The Evolution of god

Wednesday, 24 November 2010 14:19 by The Lunatic

The following article was written under invitation from the CommonGroundGroup, a website put together by some members of the Baha’i faith, for discussion of the common areas of agreement between science and religion. They seek to include alternative views and promote open discussion on topics of science, religion, and philosophy. I appreciate the invitation to contribute an article which is diametrically opposed to most of their normal postings.

I love evolution.

Just as biological evolution creates new species, information and knowledge and technologies also evolve – and in a very similar manner. Take the microprocessor that is running the computer on which I’m writing this article, for example. The electronic microprocessor isn’t the brainchild of a single brilliant engineer who just created it one day, without any prior information or knowledge. All modern processors are evolutionary offshoots of the Intel 4004, introduced in 1971. It was a huge breakthrough, but that milestone could never have come about without the invention of the transistor and the many simpler integrated circuits before it; and the core processing logic was built upon the mechanical and vacuum tube computers which evolved over the fifty years before that. None of these would have been possible without a working knowledge of electricity, magnetism, chemistry, and physics – the secrets of which have been slowly uncovered, bit by bit, for hundreds (thousands!) of years.

Evolution tends to go in fits and starts, especially in the early stages. There are the agonizingly slow changes that take millennia – the spinoff of one species to another for example, or the adaptation to environmental changes that all early life went through as the Earth cooled; for almost half of the 3.5 billion years that life has existed on Earth, there was nothing more complex than single cell organisms.

But then, occasionally, some big event comes around which mixes everything up; the first creature to successfully crawl out of the sea and make its home on land spawned thousands of other new species in a very short period of time, and the impact of an asteroid drove almost as many into extinction, sending the course of evolution off in a completely different direction.

The microprocessor, along with its various offshoot technologies, is a recent “big event” with global consequences. If you don’t think that technological and biological evolution is intertwined, consider this: Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) and “fish finders” have made commercial fishing boats more efficient, which has changed the migration routes of many species of fish – and some species are on the brink of extinction due to overfishing with this technology. This has a direct impact on the evolution of all life on the planet.

How about humans? Are we the end all/be all of intelligent life, or just a stepping stone on the way to something better?

I have news for you: we are still evolving. Just as a school of sharks that leaves the historic breeding grounds in the Atlantic Ocean to find a new life in the Pacific will adapt to the new environment and soon become a different breed of shark, the first humans that made their way out of Africa changed as well. Early Homo Sapiens who went north, to Europe, developed paler skin and more facial hair in males, and became taller on average. The tribes that migrated into Asia developed a pigmentation more suited to their environment. And then some really adventurous folks made it all the way across the Bering Sea, traversing the Aleutian Islands, into what’s currently known as North and South America, where they developed a reddish hue to their skin (* see notes 1 and 2). Over time, the population in the north-eastern region of Asia lost almost all body hair, a trait which carried over to the Eskimos and the rest of the Native Americans. Not all evolutionary changes result in a new, genetically incompatible, species – but it is evolution just the same.

With our advanced reasoning abilities, evolution has created a delineation which separates humans from all other life. But it’s not that big of a difference. Almost all animals, in their own way, have a good memory and even problem solving skills. We had our dog with us when we went back to visit the old neighborhood where we lived over a year ago; she ran down the block, went right up to our old front door and scratched to get in! We’ve all seen examples of animals that have figured out ingenious ways to get out of cages, or solve relatively intricate puzzles. Animals show affection and compassion to each other and they teach their young how to catch food, clean themselves, and fend off predators. These traits are not mimicking human behavior; they are the evolutionary stepping stones that make human accomplishments possible.

As with all animals that develop what is needed for survival – better hearing, strength, eyesight, or the ability to camouflage themselves – Humans developed the capacity for advanced thinking and reasoning. The path we’ve taken to create the high tech world we now live in, however, has been a painfully slow process; but once we started developing written languages and passing reliable information from one generation to the next, a kind of “snowball effect” kicked in, which has been gathering speed since then. In a mere 30,000 years or so, we’ve gone from scratching stick drawings on a cave wall to watching South Park in glorious High Definition video and 5.1 channel surround sound.

