Evolution – The Unfolding of Understanding

“The next step in man’s evolution will be the survival of the wisest.”

― Deepak Chopra

My older brother and I couldn’t be further apart in terms of appearance. Put us both in a room full of people, and there is very little chance we would be selected as being related. He has blonde hair and blue eyes, where mine are dark brown, almost black. He is smaller in stature, where I have a larger girth. He graduated from Berkeley with a degree in Physics. I went into the Marine Corps after High School, and have held down mostly retail jobs. Oh, and he was born without any wisdom teeth, while my barbaric mouth is large enough that I still have mine intact – and almost room for another set. Truth is, I was once able to put my entire fist inside my mouth. Although I don’t recommend you trying this.

Now, this in no way proves anything about the truth related to the Theory of Evolution, although some would say he might represent a further advancement of the human physiology, as it is considered that our future generations will begin to be born without the organs we no longer have use for. Just as we no longer have a nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, there will come a point in our biological development were other organs will simply stop appearing. Our appendix, for example, as well as the wisdom teeth, and coccyx bone are all examples of human evolution at work. I’ve even read somewhere that our little toe may already be superfluous. I wonder if nail salons would give an eight toed customer a discount on service, or charge the same.

This article is not intended to be an argument for or against Creationism, or Evolution either, as if one denies the other. In fact, in my research on the topic, I came across two distinct points of view. The first came from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which stated:

“Natural science cannot dogmatically rule out the possibility that there are purposeful processes in creation; conversely, faith cannot define specifically how these processes take place in the course of nature’s development.”

The Catechism goes on to state that the Christian view of evolution is a process that “takes place as God’s continuous creation in natural process.”

The second comment came from an interview that author Carter Phipps documents in his book Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science’s Greatest Idea. The interview was with another author, Howard Bloom. In one paragraph, Bloom goes from stating he is a “…stone-cold atheist. Period.”, to pondering the question, “How does a godless universe create?” And further on, when asked what the source of creativity in the universe might be, Bloom referenced that there “is a remarkable order to the process, some kind of open-ended, creative intelligence…a design to the universe that we have yet to fathom.” When asked that this source might be, Bloom states simply, “We don’t know.”

Here we have on one side of the argument Religious leaders who state the source of all Creation is God, and that faith cannot explain HOW the process works. And on the other side, we have the scientific world stating they can explain HOW the process works, but they are still in awe as to the WHY it works. The degree of systematic control required for the exact mix of conditions required for the Universe to exist at all is simply staggering. To me, both sides are arguing the same argument, just from opposite ends.

What, then, is evolution? If it is a ‘natural process’, like the rising and setting of the sun, or the change of seasons, can it then be predicted with any degree of accuracy? And if it can, do we have the capacity to control the process? Let’s start with a definition of evolution. Although Charles Darwin is the first name that is considered when the topic of evolution is raised, I found it interesting to read that in his very popular and historic writing, The Origin of Species (1859), he only used the word once. And at that, it was in the closing paragraph. He preferred the term ‘descent with modification’. In fact, the word ‘evolution’ itself did not originally translate to an embryological development theory at all. It came from the Latin ‘evolutionem’, and stood for ‘an opening of what was rolled up’. (Etymonline.com)

The implications of this definition are what is being evolved is not the creation of something new, but the development of something that was already in the sphere of potentiality, and has simply reached the point where that potentiality has become manifest. From the various writings I have come across so far in my research, there appears to be some conclusive acceptance that the cause of this manifestation of potentiality appears to be located not in the development of information or knowledge. Nor is it in the ‘survival of the fittest’, as that process tends to come after evolution has completed a cycle, not the point at which the cycle begins. Rather, the cause of evolution comes from chaos.

