With this posting, we begin a new feature for 2006 — Worldviews at Work. These articles will draw attention to the impact of worldviews on the way people think about the issues of the day. We’ll be looking for examples of what happens when people actually draw the necessary conclusions that their worldviews would require — and what happens when they do not.
The January 1, 2006 issue of The New York Times featured an opinion column by Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at London’s Imperial Hospital. In “Why I’m Happy I Evolved,” she gushes about her pleasure in being the product of purely natural and material forces and processes.
Some people want to think of humans as the product of a special creation, separate from other living things. I am not among them; I am glad it is not so. I am proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea.
For me, the knowledge that we evolved is a source of solace and hope. I find it a relief that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial – and comprehensible – forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity.
More than that, I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood.
Which is not to say that we are all we might wish to be. But in putting ourselves into our place in nature, in comparing ourselves with other species, we have a real hope of reaching a better understanding, and appreciation, of ourselves.
She is glad to be part of the “riot of nature.” She is relieved to believe “that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial – and comprehensible — forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity.” But all she can then say about the wonder of humanity is that we “can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated.” She also points to examples of human altruism. But that is it.
What about war and violence? Like Thomas Hobbes, some observers would suggest that hatred and violence, oppression and bloodshed, murder and mayhem, would better describe the nature of our species.
The materialistic worldview cannot explain why humanity should be considered to be more worthy of concern or of respect than the rest of the natural world. Given this worldview, some would plausibly argue that humanity does more harm than good on the planet.
The Christian worldview explains why humanity matters, and why human beings are capable of committing both great deeds of altruism and awful deeds of mayhem.
All this aside, Olivia Judson is just perfectly pleased to consider herself, and all the rest of us, to have evolved.