Read Episode 1 first before you read this episode. It makes better sense.
Breaking It Down
Part of the problem, it has to be said, lies in the way information about biological evolution is presented. Often the statements are made metaphorically by the presenters but are interpreted literally by some listeners.
Part of the problem lies in a misunderstanding of the language that’s associated with biological evolution (and since in some cases we’re talking about the form of English that was in use in Charles Darwin’s time, that at least is understandable).
Part of the problem, sadly, lies in the deliberate muddying of the waters by individuals interested more in the destruction of the ideas that biological evolution brings than in the presentation of genuinely alternative explanations of observations – explanations that conform to a set of moderately simple rules, a set that comes under the umbrella term “the scientific approach”.
And inevitably, part of the problem lies in the way that the subject of biological evolution is taught (or not) in many schools, by some teachers who have an agenda that does not include objectively teaching their students the (currently known) facts. These are just out and out bad teachers but there doesn’t seem to be an objective system in place to weed them out. Not at any level.
And then there’s the issue of genuine misunderstanding, in which some individuals have been deliberately and wilfully misinformed and misled by others who care not one jot for the truth of any issue if it contradicts their distorted view of the world.
But those misled individuals are open to being shown evidence that could put them on the right track, because they’re capable of thinking for themselves. They have the perspective that the explanations given to them thus far do not quite seem right. Some things don’t fit together well, but they can’t put their finger on exactly what or exactly how.
Finding the right evidence and the right way to present it unambiguously are going to be major challenges, however. Once the bad seed is sown, it’s not a simple matter to un-sow it.
Over time, the reality of who claimed what and when becomes so mixed up that extracting the kernels of truth is increasingly a herculean task. The more so when there is a continuous cacophony of distracting discourse, such that it’s hard to find a quiet spot in which to sit and try and make sense of the whole thing.
So, how might the mess be sorted out? Can it be sorted out? Is there a way of backing off and then taking a run at the problem from a different angle?
One way might be to realize that it’s such a complicated issue on its own – without all the other crap injected by interests determined to derail the search for some degree of objective truth – that it is physically impossible to impart a decent understanding of the entire subject in one or two pages.
That almost certainly dooms blog posts like this to failure from the get-go.
Recently I saw a brief few seconds of a presentation about a document from the 1800s, and then watched over an hour of video in which the debunker painstakingly laid out the reasons why the original presentation wasn’t just flawed, it was downright false (and not by accident). That’s one heck of a workload – taking 30 times as much effort to undo the damage as it took to inflict it in the first place – and it was done efficiently, too; in less experienced hands the task could have taken much longer.
I have read anecdotes from individuals who managed to go from being against the whole idea of biological evolution, to being proponents of it – but the journey from one stance to the other took them at least two years of study, powered by a commitment to finding out for themselves what the truth of the matter might be.
(This is analogous to my crossword puzzle example, in which the one ill-fitting answer – that didn’t make sense when put together with all the other answers but was so right by itself – was the driving force behind my need to get to the bottom of things, to find once and for all the right answers.)
That’s a huge task to undertake, especially if you’re not that sure that you have misunderstood what biological evolution is about.
It’s only when you have a hunch that you might have been given the wrong end of the stick that you stand any chance of being able to change your perspective.
So the first step has to be to identify your own perspective and to be honest about it. That honesty with yourself is key.
Where Do You Stand?
Do you feel that there are unanswered questions that might sway your thinking if you could only find an impartial reference source that you could trust?
Or do you feel that any attempt to “get at the truth” is ultimately doomed to failure because biological evolution absolutely cannot be true?
If your perspective is the latter, why can biological evolution not be true? Is it because it’s scary? Is it because if any part of it is true, it means that some or all of your life has been based on a lie and that cannot and must not be allowed to happen?
Could you entertain the possibility that if biological evolution really has happened and continues to happen, that doesn’t automatically consign all of your values to the scrap heap? That in fact most – if not all – of the basic rules by which you have lived your life could still be used to live your life?
That your value as a human being – to yourself and to others – is not in any way diminished by the truth (or otherwise) of a single encompassing idea?
If biological evolution is true, does that make the possession of a belief in honesty and integrity a bad thing? Does loyalty cease to be a positive attribute? Does a belief in biological evolution mean that you must now be antisocial, that you must now adopt a criminal lifestyle? Must you now become unfaithful towards those who trust you? Must you lie, and cheat, and steal?
Are you really forced to abandon everything good in your life and must you now embrace a life of evil, of hate for your fellow man, of subversion and destruction?
I think the answer to that is obvious: of course not. If biological evolution is indeed true, none of the positive philosophies you espouse are suddenly and dramatically made false.
But what would change?
There’s a scene in the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” in which John Cleese, addressing a group resistant to rule by Rome, talks about how the Romans had done nothing but take from those they’d conquered.
He then poses what he thinks is a rhetorical question.
“What have the Romans ever given us in return?”
He doesn’t expect a reply, because, after all, as everyone knows, all the Romans ever did was conquer people.
There’s a moment’s silence. Then a hand goes up and a voice says:
Cleese agrees, after a moment’s thought: “Oh, yeah, yeah – they did give us that. That’s true.”
Another hand goes up. “And the sanitation.”
Others agree – they remember what the city used to be like.
Cleese agrees, a little tetchily. “All right, I grant you, those are two things the Romans have done for us, but…”
Another hand goes up. “And the roads.”
Cleese is becoming exasperated. “Well, yes, obviously the roads – it goes without saying, but apart from the aqueduct, sanitation, and the roads…”
He’s interrupted again. “Irrigation.” Others chime in. “Medicine. Education. The wine…” There’s a discussion about how they’d miss the wine if the Romans ever left.
The list continues. “Public baths. And it’s safe to walk the streets at night now…”
If you’ve never watched the scene, try watching this (I guarantee you will not become less of a human being by being exposed to a little humor):
There’s an analogy here with aspects of biological evolution. The difference lies in the time-line: for the film’s scene, it’s a matter of seconds. Cleese asks a question, and within moments there are answers, slow at first but building as the respondents realize that perhaps they’ve been taking some things for granted.
As far as answering the questions arising from the ideas that biological evolution brings, the responses have – to some – been a long time coming.
That’s not too surprising, when you stop and think about it, given that biological evolution has been proceeding in its various forms for millenia, whereas our initial understanding of some aspects of it has only had a tiny fraction of that time to develop and grow. We’re following along well after the party has begun.
Let’s look at a couple of things that, if they were answered to your satisfaction, wouldn’t necessarily change your views on biological evolution, but they might change how two pieces of the jigsaw fit into the bigger picture.
Because the subject takes up so much space, we’ll move on to Episode 3 to continue the discussion.