Evolution Made Simple (maybe even too simple that it digresses a bit)
By Mriana --
Image by reutC via FlickrI know this may sound like a Fundie for Evolution and may sound like a statement in reverse of those Fundamngelicals who say, “Look around. How can you say there is no God?” However, I say to Creationists, “Look around. How can you say we are not related to other animals?” Even as a child, I also could not understand how Christians or even other Abrahamic religions can say that “God put animals here for us to use [as food or whatever else they come up with].” Using other animals as a sacrifice for anything or even as food has always been abhorrent to me. To me, such statements are like a form of slavery. None of their statements about other animals have ever made sense to me.
Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, almost literally given I have always been of small stature, I saw that animals looked like us, only with more fur. I was maybe five when I saw this, but it has been a lifelong thought that my Fundamngelical relatives have never been able to mentally beat out of me. I was a Darwinian even before I knew who Darwin was. I used my skills of observation to come to the conclusion that we are related to other animals. I guess I have always had a scientific mind and in most recent years, I was astounded when my Fundie aunt said, “I don’t know how scientists get their ideas. It’s not in the Bible.”
Well, first off, the Bible was written and inspired by humans, not by some deity. It is very errant and hardly scientific. The god they worship is nothing more than a human creation, which was created for various reasons, even insecurities some humans have about life and death. So we can basically throw that primitive non-scientific book out when it comes to how the world and the creatures on it were created.
Secondly, I noticed at a very young age, probably just before Kindergarten, when my dog Satan was born, that mammals have their offspring just like humans. My mother was present at the time and it was a few years before she was “born again” for the first time. So, I had the knowledge of childbirth long before most children, especially those who do not live on a farm and/or do not have pets.
Thirdly, my child-like mind could not let go of the fact that other apes have five fingers and five toes just like we do and they almost function as we human apes do. The only exception is that they have more hair.
Fourth, again using my child-like mind, cats and dogs have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, five “fingers” (there’s a fifth digit, higher up on each of the front paws, in which the precocious child that I was could easily label a “thumb”), and a brain like ours. Not to mention, they have primitive feelings, just as we do. They show affection and even know when their human needs to be comforted. In times of extreme distress, if one is attuned to their pets, they can have extreme numinous feelings when they look into the eyes of their pet that is trying to comfort them. They can feel as one with their pet, which is a feeling many Christians do not seem to comprehend. They slough off such things like they are of no importance, but I beg to differ. These transcendent feelings are highly important, especially if one values nature.
As I matured and became more learned about Evolution, I found that one can put one mammalian embryo in its very early stages beside a human embryo and see there is no difference between the two. The two embryos look almost if not completely indistinguishable. A cat or dog in the early part of the first trimester looks very much like a human. If you take a dolphin embryo, you will see virtually no difference in the two. Sometimes the back “leg” stubs do not disappear and you see potential back limbs after they are born, but even if they do shed the back limbs, there is skeletal evidence of these “leg” stubs still remaining and no they are not some weird thing Creationists may attribute the stubs to in their bizarre account of creation.
These Evolutionary findings tell me that we are more alike than unalike and very much related to other animals. We are animals and very much connected to other animals on this earth, as well as the earth. We mammals all have a common ancestor way back there somewhere.
How can Fundamngelicals not see that we are most definitely a part of nature and not apart from it? We are born, we live, and we die, only to return back to the earth again, giving back the sustenance that the earth needs to continue to thrive, just as other animals do. This is something that even the Buddha supposedly observed.
That covers some of the scientific part, but what about a soul? What is that? This is something I have always wondered about, even as a child. Is it that spark of life we see in each others eyes? If so, animals have that too and I saw it many years ago as a child, but Christians tried to insist that animals do not have souls. Thus, I seriously doubt we were talking about the same thing, no matter how I tried to explain it when I was a young child. Dead animals/people do not have that spark of life in their eyes. To be honest, I have no clue as to what the word “soul” means, unless it means “an individual”, “a single entity”, or “a person”, which, in my opinion, is also another animal. There is nothing there when one dies, but I do not believe Christians and I are talking about the same thing when I say I looked into the eyes of my beloved pet and saw either life or no life.
Instead, what I was seeing, as a child, when one of my pets died was a lack of neurons that animated a being that was once alive and I could feel there was nothing there, as a child, which gave me that feeling of life within my pet. There was still a numinous connection to my pet, but there was no life within my pet. The neurons that gave my pet life had ceased to function. However, as a child, I did not know anything about neurons, just that their brain had cease to function and that their bodies were beginning the process of returning to the earth, via decaying. That much I knew.
