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Shaun Johnston

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Humanities approach to evolution

I believe evolution is the greatest discovery of all time, but in 200 years we've drawn from it almost no wisdom about ourselves at all. What's stopping us? I propose we start searching for that wisdom all over again.

Creationism is not the primary alternative to Darwinism. The primary traditional alternatives have been various combinations of mind and creativity. Alternatives like those help us make more sense of what it means we evolved. I am developing such a combination, supposing mind and creativity to have evolved into the genome, the genome then building them into us. The result is a discourse suited to creatives and members of the humanities, for whom Darwinism, and hence us having evolved, is mostly irrelevant.

Given we're unlikely to have already in hand all the concepts we need to understand something as revolutionary as having evolved, a mere discourse based on new principles may be invaluable for devising crucial paradoxes and questions.

I have written five books on the impact of evolutionary theory on our sense of self, and a play, "What it means we evolved". Would my concerns fit into any program you have in mind? I live in the mid Hudson Valley. The play I perform myself but at 90 minutes it's too long for your format.

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    Jul 5 2013: Hi Shaun,
    Evolution has been around for more than 200 years. Henry Morris in "The Long War against God" traces it way back to the dawn of time. A 'must read' for anyone interested in the history of the theory.
    The humanities is one thing among many that distinguish us from the animals. It has no survival benefit, therefore is unlikely to be naturally selected. Looking at nature, I cannot but admire the artistic content of both sound & vision. Evolution does not seem, to me, a prime candidate.

    :-)
    • Jul 5 2013: Nobody said that everything is the product of natural selection.
    • Jul 5 2013: Peter, I don't divide human talents between those a particular mechanism of evolution can account for and those it can't. I define evolution as being able to account for them all. Then follows the question, what kind of process must that be? In this I differ from creationists and darwinists.
      • Jul 5 2013: What do you mean by "Darwinists"? I doubt that any evolutionary biologist would say that every feature in living forms comes from natural selection. I doubt that even the most selectionist among them would think that.

        Creationism is pure fantasy. Evolution is a reality. Yet, we neither think that everything is due to natural selection, nor do we think that everything is due to evolution. We don't think that every human feature or cultural phenomena is due to natural selection. Creationists are the ones who have created such a cartoon because, to them, evolution is a substitute for their god(s). It's not. We don't think of natural phenomena as omnipotent omniscient omnibenevolent stuff, but as what they are: natural phenomena. As such, we can't just shrug and chant mantras about how evolution answers everything. It answers what it answers, and that's it.
        • Jul 6 2013: I do believe that everything about me that is not attributable to physics is due to evolution. In this I differ from selectionists. I see myself an a product of evolution as a Ford automobile is a product of the Ford factory. The steel and rubber may be mere commodities, but as a functioning creature I am a product of evolution. If selectionists don't believe this, where do they think anything else comes from? Will they accept responsibility only for what they can explain, through population statistics, leaving "culture" to pickup the rest? And where does culture come from! I'm content to see that as coming from evolution, too.
      • Jul 6 2013: So Jaimie prefers blue shirts because of evolution, Heather broke her leg when she was six years old because of evolution, the enlightenment was due to evolution, Einstein developed relativity theory because of evolution ... and so on?

        Hum, now I understand why I can't understand your idea about a humanities approach to evolution. We speak completely different languages and logics.

        Have a nice conversation with the rest of people.
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        Jul 6 2013: Hi Shaun.
        "Peter, I don't divide human talents between those a particular mechanism of evolution can account for and those it can't"
        Traditional evolution only postulates "Natural Selection" tied to "Random Mutation" as a mechanism. Do you propose another method which may have given rise to the humanities in Homo Sapiens ?

        :-)
        • Jul 6 2013: Darwinism has no exclusive right to account for how we evolved, any more than in the 19th century particle theories had an exclusive right to account for light. A phenomenon of such vast significance as evolution is unlikely to be comprehended by a single theoretical approach such as population statistics. We are a product of evolution; we should be able to explore it from the inside, through how we experience being such a creature.

