According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Biologos Video Series - From the Dust

Eusociality and the Bible, Part 2 of 2


Which came first - human consciousness or eusociality?

Or, put another way, which created which?


Introduction

Here's an interesting take on humanity's evolutionary roots combining the evolutionary concepts of natural selection with group selection. From an Evolutionary Creationist standpoint, a Christian can look at this evolutionary process as yet another evidence of God's amazingly intricate involvement with the development of the homo sapien line of hominids. By coaxing forth a trait, gene, or tendency, towards sustaining/promoting "the group over the individual' the homo sapien line became the predominant species to survive and build itself into like-civilizations dedicated to protecting its community against all other forces. Apparently, man is not only social but "eu-social," behaving beyond mere self-interest to the promotion of a bonded group dedicated to one-another's survival through altruism, sacrifice of self-interests, division of labor, and become super-cooperators.

A Biblical Idea that is Evolutionary

Running with this idea a bit further in a theological direction (since as a Christian I must view humanity's origins from a Godward viewpoint, rather than as an atheistic/agnostic viewpoint) I might suggest some additional theologic observations.... In Scripture we read that God cautions time and again to sacrifice oneself for the promotion of one's neighbor (love one another); or, God directed His people towards assemblage and community as federated tribes such as is seen in the Jewish tribes of Israel; or that eusociality is seen in Jesus' works of social justice and benevolence towards others unlike himself; or even in God's sacrifice of Himself through crucifixion for the ultimate survivability of mankind's eternal future (in biblical terms); or in the resultant church's communal worship, witness and ministry evidenced over the past 2000 years; and finally, resulting in a future everlasting Kingdom made up of a society of converts super-cooperating with one another by providing humanitarian services described in terms of peace, harmony, good will; moreover, this Kingdom community further projects itself through a mutually determined co-existence with nature by nurturing the earth in a massive ecological reconstruction requiring the maintenance and preservation of all biological, geological, and cosmic subsystems. A final observation might be added in observing the Bible's usage of the significant Greek terms of koinonia (= "community, communion, joint participation, sharing and intimacy") and allylon (= "one another") found throughout New Testament passages. Hence, the church celebrates Jesus' resurrection through the eucharist in a koinonia memorial of remembrance. Likewise, Christians are to devote themselves to one another in a whole host of services that focuses on practices and attitudes that would preserve unity, harmony, peace, love and forgiveness within the walls of the church made up of converts emerging from dissimilar environments to one another.

An Evolutionary Idea that is Biblical

Of course the downside to all this is that in order to get from "there to here" on an evolutionary scale the hominid line would fight and struggle for its survival over that of other lesser-enabled hominids (including its earlier apelike ancestors). However, sin being sin, one could mundanely state that "individual (natural) selection" was what was required in order to survive against a primordial world evolving apart from a later developing ethical and moral consciousness that would arise within both the animal kingdoms and hominid lines. So that a corresponding type, or kind of, prehistoric "self-consciousness" was also evolving within this very same prehistoric time of burly, bloody, self-interest, self-promotion, and survival. A consciousness that most probably had a very low-level (if at all) awareness of the ethical/moral possibilities occurring within this newly-arisen and social hominid being found in its earliest developmental stages.... And if one accounts for free will both within the animal/hominid line, as well as within creation itself (more popular known by the older term, natural law(s)), especially a free will that tended towards death and destruction (the Christian term for this is sin), than it gives us an even more amazing picture of the intricate involvement of a Creator-God in directing a disorderly cosmos (and animal kingdom) towards order and restoration through a formative consciousness and ethical responsibility. Even an order that would someday create a self-consciousness that could contemplate the ethereal, metaphysical concepts of morality and ethics - especially in social and existential terms! - relative to oneself, one's society, and even of a Deity as Sovereign/Creator. Amazing indeed when considering prehistoric man has arisen from the primordial soup of star dust to someday realize his very place amongst the stars themselves with the Lord of creation. Mankind's eternal North Star and heavenly compass sovereignly directing away from sin's death-and-destruction to life-everlasting by the very work of this Creator-God through His Son Jesus. Called in the Bible as man's bright Morning Star of redemptive rebirth and divine re-creation.

