Chapter VI – Evolution
Evolution seems inscribed into existence as a general law. Evolutionism stands as parallel to the belief in progress with the central position that over time, being directs towards more diverse and more perfect forms. In accordance with scientific disciplines, from physical science, to biology, to anthropology comes the understanding that the evolution of inanimate matter, from atoms, molecules form, matter tends towards the origin of animate life, the evolution of sentient beings, and to the more perfect organization of primates.
“On the Origin of Species” constitutes a landmark in the history of science and of the intellectual progress of human civilization. The world was created by a benevolent and beneficent God over a successive period of six epochs culminating from the creation of inanimate being to the evolutive appearance of man, of humanity, the special bond between the spiritual reality and the material creation, endowed and blessed with dominion over the earth; this was the accepted narrative of human origins and of creation till the emergence of Charles Darwin’s seminal work.
The theory of evolution propounded in the “On the Origin of Species” was a thorough naturalistic explanation of the mechanism and of the evolution of sentient being, involving in its formulations an intellectual and cultural re-consideration of human and of animal origins. Darwin posited upon the observation of the morphological and the behavioral similitude of all animate life and the evidence of the geologic record, that all organisms originated from a common ancestor, the point of departure of the biological change of evolution. The existence of sentient beings, their adaptation and their diversity, were the result of solely natural forces, a mechanism that acted over eons and through the acquisition of inherited traits passed on to progeny, the influence of climate, and the adaptation of physical and behavioral characteristics to the environment, birthed in the end, always novel organisms. Natural selection was the primary agent of the evolutionary process engraving in animate life a law of survival that was at once impersonal, amoral, conflictive, and yet, creative; acting on populations of organisms, it involved the selection of those most adapted to the constraints of their environment, permitting them to survive the harshness of nature and pass on their physical traits to their offspring. In the proposed theory of evolution, man was the apogee of the evolutive process: homo sapiens, the wise primate bore testament to the creative power and the ingenious nature of the evolutionary change revealing in this manner, the apparent gradual purposiveness of undirected nature.
The discovery of the gene by Gregor Mendel, advanced a new understanding of the scientific theory. A new emphasis was introduced that oriented from the level of population organism to the state of the molecular gene. During the 20th century, the implications of the advancement for the theory became evident. Here, natural selection acted replicating in code those inherited traits that provided survival advantage. Through chance, mutation, and variation, novel forms emerged that would contribute to the diversity of all life forms. Moreover, it contributed to a new conception in the scientific efforts at uncovering the acute matter of the origin of life, giving form to the principle of replication and of heredity as the ultimate and the motive cause of animate being.
Over time, it seems that evolutionism accepted as a general proposition has been ascribed as matter of fact, an inescapable law imprinted on matter and on existence itself, that is the fundamental constitution of extant being. In truth, natural history appears to have revealed over the preceding two centuries, its remarkable explanatory power relegating to the pages of past history, the particular supernatural account of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. The theory of the Big Bang, popular since 1965 seems to confirm evolutionism. In reality, it transposes to the physical matter the principles of the history of animate and biological matter. 13.8 billion years ago, the universe arose from a singularity, a point of infinite heat, infinite density, and infinite matter. Through successive changes, were birthed the primary units of matter then to molecules and later to the formation of planets, stars, and galaxies.
The universe exists in a state of constant evolution, a becoming that evidences to direct all extant being to its final end, a finality that empirical science is attempting to comprehend. As the arrow aims towards its target, so does creation tend towards its intended end, a state of maximal heat content in which all matter subsists in a form of complete disorder termed entropy. Entropy, is itself a thermodynamic concept – thermodynamics is a brand of physical science concerned with the study of the heat states of a given system – that measures the disorder in a particular system and the ability to carry out work in the system with the use of a physical quantity named free energy – the ability to do work on a system – in order to operate the physical ordering of matter, the organization of living matter, the biochemical functions of organic life, and the evolution of all sentient beings. According to conclusions, the process of expansion that ensued because of the Big Bang, is to ultimately terminate in the universe’s contraction leading to the disorganization and the disorder of all matter, and its ultimate and its final end.
For human civilization, the process of evolution and of human change stands at another branch point. The contemporary globalized world, is in truth, the realization of conscious spiritual, intellectual and social forces that originate centuries into the past; since the advent of modernity, Western civilization has been the prime architect of humanity’s human, material, and scientific evolution, a reality synthesized in a particular intellectual position: progress.
The 19th century seemed to invalidate the Enlightenment philosophers’ expectant belief in the progressive ascendancy of humanity. The Industrial Revolution permitted the application to human living and to the natural world, of centuries of scientific development, more particularly, the advances acquired during the Scientific Revolution, the 17th century, that formed the foundation of scientific discoveries over the following centuries.