          I propose placing beside darwinism an alternative account of evolution that draws on the kind of discourse we use for comprehending our own acts of creation, involving mind and design; as a product of evolution we may use ourselves as a measure of its capabilities. Such a discourse would be comprehensible, as population statistics is not, to artists and writers, and the humanities generally. Then their intuition can be unleashed on the astonishing discovery that we evolved.

          I invest mind and design in the genome, regarding it as a creature in its own right, evolving continuously since life first began. This is a secular theory, capable of a high degree of elaboration as we discover more about evolution, especially once our view of the natural world widens out beyond the narrow range of possibilities defined for us by current physical science.
  • Jul 5 2013: "The only valid basis for dismissing Creationism, aka the Holy Bible, is to falsify it scientifically." I dismiss it, in the context of trying to understand what it means we evolved, for its agenda. I believe that is a valid basis.
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      Jul 6 2013: You dismiss Creationism because it is difficult to understand and you accept the theory of evolution? You find evolution easy to understand compared to Creationism? That sounds inconsistent because Creationism does not involve complex scientific issues. Creationism is easy to understand. Really, Shaun, why do you eschew Creationism?
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    Jul 5 2013: Organized religion has rejected it although they could have made it fit their philosophy.
  • Jul 5 2013: No, Edward, I dismiss Creationism because its intent is not to learn what having evolved implies for human nature but to support existing doctrines. Creationism comes with answers already in place. I assume there is little thrill of discovery in picking out one or two findings to confirm what one already believes in. Rather like physics! As for disciplines, I was thinking of anthropology, history and linguistics, which have methods but are not bound by a logic limited to syllogisms based on today's physics. Even writers and poets; intuition in a garden may deliver more insights than population statistics. Imagination may be precisely what is most needed in evolution study today. Is it conceivable that changing from an origin story based on God to one based on evolution can have so little meaning for us as we have so far drawn from it? Something's suppressing our natural enthusiasm for exploration.
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      Jul 5 2013: You dismiss Creationism because it is existing doctrine? Do you dismiss everything that comes with answers? As a Creationist I can assure you that my natural enthusiasm for observing God's creation is not suppressed by the teachings of the Holy Bible. You are being sophomoric and irrationally biased against Creationism. The only valid basis for dismissing Creationism, aka the Holy Bible, is to falsify it scientifically. Prove Creationism is false using the Scientific Method, you'll be famous as the first to do it.
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    Jul 5 2013: I assume that the intent and purpose of Darwin's theory of Evolution is to explain some, or all, of the mechanisms and processes which brought about and control the ongoing development of all life on Earth. That being true I wish to understand your statement, QUOTE: "Creationism is not the primary alternative to Darwinism. The primary traditional alternatives have been various combinations of mind and creativity. ". I assume we agree that Humanities is not Science, and Science is not Humanities, as demonstrated by the existence of the Scientific Method, and the absence of any such rigid control process in the Humanities. Is your dismissal of Creationism based upon your expertise in the Humanities?
    • Jul 5 2013: There is no justification for assuming today's science is complete, its reach is always subject to its methods, apparatus and concepts. Therefore it can be an error to assume we have all the concepts needed to comprehend the mechanics of evolution. My experience of having consciousness and free will testifies to realities outside the reach of today's physics. That physics is not qualified to reserve for itself study of a process such as evolution that can generate creatures with the experience of being conscious and having free will. Religion has no concern for a process not involving its own doctrines. All that is left, the "disciplines" of the humanities, and individual exploration. And all that we have to work with is existing concepts such as mind and creativity, or design, and study of nature. We may use these to arrive at paradoxes and questions alerting us to the concepts still needed. Letting one's view be bounded by an inadequate science l see as worse than ignorance.