Every fact that we know today, we’ve learned from developing theories, making discoveries, and painful trial and error – and handing down the knowledge to our offspring, for them to build upon. An exciting discovery of one generation becomes commonplace knowledge for the next.

Amazingly, we can encapsulate the important parts of all the knowledge we’ve learned since the start of human history, and pass it down our children via a structured education process – a process which has also evolved over time. Just as developing spoken and written languages were a critically important step in early humans, we now teach our children how to speak – and then read – at an early age, as these are the fundamental skills required for absorbing all the other information we need to pass along to our kids.

By utilizing the evolution of information, we can now go up in an airplane and see more of the world in a day than any single human ever saw 500 years ago. We can teach mathematical concepts, some of which hadn’t even been thought of 100 years ago, to ten year old kids. We can cure diseases that would have been fatal just 50 years ago. And we can post a blog on a website, instantly viewable to anyone in the world – an idea that was just a geeky novelty ten years ago.

Not all of our informational evolution has been in a straight line. As with the Dodo Bird, which was one of many an evolutionary branch that turned out to be a dead end, we’ve often come up with incorrect theories to describe ‘how things work’. At one time, humans believed in the idea of a homunculus (miniature men inside of a women’s uterus) because we did not know about sperm, ova and reproduction. At another time, we made up stories about a supernatural being (or beings) that controlled the weather, created the land and the sea and the sky, and even life itself! This rather absurd idea has been around for thousands of years and is only just now in its death throes.  It’s kind of ironic if you think about it: god can easily be characterized as a by-product of the evolution of Man! But evolutionarily, god is like a Dodo Bird – a big fowl thing on a dead end branch.

To be fair, the idea of a god wasn’t all that much of a stretch for a creative human to come up with. We didn’t know that the world revolved around the sun, creating days and nights. We didn’t know about the Earth’s axis tilt that created the seasons, or the gravitational effects that the moon has on weather patterns. We didn’t know about tectonic plates that would occasionally shift, sending everyone in the area scrambling for cover. We just knew that these were powerful and sometimes scary things that we didn’t have any control over. Rather than wait to discover the real answers, we got impatient and made one up: god. It was a ‘one size fits all’ answer to everything!

As the idea of a ‘god’ spread across the land, people found that they could instill great fear in others by claiming to be able to communicate with god, and religions were born. Religion, it was found, is a powerful way to exert control over a large group of people, get them to follow your every command (no matter how immoral it may be), and cough up some money along the way. As ‘god’ is a convenient response to any question that doesn’t have an answer, religion is the promotion of god for political power, corruption, and personal benefit.

Ironically, religions are subject to evolution as well. In every religion on Earth, there has been some person, or a group of people, who disagrees with the way their leaders are running things. They want to be in charge. They want the power and glory, so they convince a bunch of other people that they have had a intimate conversation with this god of theirs, they write a bunch of mystical sounding verses, present it as a new sacred text (or a new interpretation of some old text), and a new religion is born – or a branch of an old religion. If you map out the taxonomy of different religions, it looks eerily like the evolution of life on Earth! (* See note 3)

Fortunately, not everyone has fallen into the trap of god and religion. The natural evolution of information and knowledge has provided answers, often times unwittingly, to many of the questions that religious leaders have historically said that ‘only god knows the answers’ to. And once in a while, as with any evolutionary process, some amazing discovery is made which answers some really big questions – like an influential scientist who defies the rulers of the day and claims that the Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around; or a restless biologist who turns the world upside down by revealing the simple fact that all life on Earth came from a common ancestry; or a lone patent clerk who realizes that there is a relationship between energy and mass.

