Humanist Values- Nature and Evolution

I suppose suppose it could be said that the second item in the list of the six mentioned in the Humanist Manifesto 3 is an extension of the first. In full, this item reads “Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of evolutionary change, an unguided process.” If you remember that first item, it had to do with empiricism, including observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. You know, the scientific method, critical thinking, pragmatism, etc.

However, this item is a bit more specific. Rather than simply invoking the scientific example, it provides an important (and still controversial) example: Evolution. It also goes much further, stating that mankind is a part of nature, not in some way set apart. Human beings started their existence as more-than-amoebae but less-than-fish, and have evolved into what we are today, homo sapiens, via the trial and error of nature’s largest scientific experiment, evolution.

It is difficult to judge which of these concepts is more important. In my opinion, it is critical that humans see themselves as simply a part of the greater mosaic of nature. In my own case, I have expanded nature from that known to us on our one little planet to that which exists everywhere in the universe. That tends to give me an idea of scale, and informs me of where I fit in our grand puzzle.

I am a short-lived bit of protoplasm, existing for a mere twinkling and dwelling in a tiny cosmic backwater known as Earth, at least to the locals. I have importance only to those immediately around me; with that comes a responsibility to help wherever I can, to learn everything that I can, and further to understand all that I can, with all the connections and fine structure which that entails. I don’t have much time.

My connectedness to nature and the universe is exemplified by having been through the complex filter of evolution. I am not now what my ancestors once were. Humans tend to think of themselves as the highest form of being on the planet; that remains to be seen. Clearly, though, we have gained critical facilities during our journey from the swamp to civilization. Again, whatever elevated position we have reached in the hierarchy of nature through the grand scientific experiment of evolution should bring us to the same realization about responsibilities that is mentioned above.

We don’t need a magic, mythical god-figure in the sky. Nature, and our part in it, is much more complex and beautiful than any religion yet invented. If we could all just celebrate the beautiful things that actually are, without resorting to fantasy and superstition, we could all simply get on with making our small part of the universe the best that it can be.

About Michael W. Jones

Michael has been an Atheist since an epiphany in a Baptist church at age 12, was a Unitarian until they became a christian denomination, spent most of his life developing software, and is now earning almost no living at all as a writer. :) He lives in Williams Township, PA and is contemplating what's next after Tucker the Weird Dawg. Michael is a co-founder and the managing editor of The Eloquent Atheist on-line magazine.


Humanist Values- Nature and Evolution — 4 Comments

  1. I would submit that exploring fantasy, superstition, and even the supernatural is an innate human proclivity, but the proper place for doing so is in the arts. Where would Swain Lake be without fantasy, superstition, and supernaturalism?
    When religions get involved in these pursuits they introduce revealed truth, faith, and dogmatism and therein lies the problem.

  2. I’m not sure where you inferred “fantasy” from “Nature and Evolution,” But as you have brought it up, I would be pleased to discuss this with you; in fact I feel ethically compelled to do so. A bit of fantasy is good, as is a bit of almost anything. As a steady diet, however, it is not positive, having a tendency to make reality quite boring. Consider, please:

    1. The American star system, active in everything from music to politics, inducing one to believe that only the star fantasy counts.
    2. The constant diet of super-heroes, leading directly to both inferiority complexes and unreal belief in one’s own powers.
    3. The fantasy of the perfect body, both male and female, which causes incredible problems for the imperfect among us, which is to say almost everyone.
    4. The fantasy created by virtually all American television, which implies that becoming rich is not only common, but is attainable without effort, or even a job.
    5. The fantasy of American marketing, which promises a perfect life if only one will keep spending.
    6. The rampant fantasy in literature. I am a science fiction reader and writer, and therefore open to all of the possibilities. I am not, however, in favor of the current spate of bad novels in which all problems may be solved by the appearance of elves or other magic.

    There is much more about fantasy available, and perhaps when I am through trying to be positive I will delineate these in their hundreds.

    It is not only religion that is ruined by fantasy and magic. It is one of the main factors making today’s society the ridiculous mess it is.

    You may be a large fan or fantasy and magic in all things; that is up to you. For me, I have to live in the reality around me. In truth, we all do, though there are many that do not realize it, having been raised on a steady diet of unreality.

    It is extremely handy, and hardly coincidental, that people who are unaware of reality rarely try to improve it, stuck as they are in their own little magical realms. That makes the people who have bought and sold our society both happy and secure.

    I think one needs to be a little more discriminating about magic and fantasy before one endorses it in all realms but religion.

    Someone, I was reminded recently, said something about examining one’s life. I believe I will add to that the necessity for the critical examination of the effects of fantasy and magic upon society prior to giving those damaging qualities carte blanche.

  3. I try to encourage people to see that while evolution may be controversial on a popular level, the scientific controversy is long dead. As for scale, I love this Sagan quote:

    Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

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