During Evolution Week, I attended a lecture by Dr. Whiting. I believe it was titled “Grandeur in this View of Life”, or something to that effect. Dr. Whiting gave a general overview of evolution and the reasoning behind it. He also talked of Darwin. He spoke of Darwin’s life experiences and how these affected his scientific views. It was a great summary of evolution and Darwin for the general population. But to be honest, I found Dr. Whiting’s talk to be somewhat boring. I am in his Biology 420 class this semester, so I had already heard most of his lecture within the beginning week of January. And other biology classes had already taught me the general principles of evolution.
However, there was one aspect of his lecture that really caused me to think and ponder. Dr. Whiting talked about the importance of patterns. He showed us a picture of his daugther’s creation of cookies and pudding. He described this creation as a pattern, and by studying the pattern, one could see how the cookies and pudding were manipulated. It was possible to tell that the cookies had come after the pudding, and that the little girl had created the pudding painting using mainly her fingers. Dr. Whiting described some of the patterns in evolution and demonstrated how these patterns point to the mechanisms of evolution. He stated that by finding patterns in nature, we can understand fundamental principles.
Dr. Whiting seemed to assert that patterns in nature will lead us to understanding the science behind nature. I also believe this is true. But it made me think of the people who created Topeki Gobli, or those who erected Stonehenge, or even the Kogi today. These people also saw patterns in nature. They saw the renewal of the earth every spring. They saw the equinoxes and the solstices. They saw constant death but also constant life. To explain these patterns, they turned to myths such as the Babylonian story of Adapa the fisherman who refused the gift of eternal life or the Greek myth of Persephone who oscillated between the underworld in the winter and living with her mother the goddess Demeter in the summer. So far as we know, these myths do not contain much scientific truth. But every culture has always found a need to explain the patterns of nature in some way.
Now I’m not trying to say that evolution is our myth today. I do believe that evolution is scientifically sound, and that it is God’s way of creating new life forms. But it does make me wonder about our need for explanation and understanding. We see patterns around us, and we feel a need to fit in, to become part of the pattern, to understand and to feel like we are more than an individual, that we are a part of a whole. I think that explaining the patterns found in daily life and in the environment was perhaps the main reason religion arose. The need to connect and to understand is deep-seated in each one of us, and has been a part of humanity perhaps since the beginning. I wonder why we feel this need, why we can’t just observe and recognize that there is “grandeur in this view of life”. I don’t think it’s wrong to try and understand patterns. I just think it’s interesting to see how much effort we put into explaining them.