Conclusion

This apparently is what sets humanity apart from the animal world... that we have evolved - at the hand of God - into sentient beings. And even more than this... into sentient beings who can work together, live together, and host one another's interests over our own. Giving hope that even now, amidst today's societies where brutality and selfishness still exist, that we as a species are rapidly evolving in our eusociality capabilities (sic, through recognition, accommodation, and adaptability) into a super-sentient species wishing to massively cooperate with one another (as evidenced by technology's rapid promotion and ingestion of social networking and inter-cooperative social paradigms) from freedom campaigns and revolutions in despotic worlds of injustice, to the provisioning of social justice and equality to the needy, destitute, poor and socially outcast. All this despite our darker natures of individual self-interest. It gives one pause to wonder aloud the possibilities of our species at the hands of God (even now!) should we not destroy ourselves in the process.... a possibility that can give rise to greater and greater integration of mutually assured, and mutually promoting, complex organization within humanity's increasingly inter-dependent societies. It is the Christian hope. Even as it is a biblical truth that sin, death and destruction will remain against this hope until Christ comes again to put all right (both ecological and sociologically). But in order to put all things spiritually right, a repentance and rebirth must first occur, as provided through Jesus' atonement. And through this redemption will come the infinite possibilities for re-creation and re-newal down into the very depths of our personal beings and social orders. Verily, even into our sinful hearts and minds. A rebirth that would at once remove the internal disorders of sin within the human breast of lusts and temptations, and rebirth an abandoned divine order lost eons ago at the dawn of creation. An ancient primordial creative order that the ancient Jews would call "Shalom" - and we would acknowledge as "life and blessing" - wherein the image of our Creator God is birthed, mirrored, realized and brought into cosmic re-alignment and daily experience. Even so may God's shalom be our peace this very day through His Son Jesus Christ. And may that shalom become our evolving spiritual reality day-to-day personally, socially, ecologically, and with the very God of Creation Himself. The Redeemer and Lover of our souls.


R.E. Slater
April 16, 2012


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Edward O. Wilson’s New Take on Human Nature

The eminent biologist argues in a controversial new book that
our Stone Age emotions are still at war with our high-tech sophistication

By Natalie Angier
Smithsonian magazine, April 2012

Edward O Wilson
Wilson says our instinct to settle down both ensures our success and dooms us to conflict.

Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University knows the terrifying power of the nest firsthand—and first-ankle, crook of the knee, any patch of skin that happened to be unsheathed as the eminent evolutionary biologist has crept through tropical rainforests studying some of the most aggressive ant species in the world. Ants are a wildly successful sector of nature’s bestiary, accounting for maybe a quarter of all terrestrial animal matter—the same percentage of biomass that we humans can claim. They’re found on every continent save Antarctica and in just about every possible setting, and though you may dislike ants at a picnic, you’d dislike even more a park that was scrubbed antiseptically ant-free.

As Wilson has learned through painful experience, ants will defend their nest vigorously, violently, to the death if need be; and the more elaborate the dwelling, the more ferocious the homeland security system. In the forest canopies of equatorial Africa and Asia, weaver ants construct spectacular swaglike nests of leaves stitched together with silken threads extracted from the colony’s larval ranks. Should any creature venture within smelling distance of the nests, weaver ant soldiers will boil out to bite and spray bullets of formic acid. In the Solomon Islands during World War II, Wilson writes, “marine snipers climbing into trees were said to fear weaver ants as much as they did the Japanese.”

Fierce weaver ants
Fierce weaver ants (in Malaysia)
work and fight together.
In his newly published The Social Conquest of the Earth—the 27th book from this two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize—Wilson argues the nest is central to understanding the ecological dominance not only of ants, but of human beings, too. Ants rule the microhabitats they occupy, consigning other insects and small animals to life at the margins; humans own the macroworld, Wilson says, which we have transformed so radically and rapidly that we now qualify as a kind of geological force. How did we and the ants gain our superpowers? By being super-cooperators, groupies of the group, willing to set aside our small, selfish desires and I-minded drive to join forces and seize opportunity as a self-sacrificing, hive-minded tribe. There are plenty of social animals in the world, animals that benefit by living in groups of greater or lesser cohesiveness.

Very few species, however, have made the leap from merely social to eusocial, “eu-” meaning true. To qualify as eusocial, in Wilson’s definition, animals must live in multigenerational communities, practice division of labor and behave altruistically, ready to sacrifice “at least some of their personal interests to that of the group.” It’s tough to be a eusocialist. Wouldn’t you rather just grab, gulp and go? Yet the payoffs of sustained cooperation can be huge. Eusociality, Wilson writes, “was one of the major innovations in the history of life,” comparable to the conquest of land by aquatic animals, or the invention of wings or flowers. Eusociality, he argues, “created super­organisms, the next level of biological complexity above that of organisms.” The spur to that exalted state, he says, was always a patch of prized real estate, a focal point luring group members back each day and pulling them closer together until finally they called it home. “All animal species that have achieved eusociality, without exception, at first built nests that they defended from enemies,” Wilson writes. An anthill. A beehive. A crackling campfire around which the cave kids could play, the cave elders stay and the buffalo strips blacken all day. Trespassers, of course, would be stoned on sight.

As Wilson sees it, human beings are eusocial apes, and in our brand of extreme togetherness we stand apart—from other living monkeys and apes, and from the many hominids that either preceded or coexisted with us and are now extinct, including Homo neanderthalensis, who apparently weren’t much for constructing elaborate campsites or other nest equivalents. Against the impetus of a Homo sapiens united front, forged at the campfire and undoubtedly amplified through the frequent singing of “100 bottles of mead on the wall,” the Neanderthals may well have been as helpless as grasshoppers in the path of army ants.

