The Evolution of an Argument

Got into another fascinating conversation with an old acquaintance of mine, Seattle's own Jim Page, that began with the question of whether or not the word "intelligence," as a human trait, was ever used in the gospels. I had to shove my oar in with the supposition that perhaps "intelligence" was what was then meant by "wisdom." And the back and forth began.

We eventually came to divergent understandings of the concept of "evolution." In which Jim rightly points out that the dictionary definition actually does include other than biological definitions. And he's right. And I also use those other definitions. But I get leery when hear people say that *we* have evolved, as opposed to our culture, our ideas, our understanding of the world and peoples around us. And I have to admit, I don't think Jim ever actually claimed that it is *we* who have evolved. It is our culture that is slowly, glacially, evolving. But I still maintain that that evolution is a tenuous, delicate thing. Nothing's for certain. It can always go wrong. Somebody sang that once.

Here, at any rate, is the conversation. Anyone else care to weigh in?

Jim: You accept evolution, right? You understand that our definition of reality has evolved over the centuries as we’ve leaned more about what it is, right?

Barbara: I don't believe that our understanding has "evolved." ... I also believe that understanding is a very thin skin of culture that can slip back when we least expect it. Let me put it this way - our children are not born knowing what we and others have discovered.

Jim: I’m wondering how you can say that you don’t believe our understanding has evolved. We know that illness is not demon possession, and that earthquakes and volcanoes aren’t the results of angry gods. That’s an evolution in understanding isn’t it? ... [Children] are also not born believing in risen saviors and after lives, so I don’t know what your point is on that one.

Barbara: Evolution is a biological process. It does not have a set teleology. Culture does not "evolve." Understanding broadens, but it broadens as a function of a culture that values education, reading, learning, experimenting. ... Our "evolved" social conscience is nowhere in the genes. The newborn child of today is essentially the newborn child of 4,000 years B.C. She might not be born with a belief in risen saviors, but she is also not born with love and acceptance of all humanity.

Jim: You seem to be insisting that we have made no progress over all these centuries and I don’t understand why.

Barbara: I am, perhaps, being a little picky about my insistence on the biological meaning of the word "evolve." It comes from hearing so many people talking about how far we have come, how we have "evolved," as if it is a biological component of some sort, some sort of understanding we have reached as a species which will remain with us from here on in.

I'm not certain, but I think we ended where we usually do, trains passing on tracks that aren't so much going entirely different directions but which wander, for the most part, through different landscapes and meet once in a while on a siding just long enough to relay the news from elsewhere.