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        Jul 5 2013: Good response Shaun, thank you. So, you do believe the Humanities have "disciplines", and you do dismiss Creationism on the basis of what you have learned by studying the Humanities? Good point that some things are worse than ignorance. In fact, there is a way to view ignorance as a positive thing, a wealth of opportunity to LEARN the truth!
        • Jul 5 2013: By error I posted a reply to you at the top level, see main thread. But I want to add, I am puzzled to find creationists reading posts on evolution. Is your concern primarily to look for opportunities to support the creationist point of view, curiosity about alternatives, interest in general trends, or...? Some of the most tolerant, well-informed commentators on evolution I've come across have been creationists. But at bottom we've had no common interest.
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        Jul 6 2013: RE: "By error I posted. . ." You being puzzled by a Creationist showing interest in a conversation about evolution makes me think you advocate limiting one's intellectual pursuits strictly to what is in harmony with one's own beliefs. That is neither scientific nor logical. Is that really your modus operandii? Is that how you arrived at the conclusion that Creationism is unworthy of your attention?Asking a Humanities expert to explain evolution is not a good idea.
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    Jul 5 2013: I find evolution inspires creativity. For example, I try to think about animals and what I can learn from the things they do. Just yesterday I was considering the squirrel and what the squirrel eats, which includes pine nuts, and it led me to research online how I could harvest pine nuts from pine cones. Today I'm going to research harvesting acorns, based again on contemplating the squirrel's diet.
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      Jul 5 2013: I think you would have been identically inspired if you had never heard of the theory of evolution, or Darwin. I agree natural studies and observations inspire creativity as demonstrated by your real-life example. I do not agree that such creativity of thought is a gift from Charles Darwin. Thank you!
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        Jul 5 2013: Thanks, ed. I believe the evolution theory made it a little easier, but I admit, primitive peoples believed in creationism, and they also observed what animals ate, and copied them. But do we also observe that primitive peoples dressed up like animals sometimes and danced around, what does this mean, could this have been a primitive precedent to evolution theory, did the primitive peoples think of themselves as resembling animals?
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          Jul 5 2013: I can't speak for primitive people because I have never been, or studied, one. I am a Creationist though. I am pleased to see we agree that Charlie Darwin doesn't deserve the credit for the lessons we learn by observing the workings of the Universe. I think the Creation, not evolution, inspires creativity. I hope you agree. Thank you, Greg!
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        Jul 5 2013: Well, at this point I am an evolutionist, ed, and I do give Darwin some credit. I do know my friend Flavio said that he thought that by the time you come to die, everybody believes in God, so maybe I'll change. Evolution certainly makes more sense to me than creationism.
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          Jul 5 2013: I appreciate your phrase, "at this point". It indicates an open mind and a desire for Truth. Keep observing. By the way, what doesn't make sense about "In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth."? It is a lucid, non-self-conflictibg statement of a possible explanation of the origin and operation of the Cosmos. What is your rationalefor judging it to be less-than-sensible?
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        Jul 5 2013: well, you look around you and you see billions of mortal lives, people, animals, plants, germs, etc. Then a creationist tells you there's one creature, God, who's immortal, sorry, I don't think there's one giant exception to all the billions of mortal ones. But maybe you don't believe "the Creator" is immortal?
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          Jul 5 2013: I get it Greg, you don't share my belief in the God of the Holy Bible. That's not surprising when you realize there are as many gods as there are imaginations. I do not see why anyone would create their personal god to be just like them. That makes no sense to me. Do you imagine a god who is altogether like you? Or do you imagine there is no God? Anyway, on topic, I do not see how the Humanities, a non-scientific study, can facilitate, or enhance, understanding of a scientific issue. Be well Greg!
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    • Jul 5 2013: I am glad you are not subject to the difficulties we atheists face. We just have to deal with having evolved, it's our origin story. Darwinism is our self-chosen Procrustean bed, to which we submit ourselves. I'm afraid l have to find my own solution, yours is not an option.