Jim Taylor

Jim Taylor

Taylor: Learning lessons from evolution

Lake Country - Darwin did not invent evolution. He recognized what had been there all along

Let’s quit calling evolution a “theory.” When Darwin first proposed the concept, evolution was a theory. It’s not any more – it’s a reality.

Gravity was a theory too, when Newton first advanced it. But no one today would step off a cliff because he believes gravity is an unproven theory.

Evolution is not open for debate or denial. No more than, say, the mathematical concept that one plus one equals two. Or the value of pi.

Darwin did not invent evolution. He recognized what had been there all along.

Since then, not one scientific discovery has disproven evolution. New findings have forced reconsideration of details. Creatures assumed extinct, like the coelacanth, have been found not extinct at all. Newly found jawbones raise questions about when humans became a distinct species.

But no archaeological or geological finding has yet refuted the reality of evolutionary development.

The concept of evolution has been repeatedly backed up by research in other sciences. Astronomy, for example. DNA and microbiology. Plant breeding. Dentistry. Sociology.

Denial of evolution derives from only one source—two chapters at the beginning of the Bible. Which were never intended to be literal history. As literal truth, they contradict each other. They were intended as a metaphor, a story, to explain how evil exists in a world supposedly created by God and declared “good.”

If we can accept evolution as a fact, a universal truth, what lessons might we learn from it?

First, I suggest, that evolution never goes backwards. There are no instances, for example, of birds reverting to dinosaurs. Of humans growing prehensile tails. Of galaxies devolving to plasma.

Donald Trump’s policies may be a throwback, but they’re applied in a never-before context.

Second, that evolution always moves from the simple to the complex. Single cell creatures become multi-celled, which become segmented, which become vertebrates. Reproduction moves from cell splitting to sexual blending, from egg-laying to nurturing live young. Technology moves from fingers to tools to power tools to computers. Space dust clumps into stars, into galaxies.

We humans are far more complex creatures than any of our ancestors.

Biologically, some species may seem static—horseshoe crabs have changed little in 445 million years—but the environment they live in has changed dramatically, and therefore so have the ways those crabs interact with it.

Third, evolution never puts all its eggs in one basket. It never relies on a single solution. Every new birth is an evolutionary experiment.

Some experiments may eventually turn into dead-ends. That doesn’t mean evolution made a mistake. Polar bears’ white coats, thick fur, and insulating fat enabled them to survive for millennia in an Arctic environment, even though those same characteristics may become a liability in a warming climate.

Fourth, that evolution always moves towards healing. It should be obvious—nature always tries to heal its wounds, be they landslides, volcanoes, wars, or concrete jungles.

Clearly, we humans do not promote healing for the earth. Not even for our own social structures. Our garbage, our effluents, our structures all act against healing.

Taking seriously what evolution teaches us might influence the kinds of decisions we humans make, and the policies we follow.

Author Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: rewrite@shaw.ca