God, Evolution, and Overkill

This will be my last heavy posting for a while; it will be refreshing to move on to lighter fare for a bit.

If this is your first blog read, I don’t profess to “know” that there is a God nor do I endorse creationism as a substitute for science.  Rather, I simply believe that there is a spiritual element to existence that is perfectly compatible with science and our quest to know all that is knowable.  Science is not heresy, but rather an essential component of man’s drive to learn and improve.  I am not out to convert anyone, except perhaps to suggest that we all need to look beyond the constraints of what we think we know and open our minds to other possibilities.

One of the things that puzzles me though is that it seems to me that, in certain areas, nature and natural selection (if this is all you believe in), have really outdone themselves.  It would seem that once a certain level of evolutionary advantage is attained, there is no real advantage to pushing beyond the bare minimum to survive and prevail.  The rest is evolutionary overkill.  It seems to me that we are blessed, for lack of a better word, with senses and appreciations that far exceed these minima, and there are others for which there is no real evolutionary explanation.

Let’s take beauty for example.  Now, we can never know if our primate cousins take a moment to enjoy the beauty of the sunset – maybe they do.  But seriously, what could be the evolutionary advantage of an innate tendency to stop and smell the roses?  Certainly, some ancestor of ours would have been better served by scurrying on back up the tree rather than stopping, dropping his guard, breathing in the fragrant spring air, and thereby becoming someone else’s lunch.   If we accept that our ability, not only to appreciate beauty but to create it, is unique to man, where on earth did it come from?  Was it just some happy confluence of other evolved abilities that we put to a new use when we could safely spare the time?  (as language is postulated to be)  Isn’t that hard to accept as the singular explanation?

Let’s compare two senses: olfactory (smelling) and auditory (hearing). 

We all know first-hand how primal our sense of smell is.  It is almost in instinctive sense, and a smell’s ability to revive memories and even emotions somehow feels basic, if not impulsive and uncontrollable. 

Hearing, on the other hand, and more specifically, hearing and music is so much more.  Our ability to hear, discern, appreciate, and be emotionally overcome by music could only have arisen after man had the ability to create music.  Quite a coincidence!  Think of a symphony orchestra: strings, woodwinds, horns, percussion – each with many component instruments, all playing different but related parts, and it all makes perfect beautiful musical sense to us – musician or not.  Why on earth were we gifted with a sense of hearing that seems to give us so much more than we really need?  How is that as we learned to create music, we found we already had the ability to appreciate it in ever increasing levels of complexity and beautiful harmonies?

Yet music, this late-arriving form of expression, seems to have unequalled ability to inspire, exhilarate, and motivate.  Indeed, it can inspire a soldier to go out and kill just as it can inspire us to look within ourselves to the depths of despair and the heights of exhilaration.  How can we explain the unique capacity of music to move us with science alone?  And yes, I know there are theories.  But that’s all they are.  I for one cannot explain the glory of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in terms of frequencies, time signatures, and harmonics.  Like so many other wonders in our world - natural or otherwise - it seems imbued with elements of the divine.

I won't even try to examine the evolutionary advantages of "love," that apparently unique human quality.  Maybe another blog.

So alas, perhaps there are wonders and miracles all around, beyond the science for which evolution alone is not explanation enough.  So why this abundance of sensory stimuli and the senses and abiltiies to appreciate them?  I am reminded of a line from The Color Purple, maybe it’s just God’s way of showing off.


8/28/2013 04:14:39 pm

God wants us to worship Him because of what He is and what He does. He wants us to worship Him because of His attributes and what they produce.


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