Re: Further Evolution beyond the Human?

Gordon S. Little ()
11 Oct 1996 02:42:34 GMT (Theodore A. Holden) writes:

> Evolutionism (the idea that <survival of the fittest> is the only moral
> in nature) has brought us English colonialism, the opium wars,
> capitalism, fascism, naziism, and two world wars. You want to know what
> comes next? The answer is that unless humankind disabuses itself of
> stupid bullshit, WW-III comes next.

[objections from others omitted]

> According to several of the alt.atheists, religion was responsible for
> uncontrolled and uncountable murder and evil all through history; you
> would logically expect conditions to return to the natural state of the
> golden age once religion was eliminated, at least amongst the
> intelligensia. Nonetheless, as we have seen, the end of religion and
> rise of Darwinism has brought with it a series of wars and tragedies the
> likes of which has never been seen since the days of Chengis Khan.
> A recent news scene showed the father of a young girl who had been
> telling the murderer to say hello to Hitler and several other such
> personages when he (the murderer) got to where he was going. I'd have
> included Charles Darwin in the little list.

Some fundamental things need straightening out here.

First, it's already been pointed out that evolutionism has nothing to do
morals. Evolutionism is the statement of a natural law. Nature has laws
no morals. If we push someone off a cliff, the law of gravity kills them.
may call our own act immoral, but the law of gravity is neither moral nor
immoral. It just *is*. Morals are something we invent ourselves to keep
humans happier and functioning better together. Our discovery of natural
is independent of what human conduct we judge to be moral or immoral. In
general, the better we understand the laws of our universe, the better
able to function within it -- which is also the goal of morality itself.

Second, what "golden age" are we talking about? There never was a "golden
age." It sounds to me like some Roussellian fantasy, closely allied to the
fantasy of the Perfectibility of Man. It's true that some ages in the past
have been less awful than others, and were afterwards looked back on with
nostalgia for the "lost golden age." But that's all relative. Right from
dawn of Man, most people's lives in the past were nasty, brutish, and
There has always been hunger, poverty, pain -- and human conflict.

The hardships of life have gone up and down for different people at
times and places. But if there is such a thing as a "golden age," many of
in the Western world are probably living close to it right now.
at least, our living conditions are better than they have been for most of
history, though some of us have been on a down trend recently.

Subjectively it's a different story. There is an argument that we evolved
be hunters and gatherers, that if we were born into such a society we'd be
used to its hardships, and fall happily into its natural environment and
activities, while as members of a crowded, citified postindustrial society
we're subjected to conditions that are unnatural for us. But we only swap
set of problems for another. It's all a tradeoff.

More important, it's only because we're so physically secure and
today that we're so sensitive to such things as morals and human rights.
can afford to be. We're relieved of the harsh pressures that tempt one
to kill another to secure land or food for survival. We mostly kill for
motives that lie further up Maslow's pyramid. And because we're used to
feeling comfortable, we're less likely to risk being hurt or killed
For the same reason, we're also more sensitive to other people's pain.
all this means is that subjectively, we feel some things in life to be
than, say, an ancient barbarian would. If he were with us, he'd just shrug
them off. But underneath it all, basic human nature remains the same.

Third, the principle of Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest
for anything is the best. Many things have contributed to war, including
religion, Communism (another irrational belief system -- look at the
of "unbelievers" in Cambodia), tribalism (Rwanda, Uganda, countless
or plain opportunity and expediency. The root cause of war is competition
scarce resources -- exacerbated by human greed, and often, human ignorance.

Historically the main cause of war was population pressure. Man's nemeses
were the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Plague, and
If one of them didn't get you, another would later. It was probably better
die quickly -- or at least honorably, to help your people survive -- in war
than to die slowly, miserably, and ignominiously from one of the others.
History itself is a poignant tale of people struggling in ignorance, doing
best they knew how at the time. We are all part of History.

We can look at many wars in history and say "why did they need to do that?
They all had enough to eat." Maybe they did right then, but in time they
wouldn't have done, as population increased. It was war sooner or war
Or some other death. Besides, only through a certain amount of domination
it possible to weld small tribes into larger units, giving the cooperative
advantages that only a large society can attain, or to create a "leisured
aristocracy" with enough spare time to think, discover, plan, read and
and achieve the progress we call "civilization." Harsh facts, but true.

Fourth, to say "religion was responsible for murder and evil" is not too
different from saying "swords were responsible for murder and evil" -- or
modern canard that "guns kill people," where the truth is that *people*
people. Blaming human "evil" on "things" of all kinds is one way of
human responsibility for it. But it does something else too: it supports a
comforting pipe-dream that if only "things" could be made right, everything
would be all right, instead of facing the reality that these "things"
because of human nature and human wants, none of which are going to go

Swords, guns, and religion too, are only tools in people's hands. Religion
has often provided a convenient excuse to kill people. But religion is
different, because it is a belief system, and unlike a gun or a sword,
are often not conscious of what they're doing with it.

What religion does provide is a striking, if sometimes brutal, illustration
the law of evolution itself, and of "survival of the fittest." Religions
produced by cultural evolution.

