Sunday, September 6, 2009

The fact of evolution

Albert Camus writes in his introduction to The Rebel: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”

It is profoundly true and we find plenty of examples in contemporary life. Let’s take evolution.

This post was inspired by a review of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, which appeared in the Economist. The reviewer writes “two-fifths of Americans still refuse to accept that human beings share a common ancestry with animals, preferring to believe that they were created in their present form in the past 10,000 years.”

This has always astounded us. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. As Dawkins says, it is “as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.”

As the reviewer notes:

“And what a lot of evidence there is. The fossil record, far from the tenuous succession of gaps described by creationists, provides an admittedly incomplete but beautiful and coherent set of clues to life in the distant past.”

And we love the quote from British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what would disprove the theory of evolution: “Fossil rabbits in the in the Precambrian era.”

Of course, no such thing has ever been found. The passage of time only makes the case grow stronger as more gaps are filled in and more and more of it just makes sense.

Yet, the urge to deny our simian roots is strong. People want to believe humanity is a special case, separate and apart from the animal world around it. Again, 40% of Americans believe God created man complete, only 10,000 year ago – an observation cleanly at odds with the facts.

We observe too, how this applies to the absurd. For one thing, the theory of evolution reinforces the essential absurd insight that life has no meaning, no purpose. It reinforces our insignificance in the scheme of things.

For another thing, the whole evolution “debate” reminds us of resistance we encounter when discussing the absurd. People seem loath to believe that their life has no meaning and that “nothing matters.” Instead, people cling to ideas and beliefs that soothe their egos and make them feel apart of something larger, something with a purpose, something that will last and is important.

The absurd is like an acid to the ego and we think that is why the idea is hard for many to swallow.

Evolution is not the only example of such thinking, as today’s Bloomsbury comic strip reminds us.


  1. I love that quote: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.” It rings so many bells with me.

    What is tragic however is that in their refusal to accept the nature of man as proved by observation of objective reality they fail to realize that they doom themselves to being less than what they could be. How can they evolve if they deny the reality of their own nature as they currently are?

    The thing is, accepting evolution and even the objective meaninglessness of human beings and human life does not necessarily equate to a lack of a kind of spiritual equivalent to what they had before with christianity, where an "equivalent" is an understatement. There can be no greater spiritual bliss than that which comes from genuine desire to harmonize your thinking and being with the nature of your self as a human being with respect to the nature of the universe that surrounds you. The real thing is always undeniably better than an illusion (which christian beliefs tend to represent).

  2. Well said, Daniel.

    We absolutely agree that the real thing is better than the illusion.

    Thanks for your comment,