“Remember you are dust and dust you shall return.” This statement is not only heard during Ash Wednesday at the point of the Imposition of Ashes on the forehead, but it is also found in Genesis 3:19. I will meet the Fundamngelicals halfway and use the NKJV:
“In the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
The Old Jews had that much right when they rewrote the Babylonian and other stories in the surrounding area to fit their culture. I still cannot get away from science, concerning this matter, and to me observation alone tells us that we rot and decay back into the earth, so this idea was not beyond the very early Jewish writers, who, by the way, did not actually discuss issues of an afterlife until much later in the Bible- the Christian Bible that is.
Secondly, I am not a dualist. You cannot separate the brain from the body or vice versa short of chopping off one’s head. If one is sick of mind, their body generally follows and vice versa. The mind and body are not two distinct entities, but rather one. So, again, what is a soul?
These Evolutionary findings tell me that we are more alike than unalike and very much related to other animals. We are animals and very much connected to other animals on this earth, as well as the earth. We mammals all have a common ancestor way back there somewhere.This brings us to questions of sentience. Are other animals self-aware? I would argue they are, because they sometimes fear for their lives and even fight to protect themselves and their offspring. The only thing barring them from fighting humans is that we have the better weapons and humans have been the enemy of even lions. Elephants have no natural enemy, except humans and death. They have the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant#Self-awareness ). They mourn when they see a loved one has died, even stand over them for days, keeping watch, hoping they will recover and not die. Not to mention, even Jane Goodall (http://www.janegoodall.org/ ) has mentioned symptoms which would signify mental illness, even within the chimpanzee tribe, in at least one of her great apes in one of her videos. Chimpanzees fear humans more than anything else because we kill them and for what? To use their hands as ashtrays? How repulsive! It is more repulsive than a room full of men smoking cheap cigars during a poker game and I am, sad to say, a smoker myself. However, none of this explains what a soul is, but the information we have on other animals, especially chimps, dolphins, and elephants, shows they have the ability to recognize themselves, empathize, even have a good laugh, among other emotions. So, we know at least some animals have mirror neurons.
Are other animals intelligent? Depends on how one defines intelligence. If one defines it as the ability to read and write, then humans are still sorely lacking in this area, because surprisingly, there are humans who cannot read and write in the twenty-first century. If we define intelligence as a means to adapt and even conquer our environment, then other animals might be more intelligent than we are, even with their primitive tools and survival skills. How many humans can honestly say that they could actually survive out in the wild? Build a home out of the resources around them? Taking leaves and building a home in a tree might not be so easy for a human, but for another ape, it is old hat. What about the use of primitive tools to dig up food? Some ignorant humans might say it is easy, but once they attempt it, they might find it is harder than it looks, because even the most skilled Bonobo can make fishing termites out of a hole in a tree with a stick look easy. Yet these animals know they must eat in order to survive.
Does the ability to communicate make us more intelligent? Sorry to say that most animals have their own form of communication, be it vocal sounds or body language, so I do not believe that counts as a form of intelligence. Even we humans use vocal sounds and body language to communicate, just as other animals do. Add to that, Chimps and Gorillas, namely Koko, have learned ASL and have taught it to other apes. So they do have the ability to learn at least sign language and even teach it to others. Sign language is just for starters among other apes. Some have learned the concept of numbers and numerical sequences (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimpanzee#Intelligence ), so they are not exactly dumb, but again none of this answers anything about a soul.
Is it the superstitious belief in a god? I have heard that is what distinguishes us from other animals, but somehow I doubt that, because I have seen animals run in fear concerning something they have no understanding of or even its origins. Others, even within the same species are curious and seem almost scientifically minded with their query, which makes me wonder if some primitive humanoids behaved similarly in their search for answers. Besides, humans were once so gullible to think that cats were gods. Of course, I would dare say that some pets may think that their humans are gods. Who knows, but we cannot make such a blanket statement as that because superstition is a primitive thought, emotion, and a reaction to the unknown. So, who is to say the brains of other animals do not come up with something almost as preposterous as a man in the sky watching down on the earth?
Other animals’ brains are elaborate machines, just as ours are and I have mentioned they have remarkable capabilities just as we humans do. The brains of animals, including humans, operate with neuro-chemicals and once those chemicals are depleted there is no life. Like a computer without electricity, we shut down, forever. The only difference between all animals and a computer is that we are bio-degradable. That is, we become plant food very easily because we are part of everything found in the earth and we return the nourishment we took from the earth upon our death. The earth is a remarkable eco-system, to say the least, and I would not be so quick to say the earth itself is not alive. It just might be for all I know, especially when I look at it and see life springing from it everywhere, including us humans who came from the earth.
