I did a dumb thing today. I clicked once again on my book at amazon to see that my book still had not sold a single copy for months. We’re at #1,721,843 and still falling. I scrolled down, despondent, and saw that there was another mindless creation/evolution debate going on in one of those amazon message boards. I started reading. Same old stuff. Someone says evolution requires faith. Someone else says here’s some evidence. The first person says your evidence is no good what about Piltdown Man? The second person says you’re a moron. The first person says see how intolerant you evos are? And so on.
Usually I avoid these things. It’s like watching a car crash on the freeway. You’re only going to make it worse. But something about the tone of this one – I don’t know, I just thought maybe I could make a difference. Dumb.
Here’s what I wrote:
I believe you are a good human being, on an honest quest for knowledge. I believe you are rational, and are here to “listen” more than “talk.” I believe you recognize that no one can know everything, but together we can move through the darkness and toward a little bit of truth. I have faith in these things.
I do not debate creationists, because my own lack of knowledge on the subject may inadvertently lead you away from truth. It doesn’t make the truth any less true, it only confuses you or others who might read this. No one can know everything.
Now let me tell you a story.
Billions of years ago, before the Earth itself had even formed, a giant star entered its last days. Running low on fuel, this star was dying. But deep inside, something amazing was happening. Helium was fusing into carbon. And you are there. That very carbon would become the stuff of life, the single element indespensible for all the beauty and wonder to come. That star exploded, spreading its seed into the universe.
Billions of years pass. The carbon and many other elements from the exploded star and others like it come together to form what we would one day call the Sun, the Earth, Venus, Jupiter, and all the rest. On the Earth, heat and terror reign. Mountains fall from the sky, pounding the surface into a molten mass. One body, about the size of Mars, nearly rips our planet in two. The pieces from this enormous collision become, in time, the Earth and our lovely satellite, the Moon.
Time passes. The Earth cools. Liquid water appears. In that water, the result of processes we still do not fully understand, very simple living things come to be. These living things make crude copies of themselves, but the copies are not perfect. Change begins. Most change is detrimental, but a few of these changes, quite by accident, lead to the ability to make food from raw ingredients and sunlight, to process that food in efficient ways, and even to come together with other organisms to create the first complex living things. The sky is made by life, as these organisms release oxygen as a waste gas. And you are there. The mitochondria and other organelles that make your life possible first learn to live together, a shaky but ever-strengthening alliance. Even the nucleus, in which your DNA will one day reside, begins as a separate organism.
Generations come and go. Creatures both strange and wonderful evolve, then vanish. Most living things leave absolutely no descendents. Only a few, through happenstance, competition, and the pressures of the environment, pass their genetic legacy on. In an ancient ocean swims a small, unassuming creature with just the hint of a spinal cord. It is called Pikaia gracelens. There are other creatures, more fierce, larger, better at swimming, burrowing, eating. But against the odds, tiny Pikaia survives. And you are there. Because Pikaia and its relatives survived against the gigantic odds facing them, you are here, reading this passage.
Generations come and go. Pikaia’s legacy lives on in fish, reptiles, and mammals. Dinosaurs dominate the planet then, quite by accident, are wiped out. Except, that is, for the birds. Birds are living dinosaurs, the flowering and successful remnant of those bygone days. From the disappearance of most dinosaurs, life finds a way. New species radiate into the open niches. In time, some species take to the trees, becoming the first primates. Those primates learn to discriminate between ripe and unripe fruit, learn to avoid enemies such as snakes and eagles, learn to care for and teach their young. In time, for reasons we still do not understand, some of those primates leave the trees and begin to walk upright. And you are there.
Upright walking appeared long before the modern human brain made its first appearance. Here we see creatures who walk very much like modern humans, yet with brains very much like chimpanzees. What might we think of each other? Once again, you are there. This small, upright, unprotected ape on the African plain would seem a poor candidate for survival. Yet somehow it does survive. The underdog overcomes, and leads in time to you, a creature capable of examining your universe, contemplating the meaning of life and death, and dreaming of journeys to the stars. You are a way for the universe to know itself. What an amazing thought!
Just a fairy tale? I would think so, too, except that men and women, using their amazing intellects and imaginations, have forged this story, not from the collective unconscious, but from hard evidence. The evidence of radioactive decay. The evidence of fossils. The evidence present in our own bodies, and the bodies of all the living things with which we still share this Earth. The universe is a vast treasure trove of knowledge. We humans have just begun our journey through this amazing universe, yet look at all we’ve learned! It is an accomplishment to be celebrated, and I am proud of what we have done.
No one can know everything, but we each can take a journey, learning, collecting, questioning as we go. In this journey, we must have faith in one thing: faith in the journey itself. Happy traveling!
Fortunately for me (or perhaps due to me), the discussion died soon after my post.