Yet our eusocial nature, Wilson emphasizes, is nothing like that of the robotic ants. It developed along an entirely different route and is bound up with other aspects of our humanity—our anatomy, our intellect and emotions, our sense of free will. He takes us on an elegant spin through our prehistory, highlighting the stepwise rules of engagement for achieving total global dominance:

Rule No. 1: Be a terrestrial animal. “Progress in technology beyond knapped stones and wooden shafts requires fire,” Wilson says. “No porpoise or octopus, no matter how brilliant, can ever invent a billows and forge.”

Rule No. 2: Be a large terrestrial animal. The vast majority of land creatures weigh barely a pound or two, but if you’re going to have a big brain, you need a large body to support it.

Rule No. 3: Get the hands right. Forget standard-issue paws, hooves or claws. To hold and manipulate objects, you need “grasping hands tipped with soft spatulate fingers.” With our flexible digits and opposable thumbs, we became consummate kinesthetes, sizing up the world manually and enriching our mind. “The integrative powers of the brain for the sensations that come from handling objects,” Wilson says, “spill out into all other domains of intelligence.” That goes for social intelligence in spatulate spades. With hands we can wave hello, seal a deal, keep in touch or join in a circle, unite the many as one.

Our hypersocial spirit is both a great blessing and a terrible curse. Experiments have shown that it is shockingly easy to elicit a sense of solidarity among a group of strangers. Just tell them they’ll be working together as a team, and they immediately start working together as a team, all the while attributing to each other a host of positive qualities like trustworthiness and competence—an instant five-star customer review.

Yet we are equally prepared to do battle against those who fall outside the fraternal frame. In experiments where psychologists divided people into groups of arbitrarily assigned traits—labeling one set the Blue team and another the Green, for example—the groups started sniping at each other and expressing strong prejudices toward their “opponents,” with the Greens insisting the Blues were untrustworthy and unfair. The “drive to form and take deep pleasure from in-group membership easily translates at a higher level into tribalism,” Wilson says, and can spark religious, ethnic and political conflicts of breathtaking brutality.

Wilson also traces what he considers the tragedy of the human condition to the private struggle of us versus me. He sees us as a kind of mixed economy, the complicated fruit of a sharply disputed process known as multilevel selection. By this reckoning, some of our impulses are the result of individual selection, the competition of you against everybody else for a share of life’s goodies. Other traits are under the sway of group selection, prompting us to behave altruistically for the sake of the team:

* Individual Selection - It appears our individually selected traits are older and more primal, harder to constrain, the ones we traditionally label vices: greed, sloth and lust, the way we covet our neighbor’s life and paper over our failings with pride.

Group Selection - However, our eusocial inclinations are evolutionarily newer and more fragile and must be vociferously promoted by the group if the group is to survive. They are the stuff of religions and Ben Franklin homilies and represent the virtues we admire: to be generous, kind and levelheaded, to control our impulses, keep our promises and rise to the occasion even when we are scared or disheartened.

* “The human condition is an endemic turmoil rooted in the evolution processes that created us,” he writes. “The worst in our nature coexists with the best, and so it will ever be.”

Not all biologists agree with Wilson’s ideas about the source of humanity’s dominance or existential angst. Some resist calling humans eusocial, preferring to restrict that term to animals like ants, in which just one or a few group members reproduce and the rest attend to the royal ones’ brood. Other biologists dislike invoking group selection, saying simpler, time-tested models based on individual genealogies will do. Still others have adopted a remarkably sunny view of humanity and its prospects. The social scientist Steven Pinker, also of Harvard, argues in his recent book The Better Angels of Our Nature that war and violent conflict have been declining steadily and may soon be obsolete. Like Wilson, Pinker believes that evolutionary forces have shaped human nature into a complex amalgam of the bestial and heroic, the compassionate and pitiless (although in Pinker’s view, those forces do not include group selection). Yet Pinker argues that, even while we retain our base and bloody impulses, historical trends such as stronger governments, increased prosperity, literacy, education, trade and the empowerment of women have allowed us to effectively tame them.

For his part, Wilson cultivates a beautifully appointed gloom. “We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions,” he says. “We thrash about” and are “a danger to ourselves and the rest of life.” Our conquest of earth has happened so quickly that the rest of the biosphere has not had time to adjust and our heedless destruction of species shows scant signs of abating.

Nevertheless, Wilson says, “Out of an ethic of simple decency to one another, the unrelenting application of reason, and acceptance of what we truly are,” we may yet turn earth into a “permanent paradise for human beings, or the strong beginnings of one.” We’re not ants, and we can do what ants can’t: pull up to the nearest campfire, toast a marshmallow, sing a song.