Empirical science – in contraposition to human science in general – significantly increased man’s mastery over his natural and physical environment. The discovery of the laws of physics, of the integral composition of matter, and of the understanding of physical forces charitably marched towards the application of these realizations resulting in wondrous inventions that irreversibly altered the way of life of Western nations. The invention of the steam engine permitted the irrevocable transition from the old agrarian order characterized with the inegalitarian system ruled by the noble class to the capitalistic economic system generated and led by the ascendant bourgeois class with its strong work ethic and its thrifty ingenuity. With its invention, it powered the concomitant creation of the locomotive which relieved the efficient transport of goods from the reliance of animals, which required nutrition and shelter, and in association, the erection of steam factories enabled the large scale production of goods driving the economic wealth and the material standard of living of England and of industrialized nations during the 19th century.
In many respects, the 20th century represents a period of scientific and technological miracles. The inventions of the car, and of the plane drastically altered human transport. These wondrous means of transportation contributed to the ongoing process of urbanization, the migration and the integral movement of human populations across economic centers, and evidently, the mutual intercourse of diverse sections of human society and of divergent human cultures. The emergence and the democratization of the home television and of the personal computer decidedly changed human communication anticipating the later developments of the Information Age, representing as technical achievements the globalization of economic markets, inaugurated since the establishment of the international order catalyzed out of the tribulation of the Second World War; the end result being the erection of a global society, a common home, a diversely unified but uniformitarian world.
In the light of the theory of evolution, human progress is a concrete reality. In some respects, it appears that the process of evolution that led to the apparition of homo sapiens has been at work in the mechanism that has enabled the achievement of human civilization. Humanity, in general, has attained remarkable human and technical progress with the accompanying consolidation of a collective consciousness motivated with the ideals of peace, equality, and tolerance. In scientific academia, and since the 20th century, however, the process of evolution has chiefly been understood to be an undirected process with no intended finality, with man comprehended to no longer stand as the final end and the terminus of the evolutive process, but, rather, constituting the product of conflict and chance formed and erected in response to the challenges and the constraints of his immediate environment. Apprehended in such way, the current evolutionary understanding due to its undirected operation appears to contradict the purposeful and remarkable period of progress that has been driving humanity since the advent of modernity.
The process of human and technical progress that has marked modernity and post-modernity has at the same time been accompanied with moral change. Specifically, the 20th century is accepted to have borne witness to the Death of God, the social, cultural, and political change that birthed a mutation in ethical standards emerging with the rejection of moral absolutes as the standards of human behavior and the elevation of the human self as the sole criterion of ethical evaluation and the measure of moral truth. This development is in truth, associated in the conception of the common individual with the progress that constitutes the reality and the existence of post-modernity, and is, for that fact, irreversible; as such, the moral crisis and confusion that is at the heart of contemporary society is commonly but unconsciously conceived to be an integral part of human progress and seen from this perspective, a determinant factor in the evolution of the human species.
From the standpoint of modernity, a period beginning with the Renaissance in the 14th century to the period of the Second World War in the 20th century, a new intellectual position and psychological attitude is initiated. The human person is the center of the society, the civic polis, elevating the human being as the master of his own destiny and the sole possessor of the earthly realm, gradually emancipated from religious authority and divine tutelage; a novel condition that continually educes the desire for human autonomy, presents the value and the worth of the temporal plane, and affirms the quest for natural advancement. The modern frame of thought is fundamentally naturalistic and rationalistic. The re-discovery of nature inherited from the renewed influence of Europe’s Greek and Antique intellectual capital, is particularly apparent in the illustrious paintings, sculptures and influential inventions of the Renaissance artists and inventors; and visible in the developments in medicine and the growing understanding of the inner human body. The foundation of the intellectual current poses and upraises the faculty of human reason above and beyond divine rationality and elevates human liberty and the human conscience as the absolute revendications of its confident, militant, and innate activity. Established in the modern subconscious and behavior, is a decided belief in progress and in the ability of the human reason to achieve civilization’s final form, an age of peace and of brotherhood, of scientific advancement, of technological mastery, of liberal democratization and of industrious development animated by noble sentiments of good will and of concord. This was the unquestioned conviction of the Enlightenment philosophers and intellectuals, certain that scientific evolution and democratic rule could advance the cause of man and realize the deepest aspirations of humanity.
Post-modern man carries within the subconscious and the mental frame of thought the psychological and the intellectual acquisitions of modernity. The education of the rational mind has remained the objective of secular schooling and higher teaching; the militancy and the advocacy for human equality and liberal emancipation has remained a vehement and globalized issue of concern; the realization of human science and the improvement of material human living has been a governing preoccupation; and the general and suffused belief in humanity’s ineluctable progress, as evidenced in the rapid gains of technology and the widespread liberalization of the Information Age, has remained the central but unconscious learned belief of the post-modern psyche. Chiefly, post-modernity represents the affirmation of the human self above objective canons of behavior and the relegation of the obsolete nature of the Judeo-Christian divinity’s absolute legal and moral claims on the human conscience, on the human liberty, and on human behavior. An attempt is made to elaborate a philosophy of man that is holistic in its operation, humane in its ambitions and yet materialistic in nature; yet, at the same time, a diffused acceptation is made that adheres to the relativity of life and to the fundamental inability of the human mind to attain to any objective and comprehensive existential truths whatever.