There are still many outstanding questions of course – and many times the answers spawn new questions. But every day, humans diligently work to find solutions to whatever puzzle intrigues them ... Physicists in Geneva are looking for the Higgs-Boson particle. Paleontologists in Peru are digging up missing links between species that went extinct millions of years ago. Engineers in Beijing are building faster supercomputers which can run more accurate simulations of the big bang. String theorists at Princeton have done phenomenal work on bridging quantum mechanics with relativity. Genome mapping has provided many clues about why our brain is so similar, yet so different, from Chimps.

Some of the current areas of research may well turn into dead ends. But as other discoveries are made, details continually emerge. Through this non-stop evolutionary process, we are learning how the universe was formed, how life emerged on this rock we call home, and how we developed the self awareness which allows us to ask all these troubling questions in the first place. Bit by bit, like a portrait done with mosaic tiles, the picture is becoming clearer; it’s a very complex picture – beautiful, elegant, and intriguing.

And I love it!

 

 

* Notes:
1. For many years, there was controversy about whether Native Americans came across the Bering Strait, or across the Atlantic Ocean directly from Africa. Genetic tests have shown that Native Americans are more closely related to Asians than any other race, and a recent study shows a “single ancestry” for all Eskimos and Native Americans:
http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9101

2. I am using skin color as a simple example of the differences between races, but there are other – more genetically significant – differences (like susceptibility or resistance to different diseases, etc.)

3. Not a graphical representation, but I did find a very interesting PowerPoint presentation from the San Jose State University on the Taxonomy of Religion

 

Categories:   Religion | Science | Social Issues
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Comments (5) -

November 24. 2010 18:44

Ha! "a big fowl thing on a dead end branch" - what a great line! Good article, I loved every word of it. Especially the Dodo bird.  I'm still chuckling over that one.

Brenda Hayes

November 25. 2010 03:10

Evolutionary excellence!  Have you read God Delusion by Richard Dawkins or Why Darwin Matters by Michael Shermer?  They both go into detail about the biological evolution of the human race, and why certain traits evolved.  Dawkins explains blind faith in what our elders tell us as having the evolutuionary advantage of producing a more obedient and cohesive society.  It made for more successful young generations as they benefited from having followed the wisdom of their elders.  The generational passing on of religion may have simply co-opted this trait.

Shermer explains that religion essentially codifies what our social evolution has taught us.  Stealing, murder, adultery, etc were all bad for social cohesion and thus, such behavior was discouraged by way of social (non) acceptance.  Religions codify these rules.

Evolution Facts

November 28. 2010 15:43

Great article! Anything that pisses christians off is ok by me. We need more people who are willing to speak the truth about these issues, not just rattle off inane garbage coughed up in an old book somewhere.

Nina

November 29. 2010 18:16

I have often wondered about where God came from, I guess this is as good of an explanation as any that I've heard before. I like your tie-in between biological evolution and technical evolution, I hadn't thought of it that way.  I'm a bit of a musical historian, and I suppose that the same concept applies to music as well; as the clavier evolved into the piano, tastes in music changed as people enjoyed the new sound. Can you imagine what Mozart might have done with today's musical instruments? Alternately, many of today's musicians would be completely at a loss if they were limited to the old musical instruments. The style of music that's popular and the technology of the instruments go hand in hand.

J. Roskins

November 30. 2010 21:00

Interesting tie in, thanks. I suppose the same could be said for art and even fashion (state of the art dyes and fabrics).

The Lunatic

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The Half Baked Lunatic | The role that our national debt has played in the financial crisis

The role that our national debt has played in the financial crisis

Thursday, 6 November 2008 18:02 by The Lunatic

 

I wrote this article a month ago and submitted it to about 20 publications.  One "top ten" weekly news magazine expressed some interest, but decided to pass.

 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Get Off The Track – The Train Is Coming!
By David Workman
October 15, 2008


The financial crisis?  Everyone saw it coming.  Many people wrote about it and some even outlined how it would play out with a fair degree of accuracy. You are not alone if you were one of the ones screaming from the rooftop that our economy is in trouble, and our debt is killing us – even if you were saying it before the real estate bubble burst and housing prices were climbing ever higher.

