Humanity loves stupid arguments over symbols. There’s arguments about flags. There’s arguments about holy books. There was the Affair of the Sausages. There’s the argument on college campuses about cultural appropriation of other people’s cuisines. There’s the argument over whether the changing designs on Starbucks Holiday Cups are part of a larger war on Christmas. And there is English football hooliganism which just shows that some humans will find any excuse for a good fight. Humans are amazing at getting our priorities out of order. If you’re arguing about sausages, fighting about your soccer team and worrying about the symbolic consequences of eating sushi or a Starbucks holiday cup, then it’s time to reexamine whether you have you have your priorities in the right order.
Liberals do it. Conservatives do it. Religious people do it. And rational(izing) scientists like Richard Dawkins do it. Because, let’s be honest, the mainstream conversation about evolution isn’t about evolution. Instead, evolution has become a symbolic, tribal marker. Are you #TeamScience or #TeamReligion? Are you #TeamProgress or #TeamTradition? Googling, I found this. It’s a pretty understandable sentiment. Why even talk about this?
Well, because it’s the perfect example of how humans actually work and it’s a great lens for how to make sense of how we move forward. Depending on the poll you look at, you’ll find that about half of the US believes in evolution. The honest truth is that in academic circles this is usually interpreted to mean that the other half of Americans are idiots. In practice, my experiences as a science educator in both religious and secular communities have convinced me that 100% of Americans care more about fitting in than some dry, academic dispute with little, obvious practical relevance to their lives. As one of my teenage students at Oaks Christian put it, “Who cares where fish came from?” In other words…
While my student didn’t care about the origins of fish, he did care deeply about success. What did success mean to him? It meant becoming a moviemaker. For a tutor, this is an apparent challenge. You want to be a moviemaker and you’re expected to do a high school curriculum that bears no obvious relation to what you want to do. In modern America, lots of kids want to be rappers, moviemakers, pop stars, professional athletes, Instagram models and tech billionaires. (Millionaires are such loooooooosers.) A small number of professions have succeeded in hijacking awe at the expense of professions like doctors, teachers, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, engineers and many more. As a tutor, I can’t do much to change the whole society, so I work with what I’ve got. How can the kid be on the path to their goals while still getting the maximum amount of high school? Simple, you reframe school. School teaches you process.
Managing the production of a major motion picture is a complicated affair. There are a lot of moving pieces. The same thing is true with any profession done excellently. You want to pull off a great piece of work, then you’re going to have to understand how to manage the creative process, do and redo work until it is of the highest standard and work within constraints. These sort of meta-skills are really not about math, rap, moviemaking, athletics or anything else. They’re about managing yourself because that is all any of us really controls. By managing ourselves and our reactions, we have the ability to affect others. I can’t make my teenage students do anything. I can listen. I can encourage reflection. I can ask questions. I can reframe the situation to create a different emotional context. This is what education is about. It’s about creating an environment around the student that helps evolve them into a better person. That idea that environment shapes behavior is evolution. But is it at odds with Christianity or Islam? I don’t think so. Much of the point of raising your children in religious environment is to provide the kind of environment that will let them grow up to be productive members of the community. Away from the hue and cry over the symbols of evolution and Creationism, everyone believes in evolution. In fact, anyone who doesn’t is in serious trouble. In a world that is changing as quickly as ours, you’d better be constantly adapting to the ever-changing environment. If you’re not, you’ll find yourself a victim of the mass extinction of jobs known as the jobocalypse. My student can’t simply learn moviemaking. The way moviemaking and distribution technology is changing he’s going to have to learn it, unlearn it and relearn it. If he doesn’t, he’ll simply become irrelevant. Evolution is a way we are all going to have to live. Is this at odds with religion? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s a far more authentic form of religion than dig your heels in, literal-minded fundamentalism. Inherent in the idea that Islam is the Way or Jesus es El Camino is the idea of change over time. That idea is inherent in science too. New evidence always emerges and we should update our minds in light of that evidence. Living science as a principle demands constant work on yourself and letting go of old ideas. Is it a surprise to find that the same militant atheists who are so rigidly committed to the divide between science and religion are also rigidly opposed to a new science that sees religion in an evolutionarily positive light? It shouldn’t be. However, this dispute over evolution is much, much more interesting and emotionally relevant than the one about where fish come from. It’s about where cultures come from. Just as individual children are shaped over time by the environment they find themselves in, whole societies are shaped by the physical and cultural environments in which they find themselves. This evolution tells you why you and the other humans around you behave the way you do. It’s a Scientific New Testament and there are four gospels.
Aren’t you curious to understand that? Well, currently, that knowledge is in 100’s of books that make up the Mixed Mental Arts book list but starting next week they’ll be broken down like never before as part of the first complete Mixed Mental Arts belt system.
It’s important to realize that our cultures evolved to a particular environment to give us one thing: success. The people of the Amazon Rainforest have a set of beliefs, values and practices ideally evolved to give them success in that environment. The people of the Amazon Corporation have a set of beliefs, values and practices that have given their tribe success over their competitors thus far. If they or you or me or any individual or group of humans wants more success, they will have to evolve better culture. Helping humans of any generation make better decisions is something we can all rally behind. My student may not care where fish come from…but he cares an awful lot about where humanity is going. Sometimes children are far wiser than adults.
Considering how little trust there is right now, we should focus on whatever common ground we can and then build out from there to reexamine more contentious issues. The diehard atheist fundamentalists and the diehard theist fundamentalists will be the last to change their minds. The rest of us should just get together and talk out our differences.There are far more reasonable people than fundamentalists and that’s why these are the fish that really matter.