Feelings and instinct are a totally inadequate guide to optimal behavior
the survival of a society. If we all did what we felt like doing whenever
felt like it, we'd probably tear one another to pieces. We have to
and control mere feelings with learning and reason, as animals do too to a
lesser extent.

But even reason is inadequate if it has no data to work with. In a state
ignorance, people have no idea what to believe about many things, or what
do about them. Even today, nobody in the world can prove whether there's a
God or not -- "soc.atheism" notwithstanding. Atheism, like religion, is
a belief. We can reason out why we "should" or "shouldn't" do certain
but even this takes work, and there are many things we're better off doing
not doing even if we don't understand why. The reasons are subtle and
obscure, even hidden from us completely.

Humans have an urge to know why, otherwise they may not do what's required
them. But it doesn't matter precisely what neurons fire in a cat's brain
make it catch prey, reproduce itself, and also refrain from other behaviors
that would threaten its life. All that matters for survival is the right
behavior. Similarly, if a child asks "Mamma, why do I have to eat these
horrible rice husks instead of nice clean white rice?" it doesn't matter if
Mamma says "Because our bodies don't work properly without the thiamine in
those rice husks" (which she can't see and doesn't know about anyway), or
"Because the great god Gran says we have to eat the rice husks as a ritual
propitiation, otherwise he punishes us with a horrible disease called
beriberi." Just as long as the child eats the rice husks and stays

In the absence of accurate knowledge, any arbitrary system of belief will
as long as it yields behaviors consistent with the demands of external
reality. We don't always call a belief system a "religion." Communism
because it didn't take account of the full reality of human needs and human
nature. Capitalism succeeds because it meets those realities better.
doesn't mean to say it's perfect or can't be modified to further advantage;
only that it's better. Nazism failed because it didn't meet the reality of
how people would eventually respond to such a system, and to its deeds.
deep in the bowels of gender feminism, we find people like Sandra Harding
insisting that there's no such thing as "external reality," and that
make up their own reality." This is called "wishful thinking"; it's
belief system that's doomed to extinction if it ever took hold in a big

Religions arise and persist because, however faulty their premises, they
out to be functional in practice for a society in its particular
Religion meets human needs. It gives people a framework of thought and
belief, a philosophy, a "world view," that meets their need for consistent
understanding (even if the understanding is wrong) and a sense of
that the universe "hangs together." Even if we don't always like what the
universe does, at least it's fairly predictable. Religion lays down rules
behavior to keep most people (which doesn't mean everybody, but a society
as a
unit) surviving and happier. It promotes consistency of belief, which
people from wasting too much energy fighting about who or what is right or
wrong. It promotes rituals and beliefs that people find reassuring, which
keeps their morale up. It encourages people to share emotional
experiences together, which promotes bonding and mutual support among them.
The word "religion" is from "ligare," the tie that binds (as in
Religion joins people together. It's only when one religion meets a
one that it can have the opposite effect: splitting them apart.

But religions obey the law of evolution, of adaptation to the environment.
Darwin's theory of evolution states that genetic variations occur naturally
and randomly, and that natural selection preserves the fittest of these for
survival while letting the unfit die out. Religious belief too is often
arbitrary, so it can vary randomly and evolve.

Suppose the inhabitants of a country worship a deity named Bog, whose
is the Great Circle of Life. Times are hard as always, and people often
into fights about who gets what. So their religion developed the concept
the "dahij," or Holy Peace. It took this turn one day in the past, which
everyone has forgotten, when a priest stopped two men from fighting and
them instead to join hands, close their eyes, reflect on the wonder of the
universe, and repeat after him the Prayer of Holy Peace. He'd just
writing the prayer, but to persuade them to do it, he told them it was the
Will of Bog. The practice of the "dahij" catches on, partly because it
them all feel better, and partly because the people are more productive
they spend less of their time fighting and more time helping one another.
Their swords can all be beaten into plowshares for more food production.
works very well as long as they all do it, or most of them anyway.
the belief develops that the incantation of the Dahij Prayer itself, in
mystical way, protects against evil and violence and makes good things

Meanwhile, in the neighboring country, the inhabitants worship a different
deity named Jobe, with different rituals and customs. Times are hard for
too, and they often fight among themselves. The worshipers of Bog feel
for them, seeing Jobe as a false god whose followers have got it all wrong.
They send missionaries to convert them to the True Path, to the Brotherhood
Bog. When all they get back is a note saying "Thanks for the meal, we were
starving," they give up on this effort, and sit down to pray that Bog will
save their neighbors' souls.

