just didn’t seem relevant to our current experience.  However, more recently I have realized that nothing could be further from the truth.  Evolution is an ongoing process all around us, but in order to perceive it, it often needs to be observed from a more distant historical perspective. 

Evolution’s primary mechanism prior to the appearance of humans was “natural selection/survival of the fittest” which was accomplished through physical mutation and adaptation.  However, the emergence of human consciousness meant that we were no longer compelled to physically adapt to our environment in order to progress because we had developed the ability to reason and invent.  For example, even the most elementary cutting tools eliminated the need to grow claws for self defense or obtaining and preparing food. 

Consequently, there have only been limited physiological changes in human beings over the last 20,000 years.  Instead, our evolution has occurred mentally, socially, technologically, and spiritually.  Because these factors are not dependent on the extremely slow process of physical adaptation, human evolution is occurring at an ever accelerating pace.  Furthermore, the various aspects of our development are interdependent.  This is most clearly evident when considering the influence of technology.  The development of fire, the wheel, metallurgy, gun powder, the telescope, the printing press, steam power, the telephone, radio, flight, computers and Velcro have all had their impact on human progression.  Well, maybe not Velcro.

As we review history, it is easy to observe the benefits of technological progress, but social changes often appear more ambiguous.  Mere consideration of the Roman Empire reveals enormous growth in our development.  In our current world, it is almost impossible to imagine government-sponsored mortal combat and the mutilation of animals and prisoners as a form of entertainment, and yet that is exactly what was taking place then.  We would like to think that we are far more enlightened now; however, simply looking at the history of the United States reveals that the worldwide interest in human rights is a relatively new concept.  The international ban on slave trade was implemented less than 200 years ago, and it has only been 150 years since Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation that freed the slaves.  Believe it or not, in the United States of America it has only about 75 years since women have been allowed to vote and married women have been able to own property in their own names.  Furthermore, the Civil Rights Act that sought to eliminate segregation was passed less than 50 years ago. 

Although I have been unable to confirm it, someone once told me that in the 1970s the president of the American Psychological Association (APA) made a rather profound comment while addressing a conference.  He informed the gathering that the link between primates and civilized man had been discovered.  Understandably, the audience became quite excited at this news.  After the murmur subsided somewhat, he continued, “It is us.”  If this did not actually occur, it certainly should have because it conveys such an incredible truth.  Mankind tends to be over-impressed with the fact that we are on the cutting edge of evolution.  When contrasted to the hundreds of millions of years that life has existed on this planet, it is irrefutable that mankind has made some amazing advances in a relatively short time.  Nevertheless, we need to accomplish much more.  So, it is not time for self exaltation.  It is time to clarify our direction and focus our efforts towards true progress.

At times, it may be hard to accept the possibility that there is a divine hand in all of this.  We seem to take two steps forward and one step back, groping clumsily for direction.  It would be more encouraging if we could see a straight line of progression, but unfortunately, that is apparently not how evolution works.  It is loaded with stops and starts, charging ahead, and then meandering in circles.  However, in the midst of all of this apparent uncertainty are the voices of the spiritual sages telling us to acknowledge the source of everything, to recognize that relationships are more important than accumulating material wealth, to preserve our mental, physical and spiritual health, to love one another and to care for the needs of the weak.  These are messages that ring true in our hearts and seem to lie behind every positive step along the way.

If the evolutionary process occurring in the universe is being influenced at all by a cosmic consciousness, and the ancient scriptures provide us with a view of our ultimate destiny, then it is very possible that in the future, our descendants will possess a keen awareness of that consciousness.  Their perception of individuality will be tempered by a deep sense of universal connectivity, and their primary joy will be in sharing the unity of existence with one another.

In 5,000 years, future generations may look back at our time in history and wonder why war was still so prevalent and we had not reached a point where differences could be settled peacefully.  In 10,000 years, the concept of wealth may be completely foreign to them.  They may wonder why a small minority of the population horded such a large quantity of the resources while multitudes suffered from a lack of shelter, food, clothing, clean water and much more of life’s basic necessities.  However, as those future anthropologists analyze the actions of this generation, let’s hope that there will be a record of those who chose to pursue the universal truths and they will recognize that we were attempting to find and follow the evolutionary path that has led to where they are at that moment.

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 

                           Mathew 6:10


  1. I tend to agree with Morrie Schwartz, featured in "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom. Morrie said, "... this is too harmonious, grand, and overwhelming a universe to believe that it's all an accident."

  2. If this "evolution" is being influenced by a cosmic consciousness, than do we have a choice, or is this path predetermined? Is God going to lead us all to nirvana, or is the future hanging in the balance waiting for our choices to tip the scale in either direction? I ask this because often I wonder if we are in fact evolving, which implies getting better, or are we simply changing? If there is not a higher consciousness guiding the way, then I very much fear for the future of man.

  3. From within the process it can be pretty scary. I am quite sure that your concerns were shared by those Christians being ushered into the arena of the Roman coliseum, people striving to survive during the dark ages, Jews in the Nazi death camps, and blacks undergoing segregation in our nation. But God seems to show up here and there to nudge us in a better direction. I could be dead wrong, but I have faith that it will progressively get better. The interesting thing is that when positive directions are achieved, it is usually through the dedicated actions of inspired humans.

  4. I enjoy the idea that as we learn to quiet our minds, to be still, and draw closer to God, ourselves, our environment, and each other, which I also like to believe is achievable right here and now (no grand evolution necessary) that we can begin to see through God's eyes and gain that elusive overall perspective that enables us to put our finger not only the purpose behind what is going on right now, but how it fits into the grand scheme. At that stage, hopefully, we will begin to understand why and how everything is useful and necessary, that nothing's wasted. Such a perspective and the attitude that surely derives from it would no doubt be comforting to say the least.

    The Theory of Evolution is a linear framework through which to view eternal existence, and useful when trying to gain some insight into what's really going on through our narrow "here and now" perspective. I think it may be possible for us as individuals to spiritually grow beyond that linear understanding of existence even today, though it's probably generally very unlikely. It might also be one of those things that once achieved is not commonly advertised, and if so, rarely understood.

    Perhaps someday communal spiritual evolution will make obtaining such an understanding of the how's and why's a bit more accessible (or even automatic) to the general public, maybe not unlike the way Christ ventured to bridge the gap between God and the masses, ie. providing a "shortcut to heaven." For example, the Buddhist route to Nirvana is a bit more hands on, no pun intended. It could be possible that Christ's message, example and actions were geared towards the eventual goal of exactly that evolution.. mustard seeds, as you will, of the ongoing communal spiritual awakening as discussed, yet still not quite generally realized or achieved.

  5. Because we perceive our existance in terms of time and space, it is difficult to comprehend alternatives. So, I guess, for now, we will have to deal with what we know.