We humans are funny. We are hard-wired to seek patterns and answers. But don’t make those answers too complicated, because we don’t like that. Up and down, good and bad, Black and white with as few colors to the rainbow as possible. Tell me the answer – quickly and easily.
I’m reading a wonderful book right now called “Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body” by Neil Shubin. Shubin doesn’t refute creationism. He doesn’t have to. He just tells what we know from decades and centuries of scientific discoveries. As an expert in both paleontology and embryological genetics, he is uniquely positioned to provide the information. He also has a layman friendly writing style, but doesn’t dumb-down the science along the way.
I read these:
“Genes interact with each other at all stages of development. One gene may inhibit the activity of another or promote it. Sometimes many genes interact to turn another gene on or off. Fortunately, new tools allow us to study the activity of thousands of genes in a cell at once. Couple this technology with new computer-based ways of interpreting gene function and we have enormous potential to understand how genes build cells, tissues, and bodies.”
And a little later:
“It is hard not to feel awestruck watching an animal assemble itself. Just like a brick house, a limb is built by smaller pieces joining to make a larger structure. But there is a huge difference. Houses have a builder, somebody who actually knows where all the bricks need to go; limbs and bodies do not. The information that builds limbs is not in some architectural plan but is contained within each cell. Imagine a house coming together spontaneously from all the information contained in the bricks: that is how animal bodies are made.”
Those really got me to thinking about us Homo sapiens. Not about our bodies; but about our minds and how we incorporate information into our daily existence. Grasping the complexity of just this one small part of biology is not easy. We live in a society in which some of us feel flabbergasted that others can’t learn that there are no racial differences beyond what we can see with our eyes. Sure, there are cultural differences, and race has played a part because we section ourselves off according to various criteria for in-groups and out-groups. Once isolated, groups diverge culturally. But it has nothing to do with fundamental genetics. We see people everywhere who seem incapable of grasping very basic ideas and living according to them. How much more difficult would it be, then, to expect them to have a deep understanding of biological functions, or geologic reality, or anything about the nature of the universe?
We want things simple. We strive to limit complications of all sorts. We get up, brush our teeth, go to the kitchen for coffee, and sit down to scan the newspaper (or check it on the Internet). With those few motions, we could have instead done any of billions of other actions. But we didn’t. We committed to that line of behavior because it is easy to form a habit structure and stick to it. It’s extremely difficult to do dramatically different actions. Our very nature fights against it. And this is where things get dangerous for many, many people.
Rather than face the complexities that have been revealed by science, it is so much less complicated to attribute all of what we don’t know, or are uncertain about, to some unseen force and leave it at that. It requires a tremendous act of will for those of us who want to expand our horizons by learning out at the edges of our cumulative knowledge. Most people simply lack the will to do so and instead succumb to the easy answer. Especially when whatever answer is chosen can even provide a solution to the things that science can not. It’s both uncomplicated and all-encompassing.