July 20, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Evolution: The Key to Understanding

The nature of physical things is much more easily conceived when they are beheld coming gradually into existence, than when they are only considered as produced at once in finished and perfect state.


We are each of us born into a world that is already formed, to parents who, for most of our childhood, seem to remain unchanged, and into a society and nation. It seems to us that everything has always been the way it is. In our short span of our life, that is the way it is. However, we soon find that we ourselves are changing and that everything changes. People are born, grow up, grow old and die. To those who think, it soon becomes obvious that all things evolve, including cultures and religions.

In order to understand any subject, it is necessary to know how it evolved. To believe that geometry started with Euclid and theorems is to ignore the fact that geometry existed before Euclid and was used in constructing buildings. Long before the Pythagorean theorem, that the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides, it was known that if you took a string that had lengths of 3, 4 and 5 units, that you could construct a right angle.

By the same token, there were religions before Judaism or any of the world religions. While some choose to ignore this fact, the true understanding of one's religion mandates an understanding of where it came from; how it evolved.

It is not necessary to understand much of anything in order to survive. A bear, a mountain lion or a flea does quite well. One of the glories of the human mind is that we can have some concept of what came before and what might come after. Every sentient adult knows that his parents were once children and that he will eventually die. I doubt that my cat is aware of this. Even if a cat were aware, it couldn't tell me because it can't speak.

A bit of evolution is essential to any advanced pedagogy. Well taught history is mostly about the evolution of events. Psychology must include the evolution of an adult from a newborn child. Even language courses should have a bit about how the meanings of words have changed over time and a bit about word origins.

At one time, when the sperm cell was first seen under a microscope, it was thought that the sperm contained a tiny man which, when implanted in a woman's belly, grew into a person. We now know how a human being evolves from the union of sperm and egg, and how it differentiates and grow into a fetus, a child, an adult, an old person and eventually death. This is the evolution of a person, and anyone who claims to understand any part of human development is familiar with this process.

We drive a car. Most of us do not understand how the car works. A skilled automobile mechanic does. An automotive engineer understands more than the mechanic, and there are innovative people who develop new forms of automobiles, who have a greater understanding. Much of that understanding has to do with knowing the total evolution of an automobile and what all of the possibilities are.

While there are many people who practice religion, few understand its evolution. Those who do are the masters of theology. They are to religion, what the embryologist is to the understanding of structure and function, and what the automotive engineer is to the automobile.

Part of understanding the evolution of a subject, is understanding the history of our thoughts about it. This is important to the scientist and it is vitally important to those who deal with the human mind and spirit.

There is no understanding of any subject without an understanding of evolution. Lacking that, there is only the blind obedience to an unyielding destiny. Our ancestors were slaves to now-curable diseases and an often cruel environment. They practiced a way of life that was probably originated by a few people of genius; the history of which was long lost to people who lacked the means to record it.

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