Some people think that we are highly evolved animals, cousins of the apes. Actually, it’s commonly supposed that most people think this, or should I say that most ‘intelligent’ people think this. By intelligent I’m excluding those who base their cosmologies on a book, as opposed to on organic relics dug up from the ground. Such ‘believers’ might consider themselves intelligent, but my point is that mainstream ‘respectable’ opinion does not.
Actually, it’s interesting to wonder what percentage of the 6.8 billion people walking the face of the earth ‘believe’ in evolution’.
Most people, I suspect, tend to believe either in ‘nothing’, by which I mean ‘that it is good for me and my family to get richer’, or else in reincarnation, a belief involving the ethical motivation to lead a good life to avoid coming back as a slug, or worse. The next largest group, I think, thanks largely to the power of Mecca and Rome (as well as its rebellious offshoots), believes with varying degrees of sincerity in its absolute importance in the eyes of a shy, generally invisible, all-loving, all-judging entity called ‘God’. So important do they think they are in the eyes of this being, indeed, that they suppose he’ll go to the trouble of deciding upon their fates based on everything they have ever thought or done and that he’ll then sustain their bodies and personalities for all eternity in one of two prepared places that he had gone to the trouble of creating – especially for them (as if the creation of the Earth, large and wide as it is, were not enough!!).
I’m not sure how or where or whether evolution fits into any of these belief systems. I suppose it sits happiest with the belief in ‘nothing’.
Still, believing in nothing hardly counts as a belief in evolution in my book. So, it seems that most people don’t believe in evolution after all, despite the rage it struts on the stage of ‘the world’. Most people just don’t care about evolution, I suspect. Or if they do, they tend to think that evolution is a shade barbaric. Most people, after all, don’t like to think they can be reduced to, and therefore explained away, as ‘animals’, whatever it is they think animals are.
On the other hand, I’ve also noticed that an interesting number of people in the West can’t get enough of this idea. The notion that we are ‘only’ animals fills them with delight! Why this should be, I suppose, involves a fair amount of fear and detestation of the spiritual, at least as far as ‘the spiritual’ has been understood in classically religious terms. Such terms usually have had a great deal to do with sex, or rather with its repression and denial; or if not about sex in such an explicit sense then at least about the general depreciation of the physical and empirical world and the seat of our senses, the body, that has been such a fashionable preoccupation in the Occident for over two thousand years.
Is this what it boils down to? Do people really want or do not want to believe in evolution because of whether they want or do not want to maintain that humans are ‘just animals’. If this is so questions must be raised about what animals actually are. And since we have never spoken to them or heard them give an account of themselves in their own terms, it’s very difficult for us to know, in ways other than by merely imposing our epistemological paradigms upon them, what they actually are. They merely embody and in that way prove our own preconceptions about them. That this is so, of course, makes it much easier for us to then eat them, or else kill them to fuel the flames of our vanity, than it would be if, well, we interacted and communicated with them as equals. Yet that this is so also means, ironically, that even though both believers and disbelievers in evolution care passionately about whether or not humans are animals, or the degree to which we are animals, we don’t actually know what animals are. No more, it might be said, than we know what humans are.