On Life and Lemmings

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Editor:

The mapping of genomes for many life forms is revealing a great number of similar paths of development for species that were once classified, due to perceived differences. The genetic codes of all higher forms of life are found to have bits and pieces of lower, less developed ones. The conclusion that all life forms are related, be they microbial, plant, invertebrates, vertebrates, cold blooded reptile or warm blooded mammal, is compelling. Yet, even as our already vast body of knowledge grows at an increasingly faster pace, it becomes ever clearer that the more we know, the more there is yet to be discovered. The question that continually haunts me as a devoted humanist, is whether this effort will occur sufficiently fast enough to safeguard our unique life sustaining environment, not only for our progeny, but that of thousands of others species as well.

There are a great many individuals who still regard mankind’s presence on this earth as one that occurred outside of evolutionary history, so well documented in the fossil evidence. Certainly a great deal of comfort can come from a belief that God has uniquely fashioned man in his image (I say “his” only because the majority of faiths in existence today subscribe this gender to God). The thought that some special status for us in the eyes of the creator will forever preserve us to rule over all else, though an attractive supposition, was authored by people roughly 2,000 years ago, who relied on a base of knowledge far smaller than ours. At issue is not whether religion or science will win the day and the hearts and minds of humanity. To better serve mankind, how can religion maintain its relevance if not by refocusing on the spiritual essence that exists alongside humanities physical needs and ongoing quest of knowledge?

Taken as an isolated concern, spiritual needs are rendered remote and unrelated to actions within the context of our political or economic activities. The concept of heaven as God’s kingdom placed above and separate from the concerns for Earth, has served to justify much of the damage that human actions have wrought. This then sets the stage for a kind of duality in which beliefs and actions can, on the surface, be contradictory but perhaps more significantly establishes a psychological environment far more fertile for schizophrenia. To reestablish a world view more holistic in scope, one that allows us to combine our spiritual essence with our rational views, will produce a much needed harmony to better examine basic understandings, values, a shared social morality, and the very direction and goals that underlie all human activity.

If we are to have any hope of curtailing the environmental destruction that our current economic model of growth dictates as the only possible course of action, then it will only come about with the joining of interests between those who genuinely love God and all his creation and those who thoroughly understand a science that serves to explain the various forces that act upon our planet and influence the environment and biological activities that take place within it. The pace of destruction, despite significant efforts by a growing body of scientists, politicians and religious leaders, continues to accelerate. The consequences are everywhere becoming more evident as the issues of “global warming,” “species extinction,” “human overpopulation” and “dwindling resources” become not only the oft repeated subjects of concern, but the fundamental explanations of a host of problems that affect an ever widening number of countries.

To avert the type of environmental collapse that led to the last great species extinction roughly 60 million years ago will require nothing short of a major revolution in the way education not only presents facts, but explains the links between human actions and the consequences that result.

Are we then, as a species, both the crowning achievement of that adaptive process known as evolution, and the precursor of the next evolutionary steps that will, in the course of time, improve upon us? From that unfathomable instant in which God began his creation in one big bang, and later in an equally mysterious moment created that very first living particle of life that over time diversified into many forms of life, our existence as evidence of a successful process of adaptation is an elaborate tale of both mystery and matter. Religion and science are both essential components in that explanation. What is not clear to me yet, though, is whether we are indeed capable of striving to those higher ideals we believe God intended for us; or are we as a species destined to drown in our own sea of misery, no doubt genetically linked to that of the lemming, a small rodent with a known propensity to overpopulate its environment and then methodically migrate en masse into the sea?

Hugo A. Roller