Many of Jobe's followers have been in a suspicious mood ever since their
greatest prophet was killed -- martyred, most of them said. The prophet's
wife Catherine, whom he married for her purity, insisted it was an
The horse bolted and the wagon ran over him. Others weren't so sure when
saw that the wheel marks went back and forth across his neck several times.
Neighbors had heard Catherine complaining that he spent all his time
at the temple and never paid any attention to her. Others said she did it
because he had ten thousand shekels' worth of life insurance. But the
said it was the forces of evil at work, trying to silence the Holy Voice of
Jobe. After condemning Catherine as a witch and purifying her further with
fire, people were never sure how to feel about wheels. The wheel was a
and useful arrival that helped to make their lives less difficult, what
grinding grain and transporting goods: a Gift of Jobe, they said. Yet
of the wheel, Jobe's great prophet was cut off in his prime. So they
the wheel as an emblem, to remind them both of Jobe's bounty and the
of his prophet. "Catherine's Wheel," some call it cynically; but a little
saying has taken hold: "The Wheel giveth, and the Wheel taketh away;
be the Wheel." This idea isn't too different from the Circle of Life, and
Jobe's symbol is a circle too; but his circle has spokes in it.

When times get harder, Jobe's followers cast jealous eyes at their
land. "If only those Bog-worshipers weren't there, there would be all the
more for us," they think. This idea is driven to evolve, as many are, by a
mixture of cupidity, wishful thinking, and self-justification. "We don't
them much. And they don't follow the True Path of Jobe." This develops
"I don't suppose Jobe likes them much either. Maybe Jobe wants to see them
away." Later, "Maybe Jobe makes our lives so hard because we're not doing
Will. He wants to see those Bog-worshipers punished for their heresy, and
we're doing nothing. Surely Jobe will reward us for doing what is right."

So the word goes out. "Sharpen your swords, trot out the wagons and
And everyone stitch the symbol of the Wheel on your chest. We're going on
great Roulade. We're going to destroy the Unbeliever and spread the True
Faith. Jobe will reward us for it. Are you ready? Then let's roll!"

The High Priest of Bog hears the sound of thunder in the distance, comes
of his house, and sees a great army approaching. So he does what he's
done when violence threatens. He stands in the road with arms outspread in
gesture of conciliation, and begins to intone the Dahij Prayer: "O Mighty
Who dwells in the clouds, Bring us this day Your Holy Peace..."

The army's leader hears the prayer, carried on the wind. And the priest's
favorite dog, also hearing the prayer, comes outside to investigate and
down the road toward the approaching wagons, barking furiously.

If someone like O. Henry were writing this story, it would have a
unexpected twist at the end. Since he's not writing it and I am, it
The ending is horribly logical, not to say depressingly predictable. The
was a mere blind to mislead the reader, and plays no part at all in
the plot. The foremost horses trample him into the ground. The army
hearing the prayer to Bog, screams "Blasphemer!" The High Priest gets no
further than "Deliver us from evil" before the leader's sword strikes off
head, and his body collapses in a fountain of blood.

The army thunders on. And after much pillage, arson, rapine, and
the land belongs to them, just as Jobe promised -- so they told themselves.
The followers of Bog may have been morally right about Holy Peace and
Brotherhood. But it doesn't make a bit of difference, because they're all
dead. What's more, their religion died with them, while the religion that
believed in eliminating the competition is still alive. Wheels and
these are all so much random variation, some of it important, some trivial.
What counted was the outcome; and here we saw natural selection at work.

Bog's followers may not all be dead. But many who are left will say "Bog
didn't protect us. The prayer didn't work. Did we get it all wrong? Can
Jobe be more powerful?" They're helped in this view by a survivor who ran
away from the approaching army. Not wanting them to think him a coward
afraid of mere swords, he protests that Jobe sent thunder and lightning to
help the invaders. No man could fight that. Being a superstitious lot,
listeners believe him. Finally someone has the nerve to say (without even
benefit of reading Douglas Adams): "Who is this Bog person anyway?" And
all convert to the worship of Jobe, who preaches war -- but at least keeps
most of His followers alive, and sends the rest to Valhalla, so they're
if they die with a sword in their hand.

Or they may remain faithful to Bog, but still decide they got something
"Bog has revealed His Will more fully to us. Bog did not want us to forget
the art of war. But we did. We disobeyed Bog's Will, and Bog has punished
for it." Later they refer to this as "our evolving picture of Bog." Soon
new maxim goes around: "Bog helps those who help themselves." After
off the hand of a thief who took this invitation too literally, the people
about beating some of their plowshares back into swords again. In modern
times they beat them into Uzis instead, and prepare to smite the Philistine
the instant he dares stick his head over the top of the Golan Heights.
Sometimes even a preemptive strike pays dividends.

None of this means the most warlike culture will always win in the end.
Aggression may tear it apart from inside, provoke massive counterreaction,
simply deplete its energy. Today the incentive to war is much less, while
potential consequences are far more devastating. If we conclude today that
war is a bad thing, that largely reflects a changing reality: that war has
become far worse than it used to be, that what was once pro-survival for
has become countersurvival for most, and very likely for all. But we
say "religion is the cause of war." Religion may or may not cause war.
simply that those religions that failed to endorse war or aggressive
have failed to survive, leaving mainly those that did.

And not a shred of this is Darwin's fault. Darwin was only pointing out
facts. Anyone who wants to see him in Hell for that is only guilty of
shooting the messenger.

Gordon S. Little