Genetically the Bonobo is 98% like us humans and a pig has just as many similar DNA qualities to humans. We are all basically the same when it comes to DNA, whether one agrees about the emotions we humans may share with other species. Genetically, we humans are no different from other animals, so one would have to be totally ignorant or in complete denial of science to believe that other animals are not like us, regardless if they desire to push aside observational similarities. We share a common ancestor with other apes, but we did NOT evolve from monkeys. There is a vast difference is that statement.
So, just what are other animals? Excuse me while my Star Trek imagination side of my brain intervenes a bit here, because I cannot resist referring to Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man” at this point.
Picard: "Commander Riker has dramatically demonstrated to this court that Lieutenant Commander Data is a machine. Do we deny that? No, because it is not relevant – we too are machines, just machines of a different type. Commander Riker has also reminded us that Lieutenant Commander Data was created by a human; do we deny that? No. Again it is not relevant. Children are created from the 'building blocks' of their parents' DNA. Are they property?"
I do not consider my pets property, but rather part of my family. I take care of them and nurture them, almost like I do my children, and in return, I gain their trust, love, and even nurturing in return. No animal, human or otherwise, is property and to call other animals property is a form of slavery, in my opinion. Any abused pet, if given the opportunity, would find a means to escape his/her abuser or if a kind human, such as an employee or volunteer of the ASPCA, comes along to rescue them and there is even an ounce of trust left within them towards humans, s/he will freely chose to go with those humans. Other animals are not stupid and like us, they were created by their parents, maybe with a few improvements in their DNA.
Bruce Maddox: "You are imparting Human qualities to it because it looks Human – but I assure you: it is not. If it were a box on wheels I would not be facing this opposition."
I am sure there are many humans saying similar to this to me right now, even some atheists, and I would agree, other animals are not human due to a slight variance in genetic coding. Their species is somewhat different from the human specie, but that is what makes them the species they are, rather than human, but for a moment, let us imagine Koko, the Gorilla, is sitting before us and we are deciding if she is sentient and entitled to the same basic rights as humans- clean water, food, shelter, medical care, love, safety, and well-being, as well as freedom from abuse and extinction in place of an education a human is capable of getting.
Picard: “But he's met two of your three criteria for sentience, and we haven't addressed the third. So we might find him meeting your third criterion, and then what is he?”
I propose that other animals are not only similar to us physically, but are also just as sentient as we are. Their sentience is just different and they have the same basic rights as we human animals do- the right to clean water, food, health care, shelter, and although they cannot be educated like the human specie, they have the right of freedom from abuse and being hunted to extinction.
Lastly, however one may think of other animals, I say Evolution and science as a whole, has the best answer to our origins. Evolution is a far better explanation than the Bible or the ignorant responses of silly Creationists.
Phillipa: "It sits there looking at me, and I don't know what it is. This case has dealt with metaphysics, with questions best left to saints and philosophers. I am neither competent, nor qualified, to answer those. I've got to make a ruling – to try to speak to the future. Is Data a machine? Yes. Is he the property of Starfleet? No. We've all been dancing around the basic issue: does Data have a soul? I don't know that he has. I don't know that I have! But I have got to give him the freedom to explore that question himself. It is the ruling of this court that Lieutenant Commander Data has the freedom to choose."
The Catholic Church, as well as some other churches, do accept Evolution and the Big Bang theory, but they include a “God of the Gaps”, saying “That’s how God did it”. Well no, that is just filling in answers to questions we do not yet have the answers to and if they could just accept an answer of “We don’t know” to the questions yet unanswered, they would be far better off than having a “God of the Gaps” answer. However, I will give them some credit for being more scientifically literate than their Creationist counterparts, but I study Evolution and say, “That’s why we look like other animals” and I think that is a far better response than “That’s how God did it”. As for having a soul, I will put in the words of Phillipa, “I don’t know that I have!” I don’t know that anyone has a soul, much less what it is.
The fact is, if we observe other animals, both physically and behaviourally, we find that we are more alike than unalike. Once we throw in science we find even more evidence that we are more alike than unalike and even originated from a common ancestor. The fact of the matter is other apes are our cousins and even more distantly related are other mammals. It would really behove Fundamngelicals to become scientifically literate rather than use pseudo-science in which to attempt to justify their fairy tale book, which is hardly scientific in any sense of the word. Sorry, but a bat is not a bird. *Fundamngelical aunt shoot me dirty look here.* Rather it is a mammal and you will not find that in your book nor can you justify such primitive thought with various excuses. The Bible was written by ignorant primitive humans, who knew nothing about science or their relationship to nature. Creationism is bullcrap, even to a precocious young mind who can see that we are related to other animals based on observation alone. It is as obvious as our two hands and no Fundamngelical Creationist has been able to convince me differently. In fact, Darwin seemed to agree with me and none of the scientific evidence has yet contradicted those findings, not even my own.