Evolution: rationalism versus creationism

Autor:Charles Susanne
Cargo:Free University Brussels.

The actual neo-Darwinian concepts of human evolution conceive this evolution as a bush, unpredictable and at random. At the beginning of the 20th century, most of the biologists conceived evolution as a linear process oriented to progress, even if Darwin already presented evolution as a bush. It is this point of view, of a process in one dimension, that some Catholics, for instance, still see... (ver resumen completo)


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1. Society and origin of religions

Although the concept of evolution is scientifically universally accepted, its application to the human species is accompanied of polemics and debates. A simplistic idea, often expressed, is that a force is existing leading necessarily to the apparition of Man. However, the human fossil rests indicate that the human evolution has not been linear and that, such as for the evolution of other organisms, it has been complex, contains some abortive branches and looks like more as a tree than as a simple ascending ladder (Susanne et al. 2003).

It is important to notice that the debates about evolution are often of religious or political nature, but not more scientific. The majority of religions present histories on the origin of Man and animals. Evolution is opposed to a literal lecture of those histories, and therefore religious leaders were and are sometimes still opposed to evolution. "The religious thinking represents a relation to an eventual next world: at the origin, it corresponds globally to polytheisms where animals occupied often a divine status. In the early stages of religiosity, the animals that people hunted (or by whom humans were hunted), took an important place in the believes and in the symbols. Since the Palaeolithic age, the worship of an animal was organised around the hunting activities. Nature could be friendly as well as unfriendly; it gives life and may take it again. At the Neolithic age, when human beings domesticated animals and started to farm, a good harvest was thought to depend on different conditions, such as meteorology. They considered that supernatural forces and divinities were responsible for a good harvest. The hunter-gatherers settled, animals will loose their holy essence, natural forces are becoming preeminent, and human beings are creating divinities to their image" (Susanne, 2003).

Death has always tortured the spirit of human beings, and surely of the first human beings: the incomprehension of this natural fact was total, and human beings have created imaginary solutions to appease their spirit and to give themselves a virtual comfort. Divinities were created as well as funerary cults and initiating rituals. The first human beings have venerated in a shamanist way the natural forces, fire and thunder..., one had to appease the anger of the Gods. Religiosity, in fact a kind of religious sentimentalism of life, gives the hope for a better live. If a God exists, he is there to comfort us for the pain we sometimes have to undergo. One has thus to believe in a God and in a life after death in order not to lose hope in human life.

Even if the religions are largely variable (even life itself

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is considered or unique by the Judeo-Islamic-Christian tradition, or multiple by Hindus and Buddhists), they all favour some order in the society and give a sense to it. It has been the case all along our history, especially in socially stratified societies, where the elite could invoke the religious authority to control the lower social groups and to maintain economical and political inequalities.

Religious phenomena are universal. Of course, none of these religions are superior or more developed than the other. Anthropologists are, in fact, interested in the functions of the religions and in the way they give sense to human life, reduce social anxiety, control the human destinies, and explain the physical environment. Religions are proposing a cosmology: whole of principles and believes on the nature of life and death, the creation of the universe, the origin of society, the relation between human beings and nature.

2. Humanism versus Fundamentalism

If genes are the units of biological information, other units of cultural information are the memes. They diffuse through cultural vectors, natural selection, migrations and cultural drifts. "Providing easy explanations to existential questions, softening the fear of death, and keeping social webs compact through the provision of various sets of rules and practices, religions crucially contributed to the survival success of populations" (Simitopoulou and Xirotiris, 2004).

Although religious memes can have success, religions began to weaken when scientific discoveries developed. All religions were obliged to follow profound adaptations, sometimes far from the founder principles. Only fundamentalists try to keep these principles, very often in a violent way.

The secular humanism, which wants to develop the qualities of human beings, is central to the actual cultural and moral challenge; it is a philosophy that can be of use above our cultural barriers and our religions. The moral rules must no longer be based on revealed truths, but on universal rules democratically elaborated. It is particularly the case in terms of human evolution where rules must be established beyond the different kinds of fundamentalism. For all kinds of fundamentalism, human beings are condemned to make a bad use of their freedom; therefore, one must enclose himself in constraints and in restrictive laws. Humanism is seen as the instrument of the devil by all fundamentalists, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.

The methods applied in sciences are based on material explanations, without transcendental implications. Scientists, whatever their metaphysical or religious believes are, reject all supernatural explanations. Scientific knowledge is a part of the common heritage of humanity.

From a scientific point of view, a dialogue with the religions does not impose itself; science and religion must be separated (as State and Religion). Shouldn’t we be alarmed when some Islamic tendencies are refusing the teaching of biology, when fundamentalism manifests itself in the United States, Australia, Russia..., when the actual pope urges the Catholic scientists to elaborate scientific projects, which always allows "the divine presence" One has to insist on the freedom of transmission of knowledge and the freedom to develop oneself without the cover of religious authorities. Religions and sects may not interfere with the teaching of sciences.

One has also to remember that the secularisation of the political power, the modern values claiming the light of reason, the rationality, the tolerance, the freedom of expression, the rights of Man, the democracy are conquests slowly reached at the detriment of churches (Joly, 2003).

3. Evolution

The scientific discoveries are sometimes accompanied by worrying messages for the social order and often for the religions. Since the Renaissance (XVI and XVII centuries) and the Enlightenment (XVIIIth century), Europe is no longer the centre of the world, nor is the earth the centre of the universe. Human beings have evolved as the rest of the living world; all living organisms have the same genetic code; our "so specific" human genome is for more than 99% similar to that of the chimpanzee and for more than 90% to that of the mouse, more than 80% to that of the cows.

Evolution in scientific terms suggests that human beings are animals submitted to the same laws of evolution. The fact that human beings have no more a particular statute is already, for some believers, an attack to the morale values human beings are guarantee as representative of God on earth. All along the last century, the Darwinian theory of evolution became therefore a symbol of a scientific materialism to knock down.

Since Darwin biology became scientific, building hypotheses, controlling it, verifying it, modifying it as necessary. Indeed, the concept of evolution is really scientific, using notions as variable than anatomy and compared embryology, palaeontology, biogeography, anatomical but also biochemical and genetical phylogenesis. The mechanisms of evolution, utilised by the synthetic theory, imply the genetics of populations, which allows to model and quantify the influence of factors such as natural selection but also mutations or genetic drift in populations of reduced dimensions. The molecular biology, and all its recent results,

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brought us to a dissection of the «mysteries» of life and thus to a better comprehension of life. In terms of evolution, the molecular biology has also confirmed the palaeontological data, and has demonstrated that human evolution answers to the same rules as the whole living world.

It is probably more difficult to accept that Man is a species just like all other species and that Man is not fundamentally different from other animal species; a species representing only a few hundreds of thousands of years compared to the almost 5 billion years of age of the earth. Indeed, it is difficult to modify the image that we have had of ourselves all around our history.

Resistances, defensive, conservative or reactionary opinions continue to exist against the concept of evolution, and surely against its consequences. It is to say that Man belongs to Nature, and that human beings are random products of a very long evolution.

Evolution is of course no longer a theory. It is absolutely non-sense to compare it, and to put it at equal level, with scriptures, considered by some as "holy". In the way of thinking of these people, these scriptures have to be taken literally, thus, the living species are considered as immutable since their creation. In other words, for some it is easier to keep the old myths and to consider Man as being at the top of the living world, and at the geographical centre of the universe.

In terms of human palaeontology and in terms of human evolution, only the knowledge can be considered as having a value, and the...

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