The question is: what did you really do about it?  What can you say that you did to protect yourself – or better yet, what did we do as a country to avoid it?

It’s like we’ve been standing on a train track staring at an oncoming freight train – and we’re too paralyzed with fear to jump off the track!

There’s really only one reason why we are in the middle of this current financial crisis we’re in:  Debt.  Personal debt, from credit cards to large mortgages that we can’t handle; corporate debt, which made the banks over extended so they can’t handle the mortgage defaults; and government debt which is siphoning hundreds of billions of dollars off our tax revenue every year just to pay the interest.

Sure, there have been other contributing factors – corporate greed, lax government oversight, trade imbalance, natural disasters, terrorist threats, war in Iraq – but we would be able to manage this crisis if we didn’t have the massive debts we are currently carrying. In reality, the crisis might not have even happened.

Debt has been a major factor in almost every major financial upheaval in history.  For example, a primary factor that lead to the great depression was that you could buy stocks on margin with only 10% equity.  This was great during the roaring 20’s, when everyone was making money.  Many economist/historian accounts agree that the stock market crash of ‘29 would NOT have led to the great depression if it were not for the 90% margin rules.  Too many investors were suddenly underwater, and brokerage houses could not cover the margin requirements of bankrupt clients, which bankrupted THEM in turn – and the cascade effect brought everything down.

The trigger of the current crisis was mortgages instead of stock margins, but otherwise there are many similarities.  When a homeowner has a 90% or higher loan to value mortgage, there is no room for error.  When we had an inevitable downturn in real estate values last year, which happens on a fairly cyclical basis, too many people suddenly owed more than their home was worth.

Banks are only working on a few points spread between their cost of money and the mortgage rates, so it doesn’t take very many under water properties to wipe out the gains from THOUSANDS of other profitable mortgages.

The challenge of the bailout is to keep the economy from going into the downward spiral that leads to an all-out depression. This starts when consumers cuts back on spending, then companies don’t make as much profit and lay people off, which reduces spending even further. And the cycle feeds on itself until everything crashes.

Here’s another popular prediction: even if this near trillion dollar bail-out of the financial markets succeeds in shoring up the economy for a few years, our national debt will continue to stifle the economy, devaluate the dollar, and eventually bankrupt the U.S. Government.

Our current government debt is now over TEN TRILLION dollars – and that’s not counting unfunded obligations to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other social programs, which bring the total to around $60 Trillion dollars by most estimates. So the bailout plan adds another trillion dollars to the pile.  What’s the big deal?

Official projections for the last twenty years have shown that we cannot keep up with the interest payments, much less actually pay down the principal on the national debt – and it’s gotten predictably worse every year.  In 2007, the U.S. Government spent over $400 Billion of our tax dollars just on interest payments. There WILL come a time, at some point in the future, when interest payments alone will surpass the tax revenue that the government collects.  Everyone knows this.  We had an opportunity, some fifteen years ago, to make a major shift in government policy and drastically reduce our debt – it would have been somewhat painful, but it would have been manageable at the time.  Unfortunately, no one wanted to hear it.  To raise taxes AND decrease social programs goes against both the Democratic and Republican sensibilities.   Spending money we didn’t have and lowering taxes seemed to be the only things that made people happy, and the national debt has more than tripled because of this.

Ever since it has gotten out of control, no major party candidate has seriously tried to fix the debt problem. Even up until a few weeks ago when the financial markets came to the brink of disaster, neither Barack Obama nor John McCain had taken a public stance on the national debt.  To do so is political suicide.  Why?  Because there is no solution to the problem that does not entail admitting that the U.S. Government is heading for bankruptcy.  Any fix will mean DRASTIC changes to our tax and spending policy – changes so distasteful that there would be no chance of getting support from voters or consensus on Capital Hill.

We would rather stare at the freight train barreling down on us, and deal with it when there’s blood on the tracks.

The crux of the matter – at this point in time – is that if the bailout is not successful and we have a repeat of the great depression, tax revenue will fall dramatically because of the high unemployment and reduced corporate earnings.  This will make it impossible for the United States government to operate within budget, and the national debt will soar beyond all imagination.

