A few weeks ago I was reading a BBC article about gay rams and lesbian gibbons. And a zoologist tried to explain animal gayness in evolutionary terms, ie how this behaviour could ultimately result in such animals leaving more offspring.
Because if you are an evolutionist, which of course any rational person is nowadays, then any feature of the animal or plant world has to have arisen because it results in the individuals concerned ultimately leaving more offspring. The explanation of gayness, needless to say, was rather clunky and convoluted, because the one thing that gayness DOESN’T usually do is to result in more offspring.
And I thought well maybe these rams just like being gay, isn’t that enough? Why does everything have to potentially result in leaving more offspring?
We think we know why evolution happens, and that it has to be for this one reason: life as a struggle to make your own genes predominate over others.
The theory of evolution arose in Victorian times, during the industrial revolution, when capitalism was on the rise – the survival, and the superiority, of the financially fittest. And the military fittest - Britain at the time had the largest Empire the world had ever seen, in which we ruled over 'inferior' peoples. Evolution was given a motivation that reflected the capitalist and imperialist ethos of Britain at the time – it is as simple and as brutal as that. And that ethos continues today under the free market ideology and the individualism that arose in the 80s under Reagan and Thatcher.
There is so much human behaviour that is not explicable in terms of leaving more offspring. Very little of our behaviour seems to me to be reducible to that. In the West, most of us are happy with 2 kids on average, when we could have far more. I am not writing this piece in the hope that I will have more offspring. I take it you are not reading it in the hope of having more offspring.
It is ridiculous, therefore, to describe human behaviour in those terms. So if it doesn’t apply to us, why should it apply to the rest of the natural world, since we are part of it?
I think life is unfathomable. I am writing this piece because I want to, and because I want to understand something and to communicate it, and that is about as honest as I can be. It is a desire, if you like, that life has given me. Is that not enough? And why should it not be enough that some rams are gay simply because that is their nature, because they want to be gay?
I don’t think that we have much of a clue about evolution and why it happens. I don’t think we ever will, because it is part of the mystery at the heart of life.
The evidence for evolution is full of holes, and of course no-one has ever seen it occur. You get the classic schoolbook example of white peppered moths turning black as camouflage under conditions of industrial soot, but that isn’t evolution, all it shows is a capacity for a bit of variability. They are still the same species. And maybe it wasn’t driven by random selective advantage. Consciousness is primary, not matter, as any quantum physicist can tell you.
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness." – Max Planck, Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
I think it more likely that in some way the moths ‘decided’ to turn black, re-imagined themselves, as a matter of common sense.
If consciousness is primary, then evolution is surely driven by a whole range of motivations. And it suggests as well that it is not based around the random variability that biology also insists upon.
That is, if evolution occurred in the first place. Certainly, biology shows that all life forms are very closely connected. The genes for our limbs are in the same sort of chromosomal position as the genes for limbs in flies, which is quite incredible. It suggests a profound common source. But I would put the emphasis on consciousness giving material expression to itself, rather than cold matter – with consciousness as an epiphenomenon – having the genius to create life forms.
Because there is a kind of genius behind it. Not ‘a’ genius in the form of a being like God, but the genius of consciousness to imagine these intricate life forms, that are so well-adapted and so mutually interdependent and so elegant and inventive. It seems absurd to imagine selfishness and random change as the primary mechanism – even as part of the mechanism at all.
A Nobel Prize winning microbiologist, Werner Arber, researched change over thousands of generations in bacteria, and concluded that only limited variability was possible through genetic recombination and mutation. He then drags in God, which is where I part company. But if you think about it, humans have been selectively breeding animals for thousands of years, but they remain the same species - there are limits to variability. The arising of new species seems to be a mystery.
I don’t believe ‘God’ created life as we know it. But I find it preferable to the theory of evolution, because at least there is a transcendent dimension. And I think it is sound (though unintended) psychology that it is a requirement in some American states to teach both evolution and creationism: it presents the idea to children that there is more than one way of looking at anything. It is an ironic consequence of 2 fundamentalisms battling it out for the souls of the younger generation.
As I said earlier, any ‘rational’ person nowadays subscribes to the theory of evolution as commonly presented. It is perverse not to, as it is so well-established and so well understood.
Rather like a particular version of the Koran for members of Islamic State. It is a relief that this sort of fundamentalism is mainly to be found in the Middle East, among primitive fanatics, rather than amongst ourselves. We have every right to condemn these extremists for their narrow and intolerant attitudes. In the West we have rationality, and that protects us from becoming fundamentalist.*
* For anyone not from the UK, I'm being ironical