As Phipps states, it takes “chaos, instability, and greater degrees of freedom to produce the conditions for higher forms of order and novelty to occur. A system generally has to be thrown into disequilibrium for new and higher levels of self-organization to emerge.” He also goes on to point out how these ‘degrees of freedom’ not only have a pattern to them, but comparing the relative influences of various systems (biological, economic, technological, etc.), they all follow a fairly similar pattern, an exponential curve that, laying side by side, show tremendous similarity. At the point where the chaos involved reaches a point of endangering the system it is embedded with, a process of sudden and system-wide cooperation occurs that leapfrogs the normal advancement in development to create a revolutionary new state of being within the system.

Recently, my wife borrowed a copy of the DVD series Planet Earth from the local library. This BBC produced program was established to highlight some of the incredible states of life on our planet, and documented some of the most remote locations. One of those locations was Lake Baikal in Siberia. The narrator stated a fact I found interesting. He said the entire species of fish that inhabited the lake had all developed from one single prehistoric species over generations of evolution. Here is an example of a fairly enclosed system going through multiple cycles of chaos and order, creating an ecosystem that has over half of the species of life found within to be unique to this lake, including the only indigenous freshwater seal in the world.

Let’s be clear on one point here. The term ‘evolution’ is over-used in today’s vernacular. In my opinion, simply going from the black and white analog televisions of the past to the new digital color, High Definition mega-screens of today is not evolution. That is a part of the normal progress of technology. However, going from the forms of communication starting with the telegraph to the current use of cellular communication today is evolution. The complexity of the changes, and the variety of other systems that have been affected by the change in technology denotes an evolution. The change in television technology may have improved our enjoyment of this form of entertainment, but it is still individuals sitting in front of a screen, watching a program that was created for information or entertainment purpose. That does not mean that television cannot have an evolution, just that it is further down the ‘chaos curve’ that would enable such an evolution.

At the point in time when life on our planet was said to have begun, when life went from single-celled organisms to the first nucleated cell happened at the onset of a chaotic event where all life was facing a threat. Namely, single-celled bacteria advanced to enable a rudimentary form of photosynthesis. With this new food source, that bacteria developed quickly, reproducing rapidly. This is an example of the ‘survival of the fittest’, in that this form of bacteria was quickly outpacing all other bacteria, and there was strong competition for food sources at the time. While this may seem like a positive advancement, the issue is that this photosynthetic process had a significant drawback. The waste product of this form of sustenance was oxygen, a chemical compound that was yet to be the dominant substance of our environment.

Think what could happen today if cows began to overpopulate the planet, changing a significant amount of our atmosphere from oxygen based to methane based. This would be similar to what the bacterial life of our planet was experiencing at that point. Yet, rather than continue the competition for resources, a remarkable thing occurred. Bacteria entered a period of cooperation with each other. This cooperation enabled single-celled organisms to create the first multi-creature, or nucleated cell. This launched the start of a new series of competition and ‘survival of the fittest’ behaviors, until another chaos event occurred. Climate change is only one possible variable in promoting an evolutionary shift. Others could include major geologic event, a radical development in ecosystems, or species migration.

Across the Western United States, this process has brought a biological advance within the Western or Mountain Pine Beetle population. Due to global warming, and the increase of dry, warmer climates, lower rates of snowfall and the increase of drought, this species of beetle has developed the capacity to generate two populations of larvae annually, dramatically increasing the population. This increase in population is threatening the population of pine trees across multiple states. It is estimated the number of trees will be diminished by fifty percent or more within our lifetime.

Are the pine trees of the Sierra Nevada Mountains reaching a chaos event? And if so, will they reach an evolutionary solution to this species threatening concern? Perhaps developing significantly stronger bark, or sap that is poisonous to the beetle larvae, or increasing the growth rate of future generations of trees to combat the decline in numbers. This is a situation I will be paying close attention to over the next few summers. It will be interesting to see not only how the trees respond, but what impact the decline in forestation has on the environment as a whole. It will be the cooperation of the ecological system of these forests that will determine how the system survives.

