While serving a mission in southern Chile I often challenged people to ponder some of the deep questions of life: Where are you from? Where are you going? Often, the answer to those two questions helped seekers of truth to answer the more relevant question of what are we supposed to be doing in this life. I propose a parallel exercise to help us understand our religious and practical obligations to the planet and our environment.
Theodore Dobzhansky wrote in 1973 that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (American Biology Teacher, Volume 35, pages 125-129). Given Gallup Poll data asserting that only 39% of Americans believe in evolution as of February 2009, one must conclude that to 61% of Americans who do not subscribe to the theory of evolution, nothing in biology makes sense. That frightens me because biology (the study of life) and evolution give us a new and deeper understanding of the earth, and our relation ship to it and all things found on it.
Evolution teaches us that the planet is very old, and that the world’s history is our history. Most of us have a difficult time understanding how old the earth really is, but evolution helps us to gain more perspective. Although it appears that life formed on earth relatively quickly (a billion years or so after the formation of the planet), it takes millions of years and generations for time to become meaningful. Earth time is deep time. Our lifetimes are barely noticeable next to the lifespan of the earth. Becoming evo-literate brings our roles on the earth into perspective.
Evolution also teaches us about our intimate and necessary relationship with earth. Using genetic markers, scientists can now trace the human record across the globe, back to Africa where genetic diversity is the greatest. We can see similarities across species as well, not just within species. This understanding of evolution drives home the point that we are related to all life on the planet, rather than mere obligatory roommates of sorts.
Finally, understanding evolution may help us to understand the future of our planet. There is little difference between those that subscribed to a geocentric model of the universe and those today that subscribe to an “anthro-centric” model of the planet. Our religion also teaches us to look outside ourselves to the needs and well-being of others. That teaching should extend to earth and all its inhabitants, not just our fellow men. Men were not meant to be the focus of all life, rather we are intended to be stewards to our planet and the life contained thereon.
I submit that if we continue spreading evo-literacy, people will also become more eco-literate. Once we understand how intertwined our fate and the planet’s fate are, we are much less likely to desecrate the earth. Evolution gives us an immediate and scientifically founded reason to care for the earth and guard against actions that may cause it damage.