Taylor: Nothing ever stands still

Evolution is going on all around us, even if some deny it.

A dentist told me, one day when he had both arms and a pneumatic drill inside my mouth, that dentists see evolution happening. As hunter-gatherers, he explained, humans needed extra-large teeth at the back of our jaws, to apply maximum leverage for cracking bones and nuts. But as our diets changed from raw food to fast food, wisdom teeth became superfluous.

So about 35 per cent of humans never grow wisdom teeth anymore.

I mentioned this statistic to my optometrist. “I don’t know anything about wisdom teeth,” he said. “But I know that more people are short-sighted now than they used to be.”

That too makes sense. When humans had to watch for snakes in the grass or tigers in the thickets, long-range vision gave a distinct advantage. Today, we’re more likely to focus on a printed page or video screen. Outdoors, we read giant billboards. Short-sightedness is no longer an evolutionary handicap.

Evolution is going on all around us, even if some deny it. The universe right now is not what it was 10 seconds ago. Somewhere, a star has blown itself to bits; another star has collapsed into a black hole. Somewhere, an atom of uranium has transmuted into an atom of lead. I am not the same person I was 10 years ago; neither are you.

Five hundred years before Jesus, a Greek philosopher understood the principle of endless evolution. Heraclitus described change as central to the universe. “Everything changes and nothing stands still,” says one quotation attributed to him. Another says, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

One glorious summer, I worked in the woods 55 miles up the Kitimat River. The river ran by my tent door. But never the same river. Every minute, different water rushed over those rocks. If I slipped off those rocks and got swept away by the current, I could travel with the same water, but funnelled into a raging canyon downstream.

Five hundred years after Heraclitus, I think Jesus also grasped the principle of evolution.

The institutional church has tended to treat Jesus either as a revolutionary or as a source of unchanging truth.

Seen as a source of unchanging truth, Jesus gives the church its authority to define social standards and morality. Seen as a rebel against Roman values and beliefs, he gives modern Christians a model for opposing contemporary empires of capitalism, corporations, and corrupt governments.

As I read the biblical narratives, though, I see Jesus advocating evolution, not revolution. With one exception—when he drove the local bankers out of the Temple—I don’t see him encouraging his followers to rebel. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s,” sounds more like instruction to live differently within an existing culture.

Similarly, his repeated assertion—“You have heard it said… but I say to you…”—implies that historic truths need updating. He didn’t tell his followers either to impose or to resist change; he told them to be invisible change agents, like yeast in flour and water.

If Jesus lived today, I think he would endorse the principle of evolution. And he would hail people like Darwin, Einstein, and Heisenberg as modern prophets.