Looking over the history of humanity, the question is if we are also moving towards our own chaos event, and if so, will we be able to find the level of cooperation within our system to evolve. I believe we are moving beyond the period of definite competition and starting to see the auspices of cooperation. Yes, we still value the negative aspects that military power holds in order to settle international and national disputes. But we are becoming more and more un-warlike the further we progress. Yes, we still focus more on our individuality and an ‘us or them’ mentality. But we are becoming more selfless and more global-centered as we progress. Yes, we still have tremendous division between cultures, but we are breaking down those barriers and entering a greater degree of understanding and cooperation than before.

Just look at what has happened in the area we now know as Europe over the past 2000 years. Just look at a map of Europe during the Roman Empire, and compare it to what it looks like today. You will see a tremendous reduction in the number of unique and separate governmental entities. In fact, history points to a period of time when there were upwards of 600,000 various polities across the planet. That number has decreased to just over 200 now. Although some of those were blended from being conquered, there is still an indication that we are still moving to a greater sense of unity.

The European Union is only 20 years old, and was mostly unthinkable even 30 years back. The League of Nations began less than 100 years ago, and the United Nations is only 70 years old. All advancements in cooperation. It is this period of negotiation rather than continuous combat that is laying the foundation for the level of cooperation that will be required to face the next chaotic event our planet will see, which may not be that far in the future.

The impact we are currently having on the environment through the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the potential for global warming may not be the first time life on this planet has held the ability to radically change the ecosystem we depend on for survival. Had those single-celled bacteria not advanced to the point of taking in ultraviolent light through photosynthesis and producing oxygen, we would not have had the environment we need to survive. However, we may be the first form of life on this planet to not only understand the impact we have, but to knowingly continue in the direction of adverse behaviors. As the quote from Deepak stated at the beginning of this article, it may be the next evolution of the biological system on our planet will not be a new form of species, but the development of a new way of thinking and behaving, a period of extended cooperation perhaps.

So, how do we use this process to create evolution in our own lives? First, there must be a recognition that there is a greater purpose, a creative intelligence and a design to our universe that we have yet to fully understand. The fact that we can see the development of evolution from single-celled organisms to self-reflecting, consciously aware humans does not mean we understand why it happened, at least viewed from the scientific perspective. Looked at from the spiritual perspective, we can see a Divine Creator who desires a relationship with His creation, meticulously arranging situations to enable that relationship to develop.

The argument against this is why God would take such a long period of time to evolve us into beings who are able to fully communicate with Him. And again, we must look at the fact that we view the world as we perceive it, not as it is. We perceive time in the essence of the rising and setting of OUR sun, which leads to weeks, years, even decades of time passing. Yet we cannot place God within the capacity of human perception, as He exists beyond our ability to perceive. Our rules don’t apply to God. As it states in 2 Peter 3:8:

“But you shall not disregard this one thing, beloved: “One day is to the Lord Jehovah as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day.”

With that in mind, and with the understanding that, as St. Augustine once said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” We must accept that for God there is no such thing as time. For God, there is no difference between all of humanity and our individual humanity. Meaning, by accepting the chaos and change in our own lives, by learning to cooperate fully with God, we can have an evolutionary change in our relationship in the present moment. This evolutionary change goes beyond simply deciding to read the Bible daily, or start attending Mass on a more regular basis. But a true relationship with our Creator in which we participate fully in the development of our lives.

I am not quoting New Age Spirituality that purports that we are becoming “as God”, and that we have the ability to co-create reality. That form of belief supplants everything we already have discovered about the inner workings of the Universe as a whole. That form of belief further separates us from the Divine, as it focuses on our individual nature, rather than fully understanding the collective, shared and participating nature that truly exists. We are not in an individual race to find self-fulfillment, but a race of all creation. We must accept the words of Romans 12:5 which states:

“So also, we who are many, are one body in The Messiah, and each one of us is a member of the other.”

It is through cooperation, unity, and willful participation in life that we will reach the recognition of Heaven on Earth. And we will find upon our discovery that, like the original definition of ‘evolution’, it is not something that is created from nothing, but something that already exists. We will simply open what is currently rolled up.

Deepak Chopra quote courtesy of goodreads.com