What are the options – or what WILL the options be – when we get to the point where we can’t even pay the interest on our national debt? There are many, but none are pleasant.  Here are some examples:

Print more money – if new money is released slowly to pay down the debt, it creates inflation and devalues the dollar over time.  Any personal assets (especially cash and cash based investments) are then worth less – effectively creating a "progressive tax" on assets because the more you have the less it is worth.  If done quickly, this inevitably will lead to hyper-inflation and extreme devaluation of the dollar.  Look at the Latin American crisis in the 80’s as an example. We’ve always been very critical of countries that take this route, as the outcome is very predictable.

Default on the payments – while it’s unlikely that other countries would declare war on the U.S. to force us to pay up, our economy would still suffer major damage from a default. Also, over half of what we owe is internal debt.  Think of it this way – Social Security has a lot of cash which has been “invested” in U.S. Treasury Bills, a form of national debt.  A default would mean that Social Security payments would immediately stop, and our elderly population would be thrown into poverty. Welfare payments would most likely cease as well and the economy would go further into a tailspin.

Pay off the loans right now – This would cause a very large, but relatively short term, period of pain.  After that, things would be great! But is everyone in a position to, and willing to, contribute their share?  The current national debt is roughly $30,000 per person – so my family of four would owe $120,000. No problem – break out your checkbooks, everyone!  Even if this was applied on a sliding scale, with wealthier people paying more, we could not cover it. We are too late for this to be feasible.

Make a payment plan – if an individual is in debt, they can go to a credit counselor who helps them negotiate a payment plan with their creditors.  But if they owe too much, and can’t even handle reduced interest payments, their only choice is to declare bankruptcy. Even if we negotiated a zero interest rate and payments for 30 years, that would still require $1,000 per year from every citizen – on top of current taxes to keep the government operating. Remember that we just gave everyone $600 as an “economic stimulus” payment – adding an additional tax just for debt payment would depress the economy, and no one wants this to go on for 30 years!

Ask for forgiveness – we’ve forgiven debt to other countries before, on a much smaller scale, usually with a promise for some favors in the future. Would our lenders allow us to walk away without any consequences after spending well beyond our means for so many years?  Not likely.

Liquidate Assets – when a corporation that is short on cash gets into trouble they usually start selling assets to stay afloat.  We owe almost $600 Billion to Japan – maybe they’d take Hawaii in exchange? Canada can have Alaska.  England has wanted Massachusetts for 200 years – to give payback for their little tea party. What do we give to China and Brazil – parts of California and Florida, maybe?

Granted, the last suggestion, actually breaking up the U.S. is crazy.  Absolutely unthinkably crazy – but if we let the situation go till we can't make our payments, it’s the type of “out of the box” thinking that we will need to consider. There are no easy answers. There are no solutions that will be an easy sell to congress and voters – but we need a leader that will at least admit we have a severe problem and offer some solutions.

Our debt is like a freight train. It’s coming closer and closer – and the recent crisis on Wall Street just made it accelerate a little bit.

The worst thing we can do is stand on the tracks, continue to stare at the train, and just hope that it will come to a stop.  It won’t.

 

Categories:   Economics
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March 11. 2010 18:09

The us government has to get started doing the appropriate thing. A fantastic start could be getting their noses from the medicine and health trade. They can not really manage the work load which they have now. Exactly how are these people supposed to make this any more effective?

Force Factor

September 1. 2010 22:09

Another option is to raise taxes on the top income earners--back to what they were during pre-Reagan years.  Obama already plans on allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on the top earners.  Furthermore, our economy will recover and revenues will rise.  In fact, if reach another Clinton-era boom we could be once again looking at a projected surplus (that's not to say that a future administration couldn't destroy the surplus).  No doubt, cutting some spending would help.  At some point, we will be out of Afghanistan as well and the costs of the war will be minimized.  

Obama FTW

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