October 12, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We’re here because we’re here, and let’s make the most of it

Cynthia DewesRecently, I finally got around to reading Guns, Germs and Steel, an interesting book by Jared Diamond about how and why certain peoples arose and flourished on the various continents of the world. The book was published in 1999, but better late than never. I’m reading as fast as I can.

At any rate, the author’s main argument is that it is not a difference in race or ethnicity in people which caused one group to emerge earlier than another or to produce a more complex and sophisticated society. It’s not that some are more intelligent or adaptable than others. Rather, it’s the character of the places where they lived that mattered most.

Diamond discusses how North and South America form a north-south axis with vastly different climatic and topographic areas from top to bottom. Conversely, Eurasia, as he calls it (meaning from eastern Europe through Asia), is on an east-west axis with climate and terrain that don’t vary greatly along its way.

Thus, it was harder for those in the Americas to share discoveries and spread civilization than it was for those in Eurasia.

One example of this is that the high civilization of the Incas did not reach the less sophisticated hunter-gatherer societies farther north because of the vast deserts and mountains in between. Australia also did not flourish with advanced societies because of its isolation.

All this is based on the idea that a moderate climate and the presence of large mammals were conducive to food production. The climate encouraged crops, and the mammals could be used as pack animals and for food. More food meant more children would be born, and the population would grow and become stabilized in one place.

Of course, this entire book is a scientific explanation of human history which depends upon the factual nature of evolution. There is no religious or moral overtone involved. The author’s conclusion that superior intelligence or adaptability in one race or another did not determine how or why civilizations arose is not a moral pronouncement, just a fact.

Personally, I like that method a lot. I appreciate a reasonable argument free from moral superiority and blame-laying. To me, there’s nothing more tiresome than haggling over literal creationism versus evolution through natural selection. It’s apples and oranges.

It seems to me that those who argue about one opinion over the other are both wrong. They protest too much, perhaps because they feel guilty in sensing a bit of truth in the opposing argument. Despite their zeal, it’s simply not a watering down or denial of the truth to say that it may lie in either direction or both. Because it does.

Creationism is a religious explanation of how the universe and its creatures came to be, while evolution is a theory of creation based on empirical science. Each is correct within its limited focus. That is, if we believe that God is the prime mover of everything, creationism is logical, but when we want to depend upon evidence based on human understanding, evolution makes sense.

Now, if we want to argue about literal creationism versus creation by God explained in symbolic terms, I’m all for it. For one thing, I can’t believe that creation took seven literal days since time is a human invention anyway.

So I say, let’s get over how we got here. We’re here because we’re here. Let’s make